Faculty of Arts


Korean Society and Culture


Why are there two Koreas today? Why are North and South Korea so different from each other? How has K-pop become such a global phenomenon? These are some of the most common questions asked about Korea. To understand the country’s division, the different roads that the two Koreas have taken, and the rise of K-pop it is important to get deep insights into Korea’s history, culture, society, politics and economy.

Today South Korea is characterised by its dynamic culture, vibrant society and captivating popular cultural products. South Korea is the world’s eleventh largest economy and its experiences of rapid economic development and political democratisation serve as a model for many other developing countries in Asia. South Korean society, which used to be one of the most homogeneous societies in the world, has become much more multicultural after the 1990s with increasing number of foreign residents, migrant workers and migrant brides. Meanwhile, South Korean population has been rapidly aging and the country records one of the lowest birth rates in the world, which has become a serious concern of the country.

On the other hand, North Korea, which has been competing with the South for political legitimacy and hegemony, has followed a development path which is totally different from that of the South. The country has been ruled with the principles of socialism and "self-reliance" (juche), and it tried to unify the two Koreas by launching the tragic Korean War in 1950. North Korea’s economy seriously declined after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the end of 1991. Nevertheless, it has maintained a strong military and developed nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. The year 2018 saw dramatic changes in the relationship between the two Koreas and also between North Korea and the US. Though the Hanoi Summit (February 2019) between the US and North Korea ended without any result, the drama is still unfolding itself. What will happen to the two Koreas as the conventional power balance in Northeast Asia is changing with the rise of China?

Taking a topical and comparative approach, this course will focus on:

  • How the modern Korean nation developed and Korea has been divided
  • Korea’s relationship with its neighbours, China, Japan, Russia and the US in terms of culture, economy and politics
  • Korea’s religious and philosophical traditions and values and their changes in modern times
  • The economic and social changes of South and North Korea
  • North Korea’s nation-building and its leadership changes
  • Political, economic, social and cultural changes both in South and North Korea
  • Challenges of globalisation and demographic changes in the two Koreas
  • The inter-Korean relationship and future of the Korean Peninsula

To help understand Korean culture, society and history in a broader regional and global context, the two Koreas will be compared with China, Japan and Taiwan where such comparisons are useful.

At the end of the semester students are expected to have a solid knowledge of the key features and issues on South and North Korean society, culture, economy, politics and international relations. Upon completing this course, students will be ready to take higher level courses on Korea and/or on Asian countries.


Coursework + exam

Availability 2020

Semester 2


Coordinator(s) Dr Changzoo Song


Coursework + exam


KOREAN 120: 15.0 points

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