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A Cultural View of the Republic of South Korea

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A cultural view of the Republic of South Korea

Famous 19th century anthropologist Edward Tylor, defined culture as: "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."

This research will explore into the wealthy cultural history of South Korea and illustrate how this land grew apart from its northern neighbour. A look into the history of Korea allows bettering understanding of the many events that emerged in the country and, in turn, allowed the growth to today's institutional architecture. The concluding point will be a look into the government and the influence from the institutional architecture that fashioned it. Along with this, we will learn about the political aspect that in turn contributed to the cultural development of this country while briefly reviewing about the religious and language trends of the land.

Among the well-known countries situated in East Asia, South Korea is famous around the globe for such matters as ginseng, kimchi, Taekwondo, electronics (LG and Samsung) and its many online game players. Authoritatively identified as the Republic of Korea or in Korean language "tae han-min guk", this country is located in the continent of Asia but more specifically in the southern part of the Korean peninsula. Its borders are: in the north we find the only land border which is the notorious "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" commonly known as North Korea, as it is surrounded by water, we then find the East Sea or "Sea of Japan" to the east, the Yellow Sea to its west, and the East China Sea to the south. With animosity existing between both North and South Korea, a militarized border commonly referred as the DMZ separates' the two Koreas. This border "runs for about 150 miles roughly from the mouth of the Han River on the west coast of the Korean peninsula to a little south of the North Korean town of Kosong on the east coast. South Korea makes up about 45% of the peninsula" (Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2011). Using Japan as a reference point, the closest Japanese border to South Korea is 123 miles away. The CIA World Factbook (2011) compares South Korea as being slightly larger than Indiana with an estimated population of 48,754,657 in July of this year. The urban areas make for approximately 80 percent of the country's total population. The capital, as well as the largest city, is Seoul is the largest city which houses nearly 10 million residents. The other large cities include Busan, Incheon, Daegu, and Daejon.

Only 20 percent of South Korea's 65 percent of forested land is appropriate for cultivating. The eastern part of the country is meanly composed of mountains and hills while the southern and western regions are mostly comprised of plains.

The climate is a temperate one, but its elevated humidity level allow for the summers to feel warmer than usual while the winters will feel cooler. The people in South Korea may enjoy all four seasons but more especially, it is the periods of spring and fall which are to be the most pleasurable times in the year. The country receives at least half of the annual rainfall from mid-July to about mid-August; commonly referred as the monsoon season. This climate allowed the country to earn the epithet "Choson" which is Korean for "The Land of the Morning Calm" (Clark, 2000, p. 4).

The origin of the Korean language comes from a divide between the Japanese and Mongolian ones. Even though very different in grammar and without tones, numerous similarly Chinese origins subsist in Korean. Presuming that these Chinese roots where introduced in Korea prior to the second century B.C. At the time, it was the educated class which conversed in Korean while writing and reading in Chinese. During the 15th century, King Sejong created a phonetically inspired writing style known as hangul. This allowed those who were not privileged to the reading Chinese to understand the words commonly spoken.

Today's Korean people still practice hangul but most of the Chinese characters found in them are in today's Korean. Since been allies with the U.S. for almost half of a century, the mandatory teaching of English as a second language in their school system. Along with this, the teaching of Chinese and Japanese come as well which allows them to be very diverse in language skill thus been more competitive later in their lives.

As in many countries around the world have their own dialects and ways to pronounce words, Korean is no exception. Seoul and other major South Korean cities practice the main Korean dialect while other areas use a resembling one which still allows Korean to understand each other while noticing their origins (similar to a New-Yorker conversing with a Texan).

Later will cover the introduction of the Buddhist religion in the Korean culture but it is interesting to point out that only half of the current South Korean population actually practice a faith. From this half, we find about 29% which believe in Christianity followed closely with 23% of Buddhist followers. The small remainders of faiths include Confucian, Islam, Shamanism, and Chondogyo; the other half of the overall population has no faith whatsoever.

More than two thousand years ago, great kingdoms which prospered throughout the Korean Peninsula ruled South Korea. A prosperous Buddhist culture stemmed from the unification of three of these kingdoms in 668 A.D. when Silla kings united the Paekche dynasty(est. in 18 B.C.), the Kogurvo dynasty(est. 37 B.C.), and the Silla dynasty(est. 57 B.C.). It was around the year 935 A.D., that the strong new Koryŏ kingdom had established itself on the peninsula. The name Korea comes from Koryŏ (Bowman, 2000, p. 195).

During the Koryŏ era, Koryŏ General Yi Sŏng-gye seized power, declared himself king, and established the Choson (or Yi) Dynasty in 1392. The Yi ruled for more than five hundred years. In the latter part of the Yi Dynasty, China and Japan sought control of Korea, a struggle the Japanese eventually won (Mccann, 2000, p. 32). However, the Japanese invaders left Korea "after the Japanese military leader Toyotomi died in 1598". This is why in 1627 the Manchu occupied northern Korea. Eleven years later, the Manchu took control over Seoul and the Korean king surrendered to the Manchu invaders (CountryWatch, 2005).

CountryWatch (2005) noted that Korea had become "an independent nation during the Choson dynasty though it was under China until the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95 and Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05". In 1910, "Japan annexed Korea" as a part of its growing empire after it won both wars. This is



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