The Republic of Korea, far better known as South Korea, is a country in North East Asia. After spending thirty-five years under Japanese occupation, the Korean peninsula was divided in two after the Reds with Rockets showed up.
South Korea spent the better part of the Cold War under various authoritarian governments, but is now a democracy (officially) and has been so since 1987. It is also one of the "Asian Tigers", making a major economic leap in the 1980s.
South Korea is a close ally of the United States (who saved the country in the Korean War), but is also known for its contentious issues with Japan for some rather obvious reasons. These include the issue of "comfort women", women from Korea (plus China and a few other countries) forced into prostitution and sex slavery by the Japanese, which independent scholarship has failed to find any evidence for outside of Korean propaganda. Scholars instead find that Korean women were sold by Korean kidnappers and family members to Korean run brothels when demand increased, while the Japanese actually worked against this sex slavery. In response dissenting scholars have been arrested and heavily fined by the South Korean government, a move which drew criticism from western governments. Then there's the issue of Japan trying to stomp out Korean language and culture, replacing it with Japanese language and culture. Even without World War Two, Japan and Korea have never liked each other very much. Despite these historical issues, the two countries tend more toward Teeth-Clenched Teamwork these days due to their shared interest in keeping North Korea, Russia, and China in check.
South Korea is not North Korea. South Koreans take great pains to refer to their country as "Korea," with no geographic distinction. In their minds, using the term "South Korea" gives an air of legitimacy to the totalitarian doppelganger across the border. Nowhere else in the world is there a homogeneous group of people so starkly divided by ideology.
No non-offensive joke possible:
It's a truism that dog meat is a popular delicacy in South Korea. A quick way to get an "Oooohhh!" from the audience in a Panel Show is to joke about it. Animal welfare groups scream "animal cruelty". The Koreans scream "cultural imperialism" back. Any argument goes nowhere fast. The Western aversion to eating dogs is so ingrained that it's ripe for Stealth Parody, as Joey Skaggs proved in a famous prank. On the other hand, there is evidence that younger Koreans are turning against it.
Koreans have been called the "Irish of the Far East" for enduring a lot from the Imperial China, Japan, and the Mongols. The Japanese occupation of Korea actually made Korean nationalism stronger, and the tension from the two groups could be considered the equivalent of Polish-Russian relations, due to the fact the Japanese population has a nasty habit of denying anything their country ever did to Korea (and pretty much everyone else).
Religion in South Korea:
Also worth mentioning is religion, specifically the presence of Christianity. Just under 30% of all South Koreans are Christian; 1/3 of these are Catholic, while the rest are Protestants of varying description. The reasons for this include extensive proselytism in the late 19th century, the decrepit state of Korean Buddhism at that time, and the association of Christianity, particularly Protestantism, with leaders of the Korean nationalist movement. Ironically, Pyongyang was the major center of pre-1945 Korean Christianity, with the Christians fleeing south only after the Communists taking over the north. Furthermore, of the ten presidents of the ROK, four have been Protestant, one Catholic, with three Buddhists and two irreligious. As a result, South Korea is one of the most Christian countries in East Asia; it is certainly the most Protestant (the only Christian-majority countries in East Asia are the Catholic Philippines and Timor Leste). Various cults and movements, usually derived from Christianity are also known to exist, including the controversial Unification Church (aka, the "Moonies"). As for other religions, the traditional Buddhism (or more accurately syncretic mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and traditional beliefs) of Korea has about 22% of the population; most of the rest are irreligious.
Popular Sports in South Korea:
The most popular sport in Korea is football (soccer). A South Korean team has qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals eight times, culminating in their first title in 2010 for their under-17 women's team. The Korea Professional Football League (K-League) is the oldest domestic professional football league in Asia. The country co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup Championship along with Japan.
Baseball is second biggest international sport, where most of the teams are owned by large companies. They have their own eight-franchise league "Korea Professional League", and the Korean Olympic team won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Bejing, China. Since 1994, there have been a total of 12 South Korean nationals that have played or are playing for Major League Baseball franchises in the United States.
The popularity of NBA stars such as Jeremy Lin, Ha Seung Jin, and Moon Tae Jong have given rise to the popularity of basketball in South Korea, although they are a powerhouse in their own right, ranked # 3 overall with 23 medals for the Asian Basketball Championship (now known as FIBA).
And of course, we have to mention the popularity of StarCraft and its sequel. To say it has a professional e-sports culture built around it and other games over the years would be absolutely accurate.
