Korea in Brief

The foundation legend of Korea based on the mythology of Dangun is deeply embedded in Korean culture. Archeological evidence shows that the Korean peninsula has been inhabited from the early paleolithic era, primarily along the coastal regions. Neolithic culture first appeared on the Korean Peninsula around 8,000 BC. People of this period did primary farming and stock farming as well as fishing, and began to make polished stone implements and potteries. The potteries of this period are early plain coarse pottery, pottery with applique clay decoration and comb-patterned pottery. In general, people lived on the coast of sea or big river, or on islands. The dwelling sites, tombs and shell mounds of this period remain. In Hupo-ri, Uljin, bones of more than forty people covered with 180 stone axes were found in natural pit. It is a very rare example of mass bone burial.

Bronze culture of Korea began with the southward advance of Yemac race lived in Manjuria and Mongolia around the tenth century BC. Bronzeware, polished stone implements and various plain coarse potteries were used at that time. The forms of tombs are dolmens, stone cist, jar coffin and pit tombs. As productivity grew with the progress of farming and stock farming, the classes began to be formed in the society. The people lived in large villages on plane or low hills near the river. Rice has been excavated from the dwelling sites, suggesting rice farming had already begun in this period.

When steel was utilized for the first time in the third and fourth centuries B.C., simple implements like axes and chisels were mainly cast. Some two hundred years later, ironware was widely produced and used in society. The use of hard and sharp ironware enabled them to make steel axes, hoes, shovels, weeder-plows, sickles, and hand knives for everyday life. Intensified conflicts and clashes among different groups regarding the distribution of goods were often caused by increased production with a spread of ironware. Quite naturally, as offensive weapons such as various kinds of swords, spears and arrowheads, and defensive weapons like shields, headpieces, and amours were developed, the outcome of wars was largely decided by the superiority of steel weapons. The growth of productive power and wars and the integration among groups led to the emergence of ancient states such as Goguryeo, Baekje, Silla, and Gaya.

Three monarchial states like Silla, Goguryeo and Baekje lasted until Silla put two other kingdoms under her rule in mid-7th century. Unified Silla, being more aristocratic society, was flourished with Buddhism culture and numerous temples and pagodas were built in and around the capital, a charming city of Gyeongju today. In AD 935, Goryeo, which is dominated by celadon porcelain, replaced the Unified Silla and new rulers were to preside over 400 years until Yi Seonggye founded Joseon dynasty in 1392. In 1592 began the devastating invasion by the Japanese armies under Hideyoshi. No sooner had the Japanese retreated than Korea found herself in another delicate position between the struggling Ming and Manchu powers of China. The Manchu armies invaded Korea twice, in 1627 and 1636, culminating in King Injo's surrender after a 44-day siege at South fortress near Seoul. Following these Manchu invasions Korea retreated into a stringent policy of Isolationism and became known as the "Hermit Kingdom". The dynasty ended with the abdication of King Sunjong, the 27th ruler of Joseon dynasty and Japanese colonized Korea for 36 years until Korea won the independence in 1945. Religious freedom is guaranteed in Korea, and now Christianity has developed a vast following since its introduction in the late 18th century though Confucianism and Buddhism were dominant in the past.

The Korean society experienced unprecedented changes in the past century. Colonial rule under Japanese imperialism, liberation, division of the north and south, modernization, industrialization and globalization led the popular class to experience despair and frustration, as well as overcoming such difficulties and achieving a sense of accomplishment. The development of material culture, science, and technology in Korea guided the emergence of the popular class as the main source of production and consumption. In this process, widely accepted western lifestyles and values have transformed the pattern of food, clothing and housing as well as the overall lifestyle of the Korean people. During the past century, despite the growing pains in the aftermath of the rapid changes, the popular class arouse as the maters of their own destiny.

