The history of Korea stretches back through the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages. The ancestors of the Korean people lived on the Korean peninsula and in Manchuria. The people of the Stone Age lived by hunting and fishing and began to develop primitive forms of agriculture. The people of the Bronze Age began to farm rice, and as they became engaged in full-scale farming, they developed a new society. Gojoseon, Korea’s first nation-state, developed into a central force within East. In addition to Gojoseon, many other nations existed on the Korean peninsula and in Manchuria during the Iron Age. By using iron farm implements, productivity and military strength increased, accelerating social development.

1. Life and Culture in the Prehistoric Age

(1) Origin of the Nation
Since the prehistoric age, the ancestors of the Korean people lived widely dispersed on the Korean peninsula throughout Manchuria, and the Gulf of Bohai in East Asia. People lived in these areas from the Paleolithic age, but they had little direct bearing on the formation of the Korean nation. The basis of the Korean nation is believed to have formed from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Ethnologically, the Korean people belong to the Mongoloid family and the language is derived from the Altaic language family. The Yemaek and Han tribes recorded in early China formed the main ethnic background of the nation as they developed the Bronze culture.

(2) Paleolithic and Neolithic Cultures
The Paleolithic culture in Korea began 600,000 years ago. The most famous relics have been unearthed in: Seokjang-ri, Gongju county; Gulpori, Unggi county; and Jeongok-ri, Yeoncheon county. The Paleolithic people lived in caves. They used bones and horns to catch wild beasts and fish and plucked fruits from trees for their sustenance.
The Neolithic culture began about 8,000 years ago. Relics from this age are largely found along the seacoasts and river basins. The Neolithic people used ground stone implements and earthenware with comb-shaped figures. In earlier stages, they caught fish and beasts, but in the later stages they began to engage in primitive forms of agriculture. They gathered in clans, and as such, formed clan societies.

(3) Bronze Culture and Social Change
Around the 10th century B.C., people who used figureless earthenware appeared. Thus, beginning the formation of the Bronze culture. This culture began to develop along the Liaoning of Manchuria and in the northwestern areas of the Korean peninsula, and it later gradually spread throughout the entire country.

In the early Bronze Age, the northern Bronze culture introduced a type of bronze sword known as the Bipa. However, the Bipa-type bronze sword eventually evolved into a slender type of the bronze sword, and bronze ware also began to be made in Korea. Thus, developing a unique bronze culture. The people of the Bronze Age lived in hilly areas, engaging chiefly in agriculture and even began rice farming. They began to build dolmens and stone-coffin tombs. At this stage, the power of the patriarchs strengthened, and they made their advent as rulers, thus forming the early tribal states in the patriarchal society.

2. Foundation and Development of Gojoson

(1) The Founding of the Nation by Dangun and the Development of Gojoseon
Gojoseon was the first country formed in Korea and was based on the Bronze culture.
Gojoseon’s patriarch was referred to as Dangun Wanggeom. In Samguk yusa, he is described as the son born between the son of God, Hwanung, and a woman incarnated from a bear. He established the kingdom of Gojoseon in 2333 B.C. It is thought that this myth alludes to the formation of a patriarchal state through the union of separate tribes with different clans. Gojoseon first developed with the Liaoning district as its center. Thus, Gojoseon gradually rose as a center of the East. Then, around the 4th century B.C., as it faced the Yeon nation of China across its borders, it began to struggle for supremacy.

(2) Introduction of the Iron Culture and Changes in Gojoseon
The Iron culture was introduced around 4th century B.C. By that time, China was in the confusion of the Warring States Period and some of the Korean ancestors in the Shandong peninsula and in the northeast moved back to Gojoseon. They used iron tools and weapons. Wiman, the leader of these immigrants, drove out King Jun of Gojoseon in the early 2nd century B.C. and became king. Later, Gojoseon’s influence spread to occupy many of its surrounding territories. However, the nation was confronted with aggression from Han China, which ensued into a year-long battle, and its capital Wanggeom-seong fell to the enemy. Gojoseon’s long history thus came to an end.

3. Other Nations

(1) The Spread of the Iron Culture
After the destruction of Gojoseon, its wandering people scattered out in all directions and spread the Iron culture to all parts of the Korean peninsula. On the basis of this new culture, the new nations of Buyeo, Goguryeo, and the three Hans began. During this period, iron-made farm implements were used and agriculture was highly developed, accelerating social development and change, heightening productivity and strengthening military might.

(2) Northern Nations
The nation of Buyeo grew around the Sungari (Songhua) River basins in Manchuria; Goguryeo rose in the environs of the mid-Amnokgang(Yalu) River. Okjeo stood in the plains of Hamheung on the eastern coast, and Dongye developed to the south. The Okjeo and Dongye Kingdoms came under the control of Goguryeo shortly thereafter. Buyeo existed as a national entity for a long time, but was finally annexed as a part of Goguryeo. As part of their beliefs, the people of Buyeo observed a heaven-worshiping ceremony called “Yeonggo” during the twelfth lunar month. Meanwhile during the tenth lunar month, Goguryeo offered a sacrifice to the spirits of their ancestors by holding a huge banquet refered to as “Dongmaeng” and Dongye held a celebration worshiping the heavens called “Mucheon”. The people of Goguryeo respected military arts and strength; thus they were known to be tough and strong.

(3) Southern Nations
The nations of Mahan, Jinhan and Byeonhan, along with other small states existed south of the Han River. In Samhan(the Three Hans), rice farming flourished and dam reservoirs such as Byeokgolje in Kimje and Susanje in Miryang were built. In addition, during the fifth and the tenth lunar months, their people offered sacrifices to heaven and engaged in songs and dances.


The Goguryeo Kingdom was founded in 37 B.C., and by the first century, it had firmly established itself as a powerful state. Goguryeo developed into a powerful nation and acted as a bulwark against the aggressive northern nations and China. During this time, the kingdoms of Baekje and Silla developed rapidly. This increased friction between the Three Kingdoms. These Three Kingdoms were unified by the last of the developed kingdoms, Silla, thereby marking the first national unity. On the other hand, in Manchuria, the old cradle of Goguryo, Balhae was firmly established and undergoing distinct development. The Three Kingdoms developed as aristocrat-centered societies, and the aristocrats became the leaders of the culture. The Three Kingdoms accepted Buddhism, which greatly advanced and expanded the scope of their culture. In this way, the Three Kingdoms developed a colorful and refined aristocrat-centered Buddhist culture which was eventually introduced to Japan and greatly influenced the development of its ancient culture.

1. The Rise and Development of the Kingdoms

(1) The Rise of the Three Kingdoms and Ancient Kingdoms
The patriarchal states which arose in various areas of the Korean peninsula and surrounding areas were gradually unified into the Three Kingdoms and continued to develop. Goguryeo developed in Manchuria and the northern part of the Korean peninsula, and Baekje and Silla arose along the Han River basin and the plains of Gyeongju. According to the records of the Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms), Goguryeo was established by King Jumong (Dongmyeong Seongwang), Baekje by King Onjo, and Silla by King Park Hyeokgeose respectively. The Three Kingdoms strengthened their monarchies, united patriarchal powers, expanded their territories and centralized their power. Thus, with the particular features of strong royal authority and a centralized governing structure they developed as ancient kingdoms.

Silla Kingdom (B.C.57~A.D.935)
The Silla Kingdom was founded in 57 B.C., Silla was located in the southeastern part of the Korean peninsula. In its early days, Silla was the weakest of three kingdoms in existence, but later became powerful enough to unify them under its rule in 676. After unification, Silla traded vigorously with foreign countries. General Jangbogo established Cheonghaejin on Wando Island and swept the pirates from the seas and led the overseas trade of East Asia Sea.

Goguryeo Kingdom (B.C.37~A.D.668)
The Goguryeo Kingdom was founded in 37 B.C., and by the first century, it had firmly established itself as a powerful state. Goguryeo covered large parts of present-day Manchuria. The country was not only the most powerful and most aggressive kingdom of three kingdoms in existence (Baekje and Silla being the other two) but also the most powerful in Northeast Asia in the 5th century. King Gwanggaeto the Great (375-413), in particular, conquered the largest territory in the entire history of Korea.

Baekje Kingdom (B.C.18~A.D.660)
The Baekje Kingdom was founded in 18 B.C. Baekje was located in the southwestern part of the Korean peninsula and was one of the most advanced nations at that time. Baekje had the closest communication with neighboring Japan and exerted great influence on various fields of Japanese culture, sending many craftsmen, artisans, tailors, tile makers, and scholars to that country

(2) Development of Goguryeo and Baekje
Goguryeo was the first nation to develop as an ancient kingdom. After the downfall of Gojoseon, Chinese influences permeated inward for a time, but Goguryeo grew independently while fighting against Chinese. In the latter half of the 1st century under King Taejo’s reign, Goguryeo strengthened its base as an ancient kingdom and in the early 4th century during the reign of King Micheon, it occupied Nangnang county and recovered almost all of the former territory of Gojseon. On the other hand, along the Han River basins, many immigrants settled from the north at the time of Gojoseon’s downfall. These were chiefly the people of Buyeo and Goguryeo. The kingdom of Baekje was established with the immigrants as its center. Baekje, which first began as the small nation of Mahan, gradually gained power. In the mid-3rd century during the reign of King Goi, Baekje concentrated its strength in the greater part of the Han River basin in order to solidify its base as an ancient kingdom, and in the mid-4th century during the reign of Geunchogo, it progressed into its Golden Age. King Geunchogo conquered the remaining land of Mahan to the south, completely unified the Honam district (now Jeolla-do) and by rising victorious over battles with Goguryeo, ruled over the Hwanghae Province to the north. During this period, Baekje also made inroads into Japan and parts of China including Shandong and Liaoxi. In the mid-4th century, Goguryeo suffered a great loss as a result of invasions by Former Yeon and Baekje but in the latter half of the 4th century, during the reign of King Sosurim, Goguryeo accepted Buddhism, established a school called Taehak, and through the promulgation of various laws, readjusted its national structure. During the consecutive reigns of King Gwanggaeto and King Jangsu, Goguryeo greatly expanded its territory and held hegemony in north-eastern Asia.

Under the reign of King Gwanggaeto, Goguryeo occupied Manchurian territory to the east of Liaohe, attacked Baekje to occupy the north of the Han River and expelled foreign foes who were trying to invade Silla. In the 5th century during the reign of King Jangsu, Goguryeo moved its capital from Gungnaeseong to Pyongyang and became a powerful country which ruled over the middle section of the south Han River basin by attacking Baekje. Baekje, in the 5th century, confronted the southward advancement of Goguryeo, lost the territory along the Han River basin and moved its capital to Ungjin (Gongju). With its power weakened, Baekj, in the 6th century under the reign of King Seong, again moved its capital, this time to Sabiseong (Buyeo), and began readjusting its institutions in order to revive itself. King Seong actively promoted cultural exchanges with the Southern Dynasties of China and introduced Buddhism to Japan. During this period, Baekje joined Silla to help control the Han River, only to lose it again to Silla.

(3) Development of Silla and Changes in Gaya
Saroguk, which arose in the area of Gyeongju, developed into the kingdom of Silla. From the 1st century, Silla, under King Naemul, developed by combining the entities around it and by the latter 4th century, built the base for the ancient kingdom. Ever since King Naemul’s era, successors to the throne were all members of the Kim family. The power of the king was further strengthened as he was referred to as “Maripgan”, the Great Chief, instead of “Isageum”, meaning successor. At that time, Silla, with the aid of King Gwanggaeto of  Goguryeo, drove out Japanese invaders from its land. Afterwards, Silla was under the influence of Goguryeo for a time, but by concluding a treaty of alliance with Baekje, overcame the influence of Goguryeo. On the other hand, in the lower delta of the Nakdong River, a confederation of six Gaya states appeared with Geumgwan Gaya in Gimhae and Dae Gaya in Goryeong as the centers. The power of Gaya was so strong that at one time it threatened Silla and advanced toward Japan, but it was annexed by Silla without having developed into an ancient kingdom. Silla, which developed slowest among the Three Kingdoms, had made great progress by the 6th century. King Jijeung changed the name of his country to Silla and adopted the title of King instead of Maripgan. Under the reign of King Beopheung, Silla officially recognized Buddhism and promulgated laws and regulations. King Jinheung occupied the Han River and Nakdong River basins and even made inroads into the Hamheung Plains.

2. Unification of the Three Kingdoms By Shilla

(1) Goguryeo’s Great Victory at Salsu and Ansi-seong
When Silla occupied the Han River basin in the latter 6th century, Goguryeo and Baekje made a pact to attack Silla. To ward them off, isolated Silla approached China for help. At this time, long-split China was unified by Sui. Goguryeo was frequently attacked by Sui but managed to expel them with the resistance of its united army and the entire population. In particular, when a large army of more than a million under the personal command of Emperor Yangdi of Sui invaded Goguryeo, General Uljimundeok feigned defeat in order to lure the 300,000 special soldiers of Sui and all but annihilated them at the Battle of Salsu (Cheongcheon River). This was the great victory of Salsu in 612, and it has come to be known as the most glorious military triumph in Korea’s national history.

Following Sui, the Tang Dynasty, which then ruled over China and had maintained at one time friendly relations with Goguryeo, prepared to invade Goguryeo when Emperor Taizong of Tang came to the throne. In Goguryeo, Yongaesomun was in power and fiercely confronted Tang’s attack. Taizong led a large army to lay siege on Ansi-seong while the defending soldiers and citizens resisted the concentrated attack for 60 days. They fought valiantly and drove back Taizong’s soldiers in 645. It was a glorious triumph over a national crisis by the unified effort of the Goguryeo people.

(2) Destruction of Baekje and Goguryeo
Silla, isolated on the Korean peninsula, formed an alliance with the Tang Dynasty against Goguryeo and Baekje. Silla drew help from the Tang army and attacked Baekje first. The death bands of Gyebaek fought against the Silla army under the command of Kim Yu-shin with much courage, but they were defeated by the overwhelming numbers of Silla troops. Finally Sabi-seong fell to the allied troops of Silla and Tang, and Baekje fell in 660. In Goguryeo, after the death of Yongaesomun, internal dissension rose among the leading generals. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Silla and Tang attacked Goguryeo. After resisting the attack for a year, Pyongyang fell and the Kingdom was destroyed in 668.

(3) War between Silla and Tang and Unification of the Three Kingdoms by Silla
After the downfall of Baekje and Goguryeo, Tang ruled over their former domains and even tried to incorporate Silla into the sphere of its rule. Confronted with Tang’s threat, Silla combined the strength of the defeated people of Baekje and Goguryeo and waged a fight against Tang for about 10 years. Silla smashed the Tang army in the battle of Maeso-seong and destroyed the Tang navy at the mouth of the Geum River. Silla finally drove out the Tang armed forces and succeeded in unifying the Three Kingdoms in 676. Silla’s unification of the Three Kingdoms was not a complete one, limited only to the south of the Daedong River and the Bay of Wonsan. But it did form the basis for an independent national government and a national culture throughout the Korean peninsula.

3. The Societies and Culture of the Kingdoms

(1) Societies and Economies of the Three Kingdoms
In the Three Kingdoms, class distinctions between the aristocracy, commoners and menials were very rigid. The central aristocrats and royal families were in charge of the government, economy, and culture, and exercised many privileges. The commoners were mostly self-sustaining farmers who cultivated their own lands and paid taxes to the government. The menials were slaves and villagers in Bugok who composed the lowest stratum in society. The ruling classes were the families of the kings and queens. In Goguryeo the Go clan of Gyerubu became the royal family, and in Baekje the Buyeo clan was the royal family. In early Silla the three clans of Park, Seok and Kim alternated in succeeding the throne, but after King Naemul, the Kims inherited the throne. In Silla there was a strict system of personal status called Golpum which was distinguished into Seonggol, Jingol (royal family) and 6,5,4,-dupums (classes of aristocrats). Among them many aristocrats of the 6-dupum chiefly engaged in scholarly pursuits and religion. In Silla, there was the Hwabaek system in which representative aristocrats gathered to determine important affairs of the state unanimously. There was also a youth organization called Hwarang-do (Flower Youths) which trained many capable men who, following the five secular commandments of Wongwang, received mental and physical training and had loyalty to the state inculcated in them.

The Three Kingdoms developed as ancient kingdoms readjusting their political organizations. In Goguryeo, there were 12 classes of bureaucrats below Daedaero and in Baekje there were 16 classes below Jwapyeong. In Silla, there were 17 classes of bureaucrats with Ibeolchan on the top. Advancement to officialdom was strictly restricted to those of Golpum status, and the political activities of the Three Kingdoms were carried out through the unified efforts of the aristocrats. Daedaero in Goguryeo and Sangdaedeung in Silla (equivalent to premier) were chosen at meetings of aristocrats. In the Three Kingdoms, agriculture developed as the most important industry. In Baekje and Silla, irrigation facilities expanded with rice farming. In Goguryeo, millet, soybeans and other dry farm crops were the chief crops. In addition, handicrafts were also developed. In the Three Kingdoms, the practice of usury boomed, and many commoners were driven to become slaves as a result of heavy debt. In Goguryeo, the government practiced Jindaebeop, a law of loaning grain in the spring and being repaid in the autumn, to prevent impoverished peasants from turning into the slaves of aristocrats.

(2) Transmission and Development of Buddhism
While the Three Kingdoms developed as ancient kingdoms, they required a new religion for spiritual unity of their people. Just at this period, Buddhism, which began in India, was introduced into the Three Kingdoms through China. In Goguryeo, during the reign of King Sosurim, Shundao from Former Qin in northern China introduced Buddhism in 372. In the kingdom of Baekje, an Indian monk named Marananta arrived by sea through Dong-Jin China to introduce Buddhism in 384. Buddhism was first introduced to Silla in 384 by Mukhoja, a priest from Goguryeo, but it was subjected to oppression. After a hundred years, following the martydom of a famous monk named Yi Cha-don, King Beopheung officially recognized Buddhism in 527. Buddhism in the Three Kingdoms flourished with the support of the royal family and the aristocrats. In this way, Buddhism became the state religion, which contributed to the national defense. This was especially true in Silla where Buddhism was combined with the development of the royal family to play a leading role as the national ideology. Taoism was also introduced to the Three Kingdoms. In the Sasindo drawn on the old tomb of Goguryeo and in the Sangyeong Munjeon of Baekje, traces of Taoism can be found.

(3) Popularization of Confucianism and the Compilation of History
Upon entering the period of the Three Kingdoms, Chinese characters began to be widely used, and Confucianism and Chinese literature began to rise in popularity. In addition, the writing system of Idu was used in which Korean words were recorded by selecting the corresponding meaning and sounds in Chinese characters. Silla’s Seol Chong designed this system Idu. In Goguryeo, a school called Taehak was established in Pyongyang to teach Confucianism, and schools called Gyeongdang were set up in many districts to teach Chinese characters and military arts to the youth. In Baekje, the Ogyeong scholars taught the Confucian classics to students. All three kingdoms tried to compile their own histories. In Goguryeo, 100 volumes of Yugi were compiled and under the reign of King Yeongyang, Yi Mun-jin compiled them into five concise volumes. Go Hung of Baekje compiled Seogi during the reign of Geunchogo, and Geochilbu of Silla compiled Guksa, a record of the national history under the reign of King Jinheung. But the history books compiled during the Three Kingdoms period have not survived to today.

