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South Korea

Related subjects: Asia; Asian Countries

Background Information

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Republic of Korea
Daehan Minguk
Flag Emblem
"홍익인간"  (unofficial)
(English: "Benefit broadly the human world")
" Aegukga"
(English: "Patriotic Song")
and largest city
Official languages Korean
Official scripts Hangul
Ethnic groups 97.25% Korean 2.75% other ethnic groups
Demonym South Korean
Government Unitary presidential constitutional republic
 -  President Park Geun-hye
 -  Prime Minister Jung Hong-won
Legislature National Assembly
 -  National Foundation Day October 3, 2333 BC 
 -  Independence declared March 1, 1919 
 -  Provisional Government April 13, 1919 
 -  Liberation August 15, 1945 
 -  Constitution July 17, 1948 
 -  Government proclaimed August 15, 1948 
 -  Total 100,210 km2 ( 109th)
38,691 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0.3
 -  2012 estimate 50,004,441 ( 25th)
 -  Density 491/km2 ( 21st)
1,271/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2013 estimate
 -  Total $1.687 trillion ( 12th)
 -  Per capita $33,580 ( 26th)
GDP (nominal) 2013 estimate
 -  Total $1.259 trillion ( 15th)
 -  Per capita $25,051 ( 34th)
Gini (2010) 31.0
HDI (2013) Increase 0.909
very high · 12th
Currency South Korean won (₩) ( KRW)
Time zone Korea Standard Time ( UTC+9)
 -  Summer ( DST) not observed ( UTC+9)
Date format
  • yyyy년 mm월 dd일
  • yyyy/mm/dd ( CE)
Drives on the right
Calling code +82
ISO 3166 code KR
Internet TLD
  • .kr
  • .한국
Mobile phone system CDMA, WCDMA, HSDPA, WiBro and LTE. Domestic power supply 220V/60 Hz, CEE 7/7 sockets.
South Korea
Revised Romanization Daehan Min-guk
McCune–Reischauer Taehan Min’guk

South Korea (About this sound  listen), officially the Republic of Korea ( Korean: 대한민국; Hanja: 大韓民國; Daehan Minguk About this sound  listen), is a sovereign state located in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. The name "Korea" is derived from Goryeo, a dynasty which ruled in the Middle Ages. Its neighbors are China to the west, Japan to the east, and North Korea to the north. South Korea lies in the north temperate zone with a predominantly mountainous terrain. It covers a total area of 99,392 km2 (38,375 sq mi) and has a population of 50 million. The capital and largest city is Seoul, with a population of 9.8 million.

Archaeology indicates that the Korean Peninsula was occupied by the Lower Paleolithic period (2.6 Ma–300 Ka). Korean history begins with the founding of Gojoseon in 2333 BC by the legendary Dan-gun. Following the unification of the Three Kingdoms of Korea under Silla AD 668, Korea was ruled by the Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392) and Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910). It was annexed by the Empire of Japan in 1910. At the end of World War II, Korea was divided into Soviet and U.S. zones of occupation. An election was held in the U.S. zone in 1948 which led to the creation of the Republic of Korea. Although the United Nations passed a resolution declaring the Republic to be the only lawful government in Korea, the Soviets set up a rival government in the North.

The Korean War began in 1950 when forces from the North invaded the South. The war lasted three years and involved the U.S., China, the Soviet Union, and many other nations. The border between the two nations remains the most heavily fortified in the world. In the decades that followed, the South Korean economy grew significantly and the country was transformed into a major economy. Civilian government replaced military rule in 1987. Presently, South Korea has strict gun control laws that rank them among countries with the fewest quantity of firearms per capita.

South Korea is a presidential republic consisting of seventeen administrative divisions and is a developed country with a very high standard of living. It is Asia's fourth largest economy and the world's 15th (nominal) or 12th ( purchasing power parity) largest economy. The economy is export-driven, with production focusing on electronics, automobiles, ships, machinery, petrochemicals and robotics. South Korea is a member of the United Nations, WTO, and OECD. It is also a founding member of APEC and the East Asia Summit.


Before the division

Jikji, the first known book printed with movable metal type in 1377. Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris

Korean history begins with the founding of Chosun (often known as " Gojoseon" to prevent confusion with another dynasty founded in the 14th century; the prefix Go- means 'older,' 'before,' or 'earlier') in 2333 BC by Dangun, according to Korean foundation mythology. Gojoseon expanded until it controlled northern Korean Peninsula and some parts of Manchuria. After many conflicts with the Chinese Han Dynasty, Gojoseon disintegrated, leading to the Proto–Three Kingdoms of Korea period.

In the early centuries of the Common Era, Buyeo, Okjeo, Dongye, and the Samhan confederacy occupied the peninsula and southern Manchuria. Of the various states, Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla grew to control the peninsula as Three Kingdoms of Korea. The unification of the Three Kingdoms by Silla in 676 led to the North South States Period, in which much of the Korean Peninsula was controlled by Unified Silla, while Balhae succeeded to have the control of northern parts of Goguryeo.

In Unified Silla, poetry and art was encouraged, and Buddhist culture thrived. Relationships between Korea and China remained relatively peaceful during this time. However, Unified Silla weakened under internal strife, and surrendered to Goryeo in 935. Balhae, Silla's neighbour to the north, was formed as a successor state to Goguryeo. During its height, Balhae controlled most of Manchuria and parts of Russian Far East. It fell to the Khitan in 926.

The peninsula was united by Emperor Taejo of Goryeo in 936. Like Silla, Goryeo was a highly cultural state and created the Jikji in 1377, using the world's oldest movable metal type printing press. The Mongol invasions in the 13th century greatly weakened Goryeo. After nearly 30 years of war, Goryeo continued to rule Korea, though as a tributary ally to the Mongols. After the Mongolian Empire collapsed, severe political strife followed and the Goryeo Dynasty was replaced by the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, following a rebellion by General Yi Seong-gye.

Gyeongbok Palace is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty.

King Taejo declared the new name of Korea as "Joseon" in reference to Gojoseon, and moved the capital to Hanseong (old name of Seoul). The first 200 years of the Joseon Dynasty were marked by relative peace and saw the creation of Hangul by King Sejong the Great in the 15th century and the rise in influence of Confucianism in the country.

Between 1592 and 1598, the Empire of Japan invaded Korea. Toyotomi Hideyoshi led the Japanese forces, but his advance was halted by Korean forces with assistance from Righteous army militias and Ming Dynasty China troops. Through a series of successful battles of attrition, the Japanese forces were eventually forced to withdraw, and subsequently signed a peace ageement with diplomats of Ming China. This war also saw the rise of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his renowned " turtle ship". In the 1620s and 1630s, Joseon suffered from invasions by the Manchu which eventually extended to China as well.

After another series of wars against Manchuria, Joseon experienced a nearly 200-year period of peace. King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo particularly led a new renaissance of the Joseon Dynasty.

