Korea is a geographic area composed of two sovereign countries, a civilization, and a former state situated on the Korean Peninsula in East Asia. It borders China to the north-west and Russia to the east, with Mongolia situated farther to the west, and Japan to the east. The Korean Peninsula is divided into two separate states, North Korea and South Korea.
According to Samguk Yusa, the history of Korea began with the founding of Gojoseon in 2333 BC by the legendary Dangun. Limited linguistic evidence suggests probable Altaic origins of these people, whose northern Mongolian steppe culture absorbed migration and trade with the peoples of Manchuria and China. The adoption of the Chinese writing system ("Hanja" in Korean) in the 2nd century BC, and Buddhism in the 4th century AD, had profound effects on the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Baekje later passed on a modified version of these cultural advances to Japan.
Since the Goryeo Dynasty, Korea was ruled by a single government and maintained political and cultural independence until the nineteenth century, despite the Mongol invasions of the Goryeo Dynasty in the 13th century and Japanese invasions of the Joseon Dynasty in the 16th century. In 1377, Korea produced the Jikji, the world's oldest existing document printed with movable metal type. In the 15th century, the turtle ships, possibly the world's first ironclad warships, were deployed, and King Sejong the Great promulgated the Korean alphabet Hangul to increase literacy among his people who could neither read nor write Hanja (Chinese characters).
During the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty, Korea's isolationist policy earned it the Western nickname the "Hermit Kingdom". By the late 19th century, the country became the object of the colonial designs of Japan and Europe. In 1915, Korea was forcibly annexed by Japan and remained occupied until the end of World War II in August 1945.
In 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed on the surrender and disarming of Japanese troops in Korea; the Soviet Union accepting the surrender of Japanese weaponry north of the 38th parallel and the United States taking the surrender south of it. This minor decision by allied armies soon became the basis for the division of Korea by the two superpowers, exacerbated by their inability to agree on the terms of Korean independence. The two Cold War rivals then established governments sympathetic to their own ideologies, leading to Korea's current division into two political entities: North Korea and South Korea.
In the Korean language, Korea as a whole is referred to as Han-guk (abbreviation of Dae Han Min Guk) in South Korea, and Chosŏn in North Korea. "The Land of the Morning Calm" is an English language nickname loosely derived from the hanja characters for Joseon, the name derived from the Joseon Dynasty and the earlier Gojoseon. (Choson and Joseon are two Romanizations of the same name.)
The original capital may have been at the Manchuria-Korea border, but was later moved to what is today Pyongyang, North Korea. In 108 BCE, the Chinese Qin Dynasty defeated Wiman Joseon and installed four commanderies in the area of Liaoning and the northern Korean peninsula. Subsequent Chinese immigrations from Yan and Qi brought elements of Chinese culture to the peninsula. By 75 BCE, three of those commanderies had fallen, but the Lelang Commandery remained under successive Chinese control until 313.
The Proto-Three Kingdoms period, sometimes called the Several States Period (열국시대), is the time before the rise of the Three Kingdoms of Korea and occurred after the fall of Gojoseon. This time period saw numerous states spring up from the former territories of Gojoseon. Among these states, the largest and most influential were Dongbuyeo and Bukbuyeo. After the fall of Gojoseon, Buyeo arose in today's North Korea and southern Manchuria, from about the 2nd century BC to 494. Its remnants were absorbed by Goguryeo in 494, and both Goguryeo and Baekje, two of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, considered themselves its successor.
Okjeo was a tribal state that was located in the northern Korean Peninsula, and was established after the fall of Gojoseon. Okjeo had been a part of Gojoseon before its fall. It never became a fully-developed kingdom due to the intervention of its neighboring kingdoms. Okjeo became a tributary of Goguryeo, and was eventually annexed into Goguryeo by Gwanggaeto Taewang in the 5th century.
Dongye was another small kingdom that was situated in the northern Korean Peninsula. Dongye bordered Okjeo, and the two kingdoms faced the same fate of becoming tributaries of the growing empire of Goguryeo. Dongye was also a former part of Gojoseon before its fall.
