(The following is my interpretation of the history of Korea. It is hopefully accurate, but it might not be so.)

**Geography**: Korea is relatively small (South Korea and North Korea are each about 5 times larger than Israel, with North Korea being slightly larger). South Korea has about 49 million people, then north somewhere between 15-22 million (nobody really knows). South Korea has a western economy with GDP (per person) on the par with Israel. S. Korea is quite dense (about 25% denser than Israel).

The country is very mountainous in the north, where it shares a long border with China and a short border with Russia. The border between North Korea and South Korea is along the DMZ which is just north of the 38th parallel.

**History**: Korea for most of its history was a pawn in a game played by greater powers around it. The Silla kingdom started in the south of Korea and expanded to the north. Reaching an agreement with China (which grabbed some part of Manchuria north of Korea) this Kingdom unified the current day Korea into a single country around 1312 BI (Before Internet = 668 AD).

Korea was occupied by the Mongols around 1273 – but this required a long and costly six campaigns, in the end of which the Mongols accepted the fact that Korea would not be directly controled by them.

Culture moved from China into Korea, and from there into Japan. As such, Japanese were viewed as primitives by Korean. The first real trouble started in 1300s, when the Mongols tried invading Japan from Korea (after occupying Korea) twice. In both cases, luck, stiff resistance by the Japanese, and really bad weather that sank the invading armada (twice) saved Japan from invasion. (The “holy” wind that saved Japan from invasion, is called in Japanese Kamikaze.)

At the time, Korea was a unified country with vassal connection to China (an over simplification, I know) – elaborate gifts were given to the Chinese emperor every year (but he gave back gifts that were not quite as large but still significant). The understanding was that Korea would be helped by China in a case of need.

And now we move forward to 1590s when Japan – unified for the first time after a hundred years of brutal civil war (already using western arquebuses [guns]) – worried by the unemployment of its samurais, decide to invade China. The Japanese ask nicely the Korean king to let their army pass, who (naturally) refused. And the Japanese happily invades (twice). Brilliant victories in the sea by Yi Sun-sin, and Chinese help caused the Japanese to fail.

Korea than closed itself to the world (staying in connection with China) and trading with Japan in a limited way. No Europeans were allowed in, and Korea stayed closed to the world till 1880s, where our story will continue.

(You got to love countries that close themselves from the outside world for hundreds of years. Kind of simplify history. Just think about how world history would have been simpler if Bismark would have closed Germany for the outside world for, say, a hundred years, just in time for the first internet cafes.)

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