Population: 48.87 million
Population growth rate: ~0.5%
Religions: Buddhist (28%); Christian (24%); Other (4%); No affiliation (44%). Strong Confucian traditions.
Government system: Representative democracy with a popularly-elected president who is Chief of State and Head of Government, and a unicameral National Assembly.
Languages: Korean, with English widely taught in schools.
Work Week: Monday to Friday; Government Agencies Have Saturdays Off while many private agencies have alternate Saturdays off.
Located strategically in the northeastern Asian continent, the Korean peninsula thrusts in a southerly direction for about 1,000 kilometers, separating the Yellow Sea from the East Sea. The Korean peninsula and associated islands lie between 124-131 degrees East longitude and 33-43 degrees North latitude. Boundaries with China and Russia are formed by the Yalu/Amnokkang and Tumen/Tumangang Rivers flowing north to southeast into the seas. To the east, Korea faces the islands of Japan. This peninsular location between countries has long acted as a land bridge for both trade and historical aggression. The area of Korea is 221,296 square kilometers (85,789 sq. miles), presently divided into the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) at the 38th parallel latitude. The Republic of Korea is divided into six traditional regional provinces representing differences in topography, dialects and customs of the people.
The approximately 48.87 million inhabitants of South Korea carry a density of 491 per square kilometer. Population growth rate was rapid after World War II but has declined steadily to less than 1% since the late 1980's. The population is most homogeneously Korean with increasing migrations from rural to urban areas since 1960. Urban concentrations are greatest in the capital of Seoul, with more than 10 million people, followed by Busan, the largest port and industrial center. Other large metropolitan areas include Gwangju, Daejeon and Ulsan.
Korea enjoys four seasons with an East Asian monsoon climate. The summer monsoon (June-September) brings heavy rainfall on an average of 383 mm., where the winter monsoon from December-March averages 126 mm., although precipitation can vary greatly from year to year within an eight-year cycle of drought. Temperatures in Seoul range from 3.5 degrees Centigrade in January to 25 degrees Centigrade in July with northern and southern regions reflecting lower and higher temperatures respectively. Korea experiences cyclones originating in China passing through during March and April, and typhoons from the east Philippines during July and August. Both bring abundant rainfall important for rice cultivation.
Koreans speak their own language, Hangeul, developed by King Sejong of the Joseon Kingdom in 1443. Previously, Chinese characters and dialects were used by the elite, but Hangeul allowed the general population to learn a language and alphabet particular to their nation, distinct from their neighbors in Japan and China. There are 17 lettered consonants and 11 lettered vowels in alternate combination with vowel gradations to signify plurals and tenses. Korean language has incorporated loan-words from Chinese, Japanese, and Western languages related to cultural, political, and modern technological influences.
Along with strong beliefs in natural spirits or forces, Christianity and Buddhism (see above %'s), Koreans hold to firm Confucian traditions of authority, filial piety, education and hard work. Originating from the great Chinese scholar, Confucius, during the sixth century B.C., it is a system of ethical-moral ideals to govern relationships within the family and state for harmonious unity. The roles of subordination from children to parents to ruler, are defined to ensure filial piety, reverence to ancestors, and fidelity to friends. Scholarship and aesthetics are prerequisite for governing or official positions. Although modern Koreans will diverge from strict adherence, Confucian thinking underlies many of the habits of daily living and associations.
Customs and Traditions:
Koreans attach great significance to family and clan, celebrating many holidays in the Lunar Calendar in respect for children, elders and ancestors. Other holidays include two New Years, from both the Solar and Lunar Calendars, Independence Movement Day (March 1), Buddha's Birthday (April 8/Lunar), Liberation Day (Aug 15), and Chuseok (August 14-16/Lunar). Many traditional dances, feasting, ceremonies and games are performed annually according to ancient customs. Birthdays are celebrated at 100 days, 1 year, 60 and 70 years, or further decades if possible. Marriages can occur through a love match according to Western style ceremony, or arranged by a go-between and following many traditional rites and procedures. Funerals in the Confucian tradition followed elaborate rites for mourning and burial. However, nowadays, practices are simpler and mourning is only 3 days with pieces of hemp cloth often worn to signify filial piety.
Culture and Arts:
Distinct as it is rich, Korean culture is a product of exchange with China, Asian religious influences, historical aggressions and occupations, and the unique character of the Korean people themselves. Literature, painting, folk art, calligraphy, sculpture, architecture, music, dance and theater have been ever-present in Korean life. Each discipline reflects a variety of religious beliefs, political movements, personal and ritual expressions indicative of the time and feelings of the Korean people throughout the centuries. Many modern concert halls, art centers, galleries, parks, and libraries house and encourage the arts while making great effort to preserve and display the ancient traditions along with contemporary expressions. More popular locations are the Seoul Arts Center, Sejong Cultural Center, the National Theater, the National Museum of Korea and the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
Constitution and Government:
Korean government was originally founded upon authoritarian Confucian principles administered by a king and state-elite. This traditional structure was abolished with the Japanese occupation (1910-45) and later replaced by a constitutional representative democracy. Under the first Constitution of 1948, government was centralized under the President with a State Council, and various ministries, offices, and agencies appointed by the President to administer affairs of the republic. The President serves a one-time five year term, elected by universal secret ballot, supported by his appointed Prime Minister. The National Assembly is the legislative unicameral body composed of 299 members (243 of them directly elected whereas 56 are selected on the basis of a proportional representation system) and the members serve four-year terms. The Judiciary runs on a court system of three levels: the Supreme Court with a chief Justice, appellate courts, and district and family courts. Local government affairs are under the control of the Special City of Seoul, six metropolitan areas, and nine provinces.