However, the latter years of the Joseon Dynasty were marked by a dependence on China for external affairs and isolation from the outside world. During the 19th century, Korea's isolationist policy earned it the name the " Hermit Kingdom". The Joseon Dynasty tried to protect itself against Western imperialism, but was eventually forced to open trade. After the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, Korea was occupied by Japan (1910–45). At the end of World War II, the Japanese surrendered to Soviet and U.S. forces who occupied the northern and southern halves of Korea, respectively.

After the division

Despite the initial plan of a unified Korea in the 1943 Cairo Declaration, escalating Cold War antagonism between the Soviet Union and the United States eventually led to the establishment of separate governments, each with its own ideology, leading to Korea's division into two political entities in 1948: North Korea and South Korea. In the North, a former anti-Japanese guerrilla and communist activist, Kim Il-sung gained power through Soviet support. In the South, elections supervised by the United Nations were held, a Republic of Korea was declared, and Syngman Rhee inaugurated as its first president. In December, the UN General Assembly declared this "a lawful government" and "the only such government in Korea." On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, sparking the Korean War, the Cold War's first major conflict. At the time, the Soviet Union had boycotted the United Nations (UN), thus forfeiting their veto rights. This allowed the UN to intervene in a civil war when it became apparent that the superior North Korean forces would unify the entire country. The Soviet Union and China backed North Korea, with the later participation of millions of Chinese troops. After huge advances on both sides, and massive losses among Korean civilians in both the north and the south, the war eventually reached a stalemate. The 1953 armistice, never signed by South Korea, split the peninsula along the demilitarized zone near the original demarcation line. No peace treaty was ever signed, resulting in the two countries remaining technically at war. Over 1.2 million people died during the Korean war.

Namdaemun is a historic pagoda-style gateway.
Korean peninsula at night, shown in a 2012 composite photograph from NASA. The amount of light is a direct indicator of economic activity.

In 1960, a student uprising (the "4.19 Revolution") led to the resignation of the autocratic President Syngman Rhee. A period of political instability followed, broken by General Park Chung-hee's military coup (the "5.16 coup d'état") against the weak and ineffectual government the next year. Park took over as president until his assassination in 1979, overseeing rapid export-led economic growth as well as political repression. Park was heavily criticised as a ruthless military dictator, although the Korean economy developed significantly during his tenure. The government developed the nation-wide highway system, the Seoul subway system, and laid the foundation for economic development during his tenure.

The years after Park's assassination were marked again by political turmoil, as the previously repressed opposition leaders all campaigned to run for president in the sudden political void. In 1979 there was a Coup d'état of December Twelfth by General Chun Doo-hwan. After the Coup d'état, Chun Doo-hwan planned to rise to power with several measures. On May 17, Chun Doo-hwan forced the Cabinet to expand martial law to the whole nation, which had previously not applied to Jeju-do. The expanded martial law closed universities, banned political activities and further curtailed the press. Chun assumed the presidency by the event of May 17, triggering nationwide protests demanding democracy, in particular in the city of Gwangju, where Chun sent special forces to violently suppress the Gwangju Democratization Movement.

Chun subsequently created the National Defense Emergency Policy Committee and took the presidency according to his political plan. Chun and his government held Korea under a despotic rule until 1987, when a Seoul National University student, Park Jong-chul, was tortured to death. On June 10, the Catholic Priests Association for Justice revealed the incident, igniting huge demonstrations around the country. Eventually, Chun's party, the Democratic Justice Party, and its leader, Roh Tae-woo announced the 6.29 Declaration, which included the direct election of the president. Roh went on to win the election by a narrow margin against the two main opposition leaders, Kim Dae-Jung and Kim Young-Sam.

In 1988, Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics. It became a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1996. It was adversely affected by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. However, the country recovered and continue its economic growth, albeit at a slower pace.

In June 2000, as part of president Kim Dae-Jung's " Sunshine Policy" of engagement, a North–South summit took place in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Later that year, Kim received the Nobel Peace Prize "for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular." However, because of discontent among the population for fruitless approaches to the North under the previous administrations and, amid North Korean provocations, a conservative government was elected in 2007 led by President Lee Myung-bak, former mayor of Seoul. More recently, Park Geun-hye won the South Korean presidential election, 2012.

In 2002, South Korea and Japan jointly co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup. However, South Korean and Japanese relations later soured because of conflicting claims of sovereignty over the Liancourt Rocks ("Dokdo" in Korea), in what became known as the Liancourt Rocks dispute.


The National Assembly of South Korea

Under its current constitution the state is sometimes referred to as the Sixth Republic of South Korea. Like many democratic states, South Korea has a government divided into three branches: executive, judicial, and legislative. The executive and legislative branches operate primarily at the national level, although various ministries in the executive branch also carry out local functions. Local governments are semi-autonomous, and contain executive and legislative bodies of their own. The judicial branch operates at both the national and local levels. South Korea is a constitutional democracy.

The South Korean government's structure is determined by the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. This document has been revised several times since its first promulgation in 1948 at independence. However, it has retained many broad characteristics and with the exception of the short-lived Second Republic of South Korea, the country has always had a presidential system with an independent chief executive. The first direct election was also held in 1948. Although South Korea experienced a series of military dictatorships from the 1960s up until the 1980s, it has since developed into a successful liberal democracy. Today, the CIA World Factbook describes South Korea's democracy as a "fully functioning modern democracy".

Administrative divisions

Incheon Songdo International Business District

The major administrative divisions in South Korea are provinces, metropolitan cities (self-governing cities that are not part of any province), one special city and one special autonomous city.

Map Namea Hangul Hanja Population
South Chungcheong
North Chungcheong
North Gyeongsang
North Jeolla
South Gyeongsang
South Jeolla
Yellow Sea
(West Sea)
Korea Strait
(Western Channel)
Korea Strait
(Tsushima Strait)
Sea of Japan
(East Sea)
Special city (Teugbyeolsi)a
Seoul 서울특별시 서울特別市b 9,794,304
Special self-governing city (Teugbyeol-jachisi)a
Sejong 세종특별자치시 世宗特別自治市 122,263
Metropolitan cities (Gwangyeogsi)a
Busan 부산광역시 釜山廣域市 3,635,389
Daegu 대구광역시 大邱廣域市 2,512,604
Incheon 인천광역시 仁川廣域市 2,628,000
Daejeon 대전광역시 大田廣域市 1,442,857
Gwangju 광주광역시 光州廣域市 1,456,308
Ulsan 울산광역시 蔚山廣域市 1,087,958
Provinces (Do)a
Gyeonggi 경기도 京畿道 10,415,399
Gangwon 강원도 江原道 1,592,000
North Chungcheong 충청북도 忠淸北道 1,462,621
South Chungcheong 충청남도 忠淸南道 1,840,410
North Jeolla 전라북도 全羅北道 1,890,669
South Jeolla 전라남도 全羅南道 1,994,287
North Gyeongsang 경상북도 慶尙北道 2,775,890
South Gyeongsang 경상남도 慶尙南道 2,970,929
Special self-governing province (Teugbyeoljachi-do)a
Jeju 제주특별자치도 濟州特別自治道 560,000

a Revised Romanisation; b See Names of Seoul.

