South Korea

views updated May 14 2018

South Korea

Basic Data
Official Country Name:Republic of Korea
Region:East & South Asia
Language(s):Korean, English
Literacy Rate:98%
Academic Year:March-February
Number of Primary Schools:5,721
Compulsory Schooling:9 years
Public Expenditure on Education:3.7%
Foreign Students in National Universities:2,143
Educational Enrollment:Primary: 3,794,447
 Secondary: 4,662,492
 Higher: 2,541,659
Educational Enrollment Rate:Primary: 94%
 Secondary: 102%
 Higher: 68%
Teachers:Primary: 122,743
 Secondary: 192,947
 Higher: 114,231
Student-Teacher Ratio:Primary: 31:1
 Secondary: 25:1
Female Enrollment Rate:Primary: 94%
 Secondary: 102%
 Higher: 52%

History & Background

The Korean peninsula is situated in northeast Asia between China and Japan. Korea, one country for more than 1,000 years, has been divided between North and South since 1945. The South is officially called the Republic of Korea (ROK) (Han'guk or Taehanmin'guk ) and hereafter referred to also as Korea. Korea had a population of 47,275,000 as of 2000 (KNSO 14).

Korea's strategic location amid east Asia has been a crucial factor in its political and cultural history. Korea has figured greatly in east Asian civilization, mutually prospering with her neighbors but also falling prey to their ambitions at times. Since antiquity, Koreans have studied abroad in China, India, and Japan, frequently acting as a bridge between nations. In spite of foreign invasions, Korea remained independent until succumbing to Japanese domination (1910-45). Shortly after liberation, Korea suffered the further agony of national division and a cruel civil war (1950-53), which is still not officially ended. Over the half century of division, reunification has been a constant wish for all Koreans and an important political cause in both North and South Korea. Meanwhile, rapid economic progress, accompanied by extreme patterns of migration, urbanization, and democratization, following the dissolution of the traditional class system, radically transformed Korean society.

The most important characteristic of Koreans is their zeal for education (Ch'oe et al. 380). This fervor for learning, often labeled the "education syndrome," is not a new trend but comes from the Korean people's traditional respect for knowledge and belief in continuous human development. Probably the most important characteristic of Korean culture is its tenet that only the most learned should rule the country and society. Donald S. Macdonald summarizes this tradition:

The enormous importance attached to education in Korea is a principal reason for the nation's rapid development. This attitude, however, is only partly motivated by current realities: it springs from the Confucian tradition, in which entry into government service was by superior merit obtained through years of study of the Confucian classics, proven by examination. Government position and scholarship were intimately related: the social ideal was the scholar-official, and scholarship in effect served the state. At a time when government positions were the only way to rise in the world, education thus was key to fame and fortune. (84)

Educational attainment has long been accepted as a fair measure of a person's worth, and scholars are still called upon to fill some of the highest government positions. It is also seen as an effective, essential instrument for nurturing national strength. The South Korean government thus takes a strong interest in the country's education, and the Ministry of Education (MOE) is one of the most important executive branches. In a continuous effort at amelioration, a series of governmental reforms has greatly altered the educational system over the last few decades. In January 2001 the MOE was restructured and renamed the Ministry of Education & Human Resources Development (MOEHRD), indicating its expanded scope.

Originally intended by the elite for its own edification, education was at first provided to prospective leaders from aristocratic families to ensure high quality of leadership. The graduate would gain not only wisdom but also a sense of morality in governance. It served as a check against incompetent or cruel government. Education perpetuated the elite's exclusivity through self-improvement, thereby justifying their special status even more.

Modern education, born at a time of a great influx of Western democratic ideals, has become accessible to everyone. Ironically, democratic education has now become a mechanism of creating and legitimizing new classes, albeit offering a chance of upward mobility even for people of the humblest origin. In recent times, as literacy has neared 100 percent, the focus has shifted from "basic literacy" to "life skill literacy" or "functional literacy" education.

Cultural History: Korea's recorded history goes back about 2,000 years and can be divided into four major political periods: antiquity (57 B.C.-A.D. 918); the Koryô dynasty (918-1392); the Chosôn Dynasty (1392-1910); and the modern era (1910-present). Regarding education, another tripartite division is often preferred: pre-modern (fourth to nineteenth centuries), modern (1880-1945), and contemporary (1945-present) eras (Kim-Renaud 1991).

Korean tradition has arisen in close association with various influential belief systems. Earliest was a polytheistic form of animism (shamanism), which involved finding a spiritual presence in everything living and nonliving that was thought to control people's lives. Shamanism emphasizes spirituality and ethics, especially goodness and piety. Legends, fables, and other linguistic expressions demonstrate Koreans' faith in inevitable retribution for good or bad intentions and deeds, and their optimism that a person's sincere wishes will be fulfilled.

Buddhism was introduced in A.D. 372 through China, first to the Koguryô, but was soon embraced by both aristocrats and commoners throughout the peninsula. It became the national religion for 865 years (527-1392). Buddhism, with its tenet of benevolence, its spirituality and sacredness, and its sense of democracy, has offered a respite from different forms of suffering. Chinese characters were imported with Buddhism, and art and scholarship flourished. Buddhist temples served also as centers of learning. Great scholar-monks developed important Buddhist schools in east Asia. In particular, Great Master Wônhyo, who strove to harmonize the doctrinal differences of various schools, is considered "the originator of the ecumenical tradition characteristic of East Asian Mahāyāna Buddhism" (Lee 1993, xix-xx).

Confucianism arrived in the Korean peninsula much earlier, but it was the Chosôn Kingdom or Yi Dynasty (Chosôn Dynasty) that adopted the neo-Confucianism of Chu Xi (1130-1200) as the official code for maintaining social and political order and for promoting harmony. Korean Neo-Confucianists believed in the transcendent dignity and goodness of man, and in human perfectibility (Lee 1993). They laid special emphasis on education aimed at sagacity and moral rectitude. Human emotionality and rationality alike were viewed as needing cultivation and control (Ching). Koreans first established and then rigidly adhered to principles of propriety, earning the country the nickname of "the Eastern nation of etiquette."

Confucianism emphasized fairness and meritocracy. The Koryô Dynasty's official religion was Buddhism. As the dynasty advanced, however, Confucianism became the guiding principle of social organization. The civil service, for example, created to check abuses of power by the ignorant and immoral, increasingly emphasized the Confucian classics, which naturally became the focus of its examination-driven educational system. Passing the civil service examination carried great prestige and the guarantee of social success.

Taoism, an important thought system in East Asia, provided a cosmology emphasizing the cyclic, dynamic, and basically harmonious character of man and nature. Many Taoist tenets are manifest in other religious practices in Korea, not only Confucian, but also shamanistic, Buddhist, and even Christian. Taoism has thus been a guide throughout Korean history as well as east Asian history in general (Grigg).

Western ideas were first introduced to Korea by Roman Catholics in the late eighteenth century and reintroduced by Protestant missionaries in the late nineteenth. Clearly it was not through proselytizing but rather on their own initiativebringing treatises from China, such as "First Steps in Catholic Doctrine" (Ch'ônhak ch'ôham )that Korean Catholics developed a profound interest in the new religion (Lee 1984, 239). With it came new democratic ideals and respect for Western pragmatism. The old reverence for knowledge, traditionally identified with competence gained through humanistic and liberal education, has now come to encompass fields previously considered less noble: medicine, engineering, mathematics, manufacturing, commerce, foreign languages other than Chinese, professional (as opposed to amateur), fine and performing arts, and others.

Since the war, South Korea has been in close contact with foreigners. Many of today's leaders have had extensive experience with other cultures. Contacts with Americans have facilitated much of the fifth year globalization of Koreans. Many have gone to study in the United States and returned with terminal degrees in practically all fields. More recently elite and non-elite Koreans also have studied and lived in Japan, China, Australia, Russia, European countries, and elsewhere.

Until the sixteenth century, foreign ideas and beliefs arrived in Korea mainly through China. In modern times, however, Japan emerged as a strong modern military force in northeast Asia. By the end of the sixteenth century, not only were the Japanese equipped with long years of combat experience from the many campaigns of their Warring States period, but, unlike the Koreans, they possessed firearms. In 1592, Japan embarked a bloody campaign in Korea with the ultimate goal of conquering China. War raged sporadically for six years with a disastrous impact upon both Chosôn Korea and Ming China. Korea lost not only population but also cultural treasures, including major palace and temple structures, books, and historical records.

In the early seventeenth century, amid the numerous social and political ills following the invasion, one critical cultural development was a movement called sirhak (Practical Learning). Sirhak thinkers, mostly southerners (namin ) outside the political process, meant to censure those with political power and criticize such age-old systems as the civil service examination. Serious about changing the traditional order to achieve what they viewed as an ideal society, sirhak scholars stressed the need for popular education and the promotion of realistic thinking and technocracy. Their inquiries extended to social sciences such as politics and economics and far beyond Chinese classical studies to historiography (especially Korean history), geography, linguistics, astronomy, natural sciences, Western technology, agriculture, medicine, martial arts, and many more including virtually every branch of learning (Lee 1984, 232-33).

An outstanding scholarly activity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries thus was the compilation of encyclopedias, both general and specialized. Yi Su-gwang, the first Sirhak scholar to display an interest in Korean history, began the trend with his encyclopedic work called Chibong yusôl (Topical Discourse of Chibong, 1614). Yi discussed astronomy, geography, botany, and Confucianism, inserting his own views on society and government during earlier Korean dynasties (Lee 1984, 236, Han 331-32). Greatest among sirhak thinkers was Chong Yagyong or Tasan. During his 18 years of exile following the Catholic Persecution of 1801, Tasan wrote many works criticizing the conditions of his time and proposing various reforms. Had the sirhak scholars been heard by the ruling aristocrats, many Koreans feel that the nation's modern history would have been totally different.

Koreans continued to struggle to correct all kinds of societal ills until eventually they were conquered by the newly westernized, industrialized, and imperialistic Japan. In 1905, immediately after the Japanese defeated Russiaone foreign rival for hegemony over the peninsulain the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), Korea became a Japanese protectorate and in 1910 completely lost its independence for the first time in its 2,000 year history. During 35 years of colonial rule (1910-45), Koreans were subject to harsh colonial policies.

The government of Japan turned to formal education as a nonmilitary means of ensuring the proper implementation of its policy of educating only as many Koreans as needed, i.e., to improve "market worth" of the colonized to the Japanese interests. The harshest policy was that of assimilation under the slogan of naesôn ilch'e ("Japan and Korea are one entity"), which the Japanese government adopted from 1930 to 1945 in a sweeping campaign to eradicate Korean national identity (Lee 1984, 353). Koreans were forced to change their names, even family names, to sound Japanese, and the Korean language was prohibited in all official situations, especially at schools and in publications. Thus, ironically, the colonial relationship brought the Japanese and Korean cultures, which already shared a good deal, including close linguistic and philosophical foundations, even closer.

Other byproducts of the Japanese occupation include the Koreans' thirst for modernization and increased appreciation of Western cultureaspects Koreans perceived as having strengthened Japan. Even before occupation, though, many Koreans had been interested in Western ideas and practices as possible solutions to the many ills in their legacy. Therefore, the question of whether Japanese rule actually helped accelerate Korean modernization or interfered with it is much debated.

The religion that has emerged as a strong new thought system in Korea is Christianity. Catholicism, introduced to Korea in 1784, was first studied as a Western philosophy and later as heterodoxy, subversive and harmful to the nation. Protestantism arrived exactly 100 years later, just as Koreans began embracing modern Western civilization. Christianity soon became a patriotic religion of the Korean people, offering them hope. The number of Christians in Korea has exploded over the recent years. In the early 1960s, there were barely one million Christians. As of 1997, there are 11 million Protestants and 3 million Roman Catholics, making up one-third of the total population (Korea Web Weekly).

Determined to rebuild following the Japanese occupation and the Korean War, the nation has undergone dramatic changes. Pragmatism, perceived as helpful to advancement, has become not only inevitable but also respectable. Economic development was the focus of the first national agenda, especially during the 30 years of military government (1961-92). As Koreans' economy and politics required constant contact with foreigners, their international awareness intensified.

The nation's division and economic agenda have often been excuses for different regimes to become dictatorial, against which the now fiercely democratic Korean populace continuously protested. With a new confidence based on their rapid economic development and the return of the presidency to a civilian, Koreans mean to be players on the world stage. In the information age, the society has given added respect to science and technology, while the gifted and talented in other specialized fields are also now esteemed.

Educational History: The Korean educational tradition has been shaped by two main cultural characteristics. First is the extreme class consciousness of the Korean people. Birth into a good family was regarded as a heavenly mandate or at least a reward for merit in a previous life. In pre-modern times nobility was strictly hereditary, and upward mobility into a higher class was not possible, except in very rare cases of merit. The second and most important characteristic is that Koreans have long believed society's leaders to be the most educated.

Formal education in Korea started in the Three Kingdoms era. It is recorded that the people of Koguryô (37 B.C.-A.D. 668), the kingdom closest to China, were already studying the Five Classics of Confucianism, as well as Sī-ma&#x0306 Qiān's "Historical Records" (ShȈı jì) and Bāngù's "History of the Han Dynasty" (Hàn shū), the Yùpiān Chinese character dictionary, and an anthology of Chinese literature called the Wén xuaȈn (Lee 1984, 58).

The first public educational institution, called T'aehak (Great Learning, Highest School of Learning, or the National Confucian Academy), was founded in 372 by King Sosurim of Koguryô. This was the first formal school in East Asia outside of China (HEK). The king, who officially adopted Buddhism, embarked on a series of reforms to speed national recovery from devastating invasions by educating youth for officialdom. T'aehak was modeled upon Chinese institutions, teaching the Chinese language and the Confucian classics (Han 63).

Soon after the establishment of T'aehak, private schools called kyôngdang were erected in each locality at a main crossroads, in order to educate the unmarried, non-aristocratic youth of Koguryô. Kyôngdang, like T'aehak, emphasized a balanced education in letters and martial arts. The curriculum at both institutions typically consisted of the reading of Chinese texts as well as archery practice (Lee 1984, 58).

Paekche, the second to Sinicize of the three kingdoms, had a curriculum for the Paksa (Savant or Erudite Scholar), a term now used to refer to the holder of a doctorate, which was given to teachers of the Chinese classics, as well as philosophy and history.

Shilla (57 B.C.-A.D. 935), being the farthest from China, is thought to have been the most authentically Korean kingdom. It had a well-organized and original educational system, called hwarangdo (The Way of Flower Knights), to train young men for beauty and strength of mind and body with the eventual objective of national defense; this, indeed, led to the unification of the three kingdoms by Shilla in 668. Confucianism came relatively late to Shilla as compared with Koguryô and Paekche. Not long after unification, Confucianism appeared to rival Buddhism as a distinct system of thought in the establishment of Kukhak (National Learning) in 682. Around 750, this state institution was renamed the T'aehakkam (National Confucian University) and offered three different courses of study with the "Analects" and "Classic of Filial Piety" as required subjects in each course. A kind of state examination system was established in 788 for selecting government officials (Lee 1984, 83).

The goals of the national educational institutions were twofold: (1) attainment of general knowledge, especially in Confucian classics for able leadership; and (2) training of bureaucrats. At first both aims were equal, but later, education became largely certification and test-oriented (Kim-Renaud 1991).

During the Three Kingdoms period, students went to study in China. The students typically stayed about 10 years in China and then returned home, unlike those going abroad in recent times. At least 59 students from Shilla passed the Chinese civil service examinations (Kim-Renaud 1991).

Koryô Dynasty: The Chinese-style civil service examination was first administered in Korea in A.D. 958 during the Koryô Dynasty and served for recruiting government bureaucrats who were much needed to solidify the new dynasty. The dynasty's national school was founded in 930 specifically to train future bureaucrats. A full-scale national school called the Kukchagam (National University) was established in 992. This system, although based on the Tang model again, was accessible only to aristocrats, who were further distinguished by their family's social rank. Programs training lesser bureaucrats enrolled the offspring of lower bureaucrats, while higher level trainees had a curriculum mainly involving Confucian classics. Technical fields were to be studied only by those of lower social position. The stipulation of such entrance qualifications offers still another insight into Koryô class consciousness.

The Kukchagam came to resemble a modern university at the time of King Injong (1122-46). It was comprised of a number of colleges, namely the so-called Six Colleges of the Capital: University College (Kukchahak), High College (T'aehak), Four Portals College (Samunhak), Law College (Yurhak), Writing College (Sôhak), and Arithmetical College (Sanhak). Students' familial social status rather than their interest decided in which school they would be matriculated (Lee 1984, 119-20).

New to the Koryô was the rise of private, rather than public, academies as the principal agencies for the education of aristocratic youth. The first and most famous of Twelve Assemblies was the Kuje haktang (nine course Academy), established by Ch'oe Ch'ung, called haedong kongja ("the Confucius of the East"), during Munjong's reign (1046-83). Ch'oe Ch'ung and the other masters of the Twelve Assemblies had officiated at the state examinations. These facts, together with the emphasis placed on lineage, made it a greater honor for the sons of aristocratic families to attend one of these private academies than the government's Kukchagam (Lee 1984, 129-30).

Chosôn Dynasty: As the Chosôn Kingdom or Yi Dynasty adopted neo-Confucianism, the goal of education was to create moral men, who would practice proper judgment in actionsqualities thought essential in all leaders, including the king himself (Haboush 1985). Respect for knowledge and scholarship was absolute. Members of the Chiphyônjôn (Hall or Academy of Worthies), a royal research institute founded by King Sejong (r. 1418-50), the inventor of the Korean alphabet, enjoyed exceptional privileges, including the freedom to pursue their individual intellectual interests at home or in remote areas (Hejtmanek 21).

A national school called the Sônggyun'gwan (National Confucian Academy) was established in 1398 shortly after the dynasty's foundation in 1392 for reasons similar to those inducing Koryô to found a national institution at its outset. Again Confucian classics became a major educational focus. However, the system became increasingly examination-oriented and continued to serve mainly the aristocrats with the specific goal of passing the civil service examinations. Although in principle anyone could sit for these examinations, in actuality opportunities to prepare for them were available only to the offspring of yangban aristocrats.

At an early age, a yangban youth entered a private elementary school (sôdang ) that could be found in any community nationwide. There he achieved literacy in Chinese characters. At the age of seven, he would advance to one of the Four Schools (sahak ) in Seoul or to a county school (hyanggyo ) elsewhere, which prepared students for their first examination. After a few years, youths passing the "licentiate" examination were admitted to the Sônggyun'gwan in Seoul, the highest institution of learning. Only those who attended this National Academy could sit for the highest level examination called munkwa.

The private academies, called sôwôn, emerged in the mid-sixteenth century and prospered through the late nineteenth, when their number reached about 300. These schools seem to have differed from the national college in detail and scale only. Again, liberal, humanistic, and Confucian studies were considered the ultimate, while technical subjects such as agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, mathematics, and medicine were despised as caphak or "miscellaneous learning." Practical knowledge was considered merely "functional," allowing people to perform limited and superficial activities, while a liberal education was thought to offer general competence to handle unanticipated situations.

Many sôwôn were established by ex-officials out of court favor or in retirement. Some historians see their development largely as the result of the withdrawal of the Confucian literati collectively known as the sarim (forest of scholars) from national politics to avoid persecution, pursue their studies of neo-Confucian philosophers, and lead a quiet rural life. Others view the rise of private academies rather as a manifestation of the rise of sarim, a new breed of scholar-officials, ambitiously committed to the cause of neo-Confucianism and determined to realize the goals of the Confucian thinkers. As sôwôn were perceived as centers of neo-Confucian scholarship and moral cultivation, every administrative district had at least a private academy, and many had two or more by the middle of the seventeenth century (Ch'oe 27).

Because women were supposed to stay within the boundary of the home in Chosôn Korea, they were excluded from formal education meant to prepare men for public service and scholarship. Even in an increasingly confucianized Korea, however, the notion persisted that women, as essential figures in family and society, needed proper education (Haboush 2000, 46). A textbook entitled Naehun (Instructions for Women, 1475), by Queen Sohye is an example of how elite women of Chosôn Korea sought, within the constraints of the Confucian gender system, to define a space wherein they could play meaningful social, cultural, and political roles (Duncan).

Modern Era (1880-1945): In the late Chosôn, patriotic leaders and members of the enlightenment movement saw education as a key to modernization and national independence. The government established the English School in 1883 and Yugyông Kong'wôn (Garden of Youth Education) in 1886. King Kojong authorized, in the Royal Decree of 1895, the establishment of other state-run modern schools, comprising primary, normal, and vocational schools. He emphasized the importance of education for the training of competent citizens and national revival. In 1895 the government established Hansông Normal School, a foreign language school, and a training school for various government officials and bureaucrats, including army officers, teachers, and trade officials (Han 427).

The first modern school in Korea, however, was the Wônsan Haksa (Academy), a private school founded in 1883 by Chông Hyôn-sôk, a county magistrate in Wônsan, at the request of the Wônsan traders' group and other locals. Korea's first modern school was thus established at the initiative of the residents of a newly opened port city with their own resources in response to a challenge from abroad (Lee 1984, 332).

Koreans also welcomed foreign missionaries who brought modern medicine and the liberal arts. In 1886, under King Kojong's patronage, American missionaries started three private schools: Paeje haktang (Hall of Learning), Kyôngshin School, and Korea's first educational institution for women, Ewha (Ihwa) haktang, which is today's Ewha Women's University. In 1890, Chôngshin Girls' School was added.

In 1905, Posông College, which is today's Korea University, was founded by Yi Yong-ik. The first two departmentsLaw and Commercewere intended to introduce Western legal, commercial, and technical knowledge to the Korean people struggling to maintain their country's independence (MOE).

By 1908, two years before the country succumbed to Japanese colonial domination, Korea's 5,000 vocational schools enrolled about 200,000 students (Kim-Renaud 1991). Of these schools, 796 were established by Christian missionaries; schools for girls outnumbered those for boys (HEK). Modern-style education thus began for women at the same time as for men in Korea (Kim-Renaud 1991).

The medical school of today's Yonsei (a portmanteau name originating from Yônhûi-Severance) University goes back to 1885, when King Kojong opened the first modern hospital, the Kwanghoewôn, under the direction of Dr. Horace N. Allen of the Korean Mission Presbyterian Church in the United States. In March 1886, the Kwanghoewôn accepted 16 students to be trained as Korea's first modern medical doctors. In 1904 the medical center was renamed the Severence Union Medical College and Hospital. In 1915, the Chosun Christian College was founded through the efforts of Dr. H. G. Underwood, a pioneering Protestant missionary and the College's first president. Two years later, renamed Yônhûi College, it became Korea's first modern college.

Throughout the colonial period, the democratic ideals and individuals' self-esteem heralded by private schools offering Western-style education became a catalyst for Korea's independence movement. Conservative elements, which comprised the great majority of the society, considered the new education inappropriate and corrupting, especially for women; nevertheless, private schools for both genders continued to flourish, producing a new elite class, as the traditional belief in educated leaders persisted. Thus, even for women, education became a means of upward social mobility. New fields besides Confucian classics became important, such as medicine, mathematics, geography, and foreign languages. Women began to have a professional life outside the home. Women participated fully in the 1919 independence movement, which was initiated by Yu Kwansun, a young woman from Ewha Haktang. Taking notice of the private schools' nurturance of nationalist thinking, the Japanese Government General began controlling them and closed many.

After the aborted 1919 independence movement, however, the Japanese established new schools to prove their "cultural administration," which was adopted under the pressure of world opinion, to make deceptive gestures in the direction of liberalizing their rule in Korea (Han 479). The most significant was Kyôngsông Imperial University, which is today's Seoul National University, founded 1924. Even there, however, more than twothirds of the students (68-70 percent in 1935) were Japanese (Ono). Furthermore, secondary schools emphasized menial skill training; the majority of boys' schools had adjoining land for farming practice, and sewing and embroidery occupied much of girls' curriculum (HEK). However eager Koreans were to learn, they could not meet the challenge of Japanese imperialism, and the harsh Japanese rule of 35 years left the majority of Koreans illiterate.

Contemporary Era: No sooner were Koreans liberated from the Japanese than the country was artificially divided. There were new occupational forces on the peninsula: Soviets in the north and Americans in the south. To overcome Japanese influence, the U.S. military occupation (1945-48) undertook a drastic revision of the basic educational structure and curricula using the American system and democratic ideology as a model. Initially Koreans ardently studied American educational theory by scholars such as John Dewey, E. L. Thorndike, William Kilpatrick, and Harold Rugg. Equal educational opportunity for all was their primary concern (HEK). Since 1945, the Korean language has been used exclusively for classroom instruction, except in foreign language classes.

Once the Korean War (1950-53) ended, Koreans embarked on a major recovery. The explosive expansion of Korean education at all levels in less than 50 years produced drastic changes in both the quantity and the quality of education. Whereas once the goal was to make education available to everyone, now the aspiration is to produce enlightened and efficient future citizens who will contribute to national welfare and reconstruction.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The MOE is in charge of all educationgeneral as well as professional or technical. However, the Ministries of Finance and Economy (MOFE), Science and Technology (MOST), and Labor (MOL) all participate in formulating and implementing policies related to education and professional training. For example, the MOFE allocates government funds for education, setting economic and social development as its priority. MOST's priority is science and technology, in accordance with the government's determination to make Korea an advanced nation in basic research and technology. MOL, with reducing unemployment its priority, engages in vocational training.

The Education Law promulgated in 1949 adopted the motto Hong'ik in'gan ("to benefit humanity")attributed to Korea's legendary founder Tan'gunas the guiding principle of Korean education. The prevailing contemporary philosophy, however, is a strong sense of egalitarianism.

The Constitutional Law of the Republic of Korea (Article 31) declares:

  • All citizens have an equal right to receive an education corresponding to their abilities.
  • All citizens who have children to support are responsible at least for their elementary education and other education as provided by law.
  • Compulsory education is free of charge.
  • Independence, professionalism, and political impartiality of education and the autonomy of institutions of higher learning are guaranteed under the conditions as prescribed by law.
  • The state promotes lifelong education.
  • Fundamental matters pertaining to the educational systemincluding schools and lifelong education, administration, finance, and the status of teachersare determined by law.

The Education Law, promulgated in 1949, stipulates a school system on the 6-3-3-4 plan with extra years offered for kindergarten and graduate work (including medicine and dentistry) and other variations in the case of special schools. The following levels of education are chartered:

  • Preschool education: kindergartens
  • Elementary education: elementary schools and civic schools
  • Middle school education: middle schools and civic high schools
  • High school education: high schools and trade high schools
  • Special schools
  • Miscellaneous schools.

The law specifies goals for the schools by level and regulates their administration and supervision. The elementary and secondary school curricula, established by MOE by 1955, were amended in 1963, 1973 and 1981. Both public and private schools have adopted standardized school curricula and time allotments for each subject. The revised curricula for elementary and middle schools was published on 30 December 1997 and those for kindergartens and special schools on 30 June 1998. They are being implemented, starting with kindergartens in 2000 and continuing through 2002.

Following the initial pursuit of the ideal of democratic education, the Korean government turned its attention to producing highly select academic talents who would excel in teaching and research and be internationally competitive in the "knowledge-based" twenty-first century. Such an elite was deemed necessary not only for educating the future generation but also for the sake of international exchanges and cooperation in the global environment.

One of the government's most daring education plans for the twenty-first century has been what it calls Brain Korea 21 (BK21). This policy, launched in the spring of 1999, aims to lift a handful of institutions of higher education to the rank of world-class research universities. The government allocated 1.4 trillion won (about US$1.2 billion) for higher education over 7 years. This budget made it possible for graduate schools to hire faculty with reduced teaching loads, teaching only graduate courses, so that they may concentrate on basic research. It also gave graduate students in those selected schools generous grants for tuition, living allowances, and study abroad. Funds also were used to improve the infrastructure for academic research. Funds are provided to research teams within an institution or between colleagues of different institutions domestically and internationally, after a rigorous evaluation of the education reform carried out by the institution the team belongs to. Through this project, the government hopes to nurture three to four internationally known research universities.

Another $285 million, 7-year project, which was begun in 1999, promotes specialized programs in each regional university to meet the needs of local industry and, it is hoped, to be highly competitive internationally. An important benefit of this project was thought to be decentralization of programs of excellence, which traditionally have been concentrated in Seoul.

However, the BK21 project is severely criticized by many as elitist or as a scheme that will make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Although some support has been provided for provincial graduate schools, most special funds have gone to those few in Seoul. This, combined with the continuous growth in the number of higher education institutions in Korea, has contributed to what is viewed by some as a minor crisis in the university system, especially at less prestigious private universities in the regions, due to the "domestic brain drain," more from rural areas to Seoul (Fouser 15).

Educational SystemOverview

Compulsory Education: Primary education is compulsory. It has been free since 1979. At the age of six, children are admitted to a school in their residential area. By the late 1960s, the primary school enrollment rate reached 100 percent. Once children enter primary schools, they automatically advance to the next grade each year.

Middle school education is compulsory for all students ages 12 to 15, but free only to a limited number of students. Free middle school education began in 1985 in farming and fishing areas and is to be expanded nationwide step by step (MOE). The middle school enrollment rate reached 99.9 percent in 1994. The high rate is attributed to the policy dropping the entrance examination in 1969.

Educational Attainment: Since the Korean War, education has expanded enormously. As of 2000, there were 536 higher education institutions with 1,434,259 students in a country of 47 million; and in 1945, there were 19 such institutions with 7,819 students (in 1949 the population was just a little over 20 million). This means that the number of tertiary schools increased by a factor of 28 and students by a factor of 18.3, while the population only doubled. Korea boasts a literacy rate near 100 percent and one of the highest levels of education anywhere in the world. This is a dramatic change over the past 70 years. In the late 1930s the adult literacy rate stood at less than 30 percent, in spite of the Confucian respect for learning and the easy to learn Korean writing system, han'gûl. In 1995, it was about 98 (UNESCO).

As of the late 1990s, almost all Koreans of school age were able to finish high school. Even at college level, the enrollment reached 61.8 percent in 1996, compared with 6.7 percent in 1966 (UNDP). The enrollment rate in primary education reached 100 percent as early as the 1960s. The dropout rate is negligible in secondary schools. In 1985, the transition rate from primary school to middle school reached 99 percent. The transition rate from middle to high school exceeded 91.4 percent at the onset of the 1990s and 98.7 percent in 1996.

The transition rate from high school to higher education has also been increasing. Until the late 1980s, however, the government, while trying to make universal education available to precollege students, strongly controlled the expansion of higher education for fear of creating an oversupply of college graduates for available jobs. Following the government's relaxation of such control beginning in the 1990s, the transition rate from high school to higher education reached 79 percent in 1996. As of 2000, upon birth, a child has a 77 percent probability of receiving a higher education. Though the rate of high school graduates advancing to college has been increasing for both men and women, 92 percent of male high school graduates ages 18 to 21 went on to colleges in 1998, whereas the share for women was just 55.5 percent. Some scholars point out that concentration of male and female students in specific areas of study leads to gender discrimination and employment inequality (Shim).

Almost all high school graduates would be attending an institution of higher education were the quota increased and financing available. The overwhelming majority of Korean parents want nothing less than a college degree for their children. For example, in 1993, about 86.5 percent of the Korean parents expected their sons to get a college or university degree and 79.4 percent, their daughters (KEDI 1994, 33). Many who cannot pass their preferred institution's examination study abroad.

As of 1995, about 28 percent of Koreans ages 25 to 29 had college degrees. This figure can be roughly compared with percentages of college degree holders in other countries among those ages 25 to 34: Canada, 20.1 percent; France, 12.4 percent; Germany, 12.9 percent; Italy, 8.3 percent, Japan, 22.9 percent; the United Kingdom, 15.2 percent; and the United States, 26.5 percent (National Center for Education Statistics).

As of 1999 the number of students enrolled in higher educational institutions was 3,154,245 compared to 2,343,894 in 1995, a 35 percent increase in just 4 years (MOE 2000, 68).

The ever-increasing frenzy for education and the extent of Korean educational attainment are most evident in the number of doctoral degree holders. In 1966, the ratio of doctoral degree holders numbered 35 per 1,000,000. It increased to 200 per 1,000,000 in 1980, to 945 in 1995, and to 1,144 in 1997 (KEDI). The number has continued to explode; as of 2001, Korea had a total of 90,983 doctoral degree holders70,360 from Korean institutions and 20,623 from abroadmeaning almost 1 in 500 Koreans held a doctorate.

Academic Year: Elementary and secondary schools have more than 220 school days (34 weeks) per year. Considering daily class hours and calendar length, as well as after school instructional hours (academic and extracurricular), the amount of time spent by each student on education becomes significantly higher. On top of five full weekdays of instruction, students also attend school half the day on Saturdays. A high school student in Seoul typically starts school at 7:30 A.M. and ends at 5:00 P.M. Some students also undertake a year or more of extra college preparatory work when they do not at first pass their desired college's entrance examination. Although it has sporadically been declared illegal, high school students have been forced to remain at school for "self-study" as late as 9:00 or 10:00 P.M. to prepare for the college entrance examination.

College-level institutions provide classes for no fewer than 32 weeks per year. The academic year typically consists of two semesters: 1 March through 31 August and 1 September through 28 or 29 February. Summer vacation generally lasts for about 45 days during July and August; the winter vacation lasts about 70 days from mid-December to the end of February.

Public & Private Institutions: In curriculum and administration, at the primary and secondary levels, there is little difference between public and private educational institutions other than their founders. Admission to high schools in equalized areas is randomized.

The public educational system has experienced a shortage of financial resources due to an increasing number of students. Limited government budgets have led to an increase in private schools and an increased reliance on private lessons or tutoring.

In 1994 the Presidential Commission on Education Reform (PCER 1994) suggested basic principles and guidelines for private school reforms. The PCER recognizes three categories: independent private schools, private schools with public financial support, and semipublic private schools under the jurisdiction of MOE. The governmental subsidy will be provided only to semipublic and subsidized private schools. Independent schools will enjoy more autonomy in their admission and tuition policies.

Under the new "School Choice Program," students and parents play an active role in choosing schools when applying to middle and high schools. In 1997, PCER noted that, despite the vital role private schools have played in Korean education, they are disadvantaged compared to public schools. While recommending increased government support for private institutions, PCER also emphasized the need for their responsible, accountable, and transparent administration (PCER 1997, 118-21).

Curriculum & Textbooks: To further democracy, Education Law 155 establishes the standard curriculum for each level up to high school and the criteria for textbooks and instructional materials. The national curriculum and regional guidelines allow schools to implement criteria and adopt textbooks according to their individual characteristics and objectives. MOE and the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE) are responsible for developing the national curriculum at elementary, middle, and high school levels.

The national curriculum is subject to periodic revisions (seven times since 1945). The seventh national curriculum, devised in 1997, came into use in 2000. Some of the main objectives in the sixth and seventh national curricula are democratization and local autonomy to allow flexibility to meet individual needs and to enhance character, creativity, and diversity, while imparting basic knowledge.

Until recently, precollege students had little freedom to choose specific courses for themselves. In high schools, students learn all subjects in small increments at each level rather than concentrating on a few chosen subjects at a time as in the United States. Primary and secondary schools require extracurricular activities, although the degree of emphasis varies from school to school. These include journalism, chorus, orchestra, athletic groups, calligraphy, or fine arts. All are supervised by regular faculty members.

Formerly one's college major, including premedical, was decided at the time of admission, and it was almost impossible to change majors after admission. More recently, colleges have shown some flexibility in allowing students greater freedom in changing majors and specific courses.

To correct what was viewed as monopolistic textbook standardization, MOE revised its textbook publication policy in 1995. Textbooks and teachers' manuals compiled within the new framework are classified into three types: Textbooks published by MOE, called Category One (iltchong ) Textbooks; those published by private publishers and authorized by MOE, called Category Two (ijong ) Textbooks; and those published by private publishers and recognized by MOE or superintendents as relevant and usable, called Category Three Textbooks.

Individual schools have the freedom to choose textbooks in the second and the third categories to meet student needs. Total Category One and Two textbooks published for fall 1999 and spring 2000 amounted to 137,636 volumes in 2,439 titles. Of these, 75.1 percent were Category One textbooks (KEDI 2000). Because of its open-ended nature, the exact number of volumes is not available for Category Three.

Instructional Technology: Contemporary Koreans are firm believers in and users of technology. Korea is making various efforts to provide a national information infrastructure with a view to joining the ranks of the advanced information societies in the twenty-first century.

According to the Republic of Korea's Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC), the information technology (IT) industry has become a core sector of the national economy, accounting for 11.8 percent of GNP in 2000 and 12.8 percent in 2001. There were 15.34 million Internet users in South Korea as of July 2000, representing approximately one-third of the population. As of 2000, there was 1 computer per 13.7 students in elementary schools, 1 per 10.2 students in middle schools, 1 per 11.2 in general high schools, and 1 per 3.5 in vocational high schools (KEDI). The nation's progress in the adoption and use of information technology has been remarkable. By April 2001, every teacher had his or her own PC, and every elementary and secondary school in Korea was connected to a Local Area Network (LAN) and the Internetthe first such achievement in the world. According to NetValue, as of April 2001 more than half of South Korean Internet users enjoy broadband connections, ahead of any Western economy, while 10,700,000 house-holdsalmost every householdhad a computer. The number of Internet users rose explosively to 27 million, or more than 1 out of 2 Koreans as of April 2001, compared to 1.6 million in 1997.

The MOE established a computer education development plan in 1988, which supported computer assisted instruction in schools and computerization of school administration. In the same year, the Educational Technology Research Center was established under the KEDI to conduct research in computer education and develop instructional computer software. MOE has provided computers to schools since 1989. Between 1989 and 1994, KEDI developed and distributed about 600 computer assisted programs to schools (OECD 34).

To meet the demands of a high-tech industrial society in the 2000s, several policy measures have been adapted, which include recruiting bright students into science and technology via scholarships and other privileges. Faculty members are also encouraged to conduct joint research, promote internship programs, and conduct seminars. Scholarly exchanges with other technically advanced countries are encouraged. Resources have also become available for research facilities, and the government facilitates cooperation between schools and industry (MOE).

In 1999, the Korea Education and Research Information Service (KERIS) was established, combining the Korea Multimedia Education Center (est. 1997) and the Korea Research Information Center (est. 1996). KERIS has been developing high quality software and an electronic platform to support the research activities of teachers. It also operates the Cyber School for student self-instruction and a certification system for excellence in commercial educational software.

Beginning September 2001, Ewha Women's University's Multimedia Education Institute is to administer Korea's first ever "international cyber university," with online courses to 30 institutions around the world. The international Cyber University, in collaboration with eight other local colleges, is to provide five courses, mainly in women's and Korean studies. These will initially be taught via the Internet and later complemented with videoconferencing and field trips to East Asia (Cohen). Information technology has also been an excellent solution for lifelong education and those who cannot attend school for various reasons.

Women's Education: Modern Korean women have had the same opportunity as men for education, although cultural factors account for their somewhat lower educational attainment. Nevertheless, contemporary Korean women are highly educated and share a thirst for study with their male compatriots. The proportion of women with college and advanced educational backgrounds has steadily increased from 2.4 percent in 1975 to 13.1 percent in 1995. In the case of men, the share of those with college and higher educational backgrounds was 26.6 percent of the total male population in 1995 or twice that for women. In 1999, women made up 37.2 percent of students enrolled in professional colleges and 35.8 percent in academic higher educational institutions.

Ewha Women's University, started as a school for young girls in 1886 under the name of Ewha Haktang, achieved full university accreditation in 1946. As of 2001, with an enrollment of 17,000, it was the world's largest institution of higher education for women. With 14 colleges, 13 graduate schools, and special graduate courses, it offers 56 majors. The graduate school offers master's degree courses in 55 areas and doctoral degree courses in 42. Each year, more than 900 candidates graduate with master's degrees and 80 with doctorates.

