Korea is a peninsula in eastern Asia and was once a unified country that had governed territories in Manchuria. Politically it is currently divided in the communist country of North Korea and the capitalist country of South Korea, since the 1950s when the Korean War occurred. The national staple dish is kimchi (see Korean cuisine) - which was developed by an innovative and unique process of preserving dietary vegetables before electric refrigiration became popular.
Korea is referred to differently in the Korean language in the North (as Chosŏn) and the South (as Han-guk). In the travels of Marco Polo, Korea was called "Cauly" in the early 14th century. It was further called Corea from the 17th to the late 19th century in Europe and England.
A minority of authors also write "north" and "south" in lowercase because they are not part of the countries' official names, and because of the belief that Korea should be considered as one connected socio-cultural nation.
There exists archaelogical evidence of how people had lived in Korea during the Palaeolithic period - i.e., before the last ice age (or roughly 18,000 to 12,000 years ago). According to classic legend, the Joseon Kingdom (a.k.a. Chosun) (Land of the Morning Calm) was founded by the man-god Dangun in 2333 BC.
In the period 57 BC to AD 668, the Three Kingdoms of Silla (or Shilla), Goguryeo, and Baekjae existed. All three kingdoms were heavily influenced by China. Buddhism was introduced in 372. In 660 Silla allied with China (Tang Dynasty) and overthrew Baekjae and Goguryeo by 668. While Silla was forging diplomatic ties with China, Baekjae had sustained a close relationship to Japan - and helped build the Nara Period - before it completely fell to the Silla-Tang alliance. During the Unified Silla Kingdom period (681 to 935) Buddhism expanded, and culture developed substantially.
The Goryeo Dynasty, ruled the nation of Goryeo from 918 to 1392. During this period laws were codified, and a civil service system was introduced. Buddhism flourished, and spread throughout the peninsula. In 1231 the Mongols invaded Korea and after 25 years of stuggle the royal family surrendered. For the following 150 years the Goryeo ruled, but under the control of the Mongols. The word Goryeo became etymology of the word Korea.
In 1392 a Korean general, Yi Songgye was sent to China to campaign against the Ming Dynasty, but instead he allied himself with the Chinese, and returned to overthow the Goryeo king and establish a new dynasty.
The Joseon Dynasty (also known as the Yi Dynasty) moved the capital to Hanseong, which is modern day Seoul in 1394 and adopted Confucianism as the country's official religion, resulting in much loss of power and wealth by the Buddhists. During this period, the Hangeul alphabet was introduced by King Sejong in 1443.
The Joseon Dynasty suffered invasions by the Japanese (1592 to 1598). Korea's most famous military figure, Admiral Yi Sunsin was instrumental in defeating the invasion. The Manchus (1627 to 1636). Throughout most of its rule, the Joseon Dynasty were in a tributary relationship to the Chinese.
During the 19th century, Korea tried to prevent the opening of the country to foreign trade by closing the borders, resulting in it being called the Hermit Kingdom by many. Beginning in 1876 the Japanese forced trade agreements on Korea, and following the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) Japan established dominant influence in Korea after assasinating Queen Min - Korea's Last Empress. In 1910 Korea was officially annexed by Japan establishing the Colonial Period in Korea.
Korea regained its independence in 1945 from Japan --- a country that Franklin D. Roosevelt called the "Axis of Evil" a few years earlier after their attack on Pearl Harbor --- when Japan's ruler unconditionally surrendered and pleaded for mercy to the United States. This ended the brutal treatment of Koreans by Japanese reign, which is was equally as cruel and inhumane when compared with the handling of Jews by Nazi Germany.
Japan's main intent of occupying Korea was to exploit its natural resources (e.g., rice/food, metal and coal) after finding itself in a desperate situation. Its central economy was on the edge of bankruptcy due to expenditures for fighting the Russo-Japanese War of 1904.
The results of two atomic bombs, and earlier collapse of Nazi Germany, combined with fundamental shifts in global politics and ideology, led to the division of Korea into two occupation zones, with the United States administering the southern half of the peninsula and the Soviet Union taking over the area to the north of the 38th parallel. This division was meant to be temporary and was first intended to return a unified Korea back to its people until the US, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and Chiang Kai-Shek's China (also see Kuomintang) under Taiwan's current national flag could arrange a trusteeship administration.
At a meeting in Cairo, it was agreed that Korea would be free "in due course as one unified country;" at a later meeting in Yalta, it was agreed to establish a four-power trusteeship over Korea. In December 1945, a conference convened in Moscow to discuss the future of Korea. A 5-year trusteeship was discussed, and a joint Soviet-American commission was established. The commission met intermittently in Seoul but deadlocked over the issue of establishing a national government. In September 1947, with no solution in sight, the United States submitted the Korean question to the UN General Assembly.
Initial hopes for a unified, independent Korea quickly evaporated as the politics of the Cold War and domestic opposition to the trusteeship plan resulted in the 1948 establishment of two separate nations with diametrically opposed political, economic, and social systems. In June 1950 the Korean War broke out, ending any hope of a peaceful reunification for the mean time. See History of North Korea and History of South Korea for the post-war period.