Foreign relations

South Korea maintains diplomatic relations with more than 188 countries. The country has also been a member of the United Nations since 1991, when it became a member state at the same time as North Korea. On January 1, 2007, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon assumed the post of UN Secretary-General. It has also developed links with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as both a member of ASEAN Plus three, a body of observers, and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

In 2010, South Korea and the European Union concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) to reduce trade barriers. South Korea is also negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with Canada, and another with New Zealand. In November 2009 South Korea joined the OECD Development Assistance Committee, marking the first time a former aid recipient country joined the group as a donor member. South Korea hosted the G-20 Summit in Seoul in November 2010.


Historically, Korea has had close relations with China. Before the formation of South Korea, Korean independence fighters worked with Chinese soldiers during the Japanese occupation. However, after World War II, the People's Republic of China embraced Maoism while South Korea sought close relations with the United States. The PRC assisted North Korea with manpower and supplies during the Korean War, and in its aftermath the diplomatic relationship between South Korea and the PRC almost completely ceased. Relations thawed gradually and South Korea and the PRC re-established formal diplomatic relations on August 24, 1992. The two countries sought to improve bilateral relations and lifted the forty-year old trade embargo, and South Korean–Chinese relations have improved steadily since 1992. The Republic of Korea broke off official relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) upon gaining official relations with the People's Republic of China, which doesn't recognise Taiwan's sovereignty.

European Union

The European Union (EU) and South Korea are important trading partners, having negotiated a free trade agreement for many years since South Korea was designated as a priority FTA partner in 2006. The free trade agreement was approved in September 2010, and took effect on July 1, 2011. South Korea is the EU's eighth largest trade partner, and the EU has become South Korea's second largest export destination. EU trade with South Korea exceeded €65 billion in 2008 and has enjoyed an annual average growth rate of 7.5% between 2004 and 2008.

The EU has been the single largest foreign investor in South Korea since 1962, and accounted for almost 45% of all FDI inflows into Korea in 2006. Nevertheless, EU companies have significant problems accessing and operating in the South Korean market because of stringent standards and testing requirements for products and services often creating barriers to trade. Both in its regular bilateral contacts with South Korea and through its FTA with Korea, the EU is seeking to improve this situation.


Liancourt Rocks has become an issue known as the Liancourt Rocks dispute

Although there were no formal diplomatic ties between South Korea and Japan after the end of World War II, South Korea and Japan signed the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea in 1965 to establish diplomatic ties. There is heavy anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea because of a number of unsettled Japanese-Korean disputes, many of which stem from the period of Japanese occupation after the Japanese annexation of Korea. During World War II, more than 100,000 Koreans were forced to serve in the Imperial Japanese Army. Korean women were forced to the war front to serve the Imperial Japanese Army as sexual slaves, called comfort women.

Longstanding issues such as Japanese war crimes against Korean civilians, visits by Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine honoring Japanese soldiers killed at war (including some class A war criminals), the re-writing of Japanese textbooks relating Japanese acts during World War II, and the territorial disputes over Liancourt Rocks (Japanese official name: Takeshima and South Korean official name: Dokdo) continue to trouble Korean-Japanese relations. Although Dokdo/Takeshima is claimed by both Korea and Japan, the islets are administered by South Korea, which has its coast guard stationed there.

In response to then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, former President Roh Moo-hyun suspended all summit talks between South Korea and Japan in 2009.

North Korea

Both North and South Korea continue to officially claim sovereignty over the entire peninsula and any outlying islands. With longstanding animosity following the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, North Korea and South Korea signed an agreement to pursue peace. On October 4, 2007, Roh Moo-Hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il signed an eight-point agreement on issues of permanent peace, high-level talks, economic cooperation, renewal of train services, highway and air travel, and a joint Olympic cheering squad.

Despite the Sunshine Policy and efforts at reconciliation, the progress was complicated by North Korean missile tests in 1993, 1998, 2006 and 2009. As of early 2009, relationships between North and South Korea were very tense; North Korea had been reported to have deployed missiles, ended its former agreements with South Korea, and threatened South Korea and the United States not to interfere with a satellite launch it had planned. North and South Korea are still technically at war (having never signed a peace treaty after the Korean War) and share the world's most heavily fortified border. On May 27, 2009, North Korean media declared that the Armistice is no longer valid because of the South Korean government's pledge to "definitely join" the Proliferation Security Initiative. To further complicate and intensify strains between the two nations, the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March 2010, is affirmed by the South Korean government to have been caused by a North Korean torpedo, which the North denies. President Lee Myung-bak declared in May 2010 that Seoul would cut all trade with North Korea as part of measures primarily aimed at striking back at North Korea diplomatically and financially, except for the joint Kaesong Industrial Project, and humanitarian aid. North Korea initially threatened to sever all ties, to completely abrogate the previous pact of non-aggression, and to expel all South Koreans from a joint industrial zone in Kaesong, but backtracked on its threats and decided to continue its ties with South Korea. But despite the continuing ties, Kaesong industrial zone has seen a large decrease in investment and manpower as a result of this military conflict. Unlike Israel, South Korean citizens do not have gas masks to protect themselves from chemical attacks from neighboring countries.

2009–2010 Timeline

  • November 2009, South Korea fires on and badly damages a North Korean patrol ship, which retreats in flames.
  • March 26, 2010: South Korean warship Cheonan sinks, killing 46 sailors
  • May 20, 2010: Panel says a North Korean torpedo sank the ship; Pyongyang denies involvement
  • July–September 2010: South Korea and US hold military exercises; US places more sanctions on Pyongyang
  • September 29, 2010: North holds rare party congress seen as part of father-to-son succession move
  • October 29, 2010: Troops from North and South Korea exchange fire across the land border
  • November 12, 2010: North Korea shows US scientist new – undeclared – uranium enrichment facility
  • November 23, 2010: North shells island of Yeonpyeong, killing four South Koreans

United States

Park Geun-hye at a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on May 7, 2013

The United States engaged in the decolonization of Korea (mainly in the South, with the Soviet Union engaged in North Korea) from Japan after World War II. After three years of military administration by the United States, the South Korean government was established. Upon the onset of the Korean War, U.S. forces were sent to defend South Korea against invasion by North Korea and later China. Following the Armistice, South Korea and the U.S. agreed to a "Mutual Defense Treaty", under which an attack on either party in the Pacific area would summon a response from both. In 1967, South Korea obliged the mutual defense treaty, by sending a large combat troop contingent to support the United States in the Vietnam War. The U.S. Eighth Army, Seventh Air Force, and U.S. Naval Forces Korea are stationed in South Korea. The two nations have strong economic, diplomatic, and military ties, although they have at times disagreed with regard to policies towards North Korea, and with regard to some of South Korea's industrial activities that involve usage of rocket or nuclear technology. There had also been strong anti-American sentiment during certain periods, which has largely moderated in the modern day. In 2007, a free trade agreement known as the Republic of Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) was signed between South Korea and the United States, but its formal implementation was repeatedly delayed, pending approval by the legislative bodies of the two countries. On October 12, 2011, the U.S. Congress passed the long-stalled trade agreement with South Korea. It went into effect on March 15, 2012.