Despite Ewha's remarkable record, Korean women in general do not get the same education as men. Not only do they receive fewer years of education on average than men do, they pursue what have traditionally been considered women's fields. As of 1998, female students were a majority in such traditional fields. For example, 73.1 percent of all students at teachers' colleges were women. Female students accounted for 64.8 percent in educational departments, 57.3 percent in arts and athletics departments, 56.1 percent in humanities departments, and 44.2 percent in departments of medicine and pharmacology. In social and natural sciences departments, the share of female students were 32.9 percent and 22.1 percent, respectively. Gender inequality at higher educational institutions was particularly acute in the sciences and engineering. In the natural sciences, the share of women earning M.A. and Ph.D. degrees is very low. In engineering, female students accounted for only 5 percent of all recipients of B.A.s, 4 percent of M.A.s, and 2 percent of Ph.D.s. This trend of gender separation makes it all but impossible for women to explore various career paths without regard for gender restrictions while substantially increasing the likelihood of women being employed in traditional women's areas. In an age when science and engineering are key, the paucity of women in those areas is viewed as a grave problem for women's advancement in society. Underlying causes include separate curricula for men and women, textbooks that reinforce traditional gender role divisions, and teachers' attitudes discriminating between male and female students (2000).

The situation for women is rapidly changing, however. As of 2001, more than 35 percent of high level information technology positions were held by women and more than 100 of Ewha's Information major graduates held chief executive positions at companies specializing in new technologies (Cohen).

Special Education: The Special Education Promotion Act, enacted in 1977 and amended in 1994, guarantees that students with disabilities receive appropriate and equal educational opportunity with special educational curricula and approaches to enhance their personal development, future employability, and social participation. According to the September 2000 National Assembly Report, special education's share of the budget ranged from 1.5 to 1.9 percent between 1995 and 2000.

It is estimated that 2.4 percent of all school age children need special education. Only about half of severely handicapped children are enrolled in special schools. Some 44 percent of the mildly handicapped are enrolled in special classes at regular schools; the rest attend regular classes (OECD).

To better serve the disabled, several measures have been adopted since 1988. Training programs in special education are offered to regular teachers, and special education courses are compulsory in teachers' colleges. The revision of the Special Education Promotion Bill in 1994 guaranteed early education for the disabled at regular kindergartens. Furthermore, reflecting public sentiment, a law to promote vocational employment of the handicapped was enacted.

In 1999, some 123 special education institutions served a total enrollment of 24,091 severely handicapped children, who were taught by 4,244 special education teachersa student to teacher ratio of less than 6 to 1. Children with lesser impediments are taught in special education classes in regular schools; in 1999 there were 26,178 such students taught by 3,812 teachers in 3,764 special classes, which were offered by 2,990 regular schools (MOE). As of April 2000, according to the National Assembly Report, there were 129 special education schools13 times the 1962 total of 10 schools and more than double the 53 in 1979, only 2 years after the passage of the Special Education Promotion Act in 1977.

The National Institute for Special Education, established in 1994, which is in charge of research and development in special education, supplies teaching and learning materials and trains teachers of students with disabilities. Special education teachers, who are deemed qualified either by passing an examination for special education or through supplementary in-service training for special teachers, are assigned to kindergartens and elementary and secondary schools. In addition to 20 graduate schools of education, 4 national colleges, 10 private colleges, and 3 special graduate schools train special education teachers.

Programs for the Gifted & Talented: Abolition of middle school entrance examinations in 1969 caused worries that extreme standardization and democratization of curricula would not produce outstanding leaders. Many felt unusually gifted and talented students need special attention as well as those with disabilities. MOE designated specialized high schools in the 1990s for science, foreign languages, the arts, and athletics. With strong governmental support, these schools aim to identify gifted and talented youngsters at an early age and develop their potential in these specialties. These schools enjoy autonomy in their admission processes, faculty recruiting, curriculum development, and financial management. The Education Law was revised in 1995 to promote special education for the gifted and talented and accelerated grade advancement and graduation programs in regular schools.

For the education of scientifically talented youth, Kyônggi High School of Science was founded in 1983. In 1994, about 9 percent of primary schools, 17 percent of middle schools, and 8 percent of high schools offered special education for the gifted and talented in science, mathematics, the Korean language, foreign languages, arts, and computer science (OECD 39). In 1996, nationwide there were 15 science high schools (16 in 1999), 14 foreign language high schools, 16 arts high schools, and 13 athletic middle and high schools. Those completing two years in a science high school are eligible for admission to the exclusive Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology (KAIST). Other such institutions include the Kwangju Institute of Science and Technology, Seoul National University, and the Pohang Institute of Technology (MOE).

As of 2001, KAIST had about 7,000 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. KAIST was established in 1971 by and remains under the auspices of the Ministry of Science and Technology, not MOE as is the case with all the other universities. The original institution, then called the Korea Advanced Institute of Science (KAIS), was founded in a specific governmental effort to reverse the brain drain to foreign countries and to create an environment conducive to the return of scientific researchers active abroad.

It soon expanded its mission and size to maintain a closer relationship with industry while pursuing basic scientific research and education. It merged first with the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in 1981, under the new designation KAIST, and again with the Korean Institute of Technology (KIT) in 1989. KIST had been a research institute and KIT an undergraduate college established in 1985 to educate scientifically gifted students. In 1989, the KAIST campus was relocated inside the strategically located Taedôk Science Town, in which are gathered not only other universities, but also public and private research institutes and venture businesses. Thus KAIST, as Korea's best research-oriented science and engineering educational institution, plays a leadership role in developing and advancing the nation's science and technology. By 2001, KAIST had produced about 18,500 graduates, including 3,800 Ph.D. degree holders who occupy key positions in science and technology in both the public and private sectors, at home and abroad.

Role of Education in Society & Development: Although not actually decreed by law, the Korean government tried to instill anti-communism into children's socialization as an important ideology (Yoo). Policies of President Kim Dae-jung and his dramatic encounter with North Korea's Chairman Kim Jong-Il in 2000 have considerably altered the South Korean stance on this issue. The future of the Korean peninsula is, however, still too volatile for anyone to be overly enthusiastic or pessimistic about current political developments.

More important than anti-communism have been the South Korean educational ideals of democracy and freedom. Korean students, especially at the college level, have felt that they were the ultimate and just arbiters of the corrupt government and adult society. Students have been an important part of the Korean political process toward the democratization of Korea.

Scholars have often indicated that during the past four and half decades, Korea's overall development has largely resulted from the growth of a well educated population. Even in the very early phase of economic development in the 1960s, Korea's educational level was far above those of other developing countries with equivalent incomes, such as Hungary and Italy. Even in the 1960s, the nation's illiteracy rate was only 27.9 percent and primary school enrollment measured 59 percent. Moreover, over the past 45 years, enrollments at secondary and tertiary schools have exploded, providing a sufficient pool of modestly paid but well educated workers needed for economic growth. Human resources are acknowledged as the key factor in both economic and social development. The key to Korea's rapid development was the rapid expansion of the educational system, coupled with relatively high educational attainment (UNDP).

Increasingly Korean leaders, performers, visual artists, and scholarsa significant number of whom have earned doctoral or terminal degrees in foreign countriesare active on the world stage. As Korea becomes more and more visible internationally, its scholarship and culture will gain the world's attention as much as its products. In this age, when knowledge and material goods are exchanged around the globe, education takes on added significance for South Korea.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Preschool: Early childhood education in South Korea is designed for the national interestthat is, not only to prepare young children to become healthy and intelligent citizens, but also to protect the welfare of poor children and of working mothers, whose number has increased with rapid industrialization (Yoo 156ff).

Early childhood education has developed partly from the nursery system, the structure of which is entwined with welfare policy. The nursery system was established in 1952 and in 1962 put under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Welfare in accordance with the Act for Infant Welfare. During the Fifth Republic in the early 1980s, the Integrated Plan for Infant/Early Childhood Education was developed as part of a national agenda to enhance the image of a "Welfare State." The new Act for Infant/Early Childhood Education in fact stipulated that infant and early childhood education facilities in South Korea be made up of kindergarten under the jurisdiction of MOE and the New Village Nursery under the Ministry of Interior. It is also important to note that infant education via nursery facilities was instituted, in the wake of Korea's full-scale industrialization, for the relief of working mothers. Hence the wealthier classes have chosen mostly private kindergartens and preschools and the poorer classes, mostly the government-run nurseries, such as the Children's House and New Village Nursery.

Kindergarten education is not subsidized and depends on private resources. The ratio between private and public kindergartens is 7 to 3. Preschool education, a rather recent phenomenon, has mostly been initiated by religious, social, and private organizations. Because it is often considered inessential, the preschool enrollment rate has generally been low. In an effort to raise enrollment, the government has enacted legislative bases for preschool education, such as the Kindergarten Facilities Standard Ordinance (1969), Kindergarten Curriculum Ordinance (1969), Preschool Promotion Act (1982), and the first and second Promotion Plans for Preschool Education. To raise the level of preschool education to that of other advanced nations, the government has also developed and disseminated teaching materials and tools and created teacher training and administrative support systems.

The number of preschoolers increased dramatically in recent years. In 1980, there were only 901 kindergartens with 60,665 children attending them or only 7.3 percent of 5 year olds. The number of kindergartens grew almost tenfold to 8,828 by 1999 with 535,379 children (43.2 percent of 5 year olds) attending. MOE projects enrollment will reach 100 percent by 2005.

Elementary School: Primary education has been compulsory since 1945 but free only since 1979. At age six (or earlier, by choice), children must enter a primary school near their residence; they then automatically advance to the next grade each year. An accelerated grade advancement system was recently introduced to allow a gifted and talented child to skip a grade.

The curriculum is focused on nine subjects: Korean language, mathematics, science, physical education, social studies, moral education, music, fine arts, and practical arts. As part of a globalization policy adopted by the government of President Kim Young Sam, MOE made an important innovation in Korean elementary education. Since 1997, English has been taught two hours a week in elementary schools, beginning with the third grade.

In the 1970s and 1980samid rapid industrializationthe school-age population was heavily concentrated in urban areas, while rural schools became underpopulated. Overcrowded classes caused some city schools to resort to the double shift system, which was considered a major setback.

The government imposed an education tax in 1982 to improve school finances and raise teacher pay. As a result, the number of elementary school students per class has dropped to 35.8 in 2000, compared with 62.1 in 1970. In 2000, the student to teacher ratio in elementary schools was 28.7 compared with 56.9 in 1970 (KEDI).

By the late 1960s, primary school enrollment rates reached practically 100 percent and stayed there. In 1945, the year of liberation, elementary schools numbered 2,807 with the total enrollment at 1,570,000. As of 1999, elementary and branch schools numbered 5,544 and 739, respectively, with a total enrollment of 3,935,000. Thus, while the number of schools doubled, the enrollment rate of the relevant cohort rose from 64 percent in 1945 to almost 100 percent in 1999 (MOE 2000).

Middle School: The program is divided into compulsory subjects, elective subjects, and extracurricular activities. Basic required courses consist of moral education, Korean language, mathematics, social studies, science, physical education, music, fine arts, home economics, technology and industry, and English. Elective subjects include Chinese characters and classics, computer science, environmental studies, and others.

Since 1995, native speakers have been hired to teach English in middle schools in an effort to enhance English acquisition and prepare students for the "Age of Globalization."

As of 2000, average class size remained large at 38, but had hugely improved over 1970, when there were 62 per class (KEDI).

In 1969 entrance examinations by individual middle schools were abolished and all applicants have been assigned to schools near their residence by lottery in an effort to democratize secondary education. Before then, middle schools had clearly been ranked. A person's eventual elite status was guaranteed upon his or her admission to a top-ranked middle school such as Kyônggi Boys' or Kyônggi Girls' Middle School in Seoul. The school bond continues to be so strong and prestigious that, even decades after abolition of the middle school entrance examination, an older person's worth is measured by the secondary school he or she attended.

By 1998, almost 100 percent of elementary school graduates went on to middle schools. As of 1999, middle school students, usually ages 12 to 15, numbered 1,896,956an increase of 2,347 percent from 80,828 in 1945. The number of middle school teachers increased even more dramatically from 1,186 in 1945 to 93,244 in 1999a 7,862 percent increase (MOE 2000, 34).

Despite the superficially democratic appearance, the current situation gives advantage to those students residing in affluent areas over those who live in poorer areas or rural districts. For example, there still exists a Kyônggi Girls' Middle and High School, and it is still considered a first-rate school. However, while the former Kyônggi Girls' School admitted students based on a strict entrance examination open to candidates from the whole nation, students today are there thanks to the economic status that allows their families to reside in that particular locality.

Secondary Education

Middle school graduates or those with an equivalent academic background, usually about age 15, are admitted to high schools. Students bear the expenses of their high school education, which lasts three years.

Traditionally, entrance examinations to individual high schools for most students were largely symbolic, as a middle school and high school carrying the same name were in effect a single entity sharing a single campus. Examinations were extremely challenging only for those who tried to move upward into a better-rated high school. The progress of a middle school graduate to high school was more the function of parents' financial ability.

Entrance examinations by individual high schools were abolished in 1974. Instead, admission was based on middle school grade point average (GPA) and records and on the scores on the national qualifying or "selection" examination, established in order to limit the number of high school students.

While successful applicants for general high schools are assigned to a school by a lottery system, applicants to vocational high schools compete based on the school's own examination or the student's middle school record.

In actuality, however, the national selection examination has lately become meaningless, because the size of the group entering high school has been decreasing, thus no one is turned away from high school. In 1999, about 99.4 percent of middle school graduates advanced to high school, compared with 90.7 percent in 1985 (KNSO 61). The number of high school students, usually ages 15 to 18, in 1999 was 2,251,140, an increase of 5,590 percent over their total of 40,271 in 1951. (High school teachers numbered 105,304 in 1999 compared with 1,720 in 1951an increase of 6,122 percent.)

Since 1995, high schools have been able to consider many factors besides selection examination scores in admissions. A new phenomenon for private schools is their right to self-governance, which allows for operation and maintenance by a school foundation and by student tuition and fees. Since 1998, private schools, if they so desire, have been given the right to set tuition and select students themselves; in such a case they would lose their customary government subsidy (MOE 2000, 62). Since 1998, some cities or provinces have started to admit new high school students based simply on their Middle School Activities Records. Students are also to have much greater opportunities in selecting their schools.

The Education Law stipulates that high schools must furnish both general and specific education to middle schoolers. Article 105 establishes these objectives:

  • To educate students to be equipped with fine character and competence expected of good citizens by continuing to provide general education.
  • To improve students' capacity to understand and form sound judgments on social and political issues.
  • To promote students' awareness of national missions, to seek to improve physical conditions of the students, to help them choose future life courses appropriate for themselves as individuals, to heighten the level of their culture, and to increase their professional skills.

First year students in high schools must all take identical courses, but from the second year students take electives as well as requirements. They choose from four different tracks, according to their abilities, interests, and future career plans: humanities, social science, natural sciences, and vocational training. Common compulsory courses for high school students are ethics, Korean language and literature, basic mathematics, social studies, history, basic science, physical education, music, fine arts, and English. Electives include Chinese and Korean classics, foreign languages, non-basic mathematics, non-basic science, ancient civilization, philosophy, ethics, logic, psychology, education, economics, religion, environmental science, drama, and dancing. Among general high schools, several specialized institutions concentrate on particular areas, such as foreign languages, science, and physical education.

High school enrollment increased almost fourfold from 590,382 in 1970 to 2,251,140 in 1999. As of 1997, there were 764 vocational high schools with 868,395 students. In 1998, there were 1,085 general high schools with 1.4 million students. Of middle school graduates, 98 percent advanced to high school in 1997.

Higher Education

Higher education institutions are increasingly diversified. In addition to regular undergraduate programs, there are industrial universities, universities of education, junior colleges, the Air and Correspondence University, technical colleges, seminaries, and other schools that students attend after graduating from high school. Military, Naval, and Air Force Academies provide leadership in national defense. Medicine and law are studied at regular universities. All college level programs last four years except for medicine and dentistry, which require six. All (except for KAIST, which reports to MOST) are under the jurisdiction of MOE, which controls such matters as student quotas, qualification of teaching staff, curricula, and degree requirements. For other matters, universities comply with decisions made by a consortium called the Council for Higher Education. Deans and presidents of national and public universities are appointed by the president on the minister of education's recommendation. The presidents of private universities are elected by the boards of trustees, which are subject to the approval of MOE. As of 1998, there were 350 institutions of higher learning with a total of 2.95 million students, taught by 5,410 faculty members.

Regular Colleges & Universities: In 1994 universities were allowed to decide their own school affairs, including the calendar and graduation requirements, and incrementally were given more control over student quotas. In 1996, the government granted autonomy to seven provincial universities with the most superior educational conditions. The objectives of the new education system, as laid out by PCER, include full autonomy by higher educational institutions, while the necessary support for high quality research is provided by the government (1997, 23).

Each university sets the requirements for each credit (usually one semester hour), the minimum credits necessary for graduation, and the number of credits students may carry per semester. The curriculum consists of general and professional courses and includes required and elective courses.

To help universities diversify, as each carry different strengths, government grants have been increased. Furthermore, the government has made it possible for private foundations to establish small, specialized colleges, graduate schools, and universities. Seventeen such colleges were approved in 1996.

Government financial support for universities has increased to 1,013.6 billion won in 1996 from 329.7 billion won in 1993. With the introduction of post-doctoral training, government research grants also increased to 90 billion won in 1996 from 27.2 billion won in 1993. The support has been unevenly distributed, depending on in stitutions' and individuals' performance.

Junior Colleges: Junior colleges, providing two or three years of postsecondary education, were established in 1979 to educate and train mid-level technicians. As of 1999 there were 161 junior colleges with an enrollment of 589,720. Emphasis is on practical education, including hands-on training, in close cooperation with industry through internships. Students concentrate on their specialties in preparation for the National Certification Examination. They can major in humanities and social studies, natural sciences, engineering, arts and physical education, nursing, clinical pathology, physical therapy, radiology, dental and other medical technology, mechanics courses, or aquaculture.

Junior vocational colleges emphasize practical education, but it is not necessarily an endpoint. Students who so wish could continue their education at the university level. For employed students, junior colleges provide channels for continued education.

Graduate Schools: The purpose of graduate education is to offer an in-depth study of a specialized field and to enhance creativity and leadership in academic research. The Education Law stipulates that, to be called a university, an institution must have at least one graduate school. As of 2001, there are 115 academic graduate schools, 8 professional graduate schools, 514 evening special graduate schools (including 14 special graduate schools established in industrial universities), and 15 independent graduate schools without undergraduate programs.

The minimum requirement for a master's degree is 24 semester credits, as well as a required thesis, in most cases; students normally finish in 4 semesters. The minimum requirement for a doctoral degree is a doctoral dissertation after completing 60 credits of coursework, which is usually completed in 3 academic years. Doctoral candidates must first complete the required credits and pass two foreign language examinations and a comprehensive examination before writing their dissertations (MOE).

Enrollment: The enrollment rate for higher education was 68.8 percent of 18 to 21 year olds in 1997. As of 1999, higher education students numbered 3,154,245400 times the number of 7,819 in 1945. The total would be much higher were more spots available for higher education, especially at prestigious schools in Seoul. The college entrance examination is fiercely competitive, and Korea is probably the only country in which numbers of applicants to specific schools are announced daily by public media during the application period, as candidates are frantically calculating the probability of their matriculation at choice institutions.

Admissions Procedures: As students compete fiercely for limited college spots, studying for tests is far more important than trying to build one's character. In a major reform program, MOE thus proposed a new college entrance system called the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) to root out these problems and to cultivate students' individual talents and characteristics. The CSAT has three versions, one for students on the humanities track, the science track, and the sports and arts tracks.

The new system has been conceived under the slogan of "diversification, specialization, and professionalization," which allows each university or college to develop its own admissions criteria. Each may require varying application materials from students to determine their talents, such as School Activities Records, essays, interviews, and letters of recommendation. Applicants with unusual circumstances, such as living in a rural area or fishing village, being an orphan, or winning prizes at concerts, may receive preference. This reform measure is intended to enhance creative and professional human resources, to ensure more flexible primary and secondary schooling, and to lessen the need for private tutoring.

The college entrance system has become a public issue, especially since the disappearance of entrance examinations for secondary schools. College admission policies have been changed more than 10 times since 1945. Initially (1945-1953), college admission was based uniquely on applicants' national test scores; later, high school grades were also considered. These criteria have put tremendous pressure on students and their parents, as whole families go through "examination hell." Students concentrate all their energy on test preparation, and families sacrifice much time and money to support their college preparatory students, trying to improve the study environment, provide private tutoring, and help in other ways.

Since the early 1990s, higher educational institutions have generally used "total" or "comprehensive entrance examination scores," which include the results of aptitude tests and students' high school profiles. Until then, college admission was largely based on individual schools' achievement tests. In 1988, MOE embarked on reforming the college entrance examination system to reflect changes in the educational and social environments. In 1993, MOE started to administer the CSAT once a year nationally in an effort to provide reliable and objective data in selecting students for colleges and universities, hoping to improve the quality of high school education as a result (KICE). Since 1998, electives have been added, including mathematics, sciences, and foreign languages besides English. In general, the CSAT score is one of the most important pieces of data for college level admission, counting 40 percent of the total scores in the decision process.

To promote the autonomy of higher educational institutions and to reform examination oriented high school education, a new entrance examination system went into effect in 1994. Public institutions obligatorily weighted high school grades at 40 percent but were allowed leeway concerning the CSAT and their own entrance examinations. As of 2002, the Korean Military Academy most heavily weighs CSAT scores (70 percent) in admissions, along with high school activity record (20 percent) and interview (10 percent).

A special policy applies to foreigners and Korean nationals returning from a sojourn of longer than two years abroad. Each college or university may admit 2 to 10 percent of total incoming students from this pool; in 2000, 5,249 students at 127 colleges and universities benefited. Each institution sets its own criteria, but in general these students are exempt from certain subjects or allowed a lower passing score for such courses. Usually, subjects tested include Korean, mathematics, foreign languages, and expository writing (essay), with interviews part of the selection process. Information on this policy's implementation by institutions is collected and published by MOE and distributed to embassies, consulates, and overseas Korean schools (MOE).

Korean Studies: Koreans have been studying Western culture and scholarship with ardor since the end of the nineteenth century, but since their liberation from the Japanese and with their increased status on the world stage, interest in Korean culture, history, and intellectual and political life has steadily grown both within and outside Korea.

With this in mind, the Academy of Korean Studies, a graduate school for a select group of highly specialized Korean studies fields, was founded on 30 June 1978. Through its publications and numerous national and international conferences and workshops, the Academy has been critical to internationalizing the field of Korean studies. As of 1998, the Academy had graduated 349 master's degree candidates and 87 doctoral degree candidates in 7 fieldsphilosophy and religion; history; arts; language, literature, and classical studies; society and folklore; politics and economics; and education and ethics. As of 2001, some 60 students were enrolled in each of the Academy's master's and Ph.D. programs.

The government has supported many universities abroad that offer courses in Korean language and studies. As of 2001, some 167 universities and research institutes in 37 countries conduct research in Korean studies. The Korean government developed the Korean [Language] Proficiency Test (KPT) for foreigners and overseas Koreans. A total of 1,722 people passed the first test, administered in 1997. In 1999, the test was given in seven countries.

As of 2001, Korea has bilateral agreements with some 80 countries. The government has also been an active participant in exchange programs initiated by international organizations, including APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), and UNESCO. The Korean National Commission for UNESCO has also been active in promoting international cultural understanding and exchanges of personnel, hosting international conferences and training programs, and supporting the exchange of academics, professionals, and students.

Students Abroad: For decades, Koreans have thought their education was not really complete without study abroad. In 1999, there were 154,219 students studying abroad: 96,778 in North America, 20,577 in Europe, 36,552 in Asia-Pacific countries, 138 in Africa, and 174 in South America (MOE). The United States continues to lead in popularity, but Koreans' foreign study destinations have become diversified. As of 1999, the share of those who went to the United States to study was 27.81 percent, considerably lower than 1997's rate of 42.9 percent. Even so, as of 2000, the 41,191 Korean students studying at American colleges and universities made up 8 percent of all international students studying in America and ranked fourth after those from China, Japan, and India (Open Doors).

Previously students generally completed their basic education through college or at least high school in Korea and went abroad for higher degrees. As the government relaxed its control on students going abroad, however, demand for overseas studies has grown so much that even young children are sent away from home to start their education early, albeit in only insignificant numbers.

It is no longer uncommon for precollege students to go abroad to study. Since September 2000, youth study abroad has been limited to middle school graduates only. From March 1999 to February 2000, some 11,237 precollege students went to study abroad, mainly in the United States. In 2000, more than 20,000 precollege students studied abroad, usually at their own expense. Since 2000, the government has provided 70 college graduates evidencing outstanding achievement with full scholarships$18,200 per year for two to three yearsto study at overseas institutes of higher learning. In addition, a fellowship of $38,000 per year per person for 3 years was available for those in doctoral programs at overseas institutions. Furthermore, elementary and secondary schoolteachers have also been given additional opportunities for overseas training and short term study tours. The number of students going abroad on government scholarships between 1977 and 1999 amounted to 1,639 (MOE). The Korea Research Foundation is usually responsible for facilitating research and activities for scholars and students who wish to study abroad.

To help students returning from abroad reintegrate into domestic schools (elementary, middle, and high schools), international schools have been established in Seoul.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Education ranks first in the government budget and draws substantial nongovernmental funds. Education in Korea is funded largely by the central government from tax revenues, but also by local government and private or school foundations. A supplemental education tax instituted in 1982 and made permanent in 1991 became an important financial resource for the central government budget, as it represented 26.2 percent of MOE budget in 1999. From 1996 to 1998, educational policy secured an allotment of 5 percent of the GNP for education; in 1999 it measured 4.3 percent.

The central government budget funds offices of elementary and secondary school education, operating funds for the national universities, some support for private universities, and money for education-related administrative and research organizations. Elementary and middle school education is compulsory. Elementary school is free, but as of 2001, only 19.5 percent of middle school studentsthose in farming and fishing areasreceived their education gratis. Middle schools in urban areas, high schools, and higher educational institutions charge tuition to supplement government funding. Funds also come from private sources, mostly from parents but also from private organizations. By 2004 compulsory education will become completely free (MOE).

Of elementary and secondary school education, 85 percent is funded by the central government; 15 percent by parents and local government. About 80 percent of junior colleges and universities are private. Private school financing heavily depends on tuition from parents and other organizations, both private and public.

As of 1994, private education expenses amounted to 464 billion or 5.75 percent of GNP. If costs for kwa-oe (literally, "extracurricular")private tutoring and other out of school supplementary educationare added, an additional 2.7 percent of GNP is spent by families with primary and secondary school students (KEDI 1996, 13). As of 2000, more than half (55 percent) the total households said that the kwa-oe was burdensome for their family budgets. The education reform of 1999 was perceived as encouraging even more private lessons.

Expenses for out of school education are the highest at elementary ages (OECD 43). Preschool and postsecondary education is entirely covered by individuals. In 1994, private kindergartens made up 77.8 percent of preschools. The share of private colleges and universities amounted to 81.9 percent in 1995 (OECD 28).

Hardly any secondary school student has a paying job and regular college students rarely do. When they do work, it is usually privately at such jobs as tutoring or as office assistants. All precollege costs and also many higher education costs are borne by students' parents or guardians.

The Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI), a quasi-governmental think tank established in 1972, has played a principal role in Korea's emergence as an educationally advanced nation. The Korea Institute of Curriculum & Evaluation (KICE), a governmentfunded educational research center established in 1998, strives to improve school education through research and development for school curriculum, textbooks, instructional materials, and educational evaluations. KICE develops tests (administered by the Metropolitan/Provincial Educational Authorities) and analyzes and reports results.

The Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training (KRIVET), established in 1997, carries out policy-oriented research in vocational education and training and helps people prepare for lifelong learning and gain employment in industry.

The Korea Research Foundation, Korea's foremost funding agency for basic research, was established in 1981 in accordance with the Korean Scholarship Promotion Act. It incorporated the Korea Institute for Educational Exchange in 1984 and the Korea Scholarship Foundation in 1999. KRF has expanded its mission beyond supporting basic research to offering scholarships and conducting its own research to act as a clearing house on research and activities for the entire academic world (KRF).

The Korea Foundation (KF), established by the Korea Foundation Act in 1991, endeavors to contribute to a better understanding of Korea in the international community and to promote international goodwill between Korea and foreign countries. Unlike the Korea Research Foundation, which belongs to MOE, KF is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Between 1992 and 2000, KF helped create Korean studies professorships at 37 universities worldwide: 27 in North America, 4 in Europe, 5 in Australia and New Zealand, and 1 in Asia. In addition, KF granted support for establishing Korean studies courses at 60 universities in North America, Latin America, Europe, Oceania, Asia, and the Middle East. KF has also funded both basic and applied research, textbook projects, exhibitions, performances, and numerous international academic conferences and supported visiting scholars and students who come to do research or study in Korea. It also publishes journals on Korean studies.

In 1997, in accordance with the national slogan of segyehwa ("globalization") of Koreans and Korean life, the government provided special funds to nine graduate schools of international studies (GSIS) to promote research and specialized training necessary for international trade and relations, which require the students to deal with a wide variety of world affairs and people from different cultures with different strategies. All subjects are taught in English by outstanding specialists in particular fields. There are more than 200 international students in these schools.

Area studies, encompassing Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North America, Central and South America, and Africa are gaining momentum at institutes of higher learning. Foreign languages have become an integral part of international studies. A whole range of foreign languages are taught in Korean universities: African languages, Arabic, Czech, Chinese, Dutch, English, German, French, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Malay, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Rumanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese.

Nonformal Education

Almost all Koreans believe that they need supplemental education to excel in their educationally competitive society. Those who can afford to take private lessons in music, fine arts, information technology, and sports do. But more students take supplemental academic courses, such as math and foreign languages, in cram courses offered at commercial outfits called hagwôn ("academies"). Because of the concern that extra instruction could give unfair advantage to those who can afford more and high quality private lessons, the government has tried to control private tutoring in an effort to democratize education. For example, the 1980 Education Reform banned private tutoring in anything other than artistic subjects. This was criticized, however, as usurping parents' rights to educate their own children and also as depriving some poor college students of their opportunities for extra income by becoming private tutorsthe most popular part time work (called by a German word, arbeit ) for students. Hagwôn and private tutoring have been allowed, as people expressed their dissatisfaction with the quality of formal education, which has suffered from the high student to teacher ratio, poor instructional quality and facilities, and low morale of the teachers.

According to the 1998-2000 MOE-KEDI report, hagwô totaled 57,935 with 3,412,430 students enrolled in performing arts (45.2 percent), technology (11.6 percent), liberal arts (24.2 percent), and administrative business (19.0 percent). The share of the students taking liberal arts courses was 40.7 percent; technology, 13.8 percent; performing arts, 28.9 percent; and administrative business, 16.6 percent.

During the year 2000, each student spent 889,000 won (approximately $800) compared to 1999 in which they spent 865,000 won; 34.5 percent of the total households surveyed reported they spent more than 20 percent of their income on private tutoring in 2000, compared to 31.8 percent in 1999.

Adult Education: The Social Education Promotion Act was enacted to meet the demand for alternative educational opportunities, particularly of employed youths and adults who have not been able to attend regular schools. By law the government is to provide support for the promotion of lifelong education. Industry also actively responded to this program, establishing schools and special classes to meet the educational needs of their employees.

The so-called para-schools, which give equivalence certificates to regular school programs, include civic schools (elementary school equivalency), civic high schools (middle school equivalency), industry-attached schools (middle and high), school-attached evening classes (middle and high), air and correspondence high schools, and industrial universities.

Even in higher learning, there are various degree alternatives that may not be available in other countries. One option is the Bachelors' Examination System by which students may earn a degree simply by passing a set of examinations administered by the government. Another option, called the Academic Credit Bank System, allows students to bank the credits earned in any accredited institution of higher learning. The government grants a pertinent degree, after KEDI certifies that a particular student has earned the required number of credits at qualified institutions (Wiedman and Park).

Distance learning institutionsAir and Correspondence high schools and the Air and Correspondence Universityand industrial universities have been founded, followed by numerous private institutes established by social and religious organizations. An examination system has been institutionalized to qualify those who have not gone through a regular school system for progress to formal schools. In 1999, some 13,724 enrolled in 40 Air and Correspondence high schools, offering 308 classes taught by 1,188 teachers.

The Korea Air and Correspondence University (KACU) was instituted in 1972, first as a branch school of Seoul National University with a two-year junior college program in five departments. In 1981, it had grown to a five year program, offering coursework leading to B.A. and B.Sc. degrees. In 1982, it became an independent national university with nine departments. In 1992 the entire university became a 4-year degree program with 17 major fields. In 1999 the university had 203,246 students in 18 departments with 168 faculty members. As of September 2001, a legal foundation is being laid such that the university may offer a graduate program. The university has conducted its lectures via distance education systems, using such media as satellite TV, CDROMs, video conferencing, the Internet, printed materials, radio, and audiocassettes. Therefore, regardless of their location, students can have access to an open, flexible education environment and one to one educational opportunities with their lecturers. The university also has 13 regional centers. The majority of students enrolled are workers in industries, government officials, soldiers, and teachers (MOE).

The number of industrial universities, which offer mid-career education, grew to 19 with 158,444 students in 1998only 6 years after the first of its kind, Kyônggi Open University of Technology in Seoul, was founded by a private foundation in 1992. Classes are held in the evening, which allows students to be employed full time while attending classes.

Vocational Schools: Vocational high schools provide advanced general education as well as vocational training in agriculture, technology, industry, commerce, home economics, fishing, and oceanography, among other subjects. Since the 1980s, vocational high schools have offered diverse field training to provide a skilled labor force that can respond to the rapid changes in industry and society.

In the 1970s, technical education was driven by manpower needs in heavy and chemical industries. In the 1980s, in step with rapid change in technology and development, technical education aimed at producing multiskilled technology workers. As of 2000, all vocational schools emphasize cyber-communication, information processing skills, new managerial skills, and foreign languages in order to prepare students for practical work in an industrialized and globalizing society. While financially supported by the government, vocational high schools enjoy greater autonomy than other high schools.

To address rural labor shortages caused by migration into industrialized urban areas, agricultural education in high school focuses on scientific farming and mechanization and training future cadre and experts in agriculture. Candidates for agricultural schools are given incentives such as tuition waivers, free housing, settlement funds, and preferential treatment in military service and scholarships. Fishery and oceanography high schools, located in the harbor cities along the coasts of the Korean peninsula, use maritime resources to teach navigation technology. Practical experience at sea with six months of on-site training is required for graduation.

The curriculum at vocational high schools consists of both general courses, which make up 40 to 60 percent, and vocational courses.

In rural areas or small and medium-sized cities, there are schools which combine academic and vocational courses, called "comprehensive high schools" (MOE 2000, 66).

Educational Broadcasting System: The Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) was established in December 1990 by KEDI to support and complement school education, with a mission of cultivating and strengthening national identity. EBS thus incorporates the air and correspondence education programs, which offer the opportunity for lifelong education and general education programs for children, youth, teachers, parents, and the general public. While MOE sets up general policies and offers administrative and financial support (50 percent of the total budget), EBS plans, organizes, and produces the actual broadcasts.

As of 2001, EBS has 1 TV and 1 FM radio channel, which were operated by a staff of 630. The Korean Broadcasting System transmits the program on television 8 and a half hours daily (18 hours on Sundays) and on FM radio 20 hours a day. In step with the national agenda for the new knowledge-based global century, EBS gives special attention to information technology and foreign language education in its programming (MOE).

Edunet: Edunet, a free educational information system that gives teachers, students, and parents easy access to high quality educational information through PC communication, began on 11 September 1996. It had a membership of 860,000 in March, 1999, and has provided both text and Web service so that users will not be limited by their computer equipment. Sixty-four percent of subscribers are students and 18 percent teachers; the rest are parents, guardians, and others.

Teaching Profession

All teachers have the status of national civil servants in Korea, and teacher training is centrally regulated. However, teachers' affairs are delegated to the superintendents at the metropolitan and provincial offices of education. University professors still enjoy the prestige given to teachers traditionally. Although teachers at the precollege level are no longer loved and respected as formerly, they are still considered key to the system's proper functioning.

As part of the goal of excellence in the educational system and to ensure the sense of professionalism and commitment to teaching, licensure under legal criteria is required of graduates of teacher training institutes. Teachers are classified into teachers (first and second level), assistant teachers, professional counselors, librarians, training teachers, and nursing teachers. They must meet specific standards for each category and be licensed by the Minister of Education, as regulated by presidential decree.

Teacher education is offered by universities of education, colleges of education, graduate schools of education, general colleges and universities with departments of education and teaching certificate programs, junior colleges, and the Air and Correspondence University, from which approximately 25,000 teachers are recruited every year. To enhance professionalism in educational leadership, the government established the Korea National University of Education in 1985. This university was designed to conduct research on kindergartens and elementary and secondary schools, as well as to produce an elite corps of dedicated teachersnot only future teachers but also in-service trainees.

Teachers are recruited locally on the basis of apparently rather mechanical selection tests administered by district education authorities. College students concentrate on preparing for these exams rather than studying the subjects they intend to teach or other classroom management skills. OECD reviews have also found no direct links between teachers' expertise and the subjects they teach. Major fields in colleges and universities have not been found to match important subject fields in the secondary school curriculum. In 1995, about 55 percent of all secondary teachers came from universities that were not specifically designed for teacher education (OECD 136).

As attention is increasingly directed toward the quality of education rather than its quantity, general teachers' qualifications have become one of the core issues in Korean education. Many believe the teaching profession suffers from mediocrity and is often unable to cope with the fast-changing society. Lack of professionalism is diagnosed as due to poor training and to the difficulty of recruiting bright young people into the profession, which is little respected in modern Korea. Therefore, the goal of the 1995 Education Reform was to train excellent teachers who could meet the challenges of increasingly assertive students, the information age, globalization, and the changing field itself. The training programs emphasize pedagogy, ethics, and information management ability, as well as class management and counseling skills (MOE).

The PCER thus recommended reforming teach certification and in-service training to encourage lifelong education and initiate diversified, learner-oriented education. The PCER proposed a contract teacher program, increased use of circuit teachers, and diversification and enrichment of in-service training (PCER 1997, 111).

To make space for young talented teachers, the retirement age for teachers was adjusted from 65 to 62 in the fall of 1998. As a result, an estimated 16,000 teachers retired, and the vacancies were filled with new skilled teachers. Superior teachers among those retiring were invited to return to teach with fixed contracts. Many competent teachers with a variety of titles such as lecturers and business school partnership teachers have thus been recruited into the school system as well as teachers with fixed contracts and native speakers for language courses (MOE).

Because most teachers are still very young, in-service training has become an urgent need. Various opportunities and incentives have been offered for those who were retrained. Between March 1997 and February 1998, in spite of the Korean financial crisis, 356,335 teachers underwent in-service training, including 545 who received overseas training.

In higher education, the government sponsors refresher programs abroad, especially in science and technology to help professors keep up with the rapidly changing times. From 1978 to 1998, a total of 106 professors went abroad to do research with government support (MOE).

Another incentive for teachers' dedication and high performance is a merit-based salary system based on the evaluation of individual teachers, which also has direct implications for promotions and various privileges.

