|THE KOREA SOUTH EMBLEM|
Location of Korea South within the continent of Asia
Map of Korea South
Flag Description of Korea South:The South Korea flag was officially adopted on October 15, 1949.
The three black unbroken bars (upper left) symbolize heaven, the trigram (lower left) symbolizes fire, the trigram (upper right) symbolizes water, while the three broken bars (lower right) symbolize earth. The white field represents the traditional color of the Korean people. The centered Yin-yang symbol signifies unity.
Official name Taehan Min’guk, or Daehanminguk (Republic of Korea)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house (National Assembly )
Head of state and government President: Park Geun-Hye, assisted by Prime Minister: Chung Hong-Won
Official language Korean
Official religion none
Monetary unit (South Korean) won (W)
Population (2013 est.) 50,154,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 38,486
Total area (sq km) 99,678
- Urban: (2009) 82.7%
- Rural: (2009) 17.3%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 77.8 years
- Female: (2012) 84.6 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2002) 99.2%
- Female: (2002) 96.6%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 25,920
1Some government offices began relocating to Sejong City, a planned special autonomous city, in July 2012.
Background of South Korea
South Korea, country in East Asia. It occupies the southern portion of the Korean peninsula. The country is bordered by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) to the north, the East Sea (Sea of Japan) to the east, the East China Sea to the south, and the Yellow Sea to the west; to the southeast it is separated from the Japanese island of Tsushima by the Korea Strait. South Korea makes up about 45 percent of the peninsula’s land area. The capital is Seoul (Sŏul).
South Korea faces North Korea across a demilitarized zone (DMZ) 2.5 miles (4 km) wide that was established by the terms of the 1953 armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War (1950–53). The DMZ, which runs for about 150 miles (240 km), constitutes the 1953 military cease-fire line and roughly follows latitude 38° N (the 38th parallel) from the mouth of the Han River on the west coast of the Korean peninsula to a little south of the North Korean town of Kosŏng on the east coast.
Demography of Korea, South
Geologically, South Korea consists in large part of Precambrian rocks (i.e., more than about 540 million years old) such as granite and gneiss. The country is largely mountainous, with small valleys and narrow coastal plains. The T’aebaek Mountains run in roughly a north-south direction along the eastern coastline and northward into North Korea, forming the country’s drainage divide. From them several mountain ranges branch off with a northeast-southwest orientation. The most important of these are the Sobaek Mountains, which undulate in a long S-shape across the peninsula. None of South Korea’s mountains are very high: the T’aebaek Mountains reach an elevation of 5,604 feet (1,708 metres) at Mount Sŏrak in the northeast, and the Sobaek Mountains reach 6,283 feet (1,915 metres) at Mount Chiri. The highest peak in South Korea, the extinct volcano Mount Halla on Cheju Island, is 6,398 feet (1,950 metres) above sea level.
South Korea has two volcanic islands—Cheju (Jeju), off the peninsula’s southern tip, and Ullŭng, about 85 miles (140 km) east of the mainland in the East Sea—and a small-scale lava plateau in Kangwŏn province. In addition, South Korea claims and occupies a group of rocky islets—known variously as Liancourt Rocks, Tok (Dok) Islands (Korean), and Take Islands (Japanese)—some 55 miles (85 km) southeast of Ullŭng Island; these islets also have been claimed by Japan.
There are fairly extensive lowlands along the lower parts of the country’s main rivers. The eastern coastline is relatively straight, whereas the western and southern have extremely complicated ria (i.e., creek-indented) coastlines with many islands. The shallow Yellow Sea and the complex Korean coastline produce one of the most pronounced tidal variations in the world—about 30 feet (9 metres) maximum at Inch’ŏn (Incheon), the entry port for Seoul.
South Korea’s three principal rivers, the Han, Kŭm, and Naktong, all have their sources in the T’aebaek Mountains, and they flow between the ranges before entering their lowland plains. Nearly all the country’s rivers flow westward or southward into either the Yellow Sea or the East China Sea; only a few short, swift rivers drain eastward from the T’aebaek Mountains. The Naktong River, South Korea’s longest, runs southward for 325 miles (523 km) to the Korea Strait. Streamflow is highly variable, being greatest during the wet summer months and considerably less in the relatively dry winter.
Most of South Korea’s soils derive from granite and gneiss. Sandy and brown-coloured soils are common, and they are generally well-leached and have little humus content. Podzolic soils (ash-gray forest soils), resulting from the cold of the long winter season, are found in the highlands.
