Korea (or Korean Peninsula) is a region in East Asia. Since 1945 it has been divided into two sovereign states: North Korea (officially the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”) and South Korea (officially the “Republic of Korea”). Korea consists of the Korean Peninsula, Jeju Island, and several minor islands near the peninsula. It is bordered by China to the northwest and Russia to the northeast. It is separated from Japan to the east by the Korea Strait and the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
During the first half of the 1st millennium, Korea was divided between the three competing states of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla, together known as the Three Kingdoms of Korea. In the second half of the 1st millennium, Silla defeated and conquered Baekje and Goguryeo, leading to the “Unified Silla” period. Meanwhile, Balhae formed in the north, superseding former Goguryeo. Unified Silla eventually collapsed into three separate states due to civil war, ushering in the Later Three Kingdoms. Toward the end of the 1st millennium, Goguryeo was resurrected as Goryeo, which defeated the two other states and unified the Korean Peninsula as a single sovereign state. Around the same time, Balhae collapsed and its last crown prince fled south to Goryeo. Goryeo (also spelled as Koryŏ), whose name developed into the modern exonym “Korea”, was a highly cultured state that created the world’s first metal movable type in 1234. However, multiple incursions by the Mongol Empire during the 13th century greatly weakened the nation, which eventually agreed to become a vassal state after decades of fighting. Following military resistance under King Gongmin that ended Mongol political influence in Goryeo, severe political strife followed, and Goryeo eventually fell to a coup led by General Yi Seong-gye, who established Joseon in 17 July 1392.
The first 200 years of the Joseon era were marked by relative peace. During this period, the Korean alphabet was created by Sejong the Great in the 15th century and there was increasing influence of Confucianism. During the later part of the dynasty, Korea’s isolationist policy earned it the Western nickname of the “Hermit Kingdom“. By the late 19th century, the country became the object of imperial design by the Empire of Japan. After the First Sino-Japanese War, despite the Korean Empire‘s effort to modernize, the country was annexed by Japan in 1910 and ruled by it until the end of World War II in August 1945.
In 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed on the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea in the aftermath of World War II, leaving Korea partitioned along the 38th parallel. The North was under Soviet occupation and the South under U.S. occupation. These circumstances became the basis for the division of Korea by the 2 superpowers with the 2 diffirent ideologies, exacerbated by their inability to agree on the terms of Korean independence. The Communist-inspired government in the North received backing from the Soviet Union in opposition to the pro-Western government in the South, leading to Korea’s division into two political entities in 1948: North Korea, and South Korea. Tensions between the two resulted in the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. With involvement by foreign troops, the war ended in a stalemate in 1953, but without a formalized peace treaty. This status contributes to the high tensions that continue to divide the peninsula. Both governments of the two Koreas continue to claim to be the sole legitimate government of this region.” (WP)
“Korea is a land in eastern Asia that consists of two states. One is the Republic of Korea – usually called South Korea. Seoul is its capital and largest city. The other is the “Democratic” People’s Republic of Korea-commonly called North Korea. Pyongyang is its capital and largest city. North Korea has a Communist government, and its Communist Party holds political power. In non-Communist South Korea, the people elect their national political leaders.
North and South Korea lie on the Korean Peninsula, which extends south from northeastern China. North Korea covers the northern half of the peninsula, and South Korea occupies the southern half. North Korea is slightly larger in area than South Korea, but the South has about twice as many people as the North.
Plains stretch along the western, northeastern, and southern coasts of Korea. Mountains cover most of the rest of the peninsula. Most of the Korean people by far live on the coastal plains or in river valleys.
Until the early 1900’s, Korea’s economy was based entirely on agriculture, and almost all Koreans worked as farmers. After the early 1900’s, the country underwent vast changes. Today, industry is far more important than agriculture in both North and South Korea.
Scientists have evidence that people lived in what is now Korea at least 30,000 years ago. Various Korean and foreign states ruled the Korean peninsula from ancient times to the 1900’s. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 until World War II ended in 1945. After Japan’s defeat in the war, Korea was divided. The separate governments of South and North Korea were formed in 1948.
Communists had gained control of the North in 1945. In 1950, North Korean troops invaded South Korea. This action started the Korean War, which was part of the Cold War struggle between Communist and non-Communist nations. The Korean War ended in 1953. But neither side won a complete victory, and a permanent peace treaty has never been signed. See KOREAN WAR.
Since the war, small-scale fighting between South and North Korea has occasionally taken place. Since the early 1970’s, representatives of the two states have held discussions from time to time about reunifying Korea. In 1991, South Korea and North Korea signed an agreement not to use force against each other. However, each state also formally recognized the other’s regime, moving away from reunification. In 2000, the leaders of North and South Korea met for the first time since Korea was divided.
This article discusses KOREA (History).
South Korea. According to its Constitution, South Korea is a republic. The Constitution calls for the election of national government leaders by the people. It guarantees such rights as freedom of the press and religion. But the government can limit freedom. See South Korea in the History section of this article.
National government. The president of South Korea is both the head of state and the head of the government. The people elect the president to a five-year term. The president cannot be reelected. The president appoints a prime minister, who carries out the operations of the government. In addition, the president appoints 15 to 30 State Council members, who head government departments. South Korea’s legislature, called the National Assembly, has 299 members. Voters elect the members of the National Assembly to four-year terms. South Koreans 20 years old or older may vote.
Local government. South Korea has nine provinces. The country also has five cities-Inchon, Kwangju, Pusan, Taegu, and Taejon-that have the same status as provinces. Seoul has a special status similar to that of a province. Each province is divided into two kinds of government units-cities and counties. For many years, the president of South Korea appointed most local leaders. In 1995, for the first time since the 1960’s, elections were held for provincial governors, city mayors, and other city and county officials.
Politics. Since the 1980’s, political parties in South Korea have frequently changed and reorganized. The Grand National Party holds more National Assembly seats than any other party. Its chief rival, the Millennium Democratic Party, holds almost as many seats. The United Liberal Democratic Party holds only a few seats.
Courts. The Supreme Court, which is South Korea’s highest court, consists of a chief justice and up to 13 other justices. The president appoints the chief justice-and the other justices, who are recommended by the chief justice-with the approval of the National Assembly. All of the justices serve six-year terms. South Korea has a Constitution Court that rules on such questions as the constitutionality of laws. Other courts include appeals courts, district courts, and a family court.
Armed forces. The armies of both South and North Korea are among the world’s largest. The South Korean army has about 520,000 members. South Korea also has a navy of about 60,000 and an air force of about 50,000. The government may draft men 17 to 30 years of age for 26 to 30 months of service. Women join the armed forces on a volunteer basis. About 31/2 million people are members of a civilian defense corps.
North Korea. The North Korean Constitution gives political power to the people. But the country’s Communist Party, called the Korean Workers’ Party, holds the real political power. The Constitution guarantees such rights as freedom of the press, religion, and speech. But the North Korean people have almost no real freedom. The Communists maintain strict control over all aspects of life to ensure their dominance of the country.
National government. The chairman of the National Defense Commission is considered the head of state and North Korea’s most powerful official. The Central People’s Committee is the most powerful policymaking body. It varies in size but usually has about 20 members. These officials, who are all high-ranking members of the Communist Party, hold office on the committee because of their positions in the party.
North Korea’s legislature, called the Supreme People’s Assembly, elects the chairman of the National Defense Commission and the members of the Central People’s Committee. The Supreme People’s Assembly has 687 members, elected by the people to five-year terms. According to the Constitution, it is North Korea’s highest government authority. But the legislature has little power. It meets only one or two weeks a year and functions according to the wishes of the Communist Party.
A body called the State Administrative Council is responsible for carrying out government policies. It is headed by a premier, who is appointed by the Supreme People’s Assembly. Its other members consist of the heads of government ministries and commissions, who are appointed by the Central People’s Committee.
Local government. North Korea has nine provinces. Four cities-Chongjin, Hamhung, Kaesong, and Pyongyang-have the status of provinces. Smaller political units include cities, counties, towns, villages, and workers’ settlements. The people of each unit elect a people’s assembly that directs the local government.
Politics. The Korean Workers’ Party is the ruling party of North Korea. Fewer than 15 percent of the people belong to the party. Even so, the party makes the country’s laws, chooses all candidates for elections, and approves all people appointed to public office. Officially, North Korea has a number of other political parties. However, these parties may not oppose the policies of the Workers’ Party.
Courts. The Central Court is North Korea’s highest court. Its justices are chosen by the Communist Party and elected by the Supreme People’s Assembly. Other courts in North Korea include provincial courts and people’s courts.
Armed forces of North Korea consist of a 1 million-member army, an air force of about 85,000 members, and a navy of about 45,000. About 600,000 people serve in the army reserve and about 65,000 in the naval reserve. About 4 million people are members of local militia forces. Militia members serve part-time.
The North Korean government drafts men 20 to 25 years old for military service. Members of the army must serve 5 to 8 years. The air force requires 3 to 4 years of service, and the navy requires 5 to 10 years. Women join the armed forces on a volunteer basis.
Ancestry. Scientists have evidence that people had settled in what is now Korea by at least 30,000 years ago. They came from regions to the north and northwest. It is not known when the ancestors of today’s Korean people arrived in the peninsula. They may have come from the north about 5,000 years ago.
Population. Six South Korean cities have populations of over 1 million. Seoul, the capital, is also the largest South Korean city. It has more than 10 million people. Pusan is the second largest city in South Korea. North Korea’s largest city is Pyongyang, the capital.
Koreans make up almost the entire population of Korea. People of Chinese descent are Korea’s largest minority group.
Language. Korean is the official language of South and North Korea. Scholars classify it in the same language family as Japanese, but Korean is unlike any other language. About half of all Korean words come from Chinese. Korean has about six major dialects (local forms). Most Koreans understand all the dialects.
The Korean alphabet, called han’gul, has 24 letters. It was developed by scholars at the court of King Sejong in the 1440’s. South Koreans use some Chinese symbols in addition to han’gul in their writing. North Koreans use only han’gul.
Way of life
Before the 1900’s, Korea was an agricultural society built on strong family ties. Almost all the people lived in small villages and worked on farms. In many families, several generations lived together. The oldest male served as head of the family, and all people were expected to obey their elders without question.
