Korea lies in the north temperate zone with a predominantly mountainous terrain. It covers a total area of 220,847 sq km and has a population of almost 90 million. The capital and largest city is Seoul, with a population of 10,521,782.
The climate of the Korea differs dramatically from north to south. The southern regions experience a relatively warm and wet climate similar to that of Japan, affected by warm ocean waters including the East Korea Warm Current. The northern regions experience a colder and to some extent more inland climate, in common with Manchuria. For example, the annual precipitation of the Yalu River valley (600 mm (24 in)) is less than half of that on the south coast (1500 mm (59 in)). Likewise, there is a 20° C (68° F) difference in January temperature between the peninsula's southern and northern tips.
The entire peninsula, however, is affected by similar general patterns, including the East Asian monsoon in midsummer and the frequent incidence of typhoons in autumn. The majority of rainfall takes place during the summer months, with nearly half during the monsoon alone. Winters are cold, with January temperatures typically below freezing outside of Jeju Island. Winter precipitation is minimal, with little snow accumulation outside of mountainous areas.
Politics and governmentAccording to the 1950 Constitution of the Republic of Korea, Korea is a sovereign and independent country that governed under the principle of National Democracy.
The President of the Republic of Korea (총재 Chongjae) is elected by the National Congress from among its members every four years. The President is the head of state of Republic, and the nominal commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President also functioned to advise the Council of the Ministers of matters concerning executive, defense and financial affairs of Korea.The National Congress of Korea (국민대표대회 Gukmin Daepyo Daehoe) serves as the national legislature of Korea and responsible for formulate the country's main policies. All members of National Congress are elected every four years by the series of indirect elections. The elections, however, are only participated by the parties that recognized as legal under the Korean law, with the Greater Korean Party (대고려당 Dae Goryŏ-dang) as leading party in Korea since 1950.
The Council of Ministers of Korea (각료회의 Gakryo Hoeui) serves as the highest administrative body of Korea and headed by the Chairman of the Council who bearing the title of Prime Minister (총리 Chongri) and assisted by three Vice-Chairmen of the Council, who bearing the title of Vice-Prime Ministers (부총리 Bu-Chongri). The composition of the Council of Ministers is nominated by a formateur committee called the Committee of Three (삼인관 Sam'in-gwan) which is consisted by three members of the National Congress that appointed directly by the President prior being approved by the two-third majority of the Congress.
The National Court of Korea (국민재판소 Gukmin Jaepanso) serves as the country's supreme judicature in charge of judicial matters and supervision and administration of lower courts. All of judges of the Court are appointed by the National Congress of Korea from the candidates that have been nominated by the President of the Republic. Every Korean citizen is the subject of Korean law and under the authority of Korean National Court.
Joseon dynasty (1392–1905)
After invasions from Japan and Manchuria, Joseon experienced a nearly 200-year period of peace. King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo led a new renaissance of Joseon. However, as result of the two invasions, Joseon became increasingly isolationist. Its rulers sought to limit contact with foreign countries by closing the country's borders to all nations but Qing China. Joseon's isolationist policy earned it the name the "Hermit Kingdom". Internally, after the death of King Jeongjo in 1800, Joseon was hampered by "in-law" factions of the court that fighting each other for power. Later Joseon kings then had no monarchic authority and could not rule over its own government.
Following the opening of Japan in 1854, The General Sherman, an American-owned armed merchant marine side-wheel schooner, attempted to open Korea to trade in 1866. After being ordered to leave by the Korean officials, the ship crewmen killed four Korean inhabitants, kidnapped a military officer and engaged in sporadic fighting that continued for four days. The ship was then finally destroyed by Korean fireships. In response, the United States confronted Korea militarily in 1871, killing 243 Koreans in Ganghwa island before withdrawing.Since 1863, King Gojong took the throne as the monarch of Joseon. However, it was his father, Regent Heungseon Daewongun, that ruled for him as true ruler of Joseon until Gojong reached adulthood. During the mid-1860s the Daewongun was the main proponent of isolationism. In 1873, King Gojong announced his assumption of royal rule. However, Queen Min quickly assumed the role occupied by the Daewongun previously in which she completely controlled the royal court, placing her family in high court positions.
Conflict between the conservative court under Queen Min's dominating rule and a reforming faction led to the Gapsin Coup in 1884. The reformers sought to reform Koreans' institutionalized social inequality, by proclaiming social equality and the elimination of the privileges of the yangban class. The reformers were backed by Japan, and were thwarted by the arrival of Qing troops, invited by conservative Queen Min.
