Korea: Land in search of an elusive peace

12th September 1997 at 01:00

According to legend, Korea was founded by Tangun who ruled for more than 1,000 years, between 2,333 and 1,122 BC. It is more likely that present day Koreans originate from migrants who came down from Manchuria and further northwards. The Kingdom of Koguryo was founded in 31 BC by these early Koreans. This was one of three kingdoms to evolve in the peninsula, occupying its northern regions. To its south. the kingdom of Paekche emerged, with its capital near the site of present day Seoul. The third kingdom, Shilla, developed in the south east, with its capital at Kyongiu. In 668, Korea was unified under Shilla, ruled by a Confuciantyle court which encouraged scholarship and the arts. The Shilla dynasty was overthrown in 918 by what became known as the Koryo dynasty. This, in turn, was replaced by Asia's longest standing dynasty, Choson, in 1392, which moved its capital to what is now Seoul. Korea's independence was shattered in 1910, when Japan turned it into a colony, which it remained until the Second World War. After liberation by American and Soviet troops in 1945, the country was divided and became a focus of the Cold War between the West the Soviet Union and China


South Korea (Republic of Korea):

Democratic government led by President Kim Young Sam since February, 1993. Elections due in December. Presidency limited to one term. Constitution dates back to 1948, but revised nine times.

Capital city: Seoul

North Korea: (Democratic People's Republic of Korea): Communist regime, led by Kim Jong II, known as the Dear Leader. He took over from his father, Kim II Sung, who ruled between 1948 and his death in 1994. Known as the Great Wise Leader, President for Life, Dearly Beloved and Sagacious Leader, he ran the country on Stalinist-socialist lines. Economic failure and a succession of famines have raised doubts about the North's stability and future.

Capital City: Pyongyang.


South Korea's economic "miracle" began in the 1960s when, using low cost labour, it invested heavily in manufacturing for overseas markets. Between 1962 and 1995 output per head grew from $87 to more than $10,000 (Pounds 6,300), an average annual growth rate of 8 per cent. It is now the world's eleventh biggest trading nation. It is one of East Asia's "four little tigers", along with Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.

Principle exports: Electronic products, textiles, machinery, motor vehicles, steel products, shipbuilding.


Land mass: 219,530 square kilometres, rougbly the size of Britain. The South occupies 45 per cent of the Korean peninsula, similar in size to Scotland.

Population: South Korea, 46 million; North Korea, 25 million. Population density (South only), 463 people per square kilometre.

Climate: Temperate, with hot, humid summers, and cold winters. Monsoons in summer.

Temperature range: low -15C, high 35C.

Topography: 70 per cent hills and mountains. Main feature: Taebaek mountains, form backbone extending north-south across the peninsula, rising to over 2,000 metres.

Agriculture: Rice, barley, maize, fruit, vegetables, tobacco. Livestock: cattle, pigs, poultry.


Korea's rich cultural heritage, mountain ranges and long coastline dotted by 3,300 islands offer huge tourist potential. While the North is closed to tourism, South Korea hopes to become one of the world's top ten tourist destinations by 2000. Leading attractions include the pavilions and temples of Kyongju, former capital of the ancient Shilla dynasty and the booming capital, Seoul. Having hosted the Olympic Games in 1988, it will host the World Cup in 2002, with Japan.

KOREAN WAR 1950-53

The civil war began on June 25, 1950 when troops from North Korea crossed the border into the South.

The country had been divided across the 38th parallel since the end of the Second World War, when Japanese forces surrendered to United States troops in the South and Soviet troops in the north.

The war caused devastation with an estimated 1.8 million military casualties. Some 244,000 South Korean citizens were killed, over 229,000 wounded and 303,000 listed as missing. The war led to stalemate and an armistice on July 27, 1953, but a peace treaty has never been signed. Talks aimed at a long-term settlement involving the US and China, are expected to be held soon.


From a largely illiterate country in 1945, when 78 per cent of the adult population was unable to read or write, South Korea now has one of the world's highest literacy rates (95 per cent). The country has consistently rated among the top five countries in international maths and science tests. Good quality basic education, supported by high parental expectations, have underpinned the country's economic performance. But there are growing concerns about advanced skills learning and reforms are now under way to put greater emphasis on creativity and information technology.

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