(4) Art Activities of the Three Kingdoms
With an aristocrat-centered culture rising, refined and colorful aristocratic art developed, and simple traditional artwork remained among the people. The arts of the Three Kingdoms developed in two fields-old tomb art and Buddhist art. Physical strength and passion overflowed in the Goguryeo art work while elegant and refined beauty was characteristic of Baekje art objects, and Silla art objects gradually displayed a beauty of harmony. The famous old tombs of Goguryeo are Janggunchong (Tomb of the Generals), Muyongchong (Tomb of the Dancers and Hunters), Ssangyongchong (The Double Pillar Tombs) and the Gangseodaemyo (The Great Tombs).
Among them, the Janggunchong is believed to be the tomb of King Gwanggaeto. It is a big stone tomb with steps of seven-stories. The hunters and dancers drawn in the Muyongchong, pictures of warriors and their genre painted in the Ssangyongchong, and the pictures of 4 guardian spirits as embodied by different animals in the Gangseodaemyo are all brilliant frescos which represent the ambitious spirit and customs of the Goguryeo people at that time. Baekje’s old tombs possess a powerful beauty in their architecture and frescos. The tomb of King Muryeong is famous for the many burial accessories and the slate inscribed with the record of the deceased. Gold crowns and beautiful art works have been excavated from the old tombs of Silla and the picture of a heavenly horse which represents Silla’s emblem has been found in the Cheonmachong.

Among the stone pagodas of Baekje, the pagoda located on the site of Maitreya Temple in Iksan and the five-story stone pagoda on the site of Jeongnimsa Temple in Buyeo are the most renowned. In particular, the five-story pagoda on the site of Jeongnimsa Temple, which is representative of Baekje art, is well balanced and is a beautifully executed masterpiece. The most distinct stone constructions of Silla are the pagodas in Bunhwangsa Temple and the Cheomsongdae observatory. Remarkable Buddha figures include the gold-plated figure of Buddha sitting with his legs half-crossed and Seosan’s Three Buddhas of Mae. The former expressed elegance (frequently produced in each of the Three Kingdoms), and the latter represents the typical features of Buddhist images present in Baekje. It shows a thin mild smile on its face called “Baekje’s smile.” From ancient times the Korean people have loved songs and dances. Among the songs of the Three Kingdoms, Hyesongga, a Hyangga (folk song) of Silla, remains. Wang San-ak of Goguryeo improved the seven-string instrument of China, Chilhyeongum, into Geomungo and U Reuk of Gaya introduced the Gayagum to Silla. Baekje music was introduced to Japan and influenced the development of Japanese music.

4. The Inroads into Foreign Nations by the Three Kingdoms and Cultural Exchange

(1) Political Advances by Baekje
Among the Three Kingdoms, Baekje was the most active in making advances abroad. In the mid-4th century, when Dong-Jin was weakened, Baekje advanced to Liaoxi and Shandong of China, and it also made inroads into many parts of Kyushu, Japan. Through these activities, for a time Baekje formed a large sphere of influence connecting the peninsula with Liaoxi, Shandong and Japan. However, after the 5th century, with the southward push of Goguryeo and Chinese resistance, Baekje’s influence was weakened. The Kingdom of Gaya also, early on, advanced to Japan. In various areas of Japan, the activities of Baekje and Gaya are noticeable and Goguryeo also left footprints of their activities in Japan.

(2) Monks’ Study and Their Activities in China
After the introduction of Buddhism, many monks of the Three Kingdoms went to China to study, and some even traveled to India. A Goguryeo monk named Seungnang grasped the esoteric meanings of Buddhism and trained a large number of students in China to become harbingers of Sanlunzong of China. Gyeomik of Baekje under the reign of King Seong traveled to India and brought back Buddhist books and translated them together with other monks. In Silla, monks studying abroad were also very fashionable. All of the high monks of Silla except Wonhyo learned the Buddhist canon in China. Among them, Wongwang and Jajang, after returning home, contributed greatly to the promotion of important state policies.

(3) Emigration of People of the Three Kingdoms to Japan
The history of ancient Northeastern Asian society, generally speaking, flows from the continent toward the ocean, and from cultural highlands to the lowlands. Riding on this current, during the prehistoric age Korea introduced metal civilization to Japan and taught them rice farming. Upon entering the age of written history, many people journeyed across to the Japanese archipelago. The Japanese called these people Toraijin (those from the Three Kingdoms) and greatly welcomed them for they brought with them advanced skills and cultures to help civilize ancient Japan. As conflicts among the Three Kingdoms intensified and social confusion increased, a considerable number of people emigrated to Japan. These emigrants resided in groups in the Yamato district in the heart of Japan as an influential force of the times, taking charge of political and cultural activities in Japan. They displayed their ability to develop underdeveloped areas. The usable wilderness and swamps of Musashino in today’s Tokyo are the gifts of immigrant groups from Goguryeo under the leadership of Yakkwang (Wakamitsu).

(4) Diffusion of Cultures of the Three Kingdoms to Japan
The cultures which were developed during the Three Kingdoms period were propagated to Japan and greatly influenced the formation and development of ancient Japanese culture. Especially, the Baekje culture influenced the development of the Asuka culture. Ajikgi and Wang In of Baekje taught Chinese characters to the Japanese, and Dan Yang-i and Go An-mu, among the five-classic scholars, taught Confucianism in Japan. Under the reign of King Seong, Norisachigye was sent to Japan to introduce Buddhism with Buddhist images and sutras. From Baekje, monks, temple-building architects and Buddhist art manufacturers were sent to influence the development of Buddhism and culture in Japan.

Damjing of Goguryeo taught literature and painting in Japan. The fresco in the Golden Hall of Horyuji Temple, of which Japan is proud, is believed to have been painted by him. The Goguryeo monk Hyeja and Baekche monk Hyechong became the royal tutors of Crown Prince Shotoku and led the spread of Buddhism in Japan. The frescos in the Takamatsu old tomb best display the relationship between Goguryeo and ancient Japan. Particularly Baekje, among the Three Kingdoms, introduced many kinds of learnings and technology to Japan and became the driving force of the golden age of the Asuka culture.


With the unification of the Three Kingdoms by Silla, the Korean people, except for those of Goguryeo still living in Manchuria, were able to form a single nation under one government and one system. In Manchuria, the Kingdom of Balhae was founded with the people of Goguryeo at its center, but after the destruction of Balhae which lasted for over 220 years, Manchuria drifted away from Korea’s national activities. Unified Silla amalgamated the cultures of the Three Kingdoms and was influenced by the Tang culture to develop an advanced national culture. Buddhism flowered and was propagated among the populace. The arts of creating temples, Buddhist images, stone pagodas, stone lanterns, and Buddhist bells were developed. Many monks and Hwarangs composed Hyangga and aristocrats wrote literature in Chinese.

1. Development and Decline of Unified Silla

(1) Adjustment of the Political System
Silla, which unified the Three Kingdoms. readjusted its political and other ruling institutions, thus stablizing both government and society. After unification, the royal powers of the King were strengthened as a result of the unbroken lineage from King Muyeol, and the power of aristocrats was weakened. From then on, the powers of the Sijung, who served as executives and who promulgated the King’s orders and enforced laws, were greater than the Sangdaedeung, who represented the aristocracy. Marching abreast with many social developments, many offices were established, and schools known as Gukhak were set up to teach Confucianism. Local administrative systems were also reorganized. During the reign of King Sinmun, the country was divided into nine provinces, and under each province, counties (Gun and Hyeon) were organized. Five cities were stationed as the heads of these localities to make them the hearts of local government and culture. Silla reorganized and strengthened the military. In the central headquarters, nine Seodangs (king’s guards) were stationed, and in the local areas, 10 Jeongs were stationed in important locations of the nine provinces.

(2) Aristocrat-centered Economic Life
The economic life of unified Silla prospered with the aristocrats at its center. The aristocrats received and owned large acreages of land, and also possessed wide meadows in the mountain valleys and islands. They also possessed many slaves and amassed huge wealth through the practice of usury. The wealthy aristocrats who lived in luxurious houses fell into a life of extravagance and pleasure. In this way, the traditionally strong-spirited Silla people began to decay spiritually.
On the other hand, farmers in the villages and menials, who lived in the special administration districts, Hyang, So, and Bugok, had to led difficult lives because of their heavy indebtedness to either the state or aristocrats. The government investigated the local lands, population, livestock and even the number of standing trees once every three years in order to administer the labor force and production resources.

(3) Social Changes During the Last Stage of Silla
Silla, which enjoyed prosperity for about 100 years after the unification, fell into hardship beginning with the latter half of the 8th century. The continuous royal line of King Muyeol was broken with King Hyegong as the last of that lineage, and there was a scramble for the crown among the Jingol aristocrats. As a result, in the later Silla years, confusion was prevalent as 20 kings reigned during a 150-year period. In the countryside, Rebellions headed by Kim Heon-chang sprung up to weaken the power of the central government. When the government and society was in a state of confusion as a result of the scramble for the crown among the Jingol aristocrats, the local powers of the chieftains and sea captains gathered strength. As a good example, Jang Bo-go maintained power over sea trade in the South and Yellow Seas and monopolized trade with both Tang and Japan to became the master of the sea for a time. The local powers indigenous to their area had their independent ambitions, calling themselves city masters or generals. They were the chieftains who played important roles in weakening the royal structure of the Jingol government of Silla. On the other hand, impoverished peasants became either slaves or thieves. During the reign of Queen Jinseong, peasants rose up in rebellion everywhere, and Silla fell into a swirl of civil wars.

2. Founding of Balhae and Its Domination over Manchuria

(1) The Founding of Balhae and Its Political System
After the destruction of Goguryeo, the remaining people in Manchuria rose up in a restoration movement. Dae Jo-yeong, a former general of Goguryeo, led the remaining people of Goguryeo and the Mohe(Malgal) tribe to found a new state in the area of Dongmiaoshan in Dunhuaxian, Jilin calling his country Jin in 698. Later Jin was renamed Balhae. Balhae recovered almost all of the old Goguryeo territory and dominated Manchuria, the Maritime Provinces and northern Korea to become a powerful nation. The ruling classes were mostly composed of the people of Goguryeo, and the Mohe tribe formed the greater part of its population. Balhae, with a strong consciousness as being the successor of Goguryeo, stood in confrontation with Tang and Silla, and maintained friendly relations with Japan and Tujue in the beginning stages. From the mid-8th century on, under the reign of King Mun, Balhae maintained peaceful relations with Tang and actively exchanged culture and goods. The official institutions of Balhae were modeled after the Tang system, consisting of three councils–Jeongdangseong, Seonjoseong and Jungdaeseong–each with six divisions. This system resembled the Tang structure in form but in terms of operation possessed unique characteristics. Important state affairs were determined at aristocrats’ meetings in Jeongdangseong. For local administration, the country was divided into five regional capitals, 15 provinces and 62 counties. Governors and magistrates were stationed as local rulers in each province and county.

(2) The Height of Prosperity and the Fall of Balhae
Balhae reached its zenith of prosperity under the reign of King Seon in the early 9th century. During that stage Balhae occupied a large territory, reaching out from the Heilong River (Amur) to the north, Yongheung in Hamgyeong-namdo to the south, the Maritime Provinces to the east, and Kaiyuan to the west. Balhae imported civilized culture and goods from Tang, and its culture developed so peculiarly that it was referred to as Haedong seongguk (a sage country in the east). However, after King Seon, an internal dispute arose among the ruling class, and harmony between the governing Goguryeo people and the governed Mohe was broken. Balhae’s power was weakened. During the same time, the Qidans growing in the west of Balhae gained more power with each day.  Balhae was destroyed by the Qidans in 926. Ever since, Manchuria, which had been the center stage for Korea’s national activities, has been estranged from Korea’s history.

(3) The Culture of Balhae
Balhae imported the Tang culture over the groundwork laid by traditional Goguryeo culture to achieve a relatively developed culture. In Sanggyeong, the long standing capital of Balhae, an aristocratic culture developed, and it became the center of culture in Manchuria. Balhae had a Jujagam to instruct Confucianism and Chinese literature, and many sons of aristocracy studied abroad in Tang. Thus, Confucianism and Chinese literature were believed to have been considerably developed. On the epitaphs of Princess Jeonghyo excavated in 1980 and of Princess Jeonghye unearthed earlier, beautiful poems carved in a pairing style can be found. As poets of Balhae, Yang Tae-sa, Wang Hyo-ryeom, Injong and Jeongso are especially well-known. They sailed to Japan where they wrote poems which are still read today.

Among many others, “In the Frosty Sky the Moon Shines and the Milky Way is So Much Cleaner,” written by Yang Tae-sa, was highly appreciated for its brilliant style. Buddhism prospered in Balhae and many temples were erected, but today only the building sites remain. As monks rose in social status they performed important roles not only in the field of religion but also in foreign diplomacy. Injong and Jeongso were dispatched to Japan as members of the diplomatic corps. Balhae arts possess an overflowing ambitious spirit which is a character prevalent in the works of Goguryeo, and in addition they possess a soft refined quality. The Buddhist images and lotus flower designed tiles unearthed in Sanggyeong display the peculiarities of Goguryeo art. Moreover, the Ondols and many tombs in lateral stone chambers found in Sanggyeong prove that Balhae was the successor to the Goguryeo culture. The two stone lions excavated from the tomb of Princess Jeong-hye are famous for their refinement. The stone lantern in Sanggyeong, which is six meters high, is one of these masterpieces of the stone art of Balhae. Dae Gan-ji is also known to be one of the famous painters. In the recently excavated tomb of Princess Jeong-hyo a fresco of twelve personages, through which the life of the people of ancient Balhae can be seen, was found.

3. Prosperity of the Silla Culture

(1) Development of Buddhism
Silla Buddhism was further developed after unification as seen by the appearance of many different schools, the five gyo (teaching) sects and the 9 san (mountains, zen school) sects. Thus, Buddhism was widely spread among the populace. The five gyo sects, which researched Buddhist sutras, were founded at the time of the unification of the Three Kingdoms. Among the Buddhist sects, the Hwaeom-jong (Avatamsaka sect) founded by Uisang was welcomed by aristocrats and thus developed more rapidly than any of the others. The high monk representative Wonhyo made efforts to combine Buddhist ideologies and widely propagated Jeongto-jong (Paradise) to popularize Buddhism to the masses. Toward the end of Silla, Zen (Dhyana) Buddism was in vogue, and nine denominations of Zen Buddhism existed under the protection of the local clan chiefs. As Buddhism bloomed, Buddhist art also developed and a high degree of scholarly research concerning Buddhism took place.

(2) Confucianism and Technology
During the reign of King Sinmun, a school called Gukhak was established and was staffed by scholars and assistants who instructed Confucianism and Chinese literature. Under the reign of King Wonseong, a special section of learning was established which divided students into three classes according to their academic abilities in order to hire government officials. However, this system was not effectively enforced due to the Golpum system, which respected family lineage. Immediately after unification, Gang Su and Seol Chong became highly well-known as scholars. Gang Su was an outstanding penman who was able to compose elegant diplomatic letters.
Seol Chong, the son of Wonhyo, redeveloped the writing system of Idu and utilized it to interpret the classics. Under the reign of King Seongdok, Kim Dae-mun wrote many books including Hwarang segi, Koseungjeon, and Gyerim japjeon and was instrumental in creating the traditional culture of Silla, but unfortunately these books do not remain today. As exchanges with Tang were actively promoted, the number of students sailing to Tang increased. On the whole, most of these students were from the 6-dupum aristocrat families, and upon returning home, they were critical of the Golpum system. Choe Chi-won was famous in Tang as an apt writer, but, after returning home to Silla, he became disillusioned by the world of politics and lived a secluded life. His Gyewon pilgyeong is still read by many today. In Unified Silla, woodblock printing developed. The Dharani Sutra discovered in the three-story stone pagodas of Bulguksa Temple was printed in the mid-8th century and is believed to be the oldest woodblock printing in the world. Technology in various fields such as astronomy, medicine, and military science also developed. During the last days of Silla, Doseon widely propagated the theory of geomancy. The theory of geomancy weakened the authority of the Silla government and supported the growth of the power of local clans. In addition, Taoism and the Ideologies of Laotse and Chungtse were also popularized during this same period.

(3) Hyangga Literature
The Hyangga (folk songs) of the Three Kingdoms came into great popularity after the unification. While Chinese literature developed among the aristocracy, Hyangga was widely spread throughout the commoners, and many of them were written especially by monks and Hwarangs. Among Hyangga writers, two monks–Wolmyeongsa and Chungdamsa–are particularly famous. Wolmyeongsa composed the songs, “Dosol-ga” (Song of Paradise in Dosol Heaven) and “Jemangmae-ga” (Song to a Dead Younger Sister), while Chungdamsa composed the songs “Anmin-ga” (Song of Peace to Folks) and “Chan-Giparang-ga” (Song of Praise to Giparang). “Je-mangmae-ga” was the song sung by Wolmyeongsa when he offered a rite for his dead younger sister. Its lyrics are superb examples of hyangga. During the reign of Queen Jinsong, Daeguhwasang compiled a group of Hyangga called “Samdaemok”, which has not been handed down to today. All 25 Hyanggas, including 14 Hyanggas in the Samguk yusa, have been handed down and exist today.

(4) Development of the Arts
The arts of Unified Silla had Buddhist art as its core. Achievements were made in formative art which was responsible for Buddhist images, stone pagodas and Buddhist bells in temples, which possessed the feature of harmonized and symmetrical beauty. The Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple constructed with a prayer to the gods by Kim Dae-song in the mid-8th century are representative of the Buddhist art of Silla. These were made during the height of the Silla culture. Seokguram is a man-made cave temple. In the center of the cave is a seated image of Buddha and on the walls around it, images of Buddha, his disciples and many other standing images showed their conception of the Buddhist world. Its arched ceilings bear a great number of beautiful sculptures and its architecture is exquisite. Seokguram is one of the best representations of Buddhist art in Silla. Originally, Bulguksa Temple was a huge temple with over 2,000 partitions. During Hideyoshi’s invasions between 1592-97 however, the wooden structure burnt down, and the present building which stands today is a reconstruction from the latter part of the Joseon period or a more recent restoration.
However, the stone artifacts of Silla remain and display the high degree of Buddhist art of Silla. The three-story stone pagodas known as Seokgatap and Dabotap (Pagodas of multiple treasures) display a refined beauty. These are representative of stone pagodas of Unified Silla together with the three-story stone pagoda decorated with four lions at Hwaeomsa Temple. The Blue and White Cloud Bridges, the Lotus Flower Bridge and the Seven Treasures Bridge leading to the front entrance of Jahamun and the stone pillars of Bomyeongnu to the west of Jahamun are representative of three dimensional beauty. As Buddhist bells, the bronze bell at Sangwonsa and the New Bell of King Seongdok are the most famous. In particular, the New Bell of King Seongdok is known as the finest Buddhist bell for its magnificent echo and fascinating sculptures of angels and lotus flowers. Among stone lanterns, the Twin Lantern of Beopjusa Temple and the lantern in Bulguksa Temple are known for their balance. The sculptures carved on the monument of King Muyol’s tomb and the 12 zodiacal signs carved on the monument of Kim Yu-sin’s tomb and Gwoereung (Hanging royal tomb) are examples of exquisite workmanship. In the field of calligraphy, Kim Saeng was unsurpassed and among painters, Kim Chung-ui became famous in Tang.

