As the pines atop Namsam Peak stand firm
Unchanged through frost and wind,
As if wrapped in armour,
So shall our resilient spirit.
-National Anthem of South Korea, 2nd verse.
The Republic of Korea, far better known as South Korea, is a country in North East Asia. After spending thirty-five years under Japanese occupation, the Korean peninsula was divided in two after the Reds with Rockets
The most notable event (to the world, anyway) in the history of South Korea is The Korean War
, sometimes called the Six Twenty Five War.
South Korea spent a while after that war under various authoritarian governments, but people kept protesting, demanding democracy and freedom (some of which, like the Gwangju Massacre
, caused the loss of many innocent civilian lives). Finally, after June Democracy Movement
of the 1987 (helped by global exposure on the run-up to the 1988 Olympic Games
to be held at the capital, Seoul), South Korea is now a completely democratic country. It is also one of the "Asian Tigers", making a major
economic leap in the 1980s (the social structure changed from a mostly agricultural to tertiary industry in less than 40 years).
South Korea is a close ally of the United States (who led the UN forces that saved the country in The Korean War
), but has problems with Japan for some rather obvious reasons
. These include the issue of "comfort women", women from Korea (plus China and a few other countries) forced into prostitution and sex slavery by the Japanese, which the Japanese government continues to deny. Then there's the issue of Japan trying to stomp out Korean language and culture, replacing it with Japanese language and culture. Even without World War II
, Japan and Korea have never liked each other very much
. Despite these historical issues, the two countries tend more toward Teeth-Clenched Teamwork
these days due to their shared interest in keeping North Korea
, and China
South Korea is not
North Korea. South Koreans take great pains to refer to their country as "Korea," with no geographic distinction. In their minds, using the term "South Korea" gives an air of legitimacy to the totalitarian doppelganger across the border. Nowhere else in the world is there a homogeneous group of people so starkly divided by ideology.
No non-offensive joke possible
It's a truism that dog meat was a popular delicacy in South Korea. A quick way to get an "Oooohhh!" from the audience in a Panel Show
is to joke about it. Animal welfare groups scream "animal cruelty". The Koreans scream "cultural imperialism" back.
Any argument goes nowhere fast. The Western aversion to eating dogs is so ingrained that it's ripe for Stealth Parody
, as Joey Skaggs
proved in a famous prank. On the other hand, there is evidence that younger Koreans are turning against it. Nowadays dog meat is mostly eaten by the older population, as the opinion that it is animal cruelty is getting more and more popular. Note that non-dog eating Koreans will be offended if another person implies that all or most Koreans like dog meat.
Koreans have been called the "Irish of the Far East" for enduring a lot from Imperial China, Japan, and the Mongols. The Japanese occupation of Korea actually made Korean nationalism stronger, and the tension from the two groups could be considered the equivalent of Polish-Russian relations, due to the fact the Japanese population has a nasty habit of denying anything their country ever did to Korea (and pretty much everyone else).
Religion in South Korea
Also worth mentioning is religion, specifically the presence of Christianity. Just under 30% of all South Koreans are Christian; 1/3 of these are Catholic, while the rest are Protestants of varying description. The reasons for this include extensive proselytism in the late 19th century, the decrepit state of Korean Buddhism at that time, and the association of Christianity, particularly Protestantism, with leaders of the Korean nationalist movement. Korean Christians had worked hard to reconcile Christian and traditional Korean values and were at the forefront of the Korean independence movement under the Japanese. Ironically, Pyongyang was the major center of pre-1945 Korean Christianity, with the Christians fleeing south only after the Communists taking over the north.
Furthermore, of the ten presidents of the ROK, four have been Protestant, one Catholic, with three Buddhists and two irreligious. As a result, South Korea is one of the most Christian countries in East Asia; it is certainly the most Protestant (the only Christian-majority countries in East Asia are the Catholic Philippines and Timor Leste). As for other religions, the traditional Buddhism (or more accurately a syncretic mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and traditional beliefs called muism
) of Korea has about 22% of the population; most of the rest are irreligious.
Popular Sports in South Korea
The most popular sport in Korea is football (soccer). A South Korean team has qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals eight times, culminating in their first title in 2010 for their under-17 women's team. The Korea Professional Football League (K-League) is the oldest domestic professional football league in Asia. The country co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup Championship along with Japan; they managed to make the semifinals that year (their best result so far).
Baseball is the second biggest international sport, where most of the teams are owned by large companies. They have their own eight-franchise league "Korea Professional League", and the Korean Olympic team won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Bejing, China. Since 1994, there have been a total of 12 South Korean nationals that have played or are playing for Major League Baseball franchises in the United States.
The popularity of NBA stars such as Jeremy Lin, Ha Seung Jin, and Moon Tae Jong have given rise to the popularity of basketball in South Korea, although they are a powerhouse in their own right, ranked # 3 overall with 23 medals for the Asian Basketball Championship (now known as FIBA).
And of course
, we have to mention the popularity of StarCraft
. To say it has a professional sports-esque culture built around it
would be absolutely accurate.