Samhan (三韓) refers to the three confederacies of Mahan, Jinhan, and Byeonhan. The Samhan were located in the southern region of the Korean Peninsula. These three confederacies eventually become the foundations, at which Baekje, Silla, and Gaya were established. Mahan was the largest and consisted of 54 states. Byeonhan and Jinhan both consisted of twelve states, bringing a total of 78 states within the Samhan. The term "Samhan" is later used to describe the Three Kingdoms of Korea.
Goguryeo united Buyeo, Okjeo, Dongye and other states in the former Gojoseon territory, in addition to destroying the last Chinese commandery. Goguryeo was the most dominant power, Goguryeo reached its zenith in the fifth century, when reign of the Emperor Gwanggaeto and his son, Emperor Jangsu expanded territory into almost all of Manchuria and part of inner Mongolia, and took the Seoul region from Baekje. Gwanggaeto and Jangsu subdued Baekje and Silla during their times. After the 7th Century, Goguryeo was constantly at war with the Sui and Tang dynasties of China.
Founded around modern day Seoul, the southwestern kingdom Baekje expanded far beyond Pyongyang during the peak of its powers in the 4th century. It had absorbed all of the Mahan states and subjugated most of the western Korean peninsula (including the modern provinces of Gyeonggi, Chungcheong, and Jeolla, as well as part of Hwanghae and Gangwon) to a centralized government. Baekje acquired Chinese culture and technology through contacts with the Southern Dynasties during the expansion of its territory.
Although later records claim that Silla, in the southeast, was the oldest of the three kingdoms, it is now believed to have been the last kingdom to develop. By the 2nd century, Silla existed as a large state, occupying and influencing nearby city states. Silla began to gain power when it annexed the Gaya confederacy in 562 AD. The Gaya confederacy was located between Baekje and Silla. The three kingdoms of Korea often warred with each other and Silla often faced pressure from Baekje and Goguryeo but at various times Silla also allied with Baekje and Goguryeo in order to gain dominance over the peninsula.
In 660, King Muyeol of Silla ordered his armies to attack Baekje. General Kim Yu-shin, aided by Tang forces, conquered Baekje. In 661, Silla and Tang moved on Goguryeo but were repelled. King Munmu, son of Muyeol and nephew of General Kim launched another campaign in 667 and Goguryeo fell in the following year.
In the north, former Goguryeo General Dae Joyeong led a group of Goguryeo refugees to the Jilin area in Manchuria and founded Balhae (698 AD - 926 AD) as the successor to Goguryeo. At its height, Balhae's territory extended from northern Manchuria down to the northern provinces of modern-day Korea. Balhae was destroyed by the Khitans in 926.
In 1392, the general Yi Seong-gye established the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) with a largely bloodless coup. The Joseon Dynasty is believed to have been the longest-lived actively ruling dynasty in East Asia. He named it the Joseon Dynasty in honor of the previous Joseon before (Gojoseon is the first Joseon. "Go", meaning "old", was added to distinguish between the two). King Taejo moved the capital to Hanseong (formerly Hanyang; modern-day Seoul) and built the Gyeongbokgung palace. In 1394 he adopted Confucianism as the country's official religion, resulting in much loss of power and wealth by the Buddhists. The prevailing philosophy was Neo-Confucianism, which was developed by Zhu Xi. Joseon experienced advances in science and culture. King Sejong the Great (1418-1450) promulgated hangul, the Korean alphabet. The period saw various other cultural and technological advances as well as the dominance of neo-Confucianism over the entire peninsula. Between 1592 and 1598, Japan invaded Korea. Toyotomi Hideyoshi led the forces and tried to invade the Asian continent through Korea, but was eventually repelled before even getting through Korea. This war also saw the rise of the career of Admiral Yi Sun-shin and his "turtle ship" or gobukseon. In the 1620s and 1630s Joseon suffered invasions by the Manchu who eventually also conquered the Chinese Ming Dynasty. After that, the Joseon dynasty swore allegiance to the Qing Court. During the Joseon dynasty, Koreans brought Roman Catholicism (and other forms of Christianity in Korea followed shortly thereafter) into Korea, at first in secret.
