Corea (native name Choson, ' Morning Radiance'), a kingdom on the east coast of Asia, stretching as a peninsula from 34° 30' to 43° N. lat, and from 124° 30' to 130° 30' E. long., between the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, and separated by the Strait of Corea from the Japanese islands. From about the beginning of the Christian era Corea has been alternately dependent on Japan and China; from the 16th c. it was formally a vassal state of China, paying at least a ceremonial tribute. But even before the war between China and Japan in 1894-95, Japan had acquired commercial and fiscal predominance. In consequence of internal troubles in 1894 (fomented by Japanese residents), Japan intervened and drove the Chinese across the Yalu (see China), and Corea was declared an independent state. The growing power of Russia in Manchuria, and its encroachments on Corea, created great anxiety in Japan in 1900-4, led to the Japanese ultimatum, and was the cause of the war of 1904-5, in which the Japanese took Port Arthur, triumphed at Mukden and elsewhere, and utterly destroyed the Russian fleet. By the peace (1905) Japan's predominating interest in Corea was fully recognised.
Occupying about the same latitude as Italy, Corea, with an area of 83,000 sq. m., is also like Italy hemmed in on the north by alpine ranges, and traversed from north to south by a branch chain. Among the summits are Hien; fung (8114 feet), Mount Popoff, and Coxcomo (4800), north-east of Seoul. The climate is healthy, bracing in the north, but colder in winter and hotter in summer than in corresponding European latitudes. Some of the rivers are frozen for from three to five months in the year. Among the products are rice, wheat, beans, cotton, hemp, maize, millet, sesame, and ginseng. Iron ores of excellent quality are mined; and there are copper-mines in several places. The principal industries are the manufacture of paper, mats woven of grass, split bamboo blinds, oil-paper, and silk. Three-fourths of the trade is with Japan, and over a fifth with China. Several railways were in progress before the war of 1904-5.
The population is estimated at from 8,000,000 to 16,000,000. The language is intermediate between Mongolo-Tartar and Japanese, polysyllabic and agglutinating. It has an alphabetic system of its own; but Chinese characters have taken the place of Corean in official writing and correspondence. The philosophy of Corea is Confucian, but in spite of great restrictions on Buddhism there are numerous Buddhist monasteries. The government is an hereditary and absolute monarchy, and carried on through three ministers, besides whom are ministers of six departments. Seoul, the capital, has a pop. of 196,940. Phyong-yang, 36 miles from the sea, on the Tai-dong, has a pop. of over 40,000. It is the centre of a silk industry, and 20 miles off, at Keum-san, are gold-washings. Kai-song is important as the capital of the old dynasty, and for its cultivation of ginseng.
The earliest records of Corea carry us back to 1122 B.C., when Ki-tze with 5000 Chinese colonists brought to Corea Chinese arts and politics. Down to modern times Corea has remained perfectly secluded. Almost the first knowledge of Corea obtained by Europe was through the shipwreck of some Dutchmen on the coast in 1653. The missionary De Cespedes had, however, entered Corea at the end of the 16th century, and from 1777 other missionaries followed. In 1835 M. Maubant gained a footing in Corea, but in 1866, after thousands of converts had been put to death, the only three Catholic missionaries left had to flee for their lives. To avenge the death of the Catholics the French sent an expedition, which was, however, repulsed, while a stranded American schooner was burned with her crew in sight of Phyong-yang. Japan was the first to effect a footing in Corea in 1876, when a treaty was concluded between the two countries. Corea followed this up by treaties with China, the United States, and other countries (1882-86); and Chemulpo, Fusan, and Gensan were opened to foreign trade. The war of 1904-5 opened the country much more fully. See works by Oppert (1880), Ross, Griffis, Lowell, Carles (1888), Cavendish, Landor, Bishop, Hamilton, Laguerie, and Whigham (1904).