The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






South Korea

South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (ROK; Korean: Daehan Minguk (Hangul: 대한 민국; Hanja: 大韓民國)), is a country in East Asia, covering the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. To the north, the Republic of Korea borders North Korea, with which it formed a single nation until 1948. Its division was finalized by the Korean War. Japan lies across the sea. The country is commonly called Hanguk ("Han Nation", 한국; 韓國) or Namhan ("South Han", 남한; 南韓) by South Koreans and Namjosŏn ("South Chosŏn", 남조선; 南朝鮮) in North Korea. The capital is Seoul (서울).



Main articles: Korea, History of Korea, History of South Korea

After the end of World War II in 1945, the world's superpowers divided Korea into two zones of influence, followed in 1948 by two matching governments: a communist North and a United States-influenced South. In June 1950, the Korean War started. The United Nations-backed South and the USSR-backed North eventually reached a stalemate and an armistice was signed in 1953, splitting the peninsula along the demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel, which had been the original demarcation line.

Thereafter, the southern Republic of Korea, under the autocratic government of Syngman Rhee and the dictatorship of Park Chung Hee, achieved rapid economic growth. Civil unrest dominated politics until protests succeeded in overthrowing the dictatorship and installing a more democratic form of government in the 1980s. A potential Korean reunification has remained a prominent topic; no peace treaty has yet been signed with the North. In June 2000, a historic first North-South summit took place, part of the South's continuing "Sunshine Policy" of engagement, despite recent concerns over the North's nuclear weapons program.

See also: Rulers of Korea, Division of Korea


Main article: Politics of South Korea

The head of state of the Republic of Korea is the president, who is elected by direct popular vote for a single five-year term. In addition to being the highest representative of the republic and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the president also has considerable executive powers and appoints the prime minister with approval of parliament, as well as appointing and presiding over the State Council or cabinet.

The unicameral Korean parliament is the National Assembly or kukhae (국회), whose members serve a four-year term of office. The legislature currently has 299 seats, of which 243 are elected by regional vote and the remainder are distributed by the proportional representation ballot. The highest judiciary body is the Supreme Court, whose justices are appointed by the president with the consent of parliament.

Provinces and cities

Main article: Administrative divisions of South Korea.

South Korea consists of 1 Special City (Teukbyeolsi; 특별시; 特別市), 6 Metropolitan Cities (Gwangyeoksi, singular and plural; 광역시; 廣域市), and 9 Provinces (do, singular and plural; 도; 道). The names below are given in English, Revised Romanization, Hangul, and Hanja.

Special City

  • Seoul Special City (Seoul Teukbyeolsi; 서울 특별시; 서울特別市)

Metropolitan Cities

  • Busan Metropolitan City (Busan Gwangyeoksi; 부산 광역시; 釜山廣域市)
  • Daegu Metropolitan City (Daegu Gwangyeoksi; 대구 광역시; 大邱廣域市)
  • Incheon Metropolitan City (Incheon Gwangyeoksi; 인천 광역시; 仁川廣域市)
  • Gwangju Metropolitan City (Gwangju Gwangyeoksi; 광주 광역시; 光州廣域市)
  • Daejeon Metropolitan City (Daejeon Gwangyeoksi; 대전 광역시; 大田廣域市)
  • Ulsan Metropolitan City (Ulsan Gwangyeoksi; 울산 광역시; 蔚山廣域市)


  • Gyeonggi Province (Gyeonggi-do; 경기도; 京畿道)
  • Gangwon Province (Gangwon-do; 강원도; 江原道)
  • North Chungcheong Province (Chungcheongbuk-do; 충청 북도; 忠清北道)
  • South Chungcheong Province (Chungcheongnam-do; 충청 남도; 忠清南道)
  • North Jeolla Province (Jeollabuk-do; 전라 북도; 全羅北道)
  • South Jeolla Province (Jeollanam-do; 전라 남도; 全羅南道)
  • North Gyeongsang Province (Gyeongsangbuk-do; 경상 북도; 慶尚北道)
  • South Gyeongsang Province(Gyeongsangnam-do; 경상 남도; 慶尚南道)
  • Jeju Province (Jeju-do; 제주도; 濟州道)

See also: Provinces of Korea and Special cities of Korea for historical information.


Main articles: Geography of South Korea

Korea forms a peninsula that extends some 1,100 km from the Asian mainland, flanked by the Yellow Sea ("West Sea") to the west and the East Sea (Sea of Japan) to the east, and terminated by the Korea Strait and the South Sea (East China Sea) to the south. The southern landscape consists of partially forested mountain ranges to the east, separated by deep, narrow valleys. Densely populated and cultivated coastal plains are found in the west and south.

The local climate is relatively temperate, with precipitation heavier in summer during a short rainy season called jangma, and winters that can be bitterly cold on occasion. South Korea's (current) capital and largest city is Seoul in the northwest, other major cities include nearby Incheon, central Daejeon, Gwangju in the southwest and Daegu and Busan in the southeast.

