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Korea is a peninsula in eastern Asia where people have lived for the past 12,000 - 15,000 years. The country is located between China and Japan. At one point, it was the centre for the very best silk in the world, as noted in ancient Chinese scripts.

Korea was also known for having the world's best goldsmiths during the 7th-8th centuries at which time commerce and trade routes, via land and sea routes existed, between Korea and Arabia. The publication technique of using metal movable type was used in Korea as early as 1232, long before Gutenberg in Europe.

Politically, Korea is currently divided into the capitalist, democratic Republic of Korea (ROK) and the communist Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). This division occurred in effect since Japan's surrender in 1945 which put an end to World War II whereas permanent division came after the Korean War in 1953.

Today, two countries occupy the peninsula. North Korea which pursued isolationism to protect itself has not been able to fully open-up its borders after 50 years of communism. In contrast, South Korea which pursued a export-driven economy enjoys the 12th largest economy in the world.

For more on the regions of Korea (both North and South), see Provinces of Korea. The nation is renowned for its traditional dish called kimchi (see Korean cuisine) - which uses an innovative and unique process of preserving vegetables by fermentation (developed before electric refrigeration existed).

Table of contents
1 Names
2 History
3 Further Readings
4 See also
5 External links


''Main article: Names of Korea'

In Korean, Korea is referred to as "Hanguk" (한국; 韓國) in the south and "Chosŏn;" (조선; 朝鮮) in the north. The western name "Korea" (from Goryeo (고려; 高麗)) is a neutral name often used by both countries in international contexts. There are complex historical reasons for the use of all three names, of which the following paragraph is a summary. The Chinese characters of Goryeo is pronounced as Gaoli in Chinese rather than Goryeo, which is why Marco Polo marked down today's Korea as Cauli in his travel.

Before the Three Kingdoms Period "Old Joseon" was the first Korean state.) In the 660s, the kingdoms of Baekje and Goguryeo came under the control of Silla, and Korea was called "Silla" (or Unified Silla by modern historians) from then until the 10th century. In 936, the newly formed kingdom of Goryeo defeated Sinla. From Goryeo came "Cauli" (the Italian spelling of the name Marco Polo gave to the country in his Travels), from which came the English names "Corea" and the now more commonly used "Korea". (For the Corea-vs.-Korea debate, please see Names of Korea.) In 1392, the Joseon Dynasty came to power and the country was renamed "Joseon" (Daejoseonguk in full, or "Great Joseon Nation"). In 1897, the Korean Empire (Daehan Jeguk) was formed, reviving the name "Han". In 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan and the name reverted to "Joseon" ("Chosen" in Japanese). In 1919, a self-professed Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was formed in Shanghai, which used the name "Republic of Korea" (Daehan Minguk), a modified form of the name "Korean Empire". After independence from Japan and the country's division in 1945, the southern American-occupied zone became the "Republic of Korea" (or Hanguk for short in South Korean) in 1948, due to the influence of the non-Communist Shanghai group. Meanwhile, the northern Soviet-occupied zone became the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (or Chosŏn for short in North Korean) under the control of Kim Il-sung, who wished to use the name "Chosŏn" for its ancient and northern connotations.


Main article: History of Korea

There exists archaeological evidence that people were living in Korea 18,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Korean, Chinese, and even Japanese historians have different views on when Korea exactly became a state country as many historic books were burnt during their occupation of Korea which took place many times over centuries. The exact relationship, size and influence between territories which are included in today's China and ancient Korean ancestry is not clear - and highly disputed between historians. Specifically, the history of Go-Joseon and Balhae are in dispute. However, one thing is for sure by looking at the Great Wall of China - there existed a force, or groups of forces, north of China that compelled the Chinese to build this perpetual wall.

The first Korean leader who gathered people and made a nation, part of it in Korean peninsula and the other part in Manchuria, is said to be a man named 'Dan-gun wang-geom'. A history book, 'Sam-guk-yu-sa' has it that 'Dan-gun wang-geom' found a nation called, 'Go-Joseon' under the ideology of benefiting all of its people. However, it is so controversial that there're many other different views now. One of them disapproves of the fact that there was a state in BC 2333. Another one insists that there were even other countries before 'Go-Joseon', concluding Korea has a history of more than 9,000 years. For now, History textbooks, written by Korean government, acknowledge the existence of 'Dan-gun wang-geom', denying the story of the states before 'Go-Joseon'.

Go-Joseon was strong enough to threaten countries in the northeast of China. However, an emperor of the Chinese Han empire, named Mu (Han Wudi), conquered the Go-Joseon. Then, commanderies were established that lasted unti the 4th century A.D. In the place of perished Go-Joseon, there came many new countries such as Buyeo, Goguryeo, Dong-ye, Ok-jeo, Sam-Hans. Buyeo, Dong-ye, Ok-jeo were annexed by Goguryeo and Sam-hans gave birth to Baekje, Silla and Gaya.

