Korea (/kəˈriːə/ kə-ree-ə; Korean: 한국 Hanguk [hanɡuːk] or 조선 Joseon [tɕosʌn]) is an East Asian country that is currently divided into two separate states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People’s Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the east by the Korea Strait and the Sea of Japan (East Sea), and separated from the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the south by the East China Sea.
Archaeological and linguistic evidence suggest the origins of the Korean people were Altaic language-speaking people from south-central Siberia, who populated ancient Korea in successive waves from the Neolithic age to the Bronze Age. The adoption of the Chinese writing system (“Hanja” in Korean) in the 2nd century BC, and Buddhism in the 4th century AD, had profound effects on the Three Kingdoms of Korea.
Korea was united by Emperor Taejo of the Goryeo Dynasty in 936. Goryeo was a highly cultural state and created the Jikji in the 14th century, using the world’s first movable metal type printing press. The Mongol invasions in the 13th century, however, greatly weakened the nation which was forced to become a tributary state. After the Mongol Empire’s collapse, severe political strife followed and Goryeo was replaced by the Joseon Dynasty in 1388.
The first 200 years of Joseon were marked by relative peace and saw the creation of the Korean alphabet Han-geul by King Sejong the Great in the 14th century and the rise in influence of Confucianism in the country. During the latter part of the dynasty, however, Korea’s isolationist policy earned it the Western nickname the “Hermit Kingdom”. By the late 19th century, the country became the object of the colonial designs of Japan. In 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan and remained so until the end of World War II in August 1945.
In 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed on the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea and Soviet troops occupied north of the 38th parallel, while U.S. troops took surrender south of it. This 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 ensuing conflict between the two was largely a proxy war.
North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a single-party state with a centrally planned industrial economy. South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, is a free market, democratic, and developed country with membership in the United Nations, WTO, OECD and G-20 major economies.
Official language: Korean
– Total 219,140 km² (84th if reunified) | 84,610 sq mi
– Water (%) 2.8
– 2010 estimate 73,000,000 (18th if reunified)
– Density 328.48/km² | 850.7/sq mi
Currency: Won (₩) (N/S)
Time zone: KST (UTC+9)
ISO 3166 code: KR