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History Korea

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Submitted By keey
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The Korean peninsula is located at the eastern end of Asia, between China, Siberia (now part of the Russian Federation), and the islands of Japan. Because of the complex, shifting, and historic relations between these areas, as well as relations with other places such at the United Sates in more recent times, the history of Korea has been told in many ways and is still the subject of hot debate both inside and outside the Koreas. North and South Korea have different versions of the peninsula’s history, both of which differ in detail and perspective from histories written in China, Japan, Russia, and the USA. The following sections, which attempt to outline the history in a balanced way, are based on a variety of materials, including lectures attended in a special workshop on Korean culture at Korea University in the summer of 1997.
Map of Korea
The overall pattern of development in the history of the Korean peninsula is a process that begins with an unknown number of early tribal groups that populate the peninsula in prehistoric times, wandering out of Siberia and areas to the west. Over time, some of these groups form more complex societies that eventually result in early kingdoms that grow up on the peninsula; in some cases extending westwards into what is now Chinese territory. As time and events unfolded, these kingdoms were unified, though the borders and degree of unity have continued to change over time—down to today. Besides the obvious split between North and South Korea, cultural differences (including dialect, food, and local identity) exist between the various regions of the peninsula. In some cases these differences are enough to influence the results of political elections. Nevertheless, Korean culture is highly homogenous in comparison with China, and even Japan.
Over the last 2,000 years the Korean peninsula has been wracked by eight major invasions and countless smaller wars and incursions. Strategically situated on a partial land bridge in the Yellow Sea interaction sphere, the peninsula has been a natural access route for invasions to and from the Asian mainland. In times of war armies tend to push each other up and down the peninsula, guaranteeing that many areas will be subject to repeated devastation—a dynamic very prominent in the Korean War (1950-53).
Among the many invaders have been ancient Chinese kingdoms, Qidans (Khitans), Mongols, Japanese, and Manchus. In the 20th century, Korea was colonized by Japan and in the Post-WWII era was caught in the middle of conflicts between the United States, the Soviet Union, and China over the expansion of Communism in the Cold War Era – an era which still lingers in the as yet unresolved division between North and South Korea. In some cases invaders have left their mark, and even ushered in periods of positive cultural exchange, in other cases, only devastation was left in their wake. Despite these challenging circumstances, Koreans have managed to maintain a unique cultural identity that marks them as hardy survivors. Today, South Korea has among the most “wired” societies in terms of Internet access and has a dynamic economy that grew by leaps and bounds throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. South Korea has also been a leader in economic recovery after the Asian economic crisis of 1997. North Korea is poised to undergo changes within the next decades that will in part determine the stability of East Asia and the northern Pacific Rim. In short, the Korean peninsula, always integral to the dynamics of regional power and politics, will continue to play an important role on the world stage.


Prehistory and Myths

Tangun creation myth of Korea
Traditional myths of ancient Korea tell that over 4,000 years ago Hwanung, the King of Heaven, descended near a Tan tree on Mt. Taebak in North Korea. Accompanying Hwanung were 3,000 followers, and he ruled over all of their needs. In a nearby cave lived a tiger and a bear who wished to become human. As part of the test he gave them mugwort and garlic to eat, requiring them to live in darkness for 100 days. After only a few days, the tiger could no longer stand it and ran out into the mountain forests. The bear, however, stayed in the den, finally emerging as a beautiful woman. She repeatedly prayed beneath the Tan tree for a child, and Hwanung momentarily transformed himself to marry her. They produced a wonderful child they called Tangun. Tangun invented the basics of civilization and created a dynasty that lasted for 1,500 years. This was followed by a period called Kija Choson that lasted 99 years. Tangun is still regarded as a great culture-hero and his memory is marked each October 3rd on Foundation Day. Depictions of Tangun often show him with a tiger, which is regarded as a mountain god.
North Koreans celebrating Foundation Day, October 3rd
Archeological evidence indicates that the presence of modern humans in northeast Asia dates to 39,000 years ago. By 6,000 years BC Neolithic cultures appeared on the Korean peninsula. Early inhabitants were hunters and gatherers who migrated onto the peninsula from the Manchurian Plateau and Siberia. By 1200 BC agriculture was widespread and bronze tools were in use. Towns were protected by earthen fortifications and society became increasingly stratified. By 400 BC Chinese records tell of formidable cultures on the peninsula. Among these early peoples were the Yemak and Puyo. By 108 BC, the Han Empire had set up several posts on the peninsula after battles with the Wiman Chosun kingdom. Over the next four hundred years many aspects of Chinese culture were assimilated into the various peninsula cultures. As time went on, small kingdoms grew and sometimes confederated on the peninsula. Some had closer relations to China than others, which served to their advantage if conflicts broke out with other kingdoms.

The Three Kingdoms
Map of the Three Kingdoms Period
With the decline and fall of the Han dynasty in China, the Chinese command posts were gradually abandoned and three major kingdoms emerged on the peninsula. These three rival kingdoms were:
Koguryo (37 BC-668 AD), located on the northern half of the peninsula, and part of what is now northeast China.
Paekche (18 BC- 660 AD), located in the southwest of the peninsula.
Shilla (Silla) (57 BC-935 AD), located on the southeast of the peninsula near present-day Kyongju.
Although the kingdoms differed in many ways and even may have spoken different languages, there were some similarities. All were agricultural economies based on rice cultivation (though other grains such as wheat and millet were also raised). Trade was mostly through barter, with a limited use of shell money or Chinese coins. Transport was by horse, oxcart, and ship.
Each of the kingdoms developed rigid social hierarchies in which a small, powerful ruling class was drawn from a small number of families. Rule was passed from father to the first born son in a system of primogeniture. The elite were ordered in the so-called “bone-rank” system (something like the idea of “blue blood” in feudal Europe). According to one’s “bones” (i.e. lineage), a person could rule as king (an option limited to very few), serve on governing councils, or hold government positions at varying levels in the provinces, counties, and smaller units of government throughout the realms. There were also numbered grades (called “head ranks”) of lower aristocracy (6, 5, 4), and free citizens (3, 2, 1), as well as lower classes that included slaves and criminals. Movement between classes was strictly controlled. A hierarchical system was also used in the military organizations, led by the king.
Each kingdom developed effective military forces of cavalry and foot soldiers employing weapons that included iron swords and spears, as well as bows and arrows. All grew up under the influence of Chinese culture. Archaeological evidence in the form of glass objects and animal designs on jewelry suggest contact with other cultural forces from farther west on the Asian landmass.
A famous example of Shilla ceramics
Buddhism was adopted by the northern state of Koguryo in 372 AD and in Paekche in 384 AD. Shilla, on the more remote eastern end of the peninsula did not adopt Buddhism as a state religion until 528 AD. One reason that Buddhism was so quickly accepted in some areas may have to do with its reinforcement of social roles (decided by actions in past lives), and thus its use in maintaining the status quo. If people accepted their lot in life, they were easier to control. Confucianism and Daoism were other aspects of worldview that gradually penetrated all three kingdoms.

Shilla Crown
Buddhism heavily influenced the art of the kingdoms, especially in terms of temple architecture (that used native stone and wood), sculpture, and tomb paintings. In Shilla, a type of gray, ash-glazed ceramic was developed. Shilla rulers also wore intricate crowns made of thin sheets of gold that incorporated symbols of celestial trees and deer antlers. Education of the upper-classes included foreign language studies in Sanskrit and Chinese in order to better read the Buddhist sutras and Confucian classics.
In Shilla a special cadre of talented young men were cultivated in civil and martial arts, and inculcated with the time-honored values of chivalry, patriotism, harmony, and unity. These young men (something like West Point cadets) were known as the “Flower Youth Corps” (Hwarangdo). Kogruyo had a similar youth organization.