Korea lies in the north eastern part of the Asian continent. Bordered with China and Russia to the north and Japan to the east, the Korean peninsula is 223,098§´, almost the same size as the U.K. or Romania. The administrative area of the Republic of Korea is 99,678§´, slightly larger than Hungary or Portugal and a little smaller than Iceland. The mountain range runs the full length of the east coast and plains form the central region and slope to the western coast. Korea has a varied terrain, though about 70 per cent of the territory is mountainous with large number of rivers and streams. Korea has 1,021 mountains and 3,300 islands. Baekdusan located in the north Korea is the highest (2,744m), and the second highest is Hallasan (1,950m) on Jejudo, the largest island in Korea. The longest river is Apnokgang (790km) in the north, and the second longest is Nakdong river (521km) in the south.

They are descendants of several Mongol tribal groups which migrated from the north in the prehistoric eras and have now been fused into one separate, homogeneous group, independent of their neighbors to the east and west but with traits distinctive of both the Chinese and Japanese. Koreans speak Korean language and their writing form is called Hangeul, which was first invented in the mid-15th century by King Sejong. The Korean might be considered the most friendly of all Asian people. They have keen sense of humor balanced by earthy common sense. Quick to laugh and equally quick to show anger. Koreans are graceful yet robust and noted for their endurance under the most adverse conditions. The population of Korea is well over 70 million including north Korea and Republic of Korea alone numbers 48 million. Life expectancy is 76 years for male, and 83 years for female.

Language and words
Koreans speak Korean language and use Korean alphabet, Hangeul. Hangeul was invented in 1443 by King Sejong. His invention principle of Hangeul expressed in his book Hunminjeongum is as follow. "Being of foreign origin Chinese characters are incapable or capturing uniquely Korean meanings. Therefore, many common people have no way to express their thoughts and feelings. Out of my sympathy for their difficulties I have invented a set of 28 letters. The letters are very easy to learn and it is my fervent hope that they improve the quality of life of all people." Today, four letters are no more in use. Hangeul has 24 basic letters of 10 vowels and 14 consonants. The Hangeul is vertically and horizontally symmetrical and sytematic in sound by adopting the ligature principle, which is adding lines to strengthen the sound and combining consonants and vowels. The form of each consonant is based on the shape of the vocal organs used to produce them. At first, the basic consonants were ¤¤, ¤±, ¤µ, ¤·, ¤¡. They correspond with the five main linguistic groups, velar, alveolar, bilabial, dental and glottal. Other 12 consonants were created by adding dots or lines, using the system to strengthen the sound in the same linguistic groups of consonants the same vocal organ. The total number of combination letters of Hangeul is 11,172 from °¡ to ÆR.

Democracy with president elected to a single 5-year term by direct popular vote, and the suffrage is 19 years of age. Under Korea's presidential system, the president performs his executive functions through the State Council made up of 15 to 30 members and presided over by the President, who is solely responsible for deciding all important government policies. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President and approved by the National Assembly. As the principal executive assistant to the President, the Prime Minister supervises the administrative ministries and manages the Office for Government Policy Coordination under the direction of the President. The Prime Minister also has the power to deliberate major national policies and to attend the meetings of the National Assembly.

The national assembly is composed of 299 members serving four-year terms. Out of 299 members, 243 are elected by popular vote from local constituencies, while the remaining 56 members obtain their seats through a proportional representation system in which seats are allocated to each political party that has gained 3 percent or more of all valid votes or five or more seats in the local constituency election. The system is aimed at reflecting the voices of people from different walks of life while enhancing the expertise of the Assembly. To be eligible for election, a candidate must be at least 25 years of age. One candidate from each electoral district is selected by majority vote. Two types of legislative sessions are provided for, regular and special. The regular session, limited to 100 days, is convened once a year from September through December and special sessions, limited to 30 days, may be convened upon the request of the President or one-fourth or more of the members of the Assembly. The President may request the convening of a special session, clearly specifying the reason and the period of the session.

