Language

 Hangeul – Korea’s Official Alphabet

           Hangeul (한글), Korea’s official alphabet, was first invented by King Sejong during the Joseon Dynasty. Originally called Hunminjeongeum (훈민정음), the language was conceived in 1443, and further promulgated by the King in 1446. At the time of its inception, the language consisted of 17 consonants and 11 vowels however, since then, 3 of the originally established consonants and 1 vowel have fallen into disuse bringing the total number of characters to 24. Syllables are formed by the selective combination of vowels and consonants to create words.

            The official name for the Korean language was changed to ‘Hangeul’ in 1910. Hunminjeongeum Proclamation Day was called ‘Gagya Proclamation Day’ up until 1926, and it wasn’t until 1928 that it was changed to its current title, ‘Hangeul Proclamation Day’.

       The chart below represents the 24 Hangeul characters together with their romanized equivalents. ‘The Hunminjeongeum,’ a historical document which provides instructions to educate people on the use of Hangeul, is registered with UNESCO. UNESCO awards a ‘KingSejong Literacy Prize,’ every year in memory of the inventor of Hangeul.

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Population of Korea

 

The population of Korea today, both North and South combined, is estimated to be around 70-80 million

     The population of Korea today, both North and South combined, is estimated to be around 70-80 million. (Please note that hereinafter, the article will discuss only South Korea, and Korea will refer to the Republic of Korea.) According to the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, as of April 2014, the total population of Korea is 51,202,130. In terms of population density, there are 513 people per sq. km.

     Out of the total population, 10,137,313 people, or roughly 20% of the population, live in Seoul. Other large and economically advanced cities such as Busan (population of 3,523,386), Incheon (2,889,258), Daegu (2,499,880), Daejeon (1,535,367), Gwangju (1,471,850) and Ulsan (1,159,234) have a higher population density than other cities in Korea.

[Data credit: Ministry of Security and Public Administration (www.mospa.go.kr) (Korean, English)]
 *The information above is based on the population registered with the Resident Registration System, which means there can be a discrepancy between the reported numbers and the actual number of people living in Korea.

History of Korea

Korea’s history dates back to 2333 B.C. This section follows the history of Korea from the prehistoric age to the modern era.

The Prehistoric Age

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 Gojoseon, the first Korean Kingdom, in 2333 BCE. Subsequently, several tribes moved from the southern part of Manchuria to the Korean Peninsula.

The Three Kingdoms Period refers to the period from the early 4th to mid-7th centuries CE marked by the struggle of three rival kingdoms (Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla) over territory spanning the Korean Peninsula and part of Northeastern Asia.

Goguryeo Kingdom

An ancient state of the Korean Peninsula, Goguryeo occupied the largest territory among the Three Kingdoms. Founded in 37 BCE by Jumong (later become King Dongmyeong), 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 CE.

Silla Kingdom

Silla was originally founded by King Park Hyeokgeose in the southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula. The kingdom lasted for 992 years, from 57 BCE to 935 CE 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 seen as an ally, but an invader. 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.

Baekje Kingdom

Baekje (18 BCE – 660 CE) was founded by King Onjo, the son of the king of Goguryeo, in the southwestern part of the Korean Peninsula. The kingdom witnessed the flowering of the elegant and delicate Baekje culture, which in particular influenced Japanese culture. In 660 CE, Baekje was defeated by the coalition troops of Silla and Tang of China.

The Goryeo Dynasty (918 – 1392)

The Goryeo Dynasty was established in 918 by King Wang Geon. 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 Daejanggyeongpan, the Tripitaka Koreana (Memory of the World Register). The world’s first movable metal type was developed in Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty. Jikjisimcheyojeol, a Buddhist scripture printed using the metal type, 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 and finally perished due to the dynastic revolution.

The Joseon Dynasty was formed at the end of the 14th century. Goryeo General Lee Sung-gye brought down Goryeo to found Joseon, and designated Seoul as the capital. Confucianism became the state ideology and exerted a massive influence over the whole of society. Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, was invented in 1443 during the reign of King Sejong.

