Sunday, May 24, 2009

About Korea

Thanks, Wikipedia.

Korea is a formerly unified nation, currently composed of two sovereign states located on the Korean Peninsula in East Asia. It borders China to the northwest and Russia to the northeast and is separated from Japan to the east by the Korea Straits.

Korea was divided in 1948, with the southern portion of the peninsula controlled by the capitalistic South Korea, formally the Republic of Korea.

South Korea is a developed country and home to global brands as Samsung, LG Electronics and Hyundai.

The northern portion is controlled by the single-party Communist North Korea, formally the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

North Korea has close relations with the People's Republic of China and Russia.

Since the Goryeo Dynasty, Korea was ruled by a single government and maintained political and cultural independence until the 20th century, despite the Mongol invasions in the 13th century and Japanese invasions in the 16th century.

In 1377, Korea produced the Jikji, the world's oldest existing document printed with a movable metal type.

In the 15th century, the turtle ships were deployed, and King Sejong the Great promulgated the Korean alphabet Hangul to increase literacy amongst his people who could neither read nor write Hanja (Chinese characters).

In 1910, Korea was forcibly annexed by Japan and remained occupied until the end of World War II in August 1945.

In 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed on the surrender and disarming of Japanese troops in Korea; the Soviet Union accepting the surrender of Japanese troops north of the 38th parallel and the United States taking the surrender south of it.

This minor decision by allied armies soon became the basis for the division of Korea by the two superpowers, exacerbated by their inability to agree on the terms of Korean independence.

The two Cold War rivals then established governments sympathetic to their own ideologies, leading to Korea's current division into two political entities: North Korea and South Korea.

The name "Korea" derives from the Goryeo period of Korean history, which in turn referred to the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo.

The Koreans are descended from a mix of Chinese and Hmong aborigines from China.

Pyongyang was the original Korean capital.

During Japanese colonial rule, the Korean language was suppressed in an effort to eradicate Korean national identity. Koreans were forced to take Japanese surnames.

Traditional Korean culture suffered heavy losses, as numerous Korean cultural artifacts were destroyed or taken to Japan.

To this day, valuable Korean artifacts can often be found in Japanese museums.

Many Koreans were shipped to Japan as "comfort women".

Koreans rose up against Japanese oppression in countless revolts.

With the surrender of Japan in 1945 the United Nations developed plans for a trusteeship administration, the Soviet Union administering the peninsula north of the 38th parallel and the United States administering the south.

The popular resistance movement was allowed to run the Soviet-controlled zone while in the US-controlled zone, Japanese collaborators were installed by the US, and the popular resistance was brutally crushed.

The US established the Republic of Korea in the southern zone, headed by Rhee Syng-Man while the Soviet Union established the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the northern zone, headed by Kim Il-Sung.

As the US and its allies controlled the United Nations at that time, the United Nations recognised South Korea as the legitimate Korea, despite Rhee's tainted record.

In June 1950, after countless border skirmishes started by South Korea's army, North Korea invaded South Korea.

During the Korean War (1950-1953) millions of civilians died and the three years of fighting throughout the nation effectively destroyed most cities.

Around 125,000 POWs were captured and held by the Americans and South Koreans on Geojedo (an island in the south).

The US also used chemical and biological warfare on the North Koreans.

The war ended in a ceasefire agreement at the Military Demarcation Line, also known as the Demilitarised Zone which acts as a border between the two states.

Korea is located on the Korean Peninsula in northeast Asia.

To the northwest, the Amnok River (Yalu River) separates Korea from China and to the northeast, the Duman River (Tumen River) separates Korea from China and Russia.

The Yellow Sea is to the west, the East China Sea is to the south and the East Sea is to the east.

Notable islands include Jeju, Ulleung and Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo in Korean).

The southern and western parts of the peninsula have well-developed plains, while the eastern and northern parts are mountainous.

The highest mountain in Korea is Baekdusan (2744 m), through which runs the border with China.

The southern extension of Baekdusan is a highland called Gaema Heights.

This highland is partly covered by volcanic matter.

To the south of Gaema, successive high mountains are located along the eastern coast of the peninsula.

This mountain range is named Baekdudaegan.

Some significant mountains include Sobaeksan (1,439 m), Baekdusan or Baeksan (1,724 m), Geumgangsan (1,638 m), Seoraksan (1,708 m), Taebaeksan (1,567 m) and Jirisan (1,915 m).

Jeju, situated off the southern coast, is a large volcanic island whose main mountain Hallasan (1,950 m) is the highest in South Korea.

Ulleung is a volcanic island in the East Sea.

As the mountainous region is mostly on the eastern part of the peninsula, the main rivers tend to flow westwards.

Two exceptions are the southward-flowing Nakdonggang and Seomjingang.

Important rivers running westward include the Amnok River (Yalu), the Cheong-Cheongang, the Daedonggang, the Han River, the Geumgang and the Yeongsangang.

These rivers have vast flood plains and provide an ideal environment for wet-rice cultivation.

The southern and southwestern coastlines of Korea form a well-developed coastline, known as Dadohae-Jin in Korean.

Its convoluted coastline provides mild seas, and the resulting calm environment allows for safe navigation, fishing and seaweed farming.