Unions & Associations: The Korean Federation of Teachers' Associations (KFTA) is an umbrella organization for the nation's teachers' associations. KFTA was established in 1947 and, as of 2001, about 250,000 teachers are members (60 percent of all teachers). Its main tasks are to improve teachers' work sites, to conduct research on teachers and training, to protect and enhance teachers, to publish educational books, and to provide benefits for members. A special 1991 law on Improving Teachers' Status allows KFTA to negotiate with the government twice a year to improve the position of teachers. Among KFTA's publications are The Korea Education Newspaper (weekly) and New Education, an annual report on education (MOE).

Forming nongovernmental teachers' unions was long illegal. But new legislation passed in January 1999 guaranteed the teachers' right to organize and bargain collectively, and the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers' Union commenced full-scale official operation. Thus teachers and educational workers at primary, middle, and high schools can organize unions at metropolitan, provincial, and national levels. Teachers' unions may bargain collectively on matters of wages, terms of employment, and benefits to improve their members' economic and social status. However, they are not supposed to exercise the right of collective action, in view of the special status the general public has historically bestowed upon educators (Koilaf Publications).


Korea has long retained a Confucian notion that man is perfectible through education. With the traditional class system's obsolescence, educational attainment has become the principal measure of a person's worth. The government plays a central role in terms of educational policy and research and their implementation, although recent educational reforms have emphasized the need for more autonomy for individual schools or regions. Under democratic ideals, the traditionally neglected population with disabilities has also been getting increased attention from government and society. Koreans have achieved remarkable progress in making education available to all, and the literacy rate quickly reached almost 100 percent. Koreans are among the most educated people of the world.

Having achieved the urgent initial goal of equity in educational opportunities, the Korean government and people have set for themselves a new aim of global competitiveness in the information-oriented twenty-first century. Research and development have been promoted, especially in science and technology, while the gifted and talented in other areasincluding the humanities and the fine and performing artshave also been given special encouragement. Applied research, with close cooperation between academic researchers and industry, as well as basic research, were promoted. Koreans have joined the ranks of the advanced nations in information technology despite the severe financial crisis of 1997 from which Korea has not completely recovered.

International Programs: The rapid ascendance of northeast Asia has given each country of the region a more distinct image. Korea is increasingly regarded as a key area of East Asia both historically and at present. As Korea's international visibility has increased, Korean studies has emerged as an academic field. Foreigners traveling to study in Korea have mushroomed. In 1971, 7,632 students from 42 foreign countries studied in Korea; by 1999, there were 154,219 from 71 countries. Of these 96,778 were from North America, 36,552 from other Asia-Pacific countries, 20,577 from Europe, 174 from South America, and 138 from Africa (MOE).

The government has also provided scholarships for foreign students and overseas Koreans to study in Korea for advanced degrees or to attend a short term language and culture study tour program. It also affords various conveniences to foreigners engaged in education and research activities in Korea. Between 1977 and 1999, a total of 607 foreign students studied in Korea under Korean government scholarships.

The Fulbright grant program in Korea began in 1950, and the bilateral Korean-American Educational Commission (KAEC) was established in 1963. It is the only program funded and sponsored by both the Korean and U.S. governments. Fulbright grants support the exchange of more than 100 students, researchers, and teachers annually. The U.S. Education Center informs Korean students and scholars of educational opportunities in the United States. It also provides various official testing services to students who want to study abroad and helps U.S. institutions seeking to meet students or learn about institutions in Korea.

A fairly new international exchange program involves youth. In 1988, during the Korea-Japan summit conference, a Korea-Japan youth exchange agreement was signed. A Korea-America youth exchange agreement was signed in 1993 during a summit meeting between the Korean and U.S. presidents in the United States, as proposed by the governor of California.

Korea and Japan have exchanged 150 university students and teachers annually since 1990. From 1999, other Korean university and secondary school students were sent to Japanese universities of engineering. Four hundred seventy secondary students were to be sent to Japan each year over a decade. One hundred university students were sent to Japanese universities of engineering in 1999, and the number was to be increased annually until reaching 1,000 in 2010. To promote better understanding and goodwill between Koreans and African-Americans, the Korean government has invited 50 to 70 African-American students annually since 1994 for 4-week programs on Korean culture and society. Korea-Japan exchange students are responsible for their own airfares, while the host country provides room and board and their programs of study. The Korean government has provided all expenses for the African-America students. Between 1990 and 1996, some 1,042 Korean students went to Japan on this program, while 1,101 Japanese students have gone to Korea. Fifty-three African-American students were invited into this program in 1994, 68 in 1995, 40 in 1996, 36 in 1997, and 31 in 1998 (MOE).

Korean studies has emerged as a new, steadily developing academic field of study abroad. As of 1996, some 100 institutions of higher learning in the United States offered Korean-language programs as part of their regular academic curriculum (Sohn 70).

Heritage Education: To help overseas Koreansemigrants, dependents of diplomats, and other short term foreign residentscultivate a sense of identity and learn about their cultural roots, the Korean government established "Korean Schools," where Korean language, culture, and history are taught. As of 2000, there were 23 Korean Schools in 14 countries with more than 5,000 students taught by 660 teachers. In addition to these schools, there are various "Saturday schools" often called han'gûl schools (Korean Language Schools), which are established mostly by independent volunteer groups including religious organizations. As of 2000, there were 1,664 Saturday schools in 95 countries with 96,784 students taught by 10,531 teachers (KEDI 2000).

The National Institute for International Education Development (NIIED), originally established as part of the Seoul National University Korean Heritage Education Center in March 1962, came under the jurisdiction of the MOE by presidential decree in 1992. NIIED's many programs support international exchanges, including scholarships for students from newly developing countries. As of 2000, approximately 85 percent of overseas Koreans who study the Korean language with NIIED's 9 month program are given scholarships. Of students taking a 3 month language program, 60 percent receive scholarships. As of 2001, overseas Koreans from Japan, China, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Russia, Kazakstan, Germany, Bolivia, Suriname, Denmark, Chile, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, and Ecuador have taken this course. NIIED also provides language programs for Koreans living abroad and foreigners studying Korean on the Internet, called "Kosnet."

Needs for ChangesFuture: Koreans, both intellectual leaders and ordinary citizens, have shown disparate reactions to the ambitious scope and dizzying speed of recent educational reforms. The current debate centers on the theme of equity versus the need for elite education for national competitiveness, which has created a new ruling class. Some extreme measures were taken to eliminate elite education by abolishing the severely stratified secondary school structure. Students competed fiercely to get into top-ranked schools, whose admission depended uniquely on entrance examinations. Now that education has become egalitarian, some have fretted about the lack of elite education; there have been only limited attempts to address this perception. While the former elite education through select high schools emphasized general liberal arts training, the new elite education seems to be bent on highly specialized skill acquisition, although interdisciplinary work seems to be encouraged to some extent. Many also fear that, outside the few select schools and programs, the general school system will suffer from low morale among both teachers and students, reduced funds, and a general drop in quality in those institutions not chosen for such privileges.

The eager Korean government has been listening to proposals for education reforms from both domestic and international sources. Some frequently discussed suggestions concern decentralization of higher educational institutions, school autonomy, escape from exam-oriented education, the need for educating the whole person, and promoting creative thinking in education, as well as the need for practical education that includes technological savoir-faire for global competitiveness. All these issues seem, in fact, related, and various attempts at meeting the current challenges seem reasonable.

However, the Korean education system suffers from a thorny structural problemthe excessive weight it carries in Korean society. Extreme reliance on educational attainment as the sole or primary criterion of a person's worth must be repudiated. Next, education reformers must consider measures for promoting a new standard of personal qualifications. As long as there is no major change in perception, children growing up in such an atmosphere cannot avoid concentrating on means of getting themselves to the next distinguished diplomas and certifications. Abolishing the examinations altogether does not seem to be a solution either. In such a competitive environment, if the admission process were completely based on overall records, recommendation letters, and personal essays, then the possibility of subjective assessment and the lack of safeguards against corruption could be major threats to fair evaluation.

Promoting creative thinking is, of course, crucial and frequently presented as a problem in Korean education. Traditional thinking in Korea, as was often the case in most traditional liberal studies, emphasized "achievement" of creativity based on instilling the basics with a heavy reliance on the classics. The mantra of "creativity" should not be misunderstood as eliminating the rigor and formal nature of Korean educational tradition, which some Western educators envy. Often Korean educational methods have been accused of depending mainly on rote memory, but it is crucial for Koreans not to abandon these methods altogether, just because some learning appears to be less than a creative activity.

The new trend for specialization at a precollege level may be viewed as early preparation for expertise. However, broad and balanced curricula at all levels of primary and secondary schools are desirable to provide solid, basic education at formative ages and, more important, to make it possible for students to find their own talents and preferences, rather than choosing a field by its reputation or some other perception.

One of the crucial problems has to do with dispiritedness among teachers with their class sizes, workloads and, worst of all, examination-oriented schooling. Teacher morale should be restored by strengthening professional preparation and by offering teachers better working conditions, which are commensurate with traditional respect for teachers. In-service training should be provided and innovative teaching materials and methods encouraged and rewarded. Teachers' unions, which have recently become officially recognized, will contribute to ameliorating the situation.

Despite a huge improvement in the higher education gender gap, women still tend to concentrate in traditionally female fields. Girls from poor families tend to be forced into vocational schools, which is much less true for boys from the same economic milieu. Political and economic leadership positions are still dominated by men. Express measures to help change the mentality of the society in this regard are needed.

Koreans bear a tremendous financial burden for their education. However, a significant proportion of that goes to private education (kwaoe ), which is money not being contributed to the overall national educational developmental. One way of overcoming this waste might be to institute school-based initiatives for private education, so that some of the financial investment now going to kwaoe could be put towards improving school facilities, among other uses.

Current reforms, including educational reform, aim at granting maximum autonomy to local governments and schools. However, the involvement of the central government in setting general standards in education policy, curriculum, and implementation is not necessarily bad. What is highly desirable, though, is that actual educators play a key role as both advisers and participants in planning and as part of an evaluation mechanism.

Finally, to correct structural problems, it will be necessary to institute some kind of affirmative action for those whose excellence is apparent without their necessarily having obtained advanced degrees. In a very un-Korean way, leadership positions might be filled based, not on educational attainment, but on other general criteria, such as experience, community service, innovative openness of mind, and a person's well-rounded character.


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Young-Key Kim-Renaud

Korea, South

views updated Jun 27 2018


Republic of Korea

Taehan Min-guk



South Korea occupies the southern half of the Korean Peninsula in eastern Asia. It is bordered by North Korea to the north, the Sea of Japan to the south and to the east, and the Yellow Sea to the west. South Korea has an area of 98,480 square kilometers (38,023 square miles), which makes it slightly larger than the state of Indiana. It has 238 kilometers (148 miles) of land borders with North Korea and 2,413 kilometers (1,499 miles) of coastline. Among its major cities, Seoul, the capital city, and Inchon are located in the northwestern part of the country, while Kwangju and Pusan are in the south, Taegu is in the southeast, and Taejon is in the center.


The population of South Korea was estimated at 47,470,969 in July 2000. It increased from 35.3 million in 1975 to 46.1 million in 1998, indicating a growth rate of 1.2 percent. At the current estimated growth rate of 0.6 percent, the population will increase to 51.1 million by 2015. In 2000 the estimated birth rate was 15.12 per 1,000 population while the estimated death rate was 5.85 per 1,000 population. The estimated migration rate was 0 percent.

South Korea's population is ethnically homogeneous. With the exception of a small Chinese community of about 20,000, the rest of the population are ethnic Koreans. Some 78 percent of the population falls within the age groups of 15-64 (71 percent) and 65 or older (7 percent). By 2015, 10.6 percent of the population will be older than 65.

South Korea is a highly urbanized society. In 1998, about 84.5 percent of its population lived in urban areas, a significant increase from 1975 when the urban population accounted for 48 percent of the total. The urban population is estimated to reach 92.2 percent by 2015. Seoul, the capital city, is the largest urban area, with a population of 10.4 million, followed by Pusan (3.9 million), Taegu (2.5 million), Inchon (2.5 million), Kwangju (1.3 million), and Taejon (1.3 million).


The 1945 surrender of Japan in World War II ended about half a century of the Japanese colonization of Korea. In its aftermath, the "temporary" division of Korea led to the creation, in 1948, of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) in its northern half.

South Korea opted for a free-enterprise economy at the time of independence and has since sought to consolidate it with a great deal of success. The mainly agrarian nation began to industrialize in the 1950s, after the Korean War (1950-1953). Its relatively insignificant industries mainly served its domestic market until the early 1960s, when the South Korean government encouraged massive industrialization. Unlike many developing countries, South Korea chose an export-led industrialization strategy to produce labor-intensive products that could be produced more cheaply than in North America and Western Europe and therefore competitive and exportable to those markets. Initially, the emphasis was on light industry products such as fabric and clothing, later supplemented by assembly-line production of electronic products like radios or black-and-white television sets. By the late 1960s, South Korea became a major producer of telecommunication devices and computer parts.

The service sector, consisting of growing industries like retail , tourism, and finance is now South Korea's largest economic sector, accounting for 51.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1999, while industry, including construction and mining, claimed a 43.5 percent share. Construction, though still a major industry, is in the process of decline. The industrial sector meets most of the needs of the country, but its manufacturing branch cannot produce without heavy imports of capital goods . Agriculture, which was the main economic activity in the 1960s, accounted for only about 5 percent of GDP in 1999. This sector, including forestry and fishery, was expanded and modernized in the 1950s and 1960s, a process that has continued to this date. The South Korean government has encouraged and generously supported its growth, while protecting it from foreign competition. The agricultural sector produces basic domestic needs in rice, vegetables, and fruits, though South Korea is still dependent on large imports of grains, fish, and forestry products (timber). The World Factbook reported similar, but not the same estimates of each sector's contributions for the same year, noting that services contributed 53 percent, industry 41.4 percent, and agriculture 5.6 percent of GDP.

Trade plays a major role in South Korea's export-oriented economy. In 1999, exports accounted for 45 percent of GDP, a phenomenal increase from the 1970s when it accounted for about 6 percent on average. Apart from a limited trade in fishery products, manufactured goods, including light- and heavy-industry products and high-tech devices and parts, are the major exports.

South Korea's economy grew rapidly from the 1960s through the 1980s, with an average annual GDP growth rate of 8.4 percent during that period. The growth rate fell to about 6.9 percent annually during the 1993-97 period. GDP contracted by 6.7 percent in 1998 alone as a result of the financial crisis, which pushed the unemployment rate to 6.8 percent (1,461,000 workers), a large increase from the 1997 rate of 2.6 percent (556,000). Inflation jumped from 4.5 percent in 1997 to 7.8 percent in 1998. Two factors helped economic recovery in 1999: the growth of the U.S. economy, which is South Korea's largest export market, and large direct foreign investments, made possible by economic liberalization . The latter rose to US$8.9 billion in 1998 and soon soared to US$15.5 billion, exceeding the total foreign investment over the previous 35 years. Data for the first 4 months of 2000 indicate such investment totaled US$3.7 billion, about 33 percent higher than the same period in 1999. South Korea's GDP grew by 10.7 percent in 1999, and continued its growth in the first quarter of 2000. The estimated growth rate for the entire year is about 8 percent. The recovery pushed the unemployment rate down to 4.8 percent (1,353,000 workers) in 1999, and it fell to 3.7 percent (about 800,000) in May 2000. It also brought the inflation rate down to 0.8 percent in 1999, a record low rate over the previous 3 decades. Inflation in 2000 was expected to be about 3 percent, far lower than during the 1980s, when the average inflation rate in the 1980s was 8.4 percent.

The South Korean government has helped the industrialization of its country via protectionist measures (the imposition of import quotas and tariffs aimed at limiting foreign competition in South Korea) as well as generous government financing for emerging industries and subsidization to make their products competitive in international markets. These government measures continued until the 1990s when they provoked criticism on the part of South Korea's competitors and trading partners, including the United States, Japan, and the European Union. Their growing pressure on the South Korean government to open its market to foreign competition and to stop subsidizing South Korean exports forced it to begin addressing these demands. Nevertheless, the South Korean market remained highly protected until 1997 when the financial crisis hit many Asian countries, including South Korea. Heavy borrowing by the public and private sector , especially from foreign banks, created the crisis, as most of the borrowers were unable to repay their large debts. Devastated by the crisis, the South Korean government, which desperately needed foreign financial assistance to stop the wave of bankruptcies and closures of large enterprises, had to accept the conditions outlined by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its rescue package: to liberalize its closed and highly protective economy through reforms and make it accessible to foreign competition.

Liberalization has sought to change South Korea's economy from one where the state directs and controls economic activities into one where the private sector, including foreign enterprises, operate with minimum government regulation. This required the nation to embark on a program of privatization designed to minimize the role of the public sector in the economy. This unfinished process has resulted in the sale of government assets in some large corporations to foreign investors, and the privatization of all state-owned banks, except for 2 development banks. By 2000, the government still owns about 108 non-financial enterprises, most of which are planned to be sold. Liberalization has also resulted in the removal of government regulations that restrict the economic activities of domestic and foreign enterprises in favor of a less-regulated economic system. Liberalization has also involved the restructuring of financial institutions and big corporations, most of which have long survived on heavy borrowing from public and private financial institutions, including foreign banks.

By and large, the reform of the financial system has been more successful than that of big corporations known as chaebols (conglomerates). The financial system's reform has justified the closure or merger of many non-viable private and public banks that formerly survived on government assistance, as well as the privatization of most public banks. The government's tight control on fiscal and monetary activities has been loosened in order to facilitate domestic and foreign private investments. In 1998, a Foreign Investment Protection Act was ratified to encourage and to ensure the safety of foreign investments. However, the 1998 corporate reform program called the "Big Deal" has been, so far, less successful. The program aims at turning the weak chaebols into strong corporations capable of offsetting the destructive impact of the financial crisis so that they might grow and compete with large foreign corporations inside and outside the South Korean market. To that end, the South Korean government has tried to reduce excessive competition between big corporations and to encourage their merger to create viable enterprises. It has also sought to encourage them to eliminate economic activities that are not of crucial significance to their main operations. For the most part, the chaebols' reform program is yet to be implemented.

South Korea has a very large foreign debt , which in 1999 was equal to more than 25 percent of its GDP. The debt burden emerged as a major economic problem in the 1990s. Encouraged and facilitated by the South Korean government, banks and large corporations borrowed heavily to finance industrialization, creating a debt that amounted to US$163.5 billion in 1996, a 5-fold increase from 1990. The heavy burden of this debt, most of which was borrowed on floating rates by major private enterprises, created the 1997 financial crisis, which resulted in a series of bankruptcies and closures of major enterprises. This situation also undermined the credit-worthiness of most surviving enterprises and forced the South Korean government to seek IMF assistance to prevent the total collapse of the economy. The IMF arranged a rescue package of about US$60 billion. It also facilitated an agreement between the South Korean government and the foreign banks for rescheduling debts held by South Korean private and public debtors. The IMF-led rescue package prevented the worsening of the situation and contributed to a gradual economic recovery. The recovery and the economic reform with its tough regulations on borrowing by large enterprises have reduced the debt from US$159.2 billion in 1997 to US$148.7 billion in 1998 and to US$136.4 billion in 1999. Statistics from the first 4 months of 2000 indicated a small increase in debt (US$4 billion), pushing its total to US$140.4 billion. Financing of a short-term trade deficit caused by an increase in the prices of imported oil products seems to be the reason for this increase. However, a predictably poor economic performance of South Korea's main trading partners (the United States and Japan) in 2001, which could reduce its exports and create a trade deficit, would likely increase its foreign debt substantially. South Korea's foreign exchange reserves are significant (US$86.8 billion in early 2000), but are still much smaller than its foreign debt.

History and geography have shaped the development of the South Korean economy to a great extent. The division of the Korean Peninsula into 2 different political and economic systems has been a major factor. The Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union made them the protectors of South Korea and North Korea, respectively. Each helped its protegé establish a peculiar economic system: free-enterprise in South Korea and a planned economy in North Korea. For South Korea, this situation led to a lack of ties with the 2 major supporters of North Korea: Russia and China, which lasted until the early 1990s when both sides began to normalize relations; South Korea established ties with Russia in 1990 and China in 1992. These ties have since expanded to the point where South Korea now produces some of its labor-intensive export products in China.

Threat of a North Korean military invasion forced the South Koreans to spend a significant amount on defense (US$9.9 billion in 1999, equal to 3.2 percent of GDP). However, South Korea's relations with North Korea have been improving since 1998 when President Kim Dae-jung initiated his "Sunshine Policy" to improve bilateral relations with the north. This policy led to a limited investment of South Korean corporations in North Korea, where local cheap labor is used to produce electronics for exports. South Korea's Hyundai group began tourist cruises to North Korea in 1998, but the trips were suspended after a South Korean tourist was arrested on spy charges. During that period, 80,000 South Koreans visited North Korea.

The South Koreans have backed the idea of peaceful unification of the 2 Koreas. Given the depth of North Korea's economic problems, they are not interested in an immediate unification, which would force them to spend an estimated US$1.2 trillion to rescue the North Korean economy. Instead, South Korea prefers a gradual process of unification in which it would help the economy of North Korea through modernization of infrastructure and by production of labor-intensive export goods in that country.

The bitter memory of the Japanese colonial era has also affected South Korean-Japanese economic relations. Japan has been a major source of equipment, machinery, and technology for South Korea, and has provided its largest source of tourism. Public resentment of the Japanese has limited their official and cultural ties. The situation has been improving since 1998 when President Kim Dae-jung took office. The heavy pressure of the 1997 financial crisis required Japanese economic aid and facilitated better official ties. The 1998 visit of President Kim to Japan broke the diplomatic ice between the 2 countries, and by mid-1999 a ban on Japanese cultural imports was lifted.

The South Korean economy has 2 major weaknesses. First is its heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels (oil and natural gas). South Korea is the second largest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia. In 1999, it imported 874 million barrels of oil, 184.4 million barrels of petroleum products, and nearly 16.9 metric tons of LNG. These fuel imports accounted for 97.1 percent of its energy consumption in 1999, a significant increase from 1979 when fuel imports accounted for 73.4 percent of such consumption. Second, the South Korean economy depends heavily on imported capital goods and technology for its industries. Despite its emergence as a major exporter of light and heavy industrial products, its export industries require foreign machinery and equipment for production. While South Korea has surpassed Japan and the United States in selling memory chips, it still needs imported chip machinery to produce them. Another example is its automobile industry's reliance on imported parts and technology. Japan and the United States have been the major source of technology and capital goods for South Korea, constituting 40.5 percent of its annual imports in 1999.


South Korea has a presidential system governed by a directly-elected president and a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly, in which various political parties are represented. Cabinet members are accountable only to the president. Parliamentary elections take place every 4 years, in which 227 candidates are elected, while an additional 46 parliamentary seats are distributed among political parties in proportion to their share of the popular vote.

Until 1995, the political system was a unitary one (the central government appointed all governors of provinces and mayors, who acted as its representatives). In 1995, the first elections for these provincial and local offices took place. A year later, there were local elections for councils at all levels: provincial, county, and ward. Still, the central government maintains enormous power at all levels by controlling appointments and by using its economic power, as in the allocation of construction projects.

Democratic regimes are very recent phenomena in South Korea's history, which has been ruled mainly by civilian and military authoritarian regimes. From 1948 to 1988, the country was governed by 1 civilian president (Syngman Rhee, 1948-60) and by 2 consecutive military rulers (Park Chung-hee from 1961-79 and Chun Doohwan from 1980-88). The first semi-democratic transfer of power happened in 1989 when Roh Tae-woo, a military nominee of President Chun Doo-hwan, was elected president in a relatively fair election. In 1993, he agreed to a peaceful transfer of power to a civilian, Kim Young-sam, who had been elected president in another relatively free election. The election of an opposition leader as pres- ident, Kim Dae-jung in December 1997, was of great significance for the South Korean political system in that it marked the first transfer of power by an elected president to an opposition leader. Coming to power in the midst of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, President Kim Dae-jung has since presided over the restructuring of the economy.

The South Korean government has had a major role in the economy since the foundation of the nation in 1948. Through its direct involvement in the economy, it has sought the economic growth and industrialization by which it has turned South Korea from an agrarian society into a highly industrialized one. Various government measures and financial assistance have helped establish enterprises and protect them from foreign competition while helping them expand at home and abroad. The government has also been actively involved in industrial and financial activities through its industries and banks. Due to the IMF and other factors, its role in the economy has been limited since the mid-1990s, but it still plays a significant part in economic affairs as the mastermind of South Korea's economic reform, the director of its large infrastructure projects, and as the entity in charge of paying the country's foreign debt.

Despite the existence of political parties in South Korea, they had no major influence until recently. In practice, the military was the power base of the political system, and directly or indirectly ran the countrya situation that lasted until 1993. In that year, the election of a civilian, Kim Young-sam, as president laid the groundwork for meaningful participation by political parties, which led to the 1997 election of Kim Dae-jung, an opposition leader. Under his leadership, the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) runs the country in coalition with the United Liberal Democrats (ULD). The opposition includes the Grand National Party (GNP) and the Democratic People's Party (DPP). However, the South Korean political parties have yet to establish themselves as the vehicles of representation of different political and economic interests. Generally speaking, they all lack internal cohesion, reflected in the constant defection of party members and their leaders from one party to another and the frequent formation, renaming, and merger of political parties.

All parties advocate a free-enterprise economy within which the state and the private sector both play a role. However, they also advocate a strong role for the government in economic growth through its policies and regulations. Under IMF pressure, the ruling coalition has significantly reduced the public sector by privatizing many state-owned financial and industrial enterprises and also by removing many economic regulations. Nevertheless, the government still has a major impact on the economy because its economic reforms and the payment of its foreign debt have incurred many new governmental regulations. Until the South Korean government privatizes all its enterprises, it will also remain a large economic player.

The South Korean constitution provides for an independent judiciary, though it is still trying to move toward that goal and away from manipulation by influential individuals. Absence of trial by jury gives judges the power of rendering verdicts in all cases, which makes the system more prone to abuse. Hence, in addition to political and economic liberalization, judicial reform is also necessary for creating a safe business environment. The judiciary provides for the defense of property and contractual rights through laws on economic activities. Commercial disputes can be adjudicated (settled) in a civil court, or may be presented to the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board. South Korea's membership in various international conventions obliges it to observe international commercial laws.


South Korea's tax system relies heavily on indirect taxes , which account for about 50 percent of tax revenue. Resident and non-resident individuals and corporations are liable for taxation. Real-estate rental income, business income, earned income, temporary property income, and miscellaneous income attributed to a resident are taxed progressively. Interests and dividends are subject to withholding tax. Non-residents are also taxed on income from sources in Korea. Tax rates on individual income range from 10 percent to 40 percent. Taxation applies to all corporations operating in South Korea, whether domestic or foreign. Companies that have been incorporated in Korea are considered to be domestic corporations and are liable for taxation on their worldwide income, whereas foreign corporations pay taxes on their Korean-generated income only. The corporate income-tax rates range between 16 percent and 28 percent.

Taxes, customs duties , and other government-generated revenues (assorted fees, social security contributions, and the income of public enterprises) are the main sources of government revenue. Budget deficits are financed through borrowing, either directly from domestic and foreign banks or through the issuance of bonds. In 1999, total government revenue was US$90.78 billion, of which all taxes and custom duties accounted for 70.1 percent of the revenue. Other government revenues accounted for 29.9 percent of the total revenue. The government spent a total of US$101.77 billion that year and incurred a deficit of US$10.99 billion. Better economic performance in 2000 resulted in a small surplus (about US$11 billion). Of the total revenue of US$118.18 billion, all taxes and customs duties accounted for 69.48 percent (US$82.12 billion) of the revenue, while other government revenues accounted for 30.52 percent (US$36.06 billion).


South Korea has a very advanced and modern infrastructure, which has been expanding since the 1960s. Both the South Korean government and the private sector are involved in the financing, construction, and operation of various infrastructure projects and services. Over the first 20 years of the 21st century, the government will spend more than US$300 billion on airports, roads, railways, and mega-resorts. Additionally, it will spend US$60 billion on the construction of more than 100 new power-generation facilities.

South Korea has an extensive and well-kept system of roads. In 1998, it boasted 64,808 kilometers (40,272 miles) of paved roads, including 1,996 kilometers (1,240 miles) of expressways, and 22,182 kilometers (13,784 miles) of unpaved roads. There are several major north-south and east-west highways, but the growing number of vehicles in use puts heavy pressure on the land transport network. The number of private cars rose from fewer than 500,000 in the early 1980s to 7.581 million in 1999 when there were also 2.1 million trucks and 749,000 buses in use. To deal with the growing pressure on roads, the South Korean government has initiated a multibillion dollar project to expand the highways. Land transportation also includes regular train and bus services around the country. The railways consist of 6,240 kilometers (3,878 miles) of standard gauge tracks of which 525 kilometers (326 miles) are electrified.

In 1999, South Korea's air transportation system was served by 103 airports, of which 67 have paved runways. Major international airports are in Seoul (Kimpo), Pusan, and on Cheju Island. A new international airport, Inchon, is scheduled to open in 2001, after which Kimpo will function as a domestic airport for Seoul.

South Korea's sea transportation network includes various ports and harbors, the most important of which are in Chinhae, Inchon, Kunsan, Masan, Mokpo, Pohang, Pusan, Tonghaehang, Ulsan, and Yosu. To meet the needs of its growing economy, the South Korean government is planning billions of dollars' worth of port/harbor expansion projects. In 1999, South Korea's merchant fleet consisted of 461 ships of various size and functions (bulk, cargo, container, passenger, vehicle carrier, and fuel tanker) with a net cargo capacity of 5 million metric tons.

South Korea has a growing power-generation system that provides electricity for private and commercial needs. Originally a state-owned sector, the power system is being privatized. During the 1990s, total production increased from 184,660 gigawatt-hours (gWh) in 1995 to 239,325 gWh in 1999, outpacing demand by a comfortable level. Over time, South Korea's dependency on thermal and hydroelectric generators has been reduced in favor of nuclear-powered generators. The country lacks domestic fossil-energy resources, so the growing cost of imported oil and natural gas has encouraged this shift. Still, thermal generators account for the bulk of generated electricity. In 1998, the percentage of electricity generated by various methods was as follows: fossil fuel generators (59.56 percent), nuclear-powered generators (38.51 percent), hydroelectric generators (1.91 percent), and other (0.02 percent). The share contributed by nuclear-power generators rose to 42.8 percent in 1999.

The South Korean telecommunications system is among the best, the most modern, and the fastest growing in the world. The number of fixed telephone lines increased from 763,200 in 1973 to 20,963,000 in 1999, while the number of cellular telephone lines jumped from 1,641,000 in 1995 to 12,019,000 in 1999, an eightfold increase over a 5-year period. In 1999, there were at least 11 Internet providers. With 14 million Internet users in 2000, South Korea ranked third in the world after the United States and the United Kingdom. Also in 1999, there were at least 106 AM, 97 FM, and 6 shortwave radio stations, and 121 television stations apart from the 8 stations operated by the U.S. Armed Forces in South Korea. In 1997, there were at least 47.5 million radios and 15.9 million television sets in use.

CountryNewspapersRadiosTV Sets aCable subscribers aMobile Phones aFax Machines aPersonal Computers aInternet Hosts bInternet Users b
South Korea3931,033346138.3302N/A156.855.5310,860
United States2152,146847244.325678.4458.61,508.7774,100
North Korea19914753N/A0N/AN/AN/AN/A
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.


South Korea's economy has undergone a very impressive development experience. Through economic planning, its government modernized the agricultural sector, established a large industrial sector, and helped create a service sector. Its extensive regulations have largely protected domestic enterprises from foreign competition and helped them grow and consolidate over time. Government polices and practices, including generous loans, have stimulated economic growth. The 1997 financial crisis damaged the South Korean economy as a whole and forced it to contract in 1998, but the economy began its recovery in 1999 and continued it in 2000, an indicator of the strength of its sectors. At the beginning of the 21st century, South Korea's smallest economic sector, in terms of contribution to GDP, is agriculture, including forestry and fisheries. Second largest is the industrial sector, which consists of manufacturing, construction, and mining, a vital sector of which manufacturing accounts for the bulk of South Korea's expanding exports. As with agriculture, industry's share of GDP is declining while the service sector is growing, a phenomenon consistent with the maturity of the South Korean economy. The service sector is now the largest and the fastest growing economic sector, accounting for the largest share of GDP.



Arable land is limited in South Korea. It accounts for 21 percent of the total land (20.7 million hectares), a decrease from its share of 21.8 percent (21.6 million hectares) in the early 1950s. Growing urbanization and road building are the 2 major factors responsible for the decrease. Agriculture's share of GDP, including forestry and fishery, has declined from 6.2 percent in 1995 to 5 percent in 1999. The total output of the sector, including forestry and fishery, grew 4.7 percent in 1999, after a contraction of 6.6 percent in 1998 as a result of the 1997 financial crisis. In 1999, its share of the workforce was 10.09 percent (2,349,000 workers), a decrease from 1995 when its share was about 12.2 percent (2,534,000).

Since the 1950s, South Korea has a well-developed and highly productive agricultural sector, thanks to several factors: government financial assistance (US$8.3 billion in 2000), mechanization, and extensive use of fertilizers. To encourage growth and make the country self-sufficient in its major food item, rice, the government has prohibited rice imports under normal circumstances. It has also paid farmers higher than the world price for their rice while subsidizing consumers to make rice affordable for all. As a result, South Korea is now self-sufficient in rice production and the production of many kinds of fruit and vegetables. In 1999, rice production was 5,975,000 metric tons, a large increase from 1995 (5,060,000 metric tons). South Korea also produces significant amounts of other major items such as barley and wheat (189,000 metric tons in 1999), but it is not self-sufficient in grains. Therefore, it imports agricultural products, mainly cereals and preparations, equal to US$1.716 billion in 1998.


Although forests account for 65.7 percent of its total land, the topography makes commercial forestry difficult, so South Korea imports most of its forestry products (timber), mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia. Beginning in the 1950s, the reforestation policy of the government, combined with the rural development program of the 1970s known as the Saemaul Movement, has restored forests, which were massively destroyed during World War II. This resulted in a large increase in the production of timber from 30.8 million cubic meters in 1954 to 363.6 million cubic meters in 1998, mostly used by rural inhabitants as fuel. For its various needs, the country relies heavily on imported timber, which amounted to US$1.886 billion in 1998.


The fishing industry has been declining over the last 2 decades, with only 315,000 people so employed in 1999, down from 750,000 in the 1970s. Its role in the economy has declined along with that of agriculture in general as a result of industrialization and the growth of the service sector. In 1999, fishery products accounted for about 1 percent of exports (about US$1.4 billion), a sharp decline from its share of 5 percent in the 1970s. South Korea relies on large imports of fishery products for domestic consumption, although catches increased from 2.4 million metric tons in the late 1970s to 3 million metric tons in the late 1990s. The value of imported fishery products was about US$1 billion in 1996-97, a huge jump from the mid-1970s when they were less than US$20 million annually.


The industrial sector, including mining, manufacturing, and construction, has been growing in South Korea since the 1960s. Its share of GDP has remained around 43 percent since 1995. The sector contracted by 6.1 percent in 1998 as a result of the 1997 financial crisis, but it expanded by 11 percent in 1999 when the South Korean economy began to recover. Despite its significant expansion, the overall economic growth pushed its share of GDP a little lower than 1998. In 1999, it accounted for about 25.61 percent (4,026,000 workers) of the work-force, a decrease from 1995 when it accounted for about 23 percent (4,824,000).


Mining and quarrying are very insignificant economic activities, accounting for only 0.4 percent of GDP (US$1.47 billion) in 1999. South Korea has few significant mineral resources, and no oil or natural gas. Its available minerals are lead, zinc, and copper, which supply only a fraction of its needs. As a result, it imports all its needs in fuel and almost all its needed minerals, accounting for 50.8 percent of its total imports in 1999. South Korea was once a major exporter of tungsten concentrate, but its output of tungsten ore stopped completely in 1993 when China flooded the world markets with tungsten, sharply decreasing its world prices. The mining industry, including quarrying, grew by 5.2 percent in 1999, a negligible growth for an industry that experienced a 24 percent contraction in 1998.


Manufacturing has been the engine of growth and development for South Korea, which has emerged as a major supplier of various manufactured products. The sector's contribution to GDP was 31.8 percent in 1999, an increase from 30.9 percent in 1998 and an improvement over the levels during the economic slowdown of 1996 and 1997.

South Korea's manufacturing sector produces a wide range of labor-and capital-intensive products to satisfy domestic needs, but mainly for export. They include light and consumer products (fabrics and clothing); electronic, telecommunication, and computer devices; and heavy industrial products (metals, automobiles, and ships). Since the 1970s, South Korea has become one of the world's major steel producers. The automobile industry began growing in the 1980s for export purposes only, but it eventually expanded to meet domestic demands too. Annual production of automobiles grew from 935,271 in 1990 to 2.2 million in 1999.

The value of South Korea's manufactured goods was US$129.5 billion in 1999, as compared to US$97.9 billion in 1998 during the economic crisis. The best-performing sectors included telecommunications, electronics, industrial machinery, and transport equipment, which grew by more than 30 percent. Heavy industry and chemicals grew by 25.9 percent, and light industry (textile, footwear and food products) by 7.2 percent.

During the financial crisis of 1997, many manufacturers, including large conglomerates, went bankrupt. Corporate restructuring, as part of the conditions for receiving IMF aid, has changed the ownership structure of manufacturing to some extent. This previously closed sector is now open to unlimited investment and acquisition by foreign investors. In 1998 Hyundai Motor, the largest South Korean automaker, acquired the troubled Kia Motors, South Korea's third largest carmaker and its affiliate, Asia Motors. In 2000, Renault, a French automaker, purchased the bankrupt Samsung Motors while Ford, a U.S. company, bought the bankrupt Daewoo Motors.

The manufacturing sector employed 4,006,000 people in 1999, a substantial increase from 1998 (2,324,000 people). The 1999 figure indicates a large increase since the 1980s (15.3 percent), but a phenomenal increase since the early 1970s (169.9 percent). As has happened in most developed economies, the growing cost of labor has forced many South Korean manufacturers to relocate large industries and/or labor-intensive ones to countries with much cheaper wages, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and China. Thanks to better ties between the 2 Koreas since 1998, some South Korean manufacturers have established a few electronics factories in North Korea, but extensive relocation of South Korean industries to North Korea will not be a real option until the 2 countries have further improved their relations.


Despite its decades of growth resulting from massive infrastructure projects, the construction industry has experienced a decline since 1995 when its share of GDP was 11.3 percent. With the financial crisis, its share fell to 10.1 percent in 1998 and 8.8 percent in 1999.

In the 1960s and the 1970s, construction prospered as South Korea was entering its industrialization phase. This continued until the housing boom of the late 1980s. The number of residences (houses and apartments) built averaged 196,000 annually from 1973 to 1982 and reached 750,000 in 1990. The boom continued until 1996 when the economic slowdown began. The 1997 financial crisis saw a sharp drop in construction-industry revenues from US$32.4 billion in 1997 to US$9.9 billion in 1998. The limited recovery of 1999 increased the revenues to US$16.7 billion.

Overseas projects have helped the construction industry over time, but their importance has declined since the early 1990s. Taking advantage of cheap labor, South Korean construction companies won contracts in the 1980s for road-building projects, mainly in the rich oil-producing nations of the Middle East.


The service sector has developed substantially over time, accounting for 51.5 percent of GDP in 1999, surpassing agriculture and industry. It is the largest employer, with 64.3 percent share of total workforce in 1999 (13,906,000 workers), a small increase from 1995.


These services accounted for 19.7 percent of GDP in 1999, an increase of 5.7 percent since 1989. A major reason for its modest growth was the collapse of the Daewoo group with more than US$80 billion of unpaid loans. The collapse damaged the bond market and led to a loss of confidence in the investment trust industry.