4. Advances in Sea Trade Overseas

(1) Studying Abroad and Activities of the Remaining People
Overseas activities of the Korean people developed more during the period of Unified Silla and Balhae than during any other traditional period. Silla and Balhae sent many of their students to Tang to import its culture. The Tang and Silla governments paid for the educational expenses of many of the students who came from Silla. These foreign students were called “boarding-students” and could stay in Tang for 10 years in order to finish their studies. There are many students who passed the civil service examination of Tang. Silla’s Kim Un-gyeong, Kim Ga-gi, Choe Chi-won, Choe Sin-ji, and Balhae’s Go Won-go, Oh Gwangchan were among such students. Some of them became Tang officials. High monks such as Uisang and Woncheuk also studied in Tang. Upon returning home, Uisang founded the Hwaeom-jong (Avatamsaka) in Silla, and Woncheuk rose to fame as a high monk in Tang. Hyecho made a pilgrimage to India and documented his travels in a report called “A Journey to Wango cheonchuk-guk” which told of his adventures. This journal became an important document in historical studies of India and Seoyeok(West of China). On the other hand, after the destruction of Baekje and Goguryeo, some of their remain people remained active in China. Heukchi sangji, the general who led the Baekje restoration movement also led the Tang army in an expedition against Tufan and Tujue. Go Seon-ji, a Goguryeo descendant, became known as a famous general when the Tang army traveled over the Pamir Plateau known as the “Roof of the World” in an expedition to Seoyeok.

(2) Sea Trade and Jang Bo-go
As relations between Silla and Tang became closer, the two countries’ sea trade increased. Silla exported silk fabric, ramie fabric, ginseng, and gold and silver items and imported silk, books and medicine from Tang. Many Silla people frequented Tang to engage in trade. As a result, people of Silla settled in villages known as “Silla-bang” around Shandong and the lower Yangzi River, and a supervisory agency known as “Silla-so” and a Silla people’s temple like “Silla-won” were established as well. Japanese monks traveling in China frequently visited these Silla-wons.
As Silla’s sea trade activities increased, pirates became rampant, harrassing sea traders. Jang Bo-go, who served the Tang navy for a time, came back home to establish the Cheonghae-jin and develop the Silla naval force. He protected the trade activities of Silla sailors with convoys to oversee the three seas around the Korean peninsula and the Eastern Sea of China. He became a leader of maritime and trading activities. Being recognized for his merits he was appointed Ambassador to Cheonghae-jin, but afterwards, as a result of his involvement in political disputes, he suffered a tragic death.

(3) Propagation of Silla Culture to Japan
After Silla’s unification, diplomatic relations with Japan, which were once severed, were restored and envoys made frequent visits back and forth between the two countries. In the 8th century alone Japanese envoys transporting students and monks to Silla made eleven different trips. After returning home, these students played a large role in formulating the legal system of Japan. The Hakuho culture of Japan received a great deal of influence from Silla culture. The people of Silla contributed greatly to the development of Japanese Buddhism during the Nara period. Both Kyoki and Kimi Maro were involved in erecting the great Buddha in Nara. However, as political confusion worsened in Silla, diplomatic relations between Silla and Japan were cut off.


Goryeo, which successfully reunified the country, arranged its political and social structures around Confucian political ideology, and developed an aristocrat-centered society and culture. In the latter half of the 12th century the military rebelled against the civilian structure, and the Goryeo society underwent a great deal of disturbance under the military regime. Later, Goryeo was invaded by the Yuan Dynasty and underwent many trials to maintain its independence, but it continued to make steady efforts to keep its independence. During the period of the Goryeo Dynasty, the national culture developed greatly. Confucian and Buddhist cultures were amalgamated and many cultural exchanges were made with foreign countries. Goryeo developed the use of type setting as well as the use of metal types. In addition, Goryeo’s blue ceramics demonstrate the artistic talents and creative capabilities of its people.

1. National Reunification and Safeguarding Independence

(1) The Founding of Goryeo and National Reunification
At the end of the 9th century, during the reign of Queen Jinseong, Silla fell into a state of confusion with a weakening of royal authority. Rebellions sprung up everywhere and clan chiefs dominated the local areas. In the territory of Baekje, Gyeonhweon established Later Baekje and in the territory of Goguryeo, Gungye established Later Goguryeo. In this way, Silla was split into three territories which became known as the Later Three Kingdoms. Gungye, the King of Later Goguryeo which was the greatest among the Later Three Kingdoms, was driven out by his subjects and then Wang Geon took the crown to found Goryeo (918). Wang Geon, later known as King Taejo, renamed Later Goguryeo as Goryeo as an expression of its restoration and moved the capital from Cheolwon to his hometown of Songak (Gaeseong). This founding king aggressively won the powerful local chiefs over to his side, and adopted a policy of love for the people to win over the hearts of the people. Thus, the power of Goryeo was strengthened. King Gyeongsun, the last sovereign of Silla, followed the popular sentiments of the people and ceded his sovereignty to Goryeo in 935. Thus Silla fell. In the following year, Goryeo attacked Later Baekje, which had been weakened as a result of disputes, and destroyed it in 936. With this, the Later Three Kingdoms, which were in a state of confusion for over 40 years, were reunified by Goryeo. Even before this, around the time of its downfall the majority of the Balhae ruling class surrendered to Goryeo. Goryeo received them and achieved national reunification. In order to restore the old territory of Goguryeo, King Taejo employed a policy to expand to the north. Pyongyang was referred to as Seogyeong (Western capital) in order to build it into an operational base to develop the north. In the last years of the reign of King Taejo, the national territory expanded up to the Cheongcheon River and Yongheung River.

(2) The Establishment of the Ruling Structure
In the early stage of Goryeo, local chiefs held a great deal of power, and as a result of the King’s political decision to enter into a marriage of convenience, members of the Queen’s family entered the palace. The king’s authority lacked stability. Thus, Goryeo needed to firmly establish a central authority for political and social stability. In order to establish his own authority, King Gwangjong suppressed the powers of the chiefs as well as the Queen’s family. He enforced a law governing slaves and set free the slaves who were unlawfully owned by the chiefs. He enforced a Gwageo, civil service examination system and employed officials based on the results of these examinations. As a result, the powers of the chiefs were weakened and royal powers were strengthened. Under the reign of King Seongjong, more refined institutions were adopted to maintain a system of centralized ruling power. He adopted the ideas of Choe Seung-ro, a Confucian scholar-statesman, to make Confucianism the political ideology and reformed the central government organizations and local administrative organizations. Such measures were almost completed during the reign of King Munjong. As the central political organization, King Seongjong set up the organizations of Naesa munhaseong (later changed to Jungseo munhaseong), Sangseoseong and Jungchuwon (central council). The Jungseo munhaseong determined state policies. The Sangseoseong was the executive branch and was composed of six departments-Personnel, Military, Treasury, Justice, Rites and Construction-which covered all the official administrative matters. The Jungchuwon was in charge of receiving and promulgating the King’s orders and military secrets. In addition, accounts were kept by the Eosadae (office of the inspector) and Samsa, which was in charge of receiving, delivering, and keeping the accounts of money and grains. In the Dobyeongmasa (General Military Command), composed of high officials from the Jungseo munhaseong and Jungchuwon, they decided on the important policies of the state. The Dobyeongmasa was changed to Dopyeonguisasa in the latter period of Goryeo and developed as the supreme organization of the state. During early stage of Goryeo, local administration was left to the autonomy of the chieftains, but under King Seongjong, 12 divisions to which governors were dispatched were established. Later, local administrative organizations were gradually readjusted and divided the whole country into five provinces and two special provinces. In the two special provinces, military commanders were dispatched and in the five provinces, provincial governors were stationed to govern the cities, counties and Hyeon. Hyang, So and Bugok were created, which were special administrative districts where the menials lived. As military organizations, “Two Armies” and “Six Guards” were established as central structures and local armies were also set up. The Two Armies served as the King’s royal guards, and the Six Guards were charged with policing the central city (Gaeseong) and responsible for national defense. The Supreme Commander of the Two Armies and Six Guards was the Sangjanggun (High general). A military council (Jungbang) gathered to consult on military affairs. The system of land distribution was overseen by the Jeonsigwa which was first organized during the reign of King Gyeongjong, and then reformed under King Mokjong on the basis of official status. In Jeonsigwa officials were divided into 18 classes and given farms and forestland according to the ranks of the officials. When the officials died, the land was, in principle, returned to the state. Pieces of land referred to as Gongsin-jeon were given to meriting vassals, Gongeum-jeon were given to officials above the 5th rank, and Naejang-jeon were given to members of the Royal House. These lands could be handed down to one’s descendants.

(3) Centered on Family Lineage
During the Goryeo dynasty, family lineage was regarded as very important. Men born to well-off families enjoyed many privileges as aristocrats. They occupied high government positions and possessed large acreages of farmland. The male children of officials above the 5th rank became government officials without having to pass the civil service exams. This was referred to as the Eumseo system and aristocrats from good families could retain a high government office for many continuous years. During the middle period of the Goryeo dynasty, powerful families controlled the government. They married into the royal house and became powerful members of the Queen’s family. Examples of such aristocratic families were the Yi clan of Inju, the Kim clan of Gyeongju and the Choe clan of Haeju.
The Goryeo society consist of 4 classes. The high class consisted of the royal family and high aristocrats, the middle class consisted of lower level bureaucrats and technical bureaucrats, the lower class commoners, and the lowest class consisted of menials and slaves. Thus, the middle classes composed of the lowest group of rulers, commoners, and menials were the governed. Merchants and handicraft workers were members of the commoner class. They were responsible for production and bound to provide taxes, imposts and corvee. Slaves, butchers, actors and residents of Hyang, So and Bugok were considered menials. In Goryeo, the government organizations of Uichang (righteous warehouse), Sangpyeongchang (ordinary warehouse) and Bo (foundations) stabilized the life of farmers. To provide relief to poor peasants, the Uichang stored and loaned grains during famines or in the spring. The Sangpyeongchang purchased grains when prices were low, and when prices soared, it sold the grains in order to regulate the prices. So, Jewibo was a kind of foundation which existed in order to relieve the poor. In addition, the Dong-daebiwon and Seo-daebiwon (emergency centers of the East and West) were medical facilities for the poor. Industry was centered on agriculture, but the commerce and handicraft industries developed gradually. With the rise in commercial activities, pieces of iron “Geonwon-jungbo”, “Samhan-tongbo” and “Dongguk-tongbo” as well as silver bottles were used as currency. But these currencies were not widely circulated. In the Goryeo dynasty, “Yeondunghoe” and “Palgwanhoe” were observed to offer sacrifices to the indigenous gods. The people engaged in playing ball, riding swings and wrestling during the “Dano” festival which always fell on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar.

(4) The Military Regime and Changes in the Ruling Power
Entering the 12th century, the foundations of the family-centered aristocratic society began to shake. A member of the Queen’s family, Yi Ja-gyeom declared war in 1126, and Myocheong began a movement to relocate the King’s court to Seogyeong (Pyongyang) in 1135. These incidents were pacified, but the abuses and contradictions within the aristocratic society were not rectified. To compound the situation, the practice of favoring civilians and discriminating against the military within aristocratic society became more acute. The military, who were long discontent over their discrimination, rose up with disgruntled others with Jeong Jung-bu as their leader in 1170. They deposed and exiled King Uijong, and killed many civilians in order to set up a military government. The new ruling power of the military continued to engage in in-fighting over who would retain power, and this further aggravated political and social confusion. By the end of the 12th century, Choe Chung-heon retained dictatorial power and settled the confusion to some degree. The military coup d’etat shook the family-centered aristocratic society of Goryeo. It brought down the civilian structure of control and the military occupied all of the high and important positions. Corruption and tyranny ran rampant under their rule and caused great suffering among farmers and menials. As a result, the peasants everywhere rose up in rebellion, shaking the very foundation of society. Under the guidance of Mangi and Mangsoi, peasants and menials rose up and in Myeonghak-so, Gongju and in Jeonju, government slaves rebelled. In Gyeongsang-do peasant rebellions under the leadership of Kim Sa-mi and Hyo Sim broke out, and in Gaegyeong(Gaeseong), Choe Chung-heon’s slave Manjeok planned a movement to emancipate slaves.

(5) Struggles Against the Northern Tribes
In the Goryeo dynasty, the northern tribes of Qidan, Jurchen, Mongols were very strong, but by waging fierce struggles against them Goryeo safeguarded the country and its people. Goryeo implemented a policy of expanding northward from the beginning of its national foundation. Qidan, which stood in confrontation with Song, felt uneasy with Goryeo’s pro-Song and northward expansion policies and frequently tried to invade Goryeo. Under the reign of King Seongjong, Goryeo’s Seo Hui had a bout with the invading Qidan commander, and retrieved six towns south of the Amnok River. During the reign of King Hyeonjong, the Goryeo army under the command of Gang Gam-chan nearly destroyed the Qidan army which invaded Goryeo in Gwiju for the third time. This is known as the Victory of Gwiju (1019). In the 12th century, the Jurchen tribe expanded their power to cover the northeastern frontier territory of Goryeo. A special unit led by Yun Gwan conquered and built nine walls around the area because of the repeated appeals by the Jurchen tribe when this territory was returned. Afterwards, the Jurchen, which had regained much strength, founded the nation of Jin and became a powerful nation dominating northern China. Goryeo received pressure from Jin for a time, and to repel this, the monk Myocheong proposed relocating the capital to Seogyong and sending an expedition against Jin. Choe Chung-heon’s dictatorial regime was succeeded by his descendants for four generations during 60 years while the Choe clan strengthened their military government. The Mongols became a powerful world empire in the Asian continent during the 13th century. By demanding that Goryeo pay unreasonable tributes the Mongols oppressed Goryeo during the reign of King Gojong. The Mongols launched a full-fledged invasion of Goryeo in 1231. Military dictator Choe U moved the King’s court to Ganghwa Island and prepared to engage in battle. The Mongols invaded Goryeo many times for 40 years, but Goryeo resisted with the solidarity of the whole nation. The valiant struggles of the peasants and menials were particularly worth noting. But a coup took place in Ganghwa. Choe’s military regime crumbled and an approachment appeared between Goryeo and the Mongols. Finally, peace was negotiated and the King’s court returned to Gaegyeong. However, the military unit, the Sambyeolcho, under the command of Bae Jung-son opposed the return of the capital to Gaegyeong and continued the war against the Mongols. They moved their base of operations to Jindo and Jejudo, where they continued the resistance struggle for four years. They were finally suppressed by the allied forces of Goryeo and the Mongols in 1273.

(6) Safeguarding Independence
After the end of the resistance of Sambyeolcho, Goryeo was invaded and pressured by the Yuan (the Mongols named their dynasty Yuan) and Goryeo’s independence was challenged. As a result of pressure by Yuan, Goryeo was forced to provide ships and military forces to two expeditions to Japan by the Yuan. Yuan established the Ssangseongchong branch of government to govern the land north of Cheollyeong. With the intervention of Yuan, the official organizations of Goryeo were restructured. But even under the intervention of Yuan, Goryeo maintained national sovereignty and made efforts to drive out the forces of Yuan. In the mid-14th century, when Yuan was driven back northward by the newly rising kingdom of Ming, King Gongmin adopted an anti-Yuan policy of self rule and enforced reform in politics. King Gongmin attacked the government branch, Ssangseong, and recovered the land north of Cheollyeong. He restored the official organizations of the nation, expelled pro-Yuan officials and prohibited the practice of Yuan customs. At the time, powerful aristocrats occupied large tracts of land and owned many slaves. The King returned these unlawfully occupied lands to their rightful owners and liberated the slaves. Due to opposition by powerful aristocrats, the King’s reform measures failed. Japanese pirates and the Chinese Red Turbans invaded frequently, bringing heavy losses to the Goryeo people. In the process of repelling these invasions, military power increased. Choe Yeong and Yi Seong-gye became famous generals. At the end of the 14th century, an expedition to conquer Liaodong was discussed among the circles of Choe Yeong, but on his march north, Yi Seong-gye, who led this expedition, went as far as Wihwa Island on the Yalu only to do an about-face. In Gaegyeong, he took power and made preparations to establish a new dynasty with a group of new scholars.

2. Development within the Goryeo Culture

(1) Expanding the Cultural Sphere
In the Goryeo dynasty, local chieftains came up to Gaegyeong to become a part of the aristocracy as government officials, the aristocracy being the leaders of culture. Therefore, in comparison with the Golpum system of Silla, the cultural leaders in Goryeo expanded with increased diversity. The cultural sphere during the Goryeo dynasty was wider than during the Silla period. While the system of civil service examinations was enforced and Confucian political ideology was formally recognized, Confucian culture was developed together with Buddhist culture in mutual harmony. Islamic science and technology were introduced via Yuan to further widen the scope of culture.

(2) Development in Confucianism and History
Through the civil service exam system, which was enforced from the time of King Gwangjong, officials were appointed based on their competence in their scholarly knowledge of Confucianism and Chinese literature. Thus, they contributed to the development of these fields. In addition, the encouragement of studies in Confucianism and the establishment of learning institutions of the central “Gukjagam” and local “Hyanghaks” by King Seongjong laid the foundation for further development of Confucianism. The “Gukjagam” was the national university for the education of Confucianism. Representative of Confucian scholars during the early years of Goryeo was Choe Chung, who was referred to as the “Confucius of the East”. Choe Chung established nine private Confucian schools and trained many students. When the government institute of Gukjagam deteriorated, 12 private institutions including the above nine schools boomed. In order to promote government education, King Yejong set up a foundation called the “Yanghyeongo” (Foundation for Training of Talents) and stationed seven specialized lecturers in Gukjagam who faithfully carried out the education. In the latter years of Goryeo, the philosophy of “Seongri” was introduced to influence society. Different from traditional Confucianism, Seongri philosophy was a Neo-Confucianism which sought to answer the fundamental problems of the universe and the humanities. It was introduced to Goryeo through Yuan. A Hyang first introduced this philosophy and Yi Je-hyeon studied it while associating with Yuan scholars in Yenching, the capital of Yuan. In the latter period of Goryeo, Yi Saek, Jeong Mong-ju, Gil Jae, Jeong Do-jeon and other scholars made their appearances. During this time, the corruption within Buddhism became notorious and abuses were widely committed by powerful aristocrats. The group of new scholars who made their advent into government studied metaphysics and were critical of the contradictions within Buddhism and confronted the powerful corrupt aristocrats. In the Goryeo dynasty, many books were compiled. The most famous is the Samguk sagi (The Historical Records of the Three Kingdoms) written by Kim Bu-sik and the Samguk yusa (The History of the Three Kingdoms) by Iryeon, a monk. The Samguk sagi, which is the oldest existing book, recorded the history of the Three Kingdoms from a Confucian perspective. Samguk yusa is a book of narrative literature relating important data regarding the ancient culture from a Buddhist perspective. These books are twin gems and have become the basic material in the study of ancient history. In addition, the Jewangungi (Histories of Korea and China) by Yi Seung-hyu, which was written in the form of Chinese poems, and a portion of Haedong Goseung-jeon (Biographies of High Monks) by Gakhun still exist.