Human rights abuse and other issues:
While western media largely remains ignorant of these details, South Korea has a less than stellar record for human rights and freedom of expression, though not necessarily like its northern brother. South Korea is very much in love with spying on its citizens and tracking everything they do online by social security number while forcing Korean companies to aid them in this. The government has declared video games a "disease" and despite South Korea's e-sports image, banned playing them in many circumstances; those "addicted" to games are even forced into government camps. As mentioned above, scholars who produce research or works dissenting from the accepted line are heavily fined if not arrested. Related to these is growing concern among a number of South Koreans over social trends leaning towards Political Correctness Gone Mad. Protesters are called "terrorists" by the president.
South Korea in fiction:
A lot of South Korea's appearances in foreign fiction are to do with its relationship with the North. The country is occasionally inaccurately thought to be poor and technologically backward, which, understandably, annoys the locals no end. But Korea was a pretty poor country during the 1950s: it only became rich and technologically progressive in the last forty years. In fact, according to Martin Meredith in his book The Fate of Africa, South Korea had a lower per capita GDP than Ghana during The Sixties. As described above, South Korea is one of the world's most dynamic economies. North Korea is more or less as depicted in the recent James Bond film Die Another Day.
South Korea produces quite a few movies and shows of its own, not counting the considerable amount of American and Japanese stuff animated there to save costs. Korean cinema has also become very popular across eastern Asia and has enjoyed a small following in the west. The most notable recent film from the country to make it to the west is The Host. Other prior exports include Oldboy.
South Korea produces comic books called Manhwa. Unlike Japanese manga, manhwa read like Western comic books (sort of like how Koreans drive on the right side of the road and the Japanese drive on the left). While also influenced by its Japanese counterparts, its general style is different from manga in that the art work tends towards realism. Manhwa is also used to define animation. South Korea is home to several animation studios. They supply inbetweening work for American and Japanese animation studios as well for home grown productions. Manhwa production ground to a halt under the Ministry of Women (formally the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family; 여성가족부), in which animated porn (whatever the government chooses to define it as that day) carries a harsher sentence than child rape.
The most recent Korean media exportation, in a phenomenon known as the "Korean Wave" or "Hallyu Wave" (韓流 or 한류 in Korean), is their dramas, short Soap Operas that are either about contrived, tragic love, or pure romantic comedy. Sometimes combining both. The most famous from this wave was the metaseries Endless Love, which consisted of four dramas ambiented each one in a season of the year, namely Autumn in my Heart, Winter Sonata, Summer Scent and Spring Waltz. Most tragic dramas will inevitably (or, at least, used to) invoke one or more of the following: Easy Amnesia, Ill Girl (usually cancer), Brother-Sister Incest, a car accident of some sorts, and blindness.
South Korea figures prominently in any Lost episode centering on Sun and Jin. These sequences are notable in that they are entirely in Korean (with subtitles) rather than employing a Translation Convention. Sun is played by Yunjin Kim, who achieved fame in South Korea before coming to the US. Jin, however, is a Fake Nationality, played by American Daniel Dae Kim.
In strategy games, they tend to be Stone Wall turtlers: In Civilization III they received only peaceable civ bonuses, in Civ IV they received the Protective trait, the ultimate turtling benefit, and in Civ V they received scientific bonuses and a unique naval unit that can't venture beyond coastal waters but is insanely difficult to destroy, and is even called the Turtle Ship. In |Age of Empires I they received tower bonuses, in Age of Kings more tower and stone bonuses. While in Rise of Nations, yet more tower bonuses, building repair bonuses and La Résistance bonuses, in addition to having their own unique aesthetic style. Regardless of that, their unique unit in these games has been the Hwach'a , the Hwach'a, the Hwach'a and the Turtle Ship, and the Hwach'a and Hwarang, respectively.
- Hwach'a/Singjeon -- a mobile rocketry platform that fires hundreds of arrows at once. That means, along the with udometer and metal printing, the Macross Missile Massacre was invented in Korea.
- Turtle Ship -- An ironclad battleship invented in 1592 with a (occasionally) fire-breathing head. They were something of a Superweapon Surprise to the invading Japanese.
- Hwarang -- A monastic knightly order of warrior-poets, name meaning "Flower Knights". Membership was restricted to aristocratic male youths of the Silla dynasty.
- The character Hwaorang from Tekken is named after them, being a Tae Kwon Doe-using South Korean.
Other notes about South Korea:
- Hermit Kingdom
- Empress Myeongseong
- Korea under Japanese rule
- Hanguk Manhwa Aenimeisyeon (Korean Animation)
- K-Pop (Korean Idol Singers, Boy Bands, and Girl Groups)
- Korean Movies (Live action)
- Korean Series (Korean produced live action television)
- Manhwa - Graphic novels, read Western-style (left to right)
- Korean Webtoons - manhwa online but in a long strip format
- Battle Born, Dale Brown's twelfth novel, is a fictionalized account of the reunification of the two Koreas.
- Lost: The US series had two Korean characters.
- M*A*S*H: A US television series set during The Korean War.