Special cities of Korea

Special cities of Korea

In both North and South Korea, a special city, a metropolitan city, or a directly governed city is a city that has a status equivalent to that of a province (do). Hence, like the provinces, such cities are under the direct administration of the central governments.

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 (McCune-Reischauer: chikhalsi; revised: jikhalsi).

In the following tables, "Established" shows when the city split from the province it was located in.


North Korea

Position in hierarchy

Map of Directly Governed Cities in North Korea

Directly Governed Cities are the highest-ranked cities in North Korea.

The levels of cities in North Korea are:

  1. Directly Governed Cities
  2. Cities

Current North Korean directly governed cities

Directly Governed Cities of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Division name Chosŏn'gŭl Hancha Year of Split Province split from Population Density (/km²) Area (km²) Divisions
P'yŏngyang Directly Governed City 평양 직할시 平壤直轄市 1946 P'yŏngannam 3,255,388 1,019 3,194 List
Rasŏn Special City 라선 특별시 羅先特別市 2010 Hamgyŏngbuk 205,000 275 746 List


  • North Korea uses a variant of the McCune-Reischauer romanization.
  • Pyongyang 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. Also note that the official name of Pyongyang would be "Pyongyang-si" in the Republic of Korea, which officially claims to represent the entire peninsula.

List of defunct directly governed cities of North Korea

Defunct Directly Governed Cities of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea[1]
Division name Chosŏn'gŭl Hancha Province absorb into Administered Years
Ch'ŏngjin City 청진시 淸津市 Hamgyŏngpuk 1960–1967, 1977–1985
Hamhŭng City 함흥시 咸興市 Hamgyŏngnam 1960–1967
Kaesŏng City 개성시 開城市 Hwanghaepuk 1951–1955
Namp'o City 남포 특별시 南浦市 P'yŏngannam


The sources for this section are Chosun Ilbo's pages 행정구역 현황 ("Haengjeong Guyeok Hyeonhwang") and 행정구역 개편 일지 ("Haengjeong Guyeok Gaepyeon Ilji") (in Korean only; updated 2004).

South Korea

Administrative divisions
of South Korea
Provincial level
(道 도 do)
Special Self-Governing Province
(特別自治道 특별자치도 teukbyeoljachi-do)
Special city
(特別市 특별시 teukbyeol-si)
Metropolitan city
(廣域市 광역시 gwangyeok-si)
Municipal level
(市 시 si)
(郡 군 gun)
(區 구 gu)
(邑 읍 eup)
(面 면 myeon)
(洞 동 dong)
(里 리 ri)
Map of special city and metropolitan cities in South Korea

Position in hierarchy

Special City and Metropolitan Cities are the highest-ranked cities in South Korea.

Two levels of cities in South Korea:

  1. Special City or Metropolitan Cities
  2. Cities


In South Korean special city and metropolitan cities, the Mayor is the highest ranking official in charge. The Mayor is directly elected by the people registered in the city for a duration of four years. e.g. Mayor of Seoul.

Current South Korean special city and metropolitan cities

Special City and Metropolitan Cities of the Republic of Korea
Division name Hangul Hanja Year of Split Province split from Population Density (/km²) Area (km²) Divisions
Seoul Special City 서울 특별시 서울特別市 1946 Gyeonggi Province 10,464,051 17,288 605 List
Busan Metropolitan City 부산 광역시 釜山廣域市 1963 South Gyeongsang Province 3,574,340 4,666 766 List
Incheon Metropolitan City 인천 광역시 仁川廣域市 1981 Gyeonggi Province 2,710,579 2,810 965 List
Daegu Metropolitan City 대구 광역시 大邱廣域市 1981 North Gyeongsang Province 2,512,604 2,842 884 List
Gwangju Metropolitan City 광주 광역시 光州廣域市 1986 South Jeolla Province 1,415,953 2,824 501 List
Daejeon Metropolitan City 대전 광역시 大田廣域市 1989 South Chungcheong Province 1,442,857 2,673 540 List
Ulsan Metropolitan City 울산 광역시 蔚山廣域市 1997 South Gyeongsang Province 1,126,879 1,030 1,056 List
  • 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 transcription based on the pronunciation of "Seoul". As a suffix, the character gyeong (京) is used, which means "capital".
  • 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.

Proposed special autonomous city

Proposed Special Autonomous City of the Republic of Korea
Division name Hangul Hanja Year of Split Province split from Map
Sejong Special Autonomous City 세종 특별자치시 世宗特別自治市 2012 Chungcheongnam Sejong-si SK.png

See also


  1. ^ YUM (Yeungnam University Museum). Siji-eui Munhwayujeok VIII: Chwirakji Bonmun [Cultural Sites of Siji VIII: Settlement Site Text]. Research Report No. 33. Yeungnam University Museum, Gyeongsan, 1999b.

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