The Lower Paleolithic era in the Korean Peninsula and Manchuria began roughly half a million years ago. The earliest known Korean pottery dates to around 8000 BCE, and the Neolithic period began after 6000 BCE, followed by the Bronze Age by 2000 BCE, and the Iron Age around 700 BCE.
The Gija Joseon state was purportedly founded in 12th century BC. Its existence and role has been controversial in the modern era, and seen as likely mythology. The first written historical record on Gojoseon can be found from the early 7th century BCE. The Jin state was formed in southern Korea by the 3rd century BCE. In the 2nd century BCE, Gija Joseon was replaced by Wiman Joseon, which fell to the Han dynasty of China near the end of the century. This resulted in the fall of Gojoseon and led to succeeding warring states, the Proto-Three Kingdoms period that spanned the later Iron Age.
From the 1st century, Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla grew to control the peninsula and Manchuria as the Three Kingdoms of Korea (57 BCE-668 CE), until unification by Silla in 676. In 698, Go of Balhae established the Kingdom of Balhae (c.f. modern Bohai Sea) in old territories of Goguryeo, which led to the North-South States Period (698-926) of Balhae and Silla coexisting.
In the late 9th century, Silla was divided into the Later Three Kingdoms (892-936), which ended with the unification by Wang Geon's Goryeo dynasty. Meanwhile, Balhae fell after invasions by the Khitan Liao dynasty and the refugees including the last crown prince emigrated to Goryeo, where the crown prince was warmly welcomed and included into the ruling family by Wang Geon, thus unifying the two successor states of Goguryeo. During the Goryeo period, laws were codified, a civil service system was introduced, and culture influenced by Buddhism flourished. However, Mongol invasions in the 13th century brought Goryeo under its influence until the mid-14th century.
In 1392, General Yi Seong-gye established the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) after a coup d'état that overthrew the Goryeo dynasty in 1388. King Sejong the Great (1418-1450) implemented numerous administrative, social, scientific, and economic reforms, established royal authority in the early years of the dynasty, and personally created Hangul, the Korean alphabet.
After enjoying a period of peace for nearly two centuries, the Joseon dynasty faced foreign invasions and internal factional strife from 1592 to 1637. Most notable of these invasions is the Japanese invasions of Korea, which marked the end of the Joseon dynasty's early period. The combined force of Ming dynasty of China and the Joseon dynasty repelled these Japanese invasions, but at cost to the countries. Henceforth, Joseon gradually became more and more isolationist and stagnant. By the mid 19th century, with the country unwilling to modernize, and under encroachment of European powers, Joseon Korea was forced to sign unequal treaties with foreign powers. After the assassination of Empress Myeongseong in 1895, the Donghak Peasant Revolution, and the Gabo Reforms of 1894 to 1896, the Korean Empire (1897-1910) came into existence, heralding a brief but rapid period of social reform and modernization. However, in 1905, the Korean Empire signed a protectorate treaty and in 1910, Japan annexed the Korean Empire.
Korean resistance manifested in the widespread nonviolent March 1st Movement of 1919. Thereafter the resistance movements, coordinated by the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in exile, became largely active in neighboring Manchuria, China, and Siberia, influenced by Korea's peaceful demonstrations. Figures from these exile organizations would become important in post-WWII Korea.
After the end of World War II in 1945, the Allies divided the country into a northern area (protected by the Soviets) and a southern area (protected primarily by the United States). In 1948, when the powers failed to agree on the formation of a single government, this partition became the modern states of North and South Korea. The peninsula was divided at the 38th Parallel: the "Republic of Korea" was created in the south, with the backing of the US and Western Europe, and the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" in the north, with the backing of the Soviets and the communist People's Republic of China. The new premier of North Korea, Kim il-Sung, launched the Korean War in 1950 in an attempt to reunify the country under Communist rule. After immense material and human destruction, the conflict ended with a cease-fire in 1953. In 2018, the two nations agreed to work toward a final settlement to formally end the Korean War. In 1991, both states were accepted into the United Nations.
While both countries were essentially under military rule after the war, South Korea eventually liberalized. Since 1987 it has had a competitive electoral system. The South Korean economy has prospered, and the country is now considered to be fully developed, with a similar capital economic standing to Western Europe, Japan, and the United States.
North Korea has maintained totalitarian militarized rule, with a personality cult constructed around the Kim family. Economically, North Korea has remained heavily dependent on foreign aid. Following the end of the Soviet Union, that aid collapsed precipitously. The country's economic situation has been quite marginal since.
No fossil proven to be Homo erectus has been found in the Korean Peninsula, though a candidate has been reported. Tool-making artifacts from the Palaeolithic period have been found in present-day North Hamgyong, South Pyongan, Gyeonggi, and north and south Chungcheong Provinces of Korea, which dates the Paleolithic Age to half a million years ago, though it may have begun as late as 400,000 years ago or as early as 600,000-700,000 years ago.
The earliest known Korean pottery dates back to around 8000 BCE, and evidence of Mesolithic Pit-Comb Ware culture (or Yunggimun pottery) is found throughout the peninsula, such as in Jeju Island. Jeulmun pottery, or "comb-pattern pottery", is found after 7000 BCE, and is concentrated at sites in west-central regions of the Korean Peninsula, where a number of prehistoric settlements, such as Amsa-dong, existed. Jeulmun pottery bears basic design and form similarities to that of Mongolia, the Amur and Sungari river basins of Manchuria, the J?mon culture in Japan, and the Baiyue in Southern China and Southeast Asia.
People in southern Korea adopted intensive dry-field and paddy-field agriculture with a multitude of crops in the Early Mumun Period (1500-850 BCE). The first societies led by big-men or chiefs emerged in the Middle Mumun (850-550 BC), and the first ostentatious elite burials can be traced to the Late Mumun (c. 550-300 BCE). Bronze production began in the Middle Mumun and became increasingly important in ceremonial and political society after 700 BCE. Archeological evidence from Songguk-ri, Daepyeong, Igeum-dong, and elsewhere indicate that the Mumun era was the first in which chiefdoms rose, expanded, and collapsed. The increasing presence of long-distance trade, an increase in local conflicts, and the introduction of bronze and iron metallurgy are trends denoting the end of the Mumun around 300 BCE.
