Portal:Korea

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Korea, called Hanguk (Korean: 한국; Hanja: 韓國) in South Korea and Chosŏn (Korean: 조선; Hanja: 朝鮮) in North Korea, is a civilization and geographical area situated on the Korean Peninsula in East Asia, bordering China to the northwest and Russia to the northeast, with Japan situated to the southeast across the Korea Strait. It is often called the "Land of the Morning Calm", a term first used during the Joseon dynasty.

One of the oldest civilizations in the world, Korea's history began with the founding of Gojoseon, dating back to approximately 2,333 B.C. After the Three Kingdoms period, Korea enjoyed long periods of peace during which its culture, science and technology flourished. Despite this relative tranquility, Korea was often a target for invasion and had to defend itself in many wars. As a result, starting in the 17th century, Korea's leaders cut off almost all interaction with the outside world. Because of this, Korea was annexed in 1910 and became divided after the Korean War into two political entities, North Korea and South Korea.

North Korea declares itself to be a self-reliant socialist state that is often described by international outlets as Stalinist and isolationist. It is currently ruled by the Kim dynasty, under which the country has become the world's most militarized society with a total of 9,495,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel. North Korea has often emerged as a subject of controversy due to alleged human rights abuses and its unsanctioned nuclear weapons program, the latter of which makes it a threat to regional security.

South Korea on the other hand is a capitalist liberal democracy, and by 1995, became the world's 11th largest economy. It is also currently the world's fifth largest exporter and seventh largest importer, all feats achieved during South Korea's miraculous economic growth after the Korean War. South Korea also maintains a large military due to strained relations with the North, with 650,000 active troops and 3.2 million reserve troops. Due to both its economic and military prowess, South Korea is a regional power, also enjoying membership in the United Nations, G-20 major economies and the OECD.

Korea is populated by a relatively homogeneous ethnic group, the Koreans, who speak Korean, a distinct language not known to be related to any other language, and which uses a unique script, known as Hangul in South Korea, and as Chosongul in North Korea.

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Iris is a South Korean espionage television drama series broadcast by KBS in 2009. With a budget in excess of 20 billion won (17 million USD), it, along with its spin-off Athena: Goddess of War, share the record for the most expensive Korean dramas ever produced. Premiering in October 2009, the series was a critical and commercial success, with an average viewership of over 30% in addition to ranking as the top program consistently every week after its debut. The series also took home many of the highest honors at the 2009 KBS Drama Acting Awards, including Lee Byung-hun winning the top recognition, the Daesang Award. The plot revolves around two friends from the 707th Special Mission Battalion recruited into a secret South Korean black ops agency known as the National Security Service. Of the pair, recruit Kim Hyun-jun begins to uncover evidence that his foggy past may not be so irrelevant to his joining of the secret organization after all. As the two friends find their loyalties tested and forge new, unlikely alliances, the journey takes them from their home country to Hungary, Japan, and China where they find themselves at the center of an international conspiracy.

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Wongudan, Seoul
Credit: Burton Holmes; Restoration: Lise Broer

A 1925 photo of Wongudan, an altar site in Seoul built in 1897 as a location for the performance of the rite of heaven. King Seongjong of the Goryeo Dynasty was the first to perform the rite, designed to ensure a bountiful harvest, in the tenth century. The practice was discontinued by later Goryeo kings, revived briefly in the mid fifteenth century by Sejo of the Joseon Dynasty, then reinstated with the founding of the Korean Empire in 1897. Much of the altar complex was destroyed during the Japanese occupation, and the gate and fountain seen here were also subsequently removed, leaving only the three-storey Hwangungu pagoda remaining.

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Dae Soen Sa Nim shortly before his death (photo by Joan Halifax)

Seung Sahn (August 1, 1927—November 30, 2004) was a Korean Jogye Seon master and founder of the international Kwan Um School of Zen—the largest Zen institution present in the Western world. He was the seventy-eighth teacher in his lineage. As one of the early Korean Zen masters to settle in the United States, he opened many temples and practice groups across the globe. He was known for his charismatic style and direct presentation of Zen, which was well tailored for the Western audience. Known by students for his many correspondences with them through letters, his utilization of Dharma combat, and expressions such as "only don't know" or "only go straight" in teachings, he was conferred the honorific title of Dae Soen Sa Nim in June 2004 by the Jogye order for a lifetime of achievements. Considered the highest honor to have bestowed upon one in the order, the title translates to mean Great honored Zen master. He died in November that year at Hwa Gae Sah in Seoul, South Korea, at age 77.

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