A long history of invasions by neighbors and the unresolved tension with North Korea have prompted South Korea to allocate 2.6% of its GDP and 15% of all government spending to its military (Government share of GDP: 14.967%), while maintaining compulsory conscription for men. Consequently, South Korea has the world's sixth largest number of active troops (650,000 in 2011), the world's second-largest number of reserve troops (3,200,000 in 2011) and the eleventh largest defense budget. The Republic of Korea, with both regular and reserve military force numbering 3.7 million regular personnel among a total national population of 50 million people, has the second highest number of soldiers per capita in the world, after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The South Korean military consists of the Army (ROKA), the Navy (ROKN), the Air Force (ROKAF), and the Marine Corps (ROKMC), and reserve forces. Many of these forces are concentrated near the Korean Demilitarized Zone. All South Korean males are constitutionally required to serve in the military, typically 21 months. Previously, Koreans of mixed race were exempt from military duty but no exception from 2011.

ROKN Sejong the Great (DDG 991), a King Sejong the Great -class guided-missile destroyer

In addition to male conscription in South Korea's sovereign military, 1,800 Korean males are selected every year to serve 21 months in the KATUSA Program to further augment the USFK. In 2010, South Korea was spending ₩1.68 trillion in a cost-sharing agreement with the US to provide budgetary support to the US forces in Korea, on top of the ₩29.6 trillion budget for its own military.

The South Korean army has 2,500 tanks in operation, including the K1A1 and K2 Black Panther, which form the backbone of the South Korean army's mechanized armor and infantry forces. A sizable arsenal of many artillery systems, including 1,700 self-propelled K55 and K9 Thunder howitzers and 680 helicopters and UAVs of numerous types, are assembled to provide additional fire, reconnaissance, and logistics support. South Korea's smaller but more advanced artillery force and wide range of airborne reconnaissance platforms are pivotal in the counter-battery suppression of North Korea's over-sized artillery force, which operates more than 13,000 artillery systems deployed in various state of fortification and mobility.

The South Korean navy has made its first major transformation into a blue-water navy through the formation of the Strategic Mobile Fleet, which includes a battle group of Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin class destroyers, Dokdo class amphibious assault ship, AIP-driven Type 214 submarines, and King Sejong the Great class destroyers, which is equipped with the latest baseline of Aegis fleet-defense system that allows the ships to track and destroy multiple cruise missiles and ballistic missiles simultaneously, forming an integral part of South Korea's indigenous missile defense umbrella against the North Korean military's missile threat.

The South Korean air force operates 840 aircraft, making it world's ninth largest air force, including several types of advanced fighters like F-15K, heavily modified KF-16C/D, and the indigenous F/A-50, supported by well-maintained fleets of older fighters such as F-4E and KF-5E/F that still effectively serve the air force alongside the more modern aircraft. In an attempt to gain strength in terms of not just numbers but also modernity, the commissioning of four Boeing 737 AEW&C aircraft, under Project Peace Eye for centralized intelligence gathering and analysis on a modern battlefield, will enhance the fighters' and other support aircraft's ability to perform their missions with awareness and precision.

On May 2011, Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd., South Korea's largest plane maker, signed a $400 million deal to sell 16 T-50 Golden Eagle trainer jets to Indonesia, marking South Korea as the first time for the country in Asia to export supersonic jets.

ROKAF F-15K strike fighters

From time to time, South Korea has sent its troops overseas to assist American forces. It has participated in most major conflicts that the United States has been involved in the past 50 years. South Korea dispatched 325,517 troops to fight alongside American, Australian, Filipino, New Zealand and South Vietnamese soldiers in the Vietnam War, with a peak strength of 50,000. In 2004, South Korea sent 3,300 troops of the Zaytun Division to help re-building in northern Iraq, and was the third largest contributor in the coalition forces after only the US and Britain. Beginning in 2001, South Korea had so far deployed 24,000 troops in the Middle East region to support the War on Terrorism. A further 1,800 were deployed since 2007 to reinforce UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon.

The United States have stationed a substantial contingent of troops in South Korea since the Korean War to defend South Korea in case of East Asian military crises. There are approximately 28,500 U.S. Military personnel stationed in Korea, most of them serving one year of unaccompanied tours. The American troops, which are primarily ground and air units, are assigned to US Forces Korea and mainly assigned to the Eighth United States Army of the US Army & Seventh Air Force of the US Air Force. They are stationed in installations at Osan, Kunsan, Yongsan, Dongducheon, Sungbuk, Camp Humphreys, and Daegu, as well as at Camp Bonifas in the DMZ Joint Security Area . A still functioning UN Command is technically the top of the chain of command of all forces in South Korea, including the US forces and the entire South Korean military – if a sudden escalation of war between North and South Korea were to occur the United States would assume control of the South Korean armed forces in all military and paramilitary moves. However, in September 2006, the Presidents of the United States and the Republic of Korea agreed that South Korea should assume the lead for its own defense. In early 2007, the U.S. Secretary of Defense and ROK Minister of National Defense determined that South Korea will assume wartime operational control of its forces on December 1, 2015. U.S. Forces Korea will transform into a new joint-warfighting command, provisionally described as Korea Command (KORCOM).

Geography, climate and environment


Topography of South Korea

South Korea occupies the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula, which extends some 1,100 km (680 mi) from the Asian mainland. This mountainous peninsula is flanked by the Yellow Sea to the west, and Sea of Japan (East Sea) to the east. Its southern tip lies on the Korea Strait and the East China Sea.

The country, including all its islands, lies between latitudes 33° and 39°N, and longitudes 124° and 130°E. Its total area is 100,032 square kilometres (38,622.57 sq mi).

South Korea can be divided into four general regions: an eastern region of high mountain ranges and narrow coastal plains; a western region of broad coastal plains, river basins, and rolling hills; a southwestern region of mountains and valleys; and a southeastern region dominated by the broad basin of the Nakdong River.

South Korea's terrain is mostly mountainous, most of which is not arable. Lowlands, located primarily in the west and southeast, make up only 30% of the total land area.

About three thousand islands, mostly small and uninhabited, lie off the western and southern coasts of South Korea. Jeju-do is about 100 kilometres (about 60 mi) off the southern coast of South Korea. It is the country's largest island, with an area of 1,845 square kilometres (712 sq mi). Jeju is also the site of South Korea's highest point: Hallasan, an extinct volcano, reaches 1,950 meters (6,398 ft) above sea level. The easternmost islands of South Korea include Ulleungdo and Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo), while Marado and Socotra Rock are the southernmost islands of South Korea.

South Korea has 20 national parks and popular nature places like the Boseong Tea Fields, Suncheon Bay Ecological Park, and the first national park of Jirisan.