This way of life changed quickly after Japan seized control of Korea in 1910. The Japanese brought industry to Korean cities and took much farmland away from the farmers. They forcibly moved many young Koreans to the cities to work. The old way of life changed even more after Korea’s division in the 1940’s. In the North, the Communists took steps to make the country an industrial society. Following Communist ideas, they also tried to weaken the importance of the family. In the South, economic and political ties with Western nations brought South Koreans under the influence of Western customs.
City life. Changes in both North and South Korea since the 1950’s have led to a rapid increase in the proportion of city dwellers. South Koreans are attracted to cities because of the opportunities there. Factories and businesses provide jobs. The cities have colleges and universities, better health-care facilities, and a variety of entertainment.
Many high-rise apartment buildings and modern houses have been built in Seoul and other large South Korean cities. But it has been difficult to meet the rapidly rising need for housing, and many people have been forced to live in distant suburbs. The rise in population has also strained such public services as water, sewerage, and transportation. The crime rate in the cities has increased sharply. In addition, as South Koreans became more prosperous, the number of automobiles continues to increase. Traffic jams are frequent, and major cities suffer from a severe pollution problem.
Most city dwellers in North Korea work in factories. The majority of them live in one-room or two-room apartments built after Korea’s division. Few city people besides high-ranking government officials have houses. Pyongyang is North Korea’s most modern city, with skyscrapers, broad boulevards, cultural centers, and sports stadiums. However, it has few restaurants or places of entertainment. Few North Koreans own cars.
Rural life. Many South Koreans, including those in rural areas, live in houses made of bricks or concrete blocks, with roofs of cement tiles and slate. Many houses are two or three stories, though such houses are less common in rural areas than in the cities. Most houses have ondol-floors of thick stone slabs covered by oiled papers or mats. Traditionally, channels under the floors carried hot air from the kitchen or an indoor fireplace to heat the rooms. In many homes today, pipes carry heated water under the floors to provide heat. In the cities, many ondol are heated by electric coils. Almost all rural homes also have electric power. The use of Western-style beds, tables, and sofas is spreading.
The South Korean government maintains a campaign to improve roads, irrigation, and living conditions in rural areas. Most farmers have modern farm machinery.
After the division of Korea, the Communists in the North built many apartments on collective farms in rural areas. All North Korean farmers work on such farms, which are operated cooperatively by a large group of farmers. Most farming is done with modern machinery, and virtually all homes have electric power.
Clothing. Most people in both North and South Korea wear Western-style clothing. However, many people wear traditional clothing for holidays and special occasions. Traditional clothing for women consists of a long, full skirt and a tight-fitting jacket. Men wear loose-fitting trousers, shirts, and jackets.
Food and drink. Rice is the basic food of most Koreans. Other common foods include barley; fish; such fruits as apples, peaches, pears, and melons; and such vegetables as beans, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. One of the most popular dishes other than rice is kimchi, a highly spiced mixture of Chinese cabbage, white radishes, and several other vegetables. Consumption of meat and dairy products is small but increasing.
Tea is a traditional drink in Korea, but many Koreans drink coffee. Adults drink soju, a distilled alcoholic beverage usually made from grain, as well as ch’ongju, known in the West as sake or rice wine. In the rural areas, a home-brewed drink known as makkolli, made from rice, has also been popular. Young adults frequently drink beer.
Recreation. South Koreans enjoy most sports common in the West, including baseball, boxing, golf, soccer, table tennis, tennis, and wrestling. They also enjoy such martial arts as judo and tae kwon do. Television and radio broadcasts of local and national athletic meets attract a wide audience. Each year, South Korea holds a National Sports Festival. In North Korea, the government operates gymnasiums and promotes participation in organized sports programs.
South Korean cities and towns have many theaters for motion pictures, plays, and concerts. Korean and foreign movies are popular. Orchestras perform classical and contemporary Western music. Television networks regularly show dramas and comedies. In North Korea, most forms of entertainment are supported and controlled by the state. The cities have theaters for drama, opera, and motion pictures. Drama groups travel throughout the country to perform for workers in rural areas. Both North and South Koreans enjoy reading novels, short stories, and poems.
Religion. The government of South Korea permits complete freedom of religion. The North Korean Constitution guarantees religious freedom. But the government discourages religion because it conflicts with the teachings of Communism.
Confucianism, which is more a philosophy than a religion, traditionally has been the most widely followed set of beliefs in Korea. It stresses the duties that people have toward one another. Today, most South Koreans-no matter what religion they follow-believe in at least some of the teachings of Confucianism. For example, most families in the South follow the Confucian practice of honoring their ancestors in special ceremonies. About 20 percent of South Koreans are Buddhists, about 18 percent are Protestants, and about 3 percent are Roman Catholics. See BUDDHISM; CONFUCIANISM.
Education. Since the late 1940’s, South and North Korea have made special efforts to improve their educational systems. As a result, the number of Koreans who can read and write increased from less than half of the adult population in the mid-1940’s to almost all of the adults today. For the literacy rates of North and South Korea, see LITERACY (table: Literacy rates for selected countries).
South Korea. South Korean law requires that all children complete elementary school, which in that country goes through grade 6. Public elementary schools in South Korea are free.
After completing elementary school, a South Korean student may go on to attend middle school (grades 7 through 9) and then high school (grades 10 through 12). Parents must pay tuition for public as well as private secondary schools. Nevertheless, about 80 percent of children aged 12 to 17 attend secondary school. Technical training, which prepares students for industrial jobs, begins in the middle schools and continues through all higher levels of education.