Many Koreans despised foreign influences over their land and the corrupt oppressive rule of the Joseon Dynasty. In 1894, the Donghak Peasant Revolution saw farmers rise up in a mass rebellion. The Joseon government asked the Qing Dynasty for assistance in ending the revolt. Japan considered the Qing presence in Korea as a direct threat to its sovereignty and sent in their own troops to seize the Royal Palace in Seoul and install a pro-Japanese government on June 8, 1894. This event soon escalated into the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) between Japan and Qing China, fought largely in Korea.After Japan's victory in the First Sino-Japanese War, Queen Min advocated stronger ties between Korea and Russia in an attempt to block Japanese influence in Korea, which was represented by Daewongun. After a failed assassination attempt that orchestrated by Daewongun, Queen Min turned her attention away from the Qing and advocated close diplomatic ties with Russia to counter Japanese influence. New pro-Russian cabinet was installed in 1895 and a series of reforms was initiated. During this period, Korea experienced the partially successful modernization of the military, economy, transportation, real property laws, education system, and various industries that aided by the experts from Russia.
The wave of modernization in Korea as well as Russia's presence in Manchuria causing the Japanese much anxiety. Through threat of Russian expansion, Japan offered to recognize Russian dominance in Manchuria in exchange for recognition of Korea as within the Japanese sphere of influence. Russia refused and demanded Korea north of the 39th parallel to be a neutral buffer zone between Russia and Japan. The Japanese government perceived a Russian threat to its strategic interests and chose to go to war. The negotiations broke down in 1904, resulted to the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905).The war concluded with the Treaty of Portsmouth, mediated by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. According to the treaty, Russia and Japan agreed to divide Korea to their respective spheres of influences along the 38th parallel north and Karafuto Island along the 50th parallel north. Korea was effectively subjugated into the protectorate of both Russia and Japan, each with the signings of the protectorate treaties with Russia on November 1, 1905 and with Japan on November 7, 1905. Following the division, King Gojong and the royal household relocated their seat from Seoul to Hamhung in the north of 38th parallel to avoid the political influence of Japan.
Partition of Korea (1905–1931)
The World War I in 1914 required Russia to redirect its energies to Europe and neglect its Asian interests, including northern Korea. Abandoned by the Russians, the Hamhung-based Gungjeong clique (宮廷 [궁정] "Palace") under Queen Min and the Pyongyang-based Buk'an clique (北安 [북안] "Northern Peace") under warlord Hong Beom-do fought for the control of the north of 38th parallel. To rid the Buk'an clique out of politics and protect Korea from the Bolshevik penetration, Queen Min asked the Chinese government to send its forces into northern Korea in 1917. Manchurian warlord, Chang Tso-lin, then was ordered to dispatch his Fengtian Army into Korea.
Chinese military move into northern Korea angered the government of Japan which viewed it as a reminiscence of Qing presence in Korea prior to the First Sino-Japanese War. In November 1918, Queen Min suddenly died of mysterious circumstances and was rumored to be poisoned by Japanese agents for her dominating influence over the royal court that were responsible for the presence of Fengtian Army in the north of 38th parallel.After the defeat of Buk'an Army during the Northern Pacification War in 1917-1918, mainstream independence movement in Korea was divided between the progressives, such Son Byeong-hui, Lee Wanyong and Park Yeong-hyo who advocated constitutionalism, and the revolutionaries, such Lee Dong-hwi, Yun Chi-ho and Ahn Changho who sought the abolition of monarchy. The progressives gained their momentum when they drafted and issued the Korean Declaration of Independence on March 1, 1919. The peaceful rallies swept the country by March 13, 1919 to appeal to the consciences of the ruling royal family in Hamhung and protest against the presence of foreign troops in the Peninsula.
On other hand, the revolutionaries used more violent approach by forming the Revolutionary Alliance (혁명동맹 Hyeokmyeong Dongmaeng; abbr. Hyeongmaeng). Led by Ahn Changho and Lee Dong-hwi, the Hyeongmaeng launched a series of military uprisings to overthrow the monarchy in Gwangju, Pyongyang, Kaesong and Busan between May and September 1919. The successful capture of Haeju by the revolutionaries on September 9, 1919 spread the revolutionary throughout the country, signaled the formal start of Korean Civil War.
Major scenes of the civil war mainly happened in the south of the 38th parallel line, when at the north the cities previously captured by the revolutionaries were retaken by the loyalists and the Fengtian troops by December 1920. However, when Tokyo was captured by the Japanese Republican Army on March 17, 1922, the military government in Korea declared its loyalty to the Republican government. The revolutionaries, found the Republican government in Japan as their new ally, thus called for a truce with the Japanese on March 20 in the south. On March 23, the revolutionaries established the Koryo Military Government (고려임시군정부 [高麗臨時軍政府] Goryeo Imsi Gun-jeongbu) in Seoul with Lee Dong-hwi as its political commander.