Climate chart ( explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation totals in mm

South Korea tends to have a humid continental climate and a humid subtropical climate, and is affected by the East Asian monsoon, with precipitation heavier in summer during a short rainy season called jangma ( 장마), which begins end of June through the end of July. Winters can be extremely cold with the minimum temperature dropping below −20 °C (−4 °F) in the inland region of the country: in Seoul, the average January temperature range is -7 to 1 °C (19 to 34 °F), and the average August temperature range is 22 to 30 °C (72 to 86 °F). Winter temperatures are higher along the southern coast and considerably lower in the mountainous interior. Summer can be uncomfortably hot and humid, with temperatures exceeding 30 °C (86 °F) in most parts of the country. South Korea has four distinct seasons; spring, summer, autumn and winter. Spring usually lasts from late-March to early- May, summer from mid-May to early-September, autumn from mid-September to early-November, and winter from mid-November to mid-March.

Rainfall is concentrated in the summer months of June through September. The southern coast is subject to late summer typhoons that bring strong winds and heavy rains. The average annual precipitation varies from 1,370 millimetres (54 in) in Seoul to 1,470 millimetres (58 in) in Busan. There are occasional typhoons that bring high winds and floods.


Waterfall on Jeju Island
Boseong tea field

During the first 20 years of South Korea's growth surge, little effort was made to preserve the environment. Unchecked industrialization and urban development have resulted in deforestation and the ongoing destruction of wetlands such as the Songdo Tidal Flat. However, there have been recent efforts to balance these problems, including a government run $84 billion five-year green growth project that aims to boost energy efficiency and green technology.

The green-based economic strategy is a comprehensive overhaul of South Korea's economy, utilizing nearly two percent of the national GDP. The greening initiative includes such efforts as a nationwide bike network, solar and wind energy, lowering oil dependent vehicles, backing daylight savings and extensive usage of environmentally friendly technologies such as LEDs in electronics and lighting. The country – already the world's most wired – plans to build a nationwide next-generation network which will be 10 times faster than broadband facilities in order to reduce energy usage.

Seoul's tap water recently became safe to drink, with city officials branding it "Arisu" in a bid to convince the public. Efforts have also been made with afforestation projects. Another multi-billion dollar project was the restoration of Cheonggyecheon, a stream running through downtown Seoul that had earlier been paved over by a motorway. One major challenge is air quality, with acid rain, sulfur oxides, and annual yellow dust storms being particular problems. It is acknowledged that many of these difficulties are a result of South Korea's proximity to China, which is a major air polluter.

South Korea is a member of the Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity Treaty, Kyoto Protocol (forming the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG), regarding UNFCCC, with Mexico and Switzerland), Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (not into force), Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.


South Korea has a market economy which ranks 15th in the world by nominal GDP and 12th by purchasing power parity (PPP), identifying it as one of the G-20 major economies. It is a high-income developed country and is a member of OECD. It is the most industrialised member country of the OECD. South Korea is the only developed country so far to have been included in the group of Next Eleven countries. South Korea had one of the world's fastest-growing economies from the early 1960s to the late 1990s, and South Korea is still one of the fastest-growing developed countries in the 2000s, along with Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, the other three Asian Tigers. South Koreans refer to this growth as the Miracle on the Han River. The South Korean economy is heavily dependent on international trade, and in 2010 South Korea was the sixth largest exporter and tenth largest importer in the world.

Graphical depiction of Korea's product exports in 28 colour-coded categories.

Korea hosted the fifth G20 summit in its capital city, Seoul, in November 2010. The two-day summit was expected to boost Korea's economy by 31 trillion won, or 4% of Korea's 2010 GDP, in economic effects, and create over 160,000 jobs in Korea. It may also help improve the country's sovereign credit rating.

Despite the South Korean economy's high growth potential and apparent structural stability, the country suffers damage to its credit rating in the stock market because of the belligerence of North Korea in times of deep military crises, which has an adverse effect on South Korean financial markets. The International Monetary Fund compliments the resilience of the South Korean economy against various economic crises, citing low state debt and high fiscal reserves that can quickly be mobilized to address financial emergencies. South Korea was one of the few developed countries that were able to avoid a recession during the global financial crisis, and its economic growth rate reached 6.2 percent in 2010 (the fastest growth for eight years after significant growth by 7.2 percent in 2002), a sharp recovery from economic growth rates of 2.3% in 2008 and 0.2% in 2009 when the global financial crisis hit. The unemployment rate in South Korea also remained low in 2009 at 3.6%

Transportation and energy

The KTX-II high-speed train can travel at 350 km/h (220 mph).

South Korea has a technically advanced transport network consisting of high-speed railways, highways, bus routes, ferry services, and air routes that criss-cross the country. Korea Expressway Corporation operates the toll highways and service amenities en route.

Korail provides frequent train services to all major South Korean cities. Two rail lines, Gyeongui and Donghae Bukbu Line, to North Korea are now being reconnected. The Korean high-speed rail system, KTX, provides high-speed service along Gyeongbu and Honam Line. Major cities including Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Daegu, Daejeon and Gwangju have urban rapid transit systems. Express bus terminals are available in most cities.

South Korea's largest airport, Incheon International Airport, was completed in 2001. By 2007, it was serving 30 million passengers a year. Other international airports include Gimpo, Busan and Jeju. There are also seven domestic airports, and a large number of heliports.

Gyeongbu Expressway.

Korean Air, founded in 1962, served 21,640,000 passengers, including 12,490,000 international passengers in 2008. A second carrier, Asiana Airlines, established in 1988, also serves domestic and international traffic. Combined, South Korean airlines serve 297 international routes. Smaller airlines, such as Jeju Air, provide domestic service with lower fares.

South Korea is the world's fifth-largest nuclear power producer and the second-largest in Asia as of 2010. Nuclear power in South Korea supplies 45% of electricity production, and research is very active with investigation into a variety of advanced reactors, including a small modular reactor, a liquid-metal fast/ transmutation reactor and a high-temperature hydrogen generation design. Fuel production and waste handling technologies have also been developed locally. It is also a member of the ITER project.

South Korea is an emerging exporter of nuclear reactors, having concluded agreements with the UAE to build and maintain four advanced nuclear reactors, with Jordan for a research nuclear reactor, and with Argentina for construction and repair of heavy-water nuclear reactors. As of 2010, South Korea and Turkey are in negotiations regarding construction of two nuclear reactors. South Korea is also preparing to bid on construction of a light-water nuclear reactor for Argentina.

South Korea is not allowed to enrich uranium or develop traditional uranium enrichment technology on its own, because of US political pressure, unlike most major nuclear powers such as Japan, Germany, and France, competitors of South Korea in the international nuclear market. This impediment to South Korea's indigenous nuclear industrial undertaking has sparked occasional diplomatic rows between the two allies. While South Korea is successful in exporting its electricity-generating nuclear technology and nuclear reactors, it cannot capitalize on the market for nuclear enrichment facilities and refineries, preventing it from further expanding its export niche. South Korea has sought unique technologies such as pyroprocessing to circumvent these obstacles and seek a more advantageous competition. The US has recently been wary of South Korea's burgeoning nuclear program, which South Korea insists will be for civilian use only.

