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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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US forces prepare to retreat from Taejon, July 1950

The Battle of Taejon was an early battle between United States and North Korean forces during the Korean War. Forces of the United States Army, attempting to defend the headquarters of the 24th Infantry Division were overwhelmed by numerically superior forces of the Korean People's Army at the major city and transportation hub of Taejon. Hampered by lack of communications equipment and shortages of heavy weapons to match North Korean firepower, the American forces, outnumbered, ill-equipped and untrained, were pushed back from the river bank after several days, before fighting an intense urban battle to defend the city The delay imposed at Taejon probably prevented an American rout during the subsequent Battle of the Pusan Perimeter. Also significant, the North Koreans captured Major General William F. Dean, the commander of the 24th Infantry Division, and highest ranking American prisoner during the Korean War.

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Korean sedan chair
Credit: Unknown; Restoration: Lise Broer

A c. 1890 Korean illustration of a litter (gama in Korean), a type of human-powered transport, for the transport of persons. Gamas were primarily used by royalty and government officials, or in traditional weddings. Because of the difficulties posed by the mountainous terrain of the Korean Peninsula and the lack of paved roads, gamas were preferred over wheeled vehicles.

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Choe Bu (1454–1504) was a Korean official during the early Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910). He is best known for the account of his shipwrecked travels in China from February to July 1488, during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). He was eventually banished from the Joseon court in 1498 and executed in 1504 during two political purges. However, in 1506 he was exonerated and given posthumous honors by the Joseon court. Choe's diary accounts of his travels in China became widely printed in the 16th century in both Korea and Japan. Modern historians also utilize his written works, since his travel diary provides a unique outsider's perspective on Chinese culture in the 15th century and valuable information on China's cities and regional differences. The attitudes and opinions expressed in his writing represent in part the standpoints and views of the 15th-century Confucian Korean literati, who viewed Chinese culture as compatible with and similar to their own. His description of cities, people, customs, cuisines, and maritime commerce along China's Grand Canal provide insight into the daily life of China and how it differed between northern and southern China during the 15th century.

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