Qualified high school graduates may enter one of South Korea’s more than 250 college-level schools. These schools provide training in a wide variety of subjects. More than 1 million students attend universities, colleges, and junior colleges in South Korea.
North Korea requires children to attend school for 11 years, including a year of preschool. The state pays all educational expenses. Students must work for the state during part of the summer.
In North Korea, elementary school consists of grades 1 through 4, and senior middle school has grades 5 through 10. Students must have Communist Party approval to continue their education after senior middle school. Those who continue attend a two-year high school, a two-year general vocational school, or a three- or four-year technical school that provides training for engineering and scientific jobs. Students who finish high school or technical school may go to college immediately. Vocational school graduates must complete a year of special study before they enter college.
North Korea has one university-Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang-and more than 200 specialized colleges. Each college offers training in one area, such as agriculture, engineering, or medicine. The government provides night schools for adults, training schools in factories, and courses for workers to take by mail.
The arts. Early Korean art developed under the influence of both Chinese art and the teachings of Buddhism and Confucianism. Popular themes included love of nature, respect for learning, and loyalty to the king. The most widely practiced art forms included music, poetry, pottery, sculpture, and painting.
In North Korea today, the government controls the work of artists. The government prohibits works of art that conflict with Communist principles. It encourages artists to show support in their work for the policies of the Communist Party.
South Korean artists are free from government control. In South Korea, artists work with traditional themes and with various forms of Western art. Western art has influenced all forms of South Korean art. This influence appears especially in the rapid development of Western forms of drama and of motion pictures since 1945.
The Korean Peninsula extends southward from northeastern China. More than 3,000 islands, which are part of Korea, lie off the southern and western coasts of the peninsula. The peninsula and the islands cover a total area of 85,353 square miles (221,063 square kilometers). The Sea of Japan, which Koreans call the East Sea, lies east of the peninsula. It separates Korea from Japan. The Yellow Sea lies west of Korea, and the Korea Strait lies to the south.
Korea has six main land regions. They are (1) the Northwestern Plain, (2) the Northern Mountains, (3) the Eastern Coastal Lowland, (4) the Central Mountains, (5) the Southern Plain, and (6) the Southwestern Plain.
The Northwestern Plain stretches along the entire western coast of North Korea. Rolling hills divide the region into a series of broad, level plains. The Northwestern Plain has most of North Korea’s farmland and its major industrial area, including Pyongyang. About half the North Korean people live in the region.
The Northern Mountains region, east of the Northwestern Plain, covers almost all of central North Korea. Forested mountains make up most of the region. These mountains are an important source of valuable minerals and forest products.
Korea’s highest mountain, Paektu-san (Paektu Mountain), is in the Northern Mountains. It rises 9,003 feet (2,744 meters) on the border between North Korea and China. North Korea’s longest river, the Yalu, flows westward from this mountain along the border for 490 miles (789 kilometers) to the Yellow Sea. The Tumen River forms the border eastward from Paektu-san to the East Sea (Sea of Japan). Almost a fourth of North Korea’s people live in the Northern Mountains region.
The Eastern Coastal Lowland covers almost all of North Korea’s east coast. This strip of land between the Northern Mountains region and the East Sea (Sea of Japan) consists of a series of narrow plains separated by low hills. The plains provide much farmland, and the sea makes fishing important in the region. The Eastern Coastal Lowland also has some industrial areas. More than a fourth of North Korea’s people live in this small but heavily populated region.
The Central Mountains region extends throughout most of central and eastern South Korea and into a small part of southern North Korea. Forested mountains cover most of the region, including much of the seacoast. River valleys, hillsides, and some land along the coast are used for farming. The coastal waters yield large amounts of fish. More than a fourth of the South Korean people live in the Central Mountains region.
The Southern Plain covers the entire southern coast of South Korea. This important agricultural region consists of a series of plains separated by low hills. Pusan, an important industrial center of South Korea, is located in the region.
The Naktong River, which is 325 miles (523 kilometers) long, is South Korea’s longest river. It flows through the Southern Plain from mountains in the north to the Korea Strait. Almost a fourth of the South Korean people live in the region.
The Southwestern Plain extends along almost the entire western coast of South Korea. Like much of the rest of coastal Korea, this region consists of rolling hills and plains and is a farming center. It also includes the South’s major industrial area, around Seoul. The Han River flows through the region from mountains in the east to the Yellow Sea. About half of South Korea’s people live in the region.
Islands. Korea has more than 3,000 islands, most of which are unpopulated. People live on the larger ones. Cheju Island, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of the peninsula, is the largest island. It covers about 700 square miles (1,800 square kilometers). Cheju has its own provincial government. The other islands are governed by mainland provinces. South Korea’s highest mountain, Halla-san (Halla Mountain), rises 6,398 feet (1,950 meters) on Cheju Island.
Seasonal winds called monsoons affect Korea’s weather throughout the year. A monsoon blows in from the south and southeast during the summer, bringing hot, humid weather. A cold, dry monsoon blows in from the north and northwest during the winter, bringing cold weather.