(3) The Flourishing of Buddhism and Typesetting the Daejanggyeong
Buddhism in Goryeo developed greatly under the protection of the state and the support of the aristocracy. As a result, many temples were erected, the titles of Wangsa (Royal Priest) and Guksa (National Priest) were conferred on famous monks, and an exam to enter monasteries was included in the civil service examinations. Among the priests of the early Goryeo dynasty, Daegak guksa Uicheon is the most famous. To end the confrontation between the Gyo sect and the Zen sect, he founded the Cheontae-jong sect. With Buddhism flourishing, typesetting the Daejanggyeong created a comprehensive compilation of Buddhist thought. The first prints of the Daejanggyeong, begun from the time of King Hyeonjong and completed under the reign of King Munjong, were burnt during the Mongol invasion and its woodblocks were lost. Furthermore, Uicheon’s Seok-janggyeong does not exist today, but the Goryeo Daejanggyeong which was produced in Ganghwa Island during the time of the Mongol invasion is famous worldwide for its accuracy, the beauty of its type styles, and its exquisite woodblocks. These print blocks of Goryeo’s Daejanggyeong consisted of over 80,000 plates, and are often referred to as “Palman daejanggyeong” (Tripitaka Koreana). During the period of military reign, the monk, Jinul, played an important role. The Buddhist sect he established, Jogye-jong, combined many sects of Zen Buddhism. Jinul’s Jogye-jong is an attempt to fuse the Zen sect and the Gyo sect from the perspective of Zen Buddhism and has been handed down as the major current within Korean Buddhism. Goryeo’s Buddhism made great contributions to the development of society and culture, but with its growth, temples began to own large tracts of farmland as well as large numbers of slaves. Monks also engaged in decadent lifestyles or participated in secular activities. For these reasons, during the days of Goryeo many people were critical of Buddhism.

(4) Development of Buddhist Art
In the Goryeo dynasty, Buddhist art continued to make great strides as it did under Silla. Stone pagodas, Buddhist images, bells, pictures of Buddha and other Buddhist craftworks were brilliantly created. Among stone pagodas, the 7-story pagoda in the Hyeonhwasa Temple, the octagonal nine-story pagoda of the Woljeongsa Temple and the 10-story pagoda in the Gyeongcheonsa Temple are the most famous. There are also many beautiful and exquisite works among the tomb pagodas of monks. The Silsang Tower of Hong-beop guksa in the Jeongtosa Temple and the Hyeonmyo Tower of Jigwang guksa in the Beopjeonsa Temple well represent the pagodas of Goryeo. At present, they are on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. The 10-story stone pagoda of the Gyeongcheonsa Temple which is representative of the latter period of Goryeo has also been moved to Gyeongbokgung Palace. As Buddhist images, the sitting image of Sojo Amitayeorae of the Buseoksa Temple is considered the first masterpiece of Goryeo. But on the whole the Goryeo Buddhist images are less refined in their artistic workmanship as compared to those of the Unified Silla. The bells of the Yeongju, Jeonheungsa and Tapsansa Temples are noted as the most beautiful Buddhist bells of Goryeo. In the Goryeo dynasty, the technologies of inlaying mother of pearl and leaves of silver and bronze into various wares were developed. Among the Buddhist craftworks, there are some brilliant works made by utilizing such skills. Mother of pearl inlaid on lacquered chests which contain figures of Buddhist sutras and gold crested and willow-designed bottles inlaid with pieces of silver are among such works. The wooden architecture of Korea which is still standing began with edifices constructed during the latter years of Goryeo. Gungnak Hall within the Bongjeongsa Temple in Andong, Muryangsu Hall within the Buseoksa Temple in Yeongpung and Daeung Hall of the Sudeoksa Temple in Yesan are renowned pieces of architecture from the latter period of Goryeo. Among them, Muryangsu Hall in the Busoksa Temple shows beautiful harmony. Buddhist pictures form the majority of paintings from this period. The frescos of Sudeoksa and Buseoksa Temples remain and the paintings of Hyeho such as the “Willow Canon” and hundreds of other paintings of Buddhas have been exhibited in Japan. The “Great Hunting in the Heavenly Mountain,” said to have been painted by King Gongmin, also remains today. Yi Gwang-pil and Go Yu-bang are also known to have been great painters of this age.

(5) Inlaid Celadons of Goryeo
Representative of aristocratic art in Goryeo is the celadon porcelain, the pride of Korean art. The superiority of Goryeo’s celadon porcelain lies in its beautiful and clear nephrite color, its balanced form, and its beautiful patterns which are made by a secret inlaying technique. The celadon porcelain of Goryeo was developed first as a pure blue porcelain, then the patterns were put in and finally a technique was developed for inlaying celadon porcelain. Inlaid celadon porcelain was peculiar to the Goryeo dynasty. It represents the best in the creative abilities and artistic talents of the Goryeo people. Celadon porcelain was mostly developed in the 12th century. In the latter period of Goryeo, no further progress was made in celadon porcelain techniques, and this art declined. Famous locations for celadon porcelain production were Gangjin in Jeollanam-do, Buan in Jeollabuk-do, and Ganghwa in Gyeonggi-do.

(6) Woodblock Printing, Metal Type, and Science
In the Goryeo dynasty, techniques in woodblock printing were further developed and the Daejanggyeong was typeset three times. Following that, in the early 13th century, metal type began to be used in printing. This Goryeo type was the first metal type in the world, 200 years ahead of the West. In 1234, metal type was used to print a book entitled Sangjong gogeum yemun (Ceremonies and Etiquettes of Old and New), but this book does not exist today. Jikji simgyeong (Direct Point of Thinking) published in 1377 is recognized as the world’s oldest edition in metal type. In the final days of Goryeo, the cultivation of cotton began to change the dress of the people. Mun Ik-jeom, who went to Yuan on a diplomatic mission, first brought back some cotton seeds and with his father-in-law, Jeong Cheon-ik, succeeded in cultivating them. Choe Mu-seon studied the method of manufacturing gunpowder from Chinese merchants. He made gunpowder weapons and used them to wipe out Japanese pirates. During Goryeo’s last days, a Hwatong dogam (smoke stacking plant) was established to make gunpowder weapons run by Choe Mu-seon and his technicians. Theories in astronomy and mathematics were imported from Islam to Goryeo by way of Yuan. Goryeo made further technological developments by expanding cultural exchanges.

(7) Literature and Music
In the earlier periods of Goryeo, due to developments in Confucianism and the enforcement of the civil service examination system, Chinese literature advanced. As writers of this period, Choe Chung, Bak Il-lyang and Kim Bu-sik are the most famous, and among poets, Jeong Ji-sang was unsurpassed. “On the hill after the rain, the grass looks green,” thus began his song of parting which was widely sung as a favorite Iyric. The Hyangga of Silla was popular into the early years of Goryeo and the well-known song by Great Priest Gyunyeo was handed down. However, in later years, “Seogyeong byeolgok”, “Cheongsan byeolgok” and “Gasiri” and other ballads were sung as popular favorites. Chinese literature was refined further in the latter
Goryeo period. Yi Il-lo became famous for his refined poems. Yi Gyu-bo composed “King Dongmyeong” which sung of the traditions of Goguryeo and awakened the historical consciousness of the people. Development of literature, narrating and legendary tales flourished. Yi Il-lo’s Pahan-jip, Choe Ja’s Bohan-jip and Yi Je-hyeon’s Yeogong paeseol were among such works. Yi Gyu-bo’s Dongguk isangguk-jip is famous as an anthology of poems and prose. With developments in Confucianism and Chinese literature, famous calligraphers appeared. In the Goryeo dynasty, among calligraphers, Yu Sin, Dan Yeon and Choe U were the most outstanding. Together with Kim Saeng of Silla they became known as the four writing saints. In later Goryeo, Songseolche of Chao Meng-pu style which was imported from Yuan was popularized in Goryeo. Under the reign of King Chungseon, Yi Am became known as a master of writing in this style. Among Goryeo music, the traditional Hyang-ak continued and Daesongak, the classical music of China, was imported from Song and developed as the court music called A-ak. As musical notes of Hyang-ak, Dongdong, Daedong-gang, and Hallim byeolgok were used and as musical instruments, Geomungo and Gayageum were used. In China, the traditional Daesong-ak has disappeared but in Korea, A-ak is still heard today. Also in Goryeo, mask dances such as Cheoyongmu were in vogue.

3. International Activities of the Goryeo People

(1) Exchanges with Song
Goryeo and Song established friendly relations for a long time. Goryeo enforced pro-Song policies in order to import advanced culture from Song, and Song wished to join with Goryeo in order to confront the threat from the northern tribes, so exchanges were active. Goryeo began exchanges with Song under the reign of King Gwangjong, and later, many missions visited Song, dispatching large numbers of students and monks. Merchants also traveled to Song frequently. Kim Haeng-song and Choe Han, students from Goryeo, studied in Guozijian and Goryeo’s monk, Uicheon, studied Buddhist doctrines in Song and brought back many Buddhist books. Before this, in the earlier stages of Goryeo, Uitong and Jegwan sailed to China and engaged in many activities. Uitong became founder of the Cheontae-jong sect in Song and Jegwan arranged the fundamental creed of Cheontae-jong in the famous book entitled “The Creed of Cheontaesa”. Many Chinese subjects were naturalized as citizens of Goryeo and engaged in activities in Goryeo. Many were apt writers and became government officials in Goryeo. Ssang Gi during the reign of Gwangjong and Zhouzhu under the reign of King Mokjong are examples of such personages. The Song envoy, Xujing, wrote “A Pictorial of Goryeo” introducing the things of Goryeo to China and praising the celadon porcelains of Goryeo as world masterpieces. Trade was active between Goryeo and Song; Goryeo exported gold, silver, ginseng, mats woven with flower designs and works inlaid with mother of pearl and imported brocades, medicines and books from Song. Song porcelains influenced the development of the celadon porcelain in Goryeo, and the Daesong-ak of Song became the court music of Goryeo.

(2) Exchanges with Qidan and Jurchen
From the first stages after its founding, Goryeo enforced a policy to march northward in order to recover the territories of old Goguryeo. Thus, Goryeo often clashed with the kingdom of Qidan which destroyed Balhae and ruled over Manchuria. Thus, exchanges between Goryeo and Qidan were not active. Goryeo exported grains and stationary and imported silver and fur from Qidan. After the destruction of Balhae, the Mohe tribe lived in scattered groups throughout Manchuria as well as in the northern frontiers of Goryeo. Some of them referred to Goryeo as their parent country and offered gifts to Goryeo as tribute. In the 12th century, Jurchen became a powerful nation and founded the unified kingdom of Jin, and Goryeo was subject to the threats of them. For this reason, trade between Goryeo and Jurchen began, but not actively. Goryeo imported silver, fur and horses from Jurchen and exported farm implements and grains.

(3) Contacts with Islam
The islands of the Saracen Empire in southwest Asia engaged in active trade with China, and the Arabian merchants of the Saracen Empire carried on commerce with Silla by sailing to Ulsan via China. During the Goryeo dynasty, large groups of Arabian merchants arrived at Byeongnan Island to engage in trade. Byeongnan Island prospered as an international trading port at the mouth of the Yesong River where Song and Arabian merchants brought mercury, spices and corals, and Goryeo gave them gold and brocades in exchange. Through their visits, Goryeo became known to the West and that is how Korea got its Western name.

(4) Exchanges with Yuan
In the 13th century, relations between Goryeo and Yuan became closer, and they engaged in active cultural exchanges up to the mid-14th century. Visitors coming and going did not cease for 80 years and customs were exchanged. Among the upper class of Goryeo, Mongolian was spoken and Mongolian customs were practiced as the cultures of the two countries were mutually exchanged. Marriages were often contracted between the royal families of the two countries and a Goryeo woman from the Ki family became Empress to King Shundi of Yuan. King Chungseon of Goryeo built Mangwon-dang (Hall of Ten Thousand Books) in Yenching to facilitate scholarly exchanges between the two. Goryeo’s Yi Je-hyeon and Yuan’s Chao Meng-pu made their scholastic debuts in the Mangwon-dang. Later, many writers of Goryeo often visited Yuan and exchanged their customs. At that time, Yuan was a world empire and imported cultures from various countries. As a result, Goryeo was able to import Saracen culture through Yuan, and the Saracen developments in science and technology, astronomy, mathematics and medicines were influencial in bringing about similar developments in Goryeo. For example, the astronomical observatory “Seoungwan” was built, and observation equipment used for the study of astronomy was improved, while the Yuan almanac “Shuigkili” was imported. Metaphysics was introduced from Yuan and the scholars of metaphysics propelled many social and cultural reforms. The skills of gunpowder manufacturing and cotton cultivation were also imported from Yuan. In these ways, the Goryeo-Yuan exchanges gave rise to the development of much of the culture in Goryeo.

(5) Exchanges with Japan and the Southeastern Islands
Between the 9th and 12th centuries, diplomatic relations with Japan had been severed, but with the weakening of the Japanese legal system, local Japanese military officials began to grow in power and the Daimyo’s or local lords’ post-military forces expanded their power in the west. Thus traders of western Japan and Tazaifu actively engaged in relations with Goryeo. Japanese envoys and merchants brought sulphur and mercury to Goryeo while Goryeo sent them the Daejanggyeong, books and ceramics to be used for tea ceremonies. In the latter period of Goryeo, relations with Japan deteriorated. The expedition of Goryeo-Yuan allied forces to Japan failed and the repeated invasions and attacks by Japanese pirates meant huge losses for Goryeo. Bak Wi, during the reign of King Chang, once attacked Tsushima, one of the island posts of Japanese pirates and overturned the pirate forces in 1389. In the last days of Goryeo, the Loochoos and Thailand of southeast Asia sent envoys to Goryeo to offer their native products, and Goryeo returned the gesture by also sending them gifts. In this way, there were some exchanges with the Loochoos and Thailand.


The Joseon dynasty was founded by the gentry and the military during a period of crisis and confusion which ensued in the 14th century. The leaders advanced Confucian political ideology and propelled a policy of stabilization for the creation of a nation and a powerful army. In the beginning of the 15th century, a Confucian and Yangban(aristocracy)-centered system was firmly established and industry developed with the propagation of a policy of agricultural development and welfare of the people. Thus, social and economic stabilization were achieved. The national spirit was heightened and national strength expanded. Based on these, national culture bloomed. In the 16th century, philosophy flowered, but due to splits within the ruling class, the national defense was weakened and Joseon fell victim to invasions by the Japanese warlord, Hideyoshi, and also the Manchus. Through the Hideyoshi invasions, a lot of Joseon’s culture was introduced to Japan.

1. Political Development and Society

(1) Founding of Joseon and Early Growth
In the social confusion and national crisis which ensued in the final days of Goryeo, the gentry and military explored means for establishing a new state. With the withdrawal of the army from Wihwa Island on the Yalu, military forces were strengthened and its new leaders drove out the old aristocratic powers of Goryeo and enforced a land reform program in order to step up their economic basis. Then Jeong Do-jeon, Jo Jun and other powerful civilians placed Yi Seong-gye on the throne to establish a new state in 1392. The name of the new state was Joseon. This name reflected a historical consciousness that it was succeeding the traditions of Gojoseon. The capital was fixed in Hanyang (now known as Seoul), located at the center of the Korean peninsula, and the new reign strove to win over popular support. Joseon’s basic policies were Confucianist politics, agricultural economy, and pro-Ming diplomacy. In other words, it upheld Confucianism in governing the nation, promoted agricultural production in order to increase national revenue and stabilize the lives of the people, and urged for peace and stability by promoting friendly relations with the Ming Dynasty, a newly rising power in the Asian continent. Since the national structure was stabilized under the reigns of Kings Taejong, Sejong and Sejo, Joseon became a Confucian state and adopted a system of centralized power. With the completion of Gyeongguk daejeon during the reign of King Seongjong, laws for government were provided. Moreover, the national territory as it is known today was established during this period. During the reign of King Sejong, the Jurchens on the Yalu basin and the Tumens were driven out. Four counties and six ports were set up along these basins. With this, the Joseon Kingdom, bordered by the Amnok (Yalu) and Duman (Tumen) Rivers, fixed its territories. Additionally, policies of resettling people from the southern to the northern territories was enforced for the balanced development of the land.

(2) Firm Establishment of a Ruling Structure with Centralized Power
During the initial stage, meriting vassals had grasped substantial political power. However their powers were gradually taken away or absorbed by the royal authority and governing powers were centralized to the royal authority. Taejong readjusted the bureaucratic structures and abolished the practice of building private armies, and governing powers were centralized to the King. He enforced economic reforms in the temples and by increasing the number of those considered citizens, he expanded the basis of national revenues. These reforms stimulated the growth of national culture and expansion of national territory. King Sejong greatly contributed to the development of the Joseon dynasty through the centralized government structure. The supreme administrative organization was known as the Uijeongbu. It was comprised of the Yeonguijeong, Jwauijeong and Uuijeong. These consultative councils decided on national policies which would have to be approved by the King. Under the Uijeongbu, six ministries–Personnel, Finance, Rites, Military, Justice, and Construction–were set up as executive ministries for national administration. In addition, Inspection and Censor Boards as well as the Hongmun-gwan were set up to ensure that the government ran smoothly. As local administrative organizations, the country was divided into eight provinces where governors were dispatched to take charge of their administrations. Within a province, smaller administrative districts known as Mok, Gun and Hyeon were organized and local rulers known as Busas, Moksas and Hyeollyeongs were dispatched. The military service was enforced by a universal conscription system. All male farmers above the age of 16 were obliged to fulfill their duty of military service by bearing arms or paying for some military expenses. Five general headquarters commanded the five central guards. In the border areas and at important military locations, army and navy barracks were established and army and navy commanders were dispatched from Central Headquarters to command the fighting forces.

(3) Yangbans and Bureaucrats
The governing class of Joseon were known as Yangbans. Originally, Yangbans were civilians and military bureaucrats who gradually became the ruling governing class. They enjoyed many privileges. They advanced to become bureaucrats through the civil service examinations, but some of the sons of the upper level bureaucrats, who possessed many special privileges, became bureaucrats without having to pass the civil service examinations.
Among the Yangbans, the civilians were given preferential treatment over military men. Also within the Yangban class, children of illegitimate birth were discriminated against and restricted from advancing in society. Yangbans did not engage in productive labor. They read the Confucian classics or history books and lived their lives according to Confucian rites.

