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Map of Korea

Korea is a formerly unified country, situated on the Korean Peninsula in northern East Asia, bordering on China to the west and Russia to the north. It is populated by a homogeneous ethnic group, the Koreans. Two countries, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) have replaced it since the end of World War II in 1945, when the once-unified state was divided.

Korea was partitioned into two halves following World War II. South Korea has been Western-leaning and has recently began to develop in the direction of liberal democracy. North Korea is a Marxist-Leninist communist state. The Unification Flag is often used to represent Korea at international sporting events, but is not an official flag of either country.



Paleolithic and archaeologic evidence indicates that humans have lived in Korea for at least 40,000 years. For much of the past millennium, Korea was politically a single state, which led to the development of a fairly homogeneous and unique culture. Korea is characterized by a distinct people (Koreans) and language (Korean).

In ancient Chinese texts Korea is referred to as Kumsu Kangsan, literally meaning "the river and mountains are embroidered on silk". In addition, the Chinese credited the Koreans with being the producers of some of the best silk in the world. During the 7th and 8th centuries there existed, via both land and sea routes, trading networks between Korea and Arabia. Koreans used wooden printing blocks by 751. The publication technique of using metal movable type was invented in Korea as early as 1232 (although clay prints were invented by Pi Sheng about 200 years earlier in China), long before Johann Gutenberg developed metal letterset type in Europe. During the Goryeo period, the silk industry became widespread and pottery made with blue-green celadon glazes became a Korean specialty. Korea achieved rapid cultural growth during the Joseon era, developing a culture distinct from Ming China. The Joseon era also presided over progress in traditional arts and crafts, such as pottery with white celadon glazes, finer silk and better paper, beautiful fans and clothes, and the completion of the Korean alphabet, hangul. Also during this time the first ironclad warships in the world were developed and deployed in Korea.

Korea is currently divided into the capitalist Republic of Korea (ROK) and the communist Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). This division occurred, in effect, after Japan's defeat in 1945, which put an end to World War II, whereas permanent division came after the Korean War in 1953.

North Korea officially pursues a policy of self reliance (Juche). However, it depended heavily on both China and the USSR for support, and uses its newly-acquired nuclear weapon capability as leverage in international diplomacy. Due to the hard line Marxist rule, the country remains largely undeveloped, and shortages and famine conditions are frequent occurrences . In contrast, South Korea, which pursues an export-driven economy, is the 11th largest economy in the world. However, both Korean states proclaim eventual reunification as a goal; that is, the restoration of Korea as a single state. Even though Korea is no longer one nation in real political terms, it is very much alive in the minds of Koreans and as an ethno-cultural space critical to Korean national identity.


Main article: History of Korea

There exists archaeological and paleolithic evidence that people were living in the land we now call Korea 40,000 years ago. Bronze age culture, introduced around the 12th century BCE, catalyzed early state formation.

Eventually, Go-Joseon (which means Early-Joseon) the most important and powerful of these early states, was established, and its foundation is highly symbolic, holding sentimental value for many modern day Koreans. According to mythology, all Koreans share the Dangun (founder of Go-Joseon, later the word itself became the name of a monarch of Go-Joseon) bloodline and are descendants of the gods. Go-Joseon fell to the Chinese Han Dynasty in 108 BC. Go-Joseon disintegrated and became northern Buyo, and later Goguryeo which was firmly established by the 1st century. The Han established commanderies in the conquered territories as control over the territories switched back and forth from the Han of China, Buyo/Goguryeo of Korea, and then to the Yan state of China. The longest lasting Chinese incursion would last until Goguryeo destroyed the Chinese controlled territory Lelang (Nangnang), in 313 CE., in southern Manchuria. In the place of Go-Joseon, new regional powers emerged. Of these, three became the most dominant, the Three Kingdoms of Goguryeo in the north,Baekje in the southwest, and Silla (or Shilla) in the southeast. The confederacy of Gaya also flourished in the south until it was annexed by Silla in 562.