Summer weather varies little throughout Korea. July temperatures average between 70° F (21° C) and 80 °F (27 °C). Korea’s massive mountains protect the peninsula’s east coast from the winter monsoon. As a result, the east coast generally has warmer winters than does the rest of Korea. Average January temperatures range from about 35 °F (2 °C) in southeastern Korea to about -5 °F (-21 °C) in parts of the Northern Mountains region.
Most of South Korea receives from 30 to 50 inches (76 to 130 centimeters) of precipitation (rain, melted snow, and other forms of moisture) yearly. Precipitation averages from 30 to 60 inches (76 to 150 centimeters) a year in most of North Korea. Heavy rainfall from June through August accounts for about half of Korea’s yearly precipitation. In most years, one or two typhoons hit the peninsula during July and August.
After the Korean War ended in 1953, the economies of South and North Korea grew rapidly. Before the war, the economies of both parts of Korea had depended chiefly on agriculture, though North Korea had some heavy industry and South Korea had some light industry. After the war, industrial production, especially manufacturing, gained much importance in both economies. In addition, such service activities as communication, government, trade, and transportation grew in importance, particularly in South Korea.
North Korea’s economy remains dependent on heavy industry. Its technology lags behind that of South Korea.
South Korea. The value of goods and services produced each year in South Korea totals about $485 billion. This value is the country’s gross national product (GNP). Service industries account for about 51 percent of South Korea’s GNP, and industrial production accounts for about 43 percent. Agriculture contributes about 6 percent. Agriculture employs about 12 percent of all South Korean workers, industry about 28 percent, and service activities about 60 percent.
Service industries are economic activities that produce services, rather than goods. Such industries are especially important to the Seoul area.
Wholesale and retail trade, hotels, and restaurants make up the main service industry of South Korea. This service industry group benefits heavily from tourist activities, and it employs more than 25 percent of all workers. Government services and such community, social, and personal services as education and health care also employ many people.
Other service industry groups are becoming increasingly important in South Korea. They include finance, insurance, and real estate; transportation and communication; and utilities. Transportation and communication are discussed later in this section.
Manufacturing and mining. Almost all of South Korea’s industry is privately owned. Manufacturing accounts for about 60 percent of the South’s industrial production. The manufacture of clothing, shoes, and textiles employs more of the people of South Korea than does any other industry. Food processing is also one of South Korea’s major industries.
After the Korean War, South Korea developed heavy industry, and it now ranks as a major producer of chemicals, fertilizers, iron and steel, machinery, and ships. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, South Korea expanded its production of automobiles, computer equipment and parts, electric appliances, optical goods, and television sets. Other manufactured products include paper, plywood, porcelain, and rubber tires.
South Korea’s change from an agricultural economy to a modern industrial economy spurred a boom in construction. Factories, office and apartment buildings, highways, and water and sewerage systems have been built throughout the nation. Construction accounts for about 23 percent of industrial production, and mining accounts for about 2 percent. Anthracite (hard coal) is the chief mined product. South Korea also mines graphite, iron ore, lead, tungsten, and zinc.
Agriculture and fishing. South Korea’s 11/2 million farms average about 31/2 acres (1.3 hectare) in size. Almost all the farmland is privately owned. Rice is by far the country’s chief crop. South Korean farms also produce apples, barley, Chinese cabbage, melons, onions, potatoes, soybeans, sweet potatoes, hogs, and chickens. The South’s major agricultural areas lie along the western and southern coasts. A large orange crop is harvested on Cheju Island, off the southern coast.
South Korea is one of the world’s leaders in the fishing industry. The catch includes filefish, oysters, and pollock. Many farmers add to their income by fishing.
Foreign trade. South Korea’s chief trading partners are China, Japan, and the United States. The South’s main exports include automobiles, clothing, electrical equipment, electronics, fish, ships, shoes, steel, and textiles. Its main imports include chemicals, crude oil and other industrial raw materials, and machinery.
Energy sources. Coal-, gas-, and petroleum-burning plants together provide about 60 percent of South Korea’s electric power. Most of these plants use petroleum. South Korea imports all its petroleum. About 35 percent of the South’s energy is generated by nuclear plants. A small percentage comes from water power.
Transportation. South Korea has an excellent government-owned railroad system and a highway network that includes expressways between the principal cities. However, traffic jams on the expressways occur frequently. South Korea has an average of about 1 automobile for every 6 people, and most city dwellers own a car. Buses and trains provide fast and frequent service. Seoul has an extensive subway system. Many people in rural areas use bicycles for short trips.
Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, two privately owned airlines, provide international flights and service between major South Korean cities. Seoul, Pusan, and Inchon have international airports.
Communication. Private and government-owned radio and television networks broadcast throughout South Korea. South Korea has an average of about 1 TV set for every 3 people and 1 radio per person.
About 60 daily newspapers are published in South Korea. The largest ones-Choson Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo, Hankook Ilbo, and Joong-ang Ilbo-are all privately owned, published in Seoul, and sold throughout the country. There are two English-language dailies.
North Korea releases little information about its economy, and so the statistics in this section are estimates. North Korea’s GNP totals an estimated $18 billion yearly. Industrial production probably accounts for the largest part of the GNP. Agriculture employs about 30 percent of North Korea’s workers, industry about 30 percent, and service activities about 40 percent.