Flower Youth Corps
In general, China was regarded as a cultural model and tributary relations existed with all three states. There were also relations between some of the kingdoms and Kaya, a small league of states at the tip of the peninsula that had close relations with the Yamato culture in southern Japan. In the course of the Three Kingdoms era, there was almost constant fighting between the rival kingdoms and the borders shifted many times. The first Korean history of the Three Kingdoms era was written by Kim Pushik many centuries later in 1145 AD.
Unified Shilla Period (668 - 935 AD)
Although Koguryo was the earliest, largest, and most powerful of the Three Kingdoms, by the seventh century it was suffering from a decline in leadership and was weakened by wars with Sui dynasty China. For sixteen years, a tremendous amount of resources had been used in constructing a long wall between Koguryo and China. Shilla, on the other hand, was modernizing its government and eventually strengthened its relations with the newly established Tang dynasty, though the process involved a complex series of alliances and broken alliances among the various states of the region. Eventually, Shilla was able to defeat both Paekche and Koguryo in a series of wars and take control of much of the peninsula – setting up a unified state comprised of large portions of the former Three Kingdoms. By this time the Shilla state closely followed the structure of the Chinese government, with a powerful ruler who oversaw six bureaus filled with officials who over saw the affairs of the state, that included war, finance, and public works. The Unified Shilla era became a time of relative peace, prosperity, and cultural growth. Today, a great number of archaeological sites and artifacts from the period can be found in the former Shilla capital of Kyongju in the east of the peninsula.

Queen's Astronomical observatory

Emillie Bell
These include the Shilla tombs, burial mounds of the ancient Shilla royalty. A number have been excavated in Tumuli Park and have revealed a wealth of information on Shilla culture. Although the custom of burying living servants with the rulers was abolished in 502 AD, numerous and lavish grave goods –jewelry, everyday use items, and weapons—accompanied the dead. Another famous site is the Queen’s Astronomical Observatory (Ch’omsongdae), the oldest observatory in East Asia. It was built about 647 by a Korean queen. The structure is 9.4 meters in height and has 27 layers of cut stone – all arranged in accord to precise mathematical calculations that relate to the heavens. In the National Museum (which houses many treasures from Korean history), there is the so-called Emillie Bell. Dating to 770 AD, the bell was cast in bronze with funds collected by Buddhist monks. According to the tale, the bell would not ring clearly when first cast. A human sacrifice was deemed necessary. As the story goes, an infant farm girl was volunteered for the honor and cast into the molten metal. When the bell was recast, it rang with an “emillie” sound, like a cry of a child for its mother.

Sokkat'ap and Tabot'ap Pagoda
In the nearby mountains is a great granite and wood temple known as Pulguksa, meaning “Temple of the Buddha Land.” Dating to the early 6th century, it has been re-constructed several times after periods of warfare. The temple is the finest example of Shilla-style temple architecture in existence. In the main courtyard are two small pagodas known as Sokkat’ap Pagoda and Tabot’ap Pagoda. According to the story, a newly-wed stoneworker was commissioned to carve the two pagodas. His work took him far from home for several years. One night he had a dream that his wife was standing by a pond near Pulguksa, awaiting his return. Little did he know that his dear, young wife had actually made the long journey to the temple site, and was indeed waiting for him outside. After several days, however, she had not caught even a glimpse of her busy husband. Several locals told her to look at the reflection of the pagodas in the pond. She did so, but still did not see her husband. Believing she would never see him again, she jumped in and drowned. Later, when her husband heard of her death, he ran about the pond and forests, searching for her in vain. He finally found a human-shaped rock and carved a Buddha upon it in remembrance of his wife.
Granite Buddha in Sokkuram Grotto Shrine
One of the most outstanding architectural and artistic feats of the Unified Shilla period is the Sokkuram Grotto Shrine, located in a mountain cave not from Pulguksa Temple. Dating to 751 AD, the grotto was eventually lost, and for centuries lay undisturbed. In 1909, the grotto was re-discovered when a mail courier took refuge from the rain. The central sculpture is a sublime carving of Sakyamuni Buddha executed in white granite. The massive carving, crafted from a single piece of stone, commands the interior of an arched vault and measures seven meters in diameter. The vault is constructed of intricately shaped, interlocking slabs of granite. The domed walls are lined with carvings of Buddhist deities, including the Four Heavenly Kings and an array of bodhisattvas and disciples. The site is a testament to the high level of mathematics, astronomy, architectural principles, and artistry of the Unified Shilla period in East Asia during a time when powerful cultural influences were traversing the Silk Road.
Although Shilla unified and controlled most of the peninsula, another state eventually formed in parts of the former Koguryo kingdom to the north. This kingdom, also ruled on the Chinese model, was known as Parhae and was situated between northeast China (what came to be known as Manchuria) and Shilla. The Parhae kingdom was established in 716 AD and lasted until 926 AD. As the Tang dynasty declined in China, leadership in Unified Shilla was also weakening. In the course of uprisings and fighting the Unified Shilla state fell into pieces, somewhat along the lines of the old Three Kingdoms. Eventually a rebel leader named Wang Kon became strong enough to challenge Shilla. In the end, he and the last Shilla king ended it amicably by each marrying one of the other’s daughters, with Wong taking control and allotting the former king a large holding of land. The new state would be known as the Koryo dynasty.