The Judiciary of Korea consists of the Supreme Court, High Courts, District Courts, Patent Court, Family Court, Administrative and local Courts. The courts exercise jurisdiction over civil, criminal, administrative, electoral, and other judicial matters, while also overseeing affairs related to real estate registrations, family registrations, financial holdings, and court officials. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial tribunal. It hears appeals on cases rendered by lower courts. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly. Other justices are appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Chief Justice. The term of office for the Chief Justice is six years and is not renewable. The Chief Justice must retire from office at the age of 70. The term for other justices is six years. Though they may be re-appointed in accordance with legal provisions, they must retire from office when they reach the age of 65. The High Courts hear civil, criminal and administrative appeals cases rendered by district, administrative courts and family courts and try special cases designated by law. The Patent Court reviews decisions rendered by the Patent Office. The Supreme Court is the final tribunal over patent disputes. District Courts are located in Seoul and in the following 13 cities: Incheon, Uijeongbu, Suwon, Chuncheon, Daejeon, Cheongju, Daegu, Busan, Changwon, Ulsan, Gwangju, Jeonju and Jeju. The Family Court is empowered to hear all cases involving matrimonial, juvenile or other domestic matters. The Administrative Court handles administrative cases only.

Korea, once known to be one of the world's poorest agrarian societies, has undertaken economic development since 1962. In less than four decades, it achieved what has become known as the "Miracle on the Hang River", an incredible process that dramatically transformed the Korean economy while marking a turning point in Korea's history. Korea is the world's largest shipbuilding nation; for semiconductors, the third largest; digital electronics, the fourth. Korean textile, steel and petrochemicals are fifth in terms of volume, and automobiles are also fifth in the world. Korea's shipbuilding sector has been the industry leader for the past four years, accounting for 40% of the world's total shipbuilding orders. As a major auto manufacturer, Korea produces over 3.8 million vehicles annually. Major industrial products are Semiconductors, Automobiles, Ships, Consumer electronics, Mobile telecommunication equipment, steel and chemicals, whereas major import items are industrial raw materials such as crude oil and natural minerals, general consumer products, foodstuffs and goods such as machinery and electronic and transportation equipment. Incheon International Airport is poised to become a leading logistics and transportation hub in Northeast Asia. In 2006, it handled 2.34 million tons of international air cargo, becoming the second leading airport in the world in terms of air cargo volume. Container ships from Korea ply international sea lanes to the world ports. Port cargo volume climbed to 17.48 million TEU in 2007. In particular, Busan Port handled 12.04 million TEU in 2006, ranking fifth in the world for three consecutive years in terms of volume of containers handled.

Koreans throughout history have had an unquenchable thirst for education which was initially motivated by the old Confucian school of learning where scholarly attainment could be achieved only through competitive examinations. Modern education, first introduced by the Western missionaries in the 19th century, was deeply influenced by the Western system. A group of missionaries from the Presbyterian and Methodist Mission led by Horace G, Underwood and Henry G. Appenzeller opened mission schools in Seoul before the turn of the century. Baeje and Gyeongsin were the first boys' high school while Ehwa Hakdang became the first girls' high school in Korea. During the same period Yonhi college (later to become Yonsei University) was founded in Seoul and Sungsil college in Pyeongyang, both sponsored by Presbyterian missionary foundation. The development of modern education was interrupted by Japanese colonialism that lasted 36 years until 1945. Education was limited as only 30% of the primary school children attended school and one out of thirty enrolled in high schools. They were forced to speak Japanese, adopt Japanese names and meet the educational requirements of the militaristic government. The liberation of Korea in 1945 was a turning point for Korean education as it shifted from a totalitarian approach to a democratic one. The number of schools and students increased. Primary school education is compulsory and free, though pre-school kindergarten education is not a part of formal school system. People with disabilities may obtain an education in special schools as well as special and general classes within general schools. More and more general schools are appointing special education support staff and building facilities for students with disabilities. As of 2007, there were 144 special schools for persons with disabilities in the nation. These included seven for emotionally disturbed students, 12 for students with visual impairments, 18 for students with hearing impairments, 18 for students with physical disabilities and 89 for students with limited mental development. Korea today has adopted a school system dividing education into 6-year elementary schools, 3-year middle schools and 3-year high schools. Undergraduate work in colleges and universities is 2 to 4 years. There are over 5,600 elementary schools, 3,100 middle schools, 2,000 high schools and 390 colleges and universities. In addition, there are 40 alternative schools and 46 foreign schools throughout Korea.