Until 1950, North Korea was the chief industrial region of the peninsula. But in the last half of the 1900’s, South Korea surpassed it. North Korea has rivers suitable for producing electric power, as well as some of the richest mineral deposits in eastern Asia.
Service industries. Community, government, and personal services form North Korea’s leading service industry group. This group includes such activities as education, health care, government, and the military. Trade, transportation, and communication have some importance. The government owns nearly all service industries in North Korea.
Manufacturing and mining. The North’s chief manufactured products are cement, chemicals, iron and steel, machinery, metals, processed foods, and textiles. The government owns nearly all North Korean factories, and it tightly controls all industry. North Korean mines yield coal, graphite, iron ore, lead, magnesium, phosphates, salt, silver, tungsten, and zinc.
Agriculture and fishing. The government controls all of North Korea’s farms. Most farms are collective farms, known in North Korea as cooperatives. Workers on these farms receive a share of the products and some cash payment. They may also help manage the farms. A few farms, called state farms, are owned and managed completely by the government. The workers on state farms receive wages.
The North’s main agricultural region is the Northwestern Plain. Rice is by far the chief crop. Other major farm products include barley, corn, potatoes, and wheat.
North Korea’s fishing industry is concentrated on its eastern coast. The catch includes pollock, sardines, shellfish, and squid. Fishing cooperatives are located on both coasts.
Foreign trade. North Korea’s chief trading partners are China, Japan, and Russia and the other former republics of the Soviet Union. North Korea’s leading exports are mined products, chiefly iron ore, lead, tungsten, and zinc. The North also exports cement, coal, machinery, rice, and textiles. Its major imports are grain, machinery, petroleum, and transportation equipment.
Energy sources. About three-fourths of North Korea’s energy is produced by coal-burning plants. North Korea mines all the coal it needs. The rest of the North’s energy comes from petroleum-burning plants and water power.
Transportation. Railroads carry most of North Korea’s long-distance freight and passenger traffic. North Korea has greatly expanded its highway network since the mid-1960’s. Buses operate in the cities and for short distances in rural areas. Almost all cars are government-owned and are intended for official business use. Many city people ride bicycles. North Korea operates an airline. The state runs the entire transportation system.
Communication. The government controls all broadcasting, publishing, and other means of communication in North Korea. It runs North Korea’s radio and TV network and its broadcasting stations in the provinces. North Korea has an average of about 1 radio for every 6 people and 1 television set for every 20 people. About five daily newspapers are published in North Korea.
Early years. Scientists have found evidence that people lived in the southwestern part of the Korean Peninsula about 30,000 years ago. But little is known about prehistoric times in what is now Korea.
In 2333 B.C., according to tradition, the first Korean state developed along the Taedong River, near present-day Pyongyang. It was called Choson. In 108 B.C., China conquered the northern half of the peninsula and established four territories there. Korean tribes won back three of the territories by 75 B.C. The other territory, called Nangnang in Korean and Lelang in Chinese, remained under Chinese control.
During the last century B.C., several Korean tribes united and formed the state of Koguryo in the northeastern part of the peninsula. Two other Korean states-Paekche in the southwest and Silla in the southeast-were formed at about the same time. Historians call Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla the Three Kingdoms.
In 313, Koguryo conquered Nangnang and took control of the northern half of Korea. Buddhism, which the Koreans had learned about from the Chinese, became the chief religion of the Three Kingdoms in the 300’s and 400’s. In the 500’s and 600’s, wars raged among the Three Kingdoms for control of Korea. With the help of the Chinese Tang dynasty, Silla conquered Paekche and Koguryo in the 660’s and took control of most of the peninsula. A dynasty is a line of rulers belonging to the same family. Korean art and learning flourished in the next 200 years. Confucianism, introduced into the peninsula from China, became a strong influence on Korean thought and behavior.
In the 800’s, Silla broke apart as the kingdom lost control over former Koguryo and Paekche territories to rebel leaders. But by 932, a general named Wang Kon had reunited Silla. He renamed the country Koryo. The name Korea comes from Koryo. The government of Koryo built schools and encouraged the development of printing to make more books available. The Koreans invented the first movable metal printing type in 1234.
Mongol tribes from the north repeatedly attacked Koryo from the early 1230’s until they conquered it in 1259. Koryo regained its freedom in 1368 when the Ming dynasty rose to power in China. Two groups, one allied with the Mongols, the other with the Ming dynasty, fought for control of Koryo. In 1388, a general named Yi Song-gye led the Ming group to victory.
The Choson dynasty. General Yi became king of Koryo in 1392 and renamed the country Choson. Today, North Koreans use the name Choson for their country. South Korea is known as Taehan-minguk.
Yi founded a dynasty called the Choson dynasty (also known as the Yi dynasty). The dynasty lasted until 1910. Yi ended the government’s official support of Buddhism, which had existed since the 700’s. Buddhism declined in importance and did not become popular in Korea again until the 1900’s.
Yi and the rulers who followed him reunited Korea, reorganized the governments, and promoted the arts. In the 1400’s, they regained lost territory and established the present northern boundaries of the country. But during the 1500’s, government officials and wealthy landowners began to struggle for political power. This struggle weakened Korea’s government.
