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Korea is a geographic area, civilization, and a former state situated on the Korean Peninsula in East Asia, which is currently divided into North Korea and South Korea. In spite of the modern-day split between North and South Korea, the Korean people share a common heritage.
Excavations have found pottery and stone tools from Neolithic-age settlements ca. 4000 B.C. and evidence that by 2000 B.C. a pottery culture had spread to the peninsula from China. Starting in about 1100 B.C., migration from China into the Korean Peninsula established the city of P’yongyang. By the fourth century B.C., a number of walled-town states had been noted in Korea by Chinese officials. The most illustrious site, known to historians as Old Choson, was located in what today is the southern part of northeastern China and northwestern Korea. Old Choson civilization was based on bronze culture and consisted of a political federation of walled towns.
Korean: 한국 in South Korea or 조선 in North Korea.
Republic of Korea (Taehan Min’guk / 대한 민국) is a republic governed by a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly. Although today South Korea is recognized as a democracy, for several decades following the Korean War it was ruled by a succession of leaders who assumed office under less than democratic circumstances.
Just more than 50 percent of Koreans profess religious affiliation. That affiliation is spread among a great variety of traditions, including Buddhism (25 percent), Christianity (25 percent), Confucianism (2 percent), and shamanism. These numbers should be treated with some caution, however, as (with the exception of Christianity) there are few if any meaningful distinctions between believers and nonbelievers in Buddhism and Confucianism, which is more of a set of ethical values than a religion. The cultural impact of these movements is far more widespread than the number of formal adherents suggests. A variety of “new religions” have emerged since the mid-nineteenth century, including Ch’ondogyo. A very small Muslim minority also exists.
The Republic of Korea occupies the southern half of the Korean Peninsula on the northeastern corner of the Asian continent. North Korea lies to the north, and Japan is located to the southeast, across the Korea Strait. It occupies nearly 45 percent of the land area of the Korean Peninsula, or 98,190 square kilometers of land area and 290 square kilometers of water area.
In July 2004, South Korea’s population was estimated to be 48,598,175. The official growth rate estimate is 0.6 percent, and this rate is expected to decline to zero by 2028. In the twentieth century, there has been significant emigration to China (1.9 million) and the United States (1.5 million), and about 1 million Koreans live in Japan and the countries of the former Soviet Union. More than 80 percent of all South Koreans live in urban areas. Population density is very high, with approximately 480 persons per square kilometer.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (조선 민주주의 인민 공화국) is a communist state under the one-man leadership of Kim Jong Il, chairman of the National Defense Commission—the nation’s “highest administrative authority,” supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), and general secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP).
Traditionally, Koreans have practiced Buddhism and observed the tenets of Confucianism. Besides a small number of practicing Buddhists (about 10,000, under the auspices of the official Korean Buddhist Federation), North Korea also has some Christians (about 10,000 Protestants and 4,000 Roman Catholics, under the auspices of the Korean Christian Federation) and some 2.7 million indigenous Ch’ondogyo (Heavenly Way) adherents. However, religious activities are almost nonexistent. Three hundred Buddhist temples exist, but they are considered cultural relics rather than active places of worship. There are several schools for religious education, including three-year religious colleges for training Protestant and Buddhist clergy.
In 1989 Kim Il Sung University established a religious studies program, but its graduates usually go on to work in the foreign trade sector. Although the constitution provides for freedom of religious belief, in practice the government severely discourages organized religious activity except as supervised by the aforementioned officially recognized groups. Constitutional changes made in 1992 allow authorized religious gatherings and the construction of buildings for religious use and deleted a clause about freedom of antireligious propaganda. The constitution also stipulates that religion “should not be used for purposes of dragging in foreign powers or endangering public security.”
North Korea is located in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula, which extends southward from the northeastern part of the Asian continent and is surrounded on three sides by water. North Korea is bordered by the Republic of Korea (South Korea) to the south, China to the north and northwest, and Russia to the northeast. North Korea occupies about 55 percent of the total land area of the Korean Peninsula, or approximately 120,410 square kilometer of land area and 130 square kilometers of water area.
Population: North Korea’s population was estimated in July 2006 at 23,113,019. The annual population growth rate for the same year was 0.8 percent. United Nations (UN) estimates for 2007 indicate that North Korea’s population density stands at 188 persons per square kilometer; 40 percent of the population lives in rural and 60 percent in urban areas. There is no legal migration from North Korea, and after the Korean War (1950–53) only 5,000 North Koreans successfully reached South Korea until the turn of the century. However, in 2003 and 2004 unprecedented numbers of North Koreans—estimates range between 140,000 and 300,000—fled to China with hopes of reaching South Korea. Only a relative few did reach South Korea but, according to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, as of February 2007, more than 10,000 North Koreans were living in the South. This number contrasts with only nine living there in 1990, 41 in 1995, and 312 in 2000.
- Country Profile: South Korea by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
- Country Profile: North Korea by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency