Provinces of Korea

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This article describes the historical evolution of Korea's provinces (Do ; Hangul: 도; Hanja: 道). For detailed information on current administrative divisions, please see Administrative divisions of North Korea and Administrative divisions of South Korea.

Provinces (Do) have been the primary administrative division of Korea since the mid Goryeo dynasty in the early 11th century, and were preceded by provincial-level divisions (Ju and Mok) dating back to Unified Silla, in the late 7th century.


Historical summary

During the Unified Silla Period (AD 668-935), Korea was divided into nine Ju (주; 州), an old word for "province" that was used to name both the kingdom's provinces and its provincial capitals. (The editor's Cantonese-English dictionary translates 州 variously as "prefecture" or "department.")

After Goryeo defeated Silla and Later Baekje in 935 and 936 respectively, the new kingdom "was divided into one royal district [(Ginae; 기내; 畿內)] and twelve administrative districts [(Mok; 목; 牧)]" (Nahm 1988), which were soon redivided into ten provinces (Do). In 1009 the country was again redivided, this time into one royal district, five provinces (Do) and two frontier districts (Gye; 계; 界?). The name and concept of Do originated from the Chinese Dao.

After the Joseon Dynasty's rise to power and the formation of Joseon in 1392, the country was redivided into eight new provinces (Do) in 1413. The provincial boundaries closely reflected major regional and dialect boundaries, and are still often referred to in Korean today simply as the Eight Provinces (Paldo). In 1895, as part of the Gabo Reform, the country was redivided into 23 districts (Bu; 부; 府), which were replaced a year later by thirteen new provinces.

The thirteen provinces of 1896 included three of the original eight provinces, with the five remaining original provinces divided into north and south halves (Bukdo (북도; 北道) and Namdo (남도; 南道) respectively). The thirteen provinces remained unchanged throughout the Japanese Colonial Period.

With the surrender of Japan in 1945, the Korean peninsula was divided into Soviet (northern) and American (southern) zones of occupation, with the dividing line established along the 38th parallel. (See Division of Korea for more details.) As a result, three provinces—Hwanghae, Gyeonggi, and Gangwon (Kangwŏn)—were divided into Soviet- and American-occupied sections.

The special cities of Seoul and P'yŏngyang were formed in 1946. Between 1946 and 1954, five new provinces were created: Jeju in South Korea, and North and South Hwanghae, Chagang, and Ryanggang in North Korea.

Since 1954, provincial boundaries in both the North and South have remained unchanged. New cities and special administrative regions have been created, however: see Special cities of Korea for their history. For a comprehensive description of Korea's provinces and special cities today, please see Administrative divisions of North Korea and Administrative divisions of South Korea.

Provinces of Unified Silla

In AD 660, the southeastern kingdom of Silla conquered Baekje in the southwest, and in 668, Silla conquered Goguryeo in the north with the help of China's Tang Dynasty (see also Three Kingdoms of Korea). For the first time, most of the Korean peninsula was ruled by a single power. Silla's northern boundary ran through the middle of southern Goguryeo, from the Taedong River (which flows through P'yŏngyang) in the west to Wŏnsan in modern-day Kangwŏn Province in the east. In 721, Silla solidifed its northern boundary with Barhae (Bohai) (which replaced Goguryeo in the north) by building a wall between P'yŏngyang and Wŏnsan.

The country's capital was Geumseong (modern-day Gyeongju), and sub-capitals were located at Geumgwan-gyeong (Gimhae), Namwon-gyeong, Seowon-gyeong (Cheongju), Jungwon-gyeong (Chungju), and Bugwon-gyeong (Wonju).

The country was divided into 9 provinces (Ju): 3 in the pre-660 territory of Silla, and 3 each in the former kingdoms of Baekje and Goguryeo.

The table below lists the three preceding kingdoms, each province's name in the Roman alphabet, Hangul, and Hanja, as well as the provincial capital, and the equivalent modern-day province.

Former kingdom Province Hangul Hanja Capital Modern equivalent
Silla Yangju 양주 揚州 Yangju Eastern Gyeongsang
Gangju 강주 Gangju Western South Gyeongsang
Sangju 상주 尙州 Sangju Western North Gyeongsang
Baekje Muju 무주 Muju South Jeolla
Jeonju 전주 全州 Jeonju North Jeolla
Ungju 웅주 Gongju South Chungcheong
Goguryeo Hanju 한주 漢州 Hanju
North Chungcheong,
Gyeonggi, Hwanghae
Sakju 삭주 Sakju Western Gangwon
Myeongju 명주 Myeongju Eastern Gangwon

Provinces of Goryeo

In 892, Gyeon Hwon founded the kingdom of Later Baekje in southwestern Silla, and in 918, Wanggeon (King Taejo) established the kingdom of Goryeo in the northwest, with its capital at Songak (modern-day Kaesŏng). In 935, Goryeo conquered the remnants of Silla, and in 936, it conquered Later Baekje. Songak was greatly expanded and renamed Gaegyeong. Taejo expanded the country's territory by conquering part of the land formerly belonging to Goguryeo, in the northwest of the Korean peninsula, as far north as the Yalu (Amnok) River. A wall was constructed from the Yalu River in the northwest to the East Sea in the southeast, on the boundary between Goryeo and the northeastern Jurched territory.

The country had one capital (Gaegyeong) and three sub-capitals: Donggyeong (modern-day Gyeongju and the former capital of Silla), Namgyeong (modern-day Seoul), and Seogyeong (modern-day P'yŏngyang).