Korean historical documents state that Go-Joseon (also called Dangun Joseon; Dangun is the term designated to a monarch of Go-Joseon) came to power in the 24th century, BCE. after the nation of Bai-dal dissipated. However, the country studies for Korea by the Federal Research Division, Library of Congress suggest that the formation of Go-Joseon occurred much later than suggested by Korean records[1][2]. The people of Go-Joseon are referred to as the "eastern bowmen" in ancient Chinese historical texts. Go-Joseon extended from the Korean peninsula to parts of Manchuria, the eastern littoral region of China, and the areas north of the Huang He(Yellow River). The nation of Go-Joseon would last 2096 years. According to Soviet historians (The Soviets started the archaeological studies of Go-Joseon in the late 1800s and early 1900s, since ancient Go-Joseon territory extended from Korea into Manchuria and areas around present day Beijing and the USSR had access to these areas). Go-Joseon had established three regions (Sam-han - the three Hans ) of control in the southern skirt of the Korean Peninsula -- Jin-han, Ma-han, and Byeon-han. Later they became the foundation of the Baekje and Silla Dynasties.

People on the Korean peninsula had contact with China in the 9th century BCE. when the [[Zhou Dynasty (1122 BCE - 256 BCE)|Zhou Dynasty]] pushed the Yin to collapse and their subjects fled into Go-Joseon's domain. In China (475 BCE - 221 BCE) the eastern bowmen of Go-Joseon clashed with the Zhou people on the western coast of the Yellow Sea. However, it was not until 109 BCE, when the Han emperor Wu-ti dispatched a massive invasion by land and sea to Go-Joseon that severely influenced the forced migration. Consequently, this migration of Koreans culturally influenced the people of the neighboring islands. By the iron age, the Go-Joseon had collapsed and four Chinese provincial commands were set up in southern Manchuria and the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. However, not long after the establishment of the four commanderies, the fierce attacks from the Koreans caused the last of the commanderies, Lelang (Korean: Nangnang) to be destroyed (313 BCE) in southern Manchuria.

The Three-Kingdoms Period

Following the Gojoseon era comes the Three-Kingdoms period (1st Century BCE - 688 CE). The Three Kingdoms of Silla, Goguryeo, and Baekje had similar ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. However, the three Kingdoms were competing with each other in order to strengthen state power and to expand their territories. As minor regions fell or merged with these regional powers, highly sophisticated state organizations started to form under Confucian and Buddhist hierarchical structures. Goguryeo was fast becoming the most dominant power, but it was at constant war with the Chinese Sui and Tang. Emperor Yang-ti of Sui , with 1 million troops, invaded Goguryeo, but in 612 CE, General Ulchi Mundok pushed the Chinese force into retreat. In one of the battles between Goguryeo and the Sui, the Koreans ambushed the Chinese at the Salsu river, leaving only 2700 Chinese alive out of 300,000 troops; the Sui fall from power in China was partly due to Goguryeo. The Chinese Tang rose in power and Tai Zong of the Tang Dynasty sought revenge against Goguryeo with 3 failed invasions in 644, 648, and 655 CE. The Tang then turned to Silla for assistance. Goguryeo's dominance in this region also forced other weaker powers to form alliances. Silla was the least advanced of the Three Kingdoms, but had established a fierce military. With the rise of a warrior class who had adopted many aspects of Tang military arts, Silla would become a formidable adversary. (The warriors were possibly called the Hwarang.)

Allied with the Chinese Tang Dynasty, Silla would gain the upper hand and overthrow the other kingdoms. Silla first annexed Gaya, then conquered Baekje, driving them south to a neighboring island. Eventually, Goguryeo fell, whereupon Silla decided to drive out their former Tang allies. Silla (from this point referred to as "Unified Silla" by historians) thus came to control most of the Korean peninsula. The northern regions, as well as parts of Manchuria, and today's Maritime Province of Russia became the new state of Balhae (see Pohai), which emerged in Goguryeo's former territories and styled itself as Goguryeo's successor state.

