The Korean people are one of the main East Asian ethnic groups. Most Koreans live in the Korean Peninsula and speak the Korean language. Korea's population is highly homogeneous both ethnically and linguistically, with only small minorities, such as Chinese and Japanese, present in North and South Korea.
Koreans are generally believed to be of Altaic linguistic lineage, linking them with Tungusics, Mongolians and other Central Asians. Archaeological evidence suggest proto-Koreans were Altaic language speaking migrants from south-central Siberia, who populated ancient Korea in successive waves from neolithic age to bronze age.
Studies of classical genetic polymorphisms generally place the Koreans in a tight cluster with the Mongols and Manchus to their west and north. However, recent advances in the study of polymorphisms in the human Y-chromosome have produced evidence to suggest that the Korean people have a very long history as a distinct, mostly endogamous ethnic group, as male Koreans display a high frequency of Y-chromosomes belonging to Haplogroup O2b1 that are more or less specific to Korean populations. At least several thousand years before present, a few of these proto-Korean Haplogroup O2b1 patrilines appear to have crossed from Korea into the Japanese Archipelago, where they now comprise a very significant fraction of the male lineages extant among the Japanese and Ryukyuan populations. These apparently proto-Korean descendants in Japan,
however, seem to have experienced extensive genetic admixture with the long-established Jomon Period populations of the Japanese Archipelago, which has resulted in modern Japanese populations' displaying a somewhat different genetic profile from the Koreans on the continent.
Though they have interbred to some extent with other East Asian ethnic groups over the ages, Koreans have retained much of the physicalities of their Northern Mongoloid migration group, including tall stature, long bridged noses, higher cheekbones, and the Mongolian spot (monggo-banjeom), a genetic predisposition for a bluish birthmark on the lower body which remains until early childhood.
Although a variety of different Asian peoples had migrated to the Korean Peninsula in past centuries, very few have remained permanently, so by 1990 both South Korea and North Korea were among the world's most ethnically homogeneous nations. The number of indigenous minorities was negligible. In South Korea, people of foreign origin, including Westerners, Chinese, and Japanese, were a small percentage of the population whose residence was generally temporary.
Koreans tend to equate nationality or citizenship with membership in a single, homogeneous ethnic group or "race" (minjok, in Korean). A common language and culture also are viewed as important elements in Korean identity. The idea of multiracial or multiethnic nations, like India or the United States, strikes many Koreans as odd or even contradictory. Consciousness of homogeneity is a major reason why Koreans on both sides of the DMZ viewed their country's division as an unnatural and unnecessary tragedy.
Against the background of ethnic homogeneity, however, significant regional differences exist. Within South Korea, the most important regional difference is between the Gyeongsang region, embracing Gyeongsangbuk-do and Gyeongsangnam-do provinces in the southeast, and the Jeolla region, embracing Jeollabuk-do and Jeollanam-do provinces in the southwest. The two regions, separated by the Jiri Massif, nurture a rivalry said to reach back to the Three Kingdoms Period, which lasted from the fourth century to the seventh century A.D., when the kingdoms of Baekje and Silla struggled for control of the peninsula. Observers noted that interregional marriages are rare, and that as of 1990 a new fourlane highway completed in 1984 between Gwangju and Daegu, the capitals of Jeollanam-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do, completed in 1984, had not been successful in promoting travel between the two areas.
South Korea's political elite, including presidents Park Chung-hee, Chun Doo-hwan, and Roh Tae-woo, have come largely from the Gyeongsang region. As a result, Gyeongsang has been a special beneficiary of government development assistance.
By contrast, the Jeolla region has remained comparatively rural, undeveloped, and poor. Chronically disaffected, its people rightly or wrongly have a reputation for rebelliousness. Regional bitterness was intensified by the May 1980 Gwangju massacre, in which about 200 and perhaps many more inhabitants of the capital of Jeollanam-do were killed by Chun Doo-hwan's troops sent to quell the citizens and student's demonstration against military coup regime. The demonstration against military regime were occurred all over the country, but only Gwangju was chosen and heavily damaged. Many of the troops reportedly were from the Gyeongsang region.
Regional stereotypes, like regional dialects, have been breaking down under the influence of centralised education, nationwide media, and the several decades of population movement since the Korean War. Stereotypes remain important, however, in the eyes of many South Koreans. For example, the people of Gyeonggi-do, surrounding Seoul, are often described as being cultured, and Chungcheong people, inhabiting the region embracing Chungcheongbuk-do and Chungcheongnam-do provinces, are thought to be mild-mannered, manifesting true yangban virtues. The people of Gangwon-do in the northeast were viewed as poor and stolid, while Koreans from the northern provinces of P'yongang, Hwanghae, and Hamgyong, now in North Korea, are perceived as being diligent and aggressive. Jeju-do is famous for its strong-minded and independent women.
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