Korea, peninsula (600 mi/966 km long) of eastern Asia that separates the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. Korea has been divided since the end of the Korean War in 1953 into 2 countries: the communist Democratic People's Republic (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). This artificial division, and incidents and tensions along the border between the 2 (near the 38th parallel of latitude), give little credibility to the Korean name for the peninsula: Choson, Land of the Morning Calm. The Koreans are a remarkable people, the heirs of an ancient civilization. Korean astronomers were studying the heavens one hundred years before the birth of Christ. Koreans were printing from movable metal type in the late 1300s, about 50 years before Johann Gutenberg used this method in Europe. In the late 1500s a Korean engineer built what was probably the world's first suspension bridge.
Land and climate
Korea (85,677 sq mi/221,903 sq km) is mostly mountainous, with the main ranges along the east and in the north. In the extreme northeast, Mt. Kwanmo rises to 8,337 ft (2,541 m). There are large coastal plains in the west, and lesser plains and river valleys among the mountains. The northern boundary with China and the Soviet Union is marked mainly by the Yalu and Tumen rivers. Most Korean rivers flow west and south from the mountains to the Yellow Sea. The southward-flowing Naktong River empties into the Korean Strait, which separates the peninsula from Japan. Korea has a moderate climate. Winters are mild in the south but cold elsewhere, and summers everywhere are hot. Rainfall, higher in the south than in the north, occurs mainly during summer.
Korea is at present divided into South Korea, with an area of 38,316 sq mi (99,237 sq km) and North Korea, 46,540 sq mi (120,538 sq km). Running along the border between the 2 is a demilitarized zone (487 sq mi/1,261 sq km), in which stands Panmunjom, the scene of North-South negotiations.
Although South Korea is smaller, it is much more densely populated than North Korea. Korea's 2 largest cities are the 2 capitals: Seoul (South Korea) and Pyongyang (North Korea). Other important centers in the South are Pusan, the chief port; Inchon, a port on the Yellow Sea; and Taegu and Taeyan. Northern towns include the ports of Chongjin and Hungnam; and Sinuiju, a commercial center. More than 60 of every 100 Koreans live in the towns. Most Koreans are farmers, and many still live in traditional small houses, which have clay walls, thatched roofs, and doors, windows and interior partitions of oiled paper. Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity all have followers, and animism also survives. In the North, as in other Communist countries, all religious beliefs are discouraged.
In both North and South Korea less than half the working population is engaged in agriculture. Rice is the leading crop, followed by barley, wheat, and millet. Other crops include oats, beans, cotton, corn, and potatoes. Most of North Korea's land is farmed by cooperatives and agriculture is highly mechanized. Most of Korea's mineral wealth is in the North, where large amounts of coal, iron ore, lead, zinc, copper, tungsten, nickel, manganese, oil and graphite are mined. The South has some of the world's largest deposits of tungsten (the Sangdong mine) but only small deposits of coal, iron ore, and other minerals.
South Korea's chief industry is cotton textiles, but silk is also important. Other products include cement, paper, chemicals, electrical goods, and steel. The North has many industries, including iron and steel, chemicals, textiles (cotton, wool, silk, and manufactured fibers), cement, and fertilizers. Hydroelectric power production is being expanded.
The half-legendary founder of the kingdom of Choson was Kija, who led a group of exiles from China to Korea in 1122 B.C. But there were other kingdoms on the peninsula, and Korea was not united until the 7th century A.D. Most of its early civilization was destroyed by the Mongol invasions (1231–92), but with the establishment of the Yi dynasty (1392) Korea entered a golden age that lasted until 1592, when Japan invaded the peninsula.
Although the invaders were finally driven out, the Koreans never fully recovered from the years of bloody fighting. For 300 years Korea, known as the Hermit Kingdom, cut itself off from the world. In the late 1800s, Japan and the United States began trading with Korea. In 1910 Japan annexed Korea. After 35 years of Japanese exploitation, Korea was liberated in 1945 by Russia in the North and by the United States in the South. Despite United Nations intervention, no agreement was reached on a united Korea. The North became a rigidly controlled Communist state under the former guerrilla leader Kim II Sung. Free elections held in the South, under UN supervision, produced a republic under Syngman Rhee.
On June 25, 1950, the Communists of the North invaded South Korea, thus beginning the Korean War. The heavy fighting was eventually stopped by an armistice between the UN forces and the Communists, and by the establishment of the demilitarized zone (1953). Since then the uneasy peace has often been disturbed.
In South Korea, Syngman Rhee became increasingly autocratic and unpopular, and in 1960, after his opponents charged election-rigging, he left Korea. After a confused period of military rule, democratic government was restored (1963) by General Park Chung Hee, who was elected president and returned to power repeatedly. In July 1979 General Park Chung Hee was assassinated and replaced by General Chun Doo Hwan, who established his own autocratic rule. In 1987 Roh Tae Woo was elected president of South Korea. He was succeeded by the first elected civilian president Kim Young Sam in 1992, who continued the liberalization proces started in 1987. In North Korea Kim Il Sung continued his policy of regimented development until his death in 1994. He was succeeded by his son Kim Young Il. While in the 1990s the north had to deal with starvation, the south experienced a severe economic recession. In South Korea Kim Dae Young became head of government in 1997.