Jeollanam-do province covers the southwest tip of the Korean peninsula, a fragmented fringe of islands and irregular coastline. Like every other province in South Korea, it is largely covered with mountains, but the fertile lowlands around the coast make it the agricultural breadbasket of Korea: farmers comprise 25% of its households (compared to the 7% national average). Checkered fields of rice, barley, and wheat are everywhere, dotted with small villages at the intersections of roads.
The provinces in present-day Korea date from the Joseon dynasty, when all of Korea—North and South—was divided into eight provinces, each one named after two of its principal cities. This southwestern province had Jeonju and Naju; take the first syllable of each and it becomes Jeon-na, or Jeolla if you follow Korean pronunciation rules (Chinese characters are involved, which complicates things). By this system California might be called Los-San. The rule applies similarly to most of the other provinces in Korea.
But if the naming conventions are the same, everything else about it is different. It’s the most typically “backward” province in the small country, due mostly to its rural constituency and a historic repression begun under the longest dynasty and continued, though slightly abated, in modern politics. The region is notable for dissent and major uprisings against the national government, and has long lacked significant support for its development. Continue reading