The greatest influence on the climate of the Korean peninsula is its proximity to the main Asian landmass. This produces the marked summer-winter temperature extremes of a continental climate while also establishing the northeast Asian monsoons (seasonal winds) that affect precipitation patterns. The annual range of temperature is greater in the north and in interior regions of the peninsula than in the south and along the coast, reflecting the relative decline in continental influences in the latter areas.
South Korea’s climate is characterized by a cold, relatively dry winter and a hot, humid summer. The coldest average monthly temperatures in winter drop below freezing except along the southern coast. The average January temperature at Seoul is in the low 20s °F (about −5 °C), while the corresponding average at Pusan (Busan), on the southeast coast, is in the mid-30s °F (about 2 °C). By contrast, summer temperatures are relatively uniform across the country, the average monthly temperature for August (the warmest month) being in the high 70s °F (about 25 °C).
Annual precipitation ranges from about 35 to 60 inches (900 to 1,500 mm) on the mainland. Taegu, on the east coast, is the driest area, while the southern coast is the wettest; southern Cheju Island receives more than 70 inches (1,800 mm) annually. Up to three-fifths of the annual precipitation is received in June–August, during the summer monsoon, the annual distribution being more even in the extreme south. Occasionally, late-summer typhoons (tropical cyclones) cause heavy showers and storms along the southern coast. Precipitation in winter falls mainly as snow, with the heaviest amounts occurring in the T’aebaek Mountains. The frost-free season ranges from 170 days in the northern highlands to more than 240 days on Cheju Island.
Plant and animal life
The long, hot, humid summer is favourable for the development of extensive and varied vegetation. Some 4,500 plant species are known. Forests once covered about two-thirds of the total land area, but, because of fuel needs during the long, cold winter and the country’s high population density, the original forest has almost disappeared. Except for evergreen broad-leaved forests in the narrow subtropical belt along the southern coast and on Cheju Island, most areas contain deciduous broad-leaved and coniferous trees. Typical evergreen broad-leaved species include camellias and camphor trees, while deciduous forests include oaks, maples, alders, zelkovas, and birches. Species of pine are the most representative in the country; other conifers include spruces, larches, and yews. Among indigenous species are the Abeliophyllum distichum (white forsythia or Korean abelia), a shrub of the olive family, and the Korean fir (Abies koreana).
Wild animal life is similar to that of northern and northeastern China. The most numerous larger mammals are deer. Tigers, leopards, lynx, and bears, formerly abundant, have almost disappeared, even in remote areas. Some 380 species of birds are found in the country, most of which are seasonal migrants. Many of South Korea’s fish, reptile, and amphibian species are threatened by intensive cultivation and environmental pollution except in the DMZ between North and South Korea, which has become a de facto nature preserve. Once farmland, and subsequently a devastated battleground, the DMZ has lain almost untouched since the end of hostilities and has reverted to nature to a large extent, making it one of the most pristine undeveloped areas in Asia. It contains many ecosystems including forests, estuaries, and wetlands frequented by migratory birds. The zone serves as a sanctuary for hundreds of bird species, among them the endangered white-naped and red-crowned cranes, and is home to dozens of fish species and Asiatic black bears, lynxes, and other mammals.
People of Korea, South
- Ethnic groups
The Korean people originally may have had links with the people of Central Asia, the Lake Baikal region of Siberia, Mongolia, and the coastal areas of the Yellow Sea. Tools of Paleolithic type and other artifacts found in Sokch’ang, near Kongju, are quite similar to those of the Lake Baikal and Mongolian areas. The population of South Korea is highly homogeneous; almost the entire population is ethnically Korean, and there is a small minority of ethnic Chinese permanent residents. The number of foreigners is growing, especially in the major urban areas; people from Japan, the United States (including members of the military), and China make up the largest foreign populations, although they still constitute only small fractions. Many foreign nationals are employed in business or the diplomatic corps, and tens of thousands of workers come from China and Southeast Asia.
All Koreans speak the Korean language, which is often classified as one of the Altaic languages, has affinities to Japanese, and contains many Chinese loanwords. The Korean script, known in South Korea as Hangul (Han’gŭl) and in North Korea as Chosŏn muntcha, is composed of phonetic symbols for the 10 vowels and 14 consonants. Korean often is written as a combination of Chinese ideograms and Hangul in South Korea, although the trend is toward using less Chinese. A large number of English words and phrases have crept into the language—either intact or modified by local usage—as a result of the American presence in the country since 1950.
