Provinces of Korea

From New World Encyclopedia
A map of Korea, 1757

Korea's provinces describes the historical evolution of provinces in Korea (Do ; Hangul: 도; Hanja: ). For current administrative divisions, 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 eleventh century, preceded by provincial-level divisions (Ju and Mok) dating back to Unified Silla in the late seventh century.

Koreans represent one of the most, if not the most, homogeneous peoples in the world. Although that is true, Korea's still exhibit striking regional characteristics that all Koreans recognize. The Joseon dynasty government acknowledged those unique characteristics, redrawing provincial lines into eight provinces that have stayed firm to the present day. With the division of Korea, five new provinces have been created several to accommodate the division along the 38th parallel. Whether Korea maintains those new provinces after the reunification remains an open question.

Historical summary

During the Unified Silla Period (AD 668-935), Korea divided into nine Ju (주; ), an old word for "province" used to name both the kingdom's provinces and its provincial capitals. [1] After Goryeo defeated Silla and Later Baekje in 935 C.E. and 936 C.E. respectively, the new kingdom "was divided into one royal district (Ginae; 기내; 畿內) and twelve administrative districts (Mok; 목; )" (Nahm 1988), then redivided into ten provinces (Do). In 1009 the Goryeo dynasty redivided the country into one royal district, five provinces (Do) and two frontier districts (Gye; 계; ?). The name and concept of Do originated from the Chinese Dao.

After the Joseon Dynasty's established in 1392 C.E., the royal court redivided Korea into eight new provinces (Do) in 1413. The provincial boundaries closely reflected major regional and dialect boundaries, still often referred as the Eight Provinces (Paldo). In 1895, as part of the Gabo Reform, [[Emperor Gojong of Korea|King Gojong) redivided the country into twenty three districts (Bu; 부; ), replaced a year later by 13 new provinces. The 13 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 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 of Hwanghae, Gyeonggi, and Gangwon (Kangwŏn) divided into Soviet and American occupied sections. Seoul and P'yŏngyang received the special cities in 1946. Between 1946 and 1954, South and North Korea created five new provinces: 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 660 C.E., 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, a single power ruled most of the Korean peninsula. 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 Gangwon Province in the east. In 721 C.E., Silla solidified its northern boundary with Balhae (which replaced Goguryeo in the north) by building a wall between P'yŏngyang and Wŏnsan.

Silla located its capital, Geumseong (modern-day Gyeongju), and sub-capitals at Geumgwan-gyeong (Gimhae), Namwon-gyeong, Seowon-gyeong (Cheongju), Jungwon-gyeong (Chungju), and Bugwon-gyeong (Wonju). Silla divided into nine provinces (Ju): three in the pre-660 territory of Silla, and three 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 C.E., 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 conquered Later Baekje. Goryeo greatly expanded Songak greatly expanded with the new name 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 River. Goryeo constructed a wall from the Yalu River in the northwest to the Sea of Japan (East Sea) in the southeast, on the boundary between Goryeo and the northeastern Jurchen 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 12 administrative districts (Mok; 목; ). (Note that Gwangju-mok is modern-day Gwangju-si in Gyeonggi Province, not the larger Gwangju Metropolitan City.)

The Goryeo court soon redivided the twelve districts into ten provinces (Do; 도; ). 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 Goryeo royal court again redivided ten provinces, this time into five provinces (Do) and two frontier districts (Gye; 계; ?).

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. ^ 

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

The Eight Provinces of the Joseon Dynasty

A 1531 map of Korea
Provinces of Korea
Hangul 팔도
Hanja 八道
Revised Romanization Paldo
McCune-Reischauer P'alto

During most of the Joseon Dynasty, Korea divided into eight provinces (do; ; ). The eight provinces' boundaries remained unchanged for almost five centuries from 1413 C.E. to 1895 C.E., forming a geographic paradigm reflected in the Korean Peninsula's administrative divisions, dialects, and regional distinctions today. The names of the eight provinces today, in the same or similar form.

Provinces before 1895

In 1413 C.E. (the thirteenth year of the reign of King Taejong), the northeastern boundary of Korea extended to the Tumen River. The throne reorganized the country into eight provinces: Chungcheong, Gangwon, Gyeonggi, Gyeongsang, Jeolla, P'unghae (renamed Hwanghae in 1417), P'yŏngan, and Yŏnggil (eventually renamed Hamgyŏng in 1509).

Districts of 1895-1896

For almost 500 years, the eight-province system remained virtually unchanged. In 1895 (the 32nd year of the reign of King Gojong), Gojong abolished the five-century-old provincial system. On May 26 of that year—as part of the Gabo Reform—he redived the country into 23 districts, each named for the capital city or county of the district:

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

Restored provinces of 1896

The new system of districts lasted only one year, until August 4, 1896 (the 33rd year of King Gojong), when Gojong restored the former eight provinces, five of them (Chungcheong, Gyeongsang, Jeolla, Hamgyŏng, and P'yŏngan) divided into north and south halves to form a total of thirteen provinces. The resulting thirteen provinces—the eight traditional provinces, with five simply divided in half—remained unchanged through the eras of the Korean Empire (1897–1910) and the Japanese Colonial Period (1910–1945). Since the end of World War II and the division of Korea in 1945, special cities and administrative regions, along with a handful of new provinces, have been added in both the South and North.