Science and technology

Aerospace research

South Korea has sent up 10 satellites from 1992, all using foreign rockets and overseas launch pads, notably Arirang-1 in 1999, and Arirang-2 in 2006 as part of its space partnership with Russia. Arirang-1 was lost in space in 2008, after nine years in service.

In April 2008, Yi So-yeon became the first Korean to fly in space, aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-12.

In June 2009, the first spaceport of South Korea, Naro Space Centre, was completed at Goheung, Jeollanam-do. The launch of Naro-1 in August 2009 resulted in a failure. The second attempt in June 2010 was also unsuccessful. However the third launch of the Naro 1 in January 2013 was successful. The government plans to develop Naro-2 by the year 2018.

South Korea's efforts to build an indigenous space launch vehicle is marred because of persistent political pressure of the United States, who had for many decades hindered South Korea's indigenous rocket and missile development programs in fear of their possible connection to clandestine military ballistic missile programs, which Korea many times insisted did not violate the research and development guidelines stipulated by US-Korea agreements on restriction of South Korean rocket technology research and development. South Korea has sought the assistance of foreign countries such as Russia through MTCR commitments to supplement its restricted domestic rocket technology. The two failed KSLV-I launch vehicles were based on the Universal Rocket Module, the first stage of the Russian Angara rocket, combined with a solid-fueled second stage built by South Korea.


Albert HUBO, developed by KAIST, can make expressive gestures with its five separate fingers.

Robotics has been included in the list of main national R&D projects in Korea since 2003. In 2009, the government announced plans to build robot-themed parks in Incheon and Masan with a mix of public and private funding.

In 2005, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) developed the world's second walking humanoid robot, HUBO. A team in the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology developed the first Korean android, EveR-1 in May 2006. EveR-1 has been succeeded by more complex models with improved movement and vision. Next models are scheduled to be completed by 2010.

Plans of creating English-teaching robot assistants to compensate for the shortage of teachers were announced in February 2010, with the robots being deployed to most preschools and kindergartens by 2013. Robotics are also incorporated in the entertainment sector as well; the Korean Robot Game Festival has been held every year since 2004 to promote science and robot technology.


Since the 1980s, the Korean government has invested in the development of a domestic biotechnology industry, and the sector is projected to grow to $6.5 billion by 2010. The medical sector accounts for a large part of the production, including production of hepatitis vaccines and antibiotics.

Recently, research and development in genetics and cloning has received increasing attention, with the first successful cloning of a dog, Snuppy (in 2005), and the cloning of two females of an endangered species of wolves by the Seoul National University in 2007.

The rapid growth of the industry has resulted in significant voids in regulation of ethics, as was highlighted by the scientific misconduct case involving Hwang Woo-Suk.


Kyung Hee University.

Education in South Korea is regarded as crucial to financial and social success, and competition is consequently fierce, with many participating in intense outside tutoring to supplement classes. In the 2006 results of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, South Korea came first in problem solving, third in mathematics and seventh in science. South Korea's education system is technologically advanced and it is the world's first country to bring high-speed fibre-optic broadband internet access to every primary and secondary school nation-wide. Using this infrastructure, the country has developed the first Digital Textbooks in the world, which will be distributed for free to every primary and secondary school nation-wide by 2013.

A centralised administration in South Korea oversees the process for the education of children from kindergarten to the third and final year of high school. South Korea has adopted a new educational program to increase the number of their foreign students through 2010. According to Ministry of Education, Science and Technology estimate, by that time, the number of scholarships for foreign students in South Korea will be doubled, and the number of foreign students will reach 100,000. The school year is divided into two semesters, the first of which begins in the beginning of March and ends in mid-July, the second of which begins in late August and ends in mid-February. The schedules are not uniformly standardized and vary from school to school. Most South Korean middle schools and high schools have school uniforms, modeled on western-style uniforms. Boys' uniforms usually consists of trousers and white shirts, and girls wear skirts and white shirts (this only applies in middle schools and high schools).


Estimated population density in 2010 and most populous urban areas

South Korea is noted for its population density, which is 487 per square kilometer, more than 10 times the global average. Most South Koreans live in urban areas, because of rapid migration from the countryside during the country's quick economic expansion in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The capital city of Seoul is also the country's largest city and chief industrial centre. According to the 2005 census, Seoul had a population of 9.8 million inhabitants. The Seoul National Capital Area has 24.5 million inhabitants making it the world's second largest metropolitan area and easily the most densely populated city in the OECD. Other major cities include Busan (3.5 million), Incheon (2.5 million), Daegu (2.5 million), Daejeon (1.4 million), Gwangju (1.4 million) and Ulsan (1.1 million).

The population has also been shaped by international migration. After World War II and the division of the Korean Peninsula, about four million people from North Korea crossed the border to South Korea. This trend of net entry reversed over the next 40 years because of emigration, especially to the United States and Canada. South Korea's total population in 1955 was 21.5 million, and today it is roughly 50,062,000.

South Korea is one of the most ethnically homogeneous societies in the world, with more than 99% of inhabitants having Korean ethnicity. Koreans call their society 단일민족국가, Dan-il minjok guk ga, "the single race society".

The percentage of foreign nationals has been growing rapidly. As of 2009, South Korea had 1,106,884 foreign residents, 2.7% of the population; however, more than half of them are ethnic Koreans with a foreign citizenship. For example, migrants from China (PRC) make up 56.5% of foreign nationals, but approximately 30% of the Chinese citizens in Korea are Joseonjok (조선족 in Korean), PRC citizens of Korean ethnicity. Regardless of the ethnicity, there are 28,500 US military personnel serving in South Korea for one year of unaccompanied tour, according to the Korea National Statistical Office. In addition, about 43,000 English teachers from English-speaking countries reside temporarily in Korea. Currently, South Korea has one of the highest rate of growth of foreign born population, with about 30,000 foreign born residences obtaining South Korean citizenship every year since 2010.

South Korea's birthrate was the world's lowest in 2009. If this continues, its population is expected to decrease by 13% to 42.3 million in 2050. South Korea's annual birthrate is approximately 9 births per 1000 people. However, the birthrate has increased by 5.7% in 2010 and Korea no longer has the world's lowest birthrate. According to a 2011 report from Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's total fertility rate (1.23 children born per woman) is higher than those of Taiwan (1.15) and Japan (1.21). The average life expectancy in 2008 was 79.10 years, which is 34th in the world.


The table below lists the twenty largest cities within administrative city limits.

Largest cities or towns of South Korea
2010 Population and Housing Census of Korea
Rank City name Province Pop. Rank City name Province Pop.