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed in South Korea, and there is no national religion. There also is little uniformity of religious belief, a situation that often is confusing to outside observers. Historically, several religions prevailed successively: shamanism (the religious belief in gods, demons, and ancestral spirits responsive to a priest, or shaman), Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. None of these religions was abandoned, however, when one supplanted another in dominance, and all have had a role in the country’s sociocultural development. Thus, the rites of shamanism (which has existed in Korea since ancient times) are still practiced by many. The principles and social outlook of Confucianism are still much in evidence in Korean daily life and family relationships, and Buddhism remains influential—even among people who may be nominally Christian, for example. More than two-fifths of the population professes Christianity, with Protestants (particularly Presbyterians and Methodists), independent Christians, and Roman Catholics the largest groups. One-sixth of the population is Buddhist.
Christianity is relatively new in Korea, Roman Catholic missionaries having reached the peninsula only in the late 18th century, and their Protestant counterparts a century later. Christianity has had a profound effect on the modernization of Korean society. Buddhism was first introduced in the 4th century ce and was the official religion of the Koryŏ dynasty, which began in 918. About one-sixth of the population adheres to so-called new religions. These include Wŏnbulgyo (Wŏn Buddhism), Taejonggyo (“Great Ancestral Religion”), and Ch’ŏndogyo. Ch’ŏndogyo (“Teaching of the Heavenly Way”), originally known as Tonghak (“Eastern Learning”), is a blend of Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, and even Daoism; it spread widely in the latter part of the 19th century. Shamanism and traditional geomancy (p’ungsu) persist, though their practices usually are limited to certain occasions, such as funerals. Confucianism was the basis of national ethics during the Chosŏn (Yi) dynasty (1392–1910); though the number of its official adherents is now small, most Korean families still follow its principles, including ancestor worship.
- Settlement patterns
Agglomerated villages are common in river valleys and coastal lowlands in rural areas, ranging from a few houses to several hundred. Villages are frequently located along the foothills facing toward the south, backed by hills that give protection from the severe northwestern winter winds. Small clustered fishing villages are found along the coastline. In contrast to the lowlands, settlements in mountain areas are usually scattered. The pace of urbanization in South Korea since 1960 has caused considerable depopulation of rural areas, and the traditional rural lifestyle has been slowly fading away.
In contrast to rural areas, urban populations have grown enormously. Seoul, the political, economic, and cultural centre of the country, is by far the largest city; satellite cities around Seoul—notably Anyang, Sŏngnam, Suwŏn, and Puch’ŏn—also have grown rapidly, forming an extensive conurbation (Greater Seoul) to the south of the city. New towns around Seoul such as Kwach’ŏn, Pundang, Ilsan (now administratively part of Koyang [Goyang] city), and Sanbon (part of Kunp’o [Gunpo] city) were constructed in the 1970s and ’80s. In addition to Seoul, other cities with populations of at least one million are Pusan, Inch’ŏn, Taegu, Taejŏn, Kwangju, and Ulsan. The populations of most of the small and medium-size cities serving as rural service centres, however, generally have been stagnating.
- Demographic trends
South Korea’s population more than doubled over the second half of the 20th century. From 1960, however, birth rates decreased rapidly, and the population growth rate was almost negligible by the beginning of the 21st century. During the same period, mortality rates also slowed, reflecting an overall increase in living standards.
The rapid increase in the urban population and the resultant depopulation of vast rural areas are South Korea’s main demographic issues. More than four-fifths of the population is classified as urban; roughly half the population lives in the country’s seven largest cities. Thus, although the country’s rate of population growth is low, its overall population density is high—some two and a half times that of North Korea—with huge concentrations of people in the major cities.
Large numbers of Koreans emigrated before World War II: those from northern Korea to Manchuria (northeastern China), and those from southern Korea to Japan. It is estimated that in 1945 some two million Koreans lived in Manchuria and Siberia and about the same number in Japan. About half of the Koreans in Japan returned to South Korea just after 1945. The most important migration, however, was the north-to-south movement of people after World War II, especially the movement that occurred during and after the Korean War. About two million people migrated to South Korea from the North during that period, settling largely in the major cities. In addition to creating large resident populations in China and Japan, Koreans have emigrated to many other countries, notably the United States and Canada.
Economy of Korea, South
The South Korean economy has grown remarkably since the early 1960s. In that time, South Korea transformed itself from a poor, agrarian society to one of the world’s most highly industrialized nations. This growth was driven primarily by the development of export-oriented industries and the abundance of highly skilled and educated labour, fostered by strong government support. Government and business leaders together fashioned a strategy of targeting specific industries for development, and beginning in 1962 this strategy was implemented in a series of economic development plans. The first targeted industries were textiles and light manufacturing, followed in the 1970s by such heavy industries as iron and steel and chemicals. Still later, the focus shifted to such high-technology industries as automobiles, electronics, and information technology.
The government exercised strong controls on industrial development, giving most support to the large-scale projects of the emerging giant corporate conglomerates called chaebŏl. As a result, small and medium-size industries that were privately managed became increasingly difficult to finance, and many of these became, in essence, dependent subcontractors of the chaebŏl.
Korea joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1996 and took a step closer to becoming an economically advanced country. In the early 21st century, Korea’s per capita gross national income far exceeded those of most of its neighbours, other than Japan and Taiwan. These notable accomplishments, however, have at times been overshadowed by economic difficulties caused by both external and domestic factors..
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Less than one-fourth of the republic’s area is cultivated. Along with the decrease in farm population, the proportion of national income derived from agriculture has decreased to a fraction of what it was in the early 1950s. Improvements in farm productivity were long hampered because fields typically are divided into tiny plots that are cultivated largely by manual labour and animal power. In addition, the decrease and aging of the rural population has caused a serious farm-labour shortage. However, more recently productivity has been improving as greater emphasis has been given to mechanization, specialization, and commercialization.
Rice is the most important crop. Cultivation of a wide variety of fruits including tangerines and other citrus fruits, pears, persimmons, and strawberries, along with vegetables (especially cabbages) and flowers, has become increasingly important. Although it constitutes only a small portion of Korea’s agricultural production, the country’s ginseng is valued for its superior quality and is exported. Barley, wheat, soybeans, and potatoes are also cultivated, but most of the country’s needs for these commodities must be imported.
Livestock and dairying are also important. The top three agricultural products after rice are pork, beef, and milk. The number of livestock farms fell from 1990 through the early 21st century even as production of dairy products and meat, especially pork, increased. Consumption of meat and dairy products also grew during the same period.
From the 1970s successful reforestation efforts were mounted in areas previously denuded. Domestic timber production, however, supplies only a negligible fraction of demand. Logging, mainly of coniferous trees, is limited to the mountain areas of Kangwŏn and North Kyŏngsang provinces. A large plywood and veneer industry has been developed, based on imported wood.
Fishing has long been important for supplying protein-rich foods and has emerged as a significant export source. South Korea has become one of the world’s major deep-sea fishing nations. Coastal fisheries and inland aquaculture are also well developed.
- Resources and power
Mineral resources in South Korea are meagre. The most important reserves are of anthracite coal, iron ore, graphite, gold, silver, tungsten, lead, and zinc, which together constitute some two-thirds of the total value of mineral resources. Deposits of graphite and tungsten are among the largest in the world. Most mining activity centres around the extraction of coal and iron ore. All of the country’s crude petroleum requirements and most of its metallic mineral needs (including iron ore) are met by imports.
Thermal electric-power generation accounts for more than half of the power produced. Since the first oil refinery started to produce petroleum products in 1964, power stations have changed over gradually from coal to oil. Hydroelectricity constitutes only a small proportion of overall electric-power production; most stations are located along the Han River, not far from Seoul. Nuclear power generation, however, has become increasingly important.
Textiles and other labour-intensive industries have declined from their former preeminence in the national economy, although they remain important, especially in export trade. Heavy industries, including chemicals, metals, machinery, and petroleum refining, are highly developed. Industries that are even more capital- and technology-intensive grew to importance in the late 20th century—notably shipbuilding, motor vehicles, and electronic equipment. Emphasis was given to such high-technology industries as electronics, bioengineering, and aerospace, and the service industry grew markedly. Increasing focus has been placed on the rise of information technology and the promotion of venture-capital investment. Much of the country’s manufacturing is centred on Seoul and its surrounding region, while heavy industry is largely based in the southeast; notable among the latter enterprises is the concentration of steel manufacturers at P’ohang and Kwangyang, in the southeast.
The Korean won is the official currency. The government-owned Bank of Korea, headquartered in Seoul, is the country’s central bank, issuing currency and overseeing all banking activity. All banks were nationalized in the early 1960s, but by the early 1990s these largely had been returned to private ownership. Foreign branch banking has been allowed in South Korea since the 1960s, and in 1992 foreigners began trading on the Korea Stock Exchange in Seoul.
South Korea borrowed heavily on international financial markets to supply capital for its industrial expansion, but the success of its exports allowed it to repay much of its debt. However, the accumulation of a staggering amount of foreign debt and excessive industrial expansion by major conglomerates caused severe economic difficulties in the late 1990s. Government and business leaders jointly created reforms, such as the restructuring of foreign debt and a bailout agreement with the International Monetary Fund, to create a more stable economic structure.
The country generally has maintained a positive balance in annual trade. The major imports are machinery, mineral fuels, manufactured goods, and such crude materials as textile fibres and metal ores and scrap. Principal exports include machinery, electronics, textiles, transportation equipment (notably, automobiles), and clothing and footwear. South Korea’s principal trading partners are the United States, Japan, members of the European Union, and Southeast Asian countries.
