South Korea

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대한 민국
Daehan Minguk
Republic of Korea
Flag of South Korea South Korea: Coat of Arms
(In Detail) (In Detail)
National motto: 널리 인간 세계를 이롭게 하라
Translation: Broadly bring benefit to humanity
Official language Korean
Capital Seoul
Largest city Seoul
President Roh Moo-hyun
Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 108th
99,274 km²
 - Total (2005)
 - Density
Ranked 24th
-Declaration of Republic
-Japanese Surrender

March 1, 1919
August 15, 1945
July 17, 1948
 - Total (PPP)
 - Total (Nominal)
 - GDP / capita (PPP)
 - GDP / capita (Nominal)
2005 estimate
$1.097 trillion (12th)
$789 billion (10th)
$22,620 (33th)
$16,270 (34th)
Currency Won
Time zone UTC +9
National anthem Aegukga
Internet TLD .kr
Calling code 82

South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (Hangul: 대한민국, Daehan Minguk,), is a country located in East Asia, in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. It is commonly called Hanguk (Han nation; 한국) or Namhan (South Han; 남한) by South Koreans. See Names of Korea.

The capital is Seoul (서울). To the north, South Korea borders North Korea, with which it formed a single nation until 1948.



Main articles: History of Korea, History of South Korea

At the end of World War II, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into the Soviet Union-occupied northern half and the United States-occupied southern half, each forming its own government in 1948.

In June 1950, the Korean War broke out. The United Nations-backed South and the Communist-backed North eventually reached a stalemate and an armistice was signed in 1953, splitting the peninsula along the demilitarized zone at about the original demarcation line.

After the war, the autocratic government of Syngman Rhee was thrown out of power by student uprising and a brief period of civil rule was established in 1960. However, a military coup led by general Park Chung-hee in the next year turned the nation into a dictatorship that lasted 18 years, during which period it achieved rapid economic growth. Park was assassinated in 1979, and general Chun Doo-hwan seized power with another coup. Massive student demonstrations in the spring of 1980 resulted in a military crackdown and the Gwangju Massacre. Civil unrest forced the end of military rule, and progressively democratic reforms continued under the presidencies of Roh Tae-woo, Kim Young-sam, and Kim Dae-jung.

In the 1990s, South Korea became one of the world's largest economies. In 1996 South Korea joined the OECD. Although the nation suffered severe economic hardship during the Asian financial crisis, South Korea today is a fully functioning modern democracy and one of Asia’s most affluent nations.

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. Since then, regular contacts have led to a cautious thaw.

See also: Rulers of Korea, Division of Korea

Government and Politics

Main articles: Politics of South Korea, Elections in South Korea

The Gyeongbokgung palace
The Gyeongbokgung palace

The Republic of Korea is a developed, stable, democratic republic with powers shared between the president and the legislature.

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.

President Roh Moo-hyun
President Roh Moo-hyun

The unicameral Korean parliament is the National Assembly or Gukhoe (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. Since 1948, South Korea has been governed under six constitutions. Each constitution signifies a new South Korean republic. The current government is known as the Sixth Republic under the 1988 constitution.

The main political parties in South Korea are the Uri Party, the Grand National Party (GNP), the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), and the Democratic Party (DP). In late 2003 a faction of the Millennium Democratic Party (later DP) split from the party and formed the liberal Uri Party, which gained a slim majority in the National Assembly in the April 2004 legislative elections but failed to secure it after subsequent reelections. The conservative GNP and centrist DP form the political opposition. The left-wing DLP, which is aligned with labor unions, represents the interests of the working class.


Map of South Korea
Map of South Korea

Main article: Geography of South Korea

Korea forms a peninsula that extends some 1,100 km from the Asian mainland, flanked by the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan (East Sea), and terminated by the Korea Strait and the 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. About 3,000 islands, most of which are small and uninhabited, lie off the western and southern coasts. The total area of South Korea is 99,268 sq km.

South Korea is a mountainous country. Lowlands, located primarily in the west and southeast, constitute only 30 percent of the total land area. South Korea can be divided into three general regions: an eastern region of high mountain ranges and narrow coastal plains; a western region of broad coastal plains, river basins, and rolling hills; and a southern region, where a maze of mountains and valleys in the west contrasts with the broad basin of the Nakdong River in the southeast.

Halla-san, an extinct volcano that forms Jeju Island, is the country's highest point at 1,950 m (6,398 ft). Jeju Island is located about 100 km (about 60 mi) off the southern coast of South Korea. It is the country's largest island, with an area of 1,845 sq km (712 sq mi).


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.

In Seoul the average January temperature range is -7 °C to 1 °C (19 °F to 33 °F), and the average July temperature range is 22 °C to 29 °C (71 °F to 83 °F). Winter temperatures are higher along the southern coast and considerably lower in the mountainous interior. Rainfall is concentrated in the summer months of June through September. The southern coast is subject to late summer typhoons that bring strong winds and heavy rains.

The average annual precipitation in Seoul is 1370 millimeters (54 inches). In Busan, it is 1470 mm (58 inches).