Under the directive of the central bank (Bank of Korea), the government-owned banks have manipulated economic activities by providing credits to those enterprises who follow the government's development strategy, while punishing others by denying them credit. The 1997 crisis forced the government to reform the financial system to receive an IMF-led rescue package conditioned on economic restructuring. To minimize its intervention in the financial sector, the government has privatized all public banks with the exception of 2 development banks: the Korea Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of Korea. They provide medium- and long-term credit for both export industries and the heavy-equipment and chemical industries funded by the South Korean government and foreign investors. In compliance with the IMF demand for the opening of South Korea's financial sector to foreign competition, it has sold one of its privatized banks to foreign bidders, while considering the sale of some others. Banks and insurance companies are still underdeveloped and suffer from various problems, a consequence of years of government mismanagement and especially the continued tight government control of financial services. Years of continued reform will therefore be required to address its underdevelopment.

The 1997 financial crisis forced many financial and business services to consolidate. Between 1997 and 2000, government regulators closed down about 498 financial institutions, including 11 banks, 21 merchant banking corporations, 13 insurers, 16 securities firms and investment trust companies, and 437 other non-banking institutions. In 2000, the financial system consisted of 22 banks and thousands of non-bank institutions, including 5 merchant banking corporations, 43 securities firms, 36 insurers, 28 investment-trust companies, 15 leasing companies, and 7 credit-card issuers. Non-bank institutions consist of several mutual savings and finance companies, credit unions, community credit cooperatives, postal savings plans, and insurance, installment-credit, and venture-capital companies. Assets held by all domestic banks totaled US$440.8 billion in 2000.

In January 2001, there were 44 foreign banks doing business in Korea, and some Korean banks have been taken over by foreign banks. Assets held by foreign banks are estimated at US$36 billion. Foreign banks work under regulatory conditions almost identical to those of domestic banks, but they are exempted from direct control by the South Korean government. However, they are not allowed to have a branch network, and therefore their retail operations are small.

Investment trust companies (ITCs) constitute another component of South Korea's financial and business services sector. The bankruptcy of the Daewoo group in late 1999 inflicted heavy damage on the ITCs, which had purchased a large share of its bonds. This drastic event caused panicked investors to transfer about US$84.2 billion of their investments from ITCs into banks. To restore confidence, the South Korean government has injected large sums (US$25.3 billion in 2000) into the worst-hit ITCs. It has also promised another rescue package of US$41.3 billion for 2001.

The South Korean life-insurance market is the world's sixth largest in terms of premium income. The insurance industry has also suffered from the weaknesses of the financial sector, and some companies have closed as a result. The government now supervises the insurance industry, which has been opened to foreign investors. In 2000, the insurance industry included 23 life-insurance companies, including 7 foreign ones and 3 joint ventures , and 13 non-life insurance companies. In 1999, their assets were estimated at about US$47.2 billion.


With its ancient historical sites, many Buddhist temples, various opportunities for summer and winter sports, and natural beauty, South Korea has become an important tourist attraction. Government support and private investments have helped the tourist industry grow impressively in the 1990s, after it had been an insignificant industry in previous decades. The number of tourists grew on average by 7.2 percent per year between 1995 and 1999 to reach 3,921,000 in 1999, a large increase over the 2,294,000 visitors in 1995. In 1999, tourist-generated revenue was US$4.615 billion, a significant drop from 1998's figure of US$6.924 billion. The devaluation of the South Korean currency and a sharp decline in the price of many goods and services pushed down the tourist-generated revenues despite an increase in the number of tourists.

Tourists are mainly from the Pacific region. Japan has been the largest source of tourism, followed by the United States and Taiwan, with 1999 figures of 2,174,000, 473,000, and 146,000, respectively. South Koreans residing abroad form a large segment of tourists as well, sending 1,128,000 tourists that year. The tourist industry has a large and expanding infrastructure. In 1998, it included 446 hotels (nearly half of them 5-star) with 46,360 hotel rooms. The hotel industry received a boost in the 1980s with the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics. The 2002 World Cup soccer tournament, which will be co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, will give another major boost to the South Korean tourist industry.


South Korea's economic growth has contributed to the expansion of land, sea, and air transportation. The transportation industry grew significantly in the 1990s when South Korea began to emerge as a major trading nation. The industry accounted for 7 percent of GDP in 1999, a little more than its share in 1995 (6.6 percent). The South Korean marine commercial fleet has a large cargo capacity, (5,093,620 metric tons in 1999), and is expected to grow in the first decade of the 21st century. Its commercial air fleet grew rapidly in the 1990s, carrying 74,375,000 international passengers and 9,052,000 domestic ones in 1997. The slowdown in South Korea's economy in 1998 sharply reduced passengers to 55,736,000 and 6,877,000, respectively, but a likely recovery is suggested as the economy recovers.


South Korea has a very large and growing retail sector, whose share of GDP in 1999 was 10.9 percent. The retail industry, which had been dominated mainly by small-scale traditional shops and restaurants, began to diversify and include larger and modern establishments as well as various foreign retailing networks in the 1980s. Nevertheless, most retail units are still small family-run stores, stalls in markets, or street vendors, though this traditional retail network is giving way rapidly to large discount stores. Discount-store chains, including the domestic E-mart, the U.S. Wal-Mart and Price Costco, and the French Carrefour, are growing. The retail sector also includes a growing food service sector with estimated revenue of US$22.7 billion in 1999. Franchise restaurants, including American ones, accounted for about 5 percent of this sector's revenue in 1999. Like all other types of economic activities, the 1997 financial crisis damaged the retail sector in general and slowed growth of the franchised restaurants in particular, but the economic recovery has improved the situation. Retail and wholesale trade recovered 13 percent in 1999, offsetting a similar decline in 1998. Partial statistics for 2000 reflect about 6.9 percent growth of the retail industry and a sharp jump in retail sales of an estimated US$98 billion.


South Korea's international trade began in the 1960s when it started its export-led growth development strategy, exporting mainly light and consumer goods and labor-intensive products (toys, footwear, and clothing). Since the 1990s, it has reduced the exports of such items in favor of heavy-industry, capital-intensive, and high-tech products. This has come about for 2 reasons: light and labor-intensive products have lost their competitiveness in international markets where they now face cheaper products from the other Asian nations; and South Korea's industrial growth has enabled it to produce competitive heavy-industry products like automobiles and ships and high-tech products like memory chips and computer products. It is now a major exporter of telecommunications and computer equipment and devices. South Korea's shipbuilding industry now sells ships to Japan, a major global shipbuilder in its own right.

Since the early 1960s, South Korea has targeted developed markets (the United States, Japan, and Europe) for its exports. Since the 1990s, it has also added the growing Pacific market (China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan) to its target list.

South Korea's exports totaled US$143.7 billion in 1999, a growth of 8.6 percent from 1998 (US$132.3 billion) and of about 11 percent from 1995 (US$125.1 billion). An increasing demand for South Korea's semiconductors and telecommunication products pushed the share of semiconductors in total 1999 exports to 13.1 percent, slightly higher than its 1998 share of 12.8 percent. Vehicle exports also rose by 12.3 percent to US$11.1 billion, but textile exports increased only by 6.8 percent to US$5.8 billion. However, its labor-intensive steel exports declined by 13.4 percent to US$7 billion. In 1999, South Korea's major export destinations were the United States (20.5 percent), the European Union (14.1 percent), Japan (11 percent), China (9.5 percent), and Hong Kong (6.3 percent).

South Korea's imports in 1999 totaled US$119.8 billion, a 28.4 percent rise over the 1998 levels of US$93.3 billion. South Korean export industries heavily depend on foreign capital goods (machinery and equipment) for their production. In 1999, South Korea's main sources of imports were the United States (20.8 percent), Japan (20.2 percent), the European Union (10.5 percent), China (7.4 percent), Saudi Arabia (4.7 percent), and Australia (3.9 percent). In the 1990s, its largest trade deficit was in 1996 (US$20.6 billion), while its largest trade surplus was in 1998 (US$39 billion).


Four government entities are in charge of foreign exchange activities in South Korea: the Ministry of Finance and Economy (MOFE), the Bank of Korea (BOK), the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS), and the Korea Customs Service (KSS). The ministry sets the overall foreign exchange policy, and the Bank of Korea holds and manages the foreign reserves, while managing all transactions pertaining to foreign trade and capital movements. It also supervises money-changers and foreign-exchange brokers, and provides foreign-exchange banks with foreign currency loans. The FSS supervises financial institutions that are involved in foreign-exchange activities. The KSS has some foreign-exchange regulatory responsibilities towards international trade. Apart from these government regulatory and supervisory institutions, banks involved in foreign exchange have the authority to engage in such financial transactions, including international banking.

South Korea has a free- floating exchange rate (a rate determined by supply and demand). This type of fluctuating exchange rate limits the MOFE's ability to prevent or to minimize the negative impacts of sudden changes of exchange rates. In 1997, for instance, the MOFE temporarily prohibited South Koreans from purchasing foreign currencies for holding purposes.

The rate of exchange of the South Korean won against the U.S. dollar remained more or less stable in the early 1990s. As the economy began to experience problems in the second half of the 1990s, it began to depreciate gradually against the dollar from 771.27 in 1995, to 804.45 in 1996, and to 951.29 in 1997. This relatively small fluctuation did not have a major impact on the pace of economic activities and the purchasing power of the population until the financial crisis of 1997. In early 1998, the exchange rate jumped to 2,000 and gradually fell to average at about 1,401.44. As the economic recovery began, the rate fell to 1,188.82 in 1999 and to 1,130.96 in 2000. Reflecting the depreciation of the won against the

Exchange rates: South Korea
South Korean won (W) per US$1
Jan 20011,271.89
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

U.S. dollar, the sharp and sudden increase in the exchange rate had a major negative impact on the South Korean economy, which is heavily dependent on large imports of capital goods and energy. The lowering of the exchange rate in 1999 and 2000, which was the result of a gradual economic recovery, contributed to the recovery itself by decreasing the cost of imported goods and fuel.

There have been various restrictions and regulations on foreign-exchange operations since the 1960s. These government-imposed measures were designed to ensure the availability of foreign currencies to South Korean enterprises and to prevent the flight of capital from South Korea. Under foreign pressure, the South Korean government began to liberalize the foreign exchange market in mid-1992. The 1997 IMF-led rescue package required the country to commit itself to liberalizing all aspects of the foreign-exchange system by the end of 2001. In reality, the system has yet to become fully liberalized as the South Korean government has introduced many new direct and indirect regulations in various forms, including restrictions on certain transactions, tax rules, and monitoring regulations, to ensure its control over the financial system.

The Korea Stock Exchange (KSE) in Seoul is the only stock market in South Korea for trading bonds and stocks. It was opened in 1992 to direct portfolio investment from abroad. The reform of the South Korean economy since 1997 has removed restrictions on foreign ownership of South Korean enterprises, and the KSE is now authorized to sell their stocks to foreign buyers without any limit.


Since the 1960s, South Korea has greatly improved the living standards of its entire population, especially in infrastructures that ensure access to safe water, sanitation, medical services, and adequate diet. According to 1998 statistics, all South Koreans have access to health services and adequate sanitation, while only 7 percent has no access to safe water. The expansion and modernization of

GDP per Capita (US$)
South Korea2,8943,7665,1907,96711,123
United States19,36421,52923,20025,36329,683
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

the health-care system has been particularly effective: between 1963 and 1998, the number of doctors rose from 9,052 (1 for every 2,981 people) to 65,431 (1 per 710 people), and the number of hospital beds from 10,477 (38 beds per 100,000 population) to 236,187 (509 beds per 100,000). There has been universal health-care insurance since 1989. Infant mortality decreased from 43 per 1,000 live births in 1970 to 5 per 1,000 in 1998. Life expectancy increased from 62.6 years in the period 1970-75 to 72.4 years during 1995-2000. It is significantly higher than other Pacific nations such as Thailand (68.8 years), but much lower than Japan, which has the world's highest life expectancy (80 years), and the United States (76.7 years).

Education, which is compulsory until the age of 14, has been a priority for the South Korean government since 1948. During the period 1995-97, it accounted for 17.5 percent of government annual spending, which is higher than most countries including Japan and the United States. The literacy rate has risen from 22 percent in 1945 to 87.6 percent in 1970 and to 97.5 percent in 1998, but is a little lower than North Korea's rate of 100 percent. South Korea has surpassed certain major industrialized countries in college-level enrollments in science (34 percent in South Korea, 23 percent in Japan, 29 percent in the United Kingdom, and 31 percent in Germany). Nevertheless, it is still lags behind North Korea in the percentage of the population with post-secondary education; in 1998, post-secondary graduates equaled 9.2 per-

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: South Korea
Lowest 10%2.9
Lowest 20%7.5
Second 20%12.9
Third 20%17.4
Fourth 20%22.9
Highest 20%39.3
Highest 10%24.3
Survey year: 1993
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

cent of the adult population compared to 13.7 percent in North Korea.

Economic development has improved the standards of living of the South Koreans over time. As a result, only 4.2 percent of them lived below the poverty line in 1999. However, the rapid economic development has created extremes of wealth and poverty. The 1997 financial crisis worsened the situation as many people lost their employment while many others faced wage cuts and declining purchasing power. To address the situation, the government spends large amounts on the social safety net (welfare and unemployment insurance), which amounted to 7 percent of government expenditure in 2000.


South Korea joined the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1991, but has not yet ratified the ILO conventions on Workers Rights (agreements on the freedom of association, on the right to organize and collective bargaining, and on the right of public-service employees to organize). South Korea's constitution provides for the right of workers to associate freely, excluding public-sector employees. According to 1998 legislation, white-collar public workers are allowed to form work-

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
CountryAll foodClothing and footwearFuel and power aHealth care bEducation bTransport & CommunicationsOther
South Korea1837514648
United States139946851
North KoreaN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

place councils, but blue-collar workers in the postal services, railways, telecommunications, and the National Medical Center are allowed to have unions. In 1997, South Korea amended its labor laws to permit competing unions from 2002 onward, and also to permit more than 1 national labor federation. In 2000, there were 3 such federations: the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, and the Independent Korean Federation of Clerical and Financial Workers, in addition to 1,600 district labor unions.

The constitution and the Trade Union Law provide for the right of workers to collective bargaining and collective action. There are provisions for workers to seek retribution in case of unfair practices by employers. The 1997 revision of the labor law removed a ban on third-party intervention (union intervention) in labor disputes. In South Korea, labor disputes tend to escalate to work slowdowns and confrontational interruption of businesses through rallies, sit-ins, and occupation of company offices or factories.

Workers have the right to strike, but strikes in government agencies, state-run enterprises, and defense industries are prohibited. The government has the power to end labor disputes by compulsory arbitration in enterprises that are considered to be of "essential public interest" such as public transportation, public health, and utilities. Wage cuts and layoffs since the 1997 crisis have contributed to the rise of labor disputes, which had dropped to 80 cases in 1995 from the 1980s, when they numbered in the thousands.

The South Korean government implemented a minimum wage in 1998 for companies with more than 10 employees. The rate is subject to annual reviews. In 1999, the minimum wage was US$1.45 per hour. As a rule, it is not adequate for a typical blue-collar worker who must supplement his/her salary with overtime payments and bonuses that most companies usually offer to their employees.

The 1989 amendment to the labor law provides for a 44-hour workweek, but its 1997 revisions enable employers to require some 48-hour weeks without overtime. A reduction in the workweek to 40 hours has become a major goal of the labor movement.

Forced labor and child labor are prohibited, but children under the age of 18 may work under certain conditions. To do so, they require a special employment certificate from the Labor Ministry, which is rarely issued because education is compulsory until the age of 14. Children under the age of 18 who wish to work require written approval from their parents or guardians. There are several laws concerning child labor, which are usually enforced, but regular inspections are not done due to lack of human resources. The government sets safety and health standards at work, but accident rates are high because of the lack of regular inspections.

The 1987 Equal Employment Act provides for the equality of men and women in the workplace. Despite improvement in their hiring and promotion, women are still discriminated against, and many women have been sexually abused. The government has enacted laws to punish abusers and provide redress for the abused, but abuses still continue. Foreign workers, most of whom are undocumented, are subject to various physical and financial abuses. Although the government has legalized the status of some of them and sought to ensure their better treatment by employers, they are still vulnerable to various forms of abuse, including withholding wages and passports.

South Korea has a highly educated workforce of 22 million (1998 est.), a growing segment of which is skilled. Unemployment more than doubled during the 1997 financial crisis, from 2.6 percent (556,000) in 1997 to 6.8 percent (1,461,000) in 1998. Economic recovery reduced it to 4.8 percent (1,353,000) in 1999. In May 2000, the unemployment rate was 3.7 percent.


c. 100 A.D. Emergence of the Kingdom of Koguryo, the first truly Korean state.

668-892. Silla Unification Period marked by cultural borrowings from China.

914-1392. Koryo Dynasty marked by Mongol invasion and decline of Buddhism in favor of Confucianism.

1392. Yi Dynasty moves capital to Seoul.

1590s. Japan invades Korea under Hideyoshi and occupies Seoul.

1884. U.S. Presbyterian missionaries arrive in Korea.

1910-45. Japan colonizes the Korean Peninsula.

1919. Samil (1 March) Independence Movement suppressed by the Japanese.

1945. Japan surrenders in World War II and ends its colonization of Korea. The Korean Peninsula is "temporarily" divided between Soviet and U.S. spheres of influence.

1948. The Republic of Korea is established in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. Syngman Rhee, a civilian, becomes the first president of South Korea.

1950-53. The Korean War is fought between United Nations (mostly U.S.) and Communist forces.

1950s. South Korea mechanizes and expands its agricultural sector.

1961. Park Chung-hee, a military person, becomes the second president of South Korea.

1960s. South Korea begins its export-driven strategy of industrial growth by producing and exporting light consumer and labor-intensive products as well as some electronics (radios and black-and-white televisions).

1970s. Production and export of more sophisticated electronics, such as color televisions and calculators.

1974. Assassination attempt on President Park; his wife is killed.

1976. Opposition leaders are purged by President Park's increasingly authoritarian regime.

1979. President Park is assassinated a year after his reelection; martial law follows for 15 months.

1979. Major General Chun Doo-hwan becomes South Korea's third president and tightens military rule.

1980s. South Korea begins its production and export of more advanced electronics, such as VCRs, microwave ovens, and cameras. Heavy industry (steel, automobiles, and shipbuilding) emerges as an important sector.

1988. South Korea hosts the Summer Olympics, which also help expand its tourism industry.

1989. Roh Tae-woo, a former military person, becomes South Korea's fourth president.

1990s. South Korea's high-tech industry emerges, which turns South Korea into a major supplier of telecommunication and computer devices and parts.

1990. South Korea normalizes relations with the Soviet Union.

1992. South Korea normalizes relations with China.

1993. Kim Young-sam, a civilian, becomes the fifth president of South Korea.

1996. South Korea joins the OECD, for which it begins liberalizing its economy.

1997. After labor unrest in the early part of the year, a financial crisis emerges, resulting in a series of bankruptcies and collapse of major enterprises. The government negotiates a bail-out package with the IMF for about US$60 billion. Kim Dae-jung, an opposition leader, is elected as the sixth president of South Korea.

1998. Kim Dae-jung takes office as president and announces his "sunshine policy" of seeking better ties with North Korea. Financial crisis eases with private and public initiatives to reduce long-term debt.

1999. The South Korean government establishes the Financial Supervisory Service, and announces a fiscal plan to balance the budget by 2006. Curbs on foreign investments are eased.

2000. Foreign automakers take control of some troubled South Korean firms. President Kim Dae-jung pays an official visit to P'yongyang, the first such visit since the creation of the 2 Koreas.


South Korea went through a very difficult economic period in the late 1990s. Its gradual recovery has shown the resilience of its economy and its capability to grow further. The major factor for its success has been the strength of its export industries, the engine of growth since the 1960s. The diversification of this sector, which also includes high-tech industries, will ensure a position for South Korea as a major economic power and a major global exporter.

The high domestic labor costs have led to the relocation of some labor-intensive industries to other Asian countries like China and Vietnam. This process will likely be accelerated, especially because it can speed up recovery of the South Korean economy and help it grow faster by making its products more competitive in world markets.

If the current process of reconciliation between the 2 Koreas continues, better ties will likely lead to extensive production of South Korean goods-for-export in North Korea, where labor costs are much lower. Better ties will also provide a big opportunity for South Korean industries as their government has agreed to expand and modernize North Korea's crumbling infrastructure pending the settlement of major security concerns. The unification of the 2 Koreas could also turn a united Korea into a stronger economic and military power. Despite its current difficulties, South Korea has a large military force and is an economic power with a growing high-tech sector. North Korea suffers from major economic problems and requires heavy investments to repair its aging industries, devastated agriculture, and crumbling infrastructure. However, it has a very extensive industrial sector with an advanced military branch, a relatively significant mining sector, and a highly educated population. It is linked via land to China and Russia, which are South Korea's targeted markets. The combined economic and military capabilities of the 2 Koreas will likely help a united Korea to establish itself as a regional power in the Pacific.

The restructuring of South Korea's economy and the growing presence of foreign investors and enterprises in the previously protected South Korean market will impose bankruptcies and mergers on weak and small firms to make the larger firms strong enough to withstand foreign competition. Unless the economy grows fast enough to generate employment for the jobless, this situation could contribute to a growing unemployment rate with negative economic, social, and political consequences on South Korea. The role of foreign firms in its economy will significantly increase as its closed and highly-protected markets are opened.


South Korea has no territories or colonies.


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. Country Finance: South Korea. London: EIU, February 2001.

. Country Profile: South Korea, 2000-01. London: EIU, June 2000.

. Country Report: South Korea, 2001-02. London: EIU, February 2001.

. Country Report: South Korea, 2001-02. London, EIU, November 2000.

. Country Risk Service: South Korea. London, UK: EIU, March 2001.

Eui-Gak, Hwang. The Korean Economies: A Comparison of North and South. London: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Kie-Chiang Oh, John. Korean Politics: The Quest for Democratization and Development, 1960-1990. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999.

UNDP. Human Development Report 2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed May 2001.

U.S. Department of State. 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Korea, Republic of. <>. Accessed April 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Korea. <>. Accessed April 2001.

Dr.Hooman Peimani




South Korean won (W). A won is equal to 100 chun. There are notes of W1,000, 5,000, and 10,000, as well as coins in denominations of W10, 50, 100, and 500.


Electronic products, machinery and equipment, motor vehicles, steel, ships, textiles, clothing, footwear, fish.


Machinery, electronics and electronic equipment, oil, steel, transport equipment, textiles, organic chemicals, grains.


US$764.6 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$172.6 billion (f.o.b., 2000). Imports: US$160.5 billion (f.o.b., 2000).

South Korea

views updated May 29 2018

South Korea

Basic Data

Official Country Name:Republic of Korea
Region (Map name):East & South Asia
Language(s):Korean, English
Literacy rate:98.0%
Area:98,480 sq km
GDP:457,219 (US$ millions)
Number of Daily Newspapers:116
Newspaper Consumption (minutes per day):35
Total Newspaper Ad Receipts:3,639,291 (Won millions)
As % of All Ad Expenditures:48.10
Magazine Consumption (minutes per day):10
Number of Television Stations:121
Number of Television Sets:15,900,000
Television Sets per 1,000:331.9
Television Consumption (minutes per day):174
Number of Cable Subscribers:8,391,020
Cable Subscribers per 1,000:177.4
Number of Radio Stations:209
Number of Radio Receivers:47,500,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000:991.6
Radio Consumption (minutes per day):61
Number of Individuals with Computers:11,255,000
Computers per 1,000:234.9
Number of Individuals with Internet Access:19,040,000
Internet Access per 1,000:397.5
Internet Consumption (minutes per day):42

Background & General Characteristics

South Korea is, by all measures, a media-rich country. As of 2002, this country of over forty-seven million people had as many as 116 daily newspapers, with the top three of its national dailies boasting circulation of more than two million copies each. Television is ubiquitous, too, with two national networks, over forty cable channels, and a digital satellite broadcasting service offering seventy-four channels. Additionally, some 6,500 periodicals2,000 weeklies, 3,300 monthlies and 1,200 quarterliesbombard the media market, each targeting its own share in the general as well as segmented audiences.

Koreans are avid users of new communication technologies as well. The availability and adoption of new communication devices in South Korea is on a par with the world's most industrialized countries. In a market of free economy and electoral democracy, Korea's mass media and its press fiercely compete among themselves while benefiting from a high degree of freedom from formal constraint.

Yet such a rosy picture of South Korea's media also has an undertone of anomaly in an odd mix of today's modernity and yesterday's traditional society. The anomaly surfaces in the form of instability, contradictions, irregularity, and cohabitation of old and new values and practices, especially in the present transitional phase of Korea's rapid industrialization. Press freedom is a case in point. The press enjoys a constitutionally guaranteed freedom, but often it behaves as if it doesn't have much freedom in its coverage of certain sensitive subjects such as the powerful military or the incumbent president.

This anomaly goes beyond the press circles, and is rather societal in scope, as Korea exhibited it, or tried to conceal it, for instance, during soccer's 2002 FIFA World Cup competition. On May 31, 2002, South Korea (as co-host of the games) had it officially declared open by the country's president, Nobel Peace laureate Kim Dae-jung. The opening event, a high-tech showcase plus traditional dances, was colorful and festive, but Kim himself was not a happy man at the time. The youngest of his three sons was in jail under influence-peddling charges, while his second son also was being investigated by the national prosecution for similar accusations. His political opponents declared a sort of truce for the month-long World Cup period as a "national face-saving" gesture. For the sake of national pride, even the President's opponents felt the need to keep "dirty clothes" in the closet while throngs of foreign soccer tourists were visiting the country.

The press of South Korea is a noisy, vibrant and powerful entity. This power, often elitist, is a legacy from the history of its press. The modern press in Korea began as weeklies in the 1890s during the waning days of the Chosun Dynasty (1392 to 1910). The hermit kingdom wanted to awaken their subjects to the rapidly modernizing world outside by offering a modern press. Enlightening the public was the primary objective of the press. When Japan colonized Korea in 1910, weeklies turned dailies, and privately owned dailies began to play the role of educators and independence fighters. Many of the then reporters and editors themselves conceived of their role in that way. For survival the press learned to compromise with the colonial ruling powers during the years between 1910 and 1945. This legacy served the Korean press very well after Korea's independence in 1948 and during the subsequent despotic and military regimes in the 1960s through the 1980s.

The same tradition thrives in today's Korean press. There is a healthy dose of skepticism toward the powerful in the civilian rule, balanced with a certain degree of compromise with the ruling power if necessary for business interests or survival. While the press is commercially sponsored and motivated to maximize profits, it often is considered an institution of public good or as a part of the ruling elite. A rising number of civil-society groups find this press behavior hypocritical, and demands the press be reformed from inside out by observing fair practices in competition and by honoring editorial independence that the press claims it practices. Press freedom for the people, not for the owners of the press, is a rallying cry of such civic groups.

The South Korean press benefits from the availability of a highly literate audience. The adult literacy rate is estimated to be over 97 percent; since literacy is not a national concern anymore, the Ministry of Education has stopped estimating it. Further, all Koreans speak the same language and Korea is a single-race society, although they have regional dialects and regionally based prejudices and rivalries. There are some negative consequences of this unidimensional character but, for the press, it is a wonderfully convenient market of audiences. Koreans practice various religions52 percent Christian and 46 percent Buddhistbut Confucianism as Korea's prevailing credo unifies them all as one national community. The South Korean territory is one contiguous lot, hence the convenience in reaching all corners daily at the same time. The subscription fees to dailies, about $8 monthly, are an affordable rate given the rising affluence in the Korean economy.

Therefore it is no wonder that all dailies, especially the national papers, fiercely compete to capture the largest possible share of the same general audience. All major media groups are based in Seoul, the capital city. Seoul is more than a center of politics; it is the hub of Korea's business, economy, education, culture and arts, transportation, and most other areas of culture. It is a huge metropolitan area of some eleven million people, almost one quarter of Korea's population. Another 24 percent resides in the province adjacent to, and surrounding, the capital city. Korea's ten national general-interest dailies, mostly morning papers, are all based in Seoul. These national dailies set the pace of news and national agendas together with the increasing power of national television networks. The circulation of the national dailies is truly nationwide; some of the big dailies run locally based printing facilities to serve the readers in the provincial areas more efficiently.

The national papers publish 44 to 52 standard-sized pages daily. They all use the Korean language Hangeul. Until late 1990s, some of them printed editorial texts in vertical lines, progressing from right to left, also intermixing the Korean text with a limited number of Chinese characters. In the early twenty-first century the sole use of Hangeul is universal, and the text lines are horizontal as in the Western press. One physical difference in the look of the Korean press is the prominent display of some major advertising on the bottom half of the front pages because it is the most expensive ad space. Although all the ten national dailies strive to be quality papers that stress hard news, their news stories tend to be relatively short, which in turn is an indication that in-depth reporting is the exception not the rule.

Besides the general-interest national dailies, there are five business-financial dailies, two English-language dailies (The Korea Times and The Korea Herald ), three children's dailies, a couple of electronic industry news dailies, and four sports dailies. These sports dailies are more like the popular press of the West. They are openly sensational with gossipy stories and revealing photos of popular entertainment figures on the front pages. In content and emphasis, they are more like entertainment dailies. Sometimes the sports sections of the national dailies are more informative than the so-called sports dailies. Indeed, the national dailies often dispatch more of their sports staff to major international sports events like the Olympic games than the sports dailies do. It is not an understatement to say that these sports dailies operate primarily to make money by sensationalizing news.

The English-language dailies serve the non-Korean community, especially the U.S. military contingent. There are about 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. The nation's economy and foreign trade is ever expanding so there are increasing number of visiting business people who find the English-language dailies useful. The Korea Times ( is an independently owned paper, while The Korea Herald ( grew as a government-subsidized outlet. In recent years, a growing number of college students subscribe to the English-language papers for their interest in learning English. To many Koreans, and the younger generation in particular, learning English is a sort of obsession. Competency in English is a must to landing a good job at many institutions in Korea. One prominent multinational corporation based in Korea now requires its employees to communicate solely in English in their offices. Some colleges and universities began to offer a certain number of their non-language courses in English.

There are thirty-nine local daily papers in Korea, published in nine provinces; they are mostly based in provincial capital cities and other urban centers. Their daily issues range between 24-36 pages long. Compared to the national dailies, their circulation is quite small25,000 to 50,000 copies at most. Most Koreans residing in provincial areas take the national dailies as must reading while treating their local dailies as a supplementary source of news. However, most local papers try to be comprehensive papers by treating national news as prominently as the national dailies do, and then they strive to compete against the national dailies on their own turf. To make their business more difficult, most national dailies insert a few pages of local coverage in their provincially targeting editions.

Only two of the local dailies are known to be successful as the leading dailies in their respective city: the Busan Ilbo and the Daegu Maeil Daily. Their base cities, Busan and Daegu, are large: 3.5 million and 2.7 million residents respectively. They are the next politically and economically vibrant metropolitan areas, after Seoul. These two papers look like the prosperous metropolitan papers in the United States. Except for these two, the majority of Korean local dailies are weak in assets, heavily indebted, small in circulation, and relatively ineffective as news media. Even among the ten national dailies, only five are known to generate profits, with the other five only surviving with heavy loans for debt and budget shortfall. Such papers generally serve the interest of their owners as a shield for their businesses, as a tool for the owners' influence, and sometimes as a base of their political power in their respective region. Nominally, local papers may also serve as a symbol of civic pride in moderately sized cities.

As indicated above, the general-interest national dailies are the principal players of news in Korea. The day's top stories on their front pages, quite often identical across the ten different papers, make the entire nation talk and debate about them as priority concerns of the time. Of the ten, three leading papersChosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo, and Dong-a Ilbo are truly the biggest; their combined circulation of 6.9 million copies constitutes 74 percent of Korea's total daily circulation of 9.4 million, as of May 2002. These three papers constitute a monopoly, and they engage themselves in cutthroat competitions for hegemony.

The Chosun Ilbo, arguably the largest-circulation daily, is also the most influential in Korea. Like other leading dailies, this paper is a mammoth media complex, publishing not only the main vernacular paper but a weekly newsmagazine, a monthly magazine, a women's monthly, a children's daily, and a sports daily. The company owns an art gallery and a tourist hotel, too. It also sponsors a variety of promotional programs like an annual literary debut award, arts and cultural presentations, sports events, and special lecture series on salient social issues. It is a family-owned media group like other leading dailies; its owner publisher, Bang Sang-hoon, serves as a vice chairman of the Executive Board of the International Press Institute. Its editorial direction is independent and conservative, hence the voice of Korea's traditionally conservative mainstream power structure. Its politics coverage is a must reading in the political circles. To President Kim, a left-of-center politician, Chosun Ilbo is an archenemy. Being the most influential and prestigious paper in Korea, the Chosun Ilbo draws plenty of top talents to its newsroom and taps well-known intellectuals as contributors. It enjoys an upper hand in the competitive newspaper market.

The Joong-ang Ilbo, the second-largest circulation daily, used to be owned by Korea's leading multinational business conglomerate Samsung Group. It is now independent and family owned but most Koreans suspect the tie with Samsung is still there in the operation of the paper. A relative latecomer, the paper is generally conservative in editorial leaning, but progressive and innovative in its management and editorial design. For this, it appeals to the career-minded professional class of the population. It publishes the Korean edition of the Newsweek magazine besides a general-interest monthly magazine and a women's monthly. A staunch supporter of free-market practices, it attracts a large number of readers for its business and financial news coverage. In the 1997 presidential elections, it unabashedly endorsed President Kim's opponent. For this, the paper's readership paid dearly. In 1999, President Kim's government arrested the paper's owner publisher Hong Seok-hyun under tax evasion charges; Mr. Hong was tried, found guilty, jailed briefly and later released on bail. Aside from the legality, jailing a prominent publisher was an unprecedented happening even the previous military rulers had not resorted to. In spite of the ordeal Mr. Hong had suffered on his own home turf, he was elected to presidency of the World Association of Newspapers in 2002.

The last of the top three, Dong-a Ilbo, used to be the pre-eminent critic of Korea's previous military or dictatorial regimes. During the civilian rule now, this paper still exerts its critical approach to uncovering ills and irregularities in all sectors from government to business. Since the scandal-ridden government of President Kim being the paper's frequent target, the relationship between the two is frosty and antagonistic. This paper also is family owned and is a media group of its own with a very prestigious monthly, a weekly newsmagazine, a children's daily, and other publications. In 2001 the publisher of this paper, together with the publisher of the Chosun Ilbo, was arrested and briefly jailed under charges of accounting irregularities and tax evasion. The case is still pending as of 2002, but the damage was done to both parties credibility of the media and image of the incumbent president as a democratic leader.

Another paper, the Hankook Ilbo, used to be a big-league player with the other three, but it slipped from that club in the 1990s after the passing of its legendary and energetic founder-publisher Chang Key-young. The next generation of the Chang family did not do very well in managing the media complex the elder Chang had founded. Suffering from a huge debt, this paper survives on loans, and for that many observers speculate that its demise is a certainty and the only question is when. Its sister papers include the English-language daily The Korea Times, a children's daily, and a business daily. This paper has a reputation for playing soft-subject news such as entertainment, arts and culture, sports, and interesting foreign news. It has been the primary sponsor of Miss Korea beauty pageants. With such editorial emphasis, it had a huge appeal to the younger generation who did not particularly like the hard-news orientation and ostensibly elitist approach taken by other leading papers.

Besides the four above, there are six other national dailies that belong in a minor league in terms of their circulation sizes. The Kyunghyang Shinmun is unique for its own employees owning the paper. The Hankyoreh Shin-mun is noted for its progressive editorial emphasis. Founded in early 1980s after the death of Korea's first military ruler Park Chung-hee, this paper serves as the voice of center-left politics in Korea, hence an ally to President Kim Dae-jung, and the origin of its birth resembles Spain's El País. It was founded by a group of sympathizers who all contributed to the paper in the form of stock ownership. One of its standing editorial concerns is criticism of Korea's conservative newspapers, especially the big three and in particular The Chosun Ilbo. It also strongly supports South's reconciliation policy toward the North Korean regime. There is a paper serving as a government organ, Korea Daily News. Formerly named Seoul Shinmun, it is functional in at least one respectgood for deciphering the intent of the ruling regime on salient issues or governmental policies.

There are two national dailies founded by religious organizations: Kukmin Daily and Segye Times. The former is run by a locally prominent Christian group and the latter by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Their coverage of news is not in general religiously tilted, but their primary readership comes from their own religious following. There is one more national daily, Munhwa Ilbo, a paper founded by Korea's other multinational business conglomerate Hyundai Group, better known for its Hyundai cars. Munhwa in Korean means culture; there was an intent to carve a niche in arts and culture as its specialization. But over time, it has rather been seen as a front for the founding business group, especially for its founder's politics at the beginning. Hyundai's founder Chung Ju-yung once entertained a political ambition to run the country himself. In fact, he ran as a minor-party candidate in the 1992 presidential elections. At that time, many Koreans who admired his business acumen rather wished that he had better devote his life to the things he did very well, that is, making Hyundai cars and promoting them.

All these dailies, national and local combined, publish some 9.4 million copies for a population of forty-seven million people. That averages to 213 copies per 1,000 people. A national readership survey, conducted in December 2000 by the Media Today, a weekly journalism review, showed that 51.3 percent of the nation's households subscribe to daily newspapers. Subscription figures in Korea are best estimates by external parties of interest like the advertising sponsors' organization. Traditionally, Korean dailies do not reveal their circulations or participate in the Korea Audit Bureau of Circulations programs. They all exaggerate their circulation sizes. To make the matter worse, they all distribute a large number of promotional copies31 percent of their circulations in one estimateas a way of baiting readers and beating competitions. A best estimate from an advertising sponsors' group in November 2001 shows the circulation figures listed below for all national dailies and a few prominent local dailies:

Daily Circulations (as of November 2001):

National dailies (all in Seoul):

  • Chosun Ilbo (2,450,000)
  • Joong-ang Ilbo (2,350,000)
  • Dong-a Ilbo (2,100,000)
  • Hankook Ilbo (700,000)
  • Kyunghyang Shinmun (450,000)
  • Hankyoreh Shinmun (450,000)
  • Korea Daily News (400,000)
  • Kukmin Daily (350,000)
  • Munhwa Ilbo (300,000)
  • Segye Times (200,000)

Select local dailies:

  • Busan Ilbo (400,000)
  • Daegu Maeil Shinmun (170,000)
  • Kookje Daily News (of Busan)(100,000)

Economic Framework

During the period from 1997 to 1999, South Korea suffered a serious setback in its national economy because of the financial crisis that had also engulfed a few other Asian countries. This was a serious blow to the Korean self-esteem since by that time Korea had been continuing a highly successful rapid economic development for three consecutive decades. The International Monetary Fund stepped in, pressuring Korea to do a massive restructuring of its management of the financial institutions, liberalizing of regulatory mechanisms, and improving on the transparency in the accounting and administration of business operations. Owing to a nationwide rally, its economy bounced back in 2000. During the setback period, the media sector as a whole also incurred a sharp downturn in advertising revenues, but since 2000 the business has begun to regain its vitality.

The South Korean press draws almost 80 percent of its revenue from advertising, with the remaining 20 percent coming from subscription fees. The high rate of dependence on advertising means potential power of advertising sponsors, media owners' special care about the news that touches on such sponsors, and the need to drive up circulations, the base of ad rates. According to the Korea Press Foundation, a 1999 national sample survey of media personnel shows that media employees consider advertisers' pressure and their own media's internal interference as the two highest sources of threat to press freedom: 9.03 and 8.59, respectively, on a 15-point scale where 15 is the highest degree of threat. They rate the threats coming from governmental sources and legal constraint at the scores of 7.69 and 6.41, respectively.

