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 1934 Constitution of the Republic of Korea, Korea is a sovereign and independent country that governed under the principle of National Democracy.
The National Congress of Korea (국민대표대회 Gukmin Daepyo Daehoe) is the highest state organ of Korea. Its members are elected every four years by indirect elections. The election, however, is only participated in by parties that are recognized as legal, with the Korean Nationalist Party (대한국민당 Daehan Gukmindang) as its leading party. The Congress elects the Legislative Council of Korea (립법원 Ripbeop-won) from among its members every two years to exercise the legislative power and to act on the behalf of the National Congress if the latter is not in session.
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 the Republic, and the nominal commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President of the Republic has the power to advise the Council of the Ministers in the matters concerning executive, defense and financial affairs of Korea.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 by the President prior being approved by the two-third majority of the Congress.
The State Council of Korea (국무원 Gukmu-won) is the advisory body for the National Congress and National Government. Its members are elected by the prefectural councils and by the corporate and special interest groups every four years. The State Council acts as a supervisor of powers and duties of National Congress and represents the political parties and mass organizations that allied with or loyal to the Korean Nationalist Party.
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. All citizens of Korea are subjected to the Korean law and under the authority of National Court. The National Procuratorate of Korea (국민검찰소 Gukmin Geomchalso) charged with both the investigation and prosecution of crime at the national level and supervised the procuratorates in every levels below.
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)
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.
The revolutionary waves in Japan influenced Korea as early as late 1918. The radical nationalists were prepared to launch a revolution in Korea. On other hand, the Japanese revolutionary movement was already in favor of drastic policy change regarding the Peninsula. On January 13, 1919, the General Political Office of Japanese Nationalist Party expressed its willingness to re-negotiate the 1905 Treaty. The Japanese Nationalists viewed themselves as an “older brother” that should liberate the neighbouring nations from Western imperialism. Kita Ikki proposed to “import” the revolution into Korea and established a pro-Japan republican regime there. The proposal, however, was strongly opposed by Nagayama Yoshida.
Korean Revolution (1919–1921)On March 1, 1919, several nationalists drafted and issued the Korean Declaration of Independence. The peaceful rallies rapidly swept the country to appeal to the consciences of the ruling royal family in Hamhung and protest against the presence of foreign troops in the Peninsula. Violent suppression of the rallies both in the north and south made some radicals embraced armed conflict. Lee Dong-hwi, former officer of the Northern Army, returned to Seoul from his exile in Vladivostok and formed the Revolutionary Alliance (혁명동맹 Hyeokmyeong Dongmaeng), or known as the Hyeongmaeng.
Under the command of Lee Dong-hwi and Ahn Changho, the Hyeongmaeng launched a series of military uprisings to overthrow the monarchy and built the resistance both against the Japanese and Chinese forces in Gwangju, Pyongyang, Kaesong and Busan between April and September 1919. On March 23, 1919, the Koryo Provisional Military Government (고려임시군정부 [高麗臨時軍政府] Goryeo Imsi Gunjeongbu) was formed in Pyongyang with Lee Dong-hwi as its chief executive. As the chaos prevailed in the Peninsula, on April 4, 1919, President Nagayama Yoshida issued an executive order, known as the Double Four Order, for the peaceful transfer of power from the Japanese military occupation to the Koreans in the Peninsula.
The order was carried by Sekiya Teizaburo, the chief representative of Kyoto Government in Seoul, to General Utsunomiya Heitaro, the commanding officer of Japanese Army in Southern Korea. The order instructed the army to stay neutral regarding the civil war in the main islands and established the law and order in the Japanese-occupied Korea. Nagayama also instructed the army to crack down any attempt by the revolutionaries to take over the power in Southern Korea. General Utsunomiya followed the instruction amidst the Kyoto Government was not recognized yet as a legitimate authority in Japan.