(4) The Policy of an Agriculturally-Based Livelihood and the Farmers
Continuing the tradition of developing agriculture as the foundation for the nation, the Joseon dynasty enforced agriculturally-based livelihoods for farmers as the basic policy of the state. The government made efforts to reclaim land, expand irrigation facilities, reform farming techniques and raise silkworms for weaving. For these reasons, during the early years of Joseon, the amount of arable land increased greatly, farm productivity rose to augment state income, and the lives of the farmers stabilized to some extent. The system of land distribution was based on the Gwajeon system. According to this system, bureaucrats were given pieces of land commensurate with their ranks, as well as to government officials. However, under the reign of Sejo, this land distribution system was repealed and a new system known as the Jikjeon law was instituted. This system only provided land to active bureaucrats. In addition, there were the private lands of government officials, the crown lands, government lands, and self-owned lands of the farmers. All these lands were cultivated by the farmers. Among farmers, there were those who owned the land they tilled, but the majority of them were tenant farmers. The tenant farmers were, by law, compelled to offer half of their harvest to the landlords as a form of payment for living on and tilling the land. The farmers were also compelled to provide taxes, imposts, and corvee to the state. The taxes were paid in kind, and were placed on the land. Public imposts were placed on agricultural products particular to the locality. The burdens of these imposts were so heavy they caused great suffering for the farmers.
Corvees were systems which mobilized farmers for compulsory labor in the areas of civil engineering and national defense. These were obligatory for adults between the ages of 16 and 60 years. A large portion of the financial revenue of the state was taxes, imposts and corvees which were paid by farmers.

(5) Commerce, Handicrafts and Communications
In the early period of Joseon, agricultural developments resulted from the policy of self-sustaining, family-based agriculture. In contrast, commerce and handicraft industries were late in developing. In the heart of Seoul, many markets existed including the government run Yuguijeon. The merchants of these shops obtained goods ordered from government suppliers and even possessed monopoly rights to sell certain items. Shops also existed in regional cities, but commerce was not heavy. In addition, there were markets which opened once every five days, and hawkers and pack peddlers known as “Bobusang” were the main merchants.
In the handicraft industry, government-run handicraft commerce activities were the centers. Artisans were affiliated to central or local governments and were responsible for goods needed by the state. They produced weapons, printing types, stationery and ceramics. Furthermore, farm households which made handicrafts on the side were merely self-sufficient. Harvests in regional areas were shipped through transportation organizations known as the Joun mainly to Seoul. The taxes collected in kind (grain) from the regional areas were brought to rivers and sea ports and were transported to Seoul. As for transportation and communication facilities, there were Yeoks (stations) and Wons (hotels). On the important transportation routes, Yeoks were placed at 30 li (about 10 miles) intervals and on inconvenient routes Wons were built. Boarding and lodging facilities were provided at Yeoks, as well as the means for transmitting official letters, transporting tributes, and other needs of the travelling official were also provided. Travelling officials were also privy to station horses according to the number of horses carved on their “Mapae” (horse plates). Boarding and lodging accommodations were offered to official travelers in Wons.

(6) Confucian-centered Policy and Education
The Joseon dynasty utilized a Confucian-based politics based on metaphysics. The political ideal of the era was the realization of a King-centered state. Thus, Yangbans had to research and receive education on Confucian culture, and only the civilian bureaucrats who rose to position by passing the exams on Confucianism could hope to become high ranking bureaucrats. The ruling class, as it propagated Confucian-centered state policies, suppressed and changed traditional folk beliefs and Buddhism. But Buddhism was able to preserve its life line as the religion of commoners. In order to propagate a Confucian consciousness among the people, the observance of the Zhuzi garye of crowning top-knots, marriages, funerals and offering sacrifices was mandated. Therefore, these Confucian ceremonies were popularized during the Joseon Dynasty.
The family system was extremely important in Confucianism with the head of the family as the center exercising absolute powers. He presided over the ceremony of offering sacrifices to the ancestors of the family. The Yangbans kept family shrines and offered sacrifices on memorial days. In the Joseon dynasty, the Confucian virtues of loyalty and filial piety were highly valued. Loyalists, filial sons and exemplary women received commendations from the state and were highly respected. Confucianism became the center of education. Four colleges in Seoul and regional schools taught intermediate Confucianism. The highest learning institute, Seonggyungwan College in Seoul taught advanced Confucianism. Technical education in the fields of medicine, astronomy, law, mathematics and foreign languages was conducted by the government.

(7) The Growth of Confucian Scholars and Their Advancement to Seoul
Around the time Joseon had completed the building of its institutions, during the reign of King Seongjong, a new political force appeared. They were referred to as Confucian students (Sarimpa). They were influenced by the scholarly works of Jeong Mong-ju and Gil Jae, who were loyal to the royal house of Goryeo. Gil Jae trained many students in his hometown and later, Kim Jong-jik and his students became a force in Yeongnam (Gyeongsang province).
The Confucian students studied Seongri philosophy which researched the study of human nature and discounted other learnings and thoughts as heresy. They also valued fidelity and duty and placed importance on the classics. During the reign of King Seongjong, Kim Jong-jik was promoted to a high position and the Confucian students known as Sarimpa made their entrance into the central political circles and developed the Sarim faction. This force stood in confrontation with the conservative party (Hungupa) who held the major power in the King’s court at the time. As a result of the conflict between these two forces, social turmoil erupted on several occasions. During the reign of King Jungjong, the Sarim party headed by Jo Gwang-jo propelled rapid reform measures. However, the Sarim party’s reform movement which hoped to realize the political ideals of Sarim failed as a result of opposition by the conservatives. Members of the Sarim party who were forced to return to their hometowns as a result of this defeat set up Seowons in various locations and popularized the idea of the Hyangyak Contract which advocated autonomy of country villages. Seowons were places where Confucian followers cherished the memory of the sages by offering sacrifices. The Sarims also conducted research, studied and educated their children in the Seowons. With the development of Seowons and the propagation of the Hyangyak Contracts, Sarim forces gained strength and Confucian morals were widely spread throughout country villages. In addition, through the research conducted by the Sarim forces in metaphysics, this field flourished in 16th century Joseon.

2. Scholastic Activities, Science, Technology and Culture

(1) Promotion of Scholastic Activities
With the promotion of a king-centered Confucian government, since the beginning of its foundation the Joseon Dynasty encouraged Confucian learning and supported its activities. The government and the conservative Confucian scholars who held governing powers set forth metaphysics as the guiding ideology and conducted research in pragmatic studies in order to stabilize the lives of the people. Thus, through the Confucian scholars, scholarly activities were developed to a higher degree in the 15th century. The successive sovereigns of Joseon made great strides in the development of scholarly learning. Among them, King Sejong and King Seongjong not only led the study of scholarly learning but also actively supported many scholars in their research. King Sejong established a Jiphyeon-jeon (Hall of Worthies) where talented young scholars gathered to concentrate on their studies. King Seongjong established the Hongmun-gwan as the institution to succeed Jiphyeon-jeon in order to provide hospitality and encouragement to scholars.
In the 15th century, many notable scholastic achievements were made in many different fields. Many contributions in the fields of history, geography, agricultural science, medicine, language and phonology are especially evident. In the 16th century, through the activities of the Sarim, the study of metaphysics flourished. Aside from this field, particular achievements did not develop in any other area.

(2) The Creation of Hangul (or Hangeul, Korean Alphabet)
In the past, Chinese characters were used in Korea to write. However, Chinese characters could not adequately express Korean words. Thus, early Koreans used, Idu which was a system based on sounds and meanings of Chinese ideographs, but there were many inconveniences in using this system as well. Because Joseon lacked its own particular national alphabet, except for the intelligentsia, the general people could not understand the written language and thus experienced inconveniences in their lives. During the initial stages of the Joseon Dynasty, as national consciousness rose, Joseon took up the great cultural task of creating its own alphabet which came to be known as Hangul (Hunminjeongeum). King Sejong made great efforts to create a system of letters which would be easy to learn and write. After a long period of research, he succeeded in creating the alphabet Hangul, and in 1446 he promulgated it to the world, referring to it as Hunminjeongeum. Hunminjeongeum means “the correct sounds for the instruction of the people.” It was named as such with the spirit of the King’s love for his people. After the completion of Hunminjeongeum, the King made efforts to promote it by ordering his scholars to publish the Yongbieochon-ga (The Dragon Flies to Heaven) and the Worincheongang-jigok (The Moon Shines on a Thousand Rivers) in Hunminjeongeum. Hangul is easy to learn and systematic. It can, not only give expression to sounds, but its form is beautiful and was created on the basis of scientific theory. Thus, Koreans consider it to be one of the most superior systems of letters in the world. As a result of the creation of Hangul, the Korean people were able to possess pride as a cultured nation with its own unique national alphabet, thus boosting the national culture.

(3) Development of Metaphysics
Metaphysics was known as the study of Cheng Zhu or Zhuzi. It was introduced to our country from China at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty and became the main current of Confucianism during the Joseon Dynasty. Metaphysics greatly influenced politics, society and education during the Joseon era and became the standard for an ethical and moral life. In the initial stages of Joseon, Jeong Do-jeon and Gwon Gun made efforts to fix metaphysics as a political ideology. These scholars were referred to as the “government school” faction. However, at the end of 15th century, a group of Sarim and metaphysical scholars centered around a scholar named Kim Jong-jik. Metaphysics in Joseon thus further developed as a result of these scholars. In the 16th century, metaphysics became a subject of even deeper study and philosophical disputes continued. Yi Hwang and Yi I were great metaphysicians of this era and were the twin stars of metaphysics in Joseon.

Yi Hwang, as the chief theorist in metaphysics, trained many disciples including Yu Seong-ryong and became the master of the Yeongnam school. Yi I, as the chief proponent of Confucian materialism, established the system of Joseon metaphysics and nurtured Kim Jang-saeng and many other scholars who became the masters of the Giho hakpa. During the 16th century the Seowon which had been built in various places included the Baekundong seowon, erected by Ju Se-bung, a Gun official in Punggi. It was named Sosu seowon by the King and was later granted both land and slaves. These Seowons which were named by the state and provided with land and slaves were called Saaek seowons. Afterwards, the local scholars in each of the various regions erected many Seowons, and the number of Saaek seowons which were supported by the state increased daily. The scholars gathered in the Seowons to study metaphysics and educate their disciples. In this way, scholastic activities on the research of metaphysics steadily continued.

(4) Increase in the Compilation of Books
During the beginning of Joseon, national books were actively compiled. Books on the subjects of history, geography, military, Confucianism, morality and others. were published in relatively large numbers. The successive monarchs and ruling classes made great efforts to compile books on history. By compiling the history of the Goryeo Dynasty, the books Goryeosa and Goryeosajeolyo were published. The Dongguk donggam was published in order to provide an outline of national history. From the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, attempts to compile the Sillok, the records of successive Kings, continued. This was done in order to inform the present King of the history of his predecessors which enabled him to use the information as a political model during his reign. Under the reign of King Taejong, the Taejo sillok was compiled and historical records of the successive Kings were published. Four copies of each of these Sillok were printed and preserved in each of the four libraries. Today, the Sillok of the Joseon Dynasty are a proud possession of Korean culture as a precious heritage and have become an important document in the study of the history of the Joseon period.

3. International Relations and Cultural Exchanges

(1) Pro-Ming and Good Neighbor Policies
Joseon enforced pro-Ming and good neighbor policies when forming the nation in an effort to maintain peace with surrounding countries. At the same time, Joseon propelled a northward expansion policy to extend the national territory. Joseon’s pro-Ming policy was established in order to stabilize the state and its royal power, and to pursue economic and cultural interests while maintaining peace with Ming. In compliance with this policy, Joseon regularly dispatched envoys to Ming. Through these envoys, cultural exchanges and economic trade increasingly developed. With regard to the Jerchens, both appeasement and hard-line policies were promoted to temper justice with mercy. Jerchens who surrendered to the government were provided friendly treatment such as granting them opportunities for office and land. Along the borders, trading posts were established to permit Jerchens to engage in trade to obtain the necessities of life. But at certain times, large expedition forces were dispatched to subjugate the Jerchens. During the reign of King Sejong, Choe Yun-deok and Kim Jong-seo drove the Jerchens out and built four counties and six ports to obtain the land south of the Amnok (Yalu) and  Duman (Tumen) Rivers. By the end of Goryeo, invasions by Japanese pirates had caused much damage, but the Joseon government strengthened its navy to confront them. Under the reign of King Sejong, Yi Jong-mu led a fleet of 200 ships to Tsushima, a base for Japanese pirates and conquered them. Afterwards, Japan requested trade with Joseon. Through the good neighbor policy, Joseon granted their request and opened the ports of Jepo, Yeompo and Busanpo. Thus, Japan stationed Waegwans (Japanese Houses) at the three ports and trade activities began inside a confined area.

(2) Japanese Invasion and Conquest of Aggressions
Entering the 16th century, a split within the ruling classes, the impoverishment of many farmers and a weakening of national defense occurred, and the Joseon Dynasty gradually began to experience difficulties. Availing themselves of this opportunity, the Japanese residing in the three ports waged war and Japanese invasions and pillages often took place on the southern coasts. In Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, after stabilizing the state during this era of warring nations, made preparations for a large scale invasion of Joseon. However, Joseon remained unaware of the Japanese situation and was unprepared to meet the Japanese aggression. In 1592, approximately 200,000 Japanese soldiers invaded Joseon and the Waeran (the Imjin War) began. At first, the government armies of Joseon suffered repeated defeats, and the Japanese armies marched north up to Pyeongan and the Hamgyeong provinces. On the sea, however the Joseon navy under the command of Admiral Yi Sun-shin reaped successive victories. Throughout the country, loyal volunteer armies formed and fought against the Japanese together with the government armies of Joseon. Thus, the Japanese army was driven back southward. For three years afterwards, negotiations for a ceasefire continued. After the breakdown of truce talks, Japan again invaded Joseon in 1597. This time, the government, volunteer and Ming armies checked Japan’s advance northward. Following the reappointment of Yi Sun-sin in the Choson navy, the Japanese Navy was annihilated. Yi Sun-shin defeated the Japanese fleet during its flee at Noryang. He died in that battle. With this, the long seven-year Japanese War ended in 1598. The reason behind Joseon’s success was that the whole nation formed an alliance and entered into war with all its might. Among the great victories of the Japanese war, Yi Sun-shin’s triumph at Hansan Island, Kwon Yul’s triumph in Haengju, and Kim Si-min’s battle in the city of Jinju are remembered best and have come to be known as the Three Great Victories. Among the Generals of the volunteer armies, Generals Gwak Jae-u, Go Gyeong-myeong, Jo Hon, Kim Cheon-il, and Jeong Mun-bu are known to have played important roles.

(3) Other Invasions and the Movement to Conquer the North
After the Japanese War, the situation on the continent changed. Ming’s power weakened and the power of the Jerchens increased. The Jerchens, who lived scattered throughout Manchuria, broke away from Ming domination and founded the nation of Hugeum (Later Jin). Thirty years after the end of the Japanese war, Joseon was invaded by Later Jin in 1627. But peace was soon restored and the Later Jin army was driven out of Joseon. Soon after, Later Jin became even more powerful. They changed the name of its country to Qing and demanded that Joseon submit to becoming its subject. When Joseon rejected the demand Qing again invaded Joseon in 1636. Joseon, upon being invaded by Qing, resisted in the Namhansanseong Fortress for 45 days, but finally accepted Qing’s demand and obtained peace. The two repeated invasions by the Jerchen are called the Horan (War of the Barbarians). Under the reign of King Hyojong, Song Si-yeol and Yi Wan led a movement to send an expedition north and made preparations for war. However, Qing had destroyed Ming and had become a great empire which dominated all of China, thus the northward expedition movement failed before it began.

(4) Propagation of Joseon Culture to Japan
Due to the seven-year-long Japanese War, Joseon suffered tremendous losses. Many people were killed or wounded, and homes and property were destroyed. The farmlands were abandoned and the people wandered. Through arson and plunder, many cultural assets were lost. At the same time, approximately 100,000 Joseon citizens were taken to Japan. The majority of them became slaves, and some scholars and technicians were forced to provide scholarly works and technology to the Japanese. Gang Hang taught Seongrihak or Neo-confucianism in Japan and Hujihara Seika, one of his students became a pioneering scholar in Japanese Seongrihak or Neo-confucianism. The development of the Japanese printing culture and printing technology was also influenced by the Joseon culture. During the Goryeo Dynasty, Japan desired the Daejanggyeong and valuable books and carried them out of Joseon. During the Hideyoshi invasions, they stole many books and kidnapped type technicians. The Japanese printing culture developed as a result of these activities. The technology of developing ceramics in Japan also developed as a result of Joseon artisans being kidnapped during the Japanese War. These workers were scattered throughout Japan and were forced to make ceramic wares on the demand of lords. Thereafter, manufacturing of ceramic ware made great advancement in Japan. In addition, Joseon paintings, Buddhist statues and bells from Joseon influenced the development of Japanese culture.


After overcoming the national disasters of repeated invasions, the Joseon Dynasty promoted reforms in the government, economy and military, which gradually restored stabilization. In the 18th century, under the reigns of King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo, Joseon was able to stabilize the government and society, develop its industries, promote Practical Learning and develop a popular culture. Joseon, thus, underwent a period of restoration. But in the 19th century the Joseon society again experienced confusion. During the 60 years of continuous rule by members of the queen’s family, the farmers were impoverished, social unrest heightened, and popular rebellions spread. Even through persecution, Catholicism expanded, and the influence of the newly-founded ideas of Donghak began to gradually grow among the peasants. In the latter part of Joseon, Western civilization was introduced into the country through China.

1. Social Change in the Latter Joseon Period

(1) Factionalized Government
In the 16th century, the Sarim scholars became officials of the central government and confronted the old scholars who were in positions of power in the government. The two factions participated in the administration of the government under King Seongjong with different political views but did not often confront each other. Immediately after Prince Yeonsan came to the throne, confusion ensued in politics. The existing and new factions engaged in a political struggle which has come to be known as “Sahwa,” the bloody purge of scholars. When Yeonsan was dethroned and Jungjong became King, the new Sarim forces attempted to administer to the government a Confucian idealism centered around the scholar Jo Gwang-jo. However, their policies of reform failed as a result of opposition by the old faction. This drove the government into a state of confusion. Later, the political scene worsened, as conflicts within the queen’s family increased in severity. Under the reign of King Seonjo, the new Sarim forces led the nation’s activities and Sarim politics began. There were, however, political differences among the Sarims and factionalism arose. They carried out a particular form of governing by restraining the growth of any one particular faction and taking turns in possessing power. This factionalism which began in early Joseon became more complicated as they entered the late Joseon Dynasty. Later factionalism grew even worse and had negative ramifications on social and economic life. These factional strifes were not corrected even after the country experienced the great suffering of the Waeran and Horan. Rather, factionalism grew in intensity creating not only political confusion but divisions in society as well.