Balhae and Silla Dynasty

Silla (57 BCE - 935 CE) had created a generally long and peaceful era, and the desire for learning grew. Idu, a transcription system of Korean words using of Chinese characters, was being utilized by Silla scholars of the upper-royal nobility, or "Chin-gol" (true bone). The growing need for scholarly work necessitated the recruitment of middle and upper class scholars, so a quasi-civil service examination system was instituted in 788 to meet this need. Buddhism began to establish a new Seon sect (generally known in the West by its Japanese name Zen) in the remote mountain area. The defeated nobility of Goguryeo and Baekje were treated with some generosity. After the fall of Goguryeo, General Dae Joyeong led a group of his people to the Jilin area in Manchuria. The general founded the state of Balhae (Bohai in Chinese) and regained control of lost northern territory of Goguryeo. Eventually, Balhae's territory would extend from the Sungari and Amur Rivers in northern Manchuria all the way down to the northern provinces of modern Korea. In the 10th century Balhae was conquered by the Khitans and Silla disintegrated as regional strongmen vied for power. The kingdom of Goryeo slowly took over and replaced Silla as the dominant power in Korea in the years 918-935. Many members of the Balhae ruling class, who were mostly Koreans, moved south and joined the newly founded Goryeo Dynasty. While most of the Manchurian portion of the Balhae territory was lost, the area south of the Amnok (Yalu)- Duman (Tumen) boundary was restored.

Goryeo Dynasty

During the Goryeo period (918 CE - 1392 CE) laws were codified, and a civil service system was introduced. Buddhism flourished and spread throughout the peninsula. Goryeo, during this time in fear of havins its power usurped, made official policies to discourage the practice of martial arts and the warrior class, who were no longer appreciated, and government policies were initiated to put more emphasis on scholars rather than warlords.

The Manchurian territory of Balhae was now officially renamed Liao by the Khitans who initiated attacks in 983, 985, 989, and 993, continuing to harass Goryeo. However, in 993, Koryo's commanding general So Hui (940-998), facing a stalemate with the Liao army, convened peace talks with the Liao general Hsiao to end the enmity with the recognition of the Koryo's territorial rights south of the Amnokkang river . However the Khitans attacked again in 1010, which was complicated even further when the Jurchens also started skirmishes with Goryeo on the Manchurian border of Korea. As the conflicts continued to afflict war-weary Goryeo, King Hyonjong (r. 1009-1031) ordered the carving of the Tripitaka, imploring Buddha's aid, which consisted of about 6,000 chapters. Goryeo printing with movable metal type was developed to print many titles in limited copies around the mid-12th century. In 1145, King Injong (r. 1112-1146) had a Confucian scholar, Kim Pu-shik , compile the Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms). Conflict increased between civil and military officials as the latter were degraded and poorly paid. In 1170, the military officials rose up against the civil officials and paid them back with bloodshed; this would only add to Goryeo's dislike for the military class. In 1238 the Mongols invaded Goryeo and laid the Kingdom to ruins as resistance continued on and off for almost thirty years. In the end, the Goryeo court submitted, and the Mongols interfered with Goryeo's politics for the next 100 years. In the 1340s, the Mongol Empire declined rapidly due to internal struggles. King Kongmin was free at last to reform a Goryeo government. King Kongmin had various problems that needed to be dealt with which included the removal of pro-Mongul aristocrats and military officials, the question of land holding, and quelling the growing animosity between the Buddhists and Confucian scholars. Another problem was that Japanese pirates were no longer hit-and-run bandits, but organized military marauders raiding deep into the country. It was at that time that General Yi Seong-gye distinguished himself by repelling the pirates in a series of successful engagements. The Goryeo kingdom would last until 1392.

