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Introduction

Etymology

"Korea" derives from the Goryeo period of Korean history, which in turn referred to the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo, the first Korean dynasty visited by Persian merchants who referred to Koryŏ (Goryeo) as Korea. Koryŏ (Goryeo) is also the name of Goguryeo, which changed its name to Koryŏ (Goryeo) in the 5th century (during the reign of King Jangsu of Goguryeo). Korea is now commonly used in English contexts by both North and South Korea. In the Korean language, Korea as a whole is referred to as Han-guk in South Korea, and Chosŏn in North Korea.

Location

Location Image1Korea 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 Location Image1River (Tumen River) separates Korea from China and Russia. The Yellow Sea is to the west, the East China Sea and Korea Strait is to the south, and the east sea of Korea. Notable islands include Jeju Island (Jejudo), Ulleung Island (Ulleungdo), and Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo).

Language

Language Image1Korean is the official language of both North and South Korea, and (along with Mandarin) of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Manchuria area of China. Worldwide, there are up to 80 million speakers of the Korean language.
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 organised intosyllabic 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 seeobsolete 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.


Learn basic Korean words

Hello
annyong hashimnigga (formal)
Good bye
(to someone leaving) annyonghi kaseyo
Good bye
(to someone staying) annyonghi kyeseyo
Please
put’ak hamnida
Thank you
kamsa hamnida

National Flag

National Flag ImageThe flag of South Korea, or Taegeukgi (also spelled Taegukgi in convention) has three parts: a white background; a red and blue taegeuk in the centre; and four black trigrams, one in each corner of the flag.


The white background symbolises "cleanliness of the people." The Taegeuk represents the origin of all things in the universe; holding the two principles of eun and yang; the former being the negative aspect rendered in blue, and the latter as the positive aspect rendered in red, in perfect balance. Together, they represent a continuous movement within infinity, the two merging as one.

National Flower

National-Flower ImageThe national flower of Korea is the mugunghwa, rose of sharon. Every year from July to October, a profusion of mugunghwa blossoms graces the entire country. Unlike most flowers, the mugunghwa is remarkably tenacious and able to withstand both blight and insects. The flower’s symbolic significance stems from the Korean word mugung, meaning immortality. This word accurately reflects the enduring nature of Korean culture, and the determination and perseverance of the Korean people.

Climate

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Part of the East Asian monsoonal region, South Korea has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. Winters are usually long, cold, and dry, whereas summers are short, hot, and humid. Spring and autumn are pleasant but short in duration. Seoul's mean temperature in January is -5° C to - 2.5° C; in July the mean temperature is about 22.5° C to 25° C. Because of its southern and seagirt location, Cheju Island has warmer and milder weather than other parts of South Korea. Mean temperatures on Cheju range from 2.5° C in January to 25° C in July.


South Korea is less vulnerable to typhoons than Japan, Taiwan, the east coast of China, or the Philippines. From one to three typhoons can be expected per year. Typhoons usually pass over South Korea in late summer, especially in August, and bring torrential rains.

History

Korean has had a long history dating back to 2,333 B.C.

1. The Prehistoric Age

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Archaeological findings have indicated that the first settlements on the Korean Peninsula occurred 700,000 years ago.

2. Gojoseon (2333 - 108 B.C.)

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Archaeological findings have indicated that the first settlements on the Korean Peninsula occurred 700,000 years ago.

According to legend, the mythical figure Dan-gun founded Gojseon, the first Korean Kingdom, in 2333 B.C. Subsequently, several tribes moved from the southern part of Manchuria to the Korean Peninsula.

3. The Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. - A.D. 676)

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The Three Kingdoms refers to a period of time (early 4th to mid-7th centuries A.D.) marked by the struggle of three rival kingdoms: Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla over the territory spanning the Korean peninsula and part of Northeastern Asia.

4. Goguryeo

An ancient state of the Korean peninsula, Goguryeo occupied the largest territory among the Three Kingdoms. Founded in 37 B.C., Goguryeo prospered on a vast area encompassing the northern part of the Korean peninsula and south-central Manchuria. The kingdom expanded its territory in fierce battles against Chinese kingdoms, but fell to an alliance of Silla and Tang forces in 668 A.D.

5. Silla

One of the ancient states of the Three Kingdoms, Silla originated in the southeastern part of the Korean peninsula. The kingdom lasted for 992 years, from 57 B.C. to 935 A.D. It conquered Baekje and Goguryeo, one after the other, by joining forces with the Tang Empire of China. Following the unification of the Three Kingdoms, the Tang Empire was no longer an ally, but an invader. Hence, Silla joined forces with the people of Goguryeo and Baekje to drive out Tang forces, and founded the first unified state in the history of Korea in the territory south of the Daedonggang River and Wonsanman.

6. Baekje

One of the three ancient kingdoms, Baekje (18 B.C.- 660 A.D.) was founded by King Onjo, the son of the King of Goguryeo, in the southwestern part of the Korean peninsula. The kingdom witnessed the florescence of the elegant and delicate Baekje culture, which in particular greatly affected Japanese culture. In 660 A.D., Baekje was defeated by the coalition troops of Silla and Tang of China.

7. The Unified Silla Kingdom and Balhae

  • - The Unified Silla (676-935)

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    The Unified Silla Kingdom promoted the development of culture and arts, and the popularity of Buddhism reached its peak during this period. The unified Silla Kingdom declined because of contention for supremacy among the noble classes, and was annexed by Goryeo in 935.