Record snowfall in South Korea on March 6, 2004
Record snowfall in South Korea on March 6, 2004


Most of South Korea's forests were cleared over many centuries for use as firewood and building materials. However, they have rebounded since the 1970s as a result of intensive reforestation efforts. The country's few remaining old-growth forests are protected in nature reserves. South Korea also has more than a dozen national parks. One of the world's most interesting wildlife sanctuaries has developed in the DMZ, having been virtually untouched since 1953. The uninhabited zone has become a haven for many kinds of wildlife, particularly migrating birds.

The national flower of South Korea is the Rose of Sharon, a species of hibiscus that blooms continually from July through October. In South Korea, it is known as mugunghwa, meaning "eternal flower".

Large mammals such as tigers, bears, and lynx were once abundant throughout the Korean peninsula. However, they have virtually disappeared due to human settlement, loss of forest habitat, and overhunting. The Siberian tiger has not been sighted in South Korea since the 1920s. The peninsula has several indigenous species of deer, including the roe deer and the Siberian musk deer.

See also: regions of Korea

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')

Metropolitan Cities

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


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


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 high-tech modern global economy, making South Korea the 10th largest economy in the world. In the aftermath of WWII, GDP per capita was comparable with levels in the poorer 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. Calculating the GDP with Purchasing power parity in 2004, South Korea joined the trillion dollar club of world economies.

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. From the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, South Korean exports grew at a rate of 25 percent per year. 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.

As of 2005, in addition to its global leadership in high-speed Internet service, memory semiconductors, flat-panel screens and mobile phones, South Korea ranks first in shipbuilding, third in tire production, fourth in synthetic fiber output, fifth in automotive production and sixth in steel output. The nation also ranked 12th globally in terms of nominal gross domestic product, trade and exports. South Korea's solid economy is characterized by moderate inflation, low unemployment, an export surplus, and fairly equal distribution of income.

With Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore it is known as one of the Four Tigers.


A distinctive feature of the South Korean economy is the long-dominant position of the chaebol (government-assisted, family-controlled conglomerates), most of which were established after the Korean War. In 1995, the top four chaebols were Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo, and LG. Since the economic crisis of late 1990s, the corporate landscape has changed considerably, partly as a result of government reforms. In 2003, only 4 of the 18 largest chaebol remained. However, they continue to dominate economic activity.

South Korea's chaebol are often compared with Japan's keiretsu business groupings, the successors to the pre-war zaibatsu ("chaebol" and "zaibatsu" are Korean and Japanese pronunciations of the same Chinese characters). However, the chaebol are still largely controlled by their founding families, unlike the keiretsu, which are run by professional corporate managers. Additionally, the government prevented the chaebol from owning private banks, partly in order to increase its own leverage over the banks in areas such as credit allocation. The keiretsu, in contrast, usually work with an affiliated bank, giving the affiliated companies almost unlimited access to credit.


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, and are now a minority in China. Joseph Stalin forced thousands of ethnic Koreans residing in or near 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. In recent years the migration levels for South Korean people leaving and returning to South Korea were relatively equal.

The annual rate of population increase in South Korea has dropped steadily from more than 3 percent in the late 1950s to 0.38 percent in 2005 as a result of people choosing to have fewer children than in the past. Urbanization of the country has proceeded rapidly since the 1960s, with substantial migration from rural to urban areas; 85 percent of the population is now classified as urban.

Following the division of the Korean peninsula after WWII, about 4 million people from North Korea crossed the border to South Korea. This sudden population increase was partly offset over the next 40 years by emigration from South Korea, especially to the United States. However, South Korea’s burgeoning economy and improved political climate in the early and mid-1990s slowed the high emigration rates typical of the late 1980s. Many of those who emigrated chose to return to South Korea. Currently, the migration rate for South Koreans is close to zero.

There are many thousands of foreign workers in South Korea. A news article from the newspaper 'Korean Herald' (dated the sixth of June, 2005) states this:

  • "According to the ministry data, as of the end of April, the total size of the alien work force (in South Korea) stands at 378,000, 52 percent of which, or 199,000, are here illegally. "

This 378,000 figure is considered by many to be low and only represents the number of known foreign workers, illegal or not. Some estimates put the total foreign population at over half a million. Because of the high number of illegal foreign workers in South Korea, it is difficult to get exact figures on the number of foreigners.

This large workforce and foreign population mainly comes from South Asian countries, such as India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and the Philippines. There are also many workers from the former Soviet Union countries. Many migrant workers also come from Nigeria.

Along with these workers from South Asia and elsewhere, there are also about 11,000 foreign ex-pat English teachers from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.


About 85 percent of South Koreans live in urban areas. The capital city of Seoul had 10.3 million inhabitants in 2003, making it the most populated single city (excluding greater metropolitan areas) in the world. Seoul is also the country's largest city and chief industrial center. 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). Busan is the country's principal seaport.


South Korea's national language is Korean. As with Japanese, with which it shares some grammatical features, Korean is sometimes called an isolate, and sometimes an Altaic language. Like Japanese and some other East Asian languages, Korean has historically borrowed many words from neighboring China.