The Japanese Colonial Period (1910 – 1945)

In 1876, the Joseon Dynasty was forced by Japan to adopt an open-door policy. Then, in 1910, Japan concluded its annexation of Korea. Koreans suffered under Japanese colonial rule until the end of World War II, with the surrender of Japan in 1945.

Establishment of the Korean Government (1945-1948)

Korea was liberated from Japanese colonization 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, respectively. On May 10, 1948, with the help of the United Nations, South Korea elected Dr. Rhee Syngman as its first president. On August 15th of the same year, an official declaration announced the birth of the South Korean government. In the north, North Korea formed the Provisional People’s 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.

The Korean War (1950-1953)

In the early hours of June 25, 1950, North Korea attempted a forcible unification of North and South Korea by crossing the 38th Parallel and invading South Korea. Military help from over 16 nations under the leadership of U.N. Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur helped defend South Korea against the threat of communism. China and the Soviet Union lent their military might to North Korea. The war continued over the next three years until coming to an end on July 27, 1953, with an armistice signed at Panmunjeom, located in the DMZ. Not only did the war ravage the Peninsula, it also heightened hostile feelings between the North and South, making reunification a difficult task.

The Aftermath of War (1954-Present)

Beginning in 1954, the Rhee Syngman Government focused on developing an anti-communist politics. In 1960, students forged an anti-government movement, the 4.19 Revolution against the illegitimately pro-longed reign of Rhee Syngman Government, and overturned the government. On July 23, 1960, a new election law was enacted, and Yun Bo-seon was elected president. However, the Yun Bo-seon Government was toppled by a military coup on May 16, 1961.

In 1963, the acting president, Park Chung-hee was officially 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.

However, as the influence of citizens who were against such extended reign and democratic movements began to increase in power, Park Chung-hee’s reign finally came to an end with his assassination in 1979. Choi Kuy-hah, served as a prime minister in Park’s era, became the next president of South Korea after Park’s death. But, he left office after eight months due to pressure from a political force organized by Chun Doo-hwan and his political partners. In 1980, Chun Doo-hwan came to power and continued to lead the nation with an authoritarian rule, as had been the case with former presidents. In the end, he accepted a constitutional amendment creating a direct presidential election system according to the nation’s desire revealed through the democratic movement and stepped down from politics in 1988 as his last year in the president.

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 reform at the time.

In 1998, Kim Dae-jung was elected president. He 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.

The Roh Moo-hyun Administration, which came into office in 2003, aspired to be a participatory government where public engagement played a key role. Key outcomes of the Roh Administration included a human resources policy targeting young and open-minded people, the liquidation of authoritarianism, and growth of the civil society. The second round summit talks between South and North Korea also took place under his administration.

President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008 as the 17th president. His administration pursued change and pragmatism, and actively undertook the privatization of public corporations and passage of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The administration successfully hosted the G20 Seoul Summit, the Nuclear Security Summit, and other major events.

In North Korea, Kim Jong-il died in December 2011 after 17 years in power. His son Kim Jong-un took power.

Since the signing of a South-North joint communique regarding the reunification of the Korean Peninsula on July 4, 1972, South and North Korea have continued their efforts towards a peaceful coexistence and reunification, including North Korea’s opening of Geumgang Mountain to South Korean tourists in 1998, and the two rounds of South-North summit meetings in 2000 and 2007, respectively.

On February 25, 2013, Park Geun-hye took oath and was inaugurated as the 18th president of Korea. She is the first female president since the establishment of the Korean government. She is also a daughter of the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th president, Park Chung-hee. The Park Geun-hye Government places a top priority on establishment of fair trade as well as political, legislative, and prosecution reform. It also focuses on reducing households’ debt, developing measures to deal with youth unemployment, and improving welfare.