Survey results like these are being touted by the government as evidence of the need for press reform to be done from inside. Indeed, a major report on the Korean press compiled in 2000 by the Kwanhun Club, a society of career journalists, concurred by concluding that any further progress of the Korean press depends on the press industry's willingness to tackle its own issues. Press unions and civic groups champion this cause. They specifically demand that the "rights to editorial independence" be guaranteed by an internal mechanism like editorial board so that the management cannot interfere with editorial decision-making processes. They further demand that a formal regulation be instituted to limit the proportion of the press owners' stocks to 30 percent of total assets. A bill to this effect has been pending in the National Assembly, Korea's parliament, for a couple of years, but supporters of the bill are a minority and many politicians are not willing to antagonize the powerful press moguls with such legislation. Even the government administration finds the bill problematic in terms of free-market ideals.

The so-called "rights to editorial independence" is a uniquely Korean concept. It doesn't refer to the concept of independent press free from political or ideological affiliations. It is a concept that tells the press owners to take their hands off from the decision-making processes in the newsroom. And it is based on the assessment that press owners are readily susceptible to governmental and ad sponsors' pressure because of their business interest. Owners of the press institutions hold a different view, of course. They suspect that such a demand is a ploy by the activist unions and the progressive subgroup of the news-room staff to shape the press along the lines of their political and ideological objectives.

Press unions are gaining influences in the management of their institutions. About 17,000 of Korea's 38,500 media employees are union members; employees at most major media institutions are unionized. The total of 38,500 media employees includes: print media personnel numbering 15,000; electronic media, 14,900; and press agencies, 640. Media employees are a dominated market at 85 percent male. The unions at television networks are especially strong, and their relationships with the management are often confrontational and acrimonious. Press unions are keenly interested in expanding newsroom prerogatives against management interference over editorial matters. On the other hand, such unions tend to go along with the management on measures related to the profit maximization of their media. Many of the local dailies are known to pressure their reporters to recruit ad sponsors for the well-being of their companies.

Korea's advertising is a $4.2 billion market as of 2001, according to statistics available from the Korea Press Foundation. Of this total 44.5 percent goes to electronic media outlets; 36.3 percent to print media outlets; and the remaining 19.2 percent to a host of other outlets such as billboards or events. Daily papers' struggle to capture the ad market is fierce, to say the least. It is especially so because the top three dailies monopolize 74 percent of the nation's total circulation. The top three compete for a bigger share of ad revenues to remain on the top ladder; the other national dailies do the same not to fall behind; and the majority local dailies just to survive. Their competition is akin to circulation wars. One daily is known to have distributed bicycles and mobile phone sets to lure new subscribers. Most other dailies hand out a variety of gifts as incentives for new subscriptions. A national survey conducted in 2001 revealed that about 10 percent of the nation's households read the papers delivered to their homes without paying for them. Many of these practices are violations of the Korea Fair Trade Commission rules, but somehow nobody in Korea seems to have the will to enforce the law.

Such shady business practices get worse with the majority of Korea's local dailies. Some of them are known to pay only nominal salaries to their newsroom personnel, asking them to collect commissions from new ad revenues they steer to the dailies. In this course, various unethical and illegal dealings do often occur, such as some reporters bartering publicity articles for new ad sponsorships or some others playing down negative stories involving some institutions if these places promise placing ad pieces. Local dailies are notorious for their dogged pressure toward institutions, public or private, for subscriptions. Many of Korea's public offices and business institutions tend to subscribe to a large number of dailies because of such pressure even though they really do not need multiple copies of papers at work places. In a sense, the government is to blame for the beginning of this practice since it traditionally has pressured public offices to subscribe to government-supported papers and display such papers to visitors to their places.

By tradition, there is no chain ownership of the press in Korea. Instead, a few families separately own the leading papers, with each one competitively developing its sister publications from its own mammoth press complex. Cross-media ownership existed until 1980 when the then military-turned-civilian government forcefully terminated it. That government also forcefully shut down a large number of local dailies, allowing only one viable local daily per province, of which there are nine. The method the government used at that time was certainly undemocratic, dictatorial and anti-free market. But there were a certain number of sympathizers in favor of the governmental actions on local dailies for their belief that something had to be done with corruption and illegalities attributable to the local dailies. The one-paper-per-province rule was lifted in 1987, the year when Korea began an era of truly free press and liberalization in politics. After this, the number of local dailies mushroomed, many of them with shaky assets not enough to run the press in a fiscally responsible manner.

For the newsroom personnel in the major national dailies, their pay is fairly high compared to Korea's $9,000-level per-capita GNP. A beginning reporter's annual pay is about $22,500; a five-year career reporter collects somewhere around $32,000; and, after ten years on the job, they command $40,000. This pay scale is comparable to the compensation at Korea's major multinational corporations. This relatively high pay scale is not without its critics from among those who view journalism as a service to the average person. These critics claim that today's journalists, because of their "comfortable" pay, increasingly identify themselves as members of the privileged sector and develop news and editorial matters accordingly with the tilted perspectives of the "have" class. Entering the newsrooms of such major dailies, however, is extremely competitive with thousands of applicants rushing to the annual recruitment for a dozen or so openings per paper. However, the pay scale at other national dailies and many of the local dailies is a lot lower than at major dailies. Some local dailies are even known to pay their reporters just nominally.

Press Laws

There is neither formal constraint of the press nor licensing of the journalists in Korea. The Korean judiciary is generally recognized to be independent, especially since the 1987 liberalization in politics. Still a divided country, South Korea faces the Stalinist North Korea on the northern half of the peninsula. Therefore, it still retains the controversial National Security Law, which has been termed by the UN Human Rights Committee as "a major obstacle to the full realization of the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." If invoked vigorously, this law could pose a devastating threat to press freedom. But, in practice, it is rarely invoked against the press, especially since the regime of President Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003) who pursues a "reconciliation" policy toward North Korea as his primary national agenda. However, some leading journalists often suspect that their private phone lines are being wiretapped by intelligence agencies. They claim they often hear some strange noises on their lines, especially on days when they work on some sensitive news subjects. On such occasions, they use several different cell phones alternately.

The Law on Assembly and Demonstrations is leniently enforced in favor of civic groups voicing their particular views or demands. The riot police eschew hurting demonstrators in an effort to rid themselves of the previous image of brutality from the 1960s through 1980s despotic regimes. The Trade Union Law also is enforced flexibly honoring the rights of average workers, especially under the center-left President Kim's rule. The Government Censorship Board functions only as a movie-screening and rating device that is primarily concerned about violence and sex, not politics.

Press laws, press freedom, and all other legal provisions relevant to the media stem from the Korean Constitution, which is somewhat unique in its stipulation of basic principles on press freedom. Article 21 of the Constitution clearly specifies that all citizens shall have the rights to free press and free speech and that censorship or prior approval of such rights shall not be practiced. However, the same article contains a couple of additional clauses that puts a limit to the scope of press freedom. The third clause states that standards for press, broadcasting, and press agencies' facilities shall be stipulated by law. The fourth clause specifies that the press and publications shall not encroach upon individuals' honor or rights nor shall they violate the prevailing public morality or societal ethical norms. This clause further states that citizens may request remedy to the damages inflicted upon their refutation and rights by the press or publications.

In other words, the press freedom in Korea is not an absolute freedom; it is a freedom to be practiced "responsibly," or the press should pay for its "irresponsible" practices under a constitutional provision. This constitutional stipulation is noted for its specificity in legislating the scope of press freedom and in codifying the concept of social responsibility of the press. In line with this constitutional mandate, various procedural laws have been enacted, the most prominent of such laws are the Registration of Periodicals Act and the Integrated Broadcasting Act. The Fourth Clause provision above has been implemented with the establishment of a "press arbitration commission" which is the first stop for filing complaints against the press before proceeding to the court.

Owing to the mechanism of the Press Arbitration Commission, a growing number of individuals and sometimes institutions have been taking their complaints against the press for remedy. The number of cases filed rose from 44 in 1981, the first year of the commission's operation, to 641 in 1999. Of these 641 cases in 1999, 244 cases got resolved amicably and 237 cases were withdrawn later. The rest eventually reached the court, where some cases got dismissed and some others are still pending.

On paper the operation of this arbitration commission sounds admirable and desirable in view of the rising civil-society concerns about the public's right to reply or right to access as a counter-balance against the press freedom that is mainly enjoyed by the established press institutions. In practice, it sometimes becomes the legally sanctioned method by which the powerful can wield threat against the press or give chilling effects. For instance, a government ministry once filed a complaint against several papers over their news coverage. On a few occasions, even Korea's influential national prosecutors resorted to this avenue to publicize their discontent with the press and demanded hefty sums of compensation. The use of the commission by public figures, especially the powerful officials, undermines the well-intentioned original rationale of the device. Public figures' effective use of this arbitration commission runs against a recent trend with the Korean court's willingness to consider actual malice as the requirement for libel cases involving public figures.

What makes the existence of the arbitration commission more awkward in Korea is the fact that it functionally duplicates and actually undermines the already existing Korean Press Ethics Commission. As Korea's press council, this ethics commission has been doing the job of journalism's ethical self-control ever since 1961 under the guideline of the Standard of Practices for the Code of Press Ethics. Being voluntary in nature, this ethics commission had not enjoyed sufficient funding and the clout of judicial-sounding sanctioning power. Nevertheless, during the year 1999, for comparison, it drew as many as 230 cases of complaints against the press. Not having a legal, and hence official, status was its own blessing because the ethics commission has been free from governmental interference, whereas the arbitration commission is subject to ruling regime's influences in the staffing of its members.

Korea's ruling powers and the press are jointly to blame for the constitutional stipulation on the social responsibility of the press. This legislation simply means "abuses" by the press are not to be tolerated, whereas the press as a whole has not been aggressive in its voluntary ethical self-control. To make the matter problematic, such "abuses" often included "dissatisfaction with the press" on the part of the powerful. The Code of Press Ethics, first adopted in 1957, is jointly endorsed by three of the nation's major professional associations: Korean Newspapers Association, Korea News Editors' Association, and Journalists Association of Korea. Revised and expanded in 1996, the code and its Standard of Practices are a meticulously detailed statement on ethical issues, running over 13 pages in length as printed in the Korea Press 2001 annual.

Here is an example of the Standard of Practices provisions on "Bribery and Entertainment" in the article on "Dignity of Journalists":

"News media and journalists, in relation to their news gathering, reports, commentary, and editing, should not receive economic advantages from the parties of vested interest in such forms as monetary offerings, entertainment, free trips, expenses for news-gathering trips, commercial goods, coupons, and expensive mementos. "

The irony of it all is that it is exactly what a large number of Korean journalists routinely violate. The envelope of cash changing hands from news sources to reporters is called Chonji in Korean, literally meaning "a small consideration." Such a small consideration in cash may range from $25 to $100, depending on the weight of the news item involved. Chonji has been a chronic ill of the Korean press. In the 1990s, a progressive sector of the journalist circles staged a reform campaign against this shady practice with some success. But now, it is not being talked about much, while the practice continues surreptitiously in a low-key mode. The Report on the Korean Press 2000, of Kwanhun Club, resignedly concludes by saying that "Chonji by now has set in as a routine practice in the Korean journalism."

A 1999 national sample survey of journalists revealed some interesting results on Chonji. "Are you aware of Chonji practices?" (yes, 73.8 percent; no, 26.0 percent). "What's your attitude toward taking Chonji ?" (absolutely no, 29.1 percent; if possible avoid it, 60.2 percent; accept it if not for seeking favor, 10.7 percent). "Reasons for delivering Chonji ?" (for playing up news, 29.3 percent; for playing down news, 15.3 percent; customarily without any particular purpose, 51.8 percent). "Chonji delivery methods?" (directly by news sources,79.5 percent; via press corps, 17.1 percent). An American journalist, David E. Halvorsen, had a culture shock over Chonji in Korea during his brief visit there under a Fulbright grant in early 1990s. After learning Chonji practices, he asked a Korean colleague about this blatant violation of press ethics. The Korean colleague explained that Chonji is but an expression of the "good old Korean custom of exchanging gifts between friends." He rhetorically retorted by asking "if it is such a virtue, why do you not publicize it in your paper?"

Ethical lapses continue to undermine credibility of the Korean journalism. Early in 2002, about ten journalists, mainly of sports and business dailies, were indicted allegedly for taking bribes from movie industries and high-tech companies for publicity reporting. The Media Today, a weekly journalism review, frequently exposes press corps members of certain news beats taking junkets while accompanying high-ranking officials' overseas trips. The most notorious of this practice was the 1999 junket to Mt. Kumgang-san Resort, a scenic spot in North Korea developed by the gigantic Hyundai Group. Many publishers and CEOs of media institutions, together with their spouses, took free trips to the resort under Hyundai's promotional sponsorships. A Hyundai official once revealed that as many as 1,500 journalists might have taken such trips free while the tourism project itself had been a political issue of pros and cons all along in South Korea. A failure in business terms, the project survives with hefty subsidies from the government of President Kim who takes it as a showcase of his controversial reconciliation policy toward North Korea.


There's no censorship of the press and there's no government agency doing media control per se. Yet, in Korea, the will of the president, often termed "imperial," permeates the culture of the newsroom in one way or another. In President Kim's case, his reconciliation policy toward North Korea is a case in point. For this, no media in Korea call North Korea communist. It is just North Korea. Its leader, Kim Jong-il, is not called a dictator; instead he is called "chairman." Refugees from North Korea, increasing in number in the 2000s, are being treated somewhat lightly in the Korean press; for one, President Kim's government doesn't want to make a big deal about it for fear of offending the North Korean leadership. Dr. Norbert Vollertsen, a member of the German medical group Cap Anamur, is prominent in the Western press for his dogged effort in exposing sub-human conditions in North Korea. One has to read Reuters dispatches out of Beijing to learn about refugee problems, or for that matter ABC's Nightline program or news from U.S. congressional hearings.

President Kim's administration has repeatedly barred the Dalai Lama from visiting Korea; it is a baffling case of one Nobel Peace laureate not allowed to visit the country headed by another laureate. Kim's government doesn't want to offend China over the Dalai Lama case, and the Korean press in general treats it accordingly. North Korea's famine, human-rights violations, or weapons of mass destruction are not exactly taboos, but not many journalists in South Korea cover them in an enterprising or in-depth manner. If there were such reporters, they would be seen as obstructing the government's reconciliation endeavor. In July 2000, the North Korean regime verbally threatened that the Chosun Ilbo is a paper that needs to be "destroyed by explosion." Against this threat, the Korean government did not air any serious rebuke at all. In the same year, South Korea marked the 50th anniversary of the Korean War (1950 to 1953), but the press in general refrained from mentioning the North's invasion of the South as the beginning of the war.

The absence of formal censorship doesn't mean the Korean press functions as an independent agent of a free flow of information. Self-censorship is chronic and pervasive when the press has to deal with issues involving the so-called "sacred region." Such a region includes the Blue House, the presidential executive mansion, and a few agencies of power such as the National Intelligence Service (formerly KCIA), National Tax Service, Defense Security Command, and the National Prosecutors Office. On the other hand, the press resorts to an extensive coverage of such agencies by taking an "other-directed" approach, a variant of reactive journalism. For instance, if a National Assembly member raises an issue with some suspected corruption in the National Prosecutors Office, the press plays up the "who said what" mode of reporting that often turns out to be quite successful in forcing the government to do investigation and clarify the suspicion. However, the press' initiative or affirmative approach to uncovering some issues often triggers libel threats by the powerful.

State-Press Relations

Generally speaking, the South Korean press enjoys a high degree of freedom. The New York-based Freedom House, in its latest Freedom in the World 2001-2002 re-port, certified South Korea as one of the free countries of liberal democracy. South Korea also received a favorable review of its political rights and civil liberties from the U.S. Department of State's latest Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001. The era of illegal oppression of the press and journalists was ended in 1987 when there was a massive, nationwide popular rally for liberalization in politics. The ruling power at the time, a military-turned-civilian government, chose the course of liberal democracy under pressure and perhaps in consideration of the upcoming hosting of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

But a careful observation of the press-government relations also exposes a lot of loose ends in the implementation of the rule of law involving the press. To some extent, it is the making of the press itself for its laxity in ethics and habitual lapses in business practices. As causes for this trend, some critics cite dysfunctional legacies of Confucianism alive in the Westernized social systems that characterize today's Korea. For this viewpoint, recall the discrepancy between what the Korean press' Code of Ethics says and what many journalists routinely do withChonji. During the 2000-2002 period, South Korea exposed its weakness in the press-government relations in a spectacular way by jailing the powerful publishers of all the Top Three national dailies under tax evasion charges.

Early in 1999 President Kim's administration humiliated the owner publisher of the Joong-ang Ilbo by indicting and trying him under tax evasion and embezzlement charges. For similar charges, the government continued to expand its investigation to twenty-three other media companies in 2001; thirteen executives, including heads of the two other top three dailies, have been indicted and briefly detained. Their cases are pending in the court as of 2002. In the meantime, the National Tax Service found them delinquent in tax payment in the amount of $380 million including fines. The Korea Fair Trade Commission has begun to tighten implementation of its rules with the media industry. In this organized and well-planned assault on the press, Kim's government deployed the powerful national Prosecutor's Office skillfully.

In the wake of this government-press confrontation, the International Press Institute placed South Korea on its roll of infamy, the IPI Watch List, in 2001. This watch list has four other countries as of 2002: Russia, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. In September 2001, while blacklisting South Korea, the IPI concluded that the massive tax probe was politically motivated and that the "exorbitant fines threaten the very survival of most of the media companies." Joining in this condemnation were seven other international press groups: the Committee to Protect Journalists, Commonwealth Press Union, Inter-American Press Association, International Association of Broadcasting, International Federation of the Periodical Press, World Association of Newspapers, and the World Press Freedom Committee. The Reporters Without Borders, in its annual report for 2002, also took a critical view of the Korean development by saying that the "ar-rest of three press bosses cast a doubt on the government's intentions concerning the opposition press."

The press-government duel in early 2000s is, of course, a case of selective applications of the law by the ruling power. And, at the same time, it was retaliation by President Kim who felt he needed to cower the press moguls who all along had severely criticized his administration and in particular many of the specific measures of his reconciliation policy toward North Korea. It turns out that President Kim did not succeed in muzzling the conservative press since all the accused media companies continue to relentlessly criticize his administration and policies. As of early 2002, the wheel of fortune turned against the incumbent president himself, with the nation's media having their feast with salacious stories on alleged misconducts committed by two of the president's three sons and also involving a foundation founded by the president himself.

The Executive Board of the IPI, in its meeting in May 2002, reaffirmed the five countries on the watch list. However, President Kim, too, is not without an ally in the international circles. The International Federation of Journalists, which held its world congress in Seoul in June 2001, has endorsed Korea's trade union views that the tax probe against the media tycoons is not related to with press freedom. In fact, President Kim has his backing from a variety of civic groups in Korea, mostly of progressive orientations, the most prominent of which is the People's Coalition for Media Reform. It is a coalition of forty-three civil-society groups and NGOs, whose primary contentions are that a limited number of media moguls manipulate national agendas and that more avenues for access to the media have to be accorded to the citizenry at large.

The civic coalition has done a convenient proxy job of public relations on behalf of President Kim by stressing the need to clean up media complexes. Indeed, some of the coalition groups have received some subsidies from governmental agencies for their civic and NGO objectives. Some others were known to be politically active supporters of the causes of President Kim's ideological orientation, one that is quite different from Korea's traditional mainstream conservatism. Several of the coalition groups have been very active in staging what is known as "anti-Chosun " campaign, a boycott movement against the most influential newspaper of Korea. This campaign boasted a half-a-million subscription drops as its objective.

Within the government President Kim has relied heavily on a group of hard-core supporters who mostly came from his birth province. The cronyism of this sort has been endemic across all Korean regimes, but the degree has been extreme in President Kim's administration. The two most important posts for the government's press relations are the Press Secretary at the presidential office and the Minister of Culture and Tourism, a public relations office in effect. These two positions have invariably been filled by men of President Kim's native province. Further, the government has subtly pressured major media companies to place the men and women of President Kim's regional origin at key newsroom posts "for smoother relations" with the government. At one time, all the politics editors at major dailies and television networks were such employees.

Making the press-government relations more intriguing in Korea is the pervasive trend of many practicing journalists readily changing their hats to press-related governmental jobs. Such government functionaries are known to be very effective in managing news in the government's favor since they have a wide network of friends in the media sector from their previous careers. It is not uncommon to see a politics editor or chief editor of a major daily suddenly emerge as a government official whose job is to deal with the press. Many concerned scholars argue that this trend undermines credibility of the Korean press. At election times, political parties talk about recruiting candidates from the media circles for their name recognitions and electability. In the 2002 National Assembly, Korea's parliament, 13 percent or thirty-nine of the 299 members are journalists-turned-politicians. Journalism was a stepping-stone to their political careers.

The press corps system in Korea is also a problematic institution. On all major government news beats there are press corps that have exclusive memberships. Only major media representatives are accepted as regular members, and those who are not regular members are often barred from attending press functions. Press corps not only facilitate news development at the beats, but can also facilitate standardizing of news. An effective press secretary can work out news management with the corps, too. Making the press corps members happy is one of the press secretary's main duties, and conceivably there may be many different ways of achieving that objective. Since the mid-1990s, the rigid press corps at central government offices began to recognize and tolerate their news sources' need to work with the representatives from non-member media institutions.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

In as much as Korea's economy is a trade-intensive structure, Korea's interactions with the external world are extensive and expansive. Millions of Koreans travel abroad annually and a large number of Korean students pursue advanced studies abroad. Since there is no censorship or restriction against foreign news, the country as a whole is generally well-informed.

Seoul itself is covered by foreign resident correspondents or Korean stringers for eighty-five media institutions of twelve countries, many of them from the United States and Japan. Some foreign media cover Korea from their Tokyo bureaus. Many of these foreign correspondents have offices either in the Korea Press Center or in the major media complexes of their connections. They run their own Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club. Foreign correspondents in Seoul need to be accredited by the government, but this requirement is a mere formality since there is not any particular restriction other than some cultural barriers they all need to overcome themselves. Besides the usual language barrier, one particular difficulty that bothers foreign correspondents is the nationalistic attitude some government sources exhibit when the foreign media attempt to cover negative news about Korea.

Up until the 1980s the Korean press presented international news extensively, particularly about the United States and other major countries of the world. For instance, on the occasion of U.S. presidential elections, major dailies used to devote several full pages exclusively to the U.S. elections. But an attention to international news began to decrease in the 1990s although newspapers' total number of pages per issue increased. The way they cover major news today began to be presented in the Korean conceptual frame and relevance. Though understandable and even desirable, such an orientation to foreign news sometimes results in distortion of the broader context of the news. An example of this was evident in the Korean press' coverage of America's war on terrorism in the fall of 2001. Most of the Korean papers treated it merely as America's "retaliatory" war; to them, global terrorism as a threat to humanity was not much of an issue at all, despite the fact that South Koreans themselves had been victims of North Korean terrorism. The most fantastic case was the explosion and downing of a Korean Airline passenger plane by suspected North Korean agents right before the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In 1983 a presidential entourage of as many as 17 high-ranking Korean officials was killed in Myanmar by North Korean agents. North Korea kidnapped several Japanese citizens in the past and still keeps them in the North. For Japan, this is a major hang-up in its relations with North Korea, but most of the Korean media do not take an issue like this seriously.

The particular way the Korean press covers international news is attributable to Korea's remarkable success in its industrialization and democratization. These two fronts of advance, in economy and political life, brought with them a similarly remarkable expansion of the domestic market for the media, as news sources and news consumers as well. It also meant a rise in Korea's self-esteem as a nation, confidence in things Korean, and increasingly sophisticated consumer interest on the part of the audience for their daily lives. A parallel example is evident in the average American's relative indifference to international news while the media tend to be selective in covering the world with an America-centered world-view.

In the Korean case, the inner-directed mode of reporting on the world works as a limiting factor that further worsens its already non-global socio-cultural characteristics. Koreans are one single homogeneous race, breeding ethnocentrism. Their language is only used in Korea, but many Koreans believe Korean is the world's most scientifically structured language. They all inherit one identical history and an identical set of customs, mores, rituals, and traditions. The media fare produced for such a homogeneous audience is bound to be for the Korean market primarily, and not as popular outside.

The Korean press, in its coverage of foreign news, is relatively indifferent to Africa and South America, reflecting Koreans' general orientation to the world. During the World Cup soccer coverage in June 2002, Korean television habitually called Africa the "black continent" and the Senegalese team the "black lions." A strong current in the South Korean attitude toward the communist North Korea is a sentimental one"still my brothers." With the United States and Japan, Korea has a special love-hate relationship. Both countries are critical of Korea's trade and geopolitical necessities, but at the same time, Koreans resent America's unilateral, heavy-handed approach to matters of Korean concerns. In their dealings with Japan, most Koreans always recall Japan's colonial rule between 1910 and 1945. Therefore, most Korean media are very selective and careful in their use of Japanese cultural and media programs.

News Agencies

There is only one organized supplier of foreign news in Korea, the Yonhap News Agency. In the 1980 restructuring of media systems, the government forcefully consolidated several existing wire services into this one agency and put it under ownership by two leading broadcasting networks. Since these two broadcasting networks are public, hence government controlled, Yonhap News Agency is in effect under government control. Its top management is usually appointed with the government's blessing, and often with the President's.

Because of this governmental control, Yonhap's news coverage is less than independent on nationally sensitive issues. During the 2001-2002 period, Korea's major media had to deal with continually evolving scandals of one sort or another involving the ruling party, the president's secretariat, and more significantly many of the president's relatives. Yonhap has been relatively weak in such coverage. Yet Yonhap has been aggressive in reporting on America's domestic criticism of President Bush's remark on the North Korean regime as a part of an "axis of evil." Yonhap, like most other Korean media, did not choose to examine if the Stalinist North Korean regime is an evil or not; it is rather concerned about the remark's impact on President Kim's reconciliation policy toward the North.

Yonhap, as the sole news-supplying wire agency, distributes international news to the nation's media with translations accompanying the original foreign wire feeds from such majors as AP, AFP, Itar-Tass, Kyodo, and Xinhua. Yonhap stations its own correspondents abroad, eighteen as of 2002, in major locations like New York City, Paris, Tokyo, Beijing, and Moscow. Yonhap also serves as a domestic-news supplier, whose service is critical to the smaller media in provincial areas that can't afford their own correspondents in other places within the country.

For major media in Korea, Yonhap is not the only provider of foreign news. For one, they themselves have their own correspondents, mostly a one-person bureau, in a select number of strategically located cities of the world. As of 2002, the Chosun Ilbo, for example, had one correspondent each in New York City, Paris, Moscow, and Beijing and two correspondents each in Washington,D.C., and Tokyo. Additionally, most of the major media have supplementary lines of additional news and syndicated material from the world's better-known media. For instance, the Joong-ang Ilbo has exclusive news-exchange programs with the International Herald Tribune, Newsweek magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. In the 2000s, the Internet-based websites of foreign media began to emerge as an additional source of fast-breaking foreign news, thus posing competition against the traditional wire service.

Broadcast Media

Korea's broadcasting media enjoy a lively and lucrative market. As in many other countries, television is the primary medium of news to most Koreans. Major networks' news programs play equals to the major national dailies as pace-setting and agenda-setting agents. In politics and at election times, their coverage is a sought-after avenue of exposure and impact. A media use survey by the Korea Press Foundation showed that, in 2000, an average adult Korean watched television as much as 174 minutes daily, while reading newspapers 34 minutes, listening to radio 61 minutes, reading magazines 11 minutes, and using the PC/Internet 42 minutes. Serial dramas are extremely popular on television. Popular subjects include court intrigues of the Chosun Dynasty and complex human relations or generational conflicts in the changing Korean family.

Two national networks, both public, dominate Korea's television market. The Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), with twenty-five local stations, covers the entire country, while the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) does the same with nineteen local stations. KBS runs two channels. KBS 1TV is supposed to be a main public channel and 2TV a home service and entertainment channel, but in reality the difference between the two is often blurred. KBS 2TV carries commercials as MBC does; MBC, public in ownership and mandate, actually operates as a commercial broadcasting medium. KBS collects license fees from all television set ownersabout $48 annually per set. A regional station, Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), has its own niche in the Seoul metropolitan area.

Additionally, Korea has one educational broadcasting system (EBS) and a number of small-scale cable television channels. Cable television has not gained a foothold yet, with new ones popping up and some old ones collapsing intermittently. Yonhap Television News (YTN) is emerging as an all-news channel, a subsidiary of the Yonhap News Agency. Younger Koreans watch the American Forces Korea Network (AFKN) television channelsome to polish their English and others for trendy American programs. In March 2002, an ambitious digital satellite broadcasting system, SkyLife, began its operation, offering seventy-four channels. It is heavily financed with public-sector investment as a showcase project of President Kim's administration. As a brand-new system, it is struggling with a very small share of subscribers at the beginning phase.

Commercialism and independence are two strong opposing forces in with television, especially with KBS and MBC. Both are public and both have their own boards of directors, but the government has its final say on the manning of the top management of the two systems. Successive governments used to pledge independence of the public broadcasting but once installed, they invariably resorted to cronyism. They simply did not want to risk the popular television run by independent-minded management. Ratings competition between the two public broadcasting networks often resembles a competition for sensationalism. Professor Yu Jae-cheon, principal writer of the Report on the Korean Press 2000, loudly lamented this sensationalism in 2001 by asking: "Who in the world will call the KBS 2TV or MBC TV a public broadcasting?" The government control of public broadcasting remains a main issue of protest by trade unions and various civic groups. In 2002 the political opposition lodged protest against MBC's election campaign coverage as being tilted in favor of the ruling party. The International Press Institute (IPI) at its 2001 annual General Assembly, had condemned politicization of public broadcasting as growing in "various regions of the world, including countries in transition." The Ministry of Culture and Tourism insisted South Korea is not named in this IPI resolution; the IPI later confirmed South Korea was indeed part of the target.

KBS is a gigantic system with some 6,000 employees. Its facilities and equipment are state of the art. It benefited from its role as the host broadcaster for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, yet it remains an underachiever in terms of quality productions for the global market. Conceivably, KBS could develop some joint productions with such other public broadcasting institutions as Japan's NHK, Britain's BBC or America's PBS. It has the manpower and skilled staff, and it has the revenue collected from the compulsory license fees, but its primary interest seems rested in the domestic market. In early 2000s, a limited number of Korean television programs, mostly soap-opera variety, began to be aired in some Asian countries like Vietnam and China.

Electronic News Media

The adoption and use of the Internet and online versions of the press are extensive in South Korea. Most of the nation's media offer online versions with news and other editorial contents. The websites of major media daily newspapers and television networksare highly graphic in presentation, speedy in delivering breaking news, and interactive for a variety of services like instant polls. They are all accessible free of charge. Often they offer truncated English versions, too. The established media's websites can be readily accessed through links provided by the Korea Press Foundation (www. The online press is very popular among the younger generation and in particular college students. Since such online press has news for tomorrow morning the night before, Korean Americans in the United States because of the time difference can read Korean news half a day before their relatives in Korea, who are still in bed.

The use of the Internet in Korea has passed the mark of majority: 58 percent or 27.8 million among the population as of March 2002. The Nielsen/NetRatings ranked Korea sixth largest in the world for Internet users in a survey of twenty-nine countries. The same survey showed 166 million users in the United States, 56.6 million in China, 51.3 million in Japan, 32.2 million in Germany, and 29.9 million in the United Kingdom. In Korea among media websites, Chosun Ilbo 's site ( had 2.9 million visits per week, making it the most popular.

Of some 100 news sites in operation, more than half are run by the establishment media. However, news sites being offered by groups of special interest are increasing in number. This trend raises the vexing questions such as how to define the journalist, news media, and the legality of applying procedural laws governing the conventional media to new media. In the meantime, such websites are beginning to draw public's attention for their occasional scoops in exposing some sensational news. They emerge as alternative media, fostering their own specialty and followers. During the 2002 World Cup fervor, several of such alternative sites posted live video segments and fast-breaking news sometimes faster than did the mainstream media.

One of the alternative news sites, "OhMyNews" (, only two years old as of 2002, had a following numbering around 350,000 users, and page views reached 700,000 daily. Founded by a former journalist, this particular news site relied on as many as 1,300 volunteer reporters who practiced the site's catchphrase, "All citizens are reporters." In one poll, this site was rated as one of the nation's top ten news media of influence. Another site, "INews24" (, specializes in Internet-related information technology news. "EDaily" ( specializes in economic and business news analysis, so does "MoneyToday" (www.moneytoday. A survey conducted in June 2000 by Cheil Communication, a Samsung subsidiary ad agency, revealed that, at least in major cities, the online press is being taken as the third most important medium of news after television and newspapers, more important than radio, magazines, and cable television.

There is no particular restriction on the online news supply. Yet the legal status of the Internet-based online press is unclear; it is neither considered a print media nor treated as broadcast media. Some website operators, however, complain that the government's concern about online privacy or pornographic materials is becoming a press freedom issue. The Constitutional Court ruled in June 2002 that the online press is a medium that enjoys constitutionally guaranteed press freedom. If there is another concern with the Internet-based media, it is the language barrier working as a digital divide for those who are not proficient in English, hence not fully utilizing an increasing number of useful sites available from the English-speaking world. The spread of Internet users in Korea is rather implosive, not necessarily tapping the treasure abroad. Yet the Korean government encourages international information technology firms to use Korea as a test market for new products.

Education & Training

The field of journalism and mass communication studies, together with advertising and public relations, has been one of the most popular college majors ever since the 1970s when Korea began its industrialization drive. University degrees are not a formal requirement to journalism, but without one, aspiring journalists do not stand any chance of entering the field. Curriculum is generally theoretic, combining little hands-on orientation or practical experiences. American-educated professors constitute a large bloc of the teaching staff, with those from European education increasing in recent years. Reporting jobs at major national media groups are a highly coveted positions. They generally have a dozen or so openings a year, and it is not uncommon to have thousands of applicants swarming the recruitment desks. A number of graduates find jobs at service industries and other corporate communication avenues. Many employers find journalism majors useful and productive for their competency in communication skills. As of 2000, sixty-seven colleges and universities offered majors in journalism or mass communication studies, while twenty of them also offered advertising or public relations majors. Compared to 1990 it was a rapid expansion: from twenty-seven to sixty-seven and from three to twenty, respectively. Each department admits twenty-five to forty new students per year.

The International Communication Association (ICA), the world's largest academic society in the field, held its 2002 biennial conference in Seoul, in part as recognition of the vitality of the field in Korea. In 1994 another major group, the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) convened its annual world congress in Seoul, too. The host for these international events was the Korean counterpart, Korean Society for Journalism and Communication Studies (KSJCS).

Besides press unions, journalists and other media-sector employees have a variety of professional associations. These groups frequently conduct seminars and workshops for in-service education and debates on salient occupational concerns. The powerful among these include the Korean Newspapers Association, Korea News Editors' Association, and the Journalists Association of Korea. Press unions also are very active; about 50 percent of all media-sector workers are affiliated with unions, having chapters at sixty-nine media institutions, including all the majors. They are very vocal for their own welfare, but they also deal with a variety of professional concerns, too. Several press foundations, including Samsung, LG, and Sungkok, actively promote and provide support for in-service education of journalists at home and abroad.

One press group, the Kwanhun Club, is noted for its public affairs participation. A society of mid-career journalists, this group often conducts nationally televised presidential debates. Kwanhun Club initiated a comprehensive examination of the Korean press by organizing a team named "The 2000 Committee on the Korean Press" in 1995. This committee was patterned after Britain's Royal Commission on the Press and America's "Hutchins Commission," the Commission on Freedom of the Press. After five years of deliberation and study, the club released the committee's report, Report on the Korean Press 2000, the first ever of its kind in Korea. This report generally stresses the import of strengthening professionalism in the Korean journalism and the need for voluntary press reform from inside of its institutions.


The Korean press and other media industries have been one major beneficiary of Korea's rapid industrialization and liberalization in politics. The domestic market with a highly literate population has expanded and diversified extensively, thus providing a rich base of news sources and economic support for the media. There is not any direct and formal control of the press, nor is there any censorship or physical threat against the journalists. The free press of Korea now enters an era to grow and prosper as one of responsible and accountable institutions.

As a social system of the Korean culture, the press cannot be expected to be entirely independent and free from the general mores, norms, customs, and traditional values inherited from Korea's time-honored history. Yet the press as a modern institution has to deal with some antiquated legacies that do not fit well with modern sensibilities and universal standards. Chonji and ethical laxity are but one example. Owners of major media complexes are desired to be more attentive to the societal call for editorial independence and integrity in the newsroom. They are desired to be known as ones with certain philosophies of journalism as much as they are as business executives. Well-intentioned media critics look to the US press dynasties of the Graham family's Washington Post or the Ochs family's New York Times as models Korea lacks. Korea as a member of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), is becoming a global player and its press could afford to break its cocoon and be more global in its outlooks and coverage.

The Seoul metropolitan area has too many redundant general-interest newspapers competing for the same audience without offering different fare. Almost one half of the ten national dailies do not seem to show any sensible reason for existence. It is time for the government to take their hands off the publicly run media: KBS, MBC, Korea Daily News, Yonhap News Agency, and Yonhap Television News. Korea's democracy is vibrant enough to do away this antiquated practice of state-run media. With freedom, competition bloomed, but too many local dailies compete for nothing but their own owners' dubious objectives, thus breeding corruption of journalism. Failing papers need to fail for the good of the rest.

In early 2000s, the government of President Kim Dae-jung initiated a needless confrontation with the nation's major news media groups. Jailing the owners of the top three national dailies only brought shame to Korea in the form of an induction onto the IPI Watch List. Though a genuinely civilian government, his administration resorted to a variety of shady practices to indirectly control the press while he himself had been a free-press champion as an opposition politician during the previous military rules. The Korean press is strong enough not to be capriciously controlled by such harassment. As an institution, the press has survived the harsh military rules of the previous era. Now, under civilian rule, the press learns to cope with the whim of rule of law, its twists and bents.

Significant Dates

  • 1997: Kwanhun Club conducted the first televised presidential debates.
  • 1998: President Kim Dae-jung's administration began confrontational relations with mainstream media groups; a professor serving as chief of the president's Policy Planning Committee resigned from the post after the Monthly Chosun questioned his views on the origin of the Korean War.
  • 1999: The government indicted and tried the owner-publisher of the Joong-ang Ilbo for tax evasion and embezzlement.
  • 2000: About fifty media executives visited North Korea at invitation by its leader Kim Jong-il; Heads of the Chosun Ilbo and Dong-a Ilbo boycotted it; North Korea aired a verbal threat against the Chosun Ilbo as a paper deserving "destruction by explosion" for its critical coverage of the regime.
  • 2001: Owner-publishers of the Chosun Ilbo and Dong-a Ilbo were indicted and tried for tax evasion charges in the wake of massive tax audits of major media groups; the International Press Institute put South Korea on its IPI Watch List; various confidential draft documents designed to control the press were exposed. They were prepared by inner circles of the ruling power; "anti-Chosun " campaign staged by a coalition of activist groups against the paper's editorial stance.


Auh, Taik Sup. "Language Divide and Knowledge Gap in Cyberspace: Beyond Digital Divide." A paper presented at the Language Diversity in the Information Society colloquium, sponsored by the French Commission for the UNESCO, Paris, France, March 2001.

Freedom House. Freedom in the World 2001-2002: The Democracy Gap ("Country Report on South Korea"). New York: Freedom House, 2002.

Halvorsen, David E. "Confucianism Defies the Computer: The Conflict within the Korean Press." In Elite Media amidst Mass Culture: A Critical Look at Mass Communication in Korea, ed. Chie-woon Kim & Jae-won Lee, 215-271. Seoul: Nanam, 1994.