Koryo Dynasty (918 - 1392 AD)
The Koryo dynasty, founded by Wong Kon, extended the borders of the defeated Unified Shilla northwards into parts of old Koguryo – Koryo is a shortened form of that name. The name “Korea” is derived from Koryo. In his bid to maintain control over the new kingdom, Wong Kon followed an old Chinese strategy (also used in Tokugawa Japan) of forcing local rulers to send male members their families (often sons) to live in the capital as virtual hostages. He also took 29 consorts from families of position all over the realm. Although this initially helped him gain control, in the long run succession problems arose because of the many powerful families involved.
In the Koryo period, the government became even more complex and centralized than in Unified Shilla. The Chinese model was followed even more closely— civil service examinations were established, and open to all except the lowliest classes. Special considerations were made, however, for sons from the higher ranks of society, who could be given positions by appointment. Examinations were based on composition, knowledge of the Confucian Classics, and occupational knowledge such as astronomy, mathematics, and law. A national academy was established as well as private institutions of learning. Although in theory there was no private ownership of land, land tracts were often given to high office holders and military personnel. Taxes were levied on landholdings and households and the government could demand yearly service for labor projects. Individual regions, which specialized in certain products, might also be asked to supply quotas of these goods. The government also ran production industries (manufactories) staffed by artists and craftsmen in the capital and provinces – some in the provinces staffed by persons in the lowest social classes. Products ranged from consumer goods, such as precious metals (gold and silver), salt, silk, charcoal, paper, ink, and roof tiles to agricultural items such as fruits, grain, sesame, and ginger.
Although the bone-rank system of Shilla had been broken by the rising of powerful new families and leaders in the rebellion drawn from lower classes—hierarchy was still a powerful social concept. The new classes that emerged in Koryo fell into six ranks in the following order of importance: 1) the royal caste group, comprised of relations to the royal clan; 2) a class of civil and military officials known as theyangban ("two classes"); 3) palace functionaries of lower official rank; 4) regional clerks and other lower government officials; 5) tax-paying free citizens, mostly peasant farmers, fishermen, artisans, etc.; 6) inferior, stigmatized people such as butchers and market hunters (who were defiled under Buddhism by taking life), itinerant peddlers, the female entertainers known as kisaeng, and slaves. Landholdings were held mostly by the upper and middle ranks.
During the Koryo period Buddhism flourished and was closely linked to the ruling caste. The period was also a time of change on the northern borders, as Parhae was overrun by the newly emerging Liao (Qidan) state in what is now northeast China (and many refugees fled to Koryo). Koryo was eventually invaded twice by the Liao, as well as briefly by the Song dynasty in China, which soon came under the control of successors to the Liao – the Jin, who conquered northern China, and were eventually conquered in turn by the Mongols. By 1231, the Mongols had begun serious incursions into Koryo that lasted thirty years with devastating effect. In some cases the Koryo forces put up stiff resistance, including the month-long siege of Kuju, in which the Mongols employed a whole array of ”weapons of mass destruction”:
… The siege saw a full array of medieval assault weapons used in the many attempts to take the city. Lines of catapults hurled boulders or molten metal at the city, tunneling efforts to undermine the walls were made, siege towers and scaling ladders were used in assaults, fire carts were rolled against the wooden city gates, and fire-bombs of human fat – made by boiling down captives—which were practically inextinguishable, were used. (Henthorn 1971:118)
Korean bride
Though resistance continued, relations eventually improved between the Mongol and the Koryo court. This was due in part to the personal relationship between the Koryo King Wonjung and Khubilai Khan. According to the story (an example of contemporary diplomacy), when the Khan developed gout in his feet, King Wonjung sent him a pair of orthopedic shoes made of fish skin. In turn, when the King was ill, the Khan sent a special medicinal soup. Both Mongol and Korean brides were traded in alliances that deepened over the years, with a Korean lady actually serving as the final empress in the Yuan dynasty in China. During the latter Koryo period Mongol cultural influences left a lasting impression on Korean culture (some say that the red circles on a traditional Korean bride’s face today are related to the Mongol legacy).
Koryo celadon
Among the artistic and technical accomplishments of Koryo was the creation of a sublime style of ceramic known as Koryo celadon. The greenish-blue hue of the glaze was especially coveted by Song dynasty Chinese emperors (who also enjoyed Chinese celadons). Unfortunately, the formula for the hue was lost in the Mongol invasions and never recovered, despite attempts that continue today.
Printing technology also advanced during the era. During the Mongol invasion the wooden printing blocks used to print the Buddhist scriptures were burned. As a result, the monks on Kanghwa Island re-carved them—all 80,000—and carried them on their heads into the southern mountains. The blocks (known as the Tripitak Koreana, or Pal-man-dae-jang-gyung) are still housed today in the Haeinsa Temple on Mt. Kaya.

80,000 wooden printing blocks
Metal type
Another result of the burning of the Buddhist printing blocks was the invention of moveable metal type. Although both the Chinese and Koreans had been experimenting with printing for centuries, and moveable ceramic type was in limited use, the Koreans developed moveable cast bronze type as another way to try and preserve the scriptures . Thereafter, both metal type and woodblock printing techniques were used down to modern times, when largely displaced by Western moveable type in the early 20th century. Despite advances in printing, brush writing was still the most common form of written communication at the individual level. One of the most popular literary forms was a style of lyric poetry, sometimes used for social comment, known as sijo poetry. Popular folk songs were known as changga and were often of a humorous, earthy flavor.
Such poetry would become even more popular in the dynasty that succeeded Koryo – the Yi or Chosun dynasty that arose during the waning of Mongol power and the rise of the Ming dynasty in China. Powerful families that had supported the Mongols were eventually swept from power and Buddhist hold on the government was ended as a new generation of leadership under General Yi Songye established the longest—and last—dynasty in Korean history.

Choson (Yi) Dynasty (1392-1910 AD)
Yi Songye
The Choson, or Yi, dynasty lasted from 1392 until 1910. In the course of the dynasty, relations were established with Ming China; the peninsula was invaded by the Japanese in the late 16th century; their neighbors, the mighty Manchus, invaded a few decades later; Western powers threatened Korea by the mid-19th century, while Japan positioned to take control of Korea by the end of that century, which finally prompted the fall of Choson in 1910. Thus, the longest dynasty in Korea’s history spans some of the most transitional periods in the recent history of East Asia.
As noted, General Yi Songgye founded the dynasty which took his name. Yi had made a name for himself fighting Jurched forces in Manchuria and Japanese pirates (wako) on the seas around the peninsula. As Koryo fell apart under a series of child rulers and shifting alliances among the forces in northeast Asia, Yi took control of the situation on the peninsula and set up the Yi or Choson dynasty. To secure power he stripped former powerful families of landholdings and withdrew government support of Buddhist monasteries. Some sources say it took days to burn the land registers in the streets of the new capital at Seoul. The last Koryo king was exiled and faithful officials purged from the government or even executed.
A yangban practicing archery
A strong central bureaucracy was established, building on the Chinese/Koryo model, but extending government control over the realm even farther. New officials were appointed from among Yi’s followers and land re-divided. Large numbers of civil officials and military, appointed through a rigorous series of civil service or military examinations, came to fill the ranks of the yangban. As time went on, the civil service yangban became a leisured class with elite tastes whose members excelled in the arts of painting, calligraphy, and writing classical Chinese and the more vernacular sijopoetry. As the power of the Buddhist organizations was weakened, Confucianism was promoted and elaborated under the tenets of Neo-Confucianism. In the early decades of Choson, reforms in agricultural and economic reforms were carried out, printing with metal type increased (including texts exported to Japan), paper money was issued, and schools and academies prospered. Books were published on Neo-Confucianism, literature, agriculture, technology, and medicine. In terms of social control, one ruler even instituted the use of identity tags (made of ivory, antler, or wood, depending on class) to keep track of all males for tax and other purposes.
The Great King Yi Sejong
The vibrant new dynasty produced outstanding rulers and scholars. Among them was the almost incomparable King Sejong, the fourth Choson monarch who reigned from 1418-1450. Known as a model king, Sejong surrounded himself with the finest scholars of the day and commissioned important research projects, including astronomy, geography, firearms and metals technology, and irrigation. Probably the most enduring project was the creation of the Hangul syllabary. Often regarded as the most scientific syllabary ever invented, the shapes of the symbols are based on abstract representations of the mouth and tongue when pronouncing the various basic sounds. Although Korean scholars continued to use written Chinese characters down into the early twentieth century, Hangul became popular among merchants, women, and authors of popular fiction, as it was easy for people to learn. Many translations of Chinese Confucian and Buddhist classics were made into the new system of writing.

The word "Hangul" in Hangul
Neo-Confucianism, developed by the Song philosopher Zhu Xi, became popular in the Choson period. Of great interest was the relation between moral principles (“I” in Korean, “li” in Chinese) and the vital life force known as qi in Chinese and ki in Korean. The most famous Korean exponent of living in accord with innate moral principles was Yi Hwang (1501-1570), also known by his literary name, T’oegye. Leaving a lower official position in the capital, he set up a small academy called Tosansowon (Peach Mountain Academy) in the Andong region in the southeast. Scholars and students came to the academy to study with Yi Hwang, who welcomed even the local children. On a low veranda surrounded by various plants and a small pool, Yi Hwang spoke with the children about the moral qualities of the cultivation of kyong – one’s basic honest nature. Using examples of plants such as pine, bamboo, and lotus, Yi Hwang explained how proper cultivation of kyong will show in one’s actions and one can rise above one’s situation like a lotus arising from the mud of a pond. As part of his daily regimen, Yi Hwang practiced throwing arrows into the thin neck of a bottle, an activity immortalized on the South Korean 1,000 won bill that depicts Yi Hwang and the arrow bottle.