Some one-fifth of the labour force is employed in the service sector, which contributes roughly one-tenth of the gross domestic product. Tourism alone constitutes a significant portion of this amount annually. The majority of visitors come from other Asian countries—mostly from Japan and, to a lesser extent, from China—although the number of tourists from the United States also has been appreciable. Tourists are drawn by South Korea’s many palaces and other historical attractions, religious sites, including Buddhist temples, and natural beauty. The increasing international recognition of South Korea’s popular culture, such as music, films, and television dramas, also has generated tourist interest.
- Labour and taxation
Labour unions were able to win significant increases in wages during the 1980s, which improved the lot of workers and produced a corresponding growth in domestic consumption. Higher labour costs, however, contributed to a decline in international competitiveness in such labour-intensive activities as textile manufacture.
Taxes provide nearly four-fifths of government revenue and are imposed by both national and local governments. The largest amount comes from value-added tax and, after that, corporate income tax. Individual income, the third largest source of revenue, is taxed according to a progressive scale. In order to attract foreign investment, the government provides such tax incentives as limited-time exemption from a number of national and local taxes to certain foreign businesses and investors.
In the first decade after the establishment of the republic, South Korea’s transportation system was expanded and improved considerably. A modern highway network and nationwide air service were created. Road construction, however, did not keep up with the tremendous increase in the number of motor vehicles in the country, especially in urban areas. Road transport now accounts for the bulk of passenger travel and most movement of freight. The country’s first multilane highway (from Seoul to Inch’ŏn) was opened in 1968, and the express highway network subsequently was expanded to link most major cities. The bus transportation network, including many long-distance express lines, is well developed.
The South Korean railways are largely government-owned. Until 1960 rail travel was the major means of inland transportation for both freight and passengers but since has been superseded by road transport and, more recently, by the rise in air travel. Railways are almost all of standard gauge, the Seoul-Pusan line through Taejŏn and the Seoul-Inch’ŏn line are double-tracked, and many lines are electrified. Seoul and Pusan have heavily used subway systems. Beginning in the 1990s, high-speed railway lines (the latter achieving speeds of about 190 miles [300 km] per hour) were constructed. The Seoul-Pusan High-Speed Rail line, constructed between 1992 and 2004, has reduced the travel time between the two cities from more than four hours on the former express train to just over two and a half hours.
Internal air transportation began in the early 1960s. Most major cities have scheduled air services. Inch’ŏn International Airport, opened in 2001, serves as the country’s main port of entry and an air-travel hub for Northeast Asia. Kimp’o Airport, also near Seoul and formerly the main international airport, now serves only domestic destinations; it is connected by shuttle to the Inch’ŏn airport. There are a number of other international airports, including those at Pusan and Cheju.
Port facilities have been expanded considerably with the tremendous growth in trade. Pusan has one of the largest container terminals in the world. Other major ports are Inch’ŏn, Kwangyang, Ulsan, P’ohang, and Cheju. Scheduled passenger-ferry service connects the islands of Cheju, Hong, and Ullŭng with the mainland.
Government and Society of Korea, South
- Constitutional framework
The government instituted after a constitutional referendum in 1987 is known as the Sixth Republic. The constitutional structure is patterned mainly on the presidential system of the United States and is based on separation of powers among the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. The government system, highly centralized during most of South Korea’s existence, is less so under the Sixth Republic. The president, since 1987 chosen by direct popular election for a single five-year term, is the head of state and government and commander of the armed forces. The State Council, the highest executive body, is composed of the president, the prime minister, the heads of executive ministries, and ministers without portfolio. The prime minister is appointed by the president and approved by the elected National Assembly (Kuk Hoe).
Legislative authority rests with the unicameral National Assembly. The powers of the National Assembly, which was reinstated in 1980 after a period of curtailment, were strengthened in 1987. Its 300 members are chosen, as previously, by a combination of direct and indirect election to four-year terms.
South Korea has a multiparty system in which two parties have tended to dominate, although their names and composition have often changed. In the early 21st century the conservative Grand National Party and the centrist-liberal Democratic Party were dominant.
- Local government
South Korea is divided administratively into the nine provinces (do or to) of Cheju, North Chŏlla, South Chŏlla, North Ch’ungch’ŏng, South Ch’ungch’ŏng, Kangwŏn, Kyŏnggi, North Kyŏngsang, and South Kyŏngsang; and the metropolitan cities (kwangyŏksi) of Seoul, Pusan, Taegu, Inch’ŏn, Kwangju, Taejŏn, and Ulsan. Each has a popularly elected legislative council. Provinces are further divided into counties (gun) and cities (si), and the large cities into wards (ku) and precincts (tong). Provincial governors and the mayors of province-level cities are popularly elected.
The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court, three appellate courts (High Courts), district courts, a family court, a patent court, and administrative and local courts. The Supreme Court is empowered to interpret the constitution and all other state laws and to review the legality of government regulations and activities. The chief justice is appointed by the president with the consent of the National Assembly; the mandatory retirement age for the chief justice is 70. All other Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president upon the recommendation of the chief justice; they serve six-year terms, to which they may be reappointed, and the retirement age is 65.
- Armed forces and security
South Korea maintains a large, well-equipped armed-forces establishment—consisting of army, navy, and air force branches—although it is still considerably smaller than that of North Korea. The army is by far the largest component, and there is a sizable reserve force. Military service is compulsory for all males. South Korea’s main military objective is to deter an attack by the North. To that end it has a Mutual Defense Treaty (1953) with the United States, and a large contingent of U.S. troops is stationed in the country.
Civilian intelligence gathering and other nonmilitary matters of national security are the responsibility of the National Intelligence Service, formerly called (1981–99) the Agency for National Security Planning and (1961–81) the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. Military intelligence is handled by the Defense Security Command. The Korean National Police Agency combines standard police duties with responsibility for counteracting communist infiltration and controlling civil disorders.
- Health and welfare
The availability of medical services increased enormously after the Korean War, covering the basic needs of the country, including the remote rural areas, to a satisfactory level. Most people now have some sort of medical insurance coverage. Public health and sanitation have greatly improved, thus reducing epidemics. The average life-expectancy rate rose dramatically from the 1950s, while the death rate more than halved. The infant mortality rate also declined sharply.
The government provides basic social welfare services: public pensions, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation and health insurance, and public assistance. After the Korean War, United Nations agencies, civilian and military agencies of the United States, and private volunteer agencies played a significant role in the steadily improving living conditions in South Korea. Also significant was the dramatic increase in household income, especially among industrial workers. Despite these overall improvements, a disparity still exists between the quality of life of the rural population and that of urban dwellers.
Rapid expansion of urban areas, especially the expansion of Seoul and Pusan, has resulted in considerable changes in the urban landscape. Before 1960 there were few multistory buildings; even in Seoul, most structures were lower than 10 stories. Between 1988 and 1992, in response to a housing shortage created by rapid urbanization, the government sponsored the creation of more than 2.5 million housing units, mostly in the form of apartments. Construction continued at a similar rate in the years immediately following. High-rise buildings, especially apartment blocks, are now common in the cities. By the early 21st century more than half the country’s population lived in apartment buildings. Because of this rapid growth, city services, such as water, transportation, and sewage systems, generally have lagged behind the needs.
Six years of primary school education and three years of middle school are compulsory, and virtually all children of school age are enrolled. Nearly all middle-school graduates continue to high school or technical school. About four-fifths of high school graduates go on to higher educational institutions. Graduation from a college or university grew considerably in importance in South Korea after World War II, and the number of college-level institutions increased enormously. Admission to a college or university requires applicants to pass a fiercely competitive entrance examination; high school students must endure grueling preparation work for these examinations, and less than half of high school graduates get the opportunity to study at universities. Nearly all of the most-prestigious schools are located in Seoul; these include the state-run Seoul National University (founded 1946)—one of more than a dozen national universities located throughout the country—and the private Korea University (1905), Yonsei University (1885), Ewha Womans University (1886), and Sookmyung Women’s University (1906). In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, overseas study, particularly in the United States, grew in popularity.
Culture Life of Korea, South
- Cultural milieu
Shamanism, Buddhism, and Confucianism constitute the background of modern Korean culture. Since World War II, and especially after the Korean War, globalization and rapid political and economic development have had a marked effect on the country’s culture. Traditional thought, however, still plays an important role under the surface. Korea belongs historically to the Chinese cultural realm. After the Three Kingdoms period in particular, Korean culture was strongly influenced by the Chinese, although this influence was given a distinctive Korean stamp.
A number of Korean cultural sites have been named UNESCO World Heritage sites. These include the depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana (one of the most complete editions of Buddhist canonical writings in the world), located at Haein Temple, west of Taegu (designated 1995); several dolmen (stone burial monument) sites from the 1st millennium bce in the southwestern part of the country (2000); and the volcanic island of Cheju and its lava-tube cave system (2007).
- Daily life and social customs
The once-dominant Confucian culture—with its emphasis on respect for ancestors, age, and seniority—continues to influence Korean family, work, and social life, albeit to a lesser degree than in the past. In addition to other factors, such as economic status and position in a business hierarchy, age and marital status are among the determinants of relative seniority, and there is some expectation that even between social acquaintances these factors—especially age—will influence relations.