Kim, Chie-woon, and Jae-won Lee, eds. Elite Media amidst Mass Culture: A Critical Look at Mass Communication in Korea. Seoul: Nanam, 1994.

Korean Federation of Press Unions. Media Today (weekly journalism review in Seoul, in Korean).

Korean Newspapers Association, Korea News Editors' Association, & Journalists Association of Korea. "Code of Press Ethics & The Standard of Practices." In The Korea Press 2001, ed. Korea Press Foundation, 151-164. Seoul: KPF, 2001.

Korea Press Foundation. Journalism & Broadcasting (monthly media review in Seoul).

. The Korea Press 2001. Seoul: KPF, 2001.

Kwanhun Club, The 2000 Committee on the Korean Press. Report on the Korean Press 2000 (in Korean). Seoul: Kwanhun Club, 2000.

Lee, Jae-won. "The Free and Unfree Press of South Korea: A Primer on Internal and Indirect Control." Global Media News, 3 (Fall 2001): 1 & 16-21.

. "The Press of South Korea." World Press Encyclopedia, 1st edition, ed. George Kurian, 579-594. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1982.

Masterton, Murray, ed. Asian Values in Journalism. Singapore: Asian Media Information and Communication Centre, 1996.

Park, Kee-soon, Jae-won Lee, and Chie-woon Kim. "Elite Pressmen and their Dubious Roles in the Repressive Regimes". Elite Media amidst Mass Culture: A Critical Look at Mass Communication in Korea, ed. Chiewoon Kim & Jae-won Lee, 273-295. Seoul: Nanam, 1994.

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002.

Youm, Kyu Ho. Press Law in South Korea. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1996.

Jae-won Lee

Korea, South

views updated Jun 27 2018


Republic of Korea

Major Cities:
Seoul, Pusan, Taegu, Kwangju

Other Cities:
Cheju, Inchŏn, Kwangju, Kyŏngjum, Masan, Panmunjŏn, Suwŏn, Ulsan, Yŏsu


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 2001 for South Korea. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Welcome to "The Land of the Morning Calm," a country with a people obsessed with nature, and with mountains in particular. Wherever you travel, you will see them out in the open air, clad in the latest adventure fashions.

According to the Koreans, the first of their kin was born in 2333 B.C.E. Less aesthetically-minded scientists believe Korea was first inhabited around 30,000 B.C.E., when tribes from central and northern Asia migrated to the peninsula. Under constant pressure from China, these tribes banded together to found a kingdom in the 1st century C.E. By 700 C.E. the Silla Kingdom of Korea was at its cultural stride, proliferating the country with palaces, pagodas, and pleasure gardens. But in the early 13th century, the Mongols reached Korea and pursued a scorched-earth policy. When the Mongol Empire collapsed, the Choson Dynasty succeeded, and a Korean script was developed.

In 1592 Japan invaded the country and was followed by China. The Koreans were routed, and the Chinese Manchu Dynasty established itself. Turning its back on a hostile world, Korea closed its doors to outside influence until the early 20th century, when Japan annexed the peninsula. The Japanese occupied Korea until the end of World War 11. After the war, the U.S. occupied the south of the peninsula; the U.S.S.R. occupied north. Elections to decide the fate of the country were held only in the south, and when the south declared its independence, the north invaded.

By the time the war ended, 2 million people had died, and the country had been officially divided. After a few years of semi-democracy in the south, martial law was declared in 1972. The next 15 years roller-coastered between democracy and repressive martial law, hitting a low in 1980, when 200 student protesters were killed in the Kwangju massacre. By the late 1980s, the country was at a flash point, student protests were convulsing the country and workers throughout Korea were walking off the job to join them. Among the demands were democratic elections, freedom of the press, and the release of political prisoners. The government did not budge until President Chun suddenly decided to grant everything the protesters asked for.

Korean society is based on the tenets of Confucianism, a system of ethics developed in China around 500 B.C.E. Confucianism emphasizes devotion and respect-for parents, family, friends, and those in positions of authority. Many Koreans attribute their country's remarkable success in recent decades to this attitude. In modern Korean society, Confucianism is most noticeable in relations between people. The Five Relationships prescribe behavior between ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, old and young, and between friends. If you fall outside any of these relationships, you do not effectively exist.

South Koreans have turned their hand to all art forms. Traditional music is similar to that of Japan and China, with an emphasis on strings. Traditional painting has strong Chinese and calligraphic elements, with the brush line being the most important feature. Most traditional sculpture is Buddhist, and includes statues and pagodas. Seoul is also a showpiece of modern and traditional architecture, including the city gates and the Choson-era Kyonbok Palace.

The Republic of Korea represents a fascinating blend of the past and present. The Korean people are proud of their long history and unique cultural traditions, and they remain committed to preserving their heritage into the next millennium.

Korea and its capital, Seoul, offer a wide range of both cultural and recreational opportunities. By providing a lifestyle that includes a combination of both the unique and familiar, Korea will prove to be a fascinating place to live, work or travel.



Seoul has a population of more than 10 million people. It is located in the northwest part of the Republic, about 30 miles south of the DMZ, which separates North and South Korea.

The name derives from "Sorabol," the capital of the Shilla Kingdom. Seoul was established as the capital in 1392 by the first emperor of the Yi Dynasty. At that time, Seoul was surrounded entirely by the four hills that now simply form the boundaries of the downtown area. Today, the urbanized area extends well beyond those boundaries. The Han River flows through the southern part of the city and into the Yellow Sea.

As mentioned earlier, Seoul is the repository for Korea's history and culture. Part of the city's charm is the juxtaposition of traditional characteristics with modern life. For example, three of the major palaces in the city, Kyongbok, Changdok, and Toksu are all located in downtown Seoul within walking distance of the Embassy and the Compounds I & 11 residential areas. A walk in almost any city neighborhood will reveal not only concrete, high-rise apartments, but also small parks and traditional homes. Shops range from those high-dollar establishments catering to the expatriate community, to local "mom and pop" stores and streetside vendors peddling traditional snacks.

Seoul was a major casualty of the Korean war, with 80% of the city razed. Since that time, modern buildings have sprung up everywhere, and factories and industrial areas have mushroomed throughout the city and beyond. Hosting the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympic Games boosted Seoul's image as a major venue for international conferences (hotels, tourist services, etc.). Seoul now looks forward to cohosting the soccer World Cup in 2002.


Apartments and houses are wired for 110/120 volts, 60 cycles. Electricity is reliable, so regulators are not required.


Local markets provide an alternative to grocery shopping. Large supermarkets, usually located in the basement level of major department stores, have a wide selection of local produce and meats, as well as imported items-the latter being quite expensive. Residents also have a choice of patronizing the high-end delicatessens and foreigner's shops, which offer a wide array of items. Neighborhood vendors will be less expensive, but their standards of handling and cleanliness may not meet U.S. standards. Although there have been no reports of serious illness from eating locally purchased produce, it is always wise to carefully clean all fruits and vegetables, and to handle meats/poultry/fish with appropriate care and common sense.

Liquor is readily available in Korea. Korea's local beer (OB and Crown) is reasonably good. Imported wines are available at various delicatessens and shops throughout the city; expect to pay an extraordinarily high price.


In addition to dressing for a relatively conservative environment, employees should come prepared for the four very distinct seasons that Korea offers: from hot, humid summers to cold, dry winters. Fortunately, Korea exports a wide array of clothing items. It is easy to supplement a wardrobe here. Many American/European designer names can be located in the markets of Seoul (Itaewon, Namdae-mun, Tongdae-mun). These items are usually "seconds," however, and you need to be on the look-out for glaring flaws. Larger sizes (be it with clothing or shoes) can be difficult to find, although there are plenty of tailors and shoemakers in Itaewon who can happily create whatever designs you have in mind. Items that are easy to find are: wool and acrylic sweaters, knit shirts, leather goods, sport shoes, raincoats, jackets, parkas.

Men: Dark suits are appropriate for summer and winter wear. Those with definite preferences or who are hard to fit should bring a good supply or arrange to receive mail-order catalogs to replenish their wardrobes as necessary. Many have suits and shirts made on the local economy; service and standards are usually high, and prices are exceptionally reasonable.

Women: Women in Seoul dress more conservatively than they do in the U.S. In deference to local customs, American women usually wear clothing that is not conspicuously bare-although attitudes toward fashion styles are changing, showing too much skin is still considered uncouth.

Modern styles and attractive clothing are readily available and reasonably priced. Availability, however, will depend on what local factories are producing at that time. Larger sizes can also pose a challenge. In response to that, there are good seamstresses available, and many employees have had clothes made. As always, mail-order catalogs are a big help.

Children: Various kinds of children's clothing are available at local markets and are reasonably priced. However, some parents find shopping for infants and pre-teens difficult. Shopping for teenagers will not pose any problems-stylish brand-name items made for export are readily available and at good prices.

Supplies and Services

There are numerous beauty shops and barbershops on the local economy as well. However, the latter establishments may not have a staff fluent in English; bring a friend to help out, at least initially.

Domestic Help

The days of inexpensive domestic help are long gone. Most domestic help are not Korean, but rather hail from the Philippines, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.

Religious Activities

Yongsan Military Base has services for the following faiths: Protestant, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish, and non-denominational. Roman Catholic Mass is also offered in Spanish. American and European missionaries, as well as military chaplains, can provide religious services and Sunday School services.

Seoul has several churches throughout the city, some of which provide English-language services. There is a Mosque near Itaewon market. Other faiths represented are: Seoul Union Church (interdenominational), the International Union Church of Seoul, and the Seoul Memorial Baptist Church. In addition, services are available for the Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Christian Science, Seventh-day Adventist, Latter Day Saints/Mormons, Catholic and Lutheran faiths.

Education Seoul American Middle School.

The middle school program covers students in grades six through eight. The programs and enrollment are similar to those of the DoDDs elementary and DoDDs high schools. Seoul American Elementary School (SAES) (DoDDs). The elementary school program covers kindergarten to grade five. Children must be 5 years old by October 31st of the school year to enroll. SAES follows the U.S. curriculum but has many extracurricular activities. Enrollment is 1,500 students. Unlike many of the private schools in Seoul, it offers an extensive educational, physical, and behavioral specialist program. There is also a talented/gifted program. After school care is available through the School Age Services (SAS) program.

pro ram for children 3-4 years old. Seoul American High School (SAHS) (DoDDsj. The high school program covers grades 7 to 9. Enrollment is approximately 1,000. The school follows the U.S. curriculum and offers a variety of extracurricular activities. Approximately 80% of graduates pursue higher education. There are programs available for students with special needs.

Seoul Foreign School. The campus consists of two elementary schools (one American and one British), a middle school and a high school. SFS American elementary school provides program for children from Junior-K through grade 5. Children must be 4 years old by September 30 in order to enroll in the half-day JK program. All other programs are full day. SFS British elementary school follows the British system and accepts children from 3 to 12; it works closely with SFS middle school and children can automatically transfer. SFS Middle and High Schools follow the US. curriculum and offer a wide range of programs and activities-SFS has its own pool and auditorium. The high school also offers the international baccalaureate. SFS has extremely high academic standards and caters to high achievers. It does not offer programs with special needs. The school is very popular with the international community and should be contacted as soon as possible to secure a place. For new students there are application and registration fees totaling USD 500, which are due at the time of application.

SFS provides programs from kindergarten through grade 12. JK students must turn 4 by December 31 of the school year. SIS follows the US. curriculum and offers a wide range of programs and activities however, it does not provide programs for children with special needs. The school also has a large ESL (English as a Second Language) department catering to children who do not speak English as their native language.

Special Educational Opportunities

A multitude of educational opportunities is available at post for spouses and dependents. Many take advantage of the opportunity to complete undergraduate or graduate degrees, as well as to learn Korean.

There are several avenues of educational opportunities available through the military base. The University of Maryland and Central Texas College offer undergraduate level programs. For example, the University of Maryland offers courses in Asian Studies, Business, Computer Studies, English, Government/Politics, History, Management Studies, Psychology, Sociology, and Technical Management. Alternatively, the Central Texas College offers Associate Degrees in Applied Management, Automobile Maintenance, Business Management, Computer Science, Food Service, Hotel/Motel Management, Law Enforcement, Micro Computer Technology, and Office Management.

Additionally, Troy State University offers graduate degree programs. In general, the school year for these institutions is divided into five 8-week semesters, with classes meeting 2 nights weekly for 3 hours.

The Moyer Recreation Center is a U.S.-military facility that offers classes in arts and crafts. Power tools and photography supplies/equipment are also available for personal projects. Check the military newsletters for scheduling.

Nursery Schools and Child Care. There are a few good preschools in Seoul, using both Montessori and social learning concepts.


Koreans are sports enthusiasts, and nearly all participate in some form of athletics, including golf, tennis, skiing, hiking, and mountain climbing. Korean spectator sports include soccer, baseball, tennis, and hockey. Foreigners are welcome to attend the competitive sports events held at Seoul City Stadium. In season, the Seoul gymnasium has boxing, wrestling, basketball, or volleyball events.

Golf is extremely popular among Koreans. New golf courses are plentiful, and several are located a short distance outside the city. They are attractive and challenging, but quite expensive.

Ice-skating is available all through the year at an indoor rink in Seoul. It is best to bring your own skates. Korean hockey, figure, and racing skates are available, but they are not of the best quality and often do not fit American feet.

Skiing is a popular sport in Korea. There are several resorts within a 3-4-hour drive of Seoul. However, many families drive themselves. Since natural snowfall near Seoul is unreliable, the closer ski resorts rely on man-made snow, enabling them to operate effectively for the whole season. All areas operate poma lifts and chair lifts, which are kept in good condition. Ski equipment can be rented at local resorts, although it will be expensive. Avid skiers may wish to bring their own equipment. It is possible to purchase equipment here, but the selection may be limited and expensive. A good selection of ski clothes can be made or purchased to order at the local markets, e.g., Itaewon. Ski helmets are not readily available in Seoul-skiers are advised to bring their own.

Courses in the traditional Korean martial arts of Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do are readily available.

Hiking around Seoul is popular or Seoulites, especially in the spring and fall. The mountains and hills near the capital offer relatively easy climbs and good photo opportunities.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Korea has a rich, varied culture. As mentioned earlier, there are palaces, parks, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout Seoul. Beyond the cities' limits, regional capitals host exhibits and festivals, and offer even more opportunities for the adventurous traveler.

Families with small children will be interested in the amusement parks and similar facilities geared for younger interests. Lotte World is a huge indoor amusement/shopping complex, and a zoo is located at Seoul Grand Park, located at the southern edge from the city. Ever-land is a family entertainment area with a modern theme park, zoo, outdoor and indoor water parks and winter sledding about an hour's drive from downtown Seoul. Near the provincial capital of Suwon-a tourist destination in its own right-is the highly popular Korean Folk Village. At the Folk Village, traditional dress, buildings, and folk traditions are re-created, making a pleasant day trip.

There are other travel options on the peninsula. For example, the southern city of Kyoungju, is noted worldwide for its historical importance as the capital of the Shilla Dynasty. Cheju Island, 60 miles off the south coast, offers waterfalls and fishing villages, as well as being a popular honeymoon choice for Korean newlyweds. For the mountain climber, the east coast of Korea offers a myriad of opportunities, most notable of which is Mount Sorak.


Seoul offers a wide range of choices for entertainment, from the very expensive, black-tie event to much more reasonable options. Plays, operas, ballet, and orchestral performances are held frequently throughout the year, and at venues around the city. Local artists, as well as "big-name" international artists, perform in Seoul. The National Theater, Sejong Cultural Center, and Seoul Arts Center and the LG Arts Center produce regular programs and schedules of their offerings, as well as ticket prices.

Popular movies find their way to the local Korean theaters. First-run American movies are shown with Korean subtitles. The theaters are clean and quite modern, and prices for shows are commensurate with U.S. prices, if not a little less expensive.

There are ample avenues for the thespian in the family; the Yongsan Players is an active amateur theater group sponsored by the military. The Yongsan Chamber Music Society, which has Korean and American professional and amateur members, gives concerts. Shutter-bugs will find many fascinating photo opportunities in Korea.

Seoul offers countless restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, to suit every-one's taste and pocketbook. There are some publications that detail some of the more prominent establishments (see Recommended Reading); they provide a good "jumping off point" for exploring the city.

Social Activities

The American Women's Club is active in Seoul as is the Seoul International Women's Association (SIWA). The United Services Organization (USO) and American Red Cross (ARC) also offer volunteer opportunities. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and a new Teen Center for older children offers a variety of family options. Supervised gatherings include barbecues, picnics, swimming, local tours, theater parties, and other activities.

Koreans generally enjoy socializing with Americans. Please refer to Recommended Reading for books that deal with some of the cultural nuances of entertaining, gift giving, etc. In addition to the massive U.S. military presence in Korea, there is likewise a huge expatriate community of third-country diplomats and businesspeople. Finding venues to meet these groups can be a challenge, but well worth the effort in getting different points of view about life on the peninsula.


Located about 330 kilometers from Seoul at the southeastern tip of the peninsula, Pusan is Korea's second largest city, its main seaport, and a major industrial center. In July 1950, Korean War refugees increased Pusan's population tenfold, from 200,000 to 2 million.

Today Pusan has nearly 4 million inhabitants.

Automaking, shipbuilding, electronics, footwear, and textiles currently are the main export industries of the district. Aerospace and tourism industries are growing rapidly.

The ocean moderates Pusan's weather, giving it the mildest climate on the Korean peninsula. Although Pusan has four distinct seasons, its winters are usually warmer than Seoul's and its summers are cooler and drier. However, heavy rains and typhoons which come in late summer often hit the southern areas harder than in Seoul, sometimes causing serious damage.

Tourist attractions in and near Pusan include Kyongju, the capital of the ancient Shilla Kingdom; many centuries-old Buddhist temples, fortresses, and Confucian schools; several well-developed beach resorts; and the Hallyo Waterway National Park, a rocky, island-studded 100-kilometer stretch of Korea's south coast that can be visited by hydrofoil or ferryboat.

There are daily flights from Pusan to several Korean and Japanese cities, including Seoul and Tokyo. Pusan is 1 hour from Seoul by plane; 4 hours by train; and 5-6 hours by car. Ferryboat service also links Pusan to Cheju Island, and to the Japanese ports of Shimonoseki and Osaka.


A wide variety of foods can be purchased in Pusan, although some items are rather expensive. There is a good selection of fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables in local markets. Also, fish is available at the large waterfront fish market.

The tap water quality varies, so boiling is advisable. Bottled distilled water and carbonated water are plentiful but not cheap.

Pusan offers a great variety of Korean, Japanese, Korean-style Chinese, and Western restaurants ranging from cheap noodle houses to expensive tourist hotel restaurants. Pusan is well known for Japanese-style seafood restaurants, where such delicacies as sushi and broiled eel are fresh and authentic, but expensive. Good Western bakeries and American ice cream franchises are more recent arrivals.

Supplies and Services

Almost any consumer goods or services are available on the economy in Pusan, although luxury goods and some imports, such as petroleum products, are expensive.

Pusan's department stores, specialty shops, and open-air markets offer a wide selection of Korean-made consumer goods. Good values are available in clothing, luggage, and leather goods, furniture, brass, porcelain, silks, and other textiles, lacquerware, amethyst, and smoky topaz.

Local labor and services are generally of good quality, but expensive.

Health and Medicine

Pusan has several modern, full-service private hospitals, including two (Baptist and Maryknoll) that have foreigner clinics and American doctors and dentists. There are many U.S.-trained Korean doctors and dentists. There are also fine doctors trained at Korean medical schools, some of whom speak English well.


Pusan has serious traffic problems, with inadequate roads to accommodate the heavy volume of trucks and buses and the growing number of private cars. Public transportation, which includes a subway, is improving but is very crowded.

Religious Activities

Chapels at Hialeah hold regular Catholic, Protestant, and Latter-day Saint services. English-language Protestant services, as well as a wide range of Korean-language Protestant, Catholic, and Buddhist services, also are available off post. Pusan's small expatriate Jewish community is served by a U.S. Army rabbi based in Seoul.


An international school, with a curriculum based on the British system, serves the Pusan expatriate community. In February 1994, the school had six full-time teachers and 60 students, including 30 Americans. Dependents of U.S. diplomats assigned to Pusan are authorized to attend. The school is for preschool through junior high grades, ages 3-13. To enter grade 1, the equivalent of American kindergarten, a student must be 5 years old by December 31.

Special Educational Opportunities

Although the University of Maryland has a branch at Hialeah, only a few courses are offered. Other American universities have more extensive English-language course offerings in Seoul. Several very good Korean universities in the Pusan area offer a full range of undergraduate and graduate-level courses and welcome qualified foreign students. Although the language of instruction is normally Korean, graduate textbooks are often in English.


Mountain hiking is Pusan's most popular athletic activity. Snow is insufficient for skiing. Coastal sailing is severely restricted for military security reasons. Golf is available at military golf courses, two of which, at Jinhae and Taegu, are about a 1-hour drive from Pusan. Otherwise, golf on the economy is prohibitively expensive.

The USIS, municipal, and university libraries all have English-language collections. Same-day delivery of English-language daily newspapers from Seoul is affordable.


Pusan's symphony orchestra gives periodic concerts, and Pusan's municipal cultural center occasionally hosts attractions from Seoul or foreign countries. Several movie theaters show foreign films, usually with original soundtracks and Korean subtitles.

Pusan has several Korean-language television and radio stations.

Social Activities

English is spoken widely among Pusan's relatively small professional class, especially by the young. Korean working contacts are often eager for social contact. All-male group drinking excursions remain popular, but traditional tendencies for socializing to be segregated by gender and to be done outside the home are gradually weakening. Flower arranging, bonsai tree cultivation, the Korean tea ceremony, Chinese calligraphy, traditional music, martial arts, mountain hiking, Korean chess, go, Buddhism, and Christian churches are among the many foci of local social organizations. Many of these welcome interested foreigners.

The international expatriate community offers many diverse working and social contacts and a broad range of informally organized activities. These activities generally are centered on the International School and on the International Women's Association.


Taegu, a city of over 2 million people, is located about 200 miles southeast of Seoul. It is about 50 minutes by air from Seoul, 3 hours by train, or about 3½ hours by car. The city is situated in a large plain surrounded by mountains. The climate is similar to that of Seoul, but is often somewhat colder in the winter and hotter in the summer. It can be windy and dusty.

Taegu has five large universities and is known as an educational and cultural center. Citizens tend to be more conservative than their counterparts in Seoul. Taegu is in the center of the apple-and grape-growing region of Korea. Its economy has traditionally been dependent on textiles, though recently the auto parts and machinery industries have expanded rapidly.

Local markets, with reasonable care in selection, are the best source for seasonal fruits and vegetables and some fish. Two of the larger department stores in the city also stock a variety of supermarket items, but at premium prices.

AFKN television and radio reception is good in Taegu. Three Korean television stations also broadcast. Shortwave radio reception is good.

Local university hospitals have modern facilities and clinics. A Catholic Hospital is also available. A few dentists in the city have U.S. training.

Good beaches are about a 2-hour drive from Taegu on the east coast of Korea, near Pohang. Pusan is also 2 hours away. Kyongju, an historical area dating from the Silla period, is 1 hour away by car. There are many other interesting historical sites easily accessible from Taegu. Hiking and picnicking are favorite pastimes here.


The provinces of Cholla-Namdo and Cholla-Pukto. About 6 million people live in the two provinces; 1.2 million in Kwangju, the capital of Cholla Namdo, and about 500,000 in Chonju, the capital of Cholla-Pukto. Chonju and Kwangju are connected to Seoul and Pusan by a limited access, toll highway. Kwangju is about 4 hours from Seoul and about 3½ hours from Pusan. A four-lane super highway exists between Kwangju and Taejon.

Multiple flights go to and from Seoul daily, and there is air service to Pusan and Cheju. No air service is provided to Taegu. Several express trains travel to and from Seoul every day; one-way travel takes about 3½ hours. Seoul bus service is frequent, but conditions are only fair.

Theaters in Kwangju City show a few foreign films with original soundtrack and subtitles in Korean. A civic auditorium stages Korean pop and classical concerts. The new Kwangju Art Center houses two state-of-the-art theaters, an art gallery, a theater for traditional Korean music, an outdoor amphitheater, and a restaurant and coffee shop. Nearby are the Kwangju National Museum and the Kwangju Folk Art Museum. The Kumho Cultural features individual performing artists from time to time. It also has a small tea room.

Two enclosed sports arenas hold basketball, volleyball, and other indoor sports events. The city's large outdoor sports arena is used for political and civic events and soccer and baseball games. Several private country clubs offering 18-hole golf courses are located within 40 minutes from downtown Kwangju. There is a 9-hole public golf course at Kwangju Air Base.

Kwangju has several first-class hotels, with Western, Chinese, and Japanese restaurants. Prices are expensive. The hotels also have conference facilities, and there has been an increase in the number of events held in Kwangju in recent years.

Beaches nearest Kwangju are of poor quality. The one exception is the beach at Mokpo, but it is small and crowded during the summer season. Within a 2-hour drive, however, there are several nice beaches. There are also bridges to two islands, Chindo and Wando, which have recreational areas with hiking and swimming facilities. Temples and other cultural and scenic spots abound in the two provinces. Mountain climbing and hiking are excellent. In Cholla-Pukto, about 2 1/2 hours from Kwangju, Muju Resort offers skiing, swimming, and golfing.

Korean TV reception is good in Kwangju. Two Korean networks offer a full schedule of variety shows, dramas, and some U.S. shows run with Korean soundtracks. However, AFKN-TV can no longer be received,

Medical facilities are adequate. Kwangju has three large hospitals and numerous clinics. Although there are no American doctors in Kwangju, many doctors have been trained in the U.S. or Europe and speak English. Adequate medical care is available for emergencies.

The city sprays heavily in the summer to help prevent the spread of encephalitis. Cholera is now uncommon, but there still are regular outbreaks of diphtheria. Individuals should keep their inoculations up to date.

Schools for English-speaking children are not available in Kwangju. Children must attend school in other parts of the country, or out of the country.


CHEJU , the capital of the island province of the same name, is located 120 miles south of Kwangju off Korea's southern coast. Called the "Hawaii of Korea," the island is a major tourist spot, and the city is its service center. Along with its international airport and myriad accommodations, Cheju has a large port and light industries. Among the city's attractions are the Cheju Folk Museum; the Samsŏnghyŏl (Cave of Three Spirits), which is said to have been the cradle of the island's three ancestral families; the Yongduam (Dragon Head Rock), a 30-foot high basalt rock head; and a wood and rock park on the outskirts. Cheju grew as a seaport after 1913; the port facilities were built following World War II. The current population of Cheju is roughly 259,000.

INCHŎN , located in northwest South Korea on the Yellow Sea, is the country's second largest port. Protected by a tidal basin, Inchŏn has an ice-free harbor and is the port and commercial center for Seoul. The city's economy is heavily dependent on the shipping and transshipping of goods, and is one of the country's main industrial centers. Products manufactured in Inchŏn include iron, steel, coke, light metals, chemicals, fertilizers, and textiles. In addition, fishing is an important industry. The tidal flats off the coast of Inchŏn have developed large salt fields. Historically, Inchŏn was opened to foreign trade in 1883. Formerly called Jinsen by the Japanese as well as Chemulpo, Inchŏn is famous as the site of the landing of U.S. troops on September 15, 1950; a statue of Douglas MacArthur in Chayu Park commemorates this event. It was from Inchŏn that the subsequent U.N. drive northward was launched. Inchŏn's population today is approximately 2.3 million.

KWANGJU , in southwest South Korea, is an agricultural and commercial center built on the site of an ancient market. The capital of South Cholla Province, Kwangju has rice mills, and industries that produce rayon, cotton textiles, and beer. Situated in the Yongsan River lowland, the city is a railroad hub with more than one million residents. Kwangju is connected to Seoul and Pusan by a limited access toll highway and is four hours south of Seoul and three-and-a-half hours west of Pusan. Ancient tombs and temples are located in the hills around Kwangju. The city of Tamyang, 7.5 miles north of Kwangju, is known for its bamboo wares. They are sold every five days at a market. The city also has a bamboo museum. The provincial town of Namwon is to the northeast. It is the home of Chunhyang, the heroine of Korea's famous story of love and conjugal fidelity.

KYŎNGJU , situated 205 miles southeast of Seoul, has been called one of the world's 10 most historic cities. Often described as a museum without walls, the city was the birthplace of Silla culture in 57 B.C., and served as the dynasty's capital until A.D. 935. Spared the destruction of war, there are many pagodas, shrines, temples, and tombs that survive today. The town's most popular templePulguksadates from 535 and is an example of Korean Buddhist architecture. Sŏkkuram Grotto, home of a stone Buddha, is a well-known historic site. Several of the region's largest royal tombs may be found in downtown Kyŏngju's Tumuli Park. Korea's most revered and best-known monument is probably Chŏmsŏngdae Observatory, the country's oldest secular building, constructed in 634. Outside of Seoul's National Museum, the Kyŏngju National Museum houses the country's finest exhibits of Silla culture. Kyŏngju, with a population of more than 274,000 (1995 figure), is a four-and-a-half hour train or bus ride from Seoul; there is no direct air service. On the outskirts of Kyŏngju is Pomun Lake Resort, with deluxe hotels, extensive shopping, and recreational facilities.

MASAN , situated 26 miles west of Pusan, is one of the most important commercial hubs in South Kyŏngsung Province. With a population of 500,000, the city has a thermoelectric plant, and machine and chemical factories. Masan serves as the market center for the agricultural regions of the Kimhae plain, as well as a service center for the hinter-land. The port, now a free export zone, was instrumental in the region's expansion early this century. It was closed in 1908 because of its strategic military location, but was reopened in 1967. Masan has road and rail connections to Pusan, and a junior teachers' college, which opened in 1968.

The village of PANMUNJŎN lies just south of the 38th Parallel. Truce negotiations during the Korean War began at nearby Kaesong, north of the 38th Parallel, but in October 1951, were moved to Panmunjŏn, where the truce was signed on July 27, 1953. Daily tours are arranged only by the Korean Tourist Bureau.

SUWŎN , located just south of Seoul is an 18th-century walled city, famous for its elaborate gates and its replica of a Korean folk village. The capital of Kyonggi province, Suwŏn is an important communications point and a local agricultural center. With a population of over 755,500, Suwŏn has large silk and rayon textile mills.

ULSAN is the site of the mammoth Hyundai automobile plant, in the center of a special industrial district. The city lies on the eastern edge of the T'aebaek-sanmaek Mountains, 35 miles northeast of Pusan. Shipbuilding and aluminum and fertilizer factories are among this open port's industries. Ulsan was transformed from a market center and fishing town to an industrial metropolis in the early 1960s, when road and rail links to Korea's major cities were finished. The population is an estimated 967,000.

YŎSU is a port in the extreme south, located 60 miles southeast of Kwangju on the Yŏsu Peninsula. Korea's navy was headquartered here from 1392 to 1910. This is now a fish exporting area of 183,600 residents, though industrial development in the Yochon Industrial District is also important. Yŏsu is linked to Seoul by rail and road and has regular connections to other seacoast cities.


Geography and Climate

Located on a peninsula squarely between China and Japan, Korea is a mountainous and ruggedly beautiful land of diverse geographical features. The Republic of Korea encompasses 34,247 square miles, or an area roughly the size of the State of Indiana. Seas form three of its boundaries: to the east is the Sea of Japan (or East Sea); to the south, the narrow Korean Straits, and to the west, the Yellow Sea. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) forms the northern boundary, separating the Republic of Korea from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK/North Korea).

The capital city of Seoul lies some 30 miles south of the DMZ. In addition, there are the regional capitals for various provinces in the country. There are also several important seaports in Korea. Pusan, about 300 miles southeast of Seoul, is Korea's main seaport. Inchon, about 40 miles west of Seoul, is the second most active port. The cities of Pohang, Ulsan, and Chinhae are also key sites in commerce.

Korea's climate is marked by four very distinct seasons. The winters are dry and cold, with snow usually appearing in January. The advent of the cherry blossoms heralds spring-a season that can also be somewhat unpredictable. A brief monsoon season and high temperatures combine to make city life rather humid in the summertime. Autumn is easily the best time of year in Korea, when both the cities and the countryside benefit from clear skies and vibrant fall foliage.

Only 19% of the country is flat enough to be arable, and that land is farmed intensively. In addition, there has been a steady shift away from the farm and into urban areas. Two-thirds of Korea's population now live in its cities.


Korea is one of the world's most densely populated countries. Government figures from 1999 estimate South Korea's population to be 46.8 million, and the city of Seoul's is figured to be more than 10 million. The average age of the population has increased slightly, but the numbers who have first-hand memory of the Japanese occupation or the Korean war continue to decline.

Since 1945, exposure to Western influences has increased dramatically, bringing with it a corresponding evolution in lifestyles, thought, and behavior. Western-influenced attitudes and dress are now common throughout Seoul, but the traditional ideals still hold considerable sway, particularly in the countryside.

Religious freedom is one of the tenets of Korean law. Buddhism (23%) and Christianity (25%) show the most adherents. Others combine practices from Confucianism and Shamanism in their faith.

The Korean language is very distinct from Chinese, but shares a similar grammar and word order with Japanese. The Department of State classifies Korean as a "super-hard language." Han-gul, the phonetic alphabet, is used almost exclusively in all facets of daily life, with occasional Chinese characters finding their way into various publications. Although not a tonal language (such as Chinese or Vietnamese), Korean relies heavily on the Confucian idea of rank and status within society, using various forms of address, expressions, and grammatical nuances to convey those ideas. However, as with any language, a working knowledge of the Korean script and basic phrases will certainly be ample for most residents.

In Korea, the first name is the family name, followed by a given name. Married women continue to use their maiden names but add the prefix "Mrs." Only when associating with Westerners will women occasionally identify themselves by their husband's surname. Koreans seldom address one another by their first names. It is very common practice here to exchange business cards upon introduction.

Traditionally, Korean homes were built of brick or stone around a courtyard, and had three to four bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen. Bedrooms had charcoal-heated floors called "ondol." Windows were of glass, and sliding doors between rooms in the homes were latticed frames of wood covered with rice paper. Today, very few can claim to live in such housing. Most city dwellers live in high-rise apartments or in homes of cement block with tile roofing.

Traditional Korean food consists primarily of rice, soups, and the ubiquitous "kimchi," which is a mixture of pickled vegetables, red pepper, and garlic. Grilled meats, such as barbecued beef and ribs ("bulgogi" and "kalbi," respectively) are always popular. As with most of Asia, rice figures prominently in the Korean diet, not just as an essential part of one's meal, but also in traditional drinks. It is used to make "makkoli" (a light rice wine) and "soju" (a considerably stronger libation).

A brief Political History. Throughout most of its history, Korea has been invaded, influenced, and fought over by its larger neighbors. To protect themselves from such buffeting, the Yi Dynasty kings finally adopted a closed-door policy, which earned Korea the title of the "Hermit Kingdom." Although the Yi kings showed nominal fealty to the Chinese throne, Korea was, in fact, independent until the onset of Japanese colonialism in the early 20th century. Japan actually annexed Korea in 1910, beginning an era of almost total control from Tokyo. This era was marked by an effort to replace the Korean language and culture with those of Japan. Japanese colonial rule continued until the end of World War II.

With the defeat of the Japanese in World War II, the peninsula was divided along the 38th parallel. Soviet troops accepted the surrender of the Japanese in the North, and U.S. troops accepted it in the South. This division was cemented when the US. S.R. refused to allow a U.N. Commission to enter the North and supervise free elections. Thus, the Republic of Korea was established only in the South. The US. S.R. established a separate government in the North, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (D.PR.K.), headed by Kim Il Sung.

In June 1950, the D.PR.K. launched a massive invasion of the Republic of Korea, which was halted at the Naktong River near the southeastern city of Pusan, and then reversed by the historic U.S. Marine landing at Inchon that September.

Three years of bloody fighting followed, with massive numbers of troops from the People's Republic of China aiding the North, and troops of 16 U.N. member nations assisting the South. The truce signed on July 27, 1953 established a demilitarized zone along the 38th parallel.

A peace treaty has never been concluded. U.S. military forces remain in the Republic of Korea today to help enforce the Armistice and to deter aggression, pursuant to the Mutual Security Treaty concluded between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea in 1954. While an uneasy peace has been maintained on the peninsula since the Armistice, large armed forces confront each other across the DMZ and incidents continue to occur.

The Republic of Korea has had a stormy domestic political history. After 1948, short interludes of instability punctuated three long periods of authoritarian rule under Presidents Syngman Rhee (1948-1960), Park, Chung Hee (1961-1979), and Chun, Doo Hwan (1980-1987).

In 1987, a new constitution was drawn up in concert with all political parties. In the December 1987 election, a split between major opposition figures allowed Roh Tae-Woo of the Democratic Justice Party (DJP) to become Korea's first directly elected President since 1971, with just 36% of the vote. In the April 1988 legislative elections, the opposition parties together gained control of the National Assembly for the first time. In January 1990, however, the ruling DJP and two of the opposition parties merged to form the Democratic Liberal Party (DLP), which gained control of more than two-thirds of the seats in the Assembly.

In December 1992, Kim Young-Sam, former leader of one of the opposition parties that had merged to create the ruling DLP, was elected as the first civilian president in three decades. In his first year in office, President Kim implemented sweeping political and economic reforms, which signified a fundamental policy break from the previous administration, and which ended the political careers of several key officials from that administration.

President Kim Dae-Jung's historic election in 1997 represented the first time in Korean history that an opposition leader reached the highest office in the land. An internationally recognized human rights and democracy advocate, President Kim has made political and economic reform, together with the promotion of democracy and human rights, the watchwords of his Presidency. He has also reached out to North Korea with his policy of engagement, and, thus far, progress in expanding private-sector North-South contacts and cooperation has been great. He has also successfully pursued summit diplomacy with the U.S., Japan, China, and Russia, as well as other countries in Asia.

Public Institutions

Under the constitution, the Government is divided into three branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial. The President administers the country with the assistance of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, whom he appoints. All provincial and local officials are appointed and work under the administration of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court, three appellate courts, three district courts, and one family court. In addition, the military services have special courts.

The one-house National Assembly has 299 members. Three-quarters of the Assembly members are elected from single-member districts, while the others are chosen via a nationwide representative system. Each party receives one proportional seat for every three seats won in the election districts. The constitution provides for direct presidential elections every 5 years and National Assembly elections every 5 years.

Arts, Science, and Education

Korea's 5,000 years of history have produced a rich and vibrant artistic heritage. The handiwork seen, for example, in ceramics, woodworking, architecture, needlework, and calligraphy showcases the high level of craftsmanship evident here. Indeed, Korea has designated several artisans as "Living National Treasures," to honor their contributions to the arts and crafts of Korea, and to pass their skills on to the next generation.

Museums and galleries located primarily in Seoul, but also scattered throughout the country, display the works of the Koguryo, Paekche, and Shilla Dynasties. These displays reflect the different impacts of regional interests and conflicts-e.g., Chinese influence during the Koguryo, Buddhist influence during the Shilla. Later on, the Yi Dynasty (C.E. 1392-1910) illustrated the Confucian mores.

Traditional music in Korea is quite distinctive, and is used primarily in religious rituals, combined with prayer and dance. Concerts showcasing traditional court and temple music are quite popular. The art of "Pan'sori," where a lone singer relates a story, often lasting for up to 8 hours, is also unique to the region.

Traditional dance is usually court, temple dance, or folk dancing, with highly stylized moves and musicals interpretations. Again, festivals and performances highlighting these dances are popular.