In order to put the civil war off in the south, the Japanese sponsored a conference between the revolutionaries and the progressives on March 27 at Chosun Hotel with Sekiya Tekizaburo, chief representative of the Japanese Nationalist Party in Seoul, as mediator. On April 11, the two parties jointly founded the Korean Nationalist Party (대한국민당 Daehan Gukmin-dang) with Ahn Changho as the first party president. The party, however, was immediately divided into two major camps: the Unity faction, which supported the continuation of military campaign toward the north, led by Shin Chae-ho, Park Yongman and Park Yeong-hyo and the Separate faction, who supported the formation of a separate republican government in the south, led by Yun Chi-ho, Syngman Rhee and Seo Jae-pil.
Fearing a premature organizational division, Ahn appointed Park Yongman and Syngman Rhee as deputy-presidents of the party. However, power struggle continued afterward with Rhee successfully convinced the Central Committee to held the elections for the deputies of National Congress only in the south between June to September 1922. On December 1, 1922, the National Congress of Korea was convoked at the former Russian legation in Seoul.
Contrasted to the conservative north, the Republican government introduced political and social reforms in the south. Traditional legal and penal systems was replaced by the Japanese-inspired ones. Local industries and middle-sized businesses were encouraged and formal trade relations were established with Japan in 1923 and the USSR in 1924. On educational field, the first national university in Korea, Hanseong University, was established in 1923. The use of traditional Chinese characters in writing was formally discouraged by 1926. In 1928, female suffrage was granted by the government in the elections below the provincial-level.
Northern Campaign (1930–1931)
When the Republican government took over Japan in 1922, the newly-born Republic of Japan tried to approach Chang Tso-lin in order to protect Japan's interests in Manchuria. A secret protocol between Chang and Japan guaranteed Japanese migrants and overseas businesses in Manchuria in exchange for the recognition of status quo of Chang's army in northern Korea. The protocol, only revealed in 1955, led the Chinese and Japanese troops kept being stationed in Korea.
In 1927, the Northern Campaign unified China under the Nationalist government in Nanjing. Chang, who feared to lose his political independence, declared his formal allegiance to the Nationalists in 1928. Chang also tried to improve economic relations with the United States and the United Kingdom for trade and investment in Manchuria, a move that specifically threatened Japan's economic interest. Japan, which in the midst of a severe economic crisis from the Great Kantō earthquake and successive economic depressions following the civil war, growing irritated by Chang's policies and decided to scrap the 1923 protocol.
In June 1929, Prime Minister Nakano Seigo had noticed the Korean government about a possible invasion plan to the north. Lee and several senior Korean leaders, such as Syngman Rhee, Yun Chi-ho and Ahn Chang-ho, expressed their fears that any invasion plan to the remnant of royal government in the north might triggered a possible war between Japan and China like in 1894. However, on July 12, 1929, Kim Kyu-sik was sent secretly to Tokyo to discuss the invasion plan with the Council of Ministers of Japan and deliver a memorandum from Prime Minister Syngman Rhee supporting the plan. On August 1, 1929, the Council of Ministers of Korea formally adopted the reunification through military movement as its policy.
At the morning of January 11, 1930, the Korean Revolutionary Army and the Joseon Royal Army engaged in a full-scale battle in Haeju; the Northern Campaign formally started. On January 16, 1930, about 75,000 forces of Japanese Citizens' Army began to arrive in Korea to help the KRA. By March, the KRA and the Japanese Army advanced steadily northward. Pyongyang was captured by the KRA and the Japanese on April 1, 1930. Hamhung, deserted by the royal court, was captured following the Second Battle of Hamju on April 25, 1930. By June 1930, almost all northern Korea was under the Republic of Korea, except few pockets of royal resistance. On July 11, 1930, the Joseon royal family fled to Shanghai and the last royalist resistance surrendered on July 20, 1930.
Interwar years (1931–1941)
Devastated post-war economy and country-wide food shortage after the Northern Campaign forced the government to implement new economic policies. In August 1932, the First Five-Year Plan was implemented to achieve economic modernization and rapid industrialization of Korea. Between 1931 and 1935, several state-owned enterprises were established throughout the country. Lee attempted to grow the Korean economy in rapid pace as what happened in Japan under the Great Economic Plan.