The founding legend of Gojoseon, which is recorded in the Samguk Yusa (1281) and other medieval Korean books, states that the country was established in 2333 BCE by Dangun, said to be descended from heaven. While no evidence has been found that supports whatever facts may lie beneath this, the account has played an important role in developing Korean national identity. In the 12th century BCE, Gija, a prince from the Shang dynasty of China, purportedly founded Gija Joseon. However, due to contradicting historical and archaeological evidence, its existence was challenged in the 20th century, and today no longer forms the mainstream understanding of this period.
The historical Gojoseon kingdom was first mentioned in Chinese records in the early 7th century BCE. By about the 4th century BCE, Gojoseon had developed to the point where its existence was well known in China, and around this time, its capital moved to Pyongyang.
In 195 BCE, Jun of Gojoseon appointed a refugee from Yan, Wiman. Wiman later rebelled in 194 BCE, and Jun fled to the south of the Korean Peninsula. In 108 BCE, the Han dynasty defeated Wiman Joseon and installed four commanderies in the northern Korean peninsula. Three of the commanderies fell or retreated westward within a few decades, but the Lelang commandery remained as a center of cultural and economic exchange with successive Chinese dynasties for four centuries, until it was conquered by Goguryeo in 313.
Around 300 BCE, a state called Jin arose in the southern part of the Korean peninsula. Very little is known about Jin, but it established relations with Han China and exported artifacts to the Yayoi of Japan. Around 100 BCE, Jin evolved into the Samhan confederacies.
Several linguists, including Alexander Vovin and Juha Janhunen, suggest that Japonic languages were spoken in large parts of the southern Korean Peninsula. According to Vovin, these "Peninsular Japonic languages" were replaced by Koreanic-speakers (possibly belonging to the Han-branch). Thus it is possible that the Jin-language was related to Japanese. Janhunen also suggests that early Baekje was still predominantly Japonic-speaking before they got replaced or assimilated into the new Korean society.
The Bronze Age is often held to have begun around 900-800 BCE in Korea, though the transition to the Bronze Age may have begun as far back as 2300 BCE. Bronze daggers, mirrors, jewelry, and weaponry have been found, as well as evidence of walled-town polities. Rice, red beans, soybeans and millet were cultivated, and rectangular pit-houses and increasingly larger dolmen burial sites are found throughout the peninsula. Contemporaneous records suggest that Gojoseon transitioned from a feudal federation of walled cities into a centralised kingdom at least before the 4th-century BCE. It is believed that by the 4th century BCE, iron culture was developing in Korea by northern influence via today's Russia's Maritime Province.
The Proto-Three Kingdoms period, sometimes called the Several States Period (?), is the time before the rise of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, which included Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje, and occurred after the fall of Gojoseon. This time period consisted of numerous states that sprang up from the former territories of Gojoseon. Among these states, the largest and most influential were Dongbuyeo and Bukbuyeo.
After the fall of Gojoseon, Buyeo arose in today's North Korea and southern Manchuria, from about the 2nd century BCE to 494. Its remnants were absorbed by Goguryeo in 494, and both Goguryeo and Baekje, two of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, considered themselves its successor.
Although records are sparse and contradictory, it is thought that in 86 BCE, Dongbuyeo (East Buyeo) branched out, after which the original Buyeo is sometimes referred to as Bukbuyeo (North Buyeo). Jolbon Buyeo was the predecessor to Goguryeo, and in 538, Baekje renamed itself Nambuyeo (South Buyeo).
Okjeo was a tribal-state that was located in the northern Korean Peninsula, and was established after the fall of Gojoseon. Okjeo had been a part of Gojoseon before its fall. It never became a fully developed kingdom due to the intervention of its neighboring kingdoms. Okjeo became a tributary of Goguryeo, and was eventually annexed into Goguryeo by Gwanggaeto Taewang in the 5th century.
Dongye was another small kingdom that was situated in the northern Korean Peninsula. Dongye bordered Okjeo, and the two kingdoms faced the same fate of becoming tributaries of the growing empire of Goguryeo. Dongye was also a former part of Gojoseon before its fall.
Sam-han (, ) refers to the three confederacies of Mahan, Jinhan, and Byeonhan. The Samhan were located in the southern region of the Korean Peninsula. The Samhan countries were strictly governed by law, with religion playing an important role. Mahan was the largest, consisting of 54 states, and assumed political, economic, and cultural dominance. Byeonhan and Jinhan both consisted of 12 states, bringing a total of 78 states within the Samhan. The Samhan were eventually conquered by Baekje, Silla, and Gaya in the 4th century.
Goguryeo was founded in 37 BCE by Jumong (posthumously titled as Dongmyeongseong, a royal given title). Later, King Taejo centralized the government. Goguryeo was the first Korean kingdom to adopt Buddhism as the state religion in 372, in King Sosurim's reign.
Goguryeo (also spelled as Kogury?) was also known as Goryeo (also spelled as Kory?), and it eventually became the source of the modern name of Korea.
The 3rd and 4th centuries were characterized by territorial competition with the Chinese and Xianbei, resulting in both losses and gains. Goguryeo initiated the Goguryeo-Wei War by attacking a Chinese fortress in 242 in an attempt to cut off Chinese access to its territories in Korea. Cao Wei of the Three Kingdoms of China retaliated by invading and destroying Hwando in 244. This forced the king to flee with Cao Wei in pursuit and broke Goguryeo's rule over the Okjeo and Ye, damaging its economy. The king eventually settled in a new capital, and Goguryeo focused on rebuilding and regaining control. In the early 4th century Goguryeo once again attacked the Chinese (now Sima Jin) to cut off their access to Korea and this time succeeded, and soon afterward conquered Lelang and Daifang ending the Chinese presence in Korea. However Goguryeo's expansion led to confrontation with the rising Xianbeis. The Xianbeis devastated Goguryeo's capital in the mid 4th century and the king retreated. Goguryeo eventually regrouped and began striking back in the late 4th century by King Gogukyang, culminating with the conquests of Gwanggaeto the Great.