See also: regions of Korea


Main article: Economy of South Korea

As one of the four East Asian Tigers, South Korea has achieved an impressive record of growth and integration into the global economy making South Korea the 11th largest economy in the world. In the aftermath of WWII, GDP per capita was comparable with levels in the poorest countries of Africa and Asia. Then the Korean War made conditions in Korea even worse. Today its GDP per capita is roughly 20 times North Korea's and equal to the medium economies of the European Union.

This success through the late 1980s was achieved by a system of close government-business ties, including directed credit, import restrictions, sponsorship of specific industries, and a strong labour effort. The government promoted the import of raw materials and technology at the expense of consumer goods and encouraged savings and investment over consumption. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 exposed longstanding weaknesses in South Korea's development model, including high debt/equity ratios, massive foreign borrowing, and an undisciplined financial sector.

Growth plunged by 6.6% in 1998, then strongly recovered to 10.8% in 1999 and 9.2% in 2000. Growth fell back to 3.3% in 2001 because of the slowing global economy, falling exports, and the perception that much-needed corporate and financial reforms have stalled. Led by industry and construction, growth in 2002 was an impressive 5.8%, despite anemic global growth.


Main article: Demographics of South Korea

The Korean people

Korea's population is one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogeneous in the world, with the only significant minority being a small Chinese community. Koreans have lived in Manchuria for many centuries, who are now a minority in China. Joseph Stalin forced thousands of ethnic Koreans from Vladivostok and Khabarovsk to relocate to the Central Asian part of the U.S.S.R., fearing Korean collaboration with the Japanese, while the majority of the Korean population in Japan was brought/kidnapped there as forced labor during the colonial period. Political, social and economic instability of South Korea in the past has driven many South Koreans to emigrate to foreign countries, particularly the United States and Canada. California has a large number of Koreans and Korean-Americans, numbering well over one million people. Currently the migration levels for people leaving and returning to South Korea are relatively equal.


About 85 percent of South Koreans live in urban areas. The capital city of Seoul had 10.4 million inhabitants in 2000, making it the most populated single city (excluding greater metropolitan areas) in the world. Its density has allowed it to become one of the most "digitally-wired" cities in today's globally connected economy. Other major cities include Busan (3.9 million), Incheon (2.9 million), Daegu (2.65 million), Daejeon (1.48 million), Gwangju (1.38 million) and Ulsan (1.15 million).


The Korean language, thought by some scholars to be a member of a wider linguistic family of the Altaic languages, is currently classified as a language isolate by western scholars. Its vocabulary, however, has borrowed a lot from neighboring countries, especially from Chinese.

The Korean writing system, Hangul, was invented in 1446 by King Sejong the Great to widely spread education - as Chinese characters which were used prior to Hangul in Korea were thought to not correlate well with the Korean language/grammer and be too difficult and time consuming for a common person to learn - through the Royal proclamation of Hunmin Jeongeum (훈민정음/訓民正音) which literally means the "proper sounds to teach the general public." It is different from the Chinese form of written communication as it is phonetically based.

Numerous underlying words still stem from Hanja and older people in Korea still prefer to write words in Hanja, as they were discouraged from the study and use of Korean script during the Period of Japanese Rule. The Korean writing system, hangul, was promulgated by King Sejong, although the full extent of King Sejong's involvement in the development of the writing system is unclear. It is widely acknowledged that King Sejong at least commissioned the development of hangul, with the intention to foster wider literacy among the Korean people.

In 2000 the government decided to introduce a new romanization system, which this article also uses. English is taught as a second language in most primary and intermediate schools. Those students in high school are also taught 2 years of either Chinese, Japanese, French, German or Spanish as an elective course.


Christianity (29%) and Buddhism (26%) comprise South Korea's two dominant religions. Christianity initially got a foothold in Korea during the Japanese Occupation, then in the 1970s and early 1980s grew exponentially, and despite slower growth in the 1990s, caught up to Buddhism as a significant faith. Presbyterians (with around 6.5-7.8 million members), Roman Catholics (2-3.8 million), Pentecostals (1-1.7 million), and Methodists (1-1.4 million) are the largest denominations. Statistics have been published purporting to show that almost 50 percent of South Koreans are Christians, but these figures are almost certainly inflated, due to the high incidence of dual membership and unrecorded transfers of membership among different denominations. Christians, although well represented in all parts of South Korea, are especially strong around Seoul, where they comprise about 50 percent of the population. (See also Christianity in Korea, Protestantism in Korea , Catholicism in Korea )

Buddhism is stronger in the more conservative south of the country, especially in Busan and other rural parts of the country. There are a number of different "schools" in Buddhism; among them are the Seon (선) (Imported from Chan Buddhism in China, then later taught to the Japanese as Zen Buddhism), and the more modern Wonbulgyo (원불교) movement, which emphasizes the unity of all things. Other religions comprise about 9.4 percent of the population. These include Shamanism (traditional spirit worship) and Cheondogyo, an indigenous religion combining elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Christianity. Confucianism is small in terms of self-declared adherents, but the great majority of South Koreans, irrespective of their formal religious affiliation, are strongly influenced by Confucianist values, which continue to permeate Korean culture.