Yi Hwang and arrow bottle on South Korean 1,000 won bill
Farmer's band
Besides the growth of a refined elite culture, the folk culture of the urban lower classes and peasantry was rich—and often humorous and earthy. Local bands of percussion, wind, and string instruments accompanied farmers as they planted rice and provided music at festivals, weddings, and other events. In recent years, this so-called “farmer’s music” (nong-ak) has been the basis for a revival of folk music, including the well-known percussion group, Samulnori.
Masked dance
Masked dance dramas have a long history in East Asia and the Korean form is known as talch’um. In the Yi dynasty such dramas were often associated with festivals on the Lunar calendar, especially during slack times in the agricultural cycle. In the Andong region, village performances began with a young actor dressed as the village goddess standing on the shoulders of another actor. She would be carried around the performance space as part of a village-protection rite, which was the dual function of many performances that were held as much to entertain the gods (and thus gain their favor) as to entertain the local audiences.
By the last half of the dynasty, a type of performance art that became popular was a form of storytelling that combined singing and speaking. This “one-man opera” (p’ansori) featured a single storyteller who would unroll a grass mat as a performance space and holding a folding fan would entertain audiences with long stories, the musical parts accompanied by an assistant playing an hour-glass drum (changgol). The most famous stories were about filial young women beset with barriers and indignities in the hierarchical Neo-Confucian society that placed many strictures on the behavior of women. These stories included the “Story of Chun-hyang” and the “Story of Simchong.”
Turtle boat
By the end of the 16th century, various internal and external situations precipitated in a series of devastating invasions from which the Yi dynasty never really recovered. As royal leadership declined, struggles for power on the islands of Japan spilled over onto the Korean peninsula in a series of invasions launched by the warlord Hideyoshi. Despite fierce resistance from government troops and peasant militias—and aid from the Ming dynasty, many parts of the peninsula were sacked by Japanese troops that arrived by sea with firearms and cannon. Although the Koreans had used gunpowder since the Mongol era, a particularly galling experience was having captured Korean cannons used as cannonballs and shot back into Korean fortifications by larger bored Japanese guns. One bright point in the invasions was the armada of turtle boats commanded by Admiral Yi Soon-sin. Yi had invented a sort of armored ship holding many cannon that for a time deferred the Japanese forces. In the long run the Koreans held on as the Japanese became embroiled in the internal clashes leading to the founding of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Queen Min
The Chosun dynasty barely had time to recover from Hideyoshi’s incursions, when scarcely thirty years later new invaders appeared on the northern borders in the form of the Manchus, who were establishing their empire under the leadership of Nurhaci and Abadi. As the Ming fell and the Manchu Qing dynasty arose, Korea found itself allied as a tribute state to the Manchus, after a series of devastating invasions—that were fiercely resisted, or aided, depending on what side of the internal struggles forces were on. A certain number of Korean rebels actually joined the Manchus, forming a Korean banner. Korean leadership never returned to its earlier days of glory. By the time Western forces (French, English, American, and Russian) began sending missions up Korean rivers to force the so-called “hermit kingdom” to open its doors in the latter 19th century, the most powerful ruler was Queen Min, regent to a weak young king. Queen Min played a role similar to that of the Empress Dowager Ci Xi, whose rule overlapped with her's for a few years. The Queen was killed by Japanese-backed assassins in 1895 as Japan maneuvered into place to take Korea as a colony. The Manchus vainly attempted to hold the situation together (future president of the Republic of China, Yuan Shikai was the field marshal in Korea for sometime).
Inner turmoil and rebellion ignited with the rise of an anti-foreign group called the Tonghaks, who attempted to use “Eastern Learning” (aspects of the Three Teachings, described in Module 4) to resist the challenge of the West. Although its leader, Ch’oe Cheu, was executed, social instability continued as did the decline in leadership. By 1910 Japan had taken Korea as a colony, with quiet acquiescence from the British and the United States who formed a secret pact with Japan to protect their own holdings in Asia.

1910-1945: The dark days
Yu Kwan-soon, the Korean "Joan of Arc"
The period between 1910 and 1945 are considered the darkest days in modern Korean history. Under the control of the imperialist empire of Japan, Korea was stripped of its natural resources (though many forests have recovered in recent years), language, media, and customs were suppressed—at one time the attempt was made to force the populace to take Japanese surnames. Resistance began in early 1919. Students and workers took to the streets in nationwide demonstrations similar to those that later began in the May Fourth Movement in China. The protests were put down with violence. Among the young patriots of the day was a 16 year-old martyr named Yu Kwan-soon, who was tortured to death in prison. She is remembered as a Korean “Joan of Arc.”
The Provisional Government of Korea established in Shanghai, China
A provisional government was set up in Shanghai, China during the 1930s under the leadership of Kim Ku. Meanwhile, General Kim Il-sung led communist resistance fighters in raids against the Japanese in the northern part of the peninsula.

Post WWII Era: Two Different Roads
Soon after the end of the Japanese empire in the summer of 1945, Korea’s fate was decided at a meeting in the eastern United States at which no Koreans attended. In a short meeting a line dividing North and South Korea was marked along the 38th parallel. The line divided the spheres of influence of the American led Allied forces and the forces of the Soviet Union, which had been posed in Siberia in hopes of taking the Japanese surrender in East Asia. As relations between the former allies degenerated, governments in the communist North and republican South failed to reach accords over united rule. The situation deteriorated further when the Soviet Union suddenly withdrew support from the North.

Korean War
In 1950, the North launched a surprise attack deep into South Korean territory, pushing to the tip of the peninsula. The United Nations, led by United States forces stationed in Japan launched a counterattack with the South Korean military, pushing the communists nearly to the Chinese border. Having just established rule in 1949, the Chinese communists were alarmed by threats of nuclear war from US General Douglas MacArthur – who was soon recalled from the conflict. In response, the Chinese poured 250,000 troops across the border into North Korea in the space of only a few nights. After heavy fighting in freezing weather, UN forces were pushed south again, below the 38th parallel. By 1953, a cease-fire truce was called – that remains in effect today.
Syngman Rhee
As time passed, the economy of North Korea improved fairly rapidly under Kim Il-sung’s “self-reliance” or ju-che policy. South Korea, under the US backed Syngman Rhee, who had been a leader of the provisional government in Shanghai, gave way to a series of military dictators. The economy lagged behind that of North Korea until the late 1960s, when the economy began to improve under the iron fist of Park Chung-hee, who believed that economic growth comes first, then democracy. Growth was linked with strong government support for a handful of super-companies (like Samsung, Daewoo, LG, and Hyundai) known aschaebol.

Logos of several well-known Korean companies
Street scene in downtown Seoul, South Korea
As the economy improved throughout the 1970s and 1980s (when the South Korean economy was the fastest growing on earth), cries for democracy arose from the people. With one of the absolute highest literacy rates in the world, the economically well-off and educated middle-class helped fuel demands for democracy. Thousands of university students became involved in protracted protests and struggles –some which were put down with violence. By the late 1980s, the military government was replaced by democratically elected leaders. Although corruption has plagued the new Korean politics, the voting rate is high and the public enthusiastically participates in election and issues-related politics.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (left) with father, the late Kim Il-sung
As the Republic of Korea in the south blossomed during the 1980s and early 1990s, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north stagnated and turned even more inward. Economic hardship descended on the country with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and withdrawal of the economic support that had resumed from that country after the Korean War. The “Great Leader” passed away in 1994—ushering in a three-year period of mourning. His son, Kim Jung-il took command and is the present ruler.
Street scene in North Korea
Concerns over nuclear capability in North Korea continue to strain relationships in northern East Asia. South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States are all involved in varying degrees in the power-equation of the region. China is a key player in problems on the Korean peninsula, as she has retained ties with North Korea (and established new ties with the South), and may eventually serve as a model to follow in economic liberalization. By 2002 several special economic zones (SEZ) similar to the experimental capitalist zones created in China in the early 1980s, were established in places like Sinuiju and Gaesung. North Korea, however, remains the most isolated nation on earth and questions on the eventual re-unification with South Korea remain to be answered.

