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Korea ( 한국 )

Korea (Korean: 한국; Hanja: 韓國), called Hanguk in South Korea and Chosŏn in North Korea, is an East Asian territory that is divided into two distinct sovereign states, North Korea and South Korea.

Daedongyeojijeondo, a map of Korea

Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by China to the northwest and Russia to the northeast. It is separated from Japan to the east by the Korea Strait and the Sea of Japan (East Sea). The adoption of the Chinese writing system ("Hanja" in Korean) in the 2nd century BC and the introduction of Buddhism in the 4th century AD had profound effects on the Three Kingdoms of Korea, which was first united during the Silla (57 BC – AD 935) under the King Munmu. The united Silla fell to Goryeo in 935 at the end of the Later Three Kingdoms. Goryeo was a highly cultured state and created the Jikji in the 14th century. The invasions by the Mongolians in the 13th century, however, greatly weakened the nation, which was forced to become a tributary state. After the Mongol Empire's collapse, severe political strife followed. The Ming-allied Joseon emerged supreme in 1388.

The first 200 years of Joseon were marked by relative peace and saw the creation of the Korean Hangul alphabet by King Sejong the Great in the 14th century and the increasing influence of Confucianism. During the later part of the dynasty, however, Korea's isolationist policy earned it the Western nickname of the "Hermit kingdom". By the late 19th century, the country became the object of the colonial designs by Japan. In 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan and remained a colony until the end of World War II in August 1945.

In 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed on the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea in the aftermath of World War II, leaving Korea partitioned along the 38th parallel, with the north under Soviet occupation and the south under U.S. occupation. These circumstances soon became the basis for the division of Korea by the two superpowers, exacerbated by their inability to agree on the terms of Korean independence. The two Cold War rivals then established governments centered around their own respective ideologies, leading to Korea's division into two political entities: North Korea and South Korea.

Etymology

"Korea" is the modern spelling of Corea, a name attested in English as early as 1614. It is an exonym derived from Cauli, Marco Polo's transcription of the Chinese 高麗 (simp. 高丽, MC Kawlej, mod. Gāolì). This was the Hanja for the Korean kingdom of Goryeo or Koryŏ (고려; 918–1392), which ruled most of the peninsula during the time of his travels. (Scholars who discount the historicity of Polo's account instead derive it via Persian variations of the same Chinese name.) Goryeo's name was an homage to the earlier Goguryeo or Koguryo (고구려; 37 bc – ad 668), the northernmost of the Samkuk (the Three Kingdoms of Korea), which was officially known by the shortened form Goryeo after the 5th-century reign of King Jangsu. The original name was a combination of the adjective go ("high, lofty") with the name of a local Yemaek tribe, whose original name is thought to have been either Guru (구루, "walled city") or Gauri (가우리, "center"). With expanding British and American trade following the opening of Korea in the late 19th century, the spelling "Korea" appeared and gradually grew in popularity; its use in transcribing East Asian languages avoids the issues caused by the separate hard and soft Cs existing in English vocabulary derived from the Romance languages. The name Korea is now commonly used in English contexts by both North and South Korea.

In South Korea, Korea as a whole is referred to as Hanguk (한국, [haːnɡuk], lit. "country of the Han"). The name references the Samhan—Ma, Jin, and Byeon—who preceded the Three Kingdoms in the southern and central end of the peninsula during the 1st centuries bc and ad. Although written in Hanja as 韓, 幹, or 刊, this Han has no relation to the Chinese place names or peoples who used those characters but was a phonetic transcription (OC: *Gar, MC Han or Gan) of a native Korean word that seems to have had the meaning "big" or "great", particularly in reference to leaders. It has been tentatively linked with the title khan used by the nomads of Manchuria and Central Asia.

In North Korea, Korea as a whole is referred to as Chosŏn (조선, Joseon, [tɕosʰʌn], lit. "[land of the] Morning Calm"). "Great Joseon" was the name of the kingdom ruled by the Joseon dynasty from 1393 until their declaration of the short-lived Great Korean Empire in 1897. King Taejo had named them for the earlier Gojoseon (고조선), who ruled northern Korea from its legendary prehistory until their conquest in 108 bc by China's Han Empire. This go is the Hanja 古 and simply means "ancient" or "old"; it's a modern usage to distinguish the ancient Joseon from the later dynasty. Joseon itself is the modern Korean pronunciation of the Hanja 朝鮮 but it remains unclear whether this was a transcription of a native Korean name (OC *T[r]awser, MC Trjewsjen) or a partial translation into Chinese of the Korean capital Asadal (아사달), whose meaning has been reconstructed as "Morning Land" or "Mountain".

 

 

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This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Korea", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

 

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