Goguryeo reached its zenith in the 5th century, becoming a powerful empire and one of the great powers in East Asia, when Gwanggaeto the Great and his son, Jangsu, expanded the country into almost all of Manchuria, parts of Inner Mongolia, parts of Russia, and took the present-day city of Seoul from Baekje. Goguryeo experienced a golden age under Gwanggaeto and Jangsu, who both subdued Baekje and Silla during their times, achieving a brief unification of the Three Kingdoms of Korea and becoming the most dominant power of the Korean peninsula. Jangsu's long reign of 79 years saw the perfecting of Goguryeo's political, economic and other institutional arrangements.
Goguryeo was a highly militaristic state; in addition to contesting for control of the Korean Peninsula, Goguryeo had many military conflicts with various Chinese dynasties, most notably the Goguryeo-Sui War, in which Goguryeo defeated a huge force traditionally said to number over a million men,[note 2] and contributed to the Sui dynasty's fall.
In 642, the powerful general Yeon Gaesomun led a coup and gained complete control over Goguryeo. In response, Emperor Tang Taizong of China led a campaign against Goguryeo, but was defeated and retreated. After the death of Tang Taizong, his son Emperor Tang Gaozong allied with the Korean kingdom of Silla and invaded Goguryeo again, but was unable to overcome Goguryeo's stalwart defenses and was defeated in 662. However, Yeon Gaesomun died of a natural cause in 666 and Goguryeo was thrown into chaos and weakened by a succession struggle among his sons and younger brother, with his eldest son defecting to Tang and his younger brother defecting to Silla. The Tang-Silla alliance mounted a fresh invasion in 667, aided by the defector Yeon Namsaeng, and was finally able to conquer Goguryeo in 668.
After the collapse of Goguryeo, Tang and Silla ended their alliance and fought over control of the Korean Peninsula. Silla succeeded in gaining control over most of the Korean Peninsula, while Tang gained control over Goguryeo's northern territories. However, 30 years after the fall of Goguryeo, a Goguryeo general by the name of Dae Joyeong founded the Korean-Mohe state of Balhae and successfully expelled the Tang presence from much of the former Goguryeo territories.
Baekje was founded by Onjo, a Goguryeo prince and the third son of the founder of Goguryeo, in 18 BCE. Baekje and Goguryeo shared founding myths and originated from Buyeo. The Sanguo Zhi mentions Baekje as a member of the Mahan confederacy in the Han River basin (near present-day Seoul). It expanded into the southwest (Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces) of the peninsula and became a significant political and military power. In the process, Baekje came into fierce confrontation with Goguryeo and the Chinese commanderies in the vicinity of its territorial ambitions.
At its peak in the 4th century during the reign of King Geunchogo, Baekje absorbed all of the Mahan states and subjugated most of the western Korean peninsula (including the modern provinces of Gyeonggi, Chungcheong, and Jeolla, as well as part of Hwanghae and Gangwon) to a centralized government. Baekje acquired Chinese culture and technology through maritime contacts with the Southern dynasties during the expansion of its territory.
Baekje was a great maritime power; its nautical skill, which made it the Phoenicia of East Asia, was instrumental in the dissemination of Buddhism throughout East Asia and continental culture to Japan. Baekje played a fundamental role in transmitting cultural developments, such as Chinese characters, Buddhism, iron-making, advanced pottery, and ceremonial burial to ancient Japan. Other aspects of culture were also transmitted when the Baekje court retreated to Japan after Baekje was conquered by the Silla-Tang alliance.
Baekje was once a great military power on the Korean Peninsula, especially during the time of Geunchogo, but was critically defeated by Gwanggaeto the Great and declined.[self-published source] Ultimately, Baekje was defeated by a coalition of Silla and Tang forces in 660.
According to legend, the kingdom of Silla began with the unification of six chiefdoms of the Jinhan confederacy by Bak Hyeokgeose in 57 BCE, in the southeastern area of Korea. Its territory included the present-day port city of Busan, and Silla later emerged as a sea power responsible for destroying Japanese pirates, especially during the Unified Silla period.
Silla artifacts, including unique gold metalwork, show influence from the northern nomadic steppes and Iranian peoples and especially Persians , with less Chinese influence than are shown by Goguryeo and Baekje. Silla expanded rapidly by occupying the Nakdong River basin and uniting the city-states.
By the 2nd century, Silla was a large state, occupying and influencing nearby city-states. Silla gained further power when it annexed the Gaya confederacy in 562. Silla often faced pressure from Goguryeo, Baekje and Japan, and at various times allied and warred with Baekje and Goguryeo.
Silla was the smallest and weakest of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, but it used cunning diplomatic means to make opportunistic pacts and alliances with the more powerful Korean kingdoms, and eventually Tang China, to its great advantage.
In 660, King Muyeol of Silla ordered his armies to attack Baekje. General Kim Yu-shin, aided by Tang forces, conquered Baekje. In 661, Silla and Tang moved on Goguryeo but were repelled. King Munmu, son of Muyeol and nephew of Kim, launched another campaign in 667 and Goguryeo fell in the following year.
Gaya was a confederacy of small kingdoms in the Nakdong River valley of southern Korea, growing out of the Byeonhan confederacy of the Samhan period. Gaya's plains were rich in iron, so export of iron tools was possible and agriculture flourished. In the early centuries, the Confederacy was led by Geumgwan Gaya in the Gimhae region. However, its leading power changed to Daegaya in the Goryeong region after the 5th century.
The term North-South States refers to Later Silla and Balhae, during the time when Silla controlled the majority of the Korean peninsula while Balhae expanded into Manchuria. During this time, culture and technology significantly advanced, especially in Later Silla.
After the unification wars, the Tang dynasty established outposts in the former Goguryeo, and began to establish and administer communities in Baekje. Silla attacked Tang forces in Baekje and northern Korea in 671. Tang then invaded Silla in 674 but Silla drove the Tang forces out of the peninsula by 676 to achieve unification of most of the Korean peninsula.
Later Silla was a golden age of art and culture. During this period, long-distance trade between Later Silla and the Abbasid Caliphate was documented by Persian geographer Ibn Khordadbeh in the Book of Roads and Kingdoms. Buddhist monasteries such as the World Heritage Sites Bulguksa temple and Seokguram Grotto are examples of advanced Korean architecture and Buddhist influence. Other state-sponsored art and architecture from this period include Hwangnyongsa Temple and Bunhwangsa Temple. Persian chronics described Silla as located at the eastern end of China and reads 'In this beautiful country Silla, there is much gold, majestetic cities and hardworking people. Their culture is comparable with Persia'.