South Korea in fiction
A lot of South Korea's appearances in foreign fiction are to do with its relationship with the North. The country is occasionally inaccurately thought to be poor and technologically backward, which, understandably, annoys the locals to no end. But Korea was a pretty poor country during the 1950s: it only became rich and technologically progressive in the last forty years. In fact, according to Martin Meredith in his book The Fate of Africa, South Korea had a lower per capita GDP than Ghana during The Sixties
, but things have gotten a lot better. As described above, South Korea is one of the world's most dynamic economies. North Korea is more or less as depicted in the James Bond
film Die Another Day
South Korea produces quite a few movies and shows of its own, not counting the considerable amount of American and Japanese
stuff animated there to save costs. Korean cinema
has become very popular all across eastern Asia for much of the past ten years and has enjoyed a small following in the west. The most notable recent film from the country to make it to the west is The Host
. Other prior exports include Oldboy
South Korea produces comic books called Manhwa
. Unlike Japanese manga, manhwa read like Western comic books (sort of like how Koreans drive on the right side of the road and the Japanese drive on the left). The general style is different from manga in that the art work tends more towards realism. Manhwa is also used to define animation. South Korea is home to several animation studios. They supply inbetweening work for American and Japanese animation studios as well as for home grown productions.
The most recent Korean media export, in a phenomenon known as the "Korean Wave
" or "Hallyu Wave
" (韓流 or 한류 in Korean), is their dramas
, short Soap Operas
that are either about contrived, tragic love, or pure romantic comedy. Sometimes combining both. The most famous from this wave was the metaseries Endless Love
, which consisted of four dramas ambiented each one in a season of the year, namely Autumn in my Heart
, Winter Sonata
, Summer Scent
and Spring Waltz
. Most tragic dramas will inevitably (or, at least, used to) invoke one or more of the following: Easy Amnesia
, Ill Girl
(usually cancer), Brother-Sister Incest
, a car accident of some sorts, and blindness.
South Korea figures prominently in any LOST
episode centering on Sun and Jin. These sequences are notable in that they are entirely in Korean (with subtitles) rather than employing a Translation Convention
. Sun is played by Yunjin Kim, who achieved fame in South Korea before coming to the US. Jin, however, is a Fake Nationality
, played by American Daniel Dae Kim.note
In strategy games, they tend to be Stone Wall
turtlers: In Civilization III
they received only peaceable civ bonuses, in Civ IV
they received the Protective trait, the ultimate turtling benefit, and in Civ V
they received scientific bonuses and a unique naval unit that can't venture beyond coastal waters but is insanely difficult to destroy, and is even called the Turtle Ship. In Age of Empires
they received tower bonuses, in Age of Kings
more tower and stone bonuses, in Rise of Nations
yet more tower bonuses, building repair bonuses and La Résistance
bonuses. Regardless of that, their unique unit in these games has been the Hwach'a , the Hwach'a, the Hwach'a and the Turtle Ship, and the Hwach'a and Hwarang, respectively.
Oh, sorry, right:
- Hwach'a/Singjeon — a mobile rocketry platform that fires hundreds of arrows at once. That means, along the with udometer and metal printing, the Macross Missile Massacre was invented in Korea.
- Turtle Ship — An ironclad battleship invented in 1592 with a retractable and (occasionally) fire-breathing head (powered by a cannon inside the mouth). They were something of a Superweapon Surprise to the invading Japanese. The ship was covered in thick plating and studded with metal spikes, which made it impossible to get on the deck (because ether was no traditional deck as such). The flat, keel-less bottom made the ship exceptionally agile, being able to make sudden turns (a dramatic contrast to the Japanese ships, which were faster but could only go in a straight line at top speeds) A favoured method of attack was to use the superior durability and maneuverability of the Turtle Ship to ram the more fragile Japanese ships.
- Hwarang — A monastic knightly order of warrior-poets, name meaning "Flower Knights". Membership was restricted to aristocratic male youths of the Silla dynasty.
- The character Hwoarang from Tekken is named after them, being a Tae Kwon Do-using South Korean.
Other notes about South Korea:
- Hermit Kingdom
- Korea under Japanese rule
Works of fiction set (but not produced) in/about South Korea:
- Analogue: A Hate Story: A Visual Novel about a Korean Generation Ship. Includes some aspects of Korean culture and history.
- Battle Born, Dale Brown's twelfth novel, is a fictionalized account of the reunification of the two Koreas.
- LOST: The US series had two Korean characters. Since they were Korean-Americans, their Korean pronounciation was a bit... off-sounding for many native Korean watchers.
- Mash (the original novel)
- Mash (The Film of the Book)
- Mash: A US television series, based on both of the above works, all of which are set during The Korean War. However, in the film and series the description is far from accurate (even considering the state of Korea back then). This is largely a result of the fact that the film and the series began as allegories of The Vietnam War and, in early TV episodes especially, the writers seemed only vaguely aware that Korea and Vietnam were actually different places.
The South Korean flag
The flag, known as the Taegeukgi
, is a revised version of the last-known flag of the Korean Empire. The white field symbolizes the purity of Koreans; at the center is the taegeuk
, a local version of the Yin-Yang symbol of unity of active (red) and passive (blue) energies; flanking the taegeuk
are four of the eight trigrams from the Ba gua
, a Taoist symbol of the fundamental principles of reality, symbolizing Heaven and justice (upper left), Fire and fruition (lower left), Earth and vitality (lower right), and Water and wisdom (upper right).