In addition to the complex coastline, the western coast of the Korean Peninsula has an extremely high tidal amplitude (at Incheon, around the middle of the western coast, it can get as high as 9 m).

In ancient Chinese texts, Korea is referred to as Rivers And Mountains Embroidered On Silk.

During the 7th and 8th centuries, the Silk Road connected Korea to Arabia.

Korean festivities often showcase vibrant colours, which have been attributed to Mongolian influences: bright red, yellow and green often mark traditional Korean motifs.

These bright colours are sometimes seen in the traditional dress known as hanbok.

One peculiarity of Korean culture is its age reckoning system.

Individuals are regarded as one year old when they are born, and their age increments come on New Year's Day rather than on their birthdays.

Koreans are mostly Buddhists. A small number of them are Christians (29 percent).

The best known Korean cuisine is kimchi, which uses a distinctive fermentation process of preserving vegetables, most commonly cabbage.

Bulgogi (roasted meat, usually beef), galbi (grilled short ribs) and samgyeopsal (pork belly) are popular meat entrees.

Other popular dishes include bibimbap which literally means mixed rice (rice mixed with meat, vegetables and pepper paste) and naengmyeon (cold noodles).

Koreans also enjoy food from pojangmachas (street vendors), where one can buy fish cake and fried foods.

Sundae, a sausage made of bean curd and green-bean sprouts stuffed in pig intestine, is widely eaten.

The modern Korean school system consists of 6 years in elementary school, 3 years in middle school and 3 years in high school.

The Korean alphabet hangul was invented by Sejong The Great.

South Korea

South Korea covers a total area of 100,032 square kilometres and has a population of almost 50 million.

South Korea is a presidential republic and while formally a multi-party democracy, it is strictly supervised by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and left-leaning political parties are either banned or intimidated by the government.

With US aid, South Korea became one of the world's strongest economies beginning from the 1970s.

In 1988, when General Roh Tae-Woo became President, South Korea gradually evolved from a brutal military dictatorship a la North Korea into a semi-democracy.

When long-time political prisoner and pro-democracy activist Kim Dae-Jung became the first non-military-linked President in 1998, South Korea liberalised further.

South Korea hosted the 1988 Olympics and in 2002, it co-hosted the Fifa World Cup with Japan.

South Korea strictly follows the foreign policy of its 'protector and creator' the United States.

When Kim and his successor Roh Moo-Hyun served as President, South Korea and North Korea improved diplomatic ties.

More than 29,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea.

South Korea is the largest shipbuilder in the world.

South Korea is also the world's leading memory chip producer.

Construction of South Korea's largest airport, Incheon International Airport, was completed in 2001.

Seoul is the largest city in South Korea. With 10,456,000 people, it is the national capital.

Other major cities are Busan, Incheon and Daegu.

South Korean films and popular music are fast making their mark in Asia.

The emergence of the group Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992 marked a turning point for South Korean popular music, K-Pop.

Rain is now one of South Korea's hottest international singers and actors.

K-Pop incorporates American popular musical genres of rap (hip-hop), rock and techno.

Since the success of the film Shiri in 1999, South Korean films have become popular in both Asia and the United States.

South Korean television shows, especially mini-series, have also become popular outside the country.

The most prominent among them have been the romance dramas Autumn Fairy Tale, Winter Sonata and All About Eve.

South Korean corporations Samsung and LG are the second and third largest cell phone companies in the world, and South Korean consumers change their phones on average every 11 months.

The martial art taekwondo originated in Korea. Taekwondo became an official Olympic sport in 2000.

Baseball was first introduced to Korea in 1905 and has since become the most popular spectator sport in South Korea.

North Korea

North Korea, with Pyongyang as its capital and largest city, joined the United Nations in 1991.

It is a single-party state ruled by the Korean Communist Party and its leader, President Kim Jong-Il, whose late father Kim Il-Sung founded the state and ruled until his death in 1993.

Both the older and younger Kim are venerated as kings and gods by the North Koreans, obviously under duress.

This makes North Korea a carbon copy of Mao Zedong's China, prior to the dictatorial President's death in 1976.

North Korea has long maintained close relations with the People's Republic of China and Russia.

The Soviet Union's collapse in 1992, resulted in a devastating drop in aid to North Korea from Russia, although China continues to provide substantial assistance.

A famine broke out in some parts of North Korea following the collapse, but was alleviated within a few years with help from Europe, South Korea and China.

North Korea continues to have strong ties with its socialist southeast Asian allies Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

North Korea has an industrialised command economy.

Major industries include machine building, electricity, chemicals, mining, textiles, food processing and tourism.

North Korea is a popular destination for European and Chinese tourists due to its relatively low prices, lack of pollution and mild climate in summers.

For citizens of the US and South Korea it is practically impossible to obtain a visa for North Korea.

Exceptions for US and South Korean citizens are made for the yearly Arirang Festival.

Education in North Korea is controlled by the government and is compulsory until the secondary level.

Compulsory education lasts 11 years, and encompasses one year of preschool, four years of primary education and six years of secondary education.

North Korea is one of the most literate countries in the world.

Health care and medical treatment is free in North Korea.

In 2004, the Complex of Goguryeo Tombs became the first site in the country to be included in the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites.

In 2008, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra became the first US musical group ever to perform in North Korea.