Background Note: South Korea

Official Name: Republic of Korea

As of May 2012, Background Notes are no longer being updated or produced. They are in the process of being replaced by Fact Sheets that focus on U.S. relations with each country.

Area: 98,480 sq. km. (38,023 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Indiana.
Cities (2009): Capital--Seoul (10.5 million). Other major cities--Busan (3.6 million), Daegu (2.5 million), Incheon (2.7 million), Gwangju (1.4 million), Daejeon (1.4 million), Ulsan (1.1 million).
Terrain: Partially forested mountain ranges separated by deep, narrow valleys; cultivated plains along the coasts, particularly in the west and south.
Climate: Temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than winter.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Korean(s).
Population (July 2011 est.): 48,754,657.
Annual population growth rate (2011 est.): 0.23%.
Ethnic groups: Korean; small Chinese minority (about 20,000).
Religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Shamanism, Confucianism, Chondogyo.
Language: Korean; English widely taught in junior high and high school.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Enrollment--11.5 million. Attendance--middle school 99%, high school 95%. Literacy--98%.
Health (2010): Infant mortality rate--4.24/1,000. Life expectancy--78.81 years (men 75.56 years; women 82.28 years).
Total labor force (2010): 24.62 million.
Labor force by occupation (2010): Services--68.4%; industry--24.3%; agriculture--7.3%.

Type: Republic with powers shared between the president, the legislature, and the courts.
Liberation: August 15, 1945.
Constitution: July 17, 1948; last revised 1987.
Branches: Executive--President (chief of state) elected for a single 5-year term; Prime Minister (head of government). Legislative--unicameral National Assembly elected every 4 years. Judicial--Supreme Court and appellate courts; Constitutional Court.
Subdivisions: Nine provinces, seven administratively separate cities (Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Daegu, Gwangju, Daejeon, Ulsan).
Political parties: New Frontier Party (NFP), formerly the Grand National Party (GNP); Democratic United Party (DUP), formerly the Democratic Party (DP); Liberty Forward Party (LFP); Unified Progressive Party (UPP); Renewal Korea Party (RKP); K Party (KP).
Suffrage: Universal at 19.
Government budget (2010 est.): Expenditures--$267.3 billion.
Defense (2008): 2.5% of GDP.

GDP (purchasing power parity in 2010): $1.459 trillion.
Real GDP growth rate: (2007) 5.1%; (2008) 2.3%; (2009) 0.2%; (2010) 6.1%.
GDP per capita (current U.S. $): (2009) $17,110; (2010) $20,757.
Unemployment rate (2010): 3.3%.
Inflation rate (consumer prices): (2008) 4.7%; (2009) 2.8%; (2010) 2.9%.
Natural resources: Coal, tungsten, graphite, molybdenum, lead, hydropower potential.
Agriculture: Products--rice, root crops, barley, vegetables, fruit, cattle, pigs, chickens, milk, eggs, fish. Arable land--16.58% of land area.
Industry: Electronics, telecommunications, automobile production, chemicals, shipbuilding, steel.
Trade (2009): Exports--$363.5 billion: semiconductors, wireless telecommunications equipment, motor vehicles, computers, steel, ships, petrochemicals. Imports--$323.1 billion: crude oil, food, electronics and electronic equipment, machinery, transportation equipment, steel, organic chemicals, plastics, base metals and articles. Major export markets (2009)--China (23.2%), U.S. (10.1%), Japan (5.8%), Hong Kong (5.3%), Singapore (3.6%). Major importers to South Korea (2009)--China (16.8%), Japan (15.3%), U.S. (9.0%), Saudi Arabia (6.1%), Australia (4.6%).


Korea's population is one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogenous in the world. Virtually all Koreans share a common cultural and linguistic heritage. There is a small Chinese community (about 20,000), and there are rising rates of interracial marriage. With 48.7 million people inhabiting an area roughly the size of Indiana, South Korea has one of the world's highest population densities. Major population centers are located in the northwest, southeast, and in the plains south of the Seoul-Incheon area.

Korea has experienced one of the largest rates of emigration, with ethnic Koreans residing primarily in China (2.4 million), the United States (2.1 million), Japan (600,000), and the countries of the former Soviet Union (532,000).

The Korean language is related to Japanese and Mongolian. Although it differs grammatically from Chinese and does not use tones, a large number of Chinese cognates exist in Korean. Chinese ideograms are believed to have been brought into Korea sometime before the second century BC. The learned class spoke Korean, but read and wrote Chinese. A vernacular writing system ("hangul") was invented in the 15th century by King Sejong to provide a writing system for commoners who could not read classical Chinese. Modern Korean uses hangul almost exclusively with Chinese characters in limited use for word clarification. Approximately 1,300 Chinese characters are used in modern Korean. English is taught as a second language in most primary and secondary schools. Chinese is also widely taught at secondary schools.

Freedom of religion is protected under South Korea’s constitution. Roughly half of the South Korean population actively practice some form of religion. Most religious believers in South Korea follow Christianity (29.2% of the population) and Buddhism (22.8%). Although only 0.2% of South Koreans identify themselves as Confucianists, Korean society remains highly imbued with Confucian values and beliefs. A small minority of South Koreans practice Islam, Shamanism (traditional spirit worship), and Chondogyo ("Heavenly Way"); 46.5% of South Koreans practice no religion.

Korea's legendary foundation by the mythical king Tangun in BC 2333 embodies the homogeneity and self-sufficiency valued by the Korean people. Korea experienced many invasions by its larger neighbors in its 2,000 years of recorded history. The country repelled numerous foreign invasions despite domestic strife, in part due to its protected status in the Sino-centric regional political model during Korea's Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Historical antipathies to foreign influence earned Korea the title of "Hermit Kingdom" in the 19th century.

With declining Chinese power and a weakened domestic posture at the end of the 19th century, Korea was open to Western and Japanese encroachment. In 1910, Japan began a 35-year period of colonial rule over Korea. As a result of Japan's efforts to supplant the Korean language and aspects of Korean culture, memories of Japanese annexation still recall fierce animosity and resentment, especially among older Koreans. Nevertheless, since import restrictions on Japanese movies, popular music, fashion, and the like were lifted in the 1990s, many Koreans, especially the younger generations, have eagerly followed Japanese pop culture. Aspects of Korean culture, including television shows and movies, have also become popular in Japan.

Japan's surrender to the Allied Powers in 1945, signaling the end of World War II, only further embroiled Korea in foreign rivalries. Division of the peninsula at the 38th parallel marked the beginning of Soviet and U.S. trusteeship over the North and South, respectively. On August 15, 1948 the Republic of Korea (R.O.K.) was established, with Syngman Rhee as the first President. On September 9, 1948 the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.) was established under Kim Il Sung.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea. Led by the U.S., a 16-member coalition undertook the first collective action under United Nations Command (UNC). Following China's entry on behalf of North Korea later that year, a stalemate ensued for the final 2 years of the conflict. Armistice negotiations, initiated in July 1951, were ultimately concluded on July 27, 1953 at Panmunjom, in what is now the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The Armistice Agreement was signed by representatives of the Korean People's Army, the Chinese People's Volunteers, and the U.S.-led UNC. Though the R.O.K. supported the UNC, it refused to sign the Armistice Agreement. A peace treaty has never been signed. The war left almost three million Koreans dead or wounded and millions of others homeless and separated from their families.