WORLD CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE
KoreaChinaJapanThe WestBCE Bronze AgeJomon PeriodEarly Mesopotamia
Egyptian Kingdoms2000 Shang Dynasty (1766-1122)
Zhou Dynasty (1122-256)  1000Bronze Age
GojoseonSpring and Autumn Period
(770-476) Founding of Rome(753)500Iron Age
BuyeoWarring States Era (475-221)
Qin Dynasty (221-206)
Former Han Dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE)Bronze Age
Yayoi PeriodSocrates (469-399)
Alexander the Great (356-323)
First Punic War (264-241)
Second Punic War (219-201)200Confederated Kingdoms of Samhan (Three Han States)   100Three Kingdoms:Silla(57 BCE – 935 CE)
Goguryeo (37 BCE – 668 CE)
Baekje (18 BCE – 660 CE)
Gaya (42-562)  Birth of ChristCE 200 Later Han Dynasty (26-221)
Three Kingdoms (220-280)Iron Age 300 Jin Dynasty (265-420)Tumulus PeriodChristianity adopted as the state religion of Roman Empire (392)
Roman Empire divided (395)400 Nothern and Southern
Dynasties (420-581) Anglo-Saxons established in Britain (449)500  Asuka Perios (552-645)Mohammed (570-632)600Unified Silla Kingdom (676-935)
Balhae Kingdom (668-928)Sui Dynasty (581-618)
Tang Dynasty (618-906)Nara Period (710-794)Hegira (622) and beginning of Islamic era700  Heian Period (794-1185) 800   Charlemagne crowned first Holy Roman Emperor (800)900Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392)Five Dynasties(906-960)
Song Dynasty (960-1279)  1000   First Crusade (1096-1099)1100 Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)Kamakura Period (1185-1392) 1200 Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Magna Carta (1215) Marco Polo (1254-1324)1300Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) Muromachi (Ashikaga) Period(1392-1568)The Hundred Years’ War (1338-1453)1400   Gutenberg’s Press (1492)
Columbus discovers America (1492)1500  Momoyama Period(1568-1615)Martin Luther launches reform of the church (1517)1600 Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)Tokugawa Period (1615-1867)The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648)1700   American Independence (1776)
French Revolution (1789-1793)1800  Meiji Period (1868-1912)American Civil War (1861-1865)1900Annexation by Japan (1910)
Establishment of the ROK (1948)
Korean War (1950-1953)Establishment of the ROC (1912)
Establishment of the PRC (1949)Taisho Period(1912-1926)
Showa Period(1926-1988)
Heisei Period(1989-)World War I (1914-1918)
World War II (1939-1945)

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National Symbols

The National Flag of Korea

The National Flag of KoreaThe Korean flag (태극기) is called “Taegeukgi” in Korean. Its design symbolizes the principles of the yin and yang in Oriental philosophy. The circle in the center of the Korean flag is divided into two equal parts. The upper red section represents the proactive cosmic forces of the yang. Conversely, the lower blue section represents the responsive cosmic forces of the yin. The two forces together embody the concepts of continual movement, balance and harmony that characterize the sphere of infinity. The circle is surrounded by four trigrams, one in each corner. Each trigram symbolizes one of the four universal elements: heaven (), earth (), fire (), and water ().

The National Flower of Korea

The National Flower of KoreaThe national flower of Korea is the mugunghwa (무궁화), rose of sharon. Every year from July to October, a profusion of mugunghwa blossoms graces the entire country. Unlike most flowers, the mugunghwa is remarkablytenacious 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.

The National Anthem

Korea’s national anthem is “Aegukga,” which means “Love the Country.” In 1896, the Dongnip Sinmun (Independence News) published various versions of lyrics for this song. It is not known exactly what music they were sung to in the early days. Records show that a Western-style military band was formed during the time of the Dae-han Empire (1897-1910) and that the “Dae-han Empire Aegukga” was composed in 1902 and played at important national functions.The original words of Aegukga appeared in written form around 1907 to inculcate allegiance to the nation and foster the spirit of independence as the country faced threats of foreign annexation. Over the years, the lyrics went through several versions until they were adopted as the national anthem in the present form in 1948. Before the birth of the Republic in 1948, the words were often sung to the tune of the Scottish folk song, Auld Lang Syne. Maestro Ahn Eak-tay (1905-1965), then living in Spain, felt that it was inappropriate to sing this patriotic song to the tune of another country’s folk song. So, he composed new music to go with the lyrics in 1935, and the Korean Provisional Government in exile adopted it as the national anthem. While Koreans outside the country sang the anthem to the new tune, those at home continued to use Auld Lang Syne until Korea was liberated in 1945.In 1948 the government of the Republic of Korea officially adopted the new version as the national anthem and began to use it at all schools and official functions.

