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, and now K-food, become such a global phenomenon? Will the country ever be unified? 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 (and K-food) it is important to get deep insights into Korea’s history, tradition, culture, society, politics and economy.

Today South Korea is characterised by its unique tradition, vibrant society, dynamic democracy, 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 military hegemony, has followed a development path which is radically different from that of the South. The country’s leader Kim Il Sung had launched the tragic Korean War in 1950 with the intention of unifying the two Koreas but in vain. Since then North Korea has been ruled by the Kim family with principles of socialism and "self-reliance" (juche). However, the country’s economy declined seriously after the 1980s. 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 these changes have not brought much positive results, 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 and relative decline of the US power?

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

  • How the modern Korean nation developed and then divided when the Pacific War ended
  • Korea’s identity and relationship with its neighbours, China, Japan, Russia and the US
  • Korea’s religious and philosophical traditions and values and their changes in modern times
  • The economic, social, and political changes of South and North Korea through the mid-20th and early 21st century
  • North Korea’s nation-building, political and economic development
  • Challenges and benefits of globalisation and demographic changes in the two Koreas
  • The inter-Korean relationship and future of the Korean Peninsula
  • Korean popular culture including the K-food

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 you 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, you will be ready to take higher level courses on Korea and/or on Asian countries.


Coursework + exam

Availability 2021

Semester 2


Coordinator(s) Dr Changzoo Song


Readings will be available through CANVAS/Talis.


Coursework + exam


KOREAN 120: 15.0 points

Contact details | Search | Accessibility | Copyright | Privacy | Disclaimer | 1