In the following decades, South Korea experienced political turmoil under autocratic leadership. President Syngman Rhee was forced to resign in April 1960 following a student-led uprising. The Second Republic under the leadership of Chang Myon ended after only 1 year, when Major General Park Chung Hee led a military coup. Park's rule, which resulted in tremendous economic growth and development but increasingly restricted political freedoms, ended with his assassination in 1979. Subsequently, a powerful group of military officers, led by Lieutenant General Chun Doo-hwan, declared martial law and took power.

Throughout the Park and Chun eras, South Korea developed a vocal civil society that led to strong protests against authoritarian rule. Composed primarily of students and labor union activists, protest movements reached a climax after Chun's 1979 coup and declaration of martial law. A confrontation in Gwangju in 1980 left at least 200 civilians dead. Thereafter, pro-democracy activities intensified even more, ultimately forcing political concessions by the government in 1987, including the restoration of direct presidential elections.

In 1987, Roh Tae-woo, a former general, was elected president, but additional democratic advances during his tenure resulted in the 1992 election of a long-time pro-democracy activist, Kim Young-sam. Kim became Korea's first civilian elected president in 32 years. The 1997 presidential election and peaceful transition of power marked another step forward in Korea's democratization when Kim Dae-jung, a life-long democracy and human rights activist, was elected from a major opposition party. The transition to an open, democratic system was further consolidated in 2002, when self-educated human rights lawyer, Roh Moo-hyun, won the presidential election on a "participatory government" platform. In December 2007, South Koreans elected Lee Myung-bak, a former business executive and Mayor of Seoul, as president.

The Republic of Korea (commonly known as "South Korea") is a republic with powers nominally shared among the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary, but traditionally dominated by the president. The president is chief of state and is elected for a single term of 5 years. The 299 members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected to 4-year terms; elections for the assembly were held on April 11, 2012. South Korea's judicial system comprises a Supreme Court, appellate courts, and a Constitutional Court. The judiciary is independent under the constitution. The country has nine provinces and seven administratively separate cities--the capital of Seoul, along with Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Gwangju, Incheon and Ulsan. Political parties include New Frontier Party (NFP), Democratic United Party (DUP), Liberty Forward Party (LFP), Unified Progressive Party (UPP), Renewal Korea Party (RKP) and K Party (KP). Suffrage is universal at age 19.

Principal Government Officials
President--Lee Myung-bak
Prime Minister--Kim Hwang-sik
Minister of Strategy and Finance--Bahk Jae-wan
Minister of Education, Science and Technology--Lee Ju-hoo
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade--Kim Sung-hwan
Minister of Unification--Yu Woo-ik
Minister of Justice--Kwon Jae-jin
Minister of National Defense--Kim Kwan-jin
Minister of Public Administration and Security--Maeng Hyung-kyu
Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism--Choi Kwang-sik
Minister of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries--Suh Kyu-yong
Minister of Knowledge Economy--Hong Suk-woo
Minister of Health and Welfare--Rim Che-min
Minister of Environment--Yoo Young-sook
Minister of Labor--Lee Chae-pil
Minister of Gender Equality and Family--Kim Kum-lae
Minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs--Kwan Do-youp
Director of the National Intelligence Service--Won Sei-hoon
Senior Secretary to the President for Foreign Affairs and National Security--Chun Yung-woo
Chairman of Financial Services Commission--Kim Seok-dong
Ambassador to the U.S.--Choi Young-jin
Ambassador to the UN--Kim Sook

Korea maintains an embassy in the United States at 2450 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-939-5600). Consulates General are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Hagatna (Agana) in Guam. Korea also has a mission to the United Nations.

Over the past several decades, the Republic of Korea has achieved a remarkably high level of economic growth, which has allowed the country to rise from the rubble of the Korean War into the ranks of the Organization for Cooperation and Development (OECD). Today, South Korea is the United States' seventh-largest trading partner and is the 15th-largest economy in the world.

In the early 1960s, the government of Park Chung Hee instituted sweeping economic policy changes emphasizing exports and labor-intensive light industries, leading to rapid debt-financed industrial expansion. The government carried out a currency reform, strengthened financial institutions, and introduced flexible economic planning. In the 1970s Korea began directing fiscal and financial policies toward promoting heavy and chemical industries, consumer electronics, and automobiles. Manufacturing continued to grow rapidly in the 1980s and early 1990s.

In recent years, Korea's economy moved away from the centrally planned, government-directed investment model toward a more market-oriented one. South Korea bounced back from the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis with assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but its recovery was based largely on extensive financial reforms that restored stability to markets. These economic reforms, pushed by President Kim Dae-jung, helped Korea return to growth, with growth rates of 10% in 1999 and 9% in 2000. The slowing global economy and falling exports slowed growth to 3.3% in 2001, prompting consumer stimulus measures that led to 7.0% growth in 2002. Consumer overspending and rising household debt, along with external factors, slowed growth to near 3% again in 2003. Economic performance in 2004 improved to 4.6% due to an increase in exports, and remained at or above 4% in 2005, 2006, and 2007. With the onset of the global financial and economic crisis in the third quarter of 2008, annual GDP growth slowed to 2.3% in 2008 and just 0.2% in 2009. Growth was 6.1% in 2010.

South Korea's economic growth potential has been affected by a rapidly aging population and structural problems including the rigidity of South Korea's labor regulations, the need for more constructive relations between management and workers, the country's underdeveloped financial markets, and a general lack of regulatory transparency. Korean policy makers have been worried about diversion of corporate investment to China and other lower wage countries, and by Korea's fluctuating rates of foreign direct investment (FDI). President Lee Myung-bak was elected in December 2007 on a platform that promised to boost Korea's economic growth rate through deregulation, tax reform, increased FDI, labor reform, and free trade agreements (FTAs) with major markets. President Lee’s economic agenda necessarily shifted in the final months of 2008 to dealing with the global economic crisis. The economy responded well to a robust fiscal stimulus package and low interest rates in 2009. The landmark U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) was approved by both countries’ respective legislatures in late 2011 and entered into force on March 15, 2012. The agreement is expected to boost exports by billions of dollars annually for both sides and support tens of thousands of new export-related jobs both in Korea and the United States.

North-South Economic Ties
Two-way trade between North and South Korea, which was first legalized in 1988, rose to almost $1.82 billion in 2008 before declining sharply thereafter. Until recently, South Korea was North Korea's second-largest trading partner after China. Much of this trade was related to out-processing or assembly work undertaken by South Korean firms in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC). Much of the work done in North Korea has been funded by South Korea, but this assistance was halted in 2008 except for energy aid (heavy fuel oil) authorized under the Six-Party Talks. Many of these economic ties became important symbols of hope for the eventual reunification of the peninsula. For example, after the June 2000 North-South summit, the two Koreas reconnected their east and west coast railroads and roads where they cross the DMZ and improved these transportation routes. South Korean tour groups used the east coast road to travel from South Korea to Mt. Geumgang in North Korea beginning in 2003, although the R.O.K. suspended tours to Mt. Geumgang in July 2008 following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a D.P.R.K. soldier. Unfortunately, North-South economic ties were seriously damaged by escalating tensions following North Korea’s torpedoing of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March 2010. In April 2010, North Korea seized five properties at Mt. Geumgang owned by South Korea’s Hyundai Asan, saying that it was done to compensate for the damage the D.P.R.K. suffered due to the suspension of tours. In September 2010, South Korea suspended all inter-Korean trade with the exception of the KIC. In November 2010, North Korea attacked Yeonpyeong Island with artillery, further escalating tensions between the North and South. As of March 2012, economic ties had not seen signs of revival.

South Korea joined the United Nations in August 1991 along with North Korea and is active in most UN specialized agencies and many international forums. South Korea has hosted major international events such as the 1988 Summer Olympics, the 2002 World Cup Soccer Tournament (co-hosted with Japan), and the 2002 Second Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies. In 2010, the country hosted the R.O.K.-Japan-China Trilateral Summit as well as the G-20 Seoul Summit. It will host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Economic considerations have a high priority in Korean foreign policy. The R.O.K. seeks to build on its economic accomplishments to increase its regional and global role. It is a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and chaired the organization in 2005.