Joseon Dynasty

In 1392 a Goryeo general, Yi Seong-gye, overthrew the Goryeo king in a coup d'état and established a new dynasty: the Joseon Dynasty (also referred to as "land of the morning calm"). The name Joseon was chosen by the Chinese Emperor Hongwu, an act which shows Yi Seong-gye aligned himself with the Ming government. The Joseon Dynasty moved the capital to Hanseong (now Seoul) and adopted Confucianism as the state ideology. The Hangul alphabet was created by King Sejong in 1443. During the late 1500s Japan would invade Korea in two failed attempts known together as the Seven-Year War.

During the mid- to late- 19th century, Joseon's reluctance to open itself to foreign trade earned its nickname, the Hermit Kingdom. Joseon could not keep foreign powers at bay forever, however, and soon several powers were competing for influence in Korea.

China had been the most influential because of its geographic proximity. However, in 1895, Queen Min of Joseon, the last empress of Korea, was killed by a group of assassins who are believed to have been under the command of the Japanese ambassador to Korea, Miura Goro . In the resulting power vacuum, Japan forced trade agreements on Korea in 1876, taking an aggressive position following the victory in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). In 1897, Joseon was renamed Daehan Jeguk (Korean Empire). A period of Russian influence followed, until Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Korea became a protectorate of Japan in 1905.

Japanese Occupation

Main article: Period of Japanese Rule

In 1910 the country was officially annexed by Japan and came to be ruled by a Governor-General of Korea. Japanese rule lasted until 1945 when Japan unconditionally surrendered to the Allied Forces at the end of World War II. The occupation by the Japanese is characterized by many historians as a period of brutal abuses of human rights. However, there are also some historians who take an apologist stance towards the occupation. As of yet, the issue remains a point of contention between the governments of Korea and the government of Japan. Anti-Japanese sentiment still runs strong throughout Korea, and Asia as a whole, as a result of the occupation and other alleged abuses by Japan.


Main articles: Division of Korea, Korean War

Korea was divided into two occupation zones effectively starting on September 8, 1945, with the United States administering the southern half of the peninsula and the Soviet Union taking over the area north of the 38th parallel. This division was meant to be temporary and was first intended to return a unified Korea back to its people until the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and Republic of China could arrange a trusteeship administration.

Initial hopes for a unified, independent Korea quickly evaporated as the politics of the Cold War and domestic opposition to the trusteeship plan resulted in the 1948 establishment of two separate governments in the North and the South with diametrically opposed political, economic, and social systems. In June 1950 the Korean War broke out. It lasted for three years and ended with a ceasefire agreement and no victor, turning the division into a permanent one.


Main article: Korean reunification

There were some historical talks between the two Koreas; however, most did not address the possibility of reunification, and no progress has been made. It is unlikely that the regime in North Korea would volunteer in a process in which they would lose their powers. However, reunification is still strong in the people's minds.


Main article: Culture of Korea

The nation uses vibrant colors for its festivities which is said to be due to Mongolian influences. It is common to see bright hues of pink, yellow, and green on objects and material that define traditional Korean motifs [3]. Family ties are an important aspect of familial relations, not excluding relations involving business. Bowing is a custom that is proper and expected among Koreans as a way of greeting one another, although it is typically reserved for special occasions in the modern age. Koreans tend to move around at a fast pace. Korean values spring from a large number of influences, including Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism, ancestor worship, Buddhism, and more recently Christianity and Authoritarianism [4]. Although Korea is sometimes described as a Confucian society, this would be an over-simplification of the culture akin to describing the culture of China in the same terms. Korean cuisine is marked by its traditional dish called kimchi (see also Korean cuisine) which uses a distinctive process of preserving vegetables by fermentation, developed before electric refrigeration existed. Chili peppers are also commonly used in Korean cuisine, which has given it a reputation for being 'spicy'.

Korea in sporting events

A unified Korean team competed under the Unification Flag in 1991 in both the 41st World Table Tennis Championship in Chiba, Japan and in the 6th World Youth Soccer Championship in Lisbon, Portugal. A unified Korean team marched under the Unification Flag in the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, but the North and South Korean national teams competed separately in sporting events.