Japanese forces invaded Korea in the 1590’s but were driven out with the assistance of Chinese forces. Manchu armies from the north invaded in the 1630’s. The Manchus forced Koreans to submit tributes (payments), but members of the Yi family continued as kings.
In the 1600’s, Korea’s rulers closed the country to all foreigners except Chinese and Japanese. The closure continued for almost 200 years. Korea was called the Hermit Kingdom during this period. Roman Catholicism came to Korea from China in the 1780’s. Catholic missionaries from Europe first arrived during the 1830’s. But Korean authorities persecuted the missionaries and killed thousands of Koreans who had become Catholics.
Korea under Japan. In 1876, Japan forced Korea to open some ports to trade. Soon thereafter, the United States, Russia, and several European nations signed commercial treaties with Korea. An intense rivalry over control of Korea began. Japan defeated China in the Chinese-Japanese War of 1894-1895, and Japan’s influence in Korea became stronger than China’s. Japan’s victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) forced Russia to recognize Japan’s superior influence in Korea. Japan took complete control of Korea in 1910.
The Japanese governed Korea as a colony to benefit their own interests. During the 1930’s, the Japanese built many heavy industries in Korea to supply Japan with chemicals, iron and steel, machinery, and other goods. In the 1940’s, the Japanese forced the Koreans to take Japanese-style names, and they banned the use of the Korean language. Many Koreans were forced to aid the Japanese war effort during World War II. Some were sent to work in mines and factories. Others were drafted into the Japanese military. Some Korean women were forced to work as prostitutes for the Japanese armed forces.
A divided nation. Korea remained under Japanese control until 1945, when Japan was defeated in World War II. After Japan’s defeat, U.S. troops occupied the southern half of Korea, and Soviet forces occupied the northern half. The United States and the Soviet Union tried to develop a plan for reuniting Korea. They failed, and the United States submitted the problem to the United Nations (UN) in 1947.
The United Nations wanted to supervise elections to choose one government for Korea. But the Soviet Union refused to allow UN representatives into the North. In the South, in 1948, UN representatives supervised an election of representatives to a National Assembly. The Assembly drew up a constitution. In July 1948, the Assembly elected Syngman Rhee president of the Republic of Korea, which was formed on August 15. In northern Korea, the Communists announced formation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on September 9. Both governments claimed to represent all of Korea.
In December 1948, the Soviet Union announced that all its troops had left North Korea. The United States withdrew its last troops from South Korea in mid-1949.
North Korean troops invaded the South in June 1950, and the Korean War began. The fighting continued until an armistice was signed in July 1953. Neither side won complete victory. The war involved not only the two Koreas, but also the most powerful Communist and non-Communist nations. See KOREAN WAR.
South Korea. The division of Korea left the South with a weak economy. It had little industry and few electric power plants. The Korean War added to South Korea’s economic problems. The fighting ruined farm crops and destroyed many factories. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed or wounded. South Korea had to rely heavily on aid from other countries.
Rhee’s term was due to end in 1952. But members of the National Assembly had become increasingly critical of Rhee, and he feared the legislators would not reelect him. He pushed through the Assembly a constitutional amendment that turned over election of the president to the people. The voters reelected Rhee by a wide margin. In 1955, Rhee again had the Constitution amended to permit him to serve more than two terms. He was reelected to a third term in 1956. But an increasing number of South Koreans strongly opposed Rhee’s undemocratic methods for keeping control of the government.
In March 1960, Rhee ran for a fourth term. He was unopposed because his opponent died one month before the election. Rhee and his party won. But in March and April, students led widespread demonstrations against the government. Rhee saw that he was rapidly losing political and military support, and he resigned in April.
Elections were held in July 1960, and a new government took office. But South Korea’s economic difficulties continued, and the new government weakened as rival groups fought for political power. In May 1961, a group of military officers led by General Park Chung Hee overthrew the government. Park then became head of the new government. In 1963, Park called for elections to restore democratic government. He won the election for president, and his Democratic Republican Party gained a majority of the seats in the National Assembly.
South Korea under Park. South Korea’s economy progressed rapidly under Park. His government concentrated on developing industries and increasing foreign trade. In 1967 and 1971, Park and his party won reelection by a large margin. In 1972, Park forced through a new constitution that gave him almost unlimited powers. It also provided that the president might serve an unlimited number of terms. Park was reelected by the country’s electoral college-whose members had been chosen by his supporters-in a special election held that year. Park was reelected again in 1978. His party won the National Assembly elections in 1973 and 1978.
Park frequently used his power to suppress opposition to his government. Freedom of speech and of the press were limited, and many South Koreans who opposed Park were jailed. Many of Park’s opponents denounced him as a dictator.
During the Korean War, United States troops had fought on the side of South Korea. After the war, thousands of U.S. troops were stationed in South Korea. In 1977-when about 38,000 troops remained-the United States government announced plans for a gradual withdrawal of all its troops. By mid-1979, about 10 percent of the troops had been withdrawn. But the United States government then said it would postpone further withdrawals until relations between North and South Korea improved. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan announced that no more United States troops would be withdrawn.
In October 1979, President Park was assassinated by Kim Jae Kyu, head of South Korea’s Central Intelligence Agency (now called the Agency for National Security Planning). In December, Prime Minister Choi Kyu Hah was elected president by the electoral college.