The Republic of Korea maintains diplomatic relations with more than 170 countries and a broad network of trading relationships. The United States and Korea are allied by the 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty. Korea and Japan coordinate closely on numerous issues. This includes consultations with the United States on North Korea policy.

Korean Peninsula: Reunification Efforts
For almost 20 years after the 1950-53 Korean War, relations between North and South Korea were minimal and very strained. Official contact did not occur until 1971, beginning with Red Cross contacts and family reunification projects. In the early 1990s, relations between the two countries improved with the 1991 “Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression and Exchanges and Cooperation between the South and the North,” since known as the “Basic Agreement,” which acknowledged that reunification was the goal of both governments, and the 1992 “Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” However, divergent positions on the process of reunification and North Korean weapons programs, compounded by South Korea's tumultuous domestic politics and the 1994 death of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, contributed to a cycle of warming and cooling of relations.

Relations improved again following the 1997 election of Kim Dae-jung. His "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with the D.P.R.K. set the stage for the historic June 2000 inter-Korean summit between President Kim and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. President Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for the policy, but the prize was somewhat tarnished by revelations of a $500 million dollar "payoff" to North Korea that immediately preceded the summit. Engagement continued during Roh Moo-hyun’s presidency, but declined following the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in February 2008.

Korean Peninsula: Nuclear Tensions and Recent Developments
Relations worsened following North Korea’s acknowledgement in October 2002 of a covert program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Following this acknowledgement, the United States, along with the People's Republic of China, proposed multilateral talks among the concerned parties to deal with this issue. At the urging of China and its neighbors, the D.P.R.K. agreed to meet with China and the United States in April 2003. In August of that year, the D.P.R.K. agreed to attend Six-Party Talks aimed at ending the North's pursuit of nuclear weapons that added the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Russia to the table. Two more rounds of Six-Party Talks between the United States, the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, and the D.P.R.K. were held in February and June of 2004. At the third round, the United States put forward a comprehensive proposal aimed at completely, verifiably, and irreversibly eliminating North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. A fourth round of talks was held in two sessions between July and September 2005.

A breakthrough for the Six-Party Talks came with the Joint Statement of Principles on September 19, 2005, in which, among other things, the D.P.R.K. committed to "abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards." The Joint Statement also committed the United States and other parties to certain actions as the D.P.R.K. denuclearized. In addition, the United States offered security assurances to North Korea, specifying that it had no nuclear weapons on R.O.K. territory and no intention to attack or invade the D.P.R.K. with nuclear or other weapons. Finally, the United States and the D.P.R.K., as well as the D.P.R.K. and Japan, agreed to undertake steps to normalize relations, subject to their respective bilateral policies.

However, following D.P.R.K. protests against U.S. Government money-laundering sanctions on D.P.R.K. funds held at Macao’s Banco Delta Asia, the D.P.R.K. boycotted the Six-Party Talks during late 2005 and most of 2006. On October 9, 2006, North Korea announced a successful nuclear test, verified by the United States on October 11. In response, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), citing Chapter VII of the UN Charter, unanimously adopted Resolution 1718, condemning North Korea's action and imposing sanctions on certain luxury goods and trade of military items, weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related parts, and technology transfers.

The Six-Party Talks resumed in December 2006. Following a bilateral meeting between the United States and D.P.R.K. in Berlin in January 2007, yet another round of Six-Party Talks was held in February 2007. On February 13, 2007, the parties reached an agreement on "Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement" in which North Korea agreed to shut down and seal its Yongbyon nuclear facility, including the reprocessing facility, and to invite back International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring and verification of these actions. The other five parties agreed to provide emergency energy assistance to North Korea in the amount of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the initial phase (within 60 days) and the equivalent of up to 950,000 tons of HFO in the next phase of North Korea's denuclearization. The six parties also established five working groups to form specific plans for implementing the Joint Statement in the following areas: denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, normalization of D.P.R.K.-U.S. relations, normalization of D.P.R.K.-Japan relations, economic and energy cooperation, and a Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism. All parties agreed that the working groups would meet within 30 days of the agreement, which they did. The agreement also envisioned the directly-related parties negotiating a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum. As part of the initial actions, North Korea invited then-IAEA Director General ElBaradei to Pyongyang in early March for preliminary discussions on the return of the IAEA to the D.P.R.K. A sixth round of Six-Party Talks took place on March 19-23, 2007, in which the parties reported on the first meetings of the five working groups.

At the invitation of the D.P.R.K., Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill visited Pyongyang in June 2007 as part of ongoing consultations with the six parties on implementation of the Initial Actions agreement. After the Banco Delta Asia funds were released in July 2007, the D.P.R.K. shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility as well as an uncompleted reactor at Taechon, and IAEA personnel returned to the D.P.R.K. to monitor and verify the shutdown and to seal the facility. Concurrently, the R.O.K., China, United States, and Russia initiated deliveries of HFO and other energy-related assistance per the agreement. These four parties continued to provide shipments of HFO and other energy assistance as the D.P.R.K. implemented disablement steps during 2007 and 2008. All five working groups met in August and September 2007 to discuss detailed plans for implementation of the next phase of the Initial Actions agreement, and the D.P.R.K. invited a team of experts from the United States, China, and Russia to visit the Yongbyon nuclear facility in September 2007 to discuss specific steps that could be taken to disable the facility. The subsequent September 27-30 Six-Party plenary meeting resulted in the October 3, 2007 agreement on "Second-Phase Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement."

Under the terms of the October 3 agreement, the D.P.R.K. agreed to disable all existing nuclear facilities subject to abandonment under the September 2005 Joint Statement and the February 2007 agreement. The parties agreed to complete by December 31, 2007 a set of disablement actions for the three core facilities at Yongbyon: the 5-MW(e) Experimental Reactor, the Radiochemical Laboratory (Reprocessing Plant), and the Fresh Fuel Fabrication Plant. The D.P.R.K. also agreed to provide a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs in accordance with the February 2007 agreement by December 31, 2007 and reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how.

In November 2007, the D.P.R.K. began to disable the three core facilities at Yongbyon and completed many of the agreed disablement actions by the end of the year. Assistant Secretary of State Hill visited Pyongyang again in December 2007 as part of ongoing consultations on the implementation of Second-Phase actions and carried with him a letter from President George W. Bush to Kim Jong-il. While the D.P.R.K. missed the December 31 deadline to provide a complete and correct declaration, it belatedly delivered its declaration to the Chinese on June 26, 2008. The D.P.R.K. also imploded the cooling tower at the Yongbyon facility in late June 2008 in the presence of international media and U.S. Government officials. Following the D.P.R.K.'s progress on disablement and provision of a declaration, President Bush announced the lifting of the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) with respect to the D.P.R.K. and notified Congress of his administration's intent to rescind North Korea's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, a step which the Secretary of State followed through on in October 2008. However, efforts to move forward on verification steps soon met with D.P.R.K. resistance.

