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Eastern Asia: History, Culture and Tradition (page 2)

Eastern Asia: History, Culture and Tradition

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Updated on Apr 27, 2010

North and South Korea

South of China, but just north of Japan, Korea has been invaded by both, in addition to Manchuria and Mongolia. In fact, the country has been batting back invaders for most of its 5,000-year existence.

As of World War II, Korea was one nation that had been occupied for 35 years by Japan. But at the close of the war, the country was divided in half. The Soviet Union was placed in charge of the northern half, and the U.S. was to oversee the South, with the idea that the country would eventually be reunified. Instead, Soviet-backed troupes eventually invaded (in 1950), pushing into South Korea. An armistice was signed three years later, but the peninsula is still formally divided into North Korea and South Korea—two separate countries with a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between them.

While both countries were accepted into the United Nations in 1991, North Korea withdrew from the armistice in 2009. The country is a single party state and officially a socialist one. Kim Jon-il, the son of Eternal President Kim Il-sung, currently rules it. North Korea is almost completely sealed off to outsiders.

South Korea is a democracy. Close to 70% of the country is mountainous, but South Korea is also known for its beautiful beaches—the country is surrounded by stunning coastline. While many people think “Seoul” when they hear South Korea, the country is more than its bustling cities—in fact, it has some of the most gorgeous national parks in all of Asia. The country has ancient temples and shrines, traditional teahouses, colorful festivals, and bustling lively markets, ripe for exploration.

Taiwan

This lush island off the coast of mainland China may not be as famous as its bigger neighbors, but its lush subtropical climate, beautiful mountains, hidden hot springs, and pulsing cities make it a study in contrasts. It is one of the most densely populated places in the world.

There’s evidence of humans living in Taiwan as far back as 30,000 years ago, but the Portuguese claimed to have “discovered” Taiwan in 1544. The sweet potato shaped island has been ruled by a variety of conquistadors: the Dutch, the Spanish, and the Japanese, among others. After World War II, Taiwan was wrested from the Japanese and given to China, but soon, civil war broke out on the mainland, and Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, followed by a stream of soldiers, intellectuals, and others who did not want to live under Chairman Mao and his Communist party.

Eastern Asian American History in the U.S.

The first Chinese Americans arrived in America as early as 1820, but it was the California Gold Rush that opened the floodgates in 1848. Chinese laborers mined for gold and other precious metals, and were also instrumental in building the western half of the Transcontinental Railroad. Immigration came to a virtual standstill with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1885, which prohibited entry for Chinese laborers and discriminated against Chinese in general. It lasted almost 50 years.

Korean and Japanese laborers first came to America in the late 1800’s to work in the sugar and pineapple plantations of Hawaii, and, to a smaller extent, as sharecroppers on the West Coast of the mainland. Because interracial marriage was strongly discouraged in these communities, picture brides became a common practice during this time. The Immigration Act of 1924 halted almost all immigration, but another wave of Korean immigrants came after the Korean War. In fact, 1 in 4 Korean Americans can trace their routes in America to a relative who came over as the wife of an American serviceman.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed an Executive Order, condemning Japanese Americans to internment camps for the duration of World War II. Despite this treatment, Japanese Americans formed the all-volunteer 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which became the most decorated military unit in U.S. history, with over 9,000 purple hearts between them.

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