In the period 57 BC to AD 668, the Three Kingdoms of Silla (or Shilla), Goguryeo, and Baekje, as well as the minor confederacy of chiefdoms called Gaya took place from the far south of the peninsula to the Manchuria. Buddhism was first introduced to Koreans in 372. Gaya was annexed by Silla in 562. Silla was forging diplomatic ties with China, while Baekje had sustained a close relationship to Japan and Goguryeo fought with two big Chinese Empires - Su and Tang. It is believed that Goguryeo was the most powerful kingdom of the three, followed by Baekje and Shilla. Ironically, In 660, Shilla, the smallest kingdom of the three, allied with China's (Tang Empire), overthrew the other kingdoms. Shilla, however, wasn't be able to unify all the territories of three kingdoms. Shilla took only a part of the Korean Peninsula. From the north of Shilla to the Manchuria region, descendents of perished Goguryeo made a country named Balhae. This is why Koreans call this age The north Balhae and South Shilla period.

Balhae was strong enough to threaten the Tang empire of China. However, like Go-Joseon , Balhae's glorious age coudn't last forever. Balhae was conquered by the horse-riding nomad called Georan.

In the Korean peninsula, the kingdom of Goryeo was founded in 918 and replaced Silla as the dominant power in Korea in the years 935-936. The kingdom lasted until 1392. During this period laws were codified, and a civil service system was introduced. Buddhism flourished, and spread throughout the peninsula. In 1231 the Mongols, the world's most powerful union at the time, invaded Korea. Goryeo resisted for dozens of years but coudn't help but making an agreement with them. For the following 150 years the Goryeo ruled, Mongols interfered with Goryeo's politics.

In 1392, a coupe-de-tat took place. A Goryeo general, Yi Seong-gye, overthrew the Goryeo king and established a new dynasty: the Joseon Dynasty. The Joseon Dynasty moved the capital to Hanseong (now Seoul) and adopted Confucianism as the state ideology. During this period, the Hangeul alphabet was created by King Sejong in 1443.

During the mid- to late- 19th century, Joseon was reluctant to open it's country to free foreign trades. Closing the borders to all nations but China resulted in being called the Hermit Kingdom by many. In 1871, the United States first met Korea militarily, in what the Koreans call the Shinmiyangyo. Beginning in 1876 the Japanese forced trade agreements on Korea, won influence over Korea following the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). In 1897, Joseon was renamed Daehan Jeguk (Korean Empire). A period of Russian influence followed, until Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). The Japanese attempted to exert direct influence on Korea but their failure to coerce led to the assassination of Queen Myongsong Hwanghu (1895) and the forced abdication of King Gojong(1907) in favor of his mentally handicapped son, Sunjong, who succumbed to Japanese threats and gave up sovereignty. Korea became a protectorate of Japan in 1905. In 1910 the country was officially annexed by Japan, thus establishing the Japanese Colonial Period in Korea.

The official viewpoint of Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) is viewed differently in modern Korea and Japan. In Korea, this period is viewed as a terrible period where basic human rights were seriouly violated by the invaders. For instance, everyone was compelled to take a Japanese name and the Japanese language was forced upon the Koreans (the Korean language was forbidden from being taught). In addition, brothers and sisters were separated and forced into hard labor. On the other hand, the Japanese view this period as being greatly legitimate as modern industrial ways were introduced to Korea by the Japanese, albeit to feed modern Japanese industrialization and later the industrial military complex. Controversy and gaps over writing down this period historical events still exist today between the two countries.

The surrender by Hirohito of Imperial Japan to the Democratic Allied Forces, the earlier collapse of Hitler's Germany, combined with fundamental shifts in geopolitics and ideology, led to the division of Korea into two occupation zones effectively starting on September 8, 1945, with the United States administering the southern half of the peninsula and the Soviet Union taking over the area north of the 38th parallel. This division was meant to be temporary and was first intended to return a unified Korea back to its people until the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and Republic of China could arrange a trusteeship administration.

Initial hopes for a unified, independent Korea quickly evaporated as the politics of the Cold War and domestic opposition to the trusteeship plan resulted in the 1948 establishment of two separate nations with diametrically opposed political, economic, and social systems. In June 1950 the Korean War broke out, ending any hope of a peaceful reunification for the mean time.

The Korean war lasted for three years and nobody won. Most of the facilities in the peninsula were destroyed. It left nothing but the grief that Koreans fought against Koreans. After the war, both North and South Korea established their own governments. For now, South Korea, on the other hand, is based on the plural political parties and free market economy. North Korea is based on the One Socialist Political Party and the center-controled economy.

Both North and South Korean people shared the same language, culture and traditions. However, fifty years of seperate has made a deep gap between the two koreas and the gap is growing as time goes by. Korea is the last area in the world where the Cold-war is still going on.

See History of South Korea and History of North Korea for the post-war period.

See also: Rulers of Korea

Further Readings

See also

External links