Korea's first modern newspaper, the Dongnip Sinmun (Independence Newspaper), was established in 1896 by Dr. Seo Jae-pil. The Dongnip Sinmum was a bilingual paper with 300 copies of four tabloid pages printed three times a week, the first three pages in Korean and the last page in English. The Chosun Ilbo and the Dong-A Ilbo are the two oldest newspapers in Korea, both inaugurated in 1920 in the wake of the March First Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule. Both newspapers are known for their independent editorial policies and considerable influence on public opinion. There are two major news agencies in Korea, Yonhap News and Newsis.

In December 1961, KBS-TV was inaugurated by the government as the first full-scale television service in Korea. TBC-TV, began operation in December 1964. MBC-TV, in August 1969. During a period of media mergers in the late 1980s, TBC-TV was taken over by KBS and renamed as KBS-2. EBS broadcasts extracurricular educational programs for students and also cultural programs and documentaries. SBS (the Seoul Broadcasting System) began broadcasting under private management in 1990. Cable TV started experimental services in 1990, and about 70 cable channels broadcast programs for 77 subject areas. Korea has put three telecommunications satellites into orbit since 1995 and secured 168 satellite channels to broadcast programs. Korea Digital Broadcasting (KDB) launched a satellite broadcasting service in March 2002, and provides diverse channel services. Major foreign networks are Arirang TV, and KBS worldnet.

Radio broadcasting in Korea started in 1927, when the Japanese government established a station in Seoul. The U.S. military government in Korea subsequently took it over and later formed the Korea Broadcasting System (KBS). This was the only radio station in the country until 1954, when the Christian Broadcasting System (CBS), operated chiefly with contributions from churches, started educational and religious programming along with news and entertainment broadcasts. In December 1956, another Christian organization, the Evangelical Alliance Mission, inaugurated the Far East Broadcasting Station in Incheon. The Seoul city-operated TBS (Traffic Broadcasting Station) was set up in June, 1990, followed by the government-operated EBS (Educational Broadcasting Station). Pyeonghwa Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) for Catholics. There are presently a total of 202 radio broadcasters in the Republic of Korea; 153 FM, 47 AM, and two shortwave services for Koreans overseas. (Source : www. Korea.net)

National flag
The Korean flag is called Taegeukgi. The blue and red, divided equally in the circle, represent the oriental ideas of Yin and Yang, dual forces that cannot be separated. It is believed that the two forces make everything in the world circulate and harmonize for new creation and growth. 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 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 trigram in the upper left called Geon, where the Yang is the strongest, is a symbol of the justice of heaven (Heaven, Spring, East, Benevolence).The one in the lower right, called Gon, means abundance, as the Um is the strongest (Earth, Summer, West, Righteousness). Gam, the one in the upper right, express the wisdom (Water, Winter, North, Wisdom), while I (or Ee), on the lower left, signifies light (Fire, Autumn, South, Propriety). The white square background of the national flag symbolizes light and purity and reflects Korean's love for peace. National flower is Rose of Sharon, and the bird is Magpie Korean look upon it as bringing good news.

Taegeuk refers to the ultimate reality from which all things and values originate according to oriental philosophy. The idea of Taegeuk is filled with a profound philosophy of truth. According to this philosophy, Taegeuk refers to the primitive status of the universe, that is, the dark and black chaos where heaven and earth are not separated. Hence, if Taegeuk moves, the force of Yang arises, but if not, that of Um grows. The creation and movement of sun, moon, and stars including the changes of heat into cold and day into night, are influenced by these two forces. All natural phenomena such as rain, wind, thunder, and dew and related to one another in the four elements; water, fire, stone, and earth. Yang is the extreme opposite of Um. but they cannot be parted. The universe is made by circulation and harmony of the two. When the two forces rotate, the four seasons changes in turns, and the world grows with their harmony. Thus, the world develops with incessant changes. Taegeuk is the source of every life at the same time it has a metaphysical existence.

