Korea is located in the eastern part of the Eurasian continent on the west coast of the Pacific Ocean. People have populated the Korean Peninsula and the surrounding islands for many thousands of years, during which time the national identity has evolved through many transformations. It began with the creation and merging of multiple kingdoms and has culminated more recently with Korea’'s spectacular emergence as a major player on the world stage. Korea’'s location at this critical juncture where Eurasia meets the ocean has allowed Korea to become a literal gateway to eastern Asia, but more than that it has fostered Korea’'s rich and distinctive culture. Throughout its history, the relationship between Korea and its neighbors has been characterized by tremendous mutual exchanges, and it is these cultural diffusions that have helped to shape the uniqueness of Korean culture today.
Throughout the modern era, Korea suffered a series of hardships, not the least of which included the tragedy of a domestic war and the division of the nation in the midst of a rapidly changing international political landscape. Today, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) has overcome these multiple challenges to achieve both sustained economic growth and democratization. By the end of the Japanese colonial era (1910-1945) and the Korean War (1950-1953), South Korea was one of the poorest nations in the world. Its per capita income stood at 67 USD, and yet in little more than six decades the country completely transformed itself into an economic powerhouse. In 2014, Korea ranked 15th in the world economy and 8th in trade volume. Politically, the nation adopted a legal system that paved the way for democratic elections and party politics. There is also a system of local governmental autonomy that has ushered in an era of the decentralization of power. The entire political system has made such significant progress over the last six decades and it has been able to help put in place policies and procedures that have improved the quality of life for the Korean people. Whereas in 1960 the average life expectancy for a Korean citizen was 52.4 years, that number increased dramatically to 81.4 years by 2012. The nation has also made efforts to build a welfare state by initiating national health insurance and a number of social welfare systems. The driving force behind this achievement is an emphasis on education and an investment in people to parallel the creation of an effective economic policy. The illiteracy rate is near zero, and almost 70% of the population pursues higher education.
The accomplishments that resulted from a stable political system, improved economy, and a free society have led Korea to become a powerful nation. Today, the Republic of Korea, as a responsible member of many international organizations, contributes to promoting world peace and international cooperation. The Republic of Korea is a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council and also plays a responsible role in various international organizations. Since the 1970s, Korea has carried out various cooperative projects with numerous international organizations and has worked in conjunction with numerous private organizations. Korea has also sponsored projects that focus on community development, education, medical, and refugee relief efforts around the world.
Seoul, the capital of Korea, has a long history. It served as the seat of many dynasties from ancient times forward, and now it has become one of the largest cities in East Asia. Taegeukgi, the Korean national flag, represents core tenets of Asian philosophy—-harmony and change as well as the love of peace, which is a key aspect of the Korean national identity. The national flower of Korea is Mugunghwa, a Rose of Sharon or the Korean Rose, which symbolizes the eternity of the Korean people. The official language of Korea is Korean. Hangeul, the Korean alphabet used for the writing system, is considered to be one of the most scientific and unique systems of making letters in the world.
Brief Interpretation of the Map
A very high altitude or satellite photograph of a region portrays a very different perception of the patterns on the ground in any given area than a map. This difference is generated by the cartographic specialists who create maps when they make specific choices about how to portray different components of Korea. For example, the first impression of Korea formed by looking at a satellite photograph would likely emphasize mountainous and vegetation patterns. By contrast, the maps on the following pages show a dense pattern of cities, roads, and highways, suggesting dense human occupation across most of Korea. Both representations are true but generate very different perceptions of the Korean landscape and reflect quite different geographic elements. All parts are important components of the geography of Korea. The purpose of The National Atlas of Korea: Comprehensive Edition is to highlight various geographic elements in order to link the patterns we see and create by living in an area. From the map on the next two pages, try to detect any differences in the density of human activity between the North and the South by paying attention to the density of cities, highways, and roads.