Modern Korea

(This is a brief entry, to be replaced later by a full article)

The history of modern Korea falls into two halves: the first, a period of foreign domination, the second of independence but division.

Like both China and Japan, Korea sought to fend off foreign – i.e. Western – influences during the 18th and much of the 19th centuries. It did so to such affect that it acquired the nickname the “Hermit Kingdom”. Unlike in China, however, Christianity, in the form of the Catholic Church, made great inroads in Korea, gaining converts at all levels of society. This sparked off a measure of persecution, but it continued to spread.

In the 1860s, just as both China and Japan were opening their doors to Western commerce, the Korean government decided to seal itself of from the outside world even more firmly than before.  This proved to be short-lived: no country could keep at bay these forces for long. Fro the 1870s the outside world encroached more and more in Korea’s economic and political life, and in the 1890s she fell more and more under the domination of Japan. In 1910 this process culminated in the country’s status being reduced to that of a Japanese colony.

Korea remained under Japanese control for the next 35 years. Then, in the closing days of the Second World War, American troops marched in to the country from the south, whilst Soviet troops marched in from the north. They met at the 38th Parallel, and Korea remains divided at this line to this day. This state of affairs was not altered by a bloody war between 1950 and 1953, in which Chinese forces aided the north, whilst the south was aided by the USA and its allies.

North Korea has become a closed and impoverished society, governed by a brutal and autocratic regime under an hereditary line of rulers of the Kim family. It nevertheless sustains a nuclear program and a missile launching capability.

South Korea has become a parliamentary democracy, and one of the wealthiest per capita societies in the world. Its people are amongst the most highly educated in the world. The capital, Seoul, is one of the largest cities in the world, with an urban economy to match.

 

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