(see also: Demographics of South Korea)

The Korean Peninsula is populated almost exclusively by ethnic Koreans, although a significant minority of ethnic Chinese (about 20,000 [5]) exists in South Korea, and small communities of ethnic Chinese and Japanese are said to exist in North Korea [6]. The combined population (including North and South Korea) of the Korean Peninsula is about 71,000,000 people.


Korea is located on the Korean Peninsula in North-East Asia. It is separated from China by the Yalu/Amnok River in the north and the Yellow Sea in the west. It is separated from Japan by the Sea of Japan/East Sea/East Sea of Korea to the east. Korea also has a short border with Russia along the Tumen/Duman River. Notable islands are Jaejudo, Uleungdo and Dokdo.


Korean Name
Revised Romanization Koria
McCune-Reischauer K'oria
Hangul 코리아
Derived from Goryeo (Koryŏ;
고려; Hanja: 高麗

Main article: Names of Korea [7]

In Korean, Korea is referred to as "Hanguk" (한국; 韓國) in the south and "Chosŏn" (조선; 朝鮮) in the north. In addition, South Koreans also use "Hanguk" to refer only to South Korea and North Koreans also use "Chosŏn" to refer only to North Korea. The western name "Korea" or "Corea" (from Goryeo (고려; 高麗)) is a neutral name often used by both countries in international contexts. There are complex historical reasons for the use of all three names, of which the following paragraph is a summary. The Chinese characters of Goryeo are pronounced Gaoli in Chinese, which is why Marco Polo marked today's Korea as Cauli in his travel.

Before the Three Kingdoms Period "Old Joseon" was the first Korean state. Then in the 660s, the kingdoms of Baekje;백제 and Goguryeo;고구려 came under the control of Silla, and Korea was called "Silla" (or Unified Silla;신라or 통일신라 by modern historians) from then until the 10th century. In 936, the newly formed kingdom of Goryeo;고려 replaced Shilla. From Goryeo came "Cauli" (the Italian spelling of the name Marco Polo gave to the country in his Travels), from which came the English names "Corea" and the now more commonly used "Korea". (For the Corea-vs.-Korea debate, please see Names of Korea.) In 1392, the Joseon Dynasty;조선 came to power and the country was renamed "Joseon" (Dae Joseon-guk 대조선국 in full, or "Great Joseon Nation"). In 1897, the Korean Empire (Daehan Jeguk 대한제국) was formed, reviving the name "Han". In 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan and the name reverted to "Joseon" ("Chosen" in Japanese). In 1919, a Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was formed in Shanghai, which used the name "Republic of Korea" (Daehan Minguk대한민국), a modified form of the name "Korean Empire". After independence from Japan and the country's division in 1945, the southern American-occupied zone became the "Republic of Korea" (or Hanguk for short in South Korean) in 1948, due to the influence of the non-Communist Shanghai group. Meanwhile, the northern Soviet-occupied zone became the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (or Chosŏn for short in North Korean) under the control of Kim Il-sung, who wished to use the name "Chosŏn" for its ancient and northern connotations.

See History of South Korea and History of North Korea for the post-war period.

Further Readings

  • Account of a voyage of discovery to the west coast of Corea, and the great Loo-Choo island; with an appendix, containing charts, and various hydrographical and scientific notices. By Captain Basil Hall with a vocabulary of the Loo-Choo languages, by H. J. Clifford. Publisher: London, J. Murray, 1818
  • Chun, Tuk Chu. "Korea in the Pacific Community." SOCIAL EDUCATION 52 (March 1988), 182. EJ 368 177.
  • Cumings, Bruce. THE TWO KOREAS. New York: Foreign Policy Association, 1984.
  • FOCUS ON ASIAN STUDIES. Special Issue: "Korea: A Teacher's Guide." No. 1, Fall 1986.
  • Lee Ki-baik. A NEW HISTORY OF KOREA. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984.
  • Lee Sang-sup. "The Arts and Literature of Korea." THE SOCIAL STUDIES 79 (July-August 1988): 153-60. EJ 376 894.

See also

External links

Last updated: 10-24-2005 16:30:01
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