(2) The Tangpyeong Policy and Restoration of Joseon
The many years of continuous factionalism in politics brought about all sorts of negative effects. There were deep concerns expressed over such ramifications and during the reign of King Seonjo, Yi I cautioned against the evils of factionalism. In the 18th century, Yeongjo and Jeongjo promoted the Tangpyeongchaek, a pacifying policy, in order to check factionalism.
They called the representatives of each faction together, advised them to get along, promoted people without making distinctions on the basis of faction, erected the Tangpyeong monument at the entrance of Seonggyungwan and even taught students. This policy, enforced with a strong will, eliminated factionalism by refusing to take sides with any one faction and thus achieved the restoration of Joseon. Yeongjo closed 300 Seowons, enforced the Gyunyeok law (balancing law) in order to do away with evils within the military and restored the Sinmungo system in order to carry out politics reflective of the wishes of the people. In addition, many precious books were published and distributed. King Jeongjo also promoted King Yeongjo’s policy of strengthening royal authority. He especially made efforts to achieve cultural restoration. He established the Gyujang-gak (palace library) and nurtured it as an institution of the crown for the study of the arts, sciences and national policies. He also ordered the compilation of a code of law called Daejeontongpyeon, a pictorial text of the military arts, the GyujangJeonun, a book on phonetics, Jungbomunheonbigo (encyclopedia Koreana), the Chungwanji, and the Takjiji as national undertakings. The newly organized Royal guards (Jangyongyeong) also strengthened the military base of the royal authority.

(3) Reorganization of the Tax System
The law-abiding people of Joseon bore the three duties of paying farm taxes, public imposts and corvees. Around the period of the Waeran, tax collecting was a disorderly operation which increased the difficulties of the people and thus worsened with the Waeran and the Horan. Only by restructuring its system of taxation could the people live in stability and the government increase its revenue. Restructuring of the taxation system began after the two wars and was all but completed by the 18th century. Land tax was imposed on farmlands. During the two wars, much of the land was desolated and government records of landholdings burnt. Land-surveys and the rearranging of land registers increased the acreage of arable land. However, the amount of land used as palace farms and other royal land which was not taxed increased, and the burden of tax-paying people also increased. Thus, the government instituted and enforced laws which lowered tax rates in order to lighten the people’s tax burden and which required fair imposition of taxes.

There were also problems in operating the system of paying imposts on certain farm goods particular to various localities. From the beginning of the nation, the system of paying imposts was enforced but the system caused great suffering among the farmers. Thus, the government ordered the payment of taxes not in goods but in rice and the amount to be paid would be determined by the law governing that region. This was known as the Daedong Law. The Daedong Law was exemplarily enforced in Gyeonggi-do through the proposal of Yi Won-ik under the reign of Prince Gwanghae and it became a uniform law which was enforced in all the provinces except for the Pyeongan and Hamgyeong provinces until the reign of King Sukjong. Military service was enforced through a system of universal conscription and all people were expected to serve.

However, from the time of King Jungjong, the military service system was changed so that people would not have to directly bear the burden of service instead, persons with the financial resources could offer the government cloth for military service. The government drafted soldiers without financial income from these fabrics and thus could maintain national defense. However, establishing military organizations with such a system of drafts was in reality unfeasible. There were many abuses in imposting the amount of fabric for military clothes which would have to be paid out. For example, there were occasions on which people were forced to provide military uniform clothing for soldiers who had run away or were missing. From earlier times, there were efforts to do away with such aspects of military service. King Yeongjo enforced the Gyunyeok Law. This law decreased the number of Pil (a unit of measure for cloth) that would have to be paid from two pils to one, and the state received taxes from fishing, salt making, and ships which originally had been collected by the local office or the palace in order to fulfill its financial needs. With changes in the tax system, the burdens of the people decreased, but the abuses in collecting taxes were not completely resolved.

(4) Increase in Farm Production
An effort to reconstruct the farmland left desolated by the Waeran and the Horan wars was undertaken by the government to stabilize the people’s livelihood. Land surveys were carried out by compiling land registers, land reclamation was encouraged and the development of irrigation facilities were enforced. Handbooks for farmers were published and distributed in rural communities. The construction of dams and reservoirs increased the number to 6,000 throughout the country by the end of the 18th century. As a result of the expansion in irrigation facilities, rice paddy fields increased. The rice transplanting method which had been used by some farmers in the early stages of Joseon was popularized and reduced labor power and increased production. The method of cultivating barley in rice paddies after harvest was popularized. In the area of dry field farming, planting crops in furrows was a common way to obtain a larger harvest. By reducing labor power through new methods of farming, the per capital of arable farmland increased greatly and land owning farmers who cultivated large acreages of land also began to increase. Some of the owners who had large pieces of land employed farm laborers to help them cultivate the land. In the 18th century, commercial products such as ginseng, tobacco, cotton, fruit, and herbs were also cultivated in order to increase the income of farm families. To help in agricultural development, books on agriculture were published. The Gamjeobo, Nonggajipseong (agricultural house collection), Sallim gyeongje (forest economy), and Imwon gyeongjeji (forestry economy) are representative of farmer’s handbooks which appeared during this time. As the households in farming villages prospered, mutual aid organizations such as Gye and Dure formed in rural communities.

(5) Commercial Developments and the Circulation Organization
During the early years of Joseon, except for city shops in Seoul which supplied ordered goods and enjoyed prosperity under special protection by the government, merchants remained inactive. However, in later years, a system of barter emerged and commercial activities underwent change.
After the enactment of the Daedong Law, the government procured necessary goods and had them delivered. The artisans who were responsible for providing these goods were able to thus amass wealth through this system. With the appearance of commercial crops and production goods of “free” handcraftsmen in society, the private merchants who handled such goods made their advent. The city shopkeepers tried to interfere with the activities of these merchants by banning them, to no avail. Under the reign of King Jeongjo, a policy of free commercial activities eliminated restrictions against private dealers and commercial activities of free merchants increased. In the countryside, markets became active, regular markets appeared in each local region and in the large cities, permanent markets opened. In the markets of local regions, merchants and peddlers made their transactions. In the middle of the 18th century, about 1,000 markets opened. Following the development of these markets, roads were improved and currency was circulated in large amounts to facilitate trade. With the emergence of Gogans, a type of middleman, and facilities such as Yeogak and Gaekju, commerce and trade flourished. Paralleling the development of domestic commerce, foreign trade also increased. From the mid-17th century, as trade activities with Qing increased, official and private trade activities were carried on in Junggangjin and Ceman in Fenghuangcheng Manchuria. Leather, paper, cotton, and ginseng were exported and silk, drugs, hats, and stationery were imported. Trade with Japan was conducted through the Waegwan (Japanese house) with Dongnae as its center, exporting ginseng, rice, and cotton, and importing silver, copper, sulphur, and pepper. Free merchants dealing in domestic goods accumulated huge fortunes. The “Gyeonggang” merchants of Seoul, “Songsang” in Gaesong, “Yusang” in Pyeongyang, “Mansang” of Uiju, and the “Naesang” of Dongnae were particularly well known for their wealth.

(6) Changes in Handicrafts and Mining Activities
In the early stages of Joseon, handicraft activities were under strong state control because of a system of exclusively government-commissioned handicraftsmen. However, the road to private enterprises in production was gradually opened. During the latter years of Joseon, most handicraftsmen paid artisan taxes to the state and carried out their production activities as free merchants. They manufactured paper, ceramics, brassware, lacquerware, printing types, weapons, farm implements, and other necessities of everyday life. After the enactment of the Daedong Law, Kong’in (suppliers of goods on demand for the government), appeared and other handicraftmen produced large quantities of handicrafts through the support of wealthy capitalist merchants, who provided goods for Gongins. With growing demand for silver, trade with China increased and silver mining was actively pursued. By the end of the 17th century, 70 silver mines were in operation. At this time, developments in gold mining were also made. Copper mining was developed actively for copperwares, weapons and copper coins. However, enterprising miners and merchants, because of the heavy burdens of taxes, mobilized their capital in order to develop and gather underground resources.

(7) Changes in the Social Status System
The Joseon society was a Yangban-centered society. Severe discrimination existed between the Yangbans and the ordinary people. Among the Yangbans, there were those who, as they went from generation to generation, put on airs of pretension, and there were Yangbans in the countryside who outwardly maintained their social status in spite of economic bankruptcy. Among some farmers, there were those who, either through distinguished service in war or providing assistance to the national economy during times of difficulty, were granted Yangban status in recognition of their patriotism. As a result of increased royal or landlord owned farmlands, farmers who lost their land were forced to become either hired farm laborers or day workers. Among slaves, who were recipients of the most contemptible treatment in society, there were increasing numbers who were given the status of common people in gratitude for their military exploits. Because an increase in draftable soldiers and tax payers meant increases in national revenue, the state tolerated the rise of slaves to the status of common people. Thus, by 1801, except for a minority, a total of 66,000 public slaves were liberated to become law-abiding citizens of the state. Technical workers, illegitimate sons of Yangbans, and local officials in government were referred to as the middle class and were recipients of discrimination. Following the changes in the social and economic situation in the latter period of Joseon, these persons made efforts to elevate their social status. The Yangban-centered status system was affected, and movement between each social stratum was evident but was inadequate to overturn the historical trends. Thus, the structure of Yangban domination continued as before.

2. New Trends in Cultural Activities

(1) New Directions in Scholarly Activities
During the Joseon period, scholarly works were based on the study of Seongrihak or Neo-Confucianism. Scholars in metaphysics professed that only metaphysics was correct and dismissed other learnings. They dismissed not only Buddhism, but the philosophy of Wang Yang-ming which was one current in Confucianism, and concentrated on metaphysics alone. As a result, while it is true that metaphysics developed in Joseon and obtained deeper roots, it is also true that by placing too much of a bias on the metaphysical theory alone, an atmosphere encouraging the free development of scholarly activities was not present. In spite of the fact that the country’s social and economic problems were greatly affected by the damage of the two wars of Waeran and Horan and the livelihoods of the people greatly endangered, metaphysics, which concerned itself with philosophical questions, could not provide the answers to these difficult realities. At this juncture, there arose a new movement in scholarly learning. To rectify the misaligned metaphysical and Yangban-centered reality and to set new directions for the country which would aid the livelihood of the people, new thinking called “Practical Learning” emerged.

(2) The Origin and Development of Practical Learning
The harbingers of Practical Learning were Han Baek-kyeom and Yi Su-gwang; however, the actual leaders of Practical Learning who brought its ideas to fruit as a new thought were Yu Hyeong-won and Yi Ik. They did not take positions as government officials, but made efforts in rural communities to nurture disciples in order to create opportunities for the development of this movement. Yu Hyeong-won wrote the Bangyesurok and Yi Ik was the author of Seongho saseol, which was written in an encyclopedia form. In the early 17th and 18th centuries, scholars of Practical Learning dealt mainly with the problems in rural areas, and from the latter 18th century to the early 19th century, scholars dealt with researching economic, technological, and social problems. Furthermore, around the 19th century, these scholars led efforts to build the axes of Hangukhak (Koreanology) with studies in history, geography, languages, and epigraphy. This branch of Practical Learning led the scholarly world at this time. Seo Yu-gu discussed problems in agriculture and showed the way to achieving stability in the livelihoods of the people. Hong Dae-yong, Bak Ji-won and Bak Je-ga insisted that agricultural and commercial industries should be regarded as important, and for that purpose Joseon must open its posts to China, import technology and simultaneously increase trade activities. Jeong Yak-yong propagated structural reforms and a theory of industrial restoration based on these two positions. His scholarly activities contributed to the understanding of science, medicine, religion and Confucianism. There was not any field which was left untouched by his scholarly work. He wrote 500 volumes of books including the Mogminsimseo, Heumheumsinseo and Gyeongseyupyo and achieved a synthesis of Practical Learning.

(3) Developments in Gukhak (national learning) and the Significance of Practical Learning
Scholars of the school of “on-the-spot survey” which was one of the trends in Practical Learning believed that people must achieve an academic understanding of the realities and culture of their country. They strove to conduct academic research concerning the country. Yi Jong-hwi, Yu Deuk-gong, Han Chi-yun, and An Jeong-bok studied history, and Shin Gyeong-jun, Yi Jung-hwan, Kim Jeong-ho studied geography. Jeong Sang-gi and Kim Jeong-ho drew maps of Korea, but Kim Jeong-ho is particularly well known for the creation of a map known as the “Daedongyeojido” which was made through actual field studies and had a variety of practical uses.
Many scholars also studied Korea’s language. The works of Shin Gyeong-jun and Yu Hui are famous. Springing from an interest in history, Kim Jeong-hwi concentrated on studying the epigraphs on stone monuments. As the sphere of cultural activities expanded and scholarly interest in each of the fields increased, many encyclopedia-like books appeared. Yi Ik’s Seonghosaseol, Yi Deok-mu’s Cheongjanggwanjeonseo, Seo Yugu’s Imwongyeongjeji, Yi Gyu-gyeong’s Ojuyeonmunjangjeonsango and the palace-authorized Donggukmunheonbigo are representative examples of such works. Choe Han-gi, during the reign of Heonjong, was a scholar comparable to Jeong Yak-yong who wrote hundreds of books on the subjects of government, geography, science, medicine, and mathematics. Through the scholarly activities of these scholars throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, many measures concerning government administration and improvements in the welfare of the people were presented. The activities of field studies also greatly contributed to national development. These scholarly activities displayed an awareness of approaching modern times and a national consciousness, but were still not completely rid of the influence of metaphysics. In addition, because scholars were not in positions to influence policy making, their advancements didn’t affect the actual lives of the people.

(4) Developments in Science and Technology
As the sphere of cultural activities expanded, various industrial activities became active and developments in science and technology and medicine occurred. In addition, Western technology and medicine were partially accepted. Books based on studies of agricultural technologies were reprinted. Among them were: Shin Sok’s Nonggajibseong, a technical guide to paddy farming; Bak Se-dang’s Saekgyeong, a guide to fruit farming, tree planting, livestock farming, floriculture, irrigation and weather; and Seo Yu-gu’s Imwongyeongjeji, a book dealing with agriculture, forestry, livestock farming, sericulture, food processing, food preservation, clothing, eating, and housing. In addition, Haedongnongseo came out as a book which systematized the agricultural sciences of Korea on the basis of such theories of agricultural technologies and management.
Jeong Yak-jeon, a pragmatist who went to the island of Heuksan to study marine products, researched 155 varieties of fish which he collected and catalogued into a book, Jasaneobo. Many new theories also developed in the fields of astronomy and divination, which are closely related to agriculture. Yi Su-gwang introduced new theories based on his observations of solar and lunar eclipses, tides and other natural phenomena. Kim Seok-mun and Hong Dae-yong advocated a theory of heliocentricity and criticized the traditional geocentric world view. Kim Yuk introduced the Western calendar from China and put it to use. It is a well-known fact that Jeong Yak-yong designed a crane based on a book he read which was imported from China. This crane was used in the construction of Suwon Castle. In traditional Chinese medicine, achievements were also made with regard to its theory and treatment methods. As basic Chinese medical texts, Heo Jun’s Donguibogam and the Chimgugyeongheombang (a book on acupuncture) are famous and influencial even today. Research on the measles were carried out early on and Jeong Yak-yong compiled many books on the subject in order to publish the Magwahoetong. He even experimented with vaccinations.

(5) Growth in the Activities of Popular Culture
As industrial activities advanced and the welfare of the people improved with changes in the social status system, the population expressed interest in educational and cultural activities. As their knowledge gradually grew, people displayed creative talents in literature and the arts. Although there were some Seodangs (village schools for the learning of Chinese classics) in the early period of Joseon, in the latter period, there was hardly a single village which did not have its own Seodang which was run and maintained by the local population. Seodangs were the institutions of primary education which taught Confucianism and history. Pansoris and other songs indigenous to Korea appeared. These accurately reflected the cultural tastes of the people and contained lyrics from novels and folktales. In addition, the Changgeuk developed, a type of operatic theater which the general population greatly enjoyed, and the mask theaters which made fun of the Yangbans were very popular since they expressed the sentiments of the people. Within the women’s society, traditional social activities were frowned upon. So, some ladies, who were learned, composed novels and short poems for songs in Hangul.

(6) New Movements in Literature
Illustrious Yangban officials exerted most of their energy studying Chinese literature. In opposition to the Yangban’s interest in Chinese Literature, the pragmatists believed that the origins of Confucianism must be rediscovered. Thus, a movement to restudy the classics arose. There also appeared a new movement to use colloquial and everyday language and throw away the old conventions. Bak Ji-won’s Yeolha Diary is a work which was written in this new style. In the late 18th century, the middle class and illegitimate sons of Yangbans engaged in literary activities in order to raise their social status. They revealed the historical origins of the middle class, composed biographies of representative personages, and published anthologies of poems and songs. The Gyusa (History of the Sun Flower) and Ihyanggyeonmullok (Experiences in Foreign Countries) are representative of such biographies and the Cheongguyeongeon, Haedong gayo and Haedong yuju are anthologies of poems and songs. The most conspicuous features of literary activities during the latter period of Joseon are the appearance of works which display a popular consciousness and have been written to meet popular tastes. Examples are narratives, novels and the pansoris. Tales such as the Daedong yaseung and Taepyeong gwanggi were composed. Among novels, Bak Ji-won’s Hosaeng-jeon and Hojilmun (Tiger’s Reprimand) as well as works by Yangbanjeon were written in Chinese characters. But Heo Gyun’s Hong Gil-dong-jeon, Kim Man-jung’s Guunmong (Dream in Nine clouds) and Sassi namjeonggi (Southern Expedition), Janghwa hongnyeon-jeon (Rose and the Red Lotus), Kongjwi Patjwi-jeon, Sim Cheong-jeon, Heungbu-jeon, Sukhyang-jeon and Chunhyang-jeon were written in Hangul and read widely by women and common men. Pansoris were especially favored during the latter period of Joseon. Chunhyang-ga, Jeokbyeok-ga, Simcheong-ga, Tokkitaryeong (Song of the Hare) are the most popular pansoris. The man who became famous for the creation and arrangement of many Pansoris is Shin Jae-hyo.