Later Silla carried on the maritime prowess of Baekje, which acted like the Phoenicia of medieval East Asia, and during the 8th and 9th centuries dominated the seas of East Asia and the trade between China, Korea and Japan, most notably during the time of Jang Bogo; in addition, Silla people made overseas communities in China on the Shandong Peninsula and the mouth of the Yangtze River. Later Silla was a prosperous and wealthy country, and its metropolitan capital of Gyeongju was the fourth largest city in the world.
Buddhism flourished during this time, and many Korean Buddhists gained great fame among Chinese Buddhists and contributed to Chinese Buddhism, including: Woncheuk, Wonhyo, Uisang, Musang, and Kim Gyo-gak, a Silla prince whose influence made Mount Jiuhua one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Chinese Buddhism.
Silla began to experience political troubles in late 8th century. This severely weakened Silla and soon thereafter, descendants of the former Baekje established Hubaekje. In the north, rebels revived Goguryeo, beginning the Later Three Kingdoms period.
Balhae was founded only thirty years after Goguryeo had fallen, in 698. It was founded in the northern part of former lands of Goguryeo by Dae Joyeong, a former Goguryeo general or chief of Sumo Mohe. Balhae controlled the northern areas of the Korean Peninsula, much of Manchuria (though it didn't occupy Liaodong peninsula for much of history), and expanded into present-day Russian Primorsky Krai. Balhae styled itself as Goguryeo's successor state and inherited Goguryeo culture. It also adopted the culture of Tang dynasty, such as the government structure and geopolitical system.
In a time of relative peace and stability in the region, Balhae flourished, especially during the reigns of King Mun and King Seon. Balhae was called the "Prosperous Country in the East". However, Balhae was severely weakened and eventually conquered by the Khitan Liao dynasty in 926. Large numbers of refugees, including Dae Gwang-hyeon, the last crown prince of Balhae, were welcomed by Goryeo.Dae Gwang-hyeon was included in the imperial family of Wang Geon, bringing a national unification between the two successor nations of Goguryeo.
No historical records from Balhae have survived, and the Liao left no histories of Balhae. While Goryeo absorbed some Balhae territory and received Balhae refugees, it compiled no known histories of Balhae either. The Samguk Sagi ("History of the Three Kingdoms"), for instance, includes passages on Balhae, but does not include a dynastic history of Balhae. The 18th century Joseon dynasty historian Yu Deukgong advocated the proper study of Balhae as part of Korean history, and coined the term "North and South States Period" to refer to this era.
The Later Three Kingdoms period (892 - 936) consisted of Later Silla and the revival of Baekje and Goguryeo, known historiographically as "Later Baekje" and "Later Goguryeo". During the late 9th century, as Silla declined in power and exorbitant taxes were imposed on the people, rebellions erupted nationwide and powerful regional lords rose up against the waning kingdom.
Later Baekje was founded by the general Gyeon Hwon in 892, and its capital was established in Wansanju (modern Jeonju). The kingdom was based in the southwestern regions in the former territories of Baekje. In 927, Later Baekje attacked Gyeongju, the capital of Later Silla, and placed a puppet on the throne. Eventually, Gyeon Hwon was ousted by his sons due to a succession dispute and escaped to Goryeo, where he served as a general in the conquest of the kingdom he personally founded.
Later Goguryeo was founded by the Buddhist monk Gung Ye in 901, and its original capital was established in Songak (modern Kaesong). The kingdom was based in the northern regions, which were the strongholds of Goguryeo refugees. Later Goguryeo's name was changed to Majin in 904, and Taebong in 911. In 918, Wang Geon, a prominent general of Goguryeo descent, deposed the increasingly despotic and paranoid Gung Ye, and established Goryeo. By 936, Goryeo conquered its rivals and achieved the unification of the Later Three Kingdoms.
Goryeo was founded by Wang Geon in 918 and became the ruling dynasty of Korea by 936. It was named "Goryeo" because Wang Geon, a descendant of Goguryeo nobility, deemed the nation as the successor of Goguryeo. Wang Geon made his hometown Kaesong (in present-day North Korea) the capital. The dynasty lasted until 1392, although the government was controlled by military regime leaders between 1170 and 1270. Goryeo (also spelled as Kory?) is the source of the English name "Korea".
During this period, laws were codified and a civil service system was introduced. Buddhism flourished and spread throughout the peninsula. The development of celadon pottery flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries. The production of the Tripitaka Koreana onto 81,258 wooden printing blocks, and the invention of the metal movable type attest to Goryeo's cultural achievements.
In 1018, the Khitan Empire, which was the most powerful empire of its time, invaded Goryeo but was defeated by General Gang Gam-chan at the Battle of Kuju to end the Goryeo-Khitan War. After defeating the Khitan Empire, Goryeo experienced a golden age that lasted a century, during which the Tripitaka Koreana was completed, and there were great developments in printing and publishing, promoting learning and dispersing knowledge on philosophy, literature, religion, and science; by 1100, there were 12 universities that produced famous scholars and scientists.
In 1231, the Mongols began their invasions of Korea during seven major campaigns and 39 years of struggle, but were unable to conquer Korea. Exhausted after decades of fighting, Goryeo sent its crown prince to the Yuan capital to swear allegiance to the Mongols; Kublai Khan accepted, and married one of his daughters to the Korean crown prince, and for the following 80 years Goryeo existed under the overlordship of the Mongol-ruled Yuan dynasty in China. The two nations became intertwined for 80 years as all subsequent Korean kings married Mongol princesses, and the last empress of the Yuan dynasty was a Korean princess.[self-published source]
In the 1350s, the Yuan dynasty declined rapidly due to internal struggles, enabling King Gongmin to reform the Goryeo government. Gongmin had various problems that needed to be dealt with, including the removal of pro-Mongol aristocrats and military officials, the question of land holding, and quelling the growing animosity between the Buddhists and Confucian scholars. During this tumultuous period, Goryeo momentarily conquered Liaoyang in 1356, repulsed two large invasions by the Red Turbans in 1359 and 1360, and defeated the final attempt by the Yuan to dominate Goryeo when General Choe Yeong defeated an invading Mongol tumen in 1364. During the 1380s, Goryeo turned its attention to the Wokou menace and used naval artillery created by Choe Museon to annihilate hundreds of pirate ships.
