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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(self-designation, choson saram), the principal population of Korea, which had become a nation (in the Marxist-Leninist definition) by the early 20th century. The population in Korea numbers more than 46 million (1971, estimate). In addition, approximately 1.5 million Koreans live in China, approximately 550,000 in the major cities of Japan, and 357,000 (1970 census) in the USSR, chiefly in the Uzbek and Kazakh SSR’s.

Anthropologically, the Koreans belong to the East Asian branch of the Mongoloid race. They speak the Korean language. The ancient religious beliefs of the Korean people were restricted to animistic nature cults and shamanism. Buddhism reached Korea between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D. In the late Middle Ages, Confucianism had a decisive influence on Korea. Christianity was also introduced in the 19th century but was not widely accepted. Many questions concerning the ethnogenesis of the Koreans have not yet been resolved. Apparently ethnic groups of diverse origins participated in the formation of the Korean people, with groups speaking proto-Altaic languages playing the leading role. Ancient national traditions have been combined with new elements to form the contemporary Korean culture. Traditional customs are faithfully preserved, particularly in dwellings (houses with heated floors), food (fermented vegetables, raw fish with piquant seasonings), and folk festivals, with their masked dances, national wrestling, and archery. The products of folk artistic handicrafts are well-known: ceramics, lacquerware with mother-of-pearl inlays, and straw weaving.

After World War II the Korean people was divided as a result of the aggressive policies of imperialism, and the development of the northern and southern parts of the country followed different paths. In North Korea, where the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea was proclaimed, the people are building a socialist society. In South Korea a reactionary puppet regime was established with the help of American troops, and the old bourgeois social order has been preserved.


Narody Vostochnoi Azii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965. (Bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.