View musical score of national anthem of Korea
Click here to listen the “Aegukga”

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Weather

Korea has four seasons, with a wet monsoon/summer in the middle of the year, and a cold winter from November to March. The island of Jeju off the southern coast is the warmest and wettest place in the country. The ideal time to visit Korea is during the autumn months (September-November). During this time, the country experiences warm, sunny weather, skies that are cobalt blue and spectacular foliage that is perhaps the biggest draw. Winters are cold and dry and are a good time to visit if you are interested in winter sports as there are numerous ski resorts. Spring (April-May) is also beautiful with all the cherry blossoms in bloom. However, it is very busy and one needs to book in advance to ensure accommodation is available. The summer months are muggy and hot, and rather crowded. It is also when the monsoon season begins so many activities are subject to the fluctuations of heavy rain.

National Weather

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Average Temperatures and Rainfall

weather[click the image to enlarge]

Note:
“C”- Centigrade, “F”- Fahrenheit, “H”- Humidity (%), “R”-Rainfall (mm). This is the mean value from 1971 to 2000.

Korea’s climate is regarded as a continental climate from a temperate standpoint and a monsoonal climate from a precipitation standpoint. The climate of Korea is characterized by four distinct seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter.

Four Distinct Seasons

Spring

spring

Everland

Spring lasts from late March to May and is warm. Various flowers, including the picturesque cherry blossom, cover the nation’s mountains and fields during this time.


Summer

summer

Busan

Summer lasts from June to early September. It is a hot and humid time of the year.


Autumn

autumn

Mt. Seoraksan

Autumn lasts from September to November, and produces mild weather. It is the best season to visit Korea.


Winter

namsan

Namsan Tower

Winter lasts from December to mid-March. It can be bitterly cold during this time due to the influx of cold Siberian air. Heavy snow in the northern and eastern parts of Korea makes for favorable skiing conditions.

Map of Korea

 

map

The Korean Peninsula is located in North-East Asia. It is bordered by the Amnok River (Yalu River) to the northwest, separating Korea from China, and the Duman River (Tumen River) to the northeast which separates Korea from both China and Russia. The country itself is flanked by the Yellow Sea to its west and the East Sea to the east.

There are several notable islands that surround the peninsula including Jejudo, Ulleungdo and Dokdo.The Korean peninsula is roughly 1,030 km (612 miles) long and 175 km (105 miles) wide at its narrowest point. Korea’s total land area is 100,033 sq km, and it has a population of 49.8 million people (2011).
Because of its unique geographical location, Korea is a very valuable piece of land and an international hub of Asia.

Mountains cover 70% of Korea’s land mass, making it one of the most mountainous regions in the world. The lifting and folding of Korea’s granite and limestone base create a breathtaking landscape of scenic hills and valleys. The mountain range that stretches along the length of the east coast falls steeply into the East Sea, while along the southern and western coasts, the mountains descend gradually to the coastal plains that produce the bulk of Korea’s agricultural crops, especially rice.

Geographic position – Between 33˚ and 43˚ north
latitude, and 124˚ and 131˚ east longitude (including
North Korea)
Highest mountains in Republic of Korea – Hallasan Mountain
on Jeju-do, 1,950 meters (6,400 ft); Jirisan Mountain, 1,915 meters
(6,283 ft); and Seoraksan Mountain, 1,708 meters (5,604 ft)
Rivers – Nakdonggang River, 522 km (324 miles); Hangang
River,
494 km (307 miles); Geumgang River, 396 km (246 miles)
Economic status (2010) – GNI USD 986.2 billion;
GNI per capita: USD 20,759