Originally, the country had one royal district (Ginae; 기내; 畿內) around Gaegyeong and twelve administrative districts (Mok; 목; 牧): (Note that Gwangju-mok is modern-day Gwangju in Gyeonggi Province, not the larger Gwangju Metropolitan City.)

The twelve districts were soon redivided into ten provinces (Do; 도; 道). Gwannae-do included the administrative districts of Yangju, Hwangju, Gwangju, and Haeju; Jungwon-do included Chungju and Cheongju; Hanam-do replaced Gongju; Gangnam-do replaced Jeonju; Yeongnam-do replaced Sangju; Sannam-do replaced Jinju; and Haeyang-do replaced Naju and Seungju; the three other new provinces were Yeongdong-do, Panbang-do, and Paeseo-do.

Finally, in 1009, the ten provinces were again redivided, this time into five provinces (Do) and two frontier districts (Gye; 계; 界?).

The table below lists the provinces of Silla, the administrative districts of Goryeo that replaced them, then the pre- and post-1009 provinces, as well as their modern equivalents. (Sources: Nahm 1988; [1] ( (in Korean); [2] ( (in Korean).)

Province of Silla Administrative district Pre-1009 province Post-1009 province Modern equivalent
Hanju Gyeonggi(京畿) Gyeonggi Gyeonggi Kaesŏng
Yangju-mok(揚州牧) Gwannae-do Seohae-do Hwanghae (?)
Hwangju-mok(黃州牧) North Hwanghae
Haeju-mok(海州牧) South Hwanghae
Gwangju-mok(廣州牧) Yanggwang-do Gyeonggi
Chungju-mok(忠州牧) Jungwon-do North Chungcheong
Ungju Cheongju-mok
Gongju-mok Hanam-do South Chungcheong
Jeonju Jeonju-mok(全州牧) Gangnam-do Jeolla-do North Jeolla
Muju Naju-mok Haeyang-do South Jeolla
Seungju (?)
Sangju Sangju-mok Yeongnam-do Gyeongsang-do North Gyeongsang
Gangju Jinju-mok Sannam-do Western South Gyeongsang
Yangju Yeongdong-do Eastern South Gyeongsang
Sakju ? Sakbang-do Gyoju-do Gangwon
Myeongju ? Donggye
-- -- Paeseo-do Bukgye Pyeongan

Provinces of Joseon

In 1413, Korea (at that time called Joseon) was divided into eight provinces: Chungcheong, Gangwon, Gyeonggi, Gyeongsang, Jeolla, Hamgyŏng (originally called Yeonggil), Hwanghae (originally called P'unghae, and P'yŏngan.

For detailed information on the eight provinces of Joseon—an important subject for understanding Korea's modern geography—please see Eight Provinces (Korea), as well as the articles on the individual provinces, as listed above.

Districts of Late Joseon

In 1895, Korea was redivided into 23 districts (Bu; 부; 府), each named for the city or county that was its capital. The districts were short-lived, however, as the following year, the provincial system was restored (see below).

Each district name in the following list links to the article on the province from which the district was formed, and where more detailed information on the district is provided:

Andong, Chuncheon, Chungju, Daegu, Dongnae, Gangneung, Gongju, Haeju, Hamhŭng, Hanseong, Hongju, Incheon, Jeju, Jeonju, Jinju, Kaesŏng, Kanggye, Kapsan, Kyŏngsŏng, Naju, Namwon, P'yŏngyang, Ŭiju

Provinces of the Korean Empire

In 1896, the former eight provinces were restored, with five of them (Chungcheong, Gyeongsang, Jeolla, Hamgyŏng, and P'yŏngan) being divided into North and South Provinces (Bukdo (북도; 北道) and Namdo (남도; 南道) respectively). The resulting system of thirteen provinces lasted through the entire Japanese Colonial Period, until the Division of Korea in 1945.

The thirteen provinces were: North and South Chungcheong, Gangwon, Gyeonggi, North and South Gyeongsang, North and South Hamgyŏng, Hwanghae, North and South Jeolla, and North and South P'yŏngan.

Provinces since the division of Korea

At the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was divided into American and Soviet zones of occupation. (See Division of Korea for more information.) The peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel, with the Americans controlling the south half of the peninsula and the Soviets controlling the north half. In 1948, the two zones became the independent countries of North and South Korea.

3 provinces—Hwanghae, Gyeonggi, and Gangwon—were divided by the 38th parallel.

  • Most of Hwanghae Province belonged to the Soviet (northern) zone. The southern portion became part of Gyeonggi Province in the south.
  • Most of Gyeonggi Province belonged to the American (southern) zone. In 1946, the northern portion became part of Kangŏn Province in the north (see next item).
  • Gangwon Province was divided roughly in half, to form modern-day Gangwon Province in South Korea and Kangwŏn Province in North Korea. The northern province is expanded in 1946 to include the northern portion of Gyeonggi Province and the southern portion of South Hamgyong Province (around the city of Wŏnsan).

Also in 1946, the cities of Seoul in the south and P'yŏngyang in the north separated from Gyeonggi and South P'yŏngan Provinces respectively to become Special Cities. Finally, the new provinces of Jeju (in the south, in 1946) and Chagang (in the north, 1949) were formed, from parts of South Jeolla and North P'yŏngan respectively. In 1954, Ryanggang Province split from South Hamgyong.

For more details, see the articles Administrative divisions of South Korea and Administrative divisions of North Korea, as well as the articles on the thirteen provinces of the Korean Empire and the individual articles linked to in this section.


Nahm, Andrew C. (1988). Korea: Tradition and Transformation - A History of the Korean People. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym International.

See also

External links

For other integral meanings of Do in East Asian cultures, see Do.ko:한국의 도


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