The Goryeo dynasty would last until 1392. Taejo of Joseon, the founder of the Joseon dynasty, took power in a coup in 1388 and after serving as the power behind the throne for two monarchs, established the Joseon dynasty in 1392.
In 1392, the general Yi Seong-gye, later known as Taejo, established the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), named in honor of the ancient kingdom Gojoseon, and based on idealistic Confucianism-based ideology. The prevailing philosophy throughout the Joseon dynasty was Neo-Confucianism, which was epitomized by the seonbi class, scholars who passed up positions of wealth and power to lead lives of study and integrity.
Taejo moved the capital to Hanyang (modern-day Seoul) and built Gyeongbokgung palace. In 1394 he adopted Neo-Confucianism as the country's official religion, and pursued the creation of a strong bureaucratic state. His son and grandson, King Taejong and Sejong the Great, implemented numerous administrative, social, and economic reforms and established royal authority in the early years of the dynasty.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Joseon enjoyed many benevolent rulers who promoted education and science. Most notable among them was Sejong the Great (r. 1418-50), who personally created and promulgated Hangul, the Korean alphabet. This golden age saw great cultural and scientific advancements, including in printing, meteorological observation, astronomy, calendar science, ceramics, military technology, geography, cartography, medicine, and agricultural technology, some of which were unrivaled elsewhere.
Internal conflicts within the royal court, civil unrest and other political struggles plagued the nation in the years that followed, worsened by the Japanese invasion of Korea between 1592 and 1598. Toyotomi Hideyoshi marshalled his forces and tried to invade the Asian continent through Korea, but was eventually repelled by the Korean military, with the assistance of the righteous armies and Chinese Ming dynasty. This war also saw the rise of the career of Admiral Yi Sun-sin with the turtle ship. As Korea was rebuilding, it had to repel invasions by the Manchu in 1627 and 1636. Internal politics were bitterly divided and settled by violence. Historian JaHyun Kim Haboush, in the summary by her editor William Haboush in 2016, interpreted the decisive impact of the victories against the Japanese and Manchu invaders:
After the second Manchu invasion and stabilized relations with the new Qing dynasty, Joseon experienced a nearly 200-year period of external peace. However internally, the bitter and violent factional battles raged on. In the 18th century, King Yeongjo (reigned 1724-76) and his grandson King Jeongjo (reigned 1776-1800) led a new renaissance. Yeongjo and Jeongjo reformed the tax system which grew the revenue stream into the treasury, strengthened the military and sponsored a revival of learning. The printing press was rejuvenated by using movable metal type; the number and quality of publications sharply increased. Jeongjo sponsored scholars from various factions to work in the Kyujanggak, or Inner Royal Library, established in 1776.
However, corruption in government and social unrest prevailed in the years thereafter, causing numerous civil uprisings and revolts. The government made sweeping reforms in the late 19th century, but adhered to a strict isolationist policy, earning Korea the nickname "Hermit Kingdom". The policy had been established primarily for protection against Western imperialism, but soon the Joseon dynasty was forced to open trade, beginning an era leading into Japanese rule.
Korea's culture was based on the philosophy of Neo-Confucianism, which emphasizes morality, righteousness, and practical ethics. Wide interest in scholarly study resulted in the establishment of private academies and educational institutions. Many documents were written about history, geography, medicine, and Confucian principles. The arts flourished in painting, calligraphy, music, dance, and ceramics.
The most notable cultural event of this era is the creation and promulgation of the Korean alphabet Hunmin jeongeom (later called Hangul) by Sejong the Great in 1446. This period also saw various other cultural, scientific and technological advances.
During Joseon dynasty, a social hierarchy system existed that greatly affected Korea's social development. The king and the royal family were atop the hereditary system, with the next tier being a class of civil or military officials and landowners known as yangban, who worked for the government and lived off the efforts of tenant farmers and slaves.
A middle class, jungin, were technical specialists such as scribes, medical officers, technicians in science-related fields, artists and musicians. Commoners, i.e. peasants, constituted the largest class in Korea. They had obligations to pay taxes, provide labor, and serve in the military. By paying land taxes to the state, they were allowed to cultivate land and farm. The lowest class included tenant farmers, slaves, entertainers, craftsmen, prostitutes, laborers, shamans, vagabonds, outcasts, and criminals. Although slave status was hereditary, they could be sold or freed at officially set prices, and the mistreatment of slaves was forbidden.
This yangban focused system started to change in the late 17th century as political, economic and social changes came into place. By the 19th century, new commercial groups emerged, and the active social mobility caused the yangban class to expand, resulting in the weakening of the old class system. The Korea government ordered the freedom of government slaves in 1801. The class system of Korea was completely banned in 1894.
Korea dealt with a pair of Japanese invasions from 1592 to 1598 (Imjin War or the Seven Years' War). Prior to the war, Korea sent two ambassadors to scout for signs of Japan's intentions of invading Korea. However, they came back with two different reports, and while the politicians split into sides, few proactive measures were taken.
This conflict brought prominence to Admiral Yi Sun-sin as he contributed to eventually repelling the Japanese forces with the innovative use of his turtle ship, a massive, yet swift, ramming/cannon ship fitted with iron spikes. The use of the hwacha was also highly effective in repelling the Japanese invaders from the land.
Subsequently, Korea was invaded in 1627 and again in 1636 by the Manchus, who went on to conquer China and establish the Qing dynasty, after which the Joseon dynasty recognized Qing suzerainty. Though Joseon respected its traditional subservient position to China, there was persistent loyalty for the perished Ming and disdain for the Manchus, who were regarded as barbarians.
During the 19th century, Joseon tried to control foreign influence by closing its borders to all nations but China. In 1853 the USS South America, an American gunboat, visited Busan for 10 days and had amiable contact with local officials. Several Americans shipwrecked on Korea in 1855 and 1865 were also treated well and sent to China for repatriation. The Joseon court was aware of the foreign invasions and treaties involving Qing China, as well as the First and Second Opium Wars, and followed a cautious policy of slow exchange with the West.