Korean research and development activities are centered in the scores of research institutes located in Seoul and elsewhere. These include the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIS), the Korea Institute of Industrial Economics and Technology (KIET), the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), the Agency for Defense Development (ADD), and the Korea Educational Development Institute (KEDI).

Education at all levels is a highly emphasized facet of Korean life. School children take their studies seriously, and there is enormous pressure from the family and friends to succeed. Government and private investment in education is heavy, particularly in technical schools and colleges, both of which have expanded exponentially in the last decades.

Numerous institutions of higher education were originally established through missionaries' assistance: Ewha Women's University (Methodist), Yonsei University (interdenominational), Soongjun University (Presbyterian), and Sogang University (Jesuit). Of these, the most prestigious is Seoul National University (SNU). These institutions introduced Western culture to Korea during the early part of the 1900s, and many national leaders have since received their education from them.

Commerce and Industry

Korea is one of the largest of the U.S. trading partners, and, currently, our sixth largest export market, surpassing those of Australia, Brazil, China, France, and Italy.

Imports to Korea are returning to pre-crisis (1997) levels, with strong growth expected throughout 2000. Concurrently, Korea also has been described as one of the toughest markets in the world for doing business, a place where firms must do their homework and take nothing for granted.

In response to the late-1997 economic crisis, the administration is implementing structural reforms, especially in the financial and corporate sectors aimed at putting the Korean economy on a more open, market-oriented basis. With the rapid improvement in the nation's economy, however, the pressure to press on with reform and restructuring has abated somewhat.

Despite these challenges, there are many outstanding export possibilities for US. goods and service providers, and new opportunities continue to abound. For instance, Korea will be Asia's third largest e-commerce market by 2002. Korea's e-commerce market is forecast to grow to almost $10 billion by 2003, making Korea the 10th largest e-commerce market in the world. The number of Korean Internet users is now estimated to be about 10 million-more users than exist in Australia, Taiwan, Italy, Sweden, Netherlands, and Spain, and rapidly gaining on Canada and the U.K. The Korean market for U.S. non-memory-integrated circuits and microassemblies continues to expand. Korea imports more integrated circuits than it does gas and oil.

In sum, Korea is undergoing a fundamental and revolutionary period of change. Although barriers remain, it is clear that Korea is gradually evolving into a more competitive, more transparent, more user-friendly business environment. U.S. exporters realize the strategic importance of being active in this key market and contribute to the vibrant commercial environment that is Korea.



Given the narrow streets and crowded traffic conditions here, small, maneuverable vehicles that are easy to park are best. Vehicles shipped to Korea should not be crated, and all-risk maritime insurance is recommended. Before driving a vehicle, you must have third-party, property damage, and liability insurance, which can be purchased locally.

To obtain a local drivers license, a valid drivers license issued elsewhere (U.S. or foreign) is needed. Otherwise, the local drivers test, which is considered difficult, must be taken. A Korean license is valid for 5 years and is renewable. The fee for both initial issuance and renewal (as of 1999) is 3,500 won.

Traffic accidents in Korea are a serious problem. The Republic of Korea has one of the world's highest traffic fatality rates per number of cars on the road, well over 10 times the rates in the U.S. and Japan. Pedestrian casualties are also high. There are many streets with unmarked crosswalks, and many crosswalks that are marked yet not observed by drivers. Pedestrians often exacerbate traffic problems by jumping into the street to hail taxis. Motorcycles make the situation even more hazardous, with a marked tendency to drive wherever there happens to be room-which can even include the sidewalks.


Local bus transportation in Seoul is inexpensive (for example, W600 per ride on a city bus, regardless of distance) and offers an easy alternative for getting around town. However, schedules per se are nonexistent and buses can be extremely crowded during the rush hour. Routes are printed on the sides of buses-but in Korean script. A basic knowledge of the local language will be a great help in navigating your way around.

Seoul has a fast, safe, and inexpensive subway system, which is easy to understand. Routes handle both major city stops and areas well beyond the city boundaries. As with any large city, the subway is crowded at rush hour.

Local cabs are convenient and reasonably priced; all taxis are metered so bargaining is not necessary. Tipping is also not expected. Taxis can be hailed from anywhere on a street, although there are some taxi stands near the larger hotels. When hailing a cab, beckon with your hand facing down. Cabbies will not pick up a rider if they do not wish to go to that destination; they will also be disinclined to pick up fares during their shift change (usually late afternoon).

Deluxe cabs are clearly marked. Geared primarily for foreign tourists, the meter starts at W3,000, and the drivers are said to have a grasp of Japanese and some English-language skills.


Both highways and city streets are often heavily congested with cars, taxis, and buses. Construction projects are continuous. There are good roads from the airport into Seoul proper, and also to points south and east.

Intercity bus transportation is available throughout Korea. Modern, air-conditioned coaches provide inexpensive transportation to major cities. Schedules are available at both the Seoul Express and Nambu Bus Terminals.

The Government owns and operates the entire railway system and continues its efforts to modernize and expand railroad facilities. The well-developed system has first-class coaches available at reasonable fares. There is train service to all major cities. Night express trains have Pullman sleeper cars, and long-distance trains have a dining car. Licensed vendors are authorized to come aboard to sell refreshments.

Sea transport is essential to Korea because there are no open land borders. Shipping services are well developed, and almost all major foreign shipping lines regularly call at ports here. Usually, these are cargo or cargo/passenger ships. The principal ports are Pusan, on the southern tip of the peninsula, and Inchon, northwest of Seoul.

Many international airlines operate in Korea, and Korean carriers (Asiana and Korean Airlines) fly domestic routes. The schedules are convenient and the airfares are usually quite reasonable.


Telephone and Telegraph

The Republic of Korea has made great strides in both its telephone and telecommunications services. Cellular phone service is available with many carriers and options to choose from. A wide variety of Internet services is available and prices are comparable to those found in the US. Prepaid phone cards are available, the price per minute back to the U.S. ranges from 8 to 10 cents a minute.

Radio and TV

Korean radio stations offer a wide variety of good musical programs-particularly classical-on both AM and FM stations. In addition to these local Korean channels, the Armed Forces Network Korea (AFN-K) broadcasts news, music, sports, and some US. radio programs. Voice of America programs and National Public Radio are available as well. Some employees use shortwave radios to pick up the BBC, CBC, Deutsche Welle, and others.

Cable TV, some with foreign programming, is widely available. The four Korean television networks offer a variety of programming, with a few either in English or with the benefit of subtitles for foreign viewers. The AFN-K-TV transmits a choice of CNN newscasts and U.S. television programs. The NTSC system is used in Korea, so a U.S.-make television set can receive local broadcasts. Hong Kong's Star TV Network is also available. There are plenty of locally run video shops, which also carry popular releases.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

The Korea Times and the Korea Herald are the two English-language newspapers published in Seoul, with an obvious emphasis on Korean news. The U.S. military newspaper, the Pacific Stars and Stripes, is published daily in Japan and shipped to Seoul. All these publications are available for home delivery/subscription. In addition, the International Herald Tribune (Asia edition), and the Financial Times are now printed locally. Asian Wall Street Journal, and USA Today arrive a day late.

Most popular American magazines and recent paperback novels are available at the post exchange.

In addition to these options, the Kyobo Building is well known for its wide selection of English-language titles. Although prices may be higher than in the U.S., the selection is usually quite good.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Medically speaking, Korea is an advanced country. Hospitals are usually well equipped with state-ofthe-art diagnostic and therapeutic equipment. Many Korean physicians have trained and practiced in the US. Specialized care is available at Korean hospitals, as well. High-quality dental care, both general and specialized, is available in Seoul at costs comparable to those in the U.S. U.S.-trained orthodontists are available. Optical services, including American board-certified ophthalmologists, are available at major university-affiliated hospitals at reasonable costs.

In general, specialized medical needs can be handled, but there may be cultural differences that can affect overall satisfaction with services. You may find Korean medical practices (bedside manners) somewhat different from what you are accustomed to: be prepared to discuss your medical needs and medical history. In Korea, it is normally regarded as the patient's responsibility to inform the doctor of any potential medical concerns. Don't wait until you are asked; you may not be.

Korean doctors do not always volunteer information about their diagnosis or treatment options. When asked, they are usually reluctant to give the patient such information.

Korean doctors rarely tell the patient the nature of the medicines prescribed. The name of the medication, too, will most likely not appear on the package. You may wish to ask your doctor the name and type of medication he is prescribing before having the prescription filled at the pharmacy; the pharmacist may simply refer such questions to the doctor. In Korea there is no primary care system; all doctors are specialists. Be prepared to pay, in cash, at the completion of each visit.

Community Health

Seoul has air pollution levels that are considered moderate by U.S. standards. Hazardous levels are episodic and seasonal, not continuous. Photochemical pollution or smog results from the action of sunlight on motor vehicle exhaust producing ozone. This type of pollution predominates in summer. In winter, particulate and sulfur oxides, which result from coal-fired heating and industrial processes, predominate. Overall levels of winter pollution have decreased in Seoul by 50% in the last 5 years largely due to the switch to natural gas for heating and in industry. However, summertime smog has increased due to the increased number of vehicles in Seoul.

Respiratory problems are the major cause of clinic visits. The cold, dry winters are responsible for recurrent sinusitis, bronchitis, otitis media, and pneumonia. The best protection against these winter illnesses is humid air. Sturdy, coolmist humidifiers are the best way to replace the moisture in the air. Humidifiers are available locally. Locally purchased fruits, meats, vegetables need extra cleaning to be on the safe side.

Preventive Measures

Gastrointestinal illnesses are not generally a problem, but the incidence of Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and tuberculosis is rising. Anyone traveling to other parts of East Asia (e.g., China and Thailand), should get two series of Hepatitis A and three series of Hepatitis B vaccinations as they are prevalent in those regions. Long-term visitors may want to be checked annually for TB status.


Passage Customs & Duties

A passport is required. Visas are not required for tourist or business stays up to thirty days. For longer stays and other types of travel, visas must be obtained in advance. Changes of status from one type of visa to another (from tourism to teaching, for example) are normally not granted in South Korea. Individuals who stay in Korea longer than the period authorized by Korean immigration are subject to fines and may be required to pay the fines before departing the country. Individuals who plan to stay longer than the period authorized must apply to Korean immigration for an extension in advance.

For further information on entry requirements, please contact the Embassy of the Republic of Korea at 2320 Massachusetts Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 939-5660/63 or the Korean Embassy Internet home page at South Korean consulates are also located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Guam, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a web site with a directory of all Korean diplomatic missions worldwide at

Americans living in or visiting South Korea are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and obtain updated information on travel and security within South Korea. The U.S. Embassy is located at 82 Sejong-Ro Chongro-Ku, Seoul, telephone (82-2) 397-4114 fax (82-2) 738-8845. The U.S. Embassy's web page can be found at


The 10-day quarantine period for dogs and cats entering Korea from the U.S. has been removed, but importing pets is still subject to the following conditions: Dogs and cats from rabies free areas, such as Hawaii, will be released on the day of arrival into Korea. Puppies and kittens less than 90 days old from anywhere will be released on arrival day if accompanied by a valid animal health certificate. Dogs and cats more than 90 days old from rabies areas, such as the US., will be released upon the day of arrival, if accompanied by a valid animal health certificate that shows that the animal has been vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to departure from the US. (and less than 1 year since the previous vaccination.)

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The official currency unit is the won, issued in denominations of 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 won notes. Coins are 10, 50, 100, and 500 Won. U.S. dollars are accepted in the Itaewon shopping area and in some other locations that deal with tourists. As of May, 2001, the exchange rate is approximately W1,300=US$l. This rate fluctuates almost daily. Travelers checks can be purchased at various local banks, including Citibank.

No limit is placed on the amount of foreign currency you can bring into Korea, provided you declare it. Currency exchange facilities for American currency or travelers checks (not personal checks) are available at Incheon International Airport. Won, the local currency, cannot be imported. There is a departure tax of approximately Won 10,000 for all passengers.

Security Information

Civil defense air raid drills are usually conducted on the 15th of each month. The drills are always announced in advance in English newspapers and AFKN. The alerts last about 20 minutes. During that time, all local business activities cease, and traffic comes to a complete standstill. If indoors, you remain there until the all-clear siren sounds. If you are on the street, you must go indoors or into an underpass or subway station for the duration of the drill.

Seoul is one of the world's largest cities and has criminal activities normally associated with large urban areas. Robberies and pick-pocketing/purse snatchings, especially those targeting foreigners, are frequent. Incidents of sexual harassment and molestation of foreign women have occurred. Home burglaries and car thefts are more common, but have not affected Embassy personnel. Police are considered capable and well trained.

Isolated acts of violence have been directed at U.S. facilities in the past. It is a function of political dissidence, and the organizers are mainly from a small but active group of radical university students. During periods of increased tension on university campuses, usually in the spring and autumn, Americans are advised to avoid universities and political rallies. The great majority of Korean people consider themselves to be friends of the U.S. Government and the American people.

Seoul is only 30 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone, one of the most heavily fortified and tense borders in the world. However, with the exception of incidents along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and occasional attempts by North Korean agents to infiltrate the South, peace has prevailed on the peninsula for 50 years. However, should it ever be necessary, the Embassy and U.S. Forces Korea have worked together for plans to evacuate noncombatants from the peninsula. The Consular Section, American Citizen Services, has the most current information on Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) exercises.


Jan. 1 Solar New Year's Day

Jan/Feb. Lunar New Year

Jan. 3 Folklore Day

Feb. 26 Taeborum

Mar. 1 Independence Movement Day

Mar. 10 Labour Day

Apr. 5 Arbor Day

May 1 Labor Day

May 5 Children's Day

May 19 Buddha's Birthday

June 6 Memorial Day

June 15 Tano

July 17 Constitution Day

Aug. 15 Liberation Day

Sept. 20-22 Chuseok (Harvest Moon festival)

Oct. 3 Foundation Day

Dec. 25 Christmas



These titles are provided as a general indication of the materials published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Bunge, Frederica M. Korea: A Country Study. The Government Printing Office, 1982.

Buss, S. Claude, The United States and the Republic of Korea. Hoover Institute, 1982.

Cho, L.-J. and Y.H. Kim. Economic Development in the Republic of Korea. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1989.

Choe, Sang-su. Annual Customs of Korea. Seoman Publishing Company, 1983.

Crane, Paul. Korean Patterns. 4th edition. R.A.S. 1978.

Encarnation, Dennis J. Korea and the Major Powers: An Analysis of Power Structures in East Asia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.

Focus. Doing Business in Korea. American Chamber of Commerce.

Focus. Living in Korea. American Chamber of Commerce.

Ha, Tae-Hung. Guide to Korean Culture. Yonsei University Press, 1978.

Henderson, Gregory. The Politics of the Vortex. Harvard University Press, 1968.

Henthorn, William E. History of Korea. Free Press. 1974.

Hoare, J., and S. Pares. Korea: An Introduction. New York: Routledge Chapman & Hall, 1988.

Howe, R.W. The Koreans: Passion & Grace. New York: Harcourt, 1988.

Hulbert, Homer B. History of Korea. 2 vols. New York: Hillary House Limited, 1962.

Kang, Hugh H.W. The Traditional Culture and Society of Korea: Thought and Institutions. University of Hawaii Press, 1975.

Kwak, Tae-hwan. The Two Koreas in World Politics. Kyungnam University Press, 1983.

Lee, Ki Baik. A New History of Korea. Translated by E.W. Wagner. Harvard University Press, 1984.

McCune, Evelyn. The Arts of Korea. Tokyo: Charles R. Tuttle, 1962.

MacDonald, D.S. The Koreans: Contemporary Politics & Society. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1988.

Mason, Edward S. The Economic and Social Modernization of the Republic of Korea. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Moffett, Samuel. The Christians of Korea. New York: Friendship Press, 1962.

Rucci, Richard B. Living in Korea. American Chamber of Commerce, 1984.

Steinberg, David I. South Korea Profile. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986.

Stokesbury, J.L. A Short History of the Korean War. New York: Morrow, 1988.

Sunoo, Harold Hakwon. South Korean Economy: Success or Failure? An Analysis of Export-Oriented Economic Policy. Virginia Beach, VA: Heritage Research House, 1989.

Wilson Center. Reflection on a Century of U.S.-Korean Relations: Conference Papers, June, 1982.

Woronoff, Jon. Korea's Economy: Man-Made Miracle. Si-sa-yongosa Publishers, Inc., 1983.

South Korea

views updated Jun 08 2018

South Korea

Culture Name

South Korean

Alternative Names

Republic of Korea; Corean, Han'guk, Taehan, Taehanmin'guk


Identification. Koryo (9181392) and Choson (13921910) were the last two Korean dynasties. Korean immigrants and their descendants in Russia, China, and Japan use the names of those dynasties as a reference for their ethnicity. Despite the continued use of Choson as a self-name in North Korea, the Japanese convention of referring to the Korean nation by that name (pronounced Chosen in Japanese) can be offensive to South Koreans because of its evocation of Japanese colonization of the nation (19101945).

Koreans share a common culture, but a sense of regionalism exists between northerners and southerners and between southeasterners and southwesterners in terms of customs and perceived personality characteristics. Some suggest that this regionalism dates back to Three Kingdoms of Koguryo (37 b.c.e.668 c.e.), Silla (57 b.c.e.935 c.e.), and Paekche (18 b.c.e.660 c.e.). In South Korea politicized regionalism has emerged between the southeastern (Kyongsang Province) and southwestern regions (Cholla Province) since the late 1960s as a result of an uneven pattern of development that benefits people in the southeast.

Location and Geography. South Korea occupies the southern half of the Korean peninsula, which protrudes about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) southward from the Eurasian landmass between Soviet Siberia in the northeast and Chinese Manchuria to the north. About three thousand islands belong to Korea, among which the Province of Cheju Island is the largest. The total area of the peninsula, including the islands, is about 85,000 square miles (222,000 square kilometers), of which about 45 percent or about 38,000 square miles (99,000 square kilometers) constitutes the territory of South Korea.

Geopolitically, the peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the sea and by Russia, China, and Japan. Korea has suffered from the attempts of these neighboring countries to dominate it, particularly in the twentieth century. Each of them considers Korea to be of major importance to its own security, and since 1945 the United States has had a major security interest in the nation. The peninsula was divided at the 38th Parallel in an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union at the end of the World War II. Subsequently, the Military Demarcation Line established by the Armistice Agreement of 1953 to bring a cease-fire to the Korean War (19501953) replaced the boundary. A 2.5-mile (four-kilometer) wide strip of land that runs along the cease-fire line for about 150 miles (241 kilometers) is fixed at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) as the no man's land between North Korea and South Korea.

Korea is mountainous, and only about 20 percent of the land in the south is flat enough for farming. Seoul, the capital, is in the northwestern part of the country on the Han River, which flows toward the Yellow Sea. Seoul was first established as the walled capital of the Choson Dynasty in 1394. Before Japan colonized Korea in 1910, Seoul was the first city in east Asia to have electricity, trolley cars, a water system, telephones, and telegraphs. Seoul has grown into a metropolis of more than ten million residents. The palaces, shrines, and other vestiges of the Choson Dynasty are still prominent features of the city north of the Han River, serving as major tourist attractions. In the last few decades, the area south of the Han River has built trendy commercial centers and high-rise condominium complexes for the middle and upper-middle classes.

Demography. In 1997, the population was 45.9 million, with 1,200 persons per square mile (463 persons per square kilometer). Since the mid-1980s, when Korea stabilized at a low level of fertility, remarkably high sex ratios at birth have resulted from son-selective reproductive behaviors such as prenatal sex screening and sex-selective abortion. Another notable demographic trend is the increasing ratio of the elderly: the 1997 census revealed that 6.3 percent of the total population was 65 years of age or older.

Linguistic Affiliation. About seventy million people speak Korean. Most live on the peninsula, but more than five million live across the globe. Korean is considered part of the Tungusic branch of the Altaic group of the Ural-Altaic language family. It also has a close relationship to Japanese in general structure, grammar, and vocabulary. The form of Korean spoken around Seoul is regarded as standard. Major dialects differ mainly in accent and intonation. Except for old Cheju dialect, all are mutually intelligible.

Koreans value their native tongue and their alphabet, han'gul, which was invented in the mid-fifteenth century. Until then, Korea's aristocratic society used Chinese characters, while the government and people used the writing system known as idu (a transcription system of Korean words invented in the eighth century by Silla scholars using Chinese characters). The Chinese writing system requires a basic knowledge of several thousand characters. Commoners who did not have the time or means to master Chinese could not read or write. Moreover, it is difficult to express spoken Korean in Chinese characters.

Considering the frustrating situation of mass illiteracy and troubled by the incongruity between spoken Korean and Chinese ideographs, King Sejong (13971450), the fourth ruler (14181450) of the Choson Dynasty, commissioned a group of scholars to devise a phonetic writing system that would represent the sounds of spoken Korean and could be learned by all the people. The result was Hunmin Chong'um ("the Correct Sounds to Teach the People"), or han'gul, as it is called today. The system was created in 1443 and promulgated in 1446. South Koreans observe Han'gul Day on 9 October with a ceremony at King Sejong's tomb.

Han'gul is easy to learn since each letter corresponds to a phoneme, and Korea now has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. UNESCO established the King Sejong Literacy Prize in 1988 and offers it annually to an individual or group that contributes to the eradication of illiteracy worldwide.

Symbolism. The national flag, T'aegukki, is a unique symbol. The flag of T'aeguk ("Supreme Ultimate"), symbolizes the basic ideas of east Asian cosmology shared by the peoples in the Chinese culture area. In the center of a white background is a circle divided horizontally in two by an S-shaped line. The upper portion in red represents the yang, and the lower portion in blue symbolizes the um (yin in Chinese), depicting the yinyang principle of a universe in perfect balance and harmony. The central symbolism in the T'aeguk form is that while there is a constant movement of opposites in the universe (day and night, good and evil, masculinity and femininity), there is also balance. The four trigrams at the corners of the flag also express the ideas of opposites and balance. The three unbroken lines in the upper left corner represent heaven while the three broken lines placed diagonally in the lower right corner represent the earth. The trigram in the upper right corner represents water, while the one placed diagonally at the lower left corner represents fire.

In contrast to the cosmological symbolism in the flag, the national anthem, Aegukka, conjures a sense of the national identity of the Taehan people by making territorial references to the East Sea (Sea of Japan), Paektusan ("White Head Mountain," on the northern border with China), and the beautiful land of mugunghwa (the rose of Sharon, the national flower). The phrase samch'ol-li kangsan ("three-thousand-li land of range and river"), which is included in the national anthem, refers to the national territory.

The phrase han p'it-chul ("one bloodline") often is used by Koreans at home and abroad to symbolize their shared identity as the members of a homogeneous nation. Blood and territory thus are the most frequently invoked metaphors associated with the nation.

National days of celebration include Liberation Day (Kwangbokchol ) on 15 August and National Foundation Day (Kaech'onjol ) on 3 October. Kwangbokchol (the Day of Recovering the Light) celebrates the nation's liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. Kaech'onjol (Heaven Opening Day) commemorates the founding of the first Korean kingdom, KoChoson, by the legendary priest-king Tan'gun Wanggom.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The Korean peninsula has been inhabited for more than half a million years, and a Neolithic culture emerged around 6,000 b.c.e. The legendary beginning date of the Korean people is said to be 2333 b.c.e., when Tan'gun established the kingdom of Choson ("Morning Freshness," often translated as the "Land of Morning Calm") around today's P'yongyang. To distinguish it from the later Choson Dynasty, it is now referred to as Ko ("Old") Choson.

In the legend, Tan'gun was born of a divine father, Hwan-ung, a son of the heavenly king, and a woman who had been transformed from a bear. The bear and a tiger had pleaded with Hwan-ung to transform them into human beings. Only the bear achieved the transformation by following Hwanung's instructions, which included a hundred-day seclusion to avoid sunlight and the ingestion of a bunch of mugwort (ssuk ) and twenty pieces of garlic. This bear turned woman then married Hwan-ung, and their offspring was Tan'gun. A recent interpretation of the bear woman is that she came from a bear totem tribe.

The Old Choson period is divided into the Tan'gun, Kija, and Wiman periods. Shortly after the fall of Wiman Choson in 108 b.c.e. and the establishment of Chinese military control in the north, the Three Kingdoms (Silla, Koguryo, and Paekche) period began. In 668, Silla unified the Three Kingdoms. Silla's decline in the late ninth century brought about the rise of Later Paekche and Later Koguryo. Wang Kon, who established the Koryo Dynasty, eventually reunified the nation. A series of Mongol invasions that began in 1231 devastated the country in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. General Yi Song-gye overthrew Koryo and established the Choson Dynasty in 1392. Despite invasions by Japan and Manchu (Qing) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, respectively, Choson continued for more than five centuries until 1910, when Japan colonized the nation for three and a half decades.

National Identity. Before the 1945 national division of the peninsula and the subsequent establishment of the two political regimes of North and South Korea in 1948, Koreans identified themselves as the people of Choson. Tan'gun as the founding ancestor has had a symbolic meaning for Koreans throughout the nation's history. A temple erected in Tan'gun's honor in 1429 stood in P'yongyang until its destruction during the Korean War. In 1993, North Korea announced the discovery of Tan'gun's tomb and a few remains of his skeleton at a site close to P'yongyang. Some Korean calendars still print the Year of Tan'gun (Tan'gi ) along with the Gregorian calendar year, which the South Korean government officially adopted in 1962.

Ethnic Relations. Korea is one of the few countries in which ethnicity and nationality coincide. The only immigrant ethnic minority group is a Chinese community of about 20,000 that is concentrated mainly in Seoul and has existed since the late nineteenth century. Since the Korean War, the continued presence of the United States ForcesKorea has resulted in the immigration of over one hundred thousand Korean women to the United States as soldiers' wives. Since the early 1990s, an increasing number of foreign workers from Asian countries (including Korean Chinese) and Russia have entered South Korea in pursuit of the "Korean Dreams."

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Traditionally, dwellings with thatched roofs and houses with clay-tile roofs symbolized ruralurban as well as lower-classupper-class distinctions. The traditional houses of yangban (gentry) families were divided by walls into women's quarters (anch'ae ), men's quarters (sarangch'ae ), and servants' quarters (haengnangch'ae ), reflecting the Confucian rules of gender segregation and status discrimination between the yangban and their servants in the social hierarchy of the Choson Dynasty. Western architecture was introduced in the nineteenth century. The Gothic-style Myongdong Cathedral (1898) is a prominent example of the earliest Western architecture in Seoul.

As part of government-sponsored rural development projects since the late 1960s, thatched-roof houses in rural areas have mostly been replaced by concrete structures with a variety of brightly colored slate roofs. The tile-roofed traditional urban residential houses have also become almost extinct, partly because of the ravages of the Korean War and the rush toward modernization and development. Now a wide range of architectural styles coexists. For example, the Toksu Palace of the Choson Dynasty built in the traditional style, the Romanesque Seoul City Hall built during Japanese rule, and modem high-rise luxury hotels can all be seen from City Hall Plaza in downtown Seoul.

According to the 1995 national census, about 88 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Lack of land for construction and changes in people's lifestyle have combined to make condominium apartments the dominant housing type in urban areas. Close to half the urban population consists of condominium dwellers, but the bedrooms in most condos still feature the ondol floor system. Traditional ondol floors were heated by channeling warm air and smoke through a system of under-the-floor flues from an exterior fireplace. Those floors typically were made of large pieces of flat stone tightly covered with several square-yard-size pieces of lacquered paper in light golden brown to present an aesthetically pleasing surface and prevent gas and smoke from entering the room.

Customarily, the "lower end" of the room (araemmok ), which is the closest to the source of heat, was reserved for honored guests and the senior members of the household, while people of lower social status occupied the "upper end" (ummok ), farthest from the source of heat and near the door. This customary practice reflected the social hierarchy. This distinction does not exist in the modern apartments because the heating system is centrally controlled.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The rapid changes in lifestyles that have accompanied economic development since the 1960s have changed the traditional pattern of eating rice at each meal. Some urbanites may eat toast, eggs, and milk for breakfast, using a fork and knife. Nonetheless, for many people a bowl of steamed white rice, a soybean-paste vegetable soup, and a dish of kimch'I may still constitute the basic everyday meal, to which steamed or seasoned vegetables, fish, meats, and other foods may be added as side dishes (panch'an ). Many people eat at a low table while sitting on the ondol floor, using a spoon and chopsticks.

Kimch'I is the national dish. It is a pungent, often hot, mixture of fermented and/or pickled vegetables. Almost any vegetable can be fermented to make kimch'I, but Chinese cabbage and daikon radishes are the most commonly used. As part of the national diet for centuries, it has many variations depending on the region, season, occasion, and personal taste of the cook. Kimch'I has long been the test of a housewife's culinary skills and a family tradition. A South Korean consumes an average of forty pounds (eighteen kilograms) of kimch'I a year. Many companies produce kimch'I for both domestic consumption and export.

Meat dishes such as pulgogi (barbecued meat) and kalbi (short ribs) are popular among both Koreans and foreigners. They are traditionally charcoal-roasted after the meat has been marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, minced garlic, and other spices. The foods available at restaurants range from sophisticated Western cuisine, to various ethnic specialty foods, to both indigenous and foreign fast foods. There are no food taboos, although Buddhist monks may practice vegetarianism and observe other food taboos.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. A variety of ttok (rice cake), other traditional confectionery, and fresh fruits are served to celebrate birthdays, marriages, and the hwan'gap (the sixtieth birthday). The offerings at ch'arye, memorial services for one's ancestors performed on special holidays, include rice wine, steamed white rice, soup, barbecued meats, and fresh fruits. After ritual offerings of the wine and food to the ancestral spirits, the family members consume the food and wine. Their ingestion symbolizes the receiving of blessings from the ancestral spirits.

Basic Economy. South Korea transformed its traditional agrarian subsistence economy to a primarily industrialized one in little more than a generation. In 1962, when the First Five-Year Economic Development Plan was launched, per capita gross national product was $87 (U.S.), in contrast with $10,543 (U.S.) in 1996. However, rapid increases in short-term debt precipitated by overinvestments by chaebols (family-owned and -managed conglomerates) and insufficient foreign exchange reserves caused the financial crisis of 1997, which necessitated emergency financial aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in December 1997. After a year of rising unemployment, negative economic growth, and reforms of the financial sector in 1998, the economy began to recover. For gross domestic product (GDP) of $406.7 billion (U.S.), the country ranked thirteenth and for per capita GDP it ranked thirtieth among the world's nations in 1999.

The working-age population (15 years or above) numbered 34.7 million, and 62.2 percent (21.6 million) of those people were in the labor force in 1997. More than two thirds of them were employed in the service sector in 1997.

South Korea still produces most of its domestically consumed rice. Traditional cash crops such as ginseng, tobacco, tea, and silkworms remain important. The livestock industry raises beef and dairy cattle, hogs, and chickens. Meat production has increased, largely in response increased consumption and government support. South Korea imports beef and milk, exports pork to Japan, and maintains self-sufficiency in chickens and most vegetable products.

Land Tenure and Property. Traditionally, land, especially farmland, was the main form of wealth, and tenants had customary rights that allowed them to farm the same plots year after year. The land survey and tax structure under colonial rule changed the nature and extent of land tenure, forcing many owner-farmers to sell their land to the Japanese. Some people argue that the violation of tenants' customary rights predates the Japanese incursion. The majority of the agricultural population became impoverished, landless tenants by the end of the colonial rule.

After the liberation, redistributions of land were effected in 1948, when former Japanese-owned agricultural lands were sold to the incumbent tenants, and in 19501952, when the government under the Land Reform Act (promulgated in 1949) acquired tenanted land owned by absentee landlords and the balance of properties larger than 7.4 acres held by owner-farmers. That property was sold to tenant farmers and those with no land. The imposition of a maximum of three chongbo (7.4 acres) on legal land holdings meant that large-scale landlords were eliminated, and the average farm size became less than 2.5 acres. The land reform was a political and social success, destroying the colonial landlord class. However, it contributed to a fragmentation of the land into small holdings, making cultivation inefficient and not conducive to mechanization. Since the 1960s, systematic efforts have been made to increase, rearrange and consolidate farmland by reclaiming mountain slopes and seashores as arable land to expand farm mechanization and increase the utility of farmland. In 1975, the Arable Land Preservation Law was modified to limit the use of arable land for purposes other than farms.

In a country where natural resources are scarce, the efficient use of the land is essential. Government land development projects started in the 1960s with the 1963 Law on Integrated National Land Development, the 1964 Export Industrial Estates Assistance Law, and the 1967 National Parks Law. Those laws were followed by the 1972 Law on the Management of National Land and the 1973 Law on the Promotion of Industrial Estates. In addition to the development of large-scale industrial estates at Ulsan, P'ohang, and elsewhere, a superhighway linking Seoul and Pusan and large-scale water resources development projects such as the Soyang Dam were constructed. A basic land price pattern was officially determined to allow an equitable distribution of the profits from land development. Despite a variety of regulations, however, speculation in real estate has been a major device for accumulating wealth rapidly and irregularly.

Major Industries. The share of primary industry in the economic structure decreased steadily from 26.6 percent in 1970 to 5.7 percent in 1997. Farmwork increasingly is done by women and old men as young people leave for urban jobs. As a result of structural reforms in the economy, Korea has built a strong industrial foundation, especially in the areas of electronics, automobiles, shipbuilding, and petrochemicals. The shipbuilding industry is second only to Japan's and has a 32 percent share of the world market. In the semiconductor industry, Korea ranks third in the world market. Three Korean companies supply more than 40 percent of the global demand for computer memory chips. The Korean automobile and petrochemicals industries rank fifth in the world in terms of production.

Trade. The economy is export-oriented and at the same time heavily dependent on overseas raw materials. In 1999 exports were $143.7 billion (U.S.) and imports were $119.8 billion (U.S.). Korea ranked twelfth for exports and fourteenth for imports among the countries in the world. The major trading partners are the United States and Japan. Since the 1980s, main export items have included computers, semiconductors, automobiles, steel, shipbuilding, electronic goods, machinery, textiles, and fishery products. Overseas construction is a critical source of foreign currency and invisible export earnings. Major import items are steel, chemicals, timber and pulp, cereals, petroleum and petroleum products, and electronics and electrical equipment. The current account balance for the first half of 2000 marked a surplus of $4.4 billion (U.S.).

Division of Labor. Leading chaebol companies such as Hyundai, Samsung, and the LG Group recruit white-collar workers from among college graduates through the kongch'ae system (an open competitive written examination and interviews). Smaller companies often rely on social connections to hire employees. For executive and upper-level management jobs, companies may scout the desired personnel by using a variety of means, including professional headhunting services. Employment in the civil service, which is based on a grade system, reflects a strong tradition of seniority. Positions are assigned strictly according to grade, and remuneration is based on grade and length of service. Recruitment from outside is allowed only at certain grade levels through the civil service examination system, with age limitations that favor the young. Vacant positions, except at the lowest grade level, are filled mostly by promotions based on seniority. The tradition of seniority, however, is being challenged as part of the wide-ranging restructuring taking place in the public sector as well as in the financial and corporate sectors as a result of the 1997 economic crisis.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The traditional gentry (yangban ) status was formally abolished by the Kabo Reforms of 1894, but the legacy of the class system is seen in social psychological and behavioral patterns. In 1994, 60 percent of South Koreans regarded themselves as belonging to the middle class. The subjective perception of one's class position was closely correlated with one's level of educational attainment. Eighty-three percent of those with a college education perceived themselves as belonging to the middle class, compared with 41 percent of those with a primary school education. In general, industrialization and urbanization have contributed to a leveling of the nonkin hierarchy in social life, but the income gap between the working classes and the industrialist class as a new power elite has grown. Family background, education, occupation, and the general acceptance of a meritocracy are major social factors that contribute to the unequal distribution of wealth by class.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Major symbols of social status include the size of one's condominium or house, the location of one's residence, chauffeur-driven large automobiles, style and quality of dress, membership in a golf club, and the use of honorifics in speech. According to the government classification, residential space between eighteen and 25.7 p'yong (one p'yong equals 3.95 square yards) is regarded as medium-sized housing. People in the middle and upper-middle classes tend to live in apartment units of over thirty p'yong. The precise number of p'yong of one's condominium often is interpreted as a barometer of one's wealth. Academic degrees such as a doctorate and professional occupations such as medicine also symbolize higher social status.

Political Life

Government. Koreans lived under a dynastic system until 1910. After liberation from Japanese colonization in 1945, the southern half of the peninsula was occupied by the United States and the northern half by the Soviet military until 1948, when two Koreas emerged. Since then, South Korea has traveled a rocky road in its political development from autocratic governments to a more democratic state, amending its constitution nine times in the wake of tumultuous political events such as the Korean War, the April Revolution of 1960, the 1961 and 1979 military coups, the 1980 Kwangju uprising, and the 1987 democracy movement. The government has maintained a presidential system except in 19601961, when a parliamentary system was in place. Government power is shared by three branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial. The Constitutional Court and the National Election Commission also perform governing functions.

The executive branch under the president as the head of state consists of the prime minister, the State Council, seventeen executive ministries, seventeen independent agencies, the Board of Inspection and Audit, and the National Intelligence Service. The president is elected by popular vote for a single five-year term. The prime minister is appointed by the president with the approval of the National Assembly. The legislature consists of a single-house National Assembly whose 273 members serve four-year terms. Some degree of local autonomy was restored for the first time since 1961 by the implementation of local assembly elections in 1991 and popular elections of the heads of provincial and municipal governments in 1995. The judiciary has three tiers of courts: the Supreme Court, the high courts or appellate courts, and the district courts.

Leadership and Political Officials. Political parties have been organized primarily around a leader instead of a platform. The hometown and school ties of the founding leader of a party have often influenced voting patterns, contributing to emotional regionalism among voters as well as politicians. The political parties represented in the Fifteenth National Assembly (19962000) are the National Congress for New Politics (NCNP), the United Liberal Democrats (ULD), and the New Korea Party. The NCNP (founded by Kim Dae-jung) and the ULD (founded by Kim Jong-pil) as opposition parties formed a coalition for the 1997 presidential election to help D. J. Kim win the election. The socalled DJP alliance, named for the coalition of Kim Dae-jung and Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil, promised to change the executive branch into a cabinet system with the prime minister as the head of state. The constitutional amendment for a parliamentary government thus has become a major political issue in the Kim Dae-jung administration.

Social Problems and Control. According to the National Statistical Office, the number of reported major penal code offenses was 864 per 100,000 in 1997, and the most common crime was theft. Since the 1980s, sexual violence against women has drawn public concern, and legislation to deal with it was enacted in the 1990s.

Public prosecutors and the police are authorized to conduct investigations of criminal acts, but theoretically, police authority to investigate criminal acts is subject to the direction and. review of prosecutors. The National Police Agency is under the authority of the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, while the Supreme Public Prosecutor's Office, the penal administration, and other legal affairs are supervised by the Ministry of Justice. The supreme prosecutor general is appointed by the president. Historically, the executive branch exercised great influence on judicial decisions. There is no jury system. Cases that involve offenses punishable by the death penalty, life imprisonment, or imprisonment for more than one year are tried by three judges of a district or branch court; other cases are heard by a single judge.

