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Korea in Brief

Korea consists of a mountainous peninsula and 3,201 contiguous islands. It is sepa rated from Manchuria by the Yalu River, Mt. Paektu and the Tumen River. The Tumen River separates Korea from Siberia at its mouth. The Korean peninsula is flanked by two oceans, the East Sea to the east and the West (Yellow)Sea to the west. It lies between 124.11 degrees and 131.52 degrees East Longitude and between 33.06 degrees and 43.1 degrees North Latitude in the northern temperate zone of the Eastern Hemisphere. The standard time is based on the meridian passing through the center of the peninsula along 135 East Longitude. The total area of Korea is about 221,000 square kilometers -- 99,173 square kilometers in South Korea, 122,827 square kilometers in North Korea. The longest distance in the peninsula from north to south is 600 miles, and the average distance from west to east is 170 miles.


The major portion of the country is composed of mountains. Only 30 percent of the total area is flat. There are no vast plains in the country. Most of the more expansive plains lie in the western part of the land. From Mt. Paekdu on the Manchurian border, a huge mountain-range runs southward along the east coast which is often referred to as the backbone of the country. The slopes on the east coast are steep, while those on the west coast are gentle. Korean mountains are mostly low, and their crests are in most cases shaped like plateaus. The average height of the Kaema, the highest plateau in the country, is only 1,500 meters. The highest peak of the nation, Mt. Paektu, stands 2,744 meters high. In South Korea, there are no mountains that exceed 2,000 meters in hight.


The entire coastline of the Korean peninsula proper is about 17,000 kms including its adjacent islands. The west coast is marked by numerous indentations and irregularities, and abounds in islands. On the other hand, the east coast is mostly steep and has only a few islands. The south coast is even more irregular than the west and is considered a most unusual coastline formations in the world. The east coast has a relatively few good harbors, while the west and the south have them in abundance. However, harbors on the west Coast are handicapped by big differences in tides. The gap in tides reaches as much as 33 feet at Inchon, while on the east coast near Wonsan, the difference is only a foot.

The major ports along the east coast include Unggi, Chongjin, Songjin and Wonsan in North Korea, Mukho and Pohang in the South. Mukho, located halfway between Wonsan and Pusan, serves as a base for fisheries. Pohang, which is one of the largest ports on the east coast, houses a large integrated iron and steel mill. Chinnampo in North Korea and Inchon and Kunsan in South Korea are the ports located on the west coast. Chinnampo, the largest port on the west coast of North Korea, has been the center of trade with China. Inchon, which has become famous since it served as the staging area for the allied amphibious landing during the Korean War, is important as a gateway to Seoul, due to its proximity. Major ports along the south coast are Ulsan, Pusan, Chinhae, Masan, Yosu and Mokpo. Pusan is the oldest and the largest port city in Korea. Ulsan is well known for its industrial complex. Chinhae is important for its naval base, and Yosu is primarily a fishing port.


Korean rivers are mostly short, shallow and swift, due to its topographical characteristics. As the eastern and the northern parts of the country are mountainous while the western and the southern parts abound in narrow plains, the majority of large rivers are in the south and west. Rivers exceeding 400kms in length are the Yalu and the Tumen which form the borders between Korea and Manchuria. Together with Taedong, Kum and Naktong Rivers, these rivers provide for good waterways. They also provide water to the nation's agriculture, as well as to serve to generate hydroelectric powers.


Korea's climate has wide variations and differences influenced by monsoons, the latitudinal position and terrain and the currents running along its coasts. The country spans nine latitudes with the elevations in the north greater than in the south. Due to these geo-graphical factors, the average temperature drops from the south to the north. The average temperature throughout the year is 13 degrees Celcius along the southern coast and drops as low as 10 degrees Celcius and 8 degrees Celcius respectively over the central and northern zones. The west coast, facing continental Asia, is vulnerable to the influences of cool monsoons during all seasons of the year. The east coast, on the other hand, is separated from the West by steep mountain ranges that protect it from the northwesterly winds. Furthermore, owing to the warm currents from the east sea, it is about 2 degrees Celcius warmer than the west coast.