(7) New Trends in Art Activities
In painting, a new trend arose. Korean landscapes in true life form were drawn. This genre of painting of peculiar customs of everyday life was in vogue and tales which were made popular by the common people laid the groundwork for such paintings. The pioneers of true life landscape paintings were Jeong Seon and Sim Sa-hong of Hwawon. Kim Hong-to and Sin Yun-bok of Hwawon are also famous as genre painters depicting the lives of the people in the farming villages and cities. Kim Deuk-sin and Kim Seok-sin, two brothers, were also genre painters who possessed similar styles of painting. Among civilian scholars, there were many who displayed outstanding talents in drawing. Among them, Gang Se-hwang, Sin Wi and Kim Jeong-hui were particularly well known. There were also changes in the Yangban culture of calligraphy. Calligraphers of the past were not able to break away from the influence of Chinese calligraphers, but Kim Jeong-hui succeeded in developing a peculiar style of calligraphy known as Chusa.
In the latter period of Joseon, white porcelain was chiefly developed. Originally, white porcelain was forbidden to the common people, but in the latter period of Joseon, white porcelain was freely sold, and even the common people were able to buy and utilize it. Among wares made in white porcelain, landscapes, flowers and grass were drawn on Cheonghwabaekja. They were used as jars, flower vases and water bottles. Among wooden goods, stationery cases, cabinets, tables, and small dining tables were the chief items used in everyday life. Among the architectual works of the latter period of Joseon, the most representative with its beautiful and solid structure is the castle of Suwon. Others which still remain today are the Maitreya Palace in the Geumsansa Temple, Daeung-jeon in the Songwangsa Temple, Gakhwang-jeon of the Hwaeomsa Temple and Palsang-jeon in the Beopjusa Temple.

3. International Exchanges and New Trends in Religion

(1) Tongsinsa and the Flow of Joseon Culture
After the Waeran, diplomatic relations with Japan were severed. Later, the newly-formed Tokugawa Shogunate initiated relations with Joseon once again. With this new diplomacy, diplomatic activities were to be carried out by the magistrate of Dongnae (Busan) and the lord of Tsushima Island. Waegwans (Japanese houses) were set up in Busan to permit diplomatic and trade activities, but Japanese envoys were prohibited from entering Seoul. At the request of the Edo Shogunate, Joseon decided to dispatch Tongsinsas to Japan. Provided with a hospitable reception, the procession of the Tongsinsa, utilizing both sea and land routes toward Edo, was magnificent. With the dispatch of Tongsinsa to Japan, the two countries exchanged necessary items through the formality of gifts. Needless to say, the rulers of Edo and the local lords en route strove to obtain even higher cultural developments through the Tongsinsa procession. Books on metaphysics and history as well as Buddhist sutras were thus obtained by Japan. Poems, paintings and calligraphies were also given to Japanese lords which stimulated continuous developments in modern Japanese culture.

(2) Exchanges with China
From its start, Joseon generally had friendly diplomatic relations with China. First with Ming and then as Qing dominated the Chinese continent, Joseon developed diplomatic relations with Qing. Joseon dispatched envoys to China each year, some of which had political objectives, while others promoted economic and cultural exchanges. That is, through such envoys to China, articles for royal and official use were exchanged in the form of tributes, messages were relayed between the two countries and the envoys also had the opportunity to engage in international trade on the way. The Chinese envoys were comprised of men with high cultural training. On visits to Beijing, the Korean envoys collected books, observed its advanced culture and imported various foreign elements from China. There were also activities to exchange Chinese scholars. After returning home, the envoys reported information to the king regarding the continent through a list of their experiences. There were also highly intelligent Joseon scholars who went to Beijing to expand their cultural experiences such as Hong Dae-yong, Bak Ji-won, Bak Je-ga, Yi Deok-mu. They were the Bukhakpa, the Northern School of Practical Learning.

(3) Introduction of Western Civilization and Western Learning
In the course of making contacts with the advanced civilization of China, the Bukhakpa posited that the Chinese should not be looked upon as barbarians but their practical civilization should be accepted. They also advocated the acceptance and utilization of Western civilization along with the Chinese. The first Western foreigner to set foot in Korea was a man named Sespedes who came from Japan with the Japanese army during the Hideyoshi Invasion. Afterwards, the Netherlanders Jan Weltree and three others came in 1627, and Hendrick Hamel and a party of 36 men drifted onto Jeju Island in 1653. However, they were not influential culturally. Contacts between Korea and Western civilization continued to take place in China through Western missionaries in Beijing.
Through such opportunities, Western civilization and Western books translated into Chinese flowed into Joseon via China. Such imported Western civilization and books translated into Chinese became, at first, merely objects of curiosity among the intelligentsia of the latter period of Joseon. However, in the mid-18th century, Yi Ik began to make a scholarly study of these books and his disciples continued the research. Study of Western civilization basically dealt with two aspects, materialism based on science and technology, and spiritualism based on religion and ethics. The introduction of science and technology was attempted by Kim Yuk, Hong Dae-yong and Jeong Yak-yong, but these efforts bore little fruit. Religion and ethics appeared through the acceptance of Catholicism and the realization of an ethical Christian life.

(4) Acceptance and Persecution of Catholicism
Yi Byeok, Gwon Il-sin, and Yi Seung-hun, in the course of reading “The Lost Will of God” and other books on Catholicism which were translated into Hangul, came to believe in the existence of a Father in Heaven and created a church in Seoul for the purpose of forming a Catholic community in 1784. The attempt to spread Catholicism suffered great afflictions from its beginning. This is because the government enforced a policy of prohibition and oppression of Catholicism in order to guard the orthodox. As King Sunjo came to the throne succeeding King Jeongjo, persecution against Catholicism began. In 1801,1839 and 1846, persecution spread throughout the country and many Catholic believers underwent great hardships. In spite of these persecutions, the number of Catholic believers continued to increase in various regions of the country. People sought a new religion in order to obtain a peace of mind which could not be found in reality, which was wrought with social instability due to the contradictions within the political powers during this time.

(5) Contacts by Western Forces with Joseon
Since the 17th century, the Western powers had been steadily infiltrating the East via India and Indochina. Upon entering the 19th century, these powers began The Opium War and The Arrow Incident and maintained bases of operations for their continued aggressions in China. Finally, Western powers appeared close to Joseon. The first country to request commercial trade with Joseon was England. In 1816, two British warships appeared on the southern coast and in 1832, a British civilian ship sailed to the coast of Chungcheong-do requesting trade, but without results.
As England’s competitor in the East, France appeared on the coast of Chungcheong-do in 1846. Flying the Tricolors on the flagship of its Far East Fleet, they demanded commercial and diplomatic relations with Joseon. Before this, French missionaries sneaked into Joseon and as a result of their religious activities, they were killed by Joseon in the Gihae Massacre (1839). Holding the Joseon government responsible for this atrocity, they filed strong protests. Afterwards, England and France repeatedly dispatched civilians and warships trying to open the doors of commercial trade with Joseon, but they failed as a result of Joseon’s closed door policy. They thus sailed away leaving only a sense of crisis and strengthening Joseon’s hermit policy. In 1852, an American ship and two years later, a Russian ship sailed in the Eastern Sea. The people of Joseon during this period feared the Westerners, calling them foreign monsters. They haunted Korea’s shores even more frequently during the reign of King Cheoljong.

(6) Impoverishment in Rural Society and Folk Religions
In the 18th century, under King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo, restoration politics stabilized society and an era of law and order ensued. But after King Jeongjo, under the successive reign of Kings Sunjo, Heonjong, and Cheoljong, the era of Sedo (power) politics began. Political powers were grasped and manipulated by members of the Queen’s family. That is, the Andong Kim and Pungyang Jo families retained control of the government for 60 years. They were known as the Noron faction. Factional politics meant that conflicting factions checked each other to ensure that a monopoly of political power did not arise. Towards its end, political power belonged to one faction causing the destruction of many government institutes and severe exploitation of people. Thus, rural society was impoverished. Bureaucrats corrupted by the Sedo system exploited their power to rapidly bring about the destruction of the three “Jeongs” of the government. The three Jeongs refer to the three sources of government revenue: farmland, military and grain.
The local magistrates and officials used all means possible to collect taxes and pocket it for themselves, thereby increasing the burdens borne by farmers. The national financial situation worsened. Still worse, famine and disease continued to add to the hardships of rural communities. These hard-pressed people at first appealed to the government officials for relief, but no corrections were made. Thus, angry masses rose up in rebellion with the poor country Yangbans as their leaders. Such public uprisings filled the people with alarm. Representative examples of these public uprisings are Hong Kyong-nae’s Rebellion under the reign of King Sunjo, the rebellion of Jinju during the reign of King Cheoljong, and the Gyeryong Rebellion. As society fell into a state of confusion, the people’s lives were made miserable and many sought religion. Confucianism and Buddhism had lost their appeal and Catholicism was too strange to accept. Thus, the people turned to folklore and beliefs in mysticism and prophesies which were deeply rooted among the lower classes. The prevalence of such folk beliefs bespoke of a world of unrest.

(7) The Establishment and Growth of Donghak
With social confusion and contacts with foreign powers in the background, another religion known as Donghak (Eastern Learning) made its appearance. Donghak was a religion created by Choe Je-u, a Gyeongju yangban who had lost his economic fortune. As a belief based on a strong sense of nationalism, it was called Donghak to signify its stand against Seohak or Western Learning. Choe Je-u overcame the Confucian thoughts of the Yangban society, and stood in conflict with Catholicism of the West, with this new religion. This new religion combined the three thoughts of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. The basic idea of Donghak was that human minds are heavenly minds; that is, heaven exists in the minds of humans.

Donghak propagated the ideas of human salvation and equality among promised blessings on earth, and proposed the ideas of national peace, salvation of humanity, and eternal youth. In its philosophy, Donghak was closed to the theories of metaphysics and it emphasized the end of the world and the creation of a new heaven and earth. This doctrine was arranged during the time of the second religious leader, Choe Si-hyeong, and appears in the Donggyeongdaejeon and Yongdamyusa which are the “Bibles” of Donghak written for the intelligentsia. When this nationalistic and people-oriented religion of Donghak was introduced, it spread rapidly in the rural communities of the three southern provinces. The government charged the Donghak leaders with heresy and executed Choe Je-u, its founder for spreading heresy. After the death of Choe Je-u, Donghak seemed to have lost its force, but under the leadership of Choe Si-hyeong, it planted even deeper roots among the masses.


In the latter Joseon period, Korea could not keep up with the social and economic developments of modernization and was invaded by Japan, endangering Korea’s rights as a nation. Reform movements for modernization were promoted by enlightened officials and the intelligentsia. But these enlightenment movements were not smoothly carried out as a result of opposition by conservative forces and intervention by world powers. Furthermore, a peasant movement rose up in resistance to aggressions by feudalistic and imperialistic powers, but failed as a result of stern suppression by the government and Japan. Although political and social reforms on an institutional level were implemented very slowly, Korea was not idle in accepting and utilizing modern civilization. This soon set the framework for today’s Korean society, techniques and theories.

1. Modern Reform Movements

(1) Restructuring Domestic Politics and Expulsion of Foreign Aggressors
Around 1860, the Joseon Dynasty faced difficult external and internal problems. Internally, the foundation of national law and order weakened as a result of “Sedo” politics. This period, which spanned 60 years, saw the manifestation of both severe poverty among the Korean population and ceaseless rebellions in various parts of the country. Externally, Catholicism spread far and wide throughout the country and foreign ships appeared on Korea’s coasts to request commercial activities with the Joseon Dynasty. Such domestic and foreign conditions spawned feelings of crisis throughout the whole nation. Thus, the Korean people demanded that the government stabilize the livelihood of the people, check the inroads into Joseon by western powers, and bring national peace. At that time, the Heungseondaewongun, the Regent, who represented King Gojong who was a child at the time, courageously enforced reforms in order to overcome internal and external crises confronting the nation. In order to get rid of the evils of “Sedo” politics, he promoted persons without making references to political party or family affiliations, and in order to reduce the burdens of the people and solidify the basis of the nation’s economy, he reformed the tax system. In order to establish order through law and strengthen royal authority, he also reorganized government organizations, destroyed Seowons and rebuilt Gyeongbokgung Palace. Under the rule of Heungseondaewongun, the Joseon government and people bravely fought against aggressions by the Western powers. After a month of fighting, the defenders of Joseon drove out the French army, who had invaded Ganghwa Island to protest the persecution of Catholics in 1866. During this period the U.S. military presence was also driven out in 1871.
The U.S. had invaded the Joseon regime in retaliation of the burning of a merchant ship on the Daedong River in Pyongyang. After successfully checking aggressions by the French and American armies, the Joseon government further strengthened its closed door policy. At important locations in Seoul and throughout the country, monuments were erected to inspire people to fight against aggressions by Western powers. Furthermore, the Japanese were driven out for being Orangkaes (barbarians) since they maintained relations with the West. The anti-foreign powers policy led by Heungseondaewongun received enthusiastic support from the people, because they felt threatened by potential aggression. However, this closed door policy was not an adequate measure against the great current of world affairs, and thus, it further delayed the modernization movement of Korea.

(2) Opening of Ports and the Enlightenment Policy
Heungseondaewongun left the government after 10 years of serving as Regent. He later became friendly to the idea of exchanges of civilization with foreign powers and as a result Joseon’s foreign policy began to open ports and engage in commercial activities. But before the government was fully prepared to open its ports, Japan invaded Ganghwa Island and demanded further openings. Consequently, Joseon was obliged to sign the first modern treaty of amity with Japan in 1876. The government also concluded treaties of amity and commerce with the United States, England, Germany, Russia, France and other nations. Although Joseon entered the international arena by signing treaties with various nations, the treaties signed during these times were unfair to Joseon. For through these treaties, Joseon was forced to permit the rights of low tariff rates, extraterritoriality and residence of foreign nationals in Joseon’s open ports. This in effect, prepared a springboard for possible political and economic aggressions against Joseon by these nations. Joseon, which signed these treaties for diplomatic and commercial trade, made many efforts to accept the modernity of the West. The government dispatched Bak Jong-yang and other officials to Japan to observe modern institutions and industrial organizations. In addition, it dispatched Kim Yun-sik and other bureaucrats to China to study methods of manufacturing modern weapons and training the army. In order to modernize, the Joseon government revamped its political and military organizations. The central government established 12 ministries under the Tongnigimuamun to take charge of such duties as diplomacy, military and industry. Among new developments in the army, special military forces were organized and provided with modern military training. Furthermore, Joseon accepted the proposals made by officials dispatched to foreign countries to set up modern machinery plants.

(3) The Military Rebellion of 1882
When the government continued to promote modernization of the West, Confucian scholars developed strong opposition movements. They insisted on fighting the foreign powers when France and the U.S. ships invaded Ganghwa Island and the government signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Japan. These Confucian scholars possessed a strong sense of subjective power, thus they advocated the guarding of Joseon’s traditional culture and systems which were believed to be superior to the West. Amid the conflicts between the forces of reform and conservatism, a military rebellion known as the Imo Military Rebellion broke out in 1882. At that time, the old military was discriminated against in comparison to the new military (Byeolgigun) and were unable to receive their salaries. When they finally received their wages in rice mixed with sand and chaff, they rose up in rebellion. They drove out the Queen’s family (Mins), propelled reform measures, and grasped political power by putting Heungseondaewongun in power again. However, China mobilized troops to kidnap Heungseondaewongun and by oppressing the old military, the Mins once again held political power. In this process, interventions by China and Japan were so severe that Joseon was placed in an even more difficult position.

(4) The Coup d’Etat of the Reform Party
The Mins, who again took over the government by borrowing China’s strength, utilized reform-oriented officials to enforce progressive enlightenment policies. However, due to increased domestic intervention and economic exploitation by China, the policies of reform promoted by the government could not proceed smoothly. Hereupon, Kim Ok-gyun and the radical reform forces instigated changes in Joseon’s political and social systems by utilizing unorthodox means. They killed and wounded high officials of the Min family, who were participating in a ceremony commemorating the completion of a post office building, by utilizing some members of the military and the Japanese army. Additionally, they persuaded King Gojong to join their side and thus managed to grasp political power. Members of the radical reform forces who were newly appointed as government officials attempted huge reforms in all fields in order to build Joseon into a wealthy modern nation with a powerful military. They put forth a platform of reform and declared that they would do away with discrimination along family lines, establish equality for all people, amend tax laws, unify the financial agencies, establish a police system and modernize the administrative system. But before these reforms were enforced, the radical reform party was expelled from political circles and their reform measures dropped. The forces of conservatism borrowed the strength of Chinese power to hold on to government control and the forces of radical reform became political refugees who fled to Japan and America. The reasons behind the failure of the radical forces were that they failed to make thorough preparations, did not obtain the support of the people and attempted to retain political power through the help of Japan which always placed them in danger of betrayal. The new Joseon government which was based on the coup d’ tat pursued policies of gradual and healthy reforms, but due to Chinese intervention and economic aggressions by Japan, the livelihood of the people became even more endangered.

(5) Donghak Movement
To check the powers of China and Japan, the government of Joseon utilized Russia. Russia, which had just finished constructing a military post in Vladivostok and was promoting a policy of southward expansion, hoped to use this opportunity to maintain military bases on Ulleung Island and Masanpo. But England, which hoped to counter the southward expansion policy of Russia, dispatched a fleet to the Far East to occupy Joseon’s Geomun Island where she built a military port. The government of Joseon strongly protested this unjustifiable act by England and after many months of negotiations, forced England to withdraw from the Island in 1887. While Joseon was confronting the aggressions of both internal and external forces, a new religious movement grew among the peasants. The followers of Donghak, who had organized a large force, held demonstrations everywhere, in order to clear up the accusations against the founder of the religion, Choe Je-u, who had been unjustly arrested and put to death. In addition, they demanded that the government allow freedom of religion, purge corrupt government officials and drive out the Japanese and Western forces. The actions of the followers of Donghak proceeded into an all-out peasants’ war-the Gobu Rebellion (1894).
The Gobu Rebellion was a limited uprising which broke out in protest against the tyranny and abuses of the magistrate, Jo Byeong-gap, but as a result of the merciless oppression by the government, all the peasants in both the north and south Jeolla provinces rose up in an uprising which spread throughout the whole nation within a short time. The peasant army under the command of Jeon Bong-jun annihilated the government troops and occupied all of the Jeolla Province. The government, realizing that it was unable to suppress the peasants’ army alone, requested that China dispatch its troops.
Thus, the government promised the peasants that it would listen to their demands and ordered them to dissolve their troops. At the time, the peasants’ army had demanded: the punishment of corrupt officials, tyrannical men of wealth and Yangbans; abolition of the social status structure; waiver of public and private debts; equal redistribution of land; and expulsion of Japanese forces. When the government promised to accept the above demands, Jeon Bong-jun dispersed the peasants’ army. In addition, they organized offices in 53 counties under their occupation so that the peasants themselves would take part in carrying out such reforms. While the peasant movement was beginning to take the first steps toward a resolution of the problems with the peace agreement between Jeon Bong-jun and the government, China and Japan dispatched troops into Joseon and the Sino-Japanese War erupted. Japan, in particular, had ambitions of occupying Joseon and when she was convinced that victory over China was certain, Japan mobilized its military forces. Japan then drove China out of Joseon and marched south with the government army as its puppets to suppress the peasant army. The 200,000 peasant troops under Jeon Bong-jun’s command engaged in repeated battles with Japan. But they were no match for the modern Japanese army. Thus, the peasants movement, which had had as its objectives revolutionary reform within government and society, in addition to the expulsion of foreign forces, ended in failure.

