Korea, called Hanguk (Korean: 한국; Hanja: 韓國) or Daehan (Korean: 대한; Hanja: 大韓) in South Korea and Chosŏn (Korean: 조선; Hanja: 朝鮮) in North Korea and elsewhere, is an East Asian territory that is divided into two distinct sovereign states, North Korea (also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) and South Korea (also known as the Republic of Korea, or ROK). Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by China to the northwest and Russia to the northeast. It is separated from Japan to the east by the Korea Strait and the Dong-hae.
Korea emerged as a singular political entity after centuries of conflict among the Three Kingdoms of Korea, which were unified as Silla (57 BC – AD 935) under King Munmu. The united Silla was eventually succeeded by Goryeo in 935 at the end of the Later Three Kingdoms period. Goryeo, which gave name to the modern exonym “Korea”, was a highly cultured state and created the Jikji in the 14th century. The invasions by the Mongolians in the 13th century, however, greatly weakened the nation, which forced it into vassalage. After the Mongol Empire‘s collapse, severe political strife followed. Goryeo eventually fell to an uprising led by General Yi Seong-gye, who established Joseon in 1388. The first 200 years of Joseon were marked by relative peace and saw the creation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong the Great in the 14th century and the increasing influence of Confucianism. During the later part of the dynasty, however, Korea’s isolationist policy earned it the Western nickname of the “Hermit kingdom“. By the late 19th century, the country became the object of imperial design by the Empire of Japan. Despite attempts at modernization by the Korean Empire, in 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan and remained a part of Imperial Japan until the end of World War II in August 1945.
In 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed on the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea in the aftermath of World War II, leaving Korea partitioned along the 38th parallel, with the north under Soviet occupation and the south under U.S. occupation. These circumstances soon became the basis for the division of Korea by the two superpowers, exacerbated by their inability to agree on the terms of Korean independence. The Communist-inspired government in the North received backing from the Soviet Union in opposition to the pro-democracy government in the South, leading to Korea’s division into two political entities: North Korea and South Korea. This eventually led to war in 1950, which became the Korean War. The war did not produce a formalized peace treaty, a factor that contributes to the high tensions which continue to divide the peninsula.