Differences in temperature are least conspicuous during the summer months. The average temperature in August in the lower area of the east coast, which is affected by warm currents, is about 25 degrees Celcius, while it falls below this on the northeastern coast and in the Kaema Plateau. The average maximum temperature throughout the country is generally over 40 degrees Celcius. The hottest period of the year lasts for about one month, beginning in early August. The outstanding feature of winter is a clear temperature difference between the north and the south. The average minimum temperatures along the southern coast, in the interior and on the Kaema Plateau in the north are -5 degrees Celcius, -9 degrees Celcius and -26 degrees Celcius, respectively. The northern frontier town of Chunggangjin once recorded the lowest temperature in Korea at -43.6 degrees Celcius. The winter lasts six months in the northernmost areas as compared with only three months in the southern provinces.


Korea is located in the East-Asian Monsoon belt. The summer monsoon brings abundant moisture from the ocean, and produces heavy rainfalls. The average annual precipitation in Korea varies from 500mm in the northeastern inland areas to 1,500mm on the southern coast. More than half of the land registers an average annual precipitation rate of 800mm to 1,000mm. About 55-56 percent of the total annual rainfall occurs in June, July and August and often some 30 percent of the annual rainfall is seen in July alone. There is more rainfall in the wetern regions than in the east.

Particularly, South Kyongsang province draws much more than 1,300mm of rainfall a year. The eastern inland areas along the Chongchon and Han River basins, mideast coastal areas and western part of the southern coast are where heavy rains are recorded every year. The areas on the upper reaches of the Tumen River registers the scantiest rainfall of 500mm.


Korean rivers are mostly short, shallow and swift, due to its topographical characteristics. As the eastern and the northern parts of the country are mountainous while the western and the southern parts abound in narrow plains, the majority of large rivers are in the south and west. Rivers exceeding 400kms in length are the Yalu and the Tumen which form the borders between Korea and Manchuria. Together with Taedong, Kum and Naktong Rivers, these rivers provide for good waterways. They also provide water to the nation's agriculture, as well as to serve to generate hydroelectric powers.


The soil of Korea is unique in that a large portion of it contains displaced alluvia instead of stationary alluvia. The displaced alluvia is composed of soil that has been moved away from base rocks by such external forces as rain, streams and winds. The most common rocks in Korea are granite and gneiss. Ingneous rocks such as basalt and porphyry, and sedimentary rocks, including limestone, argillite and sandstone are also abundant in Korea. Since a high percentage of Korean soil contains granite and gneiss, it is sandy. Volcanic soils are also found on the islands of Cheju and Ullung.


Due to its geographical location, Korea is a good natural habitat for a great number of plants and animals. According to a botanical tally, more than 4,500 species of vascular plants are found in the north and in mountainous areas, the central region and western lowlands have heavy vegetation, including broad-leaved deciduous trees. On the southern coast and on the offshore islands of Cheju and Ullung, warm-temperature plants grow abundantly. Among the trees commonly found in Korea are pine, maple, oak, larch, elm, spruce, willow, alder, birch and poplar. Common fruit trees are the apple, pear, peach, chestnut and persimmon, etc.


Korea belongs to the Palaearctic Zoogeographic realm. Animal life in Korea's highlands around Mt. Paektu on the Korea-Manchuria border is closely related to that in the boreal zones of Manchuria, mainland China, Siberia, Sakhalin and Hokkaido. Representative species in the highlands are the deer, the roe deer, the amur goral, the Manchurian weasel, the brown bear, the tiger, the lynx, the northern pika, the water shew, the muskrat, the Manchurian ring-necked pheasant, the black grouse, the hawk owl, the pine grosbeak and the three-toed woodpecker. In the southern lowlands of Korea, the faunae which are closely related to those of southern Manchuria, central China, and Japan, include the black bear, the river deer, the mandarin vole, the white-bellied black woodpecker, the fairy pitta and the ring-necked pheasant.To preserve rare wildlife species, the Korean government has designated as natural monuments 23 species of wildlife, including the white-naped crane, the great bustard, the musk deer, the hooded crane and the stellar's sea eagle. Other fauna monuments are the domesticated silky fowl, the California grey whale and Korea¡&hibar;s purebred dog, the Chindokae.