Traditional family life is much involved with rituals marking life-cycle milestones and the observation of holidays and ancestral rites. The most important passages in a person’s life are the completion of a baby’s first 100 days, one’s marriage, and one’s 61st birthday. According to traditional Korean belief, the spirits of the departed do not leave the earth for several generations; thus, deceased parents and grandparents are still considered part of the family. Ancestral rites (cherye) are performed to honour them on death anniversaries and on major holidays. Two of the most important holidays are Sŏllal (Lunar New Year) and Chusŏk (harvest moon festival, often referred to as the Korean Thanksgiving), both observed according to the lunar calendar. These are marked by the gathering of families in the ancestral hometown or at the home of the head of the family. Traditional elements of holiday celebrations include the formal, respectful greeting of elders, the preparation and eating of special foods such as specific types of rice cakes (ddŏk), and the wearing of traditional dress (hanbok).
Hanbok was the everyday dress of Koreans for thousands of years before the opening of the country to the West. Western dress has supplanted the hanbok almost everywhere, but even urban dwellers commonly still wear it on special occasions such as important family meetings, holidays, weddings, and funerals. Women’s and girls’ formal hanbok consists of several layers of undergarments under a colourful, long billowing skirt and short jacket held closed with a long tie. The men’s and boys’ version consists of full-legged pants and a long, wide-sleeved jacket. There are different hanbok for special occasions, such as weddings, babies’ birthdays, and 61st-birthday celebrations.
Food is an important part of Korean cultural identity. In the diets of even the most Westernized urban dwellers, traditional Korean cuisine, which emphasizes grains—especially rice—and fresh vegetables, continues to occupy a dominant role even amid the popularity of pizza, hamburgers, sushi, Chinese food, and other foreign dishes. A Korean meal generally consists of rice, soup or stew, and a number of side dishes, almost invariably among them kimchi, or pickled vegetables. Such is the importance of kimchi in the national diet that an estimated 160 or more varieties have been identified, and there is a museum in Seoul dedicated to the dish. The most common type is the spicy paech’u (Chinese cabbage) kimchi. Although many families today buy most of their kimchi in supermarkets, many others still make their own. The traditional practice of kimjang, in which villages and families devoted several days in the autumn to preparing the winter supply of kimchi, is celebrated in such annual kimjang festivals as that held in the southwestern city of Kwangju. Other popular Korean dishes are bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables, egg, a spicy sauce, and sometimes meat), jjajangmyŏn (noodles in a black-bean sauce), pulgogi (or bulgogi; marinated meat grilled over charcoal), and samgyet’ang (a soup of stewed whole chicken stuffed with rice and ginseng), which is eaten as a restorative, particularly during hot weather.
- The arts
Traveling troupes that performed shadow or puppet plays, did acrobatics and juggling, danced and sang, and performed versions of court or popular entertainments were long a feature of Korean village and provincial town life. Among the oldest forms of Korean dance and theatre performance is the masked dance. In addition to professional groups, villagers in different areas of the country formed folk groups to perform their own local versions of the sandae masked play and dances. Today the sandae is performed by villagers in Kyŏnggi and South Kyŏngsang provinces as well as in parts of North Korea. Performers are males. Masks cover either the whole head or the face and are made from paper or gourds or, occasionally, are carved from wood. They are boldly painted to represent the stock characters of the play: monks, shaman, noblemen, young dancing girl, and others.
P’ansori, a sung narrative accompanied by virtuoso drumming, was created by professional performers during the Chosŏn period. Either a man or a woman could be the solo singer-dancer, and the performer was often a shaman. The current repertoire of six long stories was codified in the 19th century by the performer Shin Jae-hyo.
Traditional folk dances, some of them ancient, survive, and several—the mask dance (chŏyongmu) of the Silla kingdom, the crane dance (hakch’um) of the Koryŏ, and the dance of the spring nightingale (ch’unaengjŏn)—are supported and promoted by the government as designated “intangible cultural properties.” Folk music, accompanied by traditional musical instruments such as the kayagŭm (a 12-stringed zither) and the changgo (an hourglass-shaped drum), has undergone a revival and is performed at ceremonies and festive occasions.
One of the earliest examples of Korean painting is found in the mural paintings in the royal tombs of Koguryŏ. The best-known mural paintings are those in the Ssangyong Tomb at Yonggang, located in North Korea. Ceramic arts became highly developed, flourishing during the Koryŏ period—when Korea produced some of its most notable examples of fine celadon ware—and diffusing to Japan. Every province continues to produce its distinctive ceramic ware.