Beginning in the 1870s, Japan began to force Korea to move out of China's sphere of influence and into its own. Japan forced Korea to engage in foreign trade through the Treaty of Ganghwa in 1876. In 1895, Empress Myeongseong of Korea was assassinated by the Japanese under Miura Gorō's directive. In Manchuria on 1909, An Jung-geun assassinated the former Resident-General of Korea, Itō Hirobumi for his role in trying to force Korea into occupation. In 1908, the Russo-Japanese War pushed the Russians out of the fight for Korea. In 1910, an already militarily occupied Korea was a forced party to the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty. The treaty was signed by Lee Wan-Yong, who was given the General Power of Attorney by the Emperor. But the Emperor is said to have not actually ratified the treaty according to Yi Tae-jin. There is a long dispute whether this treaty was legal or illegal.
Even before formal Japanese colonial rule, the Korean Independence Movement was already in existence. Korean resistance to the brutal Japanese occupation was manifested in the nonviolent March 1st Movement of 1919, where 7,000 demonstrators were killed by Japanese police and military. The Korean liberation movement also spread to neighboring Manchuria and Siberia.
Over five million Koreans were conscripted for labor beginning in 1939, and tens of thousands of men were forced into Japan's military. Approximately 200,000 girls and women, mostly from China and Korea, were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military. In 1993, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged the terrible injustices faced by these euphemistically named "comfort women".
During the Japanese Colonial rule, the Korean language was suppressed in an effort to eradicate Korean national identity. Koreans were forced to take Japanese surnames, known as Sōshi-kaimei. Traditional Korean culture suffered heavy losses, as numerous Korean cultural artifacts were destroyed or taken to Japan. To this day, valuable Korean artifacts can often be found in Japanese museums or among private collections. One investigation by the South Korean government identified 75,311 cultural assets that were taken from Korea, 34,369 of which are in Japan, and 17,803 of which are in the United States. However, experts estimate that over 100,000 artifacts remains in Japan. Japanese officials considered returning Korean cultural properties, but to this date have not returned these artifacts to Korea. Today, Korea and Japan dispute over the ownership of Dokdo, a small island located east of the Korean peninsula
With the defeat of Japan in 1945, the United Nations developed plans for a trusteeship administration, the Soviet Union administering the peninsula north of the 38th parallel and the United States administering the south. The politics of the Cold War resulted in the 1948 establishment of two separate governments, North Korea and South Korea.
In June 1950 North Korea invaded the South, using Soviet tanks and weaponry. During the Korean War (1950-1953), millions of civilians died and the three years of fighting throughout the nation effectively destroyed most cities. Around 125,000 POWs were captured and held by the Americans and South Koreans on Geojedo (an island in the south) The war ended in a ceasefire agreement at approximately the Military Demarcation Line (Korea).
Korea is located on the Korean Peninsula in North-East Asia. To the northwest, the Amnok River (Yalu River) separates Korea from China and to the northeast, the Duman River (Tumen River) separates Korea from China and Russia. The Yellow Sea is to the west, the East China Sea is to the south, and the Sea of Japan (East Sea) is to the east of Korea. Notable islands include Jeju-do, Ulleung-do, and Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo in Korean).
The southern and western parts of the peninsula have well-developed plains, while the eastern and northern parts are mountainous. The highest mountain in Korea is Baekdusan (2744 m), through which runs the border with China. The southern extension of Baekdusan is a highland called Gaema Heights. This highland was mainly raised during the Cenozoic orogeny and partly covered by volcanic matter. To the south of Gaema Gowon, successive high mountains are located along the eastern coast of the peninsula. This mountain range is named Baekdudaegan. Some significant mountains include Sobaeksan (2,184 m), Baekdusan or Baeksan (1,724 m), Geumgangsan (1,638 m), Seoraksan (1,708 m), Taebaeksan (1,567 m), and Jirisan (1,915 m). There are several lower, secondary mountain series whose direction is almost perpendicular to that of Baekdudaegan. They are developed along the tectonic line of Mesozoic orogeny and their directions are basically northwest.