Military Activity. The North Korean invasion in June 1950 led to the fratricidal Korean War that ended in 1953, killing a million South Korean civilians. Since then, the armed forces have grown to be the largest and most influential government organization. According to the 1998 Defense White Paper, the nation has 690,000 troops. The 1997 defense expenditure accounted for about 15 percent of the national government budget. Weapons and equipment modernization and the operational costs of the three armed services and the armed forces reserves are the main items in the defense budget. Based on the 1953 Korean-American Mutual Defense Treaty, the two countries hold the joint exercise Team Spirit every spring to promote military cooperation and readiness. The Korean peninsula is the world's most densely armed zone with over 1.8 million combat-ready troops confronting each other across the DMZ.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Much progress has been made in the area of social welfare since the 1970s, especially in the health care system. The National Health Insurance Program, which started in 1977 with coverage of less than 10 percent of the population, covered the entire population by 1989. The government also enacted the National Health Program Law and the Mental Health Law in 1995 to promote health education, antismoking campaigns, and the improvement of the civil rights of the mentally ill. The budget of the Ministry of Health and Welfare has been growing rapidly.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Until the late 1980s, civil organizations generally developed in opposition to the government and contributed to democratization. In the past decade, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have increased in numbers and services. The Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice, the Korean Federation for the Environment Movement, the Korean Women's Associations United, and the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (known as Chongdaehyop ) are well-known NGOs. Since its formation in 1990, Chongdaehyop has achieved remarkable success in bringing to the attention of the world community the "comfort women" who served Japanese troops before and during World War II. Its activities have improved the living conditions of the surviving victims and strengthened feminist human rights movement. Many Christian church supported NGOs send missionaries and provide on-site aid in Africa and other regions.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Gender and age have been the two fundamental influences in patterns of social organization. Housework is most commonly regarded as women's work even when a woman works outside the home. Industrialization and democratization have given women more opportunities to play diverse roles in public life, but the basic structure of a gender division of labor is observable in public life. As of April 1998, 47.7 percent of all adult females worked outside the home. Women's average earnings were 63.4 percent of those of men in the same jobs. In June 1999, there was one woman among seventeen cabinet members and no woman vice minister. Women occupied 2.3 percent of the provincial and local assembly seats in 1999. Women as professional leaders in religious life are limited in numbers in both Christian churches and Buddhist temples. The exception to this pattern is seen in shamanism, in which women dominate as priestesses.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. The constitution stipulates equality of all citizens before the law, but the norms and values that guide gender relations in daily life continue to be influenced by an ideology of male superiority. The interplay between these gender role ideologies complicates the patterns and processes of social change in the area of gender role performance and the relative status of women and men.

One of the consequences of these dual gender role ideologies is the behavioral pattern that compartmentalize the social arena into public versus private spheres and formal versus informal situations within each sphere of social action. The patriarchal gender role ideology tends to guide people's behavior at group levels in public informal situations as well as private formal situations. Democratic egalitarianism is more readily practiced at the societal level in public, informal situations, and at the individual level in private, informal situations. Thus, a woman can and did run for the presidency, but women are expected to behave in a submissive manner in public, informal gatherings such as dinner parties among professional colleagues. In private, informal situations such as family affairs, however, urban middle-class husbands tend to leave the decision making to their wives. Nonetheless, male authority as the household head (hoju ) is socially expected and the law favors husbands and sons over wives and daughters.

The main sources of social change in gender status have been the women's movement and the role of the state in legislating to protect women's rights and improve their status. In response to feminist activism, some men organized the first National Men's Association in 1999. Complaining of reverse sexism, they asserted that laws enacted to prevent domestic violence and sexual harassment unfairly favor women and vowed to campaign to abolish the exclusively male duties of military service so that both sexes may shoulder the duties of national defense.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Family background and educational level are important considerations in matchmaking. Marriage between people with a common surname and origin place (tongsong tongbon ) was prohibited by law until 1997. Many urbanites find their spouse at schools or workplaces and have a love marriage. Others may find partners through arranged meetings made by parents, relatives, friends, and professional matchmakers.

In urban centers, the arranged meeting often takes place in a hotel coffee shop where the man, the woman, and their parents may meet for the first time. After exchanging greetings and some conversation, the parents leave so that the couple can talk and decide whether they would like to see each other again. Most individuals have freedom in choosing a marital partner.

Marriage has been regarded as a rite of passage that confers a social status of adulthood on an individual. Marriage also is thought of as a union of not just a man and a woman but of their families and a means to ensure the continuity of the husband's family line. Ninety percent of women marry in their twenties, although the average age of first-time brides has increased from 20.4 years in 1950 to 25.9 years in 1997. Traditionally, divorce was rare, but it tripled from 1980 to 1994.

Remarriages constituted 10.9 percent of all marriages in 1997. Traditionally, remarriages of widows were not allowed and remarriages of divorced women were difficult. However, changes are occurring in the remarriage pattern, especially for divorced women. The ratio of a divorced woman marrying a bachelor used to be lower than that of a divorced man marrying a never-married woman. Since 1995, however, this situation has reversed in favor of women, with a 1997 ratio of 2.9 to 2.6 percent. Divorced women with independent economic means, especially successful professionals, no longer face the traditional gender bias against their remarriage and can marry bachelors who are younger and less occupationally advanced. This phenomenon clearly reveals the importance of the economic aspect of marriage.

Domestic Unit. Two-generation households constituted 73.7 percent of the 11.1 million households in 1995, one-generation and three-generation households constituted 14.7 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively. Traditionally, three-generation stem families were patrilineally composed. That custom continues, but some couples now live with the parents of the wife. In an extended family, the housekeeping tasks usually are performed by the daughter-in-law unless she works outside the home.

Inheritance. Traditionally, the oldest son received a larger proportion of an inheritance than did younger sons because of his duty to coreside with aging parents and observe ancestor ceremonies. After the 1989 revision of the Family Law, family inheritance must be divided equally among the sons and daughters. The children may inherit real estate, money from savings accounts, furniture, and other family heirlooms.

Kin Groups. Outside the family, the patrilineal kin group (tongjok ) is organized into tangnae and munjung. Consisting of all the descendants of a fourth-generation common patrilineal ancestor, the members of a tangnae participate in death-day and holiday commemoration rites of the kin group. Munjung as a national-level organization is composed of all the patrilineal descendants of the founding ancestor and owns and manages corporate estates for conducting the annual rites to honor ancestors of the fifth generation and above at their grave sites. The main purpose of these lineage organizations and ancestor rites is to assert gentry (yangban ) status and reaffirm agnatic ties. Since food offerings and ritual equipment are costly, only a small number of kin groups have formal lineage organizations. The Kimhae Kim, the largest lineage, is said to have more than 3.7 million members. "Kim" as the most common Korean surname is composed of about one hundred fifty groups of that name with different places of origin, accounting for approximately one-fifth of the population. The Hahoe Yu of the Hahoe Iltong village in Kyongsang Province are the best known example of kin groups living in the same village.


Infant Care. Because of rapid changes in lifestyles in the last few decades, the care of infants varies widely, depending, among other things, on the class positions of a family. Generally, during the first two years children receive great deal of affection, indulgence, and nurturing from their parents. Infants seldom are separated from their mothers. They used to be carried on the mother's back but today may ride in baby carriages. Many parents sleep with their infants in the same room. Infant care practices encourage emotional dependence of the children on their parents.

Child Rearing and Education. Obedience, cooperation, respect for the elders, and filial piety are the major values inculcated in a child's early years. Most children receive traditional gender role socialization from early childhood. Parents go to great lengths to provide the best education for their children, especially their sons, since parents traditionally have depended on their children in old age. Children, particularly sons, maintain a strong sense of dependence on their parents throughout adolescence and until after marriage. The differential treatment sons and daughters receive from their parents is considered a fundamental source of the gender structure in Korean society, where women are likely to be more self-reliant and individualistic than men.

Higher Education. The traditional high regard for education as a means to improve one's socioeconomic status continues in contemporary Korea. The annual college entrance examinations are extremely competitive. Many unsuccessful applicants repeat the examinations in order to enter elite universities. From only nineteen institutions of higher education in 1945, the number has increased to nine hundred fifty. Over 26 percent of men and about 13 percent of women age twenty-five and over received higher education as of 1995.


Koreans are very status conscious, and their speech behavior reflects the hierarchical relationship between social actors. Except among former classmates and other very close friends, adults do not use first names to address each other. Position titles such as "professor," "manager," "director," and "president" are used in combination with the honorific suffix nim to address a social superior.

Koreans are generally courteous to the extent of being ceremonious when they interact with social superiors but can be very outgoing and friendly among friends and acquaintances of equal social status. Their behavior with strangers in urban public situations may be characterized by indifference and self-centeredness. Koreans appear to be rude to strangers since they generally do not say a word when they accidentally push or jostle other people on the streets, and in the stores, train stations, and airports. Traditional Confucian teaching emphasized propriety in the five sets of human relationships, which included the relations between sovereign and subject, father and son, husband and wife, senior and junior, and friend and friend. Confucianism still serves as the standard of moral and social conduct for many people.


Religious Beliefs. As a result of constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, there is a wide range of religious beliefs, from shamanism, Confucianism, and Buddhism to Christianity, Islam, and other religions. Indigenous folk beliefs and shamanism have co-evolved, sharing a fundamental belief in the existence of a myriad of gods (such as the mountain gods, the house gods, and the fire god) and spirits of the dead, all of which may influence people's fortunes. Korean Buddhism has both doctrinal and meditative traditions. Buddhists believe that human suffering is caused mainly by desire. Thus, some Buddhists try to obtain enlightenment by cultivating an attitude of detachment, while others seek to fulfill their desires by offering prayers of requests to Kwanum, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Confucianism is a political and social philosophy that emphasizes the virtues of in, usually translated as "human-heartedness," and hyo or filial piety, which is expressed through ceremony such as ancestor rites. The Confucian concept of heaven is an impersonal yet willful force in nature and society, and is beyond human control.

Early Korean Catholics who embraced Catholicism as part of Western Learning (Sohak), suffered persecution during the Choson Dynasty for renouncing their ancestral rites as "pagan" rites. Christianity, including both Catholicism and Protestantism, has become a major religion. Lay Christians seek material and spiritual richness through fervent prayers, while some theologians have advocated new theologies focusing on the plight of the underprivileged minjung (the "masses") and/or women. Ch'ondogyo (the Teaching of the Heavenly Way), which began as Tonghak (Eastern Learning), founded by Ch'oe Che U in 1860, is a syncretistic religion that grew on the grassroots level. "Humanity and heaven are one and the same" is its basic tenet, which emphasizes human dignity and gender equality.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans derive their power from their ability to serve as a medium between the spirit world and their clients during kut (shaman rituals). The Buddhist and Christian clergy derive their power from their knowledge of scripture. Another source of power for the clergy of major religions is the wealth their churches have accumulated from the contributions of followers. The activities of the Christian clergy include not only sermons but also routine personal visits to the homes of their congregants. Buddhist monks may perform personalized prayer services in return for monetary donations.

Rituals and Holy Places. A shaman keeps a shrine where her guardian deity and the instruments for ritual services are kept. Kut, which include songs, dances, and incantations, are performed at various places to secure good fortune, cure illnesses, or guide the spirit of a deceased person to heaven. Numerous Koreans perform Confucian-style ceremonies to commemorate their ancestors on death dates and special holidays at home and/or grave sites. The National Confucian Academy in Seoul holds semi-monthly and semiannual ceremonies to honor Confucius, his disciples, and other Confucian sages. Christian churches are ubiquitous in urban and rural areas. Some offer services not only on Sundays but also at predawn hours on weekdays. Leading Christian churches have huge new buildings that can accommodate several thousand worshipers. Buddhist temples used to be located away from urban centers near the mountains, but more temples are now being erected in urban areas.

Death and the Afterlife. Many Koreans believe in ancestral spirits and observe Confucian rituals concerning funerals, mourning practices, and memorial services. Folk beliefs about the afterlife are somewhat influenced by Buddhism but are characterized by diversity. Mourning periods vary, depending on the social status of the deceased, from one day to two years. Selecting good grave sites according to geomantic principles is regarded as important for both the ancestral spirit and the descendants' fortune. At domestic rites performed on the eve of the death day and on major holidays, the ancestral image is that of living, dependent, and inactive parents to whom food and wine are offered.

Medicine and Health Care

The health care system includes both Western and traditional medicine. As a result of increasing public demand for traditional medicine, the Oriental Medicine Bureau was established in the Ministry of Health and Welfare in 1966. There were 62,609 Western doctors and 9,289 traditional doctors in 1997. Traditional doctors practice acupuncture and prescribe herbal medicine for the prevention and treatment of illness. Some people turn to a shaman for elaborate kut performance to cure illnesses attributed to evil spirits.

Secular Celebrations

The two most important national holidays are New Year's Day and Ch'usok (which falls on the eighth full moon by the lunar calendar). Koreans observe both solar and lunar New Year's holidays of which many people wear hanbok (traditional dress), offer sebae (New Year's greetings with a "big bow") to their parents, eat ttok-kuk (rice-cake soup), play traditional games, and observe ancestor rites. On Ch'usok, the harvest festival celebrations include eating special foods such as songp'yon (half-moon-shaped rice cakes) and making family visits to ancestral graves to tidy the tomb area and offer fruits and other foods, including steamed rice cooked with newly harvested grain.

The Arts and Humanities

Literature. Korean classical literature was written in Chinese, and the late Koryo and early Choson sijo poems dealt mainly with the theme of loyalty. The kasa form of Choson poetry expressed individual sentiments and moral admonitions. After the creation of the Korean alphabet, many works of fiction were written in Han'gul and royal ladies wrote novels depicting their personal situations and private thoughts. Modern literature started in the mid-nineteenth century as a result of the new Western-style education and the Korean language and literature movement. The themes of twentieth-century literature reflect the national experiences colonization, postliberation division of the homeland, the Korean War, urbanization, and industrialization. Translations of literary works began to appear in foreign countries in the 1980s. The novelists whose works have been most widely translated are Hwang Sun-won and Kim Tong-ri.

Graphic Arts. Traditional brush paintings include realistic landscapes; genre paintings of flowers, birds, and the daily lives of ordinary people; and calligraphic presentations of Chinese phrases extolling Confucian virtues such as filial piety and loyalty decorated with designs and pictures. Traditional sculptures in bronze, stone, and rock were inspired by Buddhism. The Sakyamuni Buddha in the rotunda of the Sokkuram Grotto is regarded as a national masterpiece.

Performance Arts. Korean music and dance evolved over three thousand years from the religious ceremonies of shamanism and Buddhism and often were linked to the agricultural cycle. Traditional music has two genres: Chong'ak ("correct music"), a genre of chamber music with a leisurely tempo and a meditative character, and minsok'ak (folk music), characterized by spontaneity and emotionality. P'ansori as a category of folk vocal music is a unique combination of singing and storytelling by a single vocalist with the accompaniment of a changgo (traditional drum). The Tale of Ch'unhyang, a love story and one of the five extant traditional p'ansori compositions, requires more than eight hours to perform. Among folk instrumental music, samul nori has been the most popular form since the 1970s. The primarily percussive music is played on gongs made of bronze and leather and double-headed hourglass and barrel drums. Koreans also enjoy classical and popular Western music. South Korea has thirty-one symphony orchestras and has produced internationally renowned violinists such as Kyung-hwa Chung and Sarah Chang.

There are two categories of traditional dance: court dances and folk dances performed by farmers, shamans, and villagers. Kut and nong-ak (farmers' festival music), which combine music and dance with ritual and entertainment, continue to be popular. Mask dances performed by villagers combined dance with satiric drama, making fun of erring officials and monks for entertainment and ethical edification. The Traditional Dance Institute of the Korean National University of Arts was established in 1998 to educate future generations in the traditional dance heritage.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology was established by the government in 1971 as a model for research-oriented universities producing scientists and engineers. The Pohang University of Science and Technology was founded with similar aims by the Pohang Steel Corporation in 1986. The Korean Science and Engineering Foundation and the Korea Research Foundation are the major funding agencies for university research in basic science. The Academy of Korean Studies was founded in 1978 to encourage in-depth social science and humanities studies of the heritage of the Korean nation. Since 1980, it has offered graduate courses in Korean studies.


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Kendall, Laurel. Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life, 1985.

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. The Culture of Korean Industry: An Ethnography of Poongsan Corporation, 1992.

Kim, Won-yong. Art and Archaeology of Ancient Korea, 1986.

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Koo, Hagen, ed. State and Society in Contemporary Korea, 1993.

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Saccone, Richard. Koreans to Remember: Fifty Famous People Who Helped Shape Korea, 1993.

"Sejong the Great." Koreana: Korean Art & Culture 11: (3), Autumn 1997.

Shima, Mutsuhiko, and Roger L. Janelli, eds. The Anthropology of Korea: East Asian Perspectives, 1998.

Soh, Chunghee Sarah. Women in Korean Politics, 1993.

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. "The Status of the Elderly in Korean Society." In S. Formanek and S. Linhart, eds., Aging: Asian Experiences Past and Present, 1997.

Song, Byung-Nak. The Rise of the Korean Economy, 2nd ed., 1997.

Vos, Ken. Korean Painting: A Selection of Eighteenth to Early Twentieth Century Painting from the Collection of Cho Won-kyong, 1992.

Whitfield, Roderick, ed. Treasures from Korea: Art through 5,000 Years, 1984.

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Yang, Sunny. Hanbok: The Art of Korean Clothing, 1997.

Chunghee Sarah Soh

Korea, South

views updated May 29 2018

Korea, South

The Republic of Korea, or South Korea, occupies the southern half of a peninsula in the northeastern part of the Asian continent. Directly to the west of South Korea, and across the Yellow Sea, is China; the islands of Japan lie to the east. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (i.e., North Korea) shares the rest of the peninsula, which is divided at the thirty-eighth parallel. South Korea's total area is 99,237 square kilometers (38,305 square miles), which is slightly larger than Hungary or Portugal and a little smaller than Iceland or Bulgaria. Overall, South Korea is ranked 107th in terms of geographic size out of 192 countries in 2003. Although geographically small, South Korea's population of 48.3 million in 2002 ranks it as the twenty-fifth largest country in the world. Not surprisingly, South Korea has a very high population density of 491 persons per square kilometer, which ranks eleventh among all countries (nineteenth when dependencies are included).

South Korea is an ethnically and linguistically homogenous society, although since the late 1980s, there has been increasing international migration. Still, in 2004, immigrants accounted for less than 1 percent of South Korea's population. Despite ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, there are strong cleavages in South Korean society. The strongest of these rifts derives from regional and provincial differences, and the most pronounced is between Kyongsang province in the southeast and South Cholla province. This cleavage is partly a result of overt discrimination and political favoritism, which was very strong prior to 1987. Into the twenty-first century, discrimination (in general) and regional disparities lessened, but South Korea continued to struggle from problems associated with regionalism.

In addition to regional differences, South Korea is also divided along religious lines. Religious differences, however, have not been a major source of conflict. About 32 percent of South Koreans are Christian (mostly Presbyterian, followed by Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, and Methodists), and close to 24 percent are Buddhist. There are also smaller numbers of Shamanists (those who practice traditional spirit worship), followers of Cheondogyo (an indigenous religion that combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Christianity), and Islam.

Seoul is South Korea's capital and business center. Although it covers only 0.6 percent of the country's total area, its population of 10,276,968 (at the end of 2003) constituted almost a quarter of the national population.

a short political history

Although Korea has a long, complex history, South Korea is a wholly modern entity, created in the aftermath of World War II (1939–1945), when the Soviet Union and the United States struggled to develop spheres of influence throughout the world. In February 1945 during negotiations at Yalta, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain agreed in principle to put Korea under an international trusteeship, an arrangement meant to stabilize Korea before granting the country full independence (from 1905 to the end of the war, Korea had been under the colonial control of Japan).

The actual decision to divide Korea into two occupation zones, however, was made in extreme haste. Shortly before the Japanese surrender, the Soviet army had begun to sweep into Korea and Manchuria (another colonial possession). Unable to physically stop the Soviets from occupying the entire peninsula, the United States proposed dividing the country roughly in half at the thirty-eighth parallel, a decision made in only thirty minutes. Surprisingly, the Soviet leadership accepted the American proposal. Unfortunately, this proved to be one of the last signs of cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In fact, neither the Soviets nor the Americans were willing to cede control of Korea. Instead, both sides concentrated on building separate regimes within their respective occupation zones. In South Korea, this process led to the establishment of the Republic of Korea on September 9, 1948. South Korea's "First Republic" was based on democratic principles and a presidential system. The country's first elected president was Syngman Rhee (1875–1965), who held on to the presidency until 1960.

A watershed in South Korea's history was the Korean War, which broke out on June 25, 1950 and lasted until July 27, 1953 (although technically it never ended). The war was not merely or even primarily a war between North and South Korea. Instead, it was the first major conflict of the Cold War, pitting the United States and its allies against "international communism," led by the Soviet Union. Although scholars engage in spirited debate about the reasons why the war began, the conflict set the tone for South Korean political and economic development for decades afterward. The unresolved nature of the war, in particular, justified the establishment of a national security state in South Korea. This military presence would prove to be an extremely important aspect of South Korea's postwar development.

Following the war, South Korea remained mired in poverty and corruption, and the legitimacy of the Rhee regime quickly eroded. To stay in power, President Rhee increasingly relied on dictatorial and repressive means. During the 1960 elections, events came to a head. President Rhee's blatant election-rigging sparked nationwide protests, most of which were led by students. The student movement ultimately forced Rhee's resignation. His downfall, in turn, led to a constitutional amendment providing for a parliamentary as opposed to presidential system. Under this system, a president was selected through a vote by the two houses of the legislature, but the prime minister was to be the key political leader. The first person to fill the more powerful position of prime minister was Chang Myon (also known as John M. Chang). Less than a year later, however, Chang's Second Republic was overthrown in a military coup led by Major General Park Chung Hee (1917–1979).

General Park, through the Revolutionary Committee (later renamed the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction) quickly established control of the economy and political system. For nearly three years, Park ruled with an iron fist, but in 1963, a new constitution, which reintroduced a presidential system, was promulgated. From 1963 to 1972, a semblance of electoral democracy was restored in South Korea. In fact, Park and his newly formed political party, the Democratic Republican Party (DRP), won several generally fair elections. The success of Park and the DRP, however, was based as much on a divided opposition as it was on popularity and genuine support.

Thus, when the opposition began to develop more strength and unity, galvanized by the emergence of two outspoken critics of the Park regime—Kim Young Sam (b. 1927) and Kim Dae-jung (b. 1925)—Park's "tolerance" for democracy began to wane. A changing international environment, one in which U.S. power and commitment seemed on the decline, also contributed to Park's growing intolerance. Finally, in December 1971 Park abruptly declared a state of emergency, and on October 17, 1972, suspended the constitution, dissolved the National Assembly and all political parties, forbade "political activity," and imposed restrictions on civil liberties. Subsequently, the new Yushin ("revitalizing reform") Constitution was announced, which, among many important changes, transformed the presidency into a legal dictatorship.

The return to authoritarianism sparked widespread protest and discontent, which included one unsuccessful assassination attempt on Park in 1974 (although Park escaped, his wife was killed). In 1979, however, Park was not so lucky. On October 26, he was fatally shot by the director of South Korea's Central Intelligence Agency. The assassination led to another period of intense political instability, punctuated by a second military takeover and an extremely bloody insurrection in the city of Kwangju, capital of the South Cholla province. In 1980, a new military leader, Chun Doo Hwan (b. 1931), assumed control.

A year later, after engineering a transition from military to civilian rule (which ensured his election as president for a seven-year term), Chun attempted to follow the path set by Park, but his authoritarian regime met with constant resistance. Near the end of his term, the situation for democratic change looked bleak. Chun handpicked a successor, Roh Tae Woo (b. 1932), and suspended public debate on a constitutional revision for a direct presidential election, which would have given opposition candidates a stronger chance to win.

In an unexpected, even shocking, turn of events, however, Roh Tae Woo announced that he would not run unless the Chun regime accepted an eight-point program of reform, which included an endorsement of direct presidential elections. Facing a great deal of domestic and international pressure (some deriving from the upcoming Seoul Olympics in 1988), Chun accepted the reform program in June 1987, thus ushering in a new, albeit imperfect, period of democracy.

In the 1988 presidential election (held on December 16, 1987), Roh Tae Woo won with only 37 percent of the vote. His victory was due in large part to the failure of the two main opposition candidates, Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae-jung, to forge an alliance. The two Kims split the opposition vote, with the former receiving 27 percent and the latter 28 percent (the voting pattern also reflected the previously discussed deep-seated regional cleavages).

The parliamentary elections of 1988, on the other hand, ended with surprising results. Not only was Roh's ruling party, the Democratic Justice Party, unable to win a working majority in the Assembly, but Kim Dae-jung's Party for Peace and Democracy became the largest opposition party, with Kim Young Sam's Reunification Democratic Party placing third. Significantly, this did not result in a return to authoritarianism, but instead marked the first step in the consolidation of democracy in South Korea. Ironically, it also led to a political compromise between the erstwhile opposition leader Kim Young Sam and the ruling party; in 1990 Kim Young Sam merged his party with the governing party. This alliance was instrumental in allowing him to win the 1992 presidential election over Kim Dae-jung, his main rival. In winning the election, Kim Young Sam became the first civilian to be elected president in South Korea since the coup in 1961.

Since Kim Young Sam's presidency, presidential and legislative elections have proceeded with few problems. Indeed, in 1998, Kim Dae-jung finally became president, becoming the first chief of state elected from the opposition party in South Korea's constitutional history. Although Kim Dae-jung experienced some serious difficulties—including the arrest of his two sons for accepting bribes and charges that he secretly paid $100 million to North Korea to agree to a summit—the democratic process remained strong.

In 2003, South Korea's third successive civilian president, Roh Moo-hyun (b. 1946), took office. Barely a year after taking office in March 2004, however, Roh was impeached for breaking a minor election law. Although many South Koreans saw this as a blatant partisan maneuver by a legislature dominated by conservatives, the Constitutional Court subsequently restored Roh (a progressive human rights lawyer by trade) back to his office. The decision by the Court helped to avert a crisis, but it also demonstrated quite clearly the increasing strength of democracy in South Korea, both in principle and in practice.

socioeconomic conditions

The story of South Korea's economic rise from desperate poverty to relative prosperity has been the subject of extensive press coverage and analysis as well as intense scholarly debate. Although no consensus exists, this much is clear: South Korea's economic rise began in the 1960s after the military coup. From 1945 to 1961, South Korea was one of the poorest countries on earth. In 1962, per capita income was still only $87, but by 1983 this had increased by almost 2,000 percent to $1,709. In 2003 (using purchasing power parity, a different basis for calculating income), per capita income had increased to $15,090. Income equality, as measured by the United Nation's Gini Index, is relatively high in South Korea, at 0.31 (which is better than all Asian countries except Japan and substantially better than that of the United States). According to the United Nations Development Program, moreover, South Korea's level of "human development" is considered high and is comparable to the most economically prosperous countries in world.

South Korea's economic development came at a very high price, however. Between 1961 and 1987, in particular, labor movements and strikes were often met with brutal violence. Not surprisingly, working conditions were generally extraordinarily oppressive. Indeed, South Korea has long had one of the worst records for industrial safety in the world. In 1986, nearly 3 percent of Korea's entire industrial workforce suffered injuries requiring at least a four-day hospital stay, and 1,660 workers were killed in industrial accidents.

In addition, South Korean workers routinely worked the longest hours among workers in all industrializing and industrialized countries, and wages were kept artificially low to increase South Korea's industrial competitiveness. The focus on rapid industrialization also reflected the government's equally strong obsession with national security. This combination created fertile ground for human rights abuses and political repression, both of which were serious problems in South Korea prior to 1987.

At the same time, South Korean firms (most of which were family-owned) had access to heavily subsidized loans through government-controlled banks and were protected from international competition in the domestic market. A few favored firms were also protected from domestic competition, which encouraged them to diversify into a wide range of products and services. This enabled many firms, called chaebol, to grow with blinding speed and develop immense economic and social power. By the 1990s, some of these firms had developed into major international players, including Hyundai, Samsung, LG (originally known as Lucky-Goldstar), and Daewoo. The extreme concentration of economic power has long been considered a danger to the country's political, social, and even its economic development.

the yushin constitution

When Park Chung Hee (1917–1979) won a third presidential term over New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Kim Dae Jung in 1971, Park and his Democratic Republican Party (DRP) radically changed the system of government. Declaring martial law in October 1972, Park proceeded to remove both the 1962 constitution and members of the legislature. In November the new constitution, known as the Yushin constitution, or Revitalizing Reform constitution, was put in place.

In effect, the Yushin constitution kept Park as president indefinitely, granted his party a majority in the legislature, and outlawed many activities that were perceived to be opposed to the goals of the DRP. While the country made rapid strides in industrialization and self-sufficiency, civil rights were stifled.

Growing dissatisfaction with the government came to a head in 1979, and Park was assassinated. Under the electoral college that had been set up by the Yushin constitution, the National Conference for Unification, Prime Minister Choi Kyu-hah became acting president, but his brief term was marked by violent antigovernment demonstrations. In August 1980 Chun Doo Hwan was elected president, and within two months he spearheaded a revision to the Yushin constitution which limited the presidency to one term of seven years' duration.


South Korea's authoritarian past, combined with its particular pattern of socioeconomic development, has helped to create a vital and dynamic civil society. Indeed, citizen organizations, both secular and religious, grew exponentially following the establishment of democracy in 1987. Many of the largest, such as the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice, have played an important role in ensuring meaningful citizen participation and in protecting and promoting civil and human rights and social justice. The party system continued to evolve into the early twenty-first century, with many reconfigurations and realignments, but it remained strong. The judiciary has demonstrated increasing independence and social power, as suggested previously.

South Korea's past, however, also means that a great deal of power has been concentrated in two key institutions: the state and big business. The apparatus of South Korea's national security state has not disappeared, and the bureaucracy remains a powerful force. From the end of the twentieth century, on the other hand, big business felt freer to "flex its muscles," and corruption, long a problem, continued to plague South Korean politics. Overall, though, South Korea has seen a greater balance of power than ever before, strengthening prospects for democracy.

See also: Korea, North.


Abelman, Nancy. Echoes of the Past, Epics of Dissent: A South Korean Social Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Amsden, Alice H. Asia's Next Giant: South Korea and Late Industrialization. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Cumings, Bruce, ed. Child of Conflict: The Korean–American Relationship, 1943–1953. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983.

Cumings, Bruce. Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998.

Eckert, Carter J., Ki-baik Lee, Young Ick Lew, Michael Robinson, and Edward W. Wagner. Korea Old and New: A History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Kim, Eun Mee. Big Business, Strong State: Collusion and Conflict in South Korean Development, 1960–1990. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Koo, Hagen, ed. State and Society in Contemporary Korea. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Lie, John. Han Unbound: The Political Economy of South Korea. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Oh, John Kie-Chiang. Korean Politics: The Quest for Democratization and Economic Development. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Steers, Richard M. Made in Korea: Chung Ju Yung and the Rise of Hyundai. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Timothy C. Lim

Korea, South

views updated Jun 08 2018

Korea, South

Official name: Republic of Korea

Area: 98,480 square kilometers (38,023 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Chiri-san (1,915 meters/6,283 feet)

Highest point in territory: Halla-san (1,950 meters/6,398 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 9 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 642 kilometers (399 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 436 kilometers (271 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest

Land boundaries: North Korea 238 kilometers (148 miles)

Coastline: 2,413 kilometers (1,508 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


South Korea is located in eastern Asia on the southern half of the Korean h2ninsula, bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. The country shares a border with North Korea. With an area of about 98,480 square kilometers (38,023 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of Indiana. South Korea is divided into nine provinces.


South Korea has no outside territories or dependencies.


South Korea has a continental climate, with hot, rainy summers and cold winters. Temperatures range from 22°C to 29°C (71°F to 83°F) in the summers and from -7°C to 1°C (19°F to 33°F) in the winter months, with warmer winter temperatures along the southern coast and cooler temperatures in the interior.

Annual rainfall averages between 100 and 150 centimeters (40 and 50 inches), but many areas experience less rainfall. Rainfall is greatest in the south and in inland mountainous regions. The coastal areas receive the least rainfall.


South Korea (the Republic of Korea) occupies the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. Elongated and irregular in shape, the peninsula separates the Sea of Japan from the Yellow Sea. These seas are known in Korea as the Eastern Sea and the Western Sea, respectively. South Korea is situated on the Eurasian Tec-tonic Plate.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The Yellow Sea lies to the west of South Korea. It is relatively shallow and has an extremely large tidal range. At low tide, large mud flats are exposed. The East China Sea lies to the southwest. The Sea of Japan forms the open body of water to the northeast of South Korea. The waters of the Sea of Japan are deep and the tidal range is small. All of these seas are extensions of the Pacific Ocean.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Korea Strait separates South Korea from Japan and connects the East China Sea with the Sea of Japan. Around the western coast near Seoul, the tiny Asan Bay reaches into the mainland. This part of the coastline is part of the larger Kyonggi Bay shared with North Korea.

Islands and Archipelagos

Cheju-do, an island, is located off the southwest coast of Korea, in the western end of the Korea Strait. It was formed from a volcanic eruption and features unusual lava formations on the coast near the city of Cheju. Directly east of South Korea in the Sea of Japan is Ul-lung-do (Ullung Island).

Coastal Features

The southeast coastline may be divided in two sections at the Naktong River mouth near Pusan. To the north of this point, the coast is relatively smooth, consisting of alternating bays and headlands (points of land that are usually high with a sheer drop). There are only a few offshore islands and bays in this area; the major inlet is Yongil Bay, enclosed within Cape Changgi.

To the west of the Naktong River mouth, the coast becomes much more complex. The central and western regions of the southern coastline, where the various arms of the Sobaek Mountains reach the sea, feature a number of basins that create an intricate coastline of extensive, highly irregular peninsulas, including the Kohung and Haenam Peninsulas. These are flanked by abruptly rising islands. At times, the peninsulas almost enclose equally irregular bays that deeply penetrate the mainland.


Near Ch'unch'on in the north are three artificial lakes: Uiam, Ch'unch'on, and Soyang. The lakes are connected by rivers and give the city its nickname: "City of Lakes."


South Korea has four major rivers: the Han River and the Kum River, which flow west to the Yellow Sea; and the Naktong River and the Somjin River, which flow south to the Korea Strait. In addition, the Yongsan and Tongjin Rivers water South Korea's main rice-growing areas.

Because of their very low gradients, the rivers to the west of the T'aebaek Mountains watershed historically have been used for transportation. These west-flowing rivers have built up extensive plains at their outlets to the sea. River navigation has declined in importance in modern times, however, with the introduction of new means of transportation, the diversion of water for irrigation, and the construction of dams.

River flow is highly seasonal, with the heaviest flows occurring in the summer months. Floods are common in the basins associated with the major river systems, particularly in estuary areas along the western coast. During much of the year, however, the rivers are shallow, exposing very wide, gravelly river-beds. The Naktong River Basin in the southeast is a complex of structural basins and river floodplains separated from one another by low hills. The Naktong River is the longest river in South Korea, extending about 521 kilometers (324 miles). It forms a wide delta where it reaches the sea, a few miles west of Pusan, South Korea's major port.


There are no desert regions in South Korea.


In the southern coastal regions inland from the coast, the plains, although small in some areas, are fertile and agriculturally productive. The center of bamboo cultivation is in the west-central region, near Chinan.


While the Korean peninsula is very rugged and mountainous, the land elevations in South Korea are generally lower than those found in North Korea. The T'aebaek Mountain Range in South Korea runs northeast to southwest along the Sea of Japan. Dividing the country into east and west is the Sobaek Mountain Range, running generally from northeast to southwest. Throughout history, these mountains have prevented easy travel and interaction between the regions. The highest peak on the South Korean mainland is Chiri-sanat 1,915 meters (6,283 feet)located in the south-central part of the country at the southern end of the Sobaek Mountains range. The country's highest peak, Halla-san, is a volcanic mountain which rises to 1,950 meters (6,398 feet), and lies on Cheju-do (Cheju Island), off the southern tip of the country, with a small crater lake at its summit.

West of Ch'ongju lies Maisan (Horse Ears Mountain), a two-peaked mountain that resembles the ears of a horse. Hills separate the Sobaek mountain range from the coastal plains in the south.


In the central and south mountain regions, limestone caves with dramatic stalagmites and stalactites may be found. One of the most famous is Kosudonggul, known as the "Underground Palace."


There are no major plateau regions in South Korea.


The Uiam Dam, built just below the junction of the Bukhan and Soyang Rivers near Ch'unch'on, created the artificial reservoir known as Lake Uiam. The largest sand gravel dam in Asia created another large reservoir, Lake Soyang. Lake Ch'unch'on was created by the Ch'unch'on Dam, also located on the Bukhan River.



Breen, Michael. The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Savada, Andrea Matles, and William Shaw, eds. South Korea: A Country Study. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1992.

Shepheard, Patricia. South Korea. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999.

Williams, Jean K. South Korea. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1999.

Web Sites

Neufeld, Ann Nichole. "Korean Demilitarized Zone as a Bioreserve." ICE Case Studies. American University: Inventory of Conflict and Environment Program. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Korea, South

views updated Jun 11 2018

Korea, South


99,020sq km (38,232sq mi)



capital (population):

Seoul (9,853,972)


Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Korean 99%


Korean (official)


Buddhism 48%, Christianity 47%, Confucianist 3%, Chondogyo 1%, Others 1%


South Korean won = 100 chon

Republic in e Asia. The Republic of Korea occupies the s part of the Korean peninsula. South Korea is largely mountainous. The capital, Seoul, lies on the w coastal lowlands. Other major cities include Inchon, Taegu and the main port of Pusan, on the se coast. Cheju-do, the largest island, includes Mount Halla, South Korea's highest peak, at 1950m (6398ft). (For land, climate and pre-1953 history, see Korea and Korean War)

History and Politics

Economic problems beset South Korea's first government, led (1948–60) by Syngman Rhee. South Korea was a largely agricultural economy, heavily dependent on the n for energy and resources. The Korean War (1950–53) devastated its infrastructure, and Rhee's corrupt and repressive regime became increasingly unpopular. The massacre of student protesters in 1960 sparked nationwide disturbances and a military junta, led by General Park, seized power in 1961.

Park's presidency (1963–79) brought rapid economic growth. Helped by US aid, South Korea became a major manufacturer and exporter. In 1972 Park introduced martial law and passed a new constitution that gave him sweeping powers. His regime pursued increasingly authoritarian policies. In 1979 Park was assassinated, but the military still dominated the government. Opposition to military rule continued to grow. In 1987, a new constitution ensured the popular election of the president. In 1988 Seoul hosted the summer Olympic Games. Relations with North Korea continued to improve, and in 1991 the two countries signed a non-aggression pact and established a series of summit meetings on reunification.

In 1992 the long-standing opposition leader, Kim Young Sam, became president. His administration was South Korea's first full civilian government in 32 years. In 1994, the death of North Korean president Kim Il Sung stalled reunification talks.

In 1998 Kim Dae Jong succeeded Kim Young Sam as president. In 2000 Kim Dae Jong travelled to North Korea to meet its new leader, Kim Jong Il, and received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at reconciliation. South Korea and Japan co-hosted the 2002 World Cup Finals in football.


South Korea is an upper-middle income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$16,100). During the late 20th century, it was one of the world's fastest growing industrial economies. US aid of more than US$6000 million (1945–78) played a key part in this success. South Korea's industrial conglomerates (chaebols) benefited from a highly educated workforce and import controls. South Korea's protectionist policies slowly gave way to free-market reforms. The largest sector of the economy is services, employing 50% of the workforce. Manufacturing is South Korea's greatest asset. Manufactured goods, machinery and transport equipment make up 66% of South Korea's exports. South Korea is the world's fifth-largest car producer, and a major producer of iron and steel, cement, electrical and electronic products. Agriculture employs 17% of the workforce. South Korea is self-sufficient in grain, and is the world's eighth-largest producer of rice. Fishing is another vital sector. In 1997 Hanbo and several other major chaebols collapsed. Over-lending by South Korea's banks and the crisis in the rest of Southeast Asia devastated the national finances. The IMF agreed to a record US$21 billion rescue package. Labour reform laws led to redundancies and rising unemployment.

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