1 Seoul Seoul 9,794,304 11 Goyang Gyeonggi 905,076 Incheon


2 Busan Busan 3,414,950 12 Yongin Gyeonggi 856,765
3 Incheon Incheon 2,662,509 13 Bucheon Gyeonggi 853,039
4 Daegu Daegu 2,446,418 14 Ansan Gyeonggi 728,775
5 Daejeon Daejeon 1,501,859 15 Cheongju North Chungcheong 666,924
6 Gwangju Gwangju 1,475,745 16 Jeonju North Jeolla 649,728
7 Ulsan Ulsan 1,082,567 17 Anyang Gyeonggi 602,122
8 Suwon Gyeonggi 1,071,913 18 Cheonan South Chungcheong 574,623
9 Changwon South Gyeongsang 1,058,021 19 Namyangju Gyeonggi 529,898
10 Seongnam Gyeonggi 949,964 20 Pohang North Gyeongsang 511,390


One of the tallest dolmens at Gochang Dolmens in Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites, UNESCO World Heritage Site
South Korea religiosity
religion percent
No religion

As of 2005, just under half of the South Korean population expressed no religious preference. Of the rest, most are Buddhist or Christian. According to the 2007 census, 29.2% of the population at that time was Christian (18.3% identified themselves as Protestants, 10.9% as Roman Catholics), and 22.8% were Buddhist. Other religions include Islam and various new religious movements such as Jeungism, Cheondoism and Wonbuddhism. The earliest religion practiced was Korean shamanism. Today, freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution, and there is no state religion.

Christianity is South Korea's largest religion, accounting for more than half of all South Korean religious adherents. There are approximately 13.7 million Christians in South Korea today, with almost two-thirds of Christians belonging to Protestant churches, while about 37% belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Protestantism has proportionally declined since the 1980s in favour of Roman Catholicism. South Korea is also the second-largest missionary-sending nation, after the United States.

Buddhism was introduced to Korea in the year 372. According to the national census as of 2005, South Korea has over 10.7 million Buddhists. Today, about 90% of Korean Buddhists belong to Jogye Order. Most of the National Treasures of South Korea are Buddhist artifacts. Buddhism became the state religion in some of Korean kingdoms since the Three Kngdoms Period, when Goguryeo adopted it as the state religion in 372, followed by Baekche (528). Buddhism had been the state religion of Unified Korea from North South States Period (not to be confused with the modern division of Korea) to Goryeo before suppression under the Joseon Dynasty in favour of Neo-Confucianism.

Fewer than 30,000 South Koreans are thought to be Muslims, but the country has some 100,000 resident foreign workers from Muslim countries, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Korean Shamanism, today known as Mugyo (religion of the Mu) or Shingyo (religion of the gods) encompasses a variety of indigenous religious beliefs and practices of the Korean people and the Korean sphere. In contemporary South Korea, the most used term is Muism and a shaman is known as a mudang (무당, 巫堂) or Tangol (당골). Since the early 2000s, this religion has regained popularity among Koreans.

Public health and safety

Although life expectancy has increased significantly since 1950, South Korea faces a number of important health-care issues. Foremost is the impact of environmental pollution on an increasingly urbanized population. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, chronic diseases account for the majority of diseases in South Korea, a condition exacerbated by the health care system's focus on treatment rather than prevention. The incidence of chronic disease in South Korea hovers around 24 percent. Approximately 33 percent of all adults smoke. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) rate of prevalence at the end of 2003 was less than 0.1 percent. In 2001 central government expenditures on health care accounted for about 6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The suicide rate in the nation was 26 per 100,000 in 2008, the highest in the industrialized world.

Young South Korean males were found to be the tallest in all of East Asia, resulting from healthy living conditions, economic development and changes in food culture.

Based on the Asia-Pacific Advisory Committee on Influenza (APACI), South Korea ranked the highest of influenza vaccination in Asia with 311 vaccines per 1,000 people.


A scenery on Dano day

South Korea shares its traditional culture with North Korea, but the two Koreas have developed distinct contemporary forms of culture since the peninsula was divided in 1945. Historically, while the culture of Korea has been heavily influenced by that of neighboring China, it has nevertheless managed to develop a unique cultural identity that is distinct from its larger neighbour. The South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism actively encourages the traditional arts, as well as modern forms, through funding and education programs.

The industrialization and urbanization of South Korea have brought many changes to the way Korean people live. Changing economics and lifestyles have led to a concentration of population in major cities, especially the capital Seoul, with multi-generational households separating into nuclear family living arrangements.


Bongsan Talchum

Korean art has been highly influenced by Buddhism and Confucianism, which can be seen in the many traditional paintings, sculptures, ceramics and the performing arts. Korean pottery and porcelain, such as Joseon's baekja and buncheong, and Goryeo's celadon are well known throughout the world. The Korean tea ceremony, pansori, talchum and buchaechum are also notable Korean performing arts.

Post-war modern Korean art started to flourish in the 1960s and 1970s, when South Korean artists took interest in geometrical shapes and intangible subjects. Establishing a harmony between man and nature was also a favorite of this time. Because of social instability, social issues appeared as main subjects in the 1980s. Art was influenced by various international events and exhibits in Korea, and with it brought more diversity. The Olympic Sculpture Garden in 1988, the transposition of the 1993 edition of the Whitney Biennial to Seoul, the creation of the Gwangju Biennale and the Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1995 were notable events.


Modern skyline of Seoul and the Deoksugung palace

Because of South Korea's tumultuous history, construction and destruction has been repeated endlessly, resulting in an interesting melange of architectural styles and designs.

Korean traditional architecture is characterized by its harmony with nature. Ancient architects adopted the bracket system characterized by thatched roofs and heated floors called ondol. People of the upper classes built bigger houses with elegantly curved tiled roofs with lifting eaves. Traditional architecture can be seen in the palaces and temples, preserved old houses called hanok, and special sites like Hahoe Folk Village, Yangdong Village of Gyeongju and Korean Folk Village. Traditional architecture may also be seen at the nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Korea.

Western architecture was first introduced to Korea at the end of the 19th century. Churches, offices for foreign legislation, schools and university buildings were built in new styles. With the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910 the colonial regime intervened in Korea's architectural heritage, and Japanese-style modern architecture was imposed. The anti-Japanese sentiment, and the Korean War, led to the destruction of most buildings constructed during that time.

Korean architecture entered a new phase of development during the post-Korean War reconstruction, incorporating modern architectural trends and styles. Stimulated by the economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s, active redevelopment saw new horizons in architectural design. In the aftermath of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, South Korea has witnessed a wide variation of styles in its architectural landscape due, in large part, to the opening up of the market to foreign architects. Contemporary architectural efforts have been constantly trying to balance the traditional philosophy of "harmony with nature" and the fast-paced urbanization that the country has been going through in recent years.



Korean cuisine, hanguk yori (한국요리; 韓國料理), or hansik (한식; 韓食), has evolved through centuries of social and political change. Ingredients and dishes vary by province. There are many significant regional dishes that have proliferated in different variations across the country in the present day. The Korean royal court cuisine once brought all of the unique regional specialties together for the royal family. Meals consumed both by the royal family and ordinary Korean citizens have been regulated by a unique culture of etiquette.

Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, noodles, tofu, vegetables, fish and meats. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes, banchan (반찬), which accompany steam-cooked short-grain rice. Every meal is accompanied by numerous banchan. Kimchi (김치), a fermented, usually spicy vegetable dish is commonly served at every meal and is one of the best known Korean dishes. Korean cuisine usually involves heavy seasoning with sesame oil, doenjang (된장), a type of fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, and gochujang (고추장), a hot pepper paste.