Land reform also implemented in 1932 in which the government owned 15% of farming lands under the Dangun Agricultural Company. Self-reliance and self-sufficiency declared as the economic goals by the government in 1934. Through a state-guided industrialization and Japan's heavy investment, Korea experienced rapid economic growth by 1940. While the economic plan contributed to the economic growth of Korea, in fact, Korea was developed to become one of Japan’s “exclusive economic partners” that supplied raw materials and finished products.
On July 13, 1933, Japan agreed to withdraw its troops from Korea following the Treaty of Equality and Mutual Understanding that formally nullified the 1905 Treaty. The treaty, signed by Foreign Ministers Hayashi Kiroku of Japan and Kim Kyu-shik of Korea, granted Korea with complete diplomatic sovereignty. The signing of the treaty was celebrated nation-wide by the Koreans as a signal for the complete independence of Korea from foreign troops. Korea joined the League of Nations on August 19, 1933 with the support of Japan.
In 1934, the Ministry of Education under Choe Nam-seon implemented an education system modeled after Japan and Fascist Italy. The Korean education system under Choe Nam-seon's supervision was highly nationalistic and patriotic in spirit and authoritarian in nature. The students were ordered to sing the patriotic songs and read the poetry praising the Korean nation and President Lee Dong-hwi every Monday morning as well as underwent obligatory military training course.
The death of Lee Dong-hwi in 1935 triggered a political struggle between the factions within the Nationalist Party. At that time, the Nationalists were largely divided between the radical right Eastern faction led by Domestic Minister Kim Gu, the moderate right Western faction led by Foreign Minister Kim Kyu-shik and the leftist Social Study faction led by Labor Minister Yeo Un-hyeong. To avoid the party disunity, three factional leaders eventually agreed to nominate Yun Chi-ho as new President of Korea.
By 1939, the party leadership was completely aware of the danger of war in East Asia. Korean leaders sighed in relief when Japan and China decided not to escalate the 1937 conflicts into a full-scale war. However, some leaders were certainly sure that the peace was only temporary. In 1938, the Minister of Army, Mun Chang-beom, proposed to the Congress to expand military budget in strengthening the country's defense system. However, his proposal was attacked both by the rightists and the leftists. Instead, the government declared the neutrality of Korea on December 12, 1940.
World War II (1941–1945)
On August 10, 1941, the news of the Fall of Kwangtung under the Chinese forces exposed the party leadership about the real danger of war. Prime Minister Jo So-ang tried his best to reorganize the armed forces at the dawn of war. He replaced senior generals from the military command with more younger, Japanese-educated ones. However, as the Korean Army still in preparation, the Chinese forces crossed the Yalu River on November 11, 1941. Jo, felt a sense of responsibility, resigned from his post on November 13, 1941. Two days later, Kim Gu was elected new Prime Minister of Korea.On November 16, 1941, President Yun, with Kim's advice and the Congress' support, declared Korea in war with China. China reacted by sending 100,000-man Chinese Army farther into Korea on November 18, 1941. Japan, on the other hand, has its troops landed in Korea on November 20, 1941. Between November 1941 and December 1942, Korea experienced a series of massive air raids by the Chinese Air Forces such in Seoul, Pyongyang, Daejeon, Gwangju and Busan, inflicted heavy civilian casualties. Seoul was captured by the Chinese on January 12, 1942.
Chased by the advancing Chinese forces, the Korean government retreated first to Daejeon and then to Busan. However, the Chinese troops was halted to move farther south by the combined Japanese and Korean troops led by young Colonel Park Chung-hee, future President of Korea, during the Battle of Hongcheon from January 20 to February 28, 1942. The victory at Hongcheon increased the prestige of Korean Army as well as the national morale of general population. China's defeat on the Battle of Gongju on March 1, 1942 permanently stopped its military advance. Aerial bombings were used instead to weaken the Korean defense in the south.
On April 15, 1942, Japan launched a massive counteroffensive in Korea with a large number of military volunteers from the Japanese South Pacific and the Dutch East Indies landed in Mokpo. On August 1, 1942, Seoul was liberated by the Koreans, the Japanese and the Southeast Asian volunteers in the famous Second Battle of Seoul. By September 1942, exactly the area below the 38th parallel north had been liberated from the Chinese and three months later the Chinese forces had been completely forced out of the peninsula.
At the final phase of war, Korea sent its troops abroad, aided the Allied war effort, such during the Japanese offensives in China in June-December 1943 and in French Indochina in January 1945. Korea, represented by Foreign Minister Lee Seungman, became one of the founding countries of the United Nations during its founding conference in San Francisco, April 25, 1945. Korea also became one of the first non-permanent members of the UN Security Council in 1946.