Comprehensive Edition

Administrative Regions


 Administrative districts are governmental area units for local administration, but at the same time they define regional and local identity. Since the nation’s founding, Korea has promoted administrative efficiency through a number of administrative re-organizations. In the midst of these changes, a -do-oriented (province-oriented; -do is the Korean name for a province) administrative district system of the Joseon Dynasty is the basis for the modern metropolitan administrative system in Korea. In 1945, the administrative system for the whole Peninsula was comprised of one special city, 15 do (provinces), 23 bu (cities), 208 gun (counties). The following year, Jeju Island was separated from Jeollanam-do to become Jeju- do, a province of its own. In 1948, the -bu became the -si. The South Korean government carried out comprehensive reforms to harmonize living spaces and administrative districts in 1962. For example, Geumsan-gun in Jeollabuk- do was transferred into Chungcheongnam-do, and Uljin- gun in Gangwon-do was merged into Gyeongsangbuk- do. The reforms after 1960 mainly took place due to urban expansion caused by population growth in cities and suburbanization. Small towns attained cityhood as their population increased, and major cities were promoted to directly-controlled municipalities so that the central government could manage them directly. During the 1960s, as Busan was promoted to a directly-controlled city, Korea consisted of 1 special city (Seoul), 1 directly controlled city (Busan Directly-Controlled City), 9 do (Gyeonggi- do, Gangwon-do, Chungcheongbuk-do, Chungcheongnam- do, Jeollabuk-do, Jeollanam-do, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongsangnam-do, and Jeju-do), 30 si (cities), and 140 gun (counties). Large provincial cities, like Incheon, Daegu, Gwangju, and Daejeon, became directly-controlled cities in the 1980s.


 In 1995, an overall provincial administrative reform was carried out. This reshuffling integrated cities and counties and aimed at balancing development between growing urban and declining rural areas, securing land for urban development, promoting administrative efficiency, and addressing inconsistencies between spaces of daily life and administrative districts. Also, directly-controlled municipalities were re-organized into metropolitan cities by combining neighboring areas. In 1995, forty urban/ rural integration cities were established, and 5 metropolitan cities were created, including Busan, Daegu, Incheon, and Daejeon. Ulsan attained metropolitan cityhood in 1997.


 After the year 2000, continuous merging of cities and counties took place and Jeju Island was raised to the status of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province. Sejong, a multifunctional administrative city, became the Sejong Metropolitan Autonomous City in 2012. As of January 1, 2014, the Republic of Korea has 1 teukbyeol-si (special city), 6 gwangyeok si (metropolitan cities), 1 teukbyeol jachi-si (special autonomous city), 8 do (provinces), and 1 teukbyeol jachi-do (special self-governing autonomous province).



Brief Interpretation of the Map

  The grey color for the North indicates that data for North Korea are not available. The entire administrative system of Korea is shown spatially. Why do you think that these Metropolitan cities are singled out to become important units in the administrative system when their areas are much smaller than provinces? (Clue: look at their population –some of these cities have more population than some provinces. Places with very concentrated populations have special needs that require special legislation to assist them.)


  Local autonomy refers to various activities through which a self-governing body representing the residents within a certain regional boundary carries out its political and administrative decision-making while maintaining relative independence from the central government. In this global era, the growing demands for improving regional competitiveness, inter-regional development equity, and resident-oriented administrative services have necessitated local autonomy more than ever. Local autonomy mainly consists of autonomous power over local affairs and an independent budgetary capacity in a geographical region with an explicit boundary where residents and a self-governing body are located. Local governmental autonomy has recently become a global trend.

  The local self-governing body that plays a key role in local autonomy in Korea is the administrative organization that maintains close relations with its residents. The local selfgoverning body is constituted of local residents and it forms a legal entity. There are two types of self-governing bodies in Korea: macro-level bodies such as the Special City, Metropolitan City, Special Autonomous City, -do or Special Autonomous Province, and primary level bodies such as -si, -gun or -gu. Local residents may participate in the autonomy of their local government mainly through elections.

  The local residents elect both the members of local councils and the heads of local governments. The heads of local governments include the mayor of the Seoul Special City, the mayors of the Metropolitan Cities, the governors of ‘do’, and heads of ‘gun’ and Autonomous ‘gu’. The heads of local governments may request that residents vote on important matters that impose an excessive burden on the government or have a significant effect on the residents. The residents also have the right to recall the head of the local government or local council members.

  After 30 years of preparation, the establishment of local councils in 1991 ushered in the era of local autonomy, and since then the scope of local affairs and local authority has been expanding. Significant local autonomy includes jurisdiction; organization and administrative management of local government; the promotion of residents’welfare; the promotion of industries including agriculture, forestry, trade, and factories; local development; the establishment and management of public and private facilities for residents; the promotion of education, athletics, culture, and art; public safety; and firefighting.

 As of 2014, the macro-level local self-governing bodies in Korea are the Seoul Special City; six Metropolitan Cities including Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, Daejeon, and Ulsan; the Sejong Special Autonomous City; eight ‘-do’ including Gyeonggi-do, Gangwon-do, Chungcheongbuk-do, Chungcheongnam-do, Jeollabuk-do, Jeollanam-do, Gyeongsangbuk-do, and Gyeongsangnam-do; and the Jeju Special Autonomous Province. In addition, there are 262 primary-level local self-governing bodies including 77 ‘-si’ (including 2 non-autonomous ‘-si’), 83 ‘-gun’, and 102 ‘-gu’ (including 33 non-autonomous ‘-gu’). There are also 216 ‘-eup’, 1,196 ‘-myeon’, and 2,076 ‘-dong’, all of which are area subdivisions of the lowest level. All the self-governing bodies mentioned above constitute the localized administrative system in Korea. How is the Korean administrative system different from the administrative system of your country at the federal, state, and local levels?