Cultural significance of the Eight Provinces

Eight Provinces of Korea

The boundaries between the eight provinces followed, for the most part, rivers, mountain chains, and other natural boundaries, and consequently corresponded closely to dialect and cultural divisions. Because of that natural fit between the provincial boundaries and the real divisions in Korea, most of the provincial boundaries and names have survived in one form or another to today, and most Koreans maintain a keen awareness of the regional and dialect distinctions that still exist. For example, a famous regional rivalry exists between Gyeongsang and Jeolla residents, due to historic social, economic, and political differences. Most of the traditional provinces also had alternative regional names still used today (especially Honam, Yeongdong, and Yeongnam).

Modern-day usage

The term Paldo ("Eight Provinces") often represents shorthand for Korea as a whole, or to describes the traditional folk culture of Korea's regions. Thus, one sometimes finds such expressions as:

  • Paldo kimchi in reference to the many varieties of kimchi unique to particular regions of Korea;
  • Paldo Arirang to denote the hundreds of regional versions of the popular folk song Arirang; and
  • Paldo sori to broadly refer to the diversity of folk music (sori; "sounds") across Korea.

Cf. The four Provinces of Ireland—where reference to the ancient provinces refer to the entire Irish island.


With the exception of Gyeonggi (see note 2 below), each province took its name from the initial Hanja (Sino-Korean characters) of two of its principal cities, as shown in the following table.

Table of provinces

The table below lists the eight provinces in romanized spelling, Hangul and Hanja: the origin of their names; their capitals, dialects, and regional names; and the thirteen provinces that replaced them in 1896. The capitals and regional names come from the mid-nineteenth century usage. Since they unofficial, other regional names have also been used, but the ones in the table constitute the most widely used or representative.)

Province Hangul Hanja Name Origin Capital Regional Name Dialect Post-1896 Provinces
Chungcheong 충청도 忠淸道 Chungju,
Gongju Hoseo (1) Chungcheong
North / South
Gangwon 강원도 江原道 Gangneung,
Wonju Gwandong
(Yeongseo, Yeongdong (2))
Gyeonggi 경기도 京畿道 (See note) Hanseong
Gijeon (3) Seoul
Gyeongsang 경상도 慶尙道 Gyeongju,
Daegu Yeongnam Gyeongsang
North / South
Hamgyŏng 함경도 咸鏡道 Hamhŭng,
Hamhŭng Kwanbuk, Kwannam (4) Hamgyŏng
North / South
Hwanghae 황해도 黃海道 Hwangju,
Haeju Haesŏ Hwanghae
Hwanghae (5)
Jeolla 전라도 全羅道 Jeonju,
Naju (6)
Jeonju Honam Jeolla
Dialect (7)
North / South
P'yŏngan 평안도 平安道 P'yŏngyang,
P'yŏngyang Kwansŏ P'yŏngan
North / South

Notes: Eight Provinces of Korea Table

1. Pronounced "Ho-suh," not "Ho-zay-oh," as the spelling might suggest.
2. "Gwandong" is the name for the region as a whole, with "Yeongseo" denoting the western half of the province and "Yeongdong" the eastern half. "Yeongdong" is used more often than either of the other two terms, however, especially in reference to railway and road arteries that cross through Gangwon, connecting the Seoul and Yeongdong regions.
3. The province's name literally means "area within a 500-li (200-km) radius" (gi; ) of the "capital" (Gyeong; ), referring to the royal capital Hanseong (modern-day Seoul). The regional name "Gijeon" is obsolete. The twentieth-century term "Sudogwon" ("Capital Region") is used today to denote the Seoul-Incheon conurbation and that part of Gyeonggi Province that forms part of the same built-up, urban area.
4. "Kwanbuk" was used to designate either the province as whole, or only the northern part thereof. In the latter case, "Kwannam" was then used to denote the southern part of the province.
5. The modern-day division of the province into North and South did not occur until 1954.
6. The initial "n" in "Naju" is pronounced as "l" (lower-case "L") when it comes after another consonant; the final "n" in the "Jeon" of "Jeonju" is then assimilated to an "l" sound.
7. The distinctive Jeju Dialect is used on Jeju Island, which became a separate province in 1946.

Provinces since the division of Korea

Divided Korea

At the end of World War II in 1945, Korea divided into American and Soviet zones of occupation. (See Division of Korea for more information.) The peninsula 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.

The three provinces of Hwanghae, Gyeonggi, and Gangwon divided at 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 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 North and South Korea governments formed the new provinces of Jeju (in the south, in 1946) and Chagang (in the north, 1949) from parts of South Jeolla and North P'yŏngan respectively. In 1954, Ryanggang Province split from South Hamgyong.


  1. The Cantonese-English dictionary translates variously as "prefecture" or "department."

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • A Korean map of the world together 12 maps of the provinces of Korea. 1910. S.l: s.n. OCLC 4040197
  • Chʻoe, Yŏng-jun. 2005. Land and life a historical geographical exploration of Korea. Fremont, Calif: Jain Pub. Co. ISBN 9780895818355
  • McCune, Shannon Boyd-Bailey. 1980. Views of the geography of Korea, 1935-1960. Seoul, Korea: Korean Research Center. OCLC 6720715
  • Nahm, Andrew C. 1988. Korea: Tradition and Transformation; A History of the Korean People. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym International.
  • National Geographic Maps (Firm). 2003. Japan and Korea. Evergreen, CO: National Geographic Maps. OCLC 63982850
  • Ryu, Je-Hun. 2000. Reading the Korean cultural landscape. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym. ISBN 9781565911567


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