  • - Balhae(698-926)

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    The Balhae Kingdom began to emerge just as the Goguryeo kingdom was on the verge of collapsing. Goguryeo General, Dae Joyeong founded Balhae along with his army of displaced peoples. At one point, Balhae became so powerful that it was able to acquire territories in northern and eastern parts of China. At those times, the Tang Dynasty of China referred to Balhae as 'the strong country by the sea in the east.' The significance of the Balhae Kingdom is greatly inherited from Goguryeo, including the land that it was able to retrieve.

8. The Goryeo Dynasty (918 - 1392)

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The Goryeo Dynasty was established in 918. Buddhism became the state religion during this time and greatly influenced politics and culture. Famous items produced during this time include Goryeo celadon and the Tripitaka Koreana. Jikjisimgyeong, Buddhist scripture printed with the world's first movable metal type developed in Korea during Goryeo Dynasty, is at least 78 years older than the first Gutenberg Bible.
The Goryeo Dynasty's strength decreased gradually in the latter half of the 14th century.

9. The Joseon Dynasty (1392 - 1910))

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The Joseon Dynasty was formed at the end of the 14th century. Confucianism became the state ideology and exerted a massive influence over the whole of society. The Joseon Dynasty produced Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, which was invented in 1443, during the reign of King Sejong. The dynasty's power declined later because of foreign invasions, beginning with the Japanese invasion of 1592.

10. The Japanese Colonial Period (1910 - 1945)

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In 1876, the Joseon Dynasty was forced to adopt an open-door policy regarding Japan. The Japanese annexation of Korea concluded in 1910, and Korean people had to suffer under the Japanese colonial rule until the surrender of Japan in 1945, which ended World War II.

11. Establishment of the Korean Government (1945-1948)

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Korea was liberated from Japanese oppression on August 15, 1945, but it soon faced the tragic division of North and South along the 38th parallel. Both regions were placed under temporary military rule by the U.S. and Soviet armies. In 1948 with the help of the United Nations, South Korea held an election on May 10th and elected Dr. Rhee Syngman president. On August 15th of that same year, an official declaration was made about the birth of the South Korean government. On the other hand, North Korea formed the Provisional Peoples Committee for North Korea, led by Kim Il-sung, in February 1946. On September 9, 1948, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was officially founded.

12. The Korean War (1950-1953)

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In the early hours of June 25th, 1950, North Korea attempted a forcible unification of North and South Korea by invading South Korea over the 38th parallel. In response, military help from over 16 nations helped defend South Korea against the threat of communism under the leadership of UN General Douglas MacArthur. China and the Soviet Union lent their military might to North Korea. The war continued over the next 3 years until coming to an end on July 27th 1953, with a peace agreement signed at Panmunjeom, located in the DMZ. Not only did the war ravage the peninsula, it also heightened hostile sentiments between the North and South, making reunification a difficult task.

13. The Aftermath of War (1954-Current)

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The Rhee Syngman government focused on an anti-communist approach to government beginning in 1954, but in 1960 the government's power collapsed with the student's anti- government movement, the 4.19 Revolution. In 1963, Park Chung-hee was elected president and ruled with a controversial iron fist for the next 17 years. President Park Chung-hee's 'Saemaeul Undong' (New Community Movement, an effort to modernize Korea that began in 1970) brought about much progress in South Korea, and the systematic approach to economic development also yielded increased exports and positive returns. But with the democratic movement in progress and the citizens becoming wary of such extended rule, Park Chung-hee's life ended in a 1979 assassination. Afterwards in 1980, Chun Doo-hwan came to power and continued to lead the nation with an authoritarian slant as had been the case with former rulers. His rule came to an end in 1987 after massive protests across the country demanded democracy. In 1988 the Roh Tae-woo government started off the year on a good note by successfully hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics. His government went on to join the UN in 1991. The Kim Young-sam government which began in 1993 implemented a new system in which people were required to use their real names when making financial transactions, a much needed revolution at the time. In 1998, Kim Dae-jung was elected president and threw his efforts into overcoming the IMF financial catastrophe that hit Asia in 1997, and also hosted the 17th FIFA World Cup in 2002. President Kim Dae-jung was also the winner of the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for his Sunshine Policy regarding North Korea. President Rho Moo-hyun's term began in 2003 aiming, to achieve economic growth, and develop Korea as the hub of Asia with a more democratic style of leadership.


On the other hand, North Korea has been ruled by Kim Jeong-il since the death of Kim Il-Sung in 1994. Faced with dire economic situations, North Korea has begun to implement partial free trade in an effort to remedy the situation.


North and South Korea jointly signed an agreement on July 4th, 1972 concerning the reunification of the two Koreas, and in 2000 Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jeong-il took early steps to explore reunification, improve the economy, and solve the problem of separated families. The family reunification program, started in 1985, continues until this day. In 1998, South Korean citizens began to be admitted into North Korea to tour the Geumgangsan Diamond Mountains.

( Excerptes from http://www.visitkorea.or.kr )

Religion

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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. Throughout Korean history and culture, regardless of separation; the influence of traditional beliefs of Korean Shamanism, Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism have remained an underlying religion of the Korean people as well as a vital aspect of their culture; all these traditions have coexisted peacefully for hundreds of years up to today despite strong Westernisation from Christianmissionary conversions in the South or the pressure from Communism's Juche governmentin the North.


According to 2005 statistics compiled by the South Korean government, about 46% of citizens profess to follow no particular religion. Christians account for 29.2% of the population (of which are Protestants 18.3% and Catholics 10.9%) and Buddhists 22.8%.

( Excerptes from http://en.wikipedia.org )

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