Unlike most older mountains on the mainland, many important islands in Korea were formed by volcanic activity in the Cenozoic orogeny. Jeju-do, situated off the southern coast, is a large volcanic island whose main mountain Hallasan (1950 m) is the highest in South Korea. Ulleung-do is a volcanic island in the East Sea, whose composition is more felsic than Jeju-do. The volcanic islands tend to be younger, the more westward.
Because the mountainous region is mostly on the eastern part of the peninsula, the main rivers tend to flow westwards. Two exceptions are the southward-flowing Nakdonggang and Seomjingang. Important rivers running westward include the Amnok River (Yalu), the Cheong-cheongang, the Daedonggang, the Han River, the Geumgang, and the Yeongsangang. These rivers have vast flood plains and provide an ideal environment for wet-rice cultivation.
The southern and southwestern coastlines of Korea form a well-developed ria coastline, known as Dadohae-jin in Korean. Its convoluted coastline provides mild seas, and the resulting calm environment allows for safe navigation, fishing, and seaweed farming. In addition to the complex coastline, the western coast of the Korean Peninsula has an extremely high tidal amplitude (at Incheon, around the middle of the western coast. It can get as high as 9 m). Vast tidal flats have been developing on the south and west coastlines
The combined population of the Koreas is about 73 million (North Korea: 23 million, South Korea: 50 million). Korea is chiefly populated by a highly homogeneous ethnic group, the Koreans, who speak the Korean language. The number of foreigners living in Korea has also steadily increased since the late 20th century, particularly in South Korea, where more than 1 million foreigners currently reside. A minority population of ethnic Chinese (roughly 440,000 as of August 2007) live in South Korea and small communities of ethnic Chinese and Japanese are also found in North Korea.
Korean is the official language of both North and South Korea, and (along with Mandarin) of Yanbian Autonomous Prefecture in Manchuria area of China. Worldwide, there are up to 80 million speakers of the Korean Language. South Korea has around 50 million speakers while North Korea around 23 million. Other large groups of Korean speakers are found in the United States (around 2.5 million speakers), China (around 2 million speakers), the former Soviet Union (around 500,000), Japan (around 900,000), Canada (100,000), Philippines (70,000) and Australia (150,000). It is estimated that there are around 700,000 people scattered across the world who are able to speak Korean because of job requirements (for example, salespersons or businessmen with Korean contacts), marriages to Koreans or out of pure interest in the language.
The genealogical classification of Korean is debated. Some linguists place it in the Altaic language family; others consider it to be a language isolate. Korean is agglutinative in its morphology and SOV in its syntax. Like Japanese and Vietnamese, Korean has borrowed much vocabulary from the genetically unrelated Chinese or created vocabulary on Chinese models.
Modern Korean is written almost exclusively in the hangul script, which was invented in the 15th century. While hangul may appear logographic, it is actually a phonemic alphabet organized into syllabic blocks. Each block consists of at least two of the 24 hangul letters (jamo): at least one each of the 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Historically, the alphabet had several additional letters (see obsolete jamo). For a phonological description of the letters, see Korean phonology. Hanja (Chinese characters) and Latin alphabets are sometimes included within hangul texts, particularly in South Korea.
In ancient Chinese texts, Korea is referred to as "Rivers and Mountains Embroidered on Silk" (금수강산, ) and "Eastern Nation of Decorum" (동방예의지국, ). During the 7th and 8th centuries, the silk road connected Korea to Arabia. In 845, Arab traders wrote, "Beyond China is a land where gold abounds and which is named Silla. The Muslims who have gone there have been charmed by the country and tend to settle there and abandon all idea of leaving."
Korean festivities often showcase vibrant colors, which have been attributed to Mongolian influences: bright red, yellow, and green often mark traditional Korean motifs. These bright colors are sometimes seen in the traditional dress known as hanbok.