The rise of Chun. Choi’s government ended some of the restrictions on freedom of expression that Park had imposed. But the government delayed a promised constitutional revision that would allow the people to elect the president directly. Many South Koreans then staged demonstrations. In May 1980, military leaders declared martial law and reestablished the restrictions on freedom of expression. Choi remained president, but the military, led by Lieutenant General Chun Doo Hwan, dominated the government. Violent clashes broke out between demonstrators and the military in the city of Kwangju. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in what came to be known as the Kwangju Massacre.
In August 1980, Choi resigned and the electoral college elected Chun president. In October, a new constitution was adopted. Martial law was repealed in January 1981. In February, Chun was again elected by the electoral college. The next month, Chun’s Democratic Justice Party won a majority of seats in the National Assembly. Chun’s government stabilized prices and increased exports, but scandals involving Chun’s relatives lessened its popularity. Many students demonstrated against Chun and demanded a more democratic constitution.
A new constitution. In June 1987, Chun pledged to allow direct election of the president by the people rather than by the electoral college. The direct election was held in December, and Roh Tae Woo of the Democratic Justice Party, a former general and close associate of Chun, was elected president. In 1990, the Democratic Justice Party merged with two smaller parties to form the Democratic Liberal Party. Kim Young Sam, a Democratic Liberal, was elected president in 1992.
In October 1987, a new democratic constitution was adopted by a referendum of all the voters. It allows almost complete political freedom. Since its adoption, students have demonstrated in large numbers demanding correction of many social problems. Laborers have staged frequent strikes for higher wages and better working conditions. The political and economic turmoil have interfered with South Korea’s economic growth.
North Korea. Kim Il Sung became North Korea’s leader when the government was established in 1948. In 1946, when North Korea was still under Soviet occupation, the Communist government took over farmland from wealthy landowners and gave it to the poor farmers. The government also took control of most industries. Between 1953 and 1956, Kim’s government organized all farmland into collective farms. In 1954, it announced the first of a series of plans for economic development, all emphasizing heavy industry. North Korea also built up its military power. Kim’s government operated as a strict dictatorship. Kim remained in power until his death in 1994.
North-South relations. After the Korean War ended in 1953, the two sides remained hostile and suspicious of each other. In 1967, North Korean forces began making attacks in the demilitarized (neutral) zone between the North and the South and into South Korea. In 1968, about 30 North Korean troops raided Seoul. They tried to assassinate President Park but failed.
In January 1968, North Korea seized the U.S. intelligence ship Pueblo in the Sea of Japan (East Sea). In 1969, the North shot down a U.S. Navy plane almost 100 miles (160 kilometers) off the North Korean coast.
In 1971, representatives of the South and the North began formal reunification discussions for the first time since the Korean War. Tensions between the two remained high, however. In 1983, a bomb blast killed 17 South Koreans, including four cabinet ministers, during an official visit to Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar). A court in Burma found North Korean agents guilty of the bombing. In September and October 1988, South Korea hosted the Summer Olympics. North Korea refused to participate after its request to be named co-host was denied.
In 1991, the two governments agreed to accept each other’s existence, and North and South Korea joined the UN as separate states. Also in 1991, talks resulted in several agreements, including a pact in which the two Koreas agreed not to use force against each other. As part of the pact, the two governments also agreed to increase trade and communication-which had been restricted-between them. Another accord prohibited North and South Korea from using or possessing nuclear weapons.
In 2000, for the first time since Korea was divided, the leaders of North and South Korea met face-to-face to discuss relations.
Recent developments in South Korea. Kim Dae Jung was elected president in December 1997. He took office in February 1998.
South Korea experienced severe economic problems in the late 1990’s. The value of its currency fell, and its stock market plunged. Businesses went bankrupt, and the South faced widespread unemployment. Kim Dae Jung appealed to the people to accept layoffs and other sacrifices to help bring about recovery from the crisis.
Recent developments in North Korea. North Korea experienced severe food shortages between 1995 and 1998. Floods and then drought had destroyed crops. Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of people starved to death. The situation had improved by 1999, thanks in part to food aid from around the world.
In September 1998, North Korea acknowledged Kim Jong Il as its head of state. He had been acting leader since the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994.”
Contributor: Bonnie Bongwan Cho Oh, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Korean Studies, Georgetown University.
When were North Korea and South Korea established?
What is the chief crop grown in Korea?
What percentage of the workers in Korea are farmers?
Why did North Korea refuse to participate in the 1988 Summer Olympic Games?
Why was Korea once called the Hermit Kingdom?
What are Korea’s main land regions?
How do monsoons affect the weather in Korea?
How does city life in North Korea differ from that in South Korea?
What economic disadvantages did the South have after Korea was divided?
How has the Korean way of life changed since 1900?
Collinwood, Dean W.Korea. Benchmark Bks., 1996. Younger readers.
Macdonald, Donald S.The Koreans. 3rd. ed. Westview, 1996.
Oberdorfer, Don.The Two Koreas. Addison-Wesley, 1997.
Portal, Jane.Korea: Art and Archaeology. Thames & Hudson, 2000.
Savada, Andrea M., ed.North Korea: A Country Study. 4th ed. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994.
Savada, Andrea M., and Shaw, William, eds.South Korea: A Country Study. 4th ed. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992.
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