For thousands of years, a system based on borrowed Chinese characters (hanja) was used in Korea to read and write Korean. However, hanja fit poorly with the Korean language's grammar and phonetics, and was difficult to learn. A new writing system, hangul, was invented in 1446 by King Sejong the Great, with the intention to foster wider literacy among the Korean people. Hangul was promulgated in the Hunmin Jeongeum (훈민정음/訓民正音). Unlike Chinese characters, hangul is a phonetically based alphabet and can be learned very quickly. Hangul's adoption was long resisted by the Korean elite, but it is now used exclusively in North Korea. In South Korea, Chinese loan words are sometimes still written in hanja, but the strong trend is one of ever-decreasing use of hanja.

In 2000 the government adopted the Revised Romanization of Korean.

Bulguksa Temple was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1995.
Bulguksa Temple was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1995.


According to 2003 statistics compiled by the South Korean government, about 46 percent of citizens profess to follow no particular religion. Christians account for 27.3% of the population and Buddhists 25.3%.[1]

Buddhism is stronger in the more conservative east of the country, namely the Yeongnam and Gangwon regions, where it accounts for more than half of the religious population. There are a number of different "schools" in Korean Buddhism, including the Seon (imported from Chan Buddhism in China, then later taught to the Japanese as Zen Buddhism). Many adherents of Buddhism combine Buddhist practice and shamanism.

Christianity initially got a foothold in Korea in the 19th century, then in the 1970s and early 1980s grew exponentially, and despite slower growth in the 1990s, caught up to Buddhism as a significant faith. Protestant churches including Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and Methodists make up about 19.8% of the total population, while Roman Catholics occupy about 7.4%. Christians are especially strong in the west of the country including Seoul, Gyeonggi and Honam regions. Seoul is home to Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest single church in the world.

Various other religions account for about 2.5 percent of the religious population. These include the Wonbulgyo movement, which emphasizes the unity of all things. Another notable minor religion is Cheondogyo, an indigenous faith combining elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Christianity. Confucianism is also small in terms of self-declared adherents, but the great majority of South Koreans, irrespective of their formal religious affiliation, are strongly influenced by Confucian values, which continue to permeate Korean culture.


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

Traditional Korean hanbok dress
Traditional Korean hanbok dress

Korean cultural development is generally divided into periods coinciding with political development: the Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C. - 668 A.D.), the Unified Silla dynasty (668-935), the Koryo dynasty (918-1392), the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), and the modern period (1910-present). South Korea shares its traditional culture with that of North Korea, but the two Koreas have developed distinct contemporary forms of culture since its division into two separate states.

Historically, Korea was strongly influenced by Chinese culture and acted as a conduit of culture from China to Japan. Koreans adapted many Chinese art forms with innovation and skill, creating distinctively Korean forms. For many centuries, metalwork, sculpture, painting, and ceramics flourished throughout the Korean peninsula. Buddhism provided one of the most significant sources for artistic expression. Confucianism, also prominent, emphasized the importance of literature and calligraphy, as well as portrait and landscape painting.

Western influence began to dominate Korean society in the late 1800s, when Korea opened itself to the Western world. During the Japanese colonial rule, indigenous traditions were sometimes violently suppressed. Since then, however, Koreans have made a concerted effort to keep their cultural traditions alive. The South Korean government actively encourages the traditional arts, as well as modern forms, through funding and education programs as well as sponsorship of an annual national competitive exhibition.

Many great scholars and philosophers lived in Korea, but are not well known to outsiders due to the country's early isolationism. One example is King Sejong the Great, who invented the world's first rain gauge and water clock.

Despite China's historical influence on Korean culture, the roles are reversed today, with an increased Korean influence in China in terms of popular music, fashion and television drama. In recent years, Korean pop culture has gained massive popularity in many parts of Asia, earning the name Hallyu or "Korean Wave". Korean pop culture has also made way into Japan, with Korean singers like BoA,Bi, Dong Bang Shin Gi, Se7en, Seo Tae-Ji and many more. Television drama such as Winter Sonata and Super Rookie is gaining massive popularity there. Many have viewed the popularity of Korean pop culture in Japan as a path to reconciliation between the two countries.

South Korea today, with government facilitation, has the highest penetration of high-speed internet access to households in the world. Its infatuation with technology, including feature-rich cell phones and online gaming, has become a part of its modern culture.

See also: List of Koreans, Korean cuisine, Taekwondo, Music of Korea, Korean painting, Korean dance, Korean ceramics

Foreign relations

South Korea and Japan share a complex and sometimes adversarial history. Several contentious remnants of Japan's role in World War II still make headlines, including the Sea of Japan naming dispute, Yasukuni Shrine visits, and ownership of the Dok-do/Takeshima. Refer to the Korean-Japanese disputes for other disputes.


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.


  1. ^  "인구,가구/시도별 종교인구 구성비". Korea National Statistical Office website. URL accessed on September 19, 2005.

See also

External links

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Countries in East Asia
China (PRC) | Japan | North Korea | South Korea | Taiwan (ROC)2
1. Special Administrative Regions of the PRC: Hong Kong | Macau
2. See also: political status of Taiwan
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