Special cities of Korea

From Academic Kids

In North and South Korea, Special cities, Metropolitan Cities, and Directly Governed Cities are cities that have a status equivalent to that of Provinces (Do). Hence, like the provinces, such cities are under the direct administration of the central government.

As of 2004, there are two Directly Governed Cities (Chikhalsi; 직할시; 直轄市) and three other special provincial-level administrative regions in North Korea; and one Special City (Teukbyeolsi; 특별시; 特別市) and six Metropolitan Cities (Gwangyeoksi; 광역시; 廣域市) in South Korea. Before 1995, the five largest Gwangyeoksi in South Korea were classified as Chik'alshi (i.e. Chikhalsi in standard (North Korean) transliteration, as it was romanized at the time; now spelled Jikhalsi in the Revised Romanization of Korean).

In the following tables, "Split time" means "When the city split from the province it was located in."


North Korea

Table 1: Directly Governed Cities and Special Administrative Regions of North Korea

Note: North Korea uses McCune-Reischauer Romanization.

Transliteration Han'gŭl Hanja Split time Province split from
P'yŏngyang Chikhalsi (Note: The city is classified as a Directly Governed City (Chikhalsi), not a Special City as Seoul in South Korea. In fact, the North Korean national newspaper and broadcasting say "Pyongyang Chikhalsi". Some sources, most of them come from South Korea, refer the city as a Special City; however these are the old sources. Moreover, South Korea has corrected the city as a Directly Governed City, according to a South Korean newspaper in 1994.) 평양 직할시 平壤直轄市 1946 S. P'yŏngan
Rasŏn (Rajin-Sŏnbong) Chik'alshi 라선 (라진-선봉) 직할시 羅先 (羅津-先鋒) 直轄市 1993 N. Hamgyŏng
Sinŭiju T'eukpyŏl Haengjŏnggu
(Sinŭiju Special Administrative Region)
신의주 특별 행정구 新義州特別行政區 2002 N. P'yŏngan
Kaesŏng Kong-ŏp Chigu
(Kaesŏng Industrial Region)
개성 공업 지구 開城工業地區 2002 Formerly the North Korean section of Kyŏnggi Province
Kŭmgang-san Kwangwang Chigu
(Kŭmgang-san Tourist Region)
금강산 관광 지구 金剛山觀光地區 2002 Kangwŏn

Former Directly Governed Cities

  • Ch'ŏngjin City (Chŏngjin-shi; 청진시; 淸津市) was a Directly Governed City from 1960 to 1967 and again from 1977 to 1985, but is now part of North Hamgyŏng Province.
  • Hamhŭng City (함흥시; 咸興市) was a Directly Governed City from 1960 to 1967, but is now part of South Hamgyŏng Province.
  • Kaesŏng City (개성시; 開城市) (distinct from Kaesŏng Industrial Region) was a designated Region (Chigu; 지구; 地區) from 1951 to 1955 and a Directly Governed City from 1955 to 2003, but is now part of North Hwanghae Province.
  • Namp'o Special City (Namp'o Tŭkkŭpshi; 남포 특급시; 南浦特級市) was a Directly Governed City from 1980 to 2004, but is now part of South P'yŏng'an Province.


The sources for this section are Chosun Ilbo's pages 행정구역 현황 ("Haengjeong Guyeok Hyeonhwang") (http://nk.chosun.com/map/map.html?ACT=geo_01) and 행정구역 개편 일지 ("Haengjeong Guyeok Gaepyeon Ilji") (http://nk.chosun.com/map/map.html?ACT=geo_03) (in Korean only; updated 2004).

South Korea

Table 2: Special Cities and Metropolitan Cities of South Korea

Note: South Korea uses the Revised Romanization of Korean.

Transliteration Hangul Hanja Split time Province split from
Seoul Teukbyeolsi 서울 특별시 See note below August 15, 1946 Gyeonggi
Busan Gwangyeoksi 부산 광역시 釜山廣域市 January 1, 1963 S. Gyeongsang
Daegu Gwangyeoksi 대구 광역시 大邱廣域市 July 1, 1981 N. Gyeongsang
Incheon Gwangyeoksi 인천 광역시 仁川廣域市 July 1, 1981 Gyeonggi
Gwangju Gwangyeoksi 광주 광역시 光州廣域市 November 1, 1986 S. Jeolla
Daejeon Gwangyeoksi 대전 광역시 大田廣域市 January 1, 1989 S. Chungcheong
Ulsan Gwangyeoksi 울산 광역시 蔚山廣域市 July 15, 1997 S. Gyeongsang



  • There is no Hanja for "Seoul," but in Chinese, it is written by its Joseon Dynasty name Hanseong (漢城). The new Chinese name, 首爾/首尔, is a transciption based on pronunciation of "Seoul". As a prefix, the character gyeong (京) is used, which means "capital" and comes from Gyeongseong (Japanese Keijo), the name of the city during the Japanese Colonial Period.
  • Seoul was designated a "Special Free City" (Teukbyeol Jayusi; 특별 자유시; 特別自由市) separate from Gyeonggi Province on August 15, 1946; it became a "Special City" on August 15, 1949.

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