In 1866, reacting to greater numbers of Korean converts to Catholicism despite several waves of persecutions, the Joseon court clamped down on them, massacring French Catholic missionaries and Korean converts alike. Later in the year France invaded and occupied portions of Ganghwa Island. The Korean army lost heavily, but the French abandoned the island.
The General Sherman, an American-owned armed merchant marine sidewheel schooner, attempted to open Korea to trade in 1866. After an initial miscommunication, the ship sailed upriver and became stranded near Pyongyang. After being ordered to leave by the Korean officials, the American crewmen killed four Korean inhabitants, kidnapped a military officer and engaged in sporadic fighting that continued for four days. After two efforts to destroy the ship failed, she was finally set aflame by Korean fireships laden with explosives.
This incident is celebrated by the DPRK as a precursor to the later USS Pueblo incident.
In response, the United States confronted Korea militarily in 1871, killing 243 Koreans in Ganghwa island before withdrawing. This incident is called the Sinmiyangyo in Korea. Five years later, the reclusive Korea signed a trade treaty with Japan, and in 1882 signed a treaty with the United States, ending centuries of isolationism.
Conflict between the conservative court and a reforming faction led to the Gapsin Coup in 1884. The reformers sought to reform Koreans institutionalized social inequality, by proclaiming social equality and the elimination of the privileges of the yangban class. The reformers were backed by Japan, and were thwarted by the arrival of Qing troops, invited by the conservative Queen Min. The Chinese troops departed but the leading general Yuan Shikai remained in Korea from 1885-1894 as Resident, directing Korean affairs.
Korea became linked by telegraph to China in 1888 with Chinese controlled telegraphs. China permitted Korea to establish embassies with Russia (1884), Italy (1885), France (1886), the United States, and Japan. China attempted to block the exchange of embassies in Western countries, but not with Tokyo. The Qing government provided loans. China promoted its trade in an attempt to block Japanese merchants, which led to Chinese favour in Korean trade. Anti-Chinese riots broke out in 1888 and 1889 and Chinese shops were torched. Japan remained the largest foreign community and largest trading partner.
After a rapidly modernizing Meiji Japan forced Korea to open its ports in 1876, it successfully challenged the Qing Empire in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), forcing it to abandon its long-standing claims to deference.
As a result of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki was concluded between China and Japan. It stipulated the abolition of traditional relationships Korea had with China, the latter of which recognised the complete independence of Joseon and repudiated the former's political influence over the area.
In 1897, Joseon was renamed the Korean Empire, and King Gojong became Emperor Gojong. The imperial government aimed to become a strong and independent nation by implementing domestic reforms, strengthening military forces, developing commerce and industry, and surveying land ownership. Organizations like the Independence Club also rallied to assert the rights of the Joseon people, but clashed with the government which proclaimed absolute monarchy and power.
Russian influence was strong in the Empire until being defeated by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Korea effectively became a protectorate of Japan on 17 November 1905, the 1905 Protectorate Treaty having been promulgated without Emperor Gojong's required seal or commission.
Following the signing of the treaty, many intellectuals and scholars set up various organizations and associations, embarking on movements for independence. In 1907, Gojong was forced to abdicate after Japan learned that he sent secret envoys to the Second Hague Conventions to protest against the protectorate treaty, leading to the accession of Gojong's son, Emperor Sunjong. In 1909, independence activist An Jung-geun assassinated It? Hirobumi, former Resident-General of Korea, for Ito's intrusions on the Korean politics. This prompted the Japanese to ban all political organisations and proceed with plans for annexation.
In 1910 Japan effectively annexed Korea by the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty. Along with all other prior treaties between Korea and Japan, this was confirmed to be null and void in 1965. While Japan asserts that the treaty was concluded legally, Korea disputes this argument: the treaty was not signed by the Emperor of Korea as required and it violated the international convention on external pressures regarding treaties.
Korea was controlled by Japan under a Governor-General of Korea from 1910 until Japan's unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces on 15 August 1945. De jure sovereignty was deemed to have passed from the Joseon dynasty to the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea.
After the annexation, Japan set out to repress Korean traditions and culture, and to develop and implement policies primarily for the Japanese benefit. Its officials constructed European-styled transport and communication networks across the nation in order to extract resources and labor. This infrastructure was mostly destroyed later during the Korean War. The banking system was consolidated and the Korean currency abolished. The Japanese removed the Joseon hierarchy, destroyed much of the Gyeongbokgung palace, and replaced it with the government office building.
After Emperor Gojong died in January 1919, with rumors of poisoning, independence rallies against Japanese invaders took place nationwide on 1 March 1919 (the March 1st Movement). This movement was suppressed by force and about 7,000 persons were killed by Japanese soldiers and police. An estimated 2 million people took part in peaceful, pro-liberation rallies, although Japanese records claim participation of less than half million. This movement was partly inspired by United States President Woodrow Wilson's speech of 1919, declaring support for right of self-determination and an end to colonial rule after World War I. No comment was made by Wilson on Korean independence. A pro-Japan faction in the USA sought trade inroads into China through the Korean peninsula.
The Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was established in Shanghai, China, in the aftermath of the March 1 Movement, which coordinated the Liberation effort and resistance against Japanese control. Some of the achievements of the Provisional Government include the Battle of Chingshanli of 1920 and the ambush of Japanese Military Leadership in China in 1932. The Provisional Government is considered to be the de jure government of the Korean people between 1919 and 1948. Its legitimacy is enshrined in the preamble to the constitution of the Republic of Korea.
Continued anti-Japanese uprisings, such as the nationwide uprising of students in November 1929, led to the Japanese strengthening their military rule in 1931. After the outbreaks of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and World War II, Japan attempted to destroy Korea as a nation. The continuance of Korean culture itself began to be illegal. Worship at Japanese Shinto shrines was made compulsory.
The school curriculum was radically modified to eliminate teaching in the Korean language and history. The Korean language was banned, Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese names, and newspapers were prohibited from publishing in Korean. Numerous Korean cultural artifacts were destroyed or taken to Japan. According to an investigation by the South Korean government, 75,311 cultural assets were taken from Korea.
