• The Korean peninsula is split in two by the 4km-wide Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), sharing borders with China and – for about 20km, south of Vladivostok – Russia. These frontiers form a northern boundary with North Korea – the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” – whose population of around 24 million live in an area half the size of the United Kingdom. South Korea, also known as the “Republic of Korea”, is slightly smaller and has a population of 49 million, making it the world’s 26th most populous country.
• Ethnic Koreans dominate the peninsula’s population, making North and South Korea two of the most ethnically homogeneous societies on earth. Before splitting, both were traditionally Buddhist nations – though deeply steeped in Confucianism and shamanistic ritual. Since then the North has followed Juche, a local brand of Communism, while in the South Christianity has become the most popular religion.
• Before the Japanese occupation in 1910, the Silla, Goryeo and Joseon dynasties were ruled over by an unbroken run of 116 monarchs, dating back to 57 BC.
• The economies of South and North Korea were almost equal in size until the mid-1970s. The “Economic Miracle” that followed in the South has propelled it to the cusp of the world’s top ten economies, while the North languishes just above 100th place.
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