Muryangsu Hall [Credit: Grafica Co., Inc.]Korean architecture shows Chinese influence, but it is adapted to local conditions, utilizing wood and granite, the most abundant building materials. Beautiful examples are found in old palaces, Buddhist temples, dolmens, and Buddhist pagodas. Western-style architecture became common from the 1970s, fundamentally changing the urban landscape, but some old-style wooden houses (hanok) still exist even in Seoul, and the traditional Korean floor-heating system (ondol) continues to be used in new construction.
- Cultural institutions
The National Museum of Korea maintains artifacts of Korean culture, including many national treasures, chiefly in the central museum in Seoul; there are branch museums in some one dozen cities across the country. Archaeological sites include the ancient burial mounds at Kyŏngju, capital of the Silla kingdom, and Kongju and Puyŏ, two of the capitals of Paekche. The largest collection of contemporary art is in the National Museum of Contemporary Art at Kwach’ŏn, near Seoul.
Many museums, performance groups, and institutes have been established to preserve the traditional arts and crafts and promote contemporary ones. The National Theatre, in Seoul, is home to four resident companies: the National Drama Company, National Changgŭk (traditional Korean musical drama) Company, National Dance Company, and National Traditional Music Orchestra. The National Classical Music Institute (formerly the Prince Yi Conservatory) plays an important role in the preservation of folk music. It has had its own training centre for national music since 1954. The Korean National Symphony Orchestra and the Seoul Symphony Orchestra are two of the best-known organizations performing Western music.
- Sports and recreation
South Koreans are avid sports and outdoors enthusiasts. The martial art tae kwon do and the traditional belt-wrestling style called ssirŭm (which is similar to Japanese sumo and Mongolian wrestling) are widely practiced national sports. There are well-supported professional baseball and football (soccer) leagues, and the “Red Devils,” as fans of the South Korean World Cup football team are called, are especially well known for their enthusiastic demonstrations of support. The country’s system of national parks attracts large numbers of hikers, campers, and skiers.
Several events have been of great importance to South Korea in terms of developing the country’s international sports reputation. The 1988 Summer Olympic Games at Seoul not only boosted national pride but also were the catalyst for the construction of many new sports and cultural facilities and for the enhancement of Korean cultural identity. Another landmark was the selection in July 2011 of P’yŏngch’ang (Pyeongchang), Kangwŏn province, as the site of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games; it was the first location in Asia outside Japan to be chosen to host the Winter Games. Perhaps even more significant was South Korea’s cohosting, with Japan, the 2002 World Cup finals. Ten cities in South Korea, including Seoul, Pusan, Taegu, and Taejŏn, provided venues for about half the games, and the Korean national team advanced to the semifinal, the first time an Asian country had achieved that level.
- Media and publishing
Constitutionally guaranteed press freedoms, often violated before 1987, are now generally observed. There are a number of nationally distributed daily newspapers (including economic, sports, and English-language papers) and many regional and local dailies. The daily Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo are the country’s two oldest newspapers, both established in 1920. The Yŏnhap News Agency is the largest news organization. In addition to the publicly owned Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), a growing number of private and local radio and television stations have been established. The privately owned Munhwa Broadcasting Company (MBC) and Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) are the biggest television broadcasting networks after KBS, and the publicly owned Educational Broadcasting System, like KBS, MBC, and SBS, reaches a nationwide television audience. Cable and satellite television were also growing in popularity in the early 21st century.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries South Korean films and television dramas experienced a surge in popularity across Asia that also caught on, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the United States and other countries. This hallyu (“Korean wave”) brought many South Korean actors and popular music figures to international attention. The hallyu was seen as an economic and cultural asset, as it brought revenue and tourists to the South Korean economy as well as increasing the country’s profile abroad. In the film industry, Im Kwon-taek (Im Kwŏn-t’aek), Park Chan-wook (Pak Ch’an-uk), and Kim Ki-duk (Kim Ki-dŏk), among others, established reputations as directors of international stature.
History of Korea, South
South Korea came into being after World War II, the result of a 1945 agreement reached by the Allies at the Potsdam Conference, making the 38th parallel the boundary between a northern zone of the Korean peninsula to be occupied by the USSR and southern zone to be controlled by U.S. forces. (For details, see Korea, North. )
Elections were held in the U.S. zone in 1948 for a national assembly, which adopted a republican constitution and elected Syngman Rhee as the nation's president. The new republic was proclaimed on Aug. 15 and was recognized as the legal government of Korea by the UN on Dec. 12, 1948.
Korea, Republic of Area: 99,601 sq km (38,456 sq mi) Population (2005 est.): 48,294,000 Capital: Seoul Head of state and government: President Roh Moo Hyun, assisted by Prime Minister Lee Hai Chan ...>>>Read On<<<
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