Some Koreans left the Korean peninsula to exile in Manchuria and Primorsky Krai. Koreans in Manchuria formed resistance groups known as Dongnipgun (Liberation Army); they would travel in and out of the Sino-Korean border, fighting guerrilla warfare with Japanese forces. Some of them would group together in the 1940s as the Korean Liberation Army, which took part in allied action in China and parts of South East Asia. Tens of thousands of Koreans also joined the Peoples Liberation Army and the National Revolutionary Army.
During World War II, Koreans at home joined or were forced to support the Japanese war effort. Hundreds of thousands of men were conscripted into Japan's military. Around 200,000 girls and women, many from China and Korea, were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers, with the euphemism "comfort women".
Korean nationalist historiography, centered on minjok, an ethnically or racially defined Korean nation, emerged in the early twentieth century among Korean intellectuals who wanted to foster national consciousness to achieve Korean independence from Japanese domination. Its first proponent was journalist and independence activist Shin Chaeho (1880-1936). In his polemical New Reading of History (Doksa Sillon), which was published in 1908 three years after Korea became a Japanese protectorate, Shin proclaimed that Korean history was the history of the Korean minjok, a distinct race descended from the god Dangun that had once controlled not only the Korean peninsula but also large parts of Manchuria. Shin and other Korean intellectuals like Park Eun-sik (1859-1925) and Choe Nam-seon (1890-1957) continued to develop these themes in the 1910s and 1920s. They rejected two prior ways of representing the past: the Neo-Confucian historiography of Joseon Korea's scholar-bureaucrats, which they blamed for perpetuating a servile worldview centered around China, and Japanese colonial historiography, which portrayed Korea as historically dependent and culturally backward. The work of these prewar nationalist historians has shaped postwar historiography in both North and South Korea. Despite ideological differences between the two regimes, the dominant historiography in both countries since the 1960s has continued to reflect nationalist themes, and this common historical outlook is the basis for talks about Korean unification.
Protestant Christian missionary efforts in Asia were quite successful in Korea. American Presbyterians and Methodists arrived in the 1880s and were well received. They served as medical and educational missionaries, establishing schools and hospitals in numerous cities. In the years when Korea was under Japanese control, some Koreans adopted Christianity as an expression of nationalism in opposition to the Japan's efforts to promote the Japanese language and the Shinto religion. In 1914 of 16 million Koreans, there were 86,000 Protestants and 79,000 Catholics. By 1934 the numbers were 168,000 and 147,000, respectively. Presbyterian missionaries were especially successful. Harmonizing with traditional practices became an issue. The Protestants developed a substitute for Confucian ancestral rites by merging Confucian-based and Christian death and funerary rituals.
At the Cairo Conference on November 22, 1943, the US, UK, and China agreed that "in due course Korea shall become free and independent"; at a later meeting in Yalta in February 1945, the Allies agreed to establish a four-power trusteeship over Korea. On August 14, 1945, Soviet forces entered Korea by amphibious landings, enabling them to secure control in the north. Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces on August 15, 1945.
The unconditional surrender of Japan, combined with fundamental shifts in global politics and ideology, led to the division of Korea into two occupation zones, effectively starting on September 8, 1945. The United States administered the southern half of the peninsula and the Soviet Union took over the area north of the 38th parallel. The Provisional Government was ignored, mainly due to American belief that it was too aligned with the communists. This division was meant to be temporary and was intended to return a unified Korea back to its people after the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and Republic of China could arrange a single government.
In December 1945, a conference convened in Moscow to discuss the future of Korea. A 5-year trusteeship was discussed, and a joint Soviet-American commission was established. The commission met intermittently in Seoul but members deadlocked over the issue of establishing a national government. In September 1947, with no solution in sight, the United States submitted the Korean question to the United Nations General Assembly. On December 12, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations recognised the Republic of Korea as the sole legal government of Korea.
In June 25, 1950, the Korean War broke out when North Korea breached the 38th parallel line to invade the South, ending any hope of a peaceful reunification for the time being. After the war, the 1954 Geneva conference failed to adopt a solution for a unified Korea. Approximately 3 million people died in the Korean War, with a higher proportional civilian death toll than World War II or the Vietnam War, making it perhaps the deadliest conflict of the Cold War-era. In addition, virtually all of Korea's major cities were destroyed by the war.
Beginning with Syngman Rhee, a series of autocratic governments took power in South Korea with American support and influence.
With the coup of General Park Chung-Hee in 1961, a protectionist economic policy began, pushing a bourgeoisie that developed in the shadow of the State to reactivate the internal market. In order to promote development, a policy of industrialization by import substitution was applied, closing the entry into the country of all kinds of foreign products, except raw materials. Nor did they resort to foreign investment. An agrarian reform was carried out with expropriation without compensation of Japanese large estates. General Park nationalized the financial system to swell the powerful state arm, whose intervention in the economy was through five-year plans.
The spearhead was the chaeboles, those diversified family conglomerates such as Hyundai, Samsung and LG Corporation, which received state incentives such as tax breaks, legality for their hyper-exploitation system and cheap or free financing: the state bank facilitated the planning of concentrated loans by item according to each five-year plan, and by economic group selected to lead it. Until 1961, South Korea received a 3100 million dollar donation from the United States, a very high figure for the time, a privilege for being on the hottest frontier of the Cold War. This policy of foreign economic and military support continued for decades.
Many of those who were the labour force of the South Korean economy working in conditions close to slavery in the 1950s and 1960s, reached old age in misery, as it was only in the 1980s that a retirement regime was created. So much hyperproduction and exploitation generated the highest suicide rate in the developed world (28.1 per 100,000 inhabitants). In 1980, the work week was the longest in the world.
The country eventually transitioned to become a market-oriented democracy in 1987 largely due to popular demand for reform, and its economy rapidly grew and became a developed economy by the 2000s.
Due to Soviet Influence, North Korea established a communist government with a hereditary succession of leadership, with ties to China and the Soviet Union. Kim Il-sung became the supreme leader until his death in 1994, after which his son, Kim Jong-il took power. Kim Jong-il's son, Kim Jong-un, is the current leader, taking power after his father's death in 2011. After the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991, the North Korean economy went on a path of steep decline, and it is currently heavily reliant on international food aid and trade with China.