About 46 percent of South Koreans profess to follow no particular religion. There are also about 37 000 members of the Bahá'í Faith and about 33 000 Muslims. The remaining religions include Taoism and Hinduism.

Foreign relations

There are several disputes between South Korea and Japan. Refer to the Korean-Japanese disputes for other disputes.

Sea name dispute

There is a dispute about the name of the sea bounded by the Korean peninsula, Russia, and Japan. Many maps call it the Sea of Japan, but in South Korea it is exclusively known as the "East Sea," and in North Korea it is known as the "East Sea of Korea". In compromise, some maps use both names, calling it the "Sea of Japan (East Sea)". For further details on this dispute, see Dispute over the name of the Sea of Japan.

Territorial dispute

South Korea and Japan have a territorial dispute over "Liancourt Rocks" in the East Sea (also known as Sea of Japan). The islet is called "Takeshima" in Japanese and "Dokdo" in Korean. Liancourt Rocks is predominantly volcanic rock and surrounded by rich fishing grounds. There might also be some deposits of natural gas in the area. Currently it is controlled by South Korea, however, Japan also claims the territory and is asking the South Korean government for mediation by the International Court of Justice.

Japan's claim that Liancourt Rocks are a territory in Japan included in Shimane Prefecture, is based on the 'Article 40 of the Shimane Prefecture's Ordinance' documented in 1905. The Japanese side, with the cabinet having proclaimed the "Liancourt Rocks" as its land on January 28, 1905 and with the governor of the Prefecture having incorporated the islets into the Shimane Prefecture a month later, argues that the islets constitute as a legitimate territory within international law. Moreover, Japan was an occupied by the United States when South Korea began to control Liancourt Rocks and therefore unable to express its territorial claim to South Korean government at that time. The Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea that the Japanese and South Korean governments ratified states that a bilateral dispute should be solved by talks.

In contrast, Korean side presents as an important evidence royal edict No. 41 of the King Kojong in the 1900 government gazette notice to the effect that the Uleung County jurisdiction comprises of Uleung Island and Suk-do. (Dok-do was referred to as Suk-do in the royal edict.) Thus, Dok-do was not unclaimed territory when Japanese cabinet unilaterally claimed it in 1905. Before this, Japan had fought two consecutive wars for the control of the Korean Peninsula, the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War.

Historical evidences date back to the Annals of Three Kingdoms (Samguk Saki). In 512, the 13th year of the King Jijung, the Annals records that State of Usan including Uleung Island belonged to the Shilla Dynasty ; and it is generally inferred from this that the Suk-do was incorporated into the Dynasty along with the Ulleung-do. The geography book or Jiriji, compiled in the year 1432 of the Chosun Dynasty, also records that two islands, Usan and Mureung were on the sea to the due east. Another geographical book called "Shinjeungdongguk Yojiram," published in 1531, describes in its section on Uljin-hyon, Kangwon Province that 'Usan-do and Uleung-do were on the sea to the due east. The historical record of Unleung-do 1694 by Jang Hansang of Samchuk Chungsa indicates that there was an island about 300 ri (or 75km) from and one third the size of the Ulleung-do. Under the Article 2 and Section a of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan was to recognize the independence of Korea and return Jeju, Kumun, Uleung Islands; in this section, there was no mention on Dok-do. Korean side argues, however, that the Dok-do, even though its name was not specifically referred to in the Treaty, was assumed to be part of the Uleung-do.

Another disputed territory is the Island known as "Daemado" in Korean and "Tsushima" in Japanese. Currently the island is controlled by the Japanese. In the 15th century, General Lee Jong-mu conquered the Island from Masan, Korea and put it under the jurisdiction of Gyeongsang Province. According to Jeoson records, Donggukyeojiseungram, Korea never formally handed over the island to Japan.


Main articles: Culture of Korea, Contemporary culture of South Korea

South Korea shares its traditional culture with that of North Korea. Throughout history, the Korean culture was influenced by that of China. Today, the roles are reversed, with an increased Korean influence in China in terms of popular music, fashion and television drama.

Traditional culture has also been influenced by Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Many great scholars and philosophers lived in Korea, but are not well known to outsiders due to the country's early isolationism.

Since its division into two separate states, the two Koreas have developed distinct contemporary forms of culture.


Domestic tourism is quite popular among Koreans, but is still catching on with non-Koreans. Seoul is the principal tourist destination for non-Koreans. Popular tourist destinations for Koreans include Seorak-san national park, the historic city of Gyeongju, and semi-tropical Jeju Island. Travel to North Korea is not normally possible except with special permission, but in recent years organized group tours have taken South Koreans to Kŭmgang-san mountain in the North.

Miscellaneous topics

External links

Last updated: 10-12-2005 07:29:47
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