Soups are also a common part of a Korean meal and are served as part of the main course rather than at the beginning or the end of the meal. Soups known as guk (국) are often made with meats, shellfish and vegetables. Similar to guk, tang (탕; 湯) has less water, and is more often served in restaurants. Another type is jjigae (찌개), a stew that is typically heavily seasoned with chili pepper and served boiling hot.

Historically, dog meat as food was very popular in Korea. Today there are many restaurants in South Korea that serve dog meat dishes.

Contemporary music, film and television

In addition to domestic consumption, South Korean mainstream culture, including televised drama, films, and popular music, also generates significant exports to various parts of the world. This phenomenon, often called " Hallyu" or the "Korean Wave", has swept many countries in Asia and other parts of the world.

South Korean girl group Girls' Generation

Until the 1990s, trot and ballads dominated Korean popular music. The emergence of the rap group Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992 marked a turning point for Korean popular music, also known as K-pop, as the group incorporated elements of popular musical genres of rap, rock, and techno into its music. Hip hop, dance and ballad oriented acts have become dominant in the Korean popular music scene, though trot is still popular among older Koreans. Many K-pop stars and groups are also well known abroad, especially in other parts of Asia.

Since the success of the film Shiri in 1999, Korean film has begun to gain recognition internationally. Domestic film has a dominant share of the market, partly because of the existence of screen quotas requiring cinemas to show Korean films at least 73 days a year.

Korean television shows, especially the short form dramatic mini-series called "dramas", have also become popular outside of Korea, becoming another driving trend for wider recognition. The trend has caused some Korean actors to become better known abroad. The dramas are popular mostly in Asia. The stories have tended to have a romance focus, such as Princess Hours, You're Beautiful, My Name is Kim Sam Soon, Boys Over Flowers, Winter Sonata, Autumn in My Heart, Full House, City Hunter, All About Eve and Secret Garden. Historical/fantasy dramas have included Dae Jang Geum, The Legend, Dong Yi and Sungkyunkwan Scandal.

Technology culture

Samsung Galaxy Tab

South Korean corporations Samsung and LG were ranked first and third largest mobile phone companies in the world in the first quarter of 2012, respectively. An estimated 90% of South Koreans own a mobile phone. Aside from placing/receiving calls and text messaging, mobile phones in the country are widely used for watching Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB) or viewing websites. Over one million DMB phones have been sold and the three major wireless communications providers SK Telecom, KT, and LG U+ provide coverage in all major cities and other areas. South Korea has the fastest Internet download speeds in the world, with an average download speed of 17.5 Mbit/s.


A taekwondo practitioner demonstrating dollyo chagi technique.

The martial art taekwondo originated in Korea. In the 1950s and 1960s, modern rules were standardised and taekwondo became an official Olympic sport in 2000. Other Korean martial arts include taekkyeon, hapkido, tang soo do, kuk sool won, kumdo and subak.

Seoul World Cup Stadium.

Football has traditionally been regarded as the most popular sport in Korea. Recent polling indicates that a majority, 40.6%, of South Korean sports fans continue to self-identify as football fans, with baseball ranked second at 25.3% of respondents. However, the polling did not indicate the extent to which respondents follow both sports. The national football team became the first team in the Asian Football Confederation to reach the FIFA World Cup semi-finals in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan. The Korea Republic national team (as it is known) has qualified for every World Cup since Mexico 1986, and has broken out of the group stage twice: first in 2002, and again in 2010, when it was defeated by eventual semi-finalist Uruguay in the Round of 16. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, South Korea won the Bronze Medal for football.

Baseball was first introduced to Korea in 1905 and has since become increasingly popular, with some sources claiming it has surpassed football as the most popular sport in the country. Recent years have been characterized by increasing attendance and ticket prices for professional baseball games. The Korea Professional Baseball league, an 8-team circuit, was established in 1982. The South Korea national team finished third in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and second in the 2009 tournament. The team's 2009 final game against Japan was widely watched in Korea, with a large screen at Gwanghwamun crossing in Seoul broadcasting the game live. In the 2008 Summer Olympics, South Korea won the gold medal in baseball. Also in 1982, at the Baseball Worldcup, Korea won the gold medal. At the 2010 Asian Games, the Korean National Baseball team won the gold medal.

Basketball is a popular sport in the country as well. South Korea has traditionally had one of the top basketball teams in Asia and one of the continent's strongest basketball divisions. Seoul hosted the 1967 and 1995 Asian Basketball Championship. The Korea national basketball team has won a record number of 23 medals at the event to date.

Busan Sajik Baseball Stadium

South Korea hosted the Asian Games in 1986 (Seoul), 2002 (Busan), and will host again in 2014 (Incheon). It also hosted the Winter Universiade in 1997, the Asian Winter Games in 1999 and the Summer Universiade in 2003. In 1988, South Korea hosted the Summer Olympics in Seoul, coming fourth with 12 gold medals, 10 silver medals and 11 bronze medals. South Korea regularly performs well in archery, shooting, table tennis, badminton, short track speed skating, handball, hockey, freestyle wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, baseball, judo, taekwondo, speed skating, figure Skating, and weightlifting. The Seoul Olympic Museum is a museum in Seoul, South Korea, dedicated to the 1988 Summer Olympics. On July 6, 2011 Pyeongchang was chosen by the IOC to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

South Korea has won more medals in the Winter Olympics than any other Asian country with a total of 45 medals (23 gold, 14 silver, and 8 bronze). At the 2010 Winter Olympics, South Korea ranked fifth in the overall medal rankings. South Korea is especially strong in short track speed skating. However, speed skating and figure skating are very popular, too, and ice hockey is an emerging sport with Anyang Halla winning their first ever Asia League Ice Hockey title in March 2010.

Seoul hosted a professional triathlon race, which is part of the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championship Series in May 2010.

In October 2010, South Korea hosted its first Formula One race at the Korea International Circuit in Yeongam, about 400 kilometres (250 mi) south of Seoul. In 2011, the South Korean city of Daegu will host the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Athletics.

South Korea has three horse racing tracks of which Seoul Race Park in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi-do is the biggest.

Korea Professional Sports League


  •   Korea Professional Baseball

  •   Korean Basketball League
  •   Women's Korean Basketball League

  •   K League Classic (1st)
  •   K League Challenge (2nd)
  •   National League
  •   Challengers League
  •   WK-League

  •   V-League

International Championship Host

  •   Seoul Summer 1988
  •   Pyeongchang Winter 2018

  •   Korea & Japan 2002
  •   Korea 2007 (U-17)
IAAF World Championships in Athletics

  •   Daegu 2011
Asian Games

  •   Seoul Summer 1986
  •   Gangwon Winter 1999
  •   Busan Summer 2002
  •   Incheon Summer 2014
AFC Asian Cup

  •   Korea 1960

  •   Korean Grand Prix
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