According to a government survey, there are 287 minerals in Korea. Among minerals used for commercial purposes are gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, zinc, tungsten, kaolinite, barites and molybdenum. The largest portion of Korea's developed mineral wealth is in the northern part of the peninsula. Although South Korea also possesses important minerals and ores, including such basic metals as iron, copper and aluminum, they are more common in North Korea. Korea has no great deposits of coal. Its known deposits of coal are composed almost entirely of anthracite and contain little lignite. South Korea's chief metallic mineral is tungsten. Marine Resources Since cold and warm currents meet off the coast of Korea, the seas surrounding the Korean peninsula abound in fishery resources. There are many kinds of edible fish in Korean waters, including shellfish, algae and other species of sea animals and plants.


Koreans are generally considered descendants of two strains≪Athe nomadic tribes of Mongolia and Aryan Migrants from central and western Asia. At any rate, it is believed that the forebears of Koreans are migrants from the north who moved to the peninsula some 4,300 years ago. Koreans are predominantly Mongoloid, but they have both Occidental and Oriental characteristics. They are homogenious race some-what distinct from both the Chinese and the Japanese. They have wide foreheads similar to those of the Shantung Chinese and some Japanese. In this respect, they differ from the Tungus and Mongols. They are, however, brachycephalic, and it is in this respect that the Koreans resemble the Tungus and Mongols more than they do the Shantung Chinese and Japanese.

Koreans have lighter skin than Chinese and Japanese and this suggests the possibility that they are of some strain of white-skinned ethnic stock from the West. It could be inferred that the present-day Koreans descended from several peoples, of whom the Shantung Chinese, Tungus and Mongols were predominant. The distinctive physical structure of the Koreans appears not to have been affected appreciably by the close contacts with the Chinese over thousands of years. The Koreans also have developed and preserved a distinctive cultural heritage of their own, despite the great cultural influences of the Chinese over the centuries.


The origin of the Korean language has not been established definitively, though it derives from the Tungustic branch of the Ural-Altaic family which traces its ancestry to Central Asia. But in as much as the Korean people are primarily of Mongolian origin, having migrated from Siberian and Manchurian regions into the Korean peninsula, it is inferred that Korean language is somewhat related to Manchu or Mongolian. But the fact is that Korean and Mongolian are found much more apart from each other, both in vocabulary and syntax, than are English and German, or English and French. The generally accepted theory indicates that the archtype of the Korean language was developed in the southern part of the peninsula among agrarian tribes. Another developed among the northern Koguryo Kingdom when the four colonies of Han of China were established in Korea.

It is certain that Chinese language and letters greatly influenced the language. Korean grammar, however, is entirely different from the Chinese. Korean language has simple forms to express different tenses and modes such as indicative, conditional, imperative and infinitive, etc. It has forms to express all those more delicate verbal relations which in English requires a circumlocution or the use of various adverbs. The difference between Korean and Chinese language is that Korean is strictly phonetic in writing whereas Chinese is not. The grammatic structure of Korean language is regular and simple. Forms consist of stems plus endings. While a single stem may occur in many forms, it remains almost constant in all of them. There are also many word endings that cannot be expressed. The use of particles and inflectionary endings is wider in Korean than in Manchu or Mongolian. Even Japanese has fewer particles and different endings than Korean. It should also be noted that the formation of compounds by connecting stems is very extensive.