One peculiarity of Korean culture is its age reckoning system. Individuals are regarded as one year old when they are born, and their age increments on New Year's Day rather than on the anniversary of their birthday. Thus, one born on December the 31st would be aged two on the day after they were born. Accordingly, a Korean person's stated age will be one or two years more than their age expressed in the Western tradition.
Modern literature is often linked with the development of hangul, which helped spread literacy from the aristocracy to the common people and women. Hangul, however, only reached a dominant position in Korean literature in the second half of the 19th century, resulting in a major growth in Korean literature. Sinsoseol, for instance, are novels written in hangul.
The Korean War led to the development of literature centered around the wounds and chaos of war. Much of the post-war literature in South Korea deals with the daily lives of ordinary people, and their struggles with national pain. The collapse of the traditional Korean value system is another common theme of the time.
Confucian tradition has dominated Korean thought, along with contributions by Buddhism, Taoism, and Korean Shamanism. Since the middle of the 20th century, however, Christianity has competed with Buddhism in South Korea, while religious practice has been suppressed in North Korea.
According to 2003 statistics compiled by the South Korean government, about 46% of citizens profess to follow no particular religion. Christians account for 27.3% of the population (of which half are Catholics and half are various denominations of Protestantism) and Buddhists 25.3%.
Koreans valued scholarship and rewarded education and study of Chinese classic texts; Yangban boys were highly educated in hanja. In Silla, the bone rank system defined a person's social status, and a similar system persisted through the end of the Joseon Dynasty. In addition, the gwageo civil service examination provided paths of upward mobility.
Islam in South Korea is comprised of about 45,000 in addition to some 100,000 foreign workers from Muslim countries.
Korean cuisine is probably best known for kimchi, which uses a distinctive fermentation process of preserving vegetables, most commonly cabbage. Gochujang is also commonly used, often as pepper (chilli) powder, earning the cuisine a reputation for being spicy.
Bulgogi (roasted marinated meat, usually beef), galbi (marinated grilled short ribs), and samgyeopsal (pork belly) are popular meat entrees. Meals are usually accompanied by a soup or stew, such as galbitang (stewed ribs) and doenjang jjigae (fermentated bean paste stew). The center of the table is filled with a shared collection of sidedishes called banchan.
The modern Korean school system consists of 6 years in elementary school, 3 years in middle school, and 3 years in high school. Students are supposed to go to elementary and middle school, and do not have to pay for it.(The teachers are paid from taxes) Most public middle school and high school students have to wear uniforms, and are not supposed to grow their hair more than a particular length. The Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the OECD, currently ranks South Korea's science education as the 3rd best in the world, being significantly higher than the OECD average. Korea also ranks 2nd on Maths and literature (Korea has a 99.8% literacy rate, highest in the world) and 1st in problem solving. Although South Korean students often rank high on international comparative tests, the education system is sometimes criticized for its emphasis on passive learning and memorization. The Korean education system is much more strict and structured than most western societies and Korean students rarely have free time to spend enjoying themselves as they are under a lot of pressure to perform and gain entrance to a university.
One of the best known artifacts of Korea's history of science and technology is Cheomseongdae (첨성대, ), a 9.4-meter high observatory built in 634. It is considered to be one of the world's oldest surviving astronomical observatories.
The world's first metal mechanical movable type printing was developed in Korea in 1234 by Choe Yun-ui during the Goryeo Dynasty, modeled after widespread Chinese clay (Bi Sheng in 1041), several hundred years before Johann Gutenberg developed his metal letterset type (Cumings 1997: 65). Though the block printing was used much earlier, metal movable type printing press marked a significant development in printing allowing the same tools to be used for more diverse printings. The Jikji is the world's earliest remaining movable metal printed book, printed in Korea in 1377. The world's earliest known surviving example of woodblock printing is the Mugujeonggwang Great Dharani Sutra. It is believed to have been printed in Korea in 750-751 CE which, if correct, would make it older than the Diamond Sutra. Goryeo silk was highly regarded by China, and Korean pottery made with blue-green celadon was of the highest quality in the world and sought after by even Arabian merchants. Goryeo had a bustling economy with a capital that was frequented by merchants from all over the known world.