Korea is a historical state in Northeast Asia, since 1945 divided into two distinct sovereign states: North Korea (officially the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”) and South Korea (officially the “Republic of Korea”). 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 East Sea.
Korea emerged as a singular political entity after centuries of conflict among the Three Kingdoms of Korea, which were unified as Later Silla to the south and Balhae to the north. Later Silla divided into three separate states during the Later Three Kingdoms period. Later Goguryeo (Goryeo), which had succeeded Goguryeo, defeated the two other states and united the Korean Peninsula. Around the same time, Balhae collapsed and its last remaining crown prince fled south to Goryeo, where he was accepted into the imperial family. Goryeo, whose name developed into the modern exonym “Korea”, was a highly cultured state that created the world’s first metal movable type in 1234. However, multiple invasions by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty during the 13th century greatly weakened the nation, which eventually agreed to become a vassal state after decades of fighting. Following the Yuan Dynasty’s collapse, severe political strife followed, and Goryeo eventually fell to a coup 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 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.