South Korea Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > South Korea > Map Economy History

Facts About South Korea

Background: After World War II, a republic was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula while a communist-style government was installed in the north. The Korean War (1950-53) had US and other UN forces intervene to defend South Korea from North Korean attacks supported by the Chinese. An armistice was signed in 1953 splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel. Thereafter, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth, with per capita income rising to 13 times the level of North Korea. In 1997, the nation suffered a severe financial crisis from which it continues to make a solid recovery. South Korea has also maintained its commitment to democratize its political processes. In June 2000, a historic first south-north summit took place between the south's President KIM Dae-jung and the north's leader KIM Chong-il. In December 2000, President KIM Dae-jung won the Noble Peace Prize for his lifeling committment to democracy and human rights in Asia. He is the first Korean to win a Nobel Prize.
Government type: republic
Capital: Seoul
Currency: 1 South Korean won (W) = 100 chun (theoretical)

Geography of 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
total: 98,480 sq km
land: 98,190 sq km
water: 290 sq km
Land boundaries:
total: 238 km
border countries: North Korea 238 km
Coastline: 2,413 km
Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 24 nm
continental shelf: not specified
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm; between 3 nm and 12 nm in the Korea Strait
Climate: temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than winter
Terrain: mostly hills and mountains; wide coastal plains in west and south
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Sea of Japan 0 m
highest point: Halla-san 1,950 m
Natural resources: coal, tungsten, graphite, molybdenum, lead, hydropower potential
Land use:
arable land: 19%
permanent crops: 2%
permanent pastures: 1%
forests and woodland: 65%
other: 13% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 13,350 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: occasional typhoons bring high winds and floods; low-level seismic activity common in southwest
Environment - current issues: air pollution in large cities; acid rain; water pollution from the discharge of sewage and industrial effluents; drift net fishing
Environment - international agreements:
party to:  Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Geography - note: strategic location on Korea Strait

People of South Korea

Korea's population is one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogenous in the world. Except for a small Chinese community (about 20,000) virtually all Koreans share a common cultural and linguistic heritage. The origins of the Korean people are obscure. At present, the most accepted theory suggests Korea was first populated by a Ural-Altaic peoples who migrated to the peninsula from northwestern Asia, some of whom also settled parts of northeast China (Manchuria).

South Korea's major population centers are in the northwest area and in the fertile plain to the south of Seoul-Incheon. The mountainous central and eastern areas are sparsely inhabited. The Japanese colonial administration of 1910-45 concentrated its industrial development efforts in the comparatively under-populated and resource-rich north, resulting in a considerable migration of people to the north from the southern agrarian provinces. This trend was reversed after World War II as Koreans returned to the south from Japan and Manchuria. In addition, more than 2 million Koreans moved to the south from the north following the division of the peninsula into U.S. and Soviet military zones of administration in 1945. This migration continued after the Republic of Korea was established in 1948 and during the Korean war (1950-53).

About 10% of the people now in the Republic of Korea are of northern origin. With 47 million people, South Korea has one of the world's highest population densities--much higher, for example, than India or Japan--while the territorially larger North Korea has only about 21 million people. Ethnic Koreans now residing in other countries live mostly in China (1.9 million), the United States (1.52 million), Japan (681,000), and the countries of the former Soviet Union (450,000).

The Korean language shares several grammatical features with Japanese, and there are strong similarities with Mongolian, but the exact relationship among these three languages is unclear. Although regional dialects exist, the language spoken throughout the peninsula and in China is comprehensible by all Koreans. Chinese characters (Hanja) were used to write Korean before the Korean Hangul alphabet was invented in the 15th century. Chinese characters are still in limited use in South Korea, but the North uses Hangul exclusively. Many older people retain some knowledge of Japanese from the colonial period, and many educated South Koreans can speak and/or read English, which is taught to all students beginning in primary school.

Korea's traditional religions are Buddhism and Shamanism. Buddhism has lost some influence over the years but is still followed by about 27% of the population. Shamanism--traditional spirit worship--is still practiced. Confucianism remains a dominant cultural influence. Since the Japanese occupation, it has existed more as a shared base than as a separate philosophical/religious school. Some sources place the number of adherents of Chondogyo--a native religion founded in the mid-19th century that fuses elements of Confucianism and Christianity--at more than 1 million. Christian missionaries arrived in Korea as early as the 16th century, but it was not until the 19th century that they founded schools, hospitals, and other modern institutions throughout the country. Christianity is now one of Korea's largest religions. In 1995, about 11.7 million Koreans, or 26.3% of the population, were Christians (about 66% of them Protestant)--the largest figure for any East Asian country, except the Philippines.

Population: 48,422,644 (July 2005 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years:  21.59%
15-64 years:  71.14% 
65 years and over:  7.27% 
Population growth rate: 0.89% 
Birth rate: 14.85 births/1,000 population 
Death rate: 5.93 deaths/1,000 population 
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population 
Infant mortality rate: 7.71 deaths/1,000 live births 
Life expectancy at birth:
total population:  74.65 years
male:  70.97 years
female:  78.74 years
Total fertility rate: 1.72 children born/woman 
noun: Korean(s)
adjective: Korean
|Ethnic groups: homogeneous (except for about 20,000 Chinese)
Religions: Christian 49%, Buddhist 47%, Confucianist 3%, Shamanist, Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way), and other 1%
Languages: Korean, English widely taught in junior high and high school
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 98%
male: 99.3%
female: 96.7% (1995 est.)

SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > South Korea > Map Economy History