National Flag and Flower
The national flag is called t'aegukki. Its design symbolizes the principles of yin and yang (positive and negative cosmic forces) in the Oriental philosophy. These two forces resemble the continual movement of balance and harmony that characterizes the sphere of infinity. The forces are then surrounded by four trigrams, one in each corner. Each trigram represents the four universal elements, which are heaven, earth, fire, and water.
Mugunghwa, or the Rose of Sharon, is the national flower of Korea. The word, "mugung" means immortality, which is most appropriate as unlike most flowers, the mugunghwa is remarkably tenacious and is able to withstand both blight and insects.
The Korean people are generally from the Liaoshi, Manchurian, and other northeastern Asian race. However, they have now evolved to a highly homogenous ethnic group with their own unique language, culture, and lifestyle. For example, Han-gul, the Korean alphabet, is completely independent from the Chinese and Japanese language. Koreans are also characterized by their generosity, warmth, and kindness, and are renowned as one of the hardest working people in the world.
In South Korea, there are approximately 46.4 million people (1998) and approximately 23.8 million in North Korea (1997).
Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, South Korea has achieved astounding economic growth. It is a phenomenon sometimes referred to as the "Miracle on the Han-gang River". Shipbuilding, semiconductors, and consumer electronics are areas of the strongest developments. However, the Korean automobile industry is rapidly gaining a foothold in foreign markets. Korea is aiming to enter the twenty-first century with a restructured industrial model that will allow her to compete successfully in the free world markets. Efforts are being made to open her traditionally protected markets to foreign competition in response to the Uruguay round of trade talks. Korea has been invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as the 29th member in 1996.
The Korean peninsula extends southward from the eastern end of the Asian continent. It is roughly 1,000km long and 216 km wide at its narrowest point. The total area is 222,135 km2, similar in size to that of England or New Zealand. South Korea possesses 45% of the total landmass, whereas North Korea possesses the remaining 55%. The peninsula is known to be one of the most mountainous regions in the world, having 70% of its land covered by mountains. This is, however, concentrated on the north and east. Along the southern and western coasts, the mountains gradually descend towards broad coastal plains, which produces the bulk of Korea's agricultural crops, especially rice. 3,000 islands of various sizes provide exceptional scenery in the southern coast. Most of the rivers have their tributaries on the north and east sides, and flow into the Yellow Sea and Korea Strait. Korea is 9 hours ahead of GMT.
Korea has four distinct seasons. The north-to-south geography of the peninsula produces climatic differences along its length. In the south, spring and summer are normally longer, while autumn and winter are longer in the north. Spring is from late March to May. You can expect most flowers to bloom during this period. Summer runs from June to early September. However, monsoon season does occur from the months of late June to July. Mid-July through August is also the hottest period and most popular vacation season in Korea. Autumn falls from September through November and winter from December to Mid-March.
Archeological findings have indicated the beginnings of settlement in the Korean peninsula 600 thousand years ago. In 2333B.C., the legendary figure Tan-gun founded the first kingdom at Pyongyang in the northern part of Korea. It was named Ko-Choson.
Korea's three ancient kingdoms, Paekche Kingdom (18B.C.-660A.D.), Koguryo Kingdom (37B.C.-668), and the Shilla Kingdom (57B.C.-676A.D.), ruled the whole Korean peninsula and much of Manchuria from 57B.C. to 668A.D. It was known as The Three Kingdoms Period. They were by far the most powerful and eminent kingdoms in the area. The Shilla Kingdom, however, ultimately vanquished the Paekche and Koguryo Kingdom in 668A.D.
In 676, the Shilla kingdom was able to unify the whole peninsula for the first time. The Unified Shilla Period (676-935) then became the golden age for Korean culture. Kyongju was chosen as the capital.
An aristocratic government was instituted in the succeeding Koryo Dynasty (918-1392). Buddhism was established as the state religion and had great influence over the political and cultural arena. In fact, the name "Korea" was derived from "Koryo".
Choson Dynasty (1392-1910) was the peninsula's final dynasty. In 1394, Seoul was made the capital. The Korean alphabet, Han-gul, was invented in 1443. Confucianism was adopted as the state ideology. It was a time for political and economic reforms.
It was the Japanese invasion that ended the Choson Dynasty. Korea remained under the Japanese colonial rule until the end of World War II. On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies and withdrew from the peninsula. In 1948 though, Korea was divided into two countries: the Republic of Korea in the south and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north. South Korea established an independent government three years later.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded the southern counterpart. An armistice agreement was signed 3 years later. Negotiations for peace and reunification between South and North Korea have continued since 1972.
Since the Korean War, South Korea has made remarkable progress in the area of democratic politics, economics, and culture with its tireless post-war reconstruction efforts.
Korea is a democratic republic with power centralized in a strong executive president. Regional autonomy has been established since 1995. On August 15, 1948, the government of the First Republic was born. Kim Dae-Jung was elected president in December 1997. He was inaugurated as the 15th-term President of the Republic of Korea in February 25, 1998. His administration is called the "Government of the People". It was created through the first peaceful transfer of power between the ruling and opposition party in the 50 years of modern Korean political history since August 15, 1945, when the country was liberated from Japan. The recent changes in the power structure of North Korea and the decrease in nuclear tensions have resulted in an increased interest in investment opportunities and trade. Accelerated efforts have been made to resume South-North dialogue with the eventual goal of reunification.
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