In April 2009, the D.P.R.K. launched a missile over the Sea of Japan, in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1718. The UNSC issued a statement condemning the launch and demanding that the D.P.R.K. refrain from further launches. The D.P.R.K. responded by withdrawing its active participation from the Six-Party Talks and demanding the expulsion of IAEA inspectors and U.S. technical experts who had been monitoring the Yongbyon nuclear site. From May to November 2009, the D.P.R.K. announced a number of nuclear tests and short-range ballistic missile launches, announcing in September 2009 that “experimental uranium enrichment has been successfully conducted to enter into completion phase.” In June 2009, the UNSC adopted Resolution 1874, which expanded UNSCR 1718 to include a ban on arms transfers to and from the D.P.R.K., to call on states to inspect vessels in their territory when there are “reasonable grounds” that banned cargo is on a ship. The United States appointed Ambassador Philip Goldberg as the U.S. Coordinator for Implementation of UNSCR 1874. In June, July, and August 2009, Ambassador Goldberg led delegations to China, the R.O.K., Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Russia, the U.A.E., and Egypt to encourage these states to implement sanctions in a way that would shed light on North Korean proliferation-related activities.

In December 2009, Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth led an interagency delegation to Pyongyang for extensive talks that focused on the way to achieve verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The United States and North Korea agreed on the importance of the Six-Party Talks and the need to implement the 2005 Joint Statement, but did not agree on when and how the D.P.R.K. would return to denuclearization talks. Prospects for talks dimmed following the D.P.R.K.’s sinking of the R.O.K. warship Cheonan on March 26, 2010, which killed 46 R.O.K. sailors. In spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that the warship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine, the D.P.R.K. has continued to deny responsibility for the attack. On November 23, 2010, North Korea attacked Yeonpyeong Island with artillery, killing two civilians and wounding 13. This incident has increased complications and tensions between the North and South.

In July 2011 and October 2011, an interagency delegation led by Special Representative Bosworth met with North Korean officials in New York and Geneva, respectively, to explore the willingness of North Korea to take concrete steps toward denuclearization. The United States reiterated that the path was open to North Korea for the resumption of talks, improved relations with the United States, and greater regional stability if it demonstrated through concrete actions its support for the Six-Party process as a committed and constructive partner.

Following a third round of U.S.-D.P.R.K. bilateral talks in Beijing in February 2012, the D.P.R.K. announced moratoria on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and its uranium enrichment activity at Yongbyon, and agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment. Nevertheless, in March 2012, the D.P.R.K. announced plans to launch a satellite using ballistic missile technology in mid-April to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung. The launch took place but was unsuccessful.

Peaceful resolution of the issues on the Korean Peninsula will only be possible if North Korea fundamentally changes its behavior. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on North Korea to take concrete, irreversible denuclearization steps toward fulfillment of the 2005 Joint Statement, comply with international law including UNSCRs 1718 and 1874, cease provocative behaviors, and take steps to improve relations with its neighbors.

The United States believes that the question of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula is, first and foremost, a matter for the Korean people to decide.

Under the 1953 U.S.-R.O.K. Mutual Defense Treaty, the United States agreed to help the Republic of Korea defend itself against external aggression. In support of this commitment, the United States has maintained military personnel in Korea, including the Army's Second Infantry Division and several Air Force tactical squadrons. To coordinate operations between these units and the over 680,000-strong Korean armed forces, a Combined Forces Command (CFC) was established in 1978. The head of the CFC also serves as Commander of the United Nations Command (UNC) and U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). The current CFC commander is General James D. Thurman.

Several aspects of the U.S.-R.O.K. security relationship are changing as the U.S. moves from a leading to a supporting role. In 2004 an agreement was reached on the return of the Yongsan base in Seoul--as well as a number of other U.S. bases--to the R.O.K. and the eventual relocation of all U.S. forces to south of the Han River. Those movements are expected to be completed by 2016. In addition, the U.S. and R.O.K. agreed to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Korea to 25,000 by 2008, but a subsequent agreement by the U.S. and R.O.K. presidents in 2008 has now capped that number at 28,500, with no further troop reductions planned. The U.S. and R.O.K. have also agreed to transfer wartime operational control to the R.O.K. military on December 1, 2015.

As Korea's economy has developed, trade and investment ties have become an increasingly important aspect of the U.S.-R.O.K. relationship. Korea is the United States' seventh-largest trading partner (ranking ahead of larger economies such as France, Italy, and India), and there are significant flows of manufactured goods, agricultural products, services and technology between the two countries. Major American firms have long been major investors in Korea, while Korea's leading firms have begun to make significant investments in the United States. The implementation of structural reforms contained in the IMF's 1998 program for Korea improved access to the Korean market and improved trade relations between the United States and Korea. The landmark U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) was approved by both countries’ respective legislatures in late 2011 and entered into force on March 15, 2012. The agreement is expected to boost exports by billions of dollars annually for both sides and support tens of thousands of new export-related jobs both in Korea and the United States.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Sung Y. Kim
Deputy Chief of Mission--Mark Tokola
Counselor for Political Affairs--James Wayman
Counselor for Economic Affairs--Michael Kleine
Counselor for Management Affairs--M. Bart Flaherty
Counselor for Public Affairs--Brent D. Byers
Consul General--Paul L. Boyd
Counselor for Commercial Affairs--James Sullivan
Counselor for Agricultural Affairs--Kathryn Ting
Chief, Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group, Korea (JUSMAG-K)--Col. Ha Dong Chin
Defense Attache--David M. Lovejoy
Drug Enforcement Administration, Special Agent in Charge--Edward Fiocchi
Open Source Center, Seoul Bureau Chief--Kristen Patel
DHS-Citizenship and Immigration Services--Walter L. Haith
DHS-Immigration and Customs Enforcement Attache--John D. Jackson

The U.S. Embassy in South Korea is located at 32 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-710. The contact information for the U.S. Embassy is: American Embassy-Seoul, Unit 15550, APO AP 96205-5550 (tel.: 82-2-397-4114; fax: 82-2-738-8845). The U.S. Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) is located at 146-1, Susong-dong, Jongno-gu, Leema Bldg., Rm. 303, Seoul 110-140 (fax: 82-2-720-7921). The U.S. Export Development Office/U.S. Trade Center can be reached c/o U.S. Embassy (fax: 82-2-739-1628).

Additional Resources
The following general country guides are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402:

Library of Congress. North Korea: A Country Study . 1994, 2009.
Library of Congress. South Korea: A Country Study . 1992.
Department of State. The Record on Korean Unification 1943-1960. 1961.
Department of the Army. Communist North Korea: A Bibliographic Survey. 1971.

Internet Resources on North and South Korea
The following sites are provided to give an indication of Internet sites on Korea. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications, including Internet sites.

R.O.K. Embassy--
Korea Society-- ; links to academic and other sites.
Nautilus Institute-- ; produced by the Nautilus Institute in California, and includes press roundup Monday through Friday.
Joongang Daily-- ; South Korean English-language newspaper.
Korea Herald-- ; South Korean English-language newspaper.
Korea Times-- ; South Korean English-language newspaper.
(North) Korean Central News Agency--

Travel Alerts, Travel Warnings, Trip Registration
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings. Country Specific Information exists for all countries and includes information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at , where current Worldwide Caution , Travel Alerts , and Travel Warnings can be found. The website also includes information aboutpassports , tips for planning a safe trip abroad and more. More travel-related information also is available at .
The Department's Smart Traveler app for U.S. travelers going abroad provides easy access to country information, travel alerts, travel warnings, maps, U.S. embassy locations, and more that appear on the site. Travelers can also set up e-tineraries to keep track of arrival and departure dates and make notes about upcoming trips. The app is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android.
The Department of State encourages all U.S. citizens traveling or residing abroad to enroll in the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) . A link to the registration page is also available through the Department's Smart Traveler app . U.S. citizens without internet access can enroll directly at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. By enrolling, you make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and so you can receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4-USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778); TDD/TTY: 1-888-874-7793. Passport information is available 24 hours, 7 days a week. You may speak with a representative Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Health Information
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) and a web site at give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. The CDC publication "Health Information for International Travel" can be found at .
More Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including more Background Notes, the Department's daily press briefingsalong with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.

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