When Parhae perished at the hands of the Khitan around this same time, much of its ruling class, who were of Kogury? descent, fled to Kory?. Wang K?n warmly welcomed them and generously gave them land. Along with bestowing the name Wang Kye ("Successor of the Royal Wang") on the Parhae crown prince, Tae Kwang-hy?n, Wang K?n entered his name in the royal household register, thus clearly conveying the idea that they belonged to the same lineage, and also had rituals performed in honor of his progenitor. Thus Kory? achieved a true national unification that embraced not only the Later Three Kingdoms but even survivors of Kogury? lineage from the Parhae kingdom.
... there are strong indications that the neighbouring Baekje state (in the southwest) was predominantly Japonic-speaking until it was linguistically Koreanized.
He launched a military expedition to expand his territory, opening the golden age of Goguryeo.
Kogury? was the first to open hostilities, with a bold assault across the Liao River against Liao-hsi, in 598. The Sui emperor, Wen Ti, launched a retaliatory attack on Kogury? but met with reverses and turned back in mid-course. Yang Ti, the next Sui emperor, proceeded in 612 to mount an invasion of unprecedented magnitude, marshalling a huge force said to number over a million men. And when his armies failed to take Liao-tung Fortress (modern Liao-yang), the anchor of Kogury?'s first line of defense, he had a nearly a third of his forces, some 300,000 strong, break off the battle there and strike directly at the Kogury? capital of P'y?ngyang. But the Sui army was lured into a trap by the famed Kogury? commander ?lchi Mund?k, and suffered a calamitous defeat at the Salsu (Ch'?ngch'?n) River. It is said that only 2,700 of the 300,000 Sui soldiers who had crossed the Yalu survived to find their way back, and the Sui emperor now lifted the siege of Liao-tung Fortress and withdrew his forces to China proper. Yang Ti continued to send his armies against Kogury? but again without success, and before long his war-weakened empire crumbled.
China, which had been split into many states since the early 3rd century, was reunified by the Sui dynasty at the end of the 6th century. Soon after that, Sui China mobilized a large number of troops and launched a sagiwar against Kogury?. However, the people of Kogury? were united and they were able to repel the Chinese aggressors. In 612, Sui troops invaded Korea again, but Kogury? forces fought bravely and destroyed Sui troops everywhere. General ?lchi Mund?k of Kogury? completely wiped out some 300,000 Sui troops which came across the Yalu River in the battles near the Salsu River (now Ch'?ngch'?n River) with his ingenious military tactics. Only 2,700 Sui troops were able to flee from Korea. The Sui dynasty, which wasted so much energy and manpower in aggressive wars against Kogury?, fell in 618.
Loath to let slip such an opportunity, T'ang mounted a fresh invasion under Li Chi in 667 and Silla launched a coordinated offensive. This time the T'ang army received every possible assistance from the defector Namsaeng, and although Kogury? continued to hold out for another year, the end finally came in 668.
From what Ennin tells us, it seems that commerce between East China, Korea and Japan was, for the most part, in the hands of men from Silla. Here in the relatively dangerous waters on the eastern fringes of the world, they performed the same functions as did the traders of the placid Mediterranean on the western fringes. This is a historical fact of considerable significance but one which has received virtually no attention in the standard historical compilations of that period or in the modern books based on these sources. . . . While there were limits to the influence of the Koreans along the eastern coast of China, there can be no doubt of their dominance over the waters off these shores. . . . The days of Korean maritime dominance in the Far East actually were numbered, but in Ennin's time the men of Silla were still the masters of the seas in their part of the world.
With three of the four major Cold War fault lines--divided Germany, divided Korea, divided China, and divided Vietnam--East Asia acquired the dubious distinction of having engendered the largest number of armed conflicts resulting in higher fatalities between 1945 and 1994 than any other region or sub-region. Even in Asia, while Central and South Asia produced a regional total of 2.8 million in human fatalities, East Asia's regional total is 10.4 million including the Chinese Civil War (1 million), the Korean War (3 million), the Vietnam War (2 million), and the Pol Pot genocide in Cambodia (1 to 2 million).
Various encyclopedias state that the countries involved in the three-year conflict suffered a total of more than 4 million casualties, of which at least 2 million were civilians--a higher percentage than in World War II or Vietnam. A total of 36,940 Americans lost their lives in the Korean theater; of these, 33,665 were killed in action, while 3,275 died there of nonhostile causes. Some 92,134 Americans were wounded in action, and decades later, 8,176 were still reported as missing. South Korea sustained 1,312,836 casualties, including 415,004 dead. Casualties among other UN allies totaled 16,532, including 3,094 dead. Estimated North Korean casualties numbered 2 million, including about one million civilians and 520,000 soldiers. An estimated 900,000 Chinese soldiers lost their lives in combat.
In Korea, war in the early 1950s cost nearly 3 million lives, including nearly a million civilian dead in South Korea.
Before it ended, the Korean War cost over 3 million people their lives, including over 50,000 US servicemen and women and a much higher number of Chinese and Korean lives. The war also set in motion a number of changes that led to the militarization and intensification of the Cold War.
For the Korean War the only hard statistic is that of American military deaths, which included 33,629 battle deaths and 20,617 who died of other causes. The North Korean and Chinese Communists never published statistics of their casualties. The number of South Korean military deaths has been given as in excess of 400,000; the South Korean Ministry of Defense puts the number of killed and missing at 281,257. Estimates of communist troops killed are about one-half million. The total number of Korean civilians who died in the fighting, which left almost every major city in North and South Korea in ruins, has been estimated at between 2 and 3 million. This adds up to almost 1 million military deaths and a possible 2.5 million civilians who were killed or died as a result of this extremely destructive conflict. The proportion of civilians killed in the major wars of this century (and not only in the major ones) has thus risen steadily. It reached about 42 percent in World War II and may have gone as high as 70 percent in the Korean War. ... we find that the ratio of civilian to military deaths [in Vietnam] is not substantially different from that of World War II and is well below that of the Korean War.