Meanwhile, Sekiya, acted as the envoy of Japanese nationalists, established contact with the Korean revolutionaries. Sekiya delivered Nagayama’s executive order to the Korean revolutionary groups and tried to convince them to put down the rebellion. Moderate nationalists, such as Yun Chi-ho, Yi Kwang-su and Syngman Rhee, supported the order and were willing to work through parliamentary means. The radicals, on other hand, insisted that the Korean independence should be achieved through the revolution by its own people, not the assistance of foreign power. The latter then continued its military operation after the Japanese regained control over the southern part of Peninsula by 1921.
As a part of peaceful transfer of power promised by Nagayama Yoshida, the Japanese Resident-General in Seoul, Saito Makoto, formed the Central Advisory Council (중앙참의원 [中央參議院] Jung-ang Cham-uiwon) on September 2, 1919. Modeled after the similar institution in the Japanese South Pacific, the body consisted of several moderate nationalists, such as Yun Chi-ho, Son Byeong-hui, Lee Wan-yong and Park Yeong-hyo. Its provided a room for the Korean nationalists to work toward the realization of Korean independence. On January 5, 1920, on the inauguration of the council, the Resident-General promised for a speedy realization of Korean sovereignty as embodied on the Double Four Order.
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 radicals were retaken by the royalists and the Fengtian troops by December 1920. Conflicts between the Japanese and the Hyeongmaeng led by Lee Dong-hwi continued in the south until 1924. After the Hyeongmaeng lost its control over major cities, several of its elements retreated to the mountainous areas in Gangwon and continued the guerrilla resistance there. Ahn Changho and several revolutionary leaders were arrested and jailed in 1920 by the Japanese before pardoned one year later.
Southern Republic Era (1922–1932)In 1921, Korea was reorganized by the Japanese under the Local Government Law into eight non-autonomous provinces (도 do) and 25 autonomous prefectures (현 hyeon), each with a directly-elected council (의회 uihoe). The election for prefectural councils was scheduled on July 12-17, making it the first political election ever held in Korea. In the preparation of upcoming election, the Korean Nationalist Party was organized on March 26, 1921 as the vehicle for the Korean independence movement. Syngman Rhee was elected the first Party President and Ahn Changho as its First Secretary.
In the aftermath of election, the Nationalists won majority in Gyeongseong, Incheon, Haeju, Gongju, Hongju, Namwon, Nanju and Jinju, signifying the success of its parliamentary strategy. On September 1, 1921, the Korean Independence Congress (대한독립대회 Daehan Dongnip Daehoe) petitioned Japan for the creation of a native Korean parliament to handle the transfer of power. The Law on the Transfer of Power in Korea was passed on February 22, 1922. In accordance with the law, the elections for the National Congress of Korea were held on March 1, 1922.The Congress was formally convened on May 26, 1922 at the former Russian Legation in Seoul, known as the Gurogwan Building. After a debate between the republicans and the constitutionalists, republican form of government was chosen and the Republic of Korea was declared on July 1, 1922. Rhee was elected the first President on July 3, 1922. On July 17, 1922, the first cabinet of Republic of Korea was inaugurated with Yi Si-young as its Premier. The formation of Republic ended the monarchical rule in the south and formally divided the Peninsula into two governments.
The creation of separate Southern government was criticized by several independence activists. Nevertheless, the peaceful transfer of power was successfully achieved in the South. On August 10, 1922, the Treaty of 1905 was revised which returned the Korean sovereignty over foreign affairs and commerce. The Korean ports were formally returned by the Japanese to the Republican government with the exception of Busan and surrounding areas. Under the revised treaty, the Japanese Army was retained in Korea, but was limited to only 10,000-men. In return, Japan will helped the Koreans to form its own military by providing arms and military instructors.
In contrast to the chaotic north, the republican government introduced political and social reforms in the south. Traditional legal system was replaced by the Japanese-modeled one. Local industries and middle-sized businesses were encouraged and formal trade relations were established with Japan in 1923 and the USSR in 1925. On educational field, the first national university in Korea, Jungang University, was established in 1923. The use of traditional Chinese characters in writing was formally discouraged. Universal suffrage was granted through the Election Law of 1928.