In the Korean language, there are no articles, i.e. "the" or "a." There is no change in the ending of noun for singular or plural. Neither is there any sharp discrimination of gender in the personal pronoun. Verbs have no special distinction for third person, singular or plural. On the other hand, the Korean adjectives have conjugations like verbs. Order of words in the clause or sentence in Korean is subject, object and verb; qualifying elements precede the objects qualified; dependent clauses precede independent clauses. The Korean language is rich in sound, and there are 10 primary vowels, as well as secondary or derived vowels.

In the Korean language, the function of euphony is conspicuous. Euphony is the distinctive characteristic of Korean language. The Korean language, however, became complicated by the wide use of "honorifics" in accordance with the complex social order of Korea. Another characteristic feature of the Korean language is that it possesses a large vocabulary, not only for expressions of concrete things but for presentations of subtle human feelings and sentiments. It is, however, short of words pertaining to abstract reasoning and logical thinking. This renders it extremely difficult for a translator to interpret Korean into a foreign language word for word and vice versa.

The main dialects of Korean are northern Korean and southern Korean. Korean spoken in Seoul is regarded as the standard spoken language. During the past several hundred years, the normal evolution of Korean as an independent and original language has been hindered much by two developments. Chief among them was the discouragement of the use of native tongue by Confucian influences that encouraged the use of Chinese letters. The other hindrance was the policy of the Japanese colonial rule which attempted systematically to destroy the Korean language. Since liberation in 1945, however, there have been movements aimed at refining and standardizing Han-gul.


There are historical evidences, though uncorroborated, that suggest that ancient Koreans used their own system of writings. Some scholars regard inscriptions on the stone walls in Namhae inland as ancient Korean characters. The Samguksagi (history of the Three Kingdoms) says : "letters were first used in the beginning of the Koguryo Kingdom." Notwithstanding the historical evidence, it is true that the Koreans wrote exclusively in Chinese characters until the 15th century. Then in 1443, King Sejong of the Chosun Dynasty, with the help of several scholars (Chong In-ji, Song Sam-mun and Shin Suk-chu), invented a phonetic alphabet called Han-gul which has since been in use.

The Korean alphabet is so simple that anybody can master it. In a Korean encyclopedia compiled in about 1770, a reference was made to the simplicity of Han-gul, saying that "the possibility of interchanging letters is unlimitedly simple, but that the language is very efficiently neat and comprehensive enough for any combinations." The Korean alphabet consisted originally of 28 letters, according to Hunminjongum, the book of the authorized alphabet first promulgated. It was reduced later to 24 letters. In the Korean alphabet there are 10 vowels (originally 11) and 14 consonants. Two principles were followed in devising the forms of vowels and consonants. The 14 consonants symbolize either the organs of speech or the manner of articulation. The 11 vowels are devised to symbolize heaven, earth and man, the three elements constituting the universe in the Oriental view of the universe.

By taking a consonant sound like K and putting it before each of the vowels, various syllables begin to take shape. If the syllable should begin with a vowel sound, the consonant NG precedes the vowel. The NG has no sound when used in that way. The shape of the vowel determines whether the consonant should be placed above it or to the left of it. Currently 24 letters are in use. They represent the phonemes of the Korean language. ª¡ (k or g), ª¤ (n), ª§ (t or d), ªⓒ (r or l), ª± (m), ª² (p or b), ªμ (s), ª¸ (ch or j), ªº (ch or ch), ª≫ (k or k), ª¼ (t or t), ª½ (p or p), ª¾ (h), ª·(ng), ª¿ (a), ªA (ya), ªA(o), ªA (yo), ªC (o), ªE (yo), ªI (u), ªÐ (yu), ªN (u), ªO(i)(See the New Romanization System for Korean Words) In the Hunminjongum, 28 original letters were classified as follows :17 consonants (initial sounds) ;
Molar(ª¡, ª½, ª·)
Lingual(ª§, ª¼, ª¤)
Labial(ª², ª½, ª±)
Dental(ª¸, ªº, ªμ)
Glottal( , ª¾, ª·)
11 vowels(medial sounds); ª¿ ªA ªA ªA ªC ªE ªI ªÐ ªN ªO

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