Geography & People
Korea is situated on the Korean Peninsula, which spans 1,100 kilometers north to south. The Korean Peninsula lies on the northeastern section of the Asian continent, where Korean waters are joined by the western-most parts of the Pacific. The peninsula shares its northern border with China and Russia. To its east is the East Sea, beyond which neighboring Japan lies. In addition to the mainland peninsula, Korea includes some 3,000 islands.
Korea encompasses a total of 222,154 square kilometers-almost the same size as Britain or Rumania. Some 45 percent of this area, or 99,000 square kilometers, is considered cultivatable area, excluding reclaimed land areas. Mountainous terrain accounts for some two-thirds of the territory like Portugal, Hungary or Ireland.
The Mt. Taebaeksan range runs the full length of the east coast, where the lashing waves of the East Sea have carved out sheer cliffs and rocky islets. The western and southern slopes are rather gentle, forming plains and many offshore islands honeycombed with inlets.
The peninsula features so many scenic mountains and rivers that Koreans have often likened their country to a beautifully embroidered brocade. The highest peak is Mt. Baekdusan in North Korea, which rises up 2,744 meters above sea level along the northern border facing China. Mt. Baekdusan is an extinct volcano where a large volcanic lake, named Cheonji, has been formed. The mountain is regarded as an especially important symbol of the Korean spirit and is mentioned in Korea's national anthem.
Considering its territorial size, Korea has a relatively large number of rivers and streams. These waterways played crucial roles in shaping the lifestyle of Koreans, and in the nation's industrialization. The two longest rivers in North Korea are the Amnokgang River (Yalu, 790 kilometers) and the Dumangang River (Tumen, 521 kilometers).These rivers originate from Mt. Baekdusan and flow to the west and the east, respectively. They form the peninsula's northern border.In the southern part of the peninsula, the Nakdonggang River (525 kilometers) and the Hangang River (514 kilometers) are the two major waterways. The Hangang river flows through Seoul, the capital of Korea, and serves as a lifeline for the heavily concentrated population in the central region of modern Korea, just as it did for the people of the ancient kingdoms that developed along its banks.
Surrounding the peninsula on three sides, the ocean has played an integral role in the life of the Koreans since ancient times, contributing to the early development of shipbuilding and navigational skills.
Korea has four distinct seasons. Spring and autumn are rather short, summer is hot and humid, and winter is cold and dry with abundant snowfall.
Temperatures differ widely from region to region within Korea, with the average being between 6oC (43oF) and 16oC (61oF). The average temperature in August, the hottest period of the year, ranges from 19oC (66oF) to 27oC (81oF), while in January, the coldest month, temperatures range from -8oC (17oF) to 7oC (43oF).
In early spring the Korean Peninsula experiences "yellow sand / dust" carried by wind from the deserts in northern China. But in mid-April, the country enjoys balmy weather with the mountains and fields garbed in brilliant wild flowers. Farmers prepare seedbeds for the annual rice crop at this time.
Autumn, with its crisp air and crystal blue sky, is the season most widely loved by Koreans. The countryside is particularly beautiful, colored in a diversity of rustic hues. Autumn, the harvest season, features various folk festivals rooted in ancient agrarian customs.
People and Population
Koreans are one ethnic family and speak one language. Sharing distinct physical characteristics, they are believed to be descendants of several Mongol tribes that migrated onto the Korean Peninsula from Central Asia.
In the seventh century, the various states of the peninsula were unified for the first time under the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-A.D. 935). Such homogeneity has enabled Koreans to be relatively free from ethnic problems and to maintain a firm solidarity with one another.
As of the end of 2003, Korea's total population was estimated at 48,386,000 with a density of 485 people per square kilometer. The population of North Korea is estimated to be 22,400,000.
Korea saw its population grow by an annual rate of 3 percent during the 1960s, but growth slowed to 2 percent over the next decade. Today, the rate stands at 0.6 percent, and is expected to further decline to 0.06 percent by 2020.
A notable trend in Korea's demographics is that it is growing older with each passing year. Statistics show that 6.9 percent of the total population of Korea was 65 years or older in 1999 and 7.9 percent of the total in 2002.
In the 1960s, Korea's population distribution formed a pyramid shape, with a high birth rate and relatively short life expectancy.
However, the structure is now shaped more like a bell with a low birth rate and extended life expectancy. Youth (under the age of 15 years) will make up a decreasing portion of the total, while senior citizens (65 years or older) will account for some 15.1 percent of the total by the year 2020.
The nation's rapid industrialization and urbanization in the 1960s and 1970s has been accompanied by continuing migration of rural residents into the cities, particularly Seoul, resulting in heavily populated metropolitan areas. However, in recent years, an increasing number of people have begun moving to suburban areas of Seoul.
All Koreans speak and write the same language, which has been a decisive factor in forging their strong national identity. Koreans have developed several different dialects in addition to the standard used in Seoul.
However, the dialects, except for that of Jeju-do province, are similar enough for native speakers to understand without any difficulties.
Linguistic and ethnological studies have classified the Korean language in the Altaic language family, which includes the Turkic, Mongolic and Tungus-Manchu languages.
The Korean Alphabet Hangeul, was created by King Sejong the Great during the 15th century. Before its creation, only a relatively small percentage of the population could master the Chinese characters due to their difficulty.
In attempting to invent a Korean writing system, King Sejong looked to several writing systems known at the time, such as old Chinese seal characters and Uighur and Mongolian scripts.
The system that they came up with, however, is predominantly based upon phonological studies. Above all, they developed and followed a theory of tripartite division of the syllable into initial, medial and final phonemes, as opposed to the bipartite division of traditional Chinese phonology.
Hangeul which consists of 10 vowels and 14 consonants, can be combined to form numerous syllabic groupings. It is simple, yet systematic and comprehensive, and is considered one of the most scientific writing systems in the world. Hangeul is easy to learn and write, which has greatly contributed to Korea's high literacy rate and advanced publication industry.