Roh Moo Hyun was born on 6 August 1946 in the small village of Kimhae near Pusan in the southern province of Kyongsang to a family of peach and chicken farmers; he was one of 5 children. First bullied in school, he soon gained the reputation of a tough, stubborn schoolboy, despite his small size—his nickname was "stone bean." Seen as smart and opinionated but also fond of smoking and drinking in high school, he became student council president in sixth grade and once led a student boycott against mandatory essays praising the autocrat leader, Syngman Rhee. He graduated from high school in 1966 but wasn't able to afford college. He worked at low-wage jobs (including making fishing nets) and schooled himself in the law, passing the state bar exam in 1975 on his third attempt. He entertains comparisons of his humble origins and quest for the presidency with those of Abraham Lincoln.
In his 1994 autobiography, Honey, Please Help Me, Roh expressed regret over the more boisterous and darker aspects of his youth, including his physical abuse of his wife, Kwon Yang Sook, his childhood sweetheart. He claimed to be enlightened by reading a book about women's rights. He and his wife have a son and daughter. Roh lists his hobbies as mountain climbing and bowling.