1. Dong hae mul gwa Baek du san i Ma ru go dal to rok Ha nu nim i
(Until the East Sea's waves and dry, (and) Mt. Paektusan worn away)
bo u - ha sa U ri na ra man se.
(God watch o'er our land forever! Our Korea Manse!)

Mu-gung hwa Sam-cheol li
(Rose of Sharon, thousands miles of ranges and river land!)

Hwa ryeo gang-san Dae han sa ram Dae han-u ro Gi ri bo jeon ha se
(Guarded by her people, ever may Korea stand!)

2. Nam san wi e Jeo so na mu Cheol gap ul du reun deut Ba ram seo ri
(Like that Mt. Namsan amored pine, standing on duty still)
Bul byeon-ham eun Wu ri gi sang il se
(Wind or frost, unchanging ever, be our resolute will)

3. Ga eul ha nul Gong hwal han de Nop Ggo gu reum up ssi Bal gekun dal eun
(In autumn's, arching evening sky, crystal, and cloudless blue)
Wu ri-ga seum Il pyeon dan sim il se
(Be the radiant moon our spirit, steadlast, single, and true)

4. I gi sang gwa i mam u ro Chung seong eul da ha yeo Gwoe ro u na
(With such a will, (and) such a spirit, loyalty, heart and hand)
Jeul geo-u na Na ra sa rang ha se
(Let us love, come grief, come gladness, this, beloved our land)

Flora and Fauna
Korea is botanically divided into five districts each with special differences; Jeju island, Southern, Central, Northern districts and Ulleungdo. A great variety of flora, pine, larch, spruce, juniper, oak, willow, maple, alder and birch trees, usual in temperature climates are found over the whole peninsula. Also large gingko, and Chinese elm are scattered throughout the country. Flowering shrubs are numerous and grow profusely on the hillsides, such as forsythia, azalea, cherry, lilac, syringe and spiraea and many other varieties of wild flowers. Animals found on the peninsula are boar, bear, deer, wildcat, wolf, hare, weasel, though now some of these animals are rare exception in the mountains of Korea. The most common native birds are the crow, magpie, jay, kite, heron, crane, oriole lark, sparrow, robin, tit, pheasant and quail while the migratory birds are goose, bustard, duck, teal, swan and rail. A wide variety of water animals and fish have stimulated vigorous fishing industry, Snakes and various kinds are found. Insect life has been well studied as many are harmful to trees and crops. Two hundred species of butterflies have been identified. (Source : Korea guide by Edward B. Adams)

Korea has a continental climate from a temperate standpoint and a monsoon climate from a precipitation standpoint. Spring (March-May) is little chilly but soon becomes mild. In the beginning of March however, the temperature is rather cold. New shoots sprout and wild flowers bud. Nevertheless, the temperature difference between day and night is large. There are still many spots where lingering snow and ice are found, especially in shady areas. In April, the mountains become carpets of full blossom of wild flowers. Summer (June-August) is sticky hot, often accompanied with a month-long monsoon from mid-June. Autumn (September-November) is crisp and refreshing, however in early September typhoon often hits southern part of Korea. Autumn always brings some of nature's most stunning scenery. Mountains are covered with brilliant crimson leaves, sharply contrasting with the clear blue skies. The beautiful fall foliage, coupled with the mild weather, is just one of the reasons why many choose to travel around the country during the autumn months. Winter (December-February) is dry and freezing cold. Spring and autumn are relatively short, while summer and winter seem to move slowly.

Average figures from 1971 to 2000 based on the 15th day of each month, but precipitation based on month
T : Temperature (Centigrade) P : Precipitation V : Velocity of Wind H : Humidity S : Sunny hours
To convert centigrade to Fahrenheit, multiply by 1.8 and add 32

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