DIVIDED KOREA. Korea, with its rich culture and history, will be in the world spotlight when the Olympic Games begin in Seoul next month. For South Koreans, the Games are a celebration of their nation's coming of age. Beginning tomorrow, the Monitor will run a four-part series tracing South Korea's achievement of economic prowess and movement toward democracy.

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How one Korea became two To expedite the 1945 Japanese surrender in Korea, the peninsula was split temporarily into two zones, with the United States occupying the area below the 38th parallel and the Soviets in the region above it. In the South, Washington established a government run by the US military, while in the North, Moscow installed a communist-dominated government.

In December 1945, the US and the Soviet Union signed the Moscow Agreement, which provided for a four-power trusteeship (including China and Britain) to govern a unified Korea until a national government could be set up. When no agreement was reached on a government by 1947, the US referred the matter to the United Nations.

The UN proposed creating a national assembly through supervised elections in both the North and South. When the North rejected the plan, the UN went ahead with elections in the South. The vote was held in May 1948, and the new assembly drew up a democratic Constitution and elected Syngman Rhee President. The Republic of Korea was formally established on Aug. 15, 1948.

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The North followed with Soviet-style elections, and declared the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Sept. 9. Kim Il Sung was installed as President. Soviet and US troops were withdrawn.

On June 25, 1950, North Korea launched a military attempt to unify the peninsula, capturing the South Korean capital in four days. At South Korea's request, US forces soon arrived and were later joined by UN troops from 16 countries. The North Korean Army pushed so far south that the UN forces were left holding only a small area of the peninsula around Pusan. American reinforcements arrived and were able to drive the communists back. UN forces then captured the North Korean capital and later reached the Yalu River. Eventually Chinese troops came to the aid of the North Koreans and fighting centered on the 38th parallel.

An armistice, though not a peace treaty, was signed on July 27, 1953. Forty percent of South Korea's industrial facilities had been destroyed. In the North, grain production had fallen by 88 percent and industrial production by 50 percent. Total casualties are estimated at 2.9 million; the US lost 54,200 men.

Today, the two nations remain technically at war. South Korean troops, bolstered by a US presence of 42,000, stare at North Korean soldiers across the demilitarized zone that was established under the armistice. An uneasy peace reigns across the no-man's-land.

Pueblo incident

North Korean patrols seized the USS Pueblo, a US intelligence ship, as it moved off the coast of North Korea on Jan 26, 1968. The US maintained that the ship was in international waters, but Pyongyang insisted its territory had been violated and held Pueblo's 82 crew members hostage for nearly a year. Although it is unclear how much classified information the North Koreans obtained, the incident triggered an ongoing controversy over whether the military's code of conduct - which only allows servicemen to disclose their name, rank, and serial number - should be altered for wartime or hostage conditions.

Kwangju

Site of a popular revolt against martial law in May 1980. At least 200 people were killed when the Army suppressed the rebellion; government critics charge that more than 2,000 died. Questions about the massacre and calls for an investigation of military conduct have haunted the governments of Chun Doo Hwan and his successor, current President Roh Tae Woo.

Labor unrest

Site of massive 1987 strikes at the factories and shipyards of the nation's largest and most powerful corporate conglomerates, including Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo. Urged on by last summer's atmosphere of political protest, strikers called for higher wages and unionization, for a larger share of South Korea's ``economic miracle.'' Clashes between workers and police were reported across the country.

History of an ancient kingdom

Archaeological evidence suggests that the Korean Peninsula was first settled 5,000 years ago when Tungusic tribes migrated to the area from Manchuria and northern China. Historians believe the first Korean state - Koguryo, in the northern part of the peninsula - developed around AD 100. Two other kingdoms, Paekche in the southwest and Silla in the southeast, emerged in 250 and 350. The three struggled for several centuries for control of the peninsula. Silla unification period (668-892)

Aided by Chinese troops from the north, Silla was able to conquer Paekche and Koguryo by 668. Ruled by an authoritarian throne, Silla flourished. Trading centers developed in Kyongju, the capital, and later in provincial towns. Korean ships carried a large part of the region's sea trade.

The active practice of Buddhism, established as Silla's state religion in the 5th century, brought the construction of lavish temples and tombs. Korean monks traveled to China for study and returned with new ideas and beliefs, including Zen Buddhism.

Woodblock printing was developed for the production of religious texts. From the 6th century onward, Korea had an important cultural influence on Japan, including the introduction of Buddhism there. Koryo Dynasty (918-1392)

The kingdom of Koryo emerged in the central region of the peninsula in 918 and overthrew Silla in 935. (Korea is the Westernized version of the name Koryo.)

Although Buddhism remained the official state religion, Confucianism developed as a major force, influencing government ethics and political structure.

During the 11th and 12th centuries, Koryo fought periodic battles with invading forces from the north: the Khitan Liao people from China and Manchuria and the nomadic Jurchens. In 1231, Mongol armies moved into the peninsula. After 30 years of war, Koryo became a vassal of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in China. Yi Dynasty (1392-1910)

The Yi Dynasty, a succession of 26 monarchs, was established after the fall of China's Yuan Dynasty. Yi rulers voluntarily continued their tributary relationship with China. They moved their capital to Seoul and renamed the kingdom Chosun in 1392.

During the first century of Yi rule, Confucianism replaced Buddhism as the state religion, and culture flourished. The world's first movable metal type was developed for the production of religious documents. The first Korean alphabet emerged in 1446.

Japanese forces invaded the peninsula in 1592 and 1597. Although the Yi armies were able to push the Japanese back with the help of Chinese forces, many cultural treasuares were destroyed. The invaders forced Korean artisans and scholars to teach Chosun's advanced technology in Japan.

In the first part of the 17th century, the nomadic Manchu invaded the peninsula and brought Chosun under their control.

The 17th century also brought the arrival of Europeans and Roman Catholicism to Korea. From the outset, Confucian and Catholic beliefs came into conflict. A savage persecution of Catholics followed.

By the mid-1800s, Korean politics and the economy were in shambles. In an effort to bring order, the Korean ruler adopted a policy of national isolationism in 1864. All non-Chinese influences were spurned until 1876, when Japan forced Korea to enter into a commercial treaty. Soon after, the United States and several European nations also opened trade relations with the Koreans.

During the last quarter of the century, China, Japan, and Russia struggled for control of the peninsula. The Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) saw Japanese troops operating in Korea as they moved toward the war front in Manchuria. Tokyo emerged victorious, and formally annexed Korea in 1910. Japanese Occupation (1910-1945)

The Japanese modernized Korea's transportation, communications, and industrial infrastructure, but most resources were sent back to Japan, and Koreans enjoyed no democratic freedoms.

Nationalist feelings ran strong, and in 1919, a group of Korean leaders met in Seoul and declared the nation independent. In response, an estimated 2 million peaceful pro-independence demonstrators filled the streets of the capital. Thousands were arrested, wounded, or killed in the brutal Japanese crackdown. A month later, nationalist leaders established a provisional Korean government in Shanghai.

During World War II, Tokyo drafted thousands to join the Japanese forces or to work in factories. The Korean language was banned; Koreans were forced to worship at Shinto shrines and adopt Japanese names.

Near the end of the war, Korean independence fighters joined the Allies fighting Japan in China. Japanese rule in Korea ended when Tokyo surrendered in 1945.

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