History of Korea
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The history of Korea begins with the mythic account of the Samguk yusa (1280s), which places the origins of the Gojoseon (Old Joseon) kingdom was founded in northern Korea and southern Manchuria in 2333 BC. Its defeat by the Han dynasty of China resulted in the fall of Gojoseon and led to warring states in the Three Kingdoms period. In this, the kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla came to jointly control the Korean peninsula and Manchuria as the Three Kingdoms of Korea (57 BC–668 AD). During the subsequent Goryeo period, laws were codified, a civil service system was introduced, and a Buddhist-oriented culture flourished. Then, the Mongol invasions in the 13th century brought Goryeo under the Great Khan’s influence until the mid-14th century.
In 1392, General Yi Seong-gye overthrew the Goryeo dynasty in 1388 to establish the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). Whereupon, King Sejong the Great (1418–1450) implemented numerous reforms of governance and established royal authority in the early years of the dynasty. His other reforms included replacing the cumbersome Chinese script with hangul, the phonetic Korean alphabet.
After nearly two centuries of peace, the Joseon dynasty endured political strife and the Japanese invasion of Korea. In 1657, the dynasty’s early period came to an end. Korea allied with Ming China to repel these Japanese invasions, only for Joseon to retreat into stagnant isolationism. But by the mid 19th century, the country remained unwilling to modernize, even when threatened by European powers. As a consequence, Korea was forced to sign unequal treaties. After Empress Myeong-seong’s assassination in 1895 and the turmoil of the Donghak Peasant Revolution, the Korean Empire and the Gabo Reforms came into being. With that, Korea experienced a brief spurt of modernization. But in 1905, the Korean Empire was annexed by Japan.
Korean resistance arose in neighboring Manchuria, China, and Siberia, encouraged by Korea’s peaceful protests against its occupiers. As a result, the leaders of these organizations in exile became important for Korean nationalism after World War II.
The history of Korea changed after the war ended, when the Allies divided the country into the north, under the protection of the Soviet Union, and the south, protected by the United States. In the absence of an agreement on the forming a single government, this division hardened into partition between the states of North and South Korea. As a result, the North had the backing of the Soviet Union and China, and the South was buttressed by the United States.Then, Kim il-Sung, the premier of North Korea, launched the Korean War in to unify Korea under Communist rule. Only after immense destruction, the war ended with a cease-fire in 1953.
While the North has endured endless privations under the Kim dynasty, South Korea has flourished. Notwithstanding a painful evolution from autocracy to democracy, South Korea is seen as a showcase of its alliance with the West.
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Korea Index | Ancient Korea | Gojoseon Kingdom: Power • Economy | Goryeo Dynasty: Culture • Power | Three Kingdoms Period: Baekche • Silla • Goguryeo | Joseon Dynasty: Society • Culture • Power • Sejong • T’aejo • Yeongjo • Economy • Japanese Occupation | Modern Korea: Independence Movement • Division • Korean War • South Korea • North Korea
Three Kingdoms Period
Three Kingdoms: Index
Power: Japan’s Colonization of Korea
Modern Korea: Index
Power: Korean Independence Movement