Statistical Information on South Korea




Location: Eastern Asia, southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea
Geographic coordinates: 37 00 N, 127 30 E
Continent: Asia
Area: total: 98,480 sq km
land: 98,190 sq km
water: 290 sq km
Climate: temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than winter
Terrain: mostly hills and mountains; wide coastal plains in west and south
Land use: arable land: 17.44%
permanent crops: 2.05%
other: 80.51% (1998 est.)
Natural hazards: occasional typhoons bring high winds and floods; low-level seismic activity common in southwest
Geography - note: strategic location on Korea Strait

Korea refers to South Korea and North Korea together, which were a unified country until 1948. It is situated on the Korean Peninsula in East Asia, bordering China to the northwest and Russia to the northeast. It is populated by a homogeneous ethnic group, the Koreans, who speak a distinct language (Korean).

Korea was partitioned into two halves following World War II. South Korea, supported by the United States, is now a capitalist liberal democracy, and sometimes referred to simply as "Korea". North Korea, supported by the former Soviet Union, remains a Communist state, often described as Stalinist and isolationist.

The Unification Flag may represent Korea at international sporting events, but is not an official flag of either country.

In ancient Chinese texts Korea is referred to as "Rivers and Mountains Embroidered on Silk" (錦繡江山) and "Eastern Nation of Decorum" (東方禮儀之國). During the 7th and 8th centuries, land and sea trading networks connected Korea and Arabia. Koreans used wooden printing blocks by 751. Metal movable type was invented in Korea as early as 1232 (although clay prints were earlier invented in China), before Johann Gutenberg developed metal letterset type. During the Goryeo period, the silk was considered by China to be the best in the world, and pottery made with blue-green celadon glazes became a coveted Korean specialty. In the Joseon era, Korea presided over progress in traditional arts and crafts, such as white celadon glazes, finer silk and paper, and the creation of the Korean alphabet, hangul. Also during this time the first ironclad warships in the world were developed and deployed in Korea.

Korea is currently divided into the capitalist South Korea and the communist North Korea.

After the Korean War, North Korea's economy rebounded relatively quickly, stronger than that of the South until the 1970s. Since the 1990s, the loss of communist markets in Eastern Europe, poor management, and natural disasters have left the country largely dependent on foreign aid. A famine in the late 1990s likely killed about a million people, although reliable statistics are difficult to come by (Meredith Woo-Cummings, The Political Ecology of Famine: The North Korean Catastrophe and Its Lessons, Tokyo: Asian Dev. Bank Inst., 2001).

In contrast, South Korea after the war remained impoverished into the 1960s, when the dictator-president Park Chung Hee began to funnel investment into chaebol, or family-controlled conglomerates. His rule was marked by the violation of human rights (although on a far smaller scale than in North Korea) as well as by record-breaking economic growth. South Korea now is the 11th largest economy in the world. Presidential elections are held every five years.

Both Korean states proclaim eventual reunification as a goal, and a united Korea is very much a part of Korean ethno-cultural identity.