(6) Reforms in the Political and Social Systems
Japan which had sent troops under the pretext of suppressing the peasant movement, demanded that the Joseon government make internal reforms. This demand to change the political and economic systems of Joseon into Japanese-like systems was made in order to accommodate the Japanese invasion of Joseon. The government, which was receiving pressure from the population for huge reforms, could not but form some kind of proposal for reforms in the social and political systems. Thus, the government set up a special agency called the Gunguk gimucheo, which carried out 208 types of reforms in the government, the economy and society (Gabo Reform). Reforms in the political system included separating the duties of the palace from governmental duties, abolishing the civil service examination, separating the judiciary from other functions, and reorganizing local administration systems. Economic reforms included unification of the financial offices, improvements in the system, and uniformity of standards of weights and measures. Among social reforms, the social status system was abolished, widows were permitted to remarry, and torture and punishment for people who had affiliations with criminals were eliminated. There were many positive aspects in these measures by the government to change to the pre-modern political and social orders. However, because the Japanese were behind these changes, there was much resistance. To suppress the objections, Japan mobilized its army and “Nangins” (political thugs) to murder the Empress Myeongsong in 1895. Under aggravated Japanese pressure, the government spurred on with even more reforms. These included the use of the solar calendar, enforcement of vaccinations, establishment of primary schools, establishment of a postal service, use of the numerical year system, and enforcement of cutting the traditional long hair. But since these reforms did not reflect the will of the people, opposition was inevitable. The Joseon people were well aware that Japan, as a means to occupy, had demanded internal changes and had murdered its queen. The rise of the anti-Japanese righteous army nationwide reflected such an atmosphere.

(7) The National Self-Reliance Movement of the Independence Council
As Japanese intervention in internal affairs increased in severity, King Gojong fled to the Russian Legation and set up a new cabinet in 1896. He also engaged the Russian forces and began to carry out a policy to restrain the Japanese forces. The government’s pro-Russian policy was effective in checking the Japanese forces, but it also resulted in greatly damaging the self-reliance of the nation. At this juncture, some officials and people of Joseon made moves to promote national self-reliance, independence, strengthening of the nation and free rights for the people.
This was known as the movement of the Independence Council. Among the important figures in the Independence Council were Seo Jae-pil, Yun Chi-ho and Yi Sang-jae. They erected the Independence Arch and Independence Hall and published a newspaper to promote a consciousness of national self-reliance among the people. In addition, they held discussion rallies in Seoul and other important regional cities, denouncing the Government’s policy of depending on foreign forces and stood in the frontlines of enlightening the people on modern political thought. The activities of the Independence Council were a great impetus to the government and the people. The Independence Council advocated a political system composed of a constitutional monarchy and a parliament, and in diplomacy it called for diplomatic relations based on the principle of self-reliant neutrality. Socially, it advocated the promotion of people’s rights, namely, the rights to existence, freedom and equality. At one time, the government accepted the above proposals of the Independence Council and adopted postures to execute them. However, the government, feeling that the demands of the Independence Council and the citizens were encroaching on the privileges of the Emperor and the ruling classes, suppressed and dissolved the Independence Council. Although the movement of the Independence Council ended in failure, it contributed greatly to planting a consciousness for modernization and national self-reliance in the hearts of the people. This consciousness also became the ideological basis for the anti-Japanese movement later on.

(8) Establishment of the Daehanjeguk and Policy of Self Empowerment
King Gojong who had taken refuge in the Russian Legation for the past year, returned to Gyeongungung Palace (now Deoksugung Palace) at the height of the activities of the Independence Council. The people renamed his country Daehanjeguk (the Great Han Empire) and proclaimed to the world that Daehanjeguk was a self-reliant nation in 1897. Furthermore, he enforced various reforms in politics and set about to establish a powerful and wealthy country.
The Daehanjeguk government expanded a program of new education and set up a Central Council to reflect the will of the people, but when the Independence Council and the people expanded their political movement, the government suppressed them and took measures to strengthen its own imperial power. The government promulgated nine articles of the laws of the Daehanjeguk which granted full authority of command of the legislature, the executive, and diplomacy to the Emperor and infinite imperial authority in 1899. To establish the national economy and improve the people’s lives, it enforced policies to carry out land surveys and encourage industries. The establishment of various manufacturing factories, sending students abroad, strengthening industrial education, improving transportation as well as communication facilities and the establishment of hospitals were the chief policies of the Daehanjeguk. With the proclamation of Daehanjeguk, the various reform policies of the government heightened national autonomy and aided in the wide acceptance of modern civilization. However, severe party strife within the government impeded these reform policies, and since they were not consistently enforced, they were not able to completely check interventions by foreign forces. For these reasons, peasants of the Yeonghak-dang (offsprings of the former peasant movement) in the Chungcheong, Jeolla, and Gyeongsang provinces continued to demand social and economic reforms. In addition, the Hwalbin-dang forces, which were composed of merchants and workers, sprang up in various places and demanded social reform and the expulsion of foreign powers.

2. Economic Aggression by World Powers and the Movement to Protect

(1) Unequal Treaties and Movements to Amend Them
All of the treaties that the Joseon government concluded with Japan since 1876 were unequal in content. The Treaty of Amity stipulated that three ports including Pusan should be opened to Japanese merchants to build houses and to engage freely in commerce. In addition, Japanese criminals were placed under the jurisdiction of the Japanese Consul. As for trade regulations, no customs duties were to be imposed on trade with Japan and Japanese merchants could engage in commercial activities with Japanese currency in the open ports. The unequal treaties concluded with Japan not only provided a legal springboard for Japan’s political and economic aggressions against Joseon but also negatively influenced future treaties signed with the United States, China, Germany, England and France. Thus, in a short time, Joseon concluded unequal treaties with world powers which greatly infringed upon the political and economical autonomy of Joseon. The government, realizing that the treaty with Japan was responsible for many difficulties, made many efforts to amend the article in the treaty which exempted Japan from paying tariffs. The government, while sending emissaries like Kim Hong-jip, to negotiate with Japan, also lobbied for diplomatic assistance from China and the U.S. Through these efforts a new treaty with Japan was reached in 1883. However, the treaty concluded with Japan at this time was not equal either. Although Japan was obliged to pay tariffs, they were marginal and the rights of the Japanese consular to execute legal judgements and to reside in the open ports remained unchanged.

(2) Plundering Trade and Grain Embargo
The other world powers also forced Joseon to conclude unequal treaties which therefore caused an unfair trade arrangement. Among them, merchants from Japan and China were the cruelest. For example, Chinese merchants bought British cotton goods at low prices in Shanghai and sold them at high prices to make tremendous profits, and also carried out smuggling activities under the protection of Yuan Shikai. The Japanese merchants at first, acted as intermediaries in trade by buying and selling British goods but, with the gradual development of the domestic industry, Japan exported and sold Japanese goods. They mainly sold cotton goods, matches, liquor and chiefly bought rice, gold, cowhide and beans. The Chinese and Japanese merchants competed in trading with Joseon. But 50% of the amount of Joseon imports and 90% of the amount of exports went to Japan. Rice from Joseon, in particular, was an indispensable trade item to Japan where industry was developing and cheap rice was demanded in large quantities. As a result of the plundering trade activities of the Japanese merchants in importing rice, the poor farmers and the laborers of Joseon suffered the most. They had commonly experienced shortages of food but when rice began to be exported to Japan, the farmers and workers were even more hard-pressed. To make matters worse, they had to buy and use expensive industrial goods imported from Japan. Thus, in many areas, farmers and laborers frequently demanded that Japanese merchants be prohibited from trading and the export of rice to Japan. The government foresaw this situation and wanted to insert a grain embargo clause in their treaty with Japan, but due to Japanese opposition, such efforts failed. They were, however, able to obtain a provision which stated that in cases of famine or other such situations, with one month prior notification to Japan, grain export might be temporarily suspended. With the above provision, local governors operated the measure to block exports of rice and soybeans. Among them, the embargo of the Hamgyeong and Hwanghae provinces were the most famous. When the exports of rice and soy beans were suspended as a result of such embargos, Japanese merchants made collective protests and appealed to their home government to add diplomatic pressure. The Japanese government threatened that unless the Joseon government abolished the embargo and paid for damages to the Japanese merchants it would attack Joseon by mobilizing its warships. The Joseon government, under Japanese pressure, was forced to lift the embargos and make indemnities to Japanese merchants. However, the unjustifiable pressure and plundering of grain by Japan planted deeper and stronger anti-Japanese feelings in the hearts of the Joseon farmers and laborers. The peasant army which rose up with cries to expel foreign powers reflected this sentiment.

(3) Infiltration of Foreign Merchants and the Movement to Safeguard Commercial Rights
The trade activities of the Chinese and Japanese merchants naturally infringed upon Korean merchants’ activities which had grown in the latter period of Joseon. Therefore, in the open ports and in important cities throughout the country, merchants of Joseon, China, and Japan repeatedly engaged in fierce competitive battles around commercial activities rights. The Chinese merchants, on the basis of their superior capital, engaged in many activities in Incheon and Seoul. They received the protection of Yuan Shikai and occupied the central streets of Seoul and carried out trade by sailing between Shanghai and Inch’on. The Japanese merchants developed their activities in the open ports of Pusan and Wonsan, then gradually infiltrated into the interior and advanced to central Seoul. They received financial support from the Bank of Japan which was set up in Seoul and Busan and took control of trade by traveling between Osaka and each of the open ports. The Joseon merchants engaged in domestic and foreign trade while confronting the Chinese and Japanese merchants, but they were soon driven out of the important commercial activities. Thus, they founded companies or Gaekju corporations to collectively challenge the Chinese and Japanese merchants and sometimes even closed up shops to protest against illegal persons residing in Joseon or unlawful commercial activities by the Chinese and Japanese merchants. But the Joseon merchants could not defeat the Chinese and Japanese merchants who infiltrated Joseon through a strong screen known as extraterritoriality. Moreover, under foreign intervention, the government of Joseon was unable to adequately protect its merchants, and Joseon merchants could not help but reduce the sphere of their activities. The cries of the peasants army and the Hwalbin-dang to expel the foreign merchants out of Joseon was a reflection of the resentment of Joseon merchants who went bankrupt due to the infiltration of the foreigners, in particular, the Japanese merchants.

(4) The Succession of the Rights to Joseon’s National Resources by the World Powers and the Movement to Recover Them
The world powers took away various economic rights from Joseon. In particular, when King Gojong was taking refuge in the Russian Legation and was unable to exercise the sovereign right to govern, the rights to Joseon’s railroads, mines, and forests went into the hands of Russia, the United States, Japan, France, England, and Germany. Russia possessed the rights to the mines in Gyeongwon and Jongseong plus the lumbering rights in the basins of the Yalu and Ulleung Island. The United States held the rights to construction of the Seoul-Inch’on railroad, the mining rights to the Unsan gold mine plus the rights to install electricity and water works in Seoul. Japan obtained construction rights to the Seoul-Pusan railroad, gold mining and coastal fishing rights. France obtained rights to construct the Seoul-Sinuiju railroad. England held the mining rights to the Unsan gold mines and Germany had the mining rights to the Danghyeon gold mine. When the rights to a country’s natural resources, which are the basis for building a powerful nation, were transferred into the hands of other nations, the people began to denounce the government as corrupt and incapable. The people demanded the recovery of these rights which had been taken away. The Independence Council urged, through its publication of the Independent Newspaper, that the government rid itself of a policy of foreign dependency policy and adopt a diplomatic policy of self-reliance. They also advocated the recovery of these various rights, which had been taken away by foreign powers, and urged the development of natural resources in order to enhance the nation’s own strength. The Hwalbin-dang and the local people also urged the government to protect national resources. They pointed out that railroads are like the artery of the state and construction rights to them should not be given to foreigners and, therefore, the Seoul-Busan and the Seoul-Sinuiju railways should be recovered. The cries for the recovery of national resources from the people in the cities and rural communities gave impetus to the government to recover the construction rights to the Seoul-Busan and Seoul-Sinuiju railroads. Hence, encouraging private capitalists to participate in railroad construction and mine development. However, due to the ever increasing infiltration of Japanese forces, which grew after the expulsion of the other invading powers, the efforts for the development of self-reliance by Joseon failed.

3. Growth of Modern Culture and Social Change

(1) Growth of the Ideas of Enlightenment
During the period of the port openings, new ideas of enlightenment spread rapidly among some of Joseon’s intelligentsia. These modernization ideas were spawned internally by pragmatism and developed in the latter period of Joseon. It was conceived as a new recognition of the world situation. Such ideas were formed in the early 1870’s and representative scholars of enlightenment included Pak Gyusu, O Gyeong-seok and Yu Hong-gi. These men had traveled to China and witnessed the changes of Western civilization as well as the international situation, and therefore advocated the opening of Joseon’s doors and the introduction and utilization of Western technologies. The enlightenment ideas were later widely accepted and espoused by young bureaucrats. Kim Ok-gyun, Hong Yong-sik, Bak Yeong-hyo, Seo Jae-pil and Seo Gwang-beom, who had all received training from the first enlightenment thinkers, promoted political and economic reforms. Their greatest interests were in the areas of modern scientific technology, the munitions industry and industrial organization. They believed that the reasons behind Joseon’s lagging developments in scientific technology and industry were the political and social institutions and they, therefore, advocated reforms for these structures. These men proposed a change in the present political system of monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, appointing persons regardless of their social status, and in the economic sphere, promoting modern industries through the development of railroads, steamships and telegraph communications. The realization of these goals were the reasons for the Coup d’Etat of 1884. The enlightenment movement confronted opposition from the conservative forces and, thus, was unable to develop smoothly. As time went on, the ideas of enlightenment spread throughout society and state to become an important ideological base for the modern reform movement.

(2) Propagation of Modern Education
The first modern school in Korea was established in 1883. The education institute, Dongmunhak, was established in Seoul to mainly teach foreign languages to train interpreters. In Wonsan, the Wonsanhaksa was set up with support from the bureaucrats of the enlightenment school to teach foreign languages, geography, history and natural science. The government also established the Yugyeonggongwon in Seoul and invited Homer Hulbert and other such Americans to instruct the sons of the Yangban in foreign languages, mathematics, natural sciences, history, government and other modern academic fields. Western missionaries in Korea founded schools as a means of spreading their religion and engaged in educational activities. Henry Gerhart Appenzeller founded the Paichai hakdang, Mary Scranton founded the Ewha hakdang, Horace Grant Underwood founded the Gyeongsin hakgyo, Ellia founded the Chongsin yeohakgyo, and Horace N. Allen, chief physician to King Gojong, established a medical school called the Gwanghyewon to provide education along with clinical care. The Western missionaries established schools and provided education in order to propagate Christianity and to train Christian workers. It is widely believed that a great contribution was made to the enlightenment movement through these contacts with modern education and thinking. After the peasant movement, the government made various reforms in various fields including education. The government promulgated the Royal Edict on Education which urged the people to train themselves in intellectual, moral and physical faculties in order to become loyal subjects and patriotic citizens. In addition, it created a modern educational system, and established elementary schools, foreign language schools, middle schools, medical schools, military schools, in addition to agricultural, commercial and industrial schools. In this way, Korea turned out many young men and women possessing knowledge in modern academic fields.

(3) Induction of Modern Science and Technology
With the opening of the Korean ports, some Western ideas of scientific knowledge and technologies were accepted. In the medical field, Ji Seok-yeong introduced vaccination methods and established a vaccination bureau in Jeonju, Gongju and Daegu to improve public health. There were developments in agricultural technology as well. An Jongsu blended our traditional farming methods with foreign farming technology and wrote a new farmer’s handbook. The government established experimental agricultural and livestock farms in order to propagate new skills. For the promotion of modern industrial technical training, various agencies were set up. In 1880, the government established a mechanical plant, a telegraph exchange, and a cocoonery, and civilians built textile plants, reeling factories, and ironworks. Telegraph lines were connected between Seoul, Incheon and Uiju and a domestic set of codes were invented. Such accommodations in modern science and technology were carried out even more actively by the Daehanjeguk government. Telephones, electric lights, street cars and railroads were constructed and a new style of architecture such as the stone palace of Deoksugung Palace was introduced. However, since these modern facilities were made in order to accommodate foreign aggression into Korea, opposition movements began to spring up among the people.

(4) Expansion of Faith Movements
After the opening of the ports, social and economic changes as well as political suffering brought about a new awakening among the people and the various religious movements. In particular, the idea of Donghak, which was created to counter the influence of Western religions, was widely propagated among suffering peasants and by early 1890. Its influence stretched throughout the entire nation. Catholicism and Protestantism were at first prohibited, but with the signing of a treaty with France in 1886, the practice of these religions was permitted. Of course, there were many people who secretly practiced and believed in these faiths prior to the treaty. In particular, Catholicism, which was introduced to Joseon 100 years before this time, had spread widely in spite of severe persecution. However, with enlightenment and concomitantly, the propagation of freedom of religion, many churches were established in Seoul and the countryside. Moreover, many missionaries arrived in Joseon to engage in religious conversion as well as education and medical activities. Donghak and Christianity aided in spreading the concept of equality and raising a modern consciousness among the people. The Peasant War of 1894 was deeply influenced by the thoughts of Donghak and the enlightenment movement was greatly influenced by Christianity. However, Christianity also played a role in drawing Western forces into Korea.

(5) Rise of the Ideology of Civil Rights
With the growth of enlightenment, awareness of human freedom and rights was heightened. In the pre-modern society, where there was a legal and socially rigid distinction between Yangbans and Sangnoms, civil rights for the people could not exist. However, from the latter period of Joseon when the social status system began to crumble, the ideas of equality and freedom began to take root in Korea. These ideas were more actively pursued with the spread of Western and Donghak thoughts. The Independence Council was most ardent in its cries for civil rights. The Council combined the theories of the enlightenment thinkers and advocated the individual’s right to live, freedom to own property, freedom of speech and assembly, and the people’s rights of sovereignty and participation in government. They believed that in order to gain independence and establish a wealthy and powerful nation, the rights of the people would have to be improved first. These positions were strengthened in the process of the Japanese invasions of Joseon and developed into the ideas of democratic republicanism, the belief that sovereignty rests with the people.

(6) Booming Media and Cultural Activities
The first newspaper published in our country was the Hanseong Sunbo (1883). The government, which was promoting its enlightenment policies, established and distributed the Bak Mun-guk in order to spread enlightenment ideas. The paper was first published in Chinese characters, but later, Hangul articles were added to aid in the distribution of new knowledge. However, since it possessed the characteristics of an official gazette, it was not a profitable operation and ceased publication after five years. Private citizens began to publish newspapers after the Independence Council was organized. The Independence Council, composed of enlightenment thinkers, printed the Independent in 1896 in pure Hangul and thus, was widely read by the masses. It was full of editorials inspiring reform, introducing new knowledge and informing to the people of domestic and foreign affairs. The Independent was published for three years but was dissolved due to government oppression. But afterwards, the Hwangseong Sinmun, Daehan Maeil-Sinbo, and Jeguk Sinmun were published and played important roles in denouncing Japanese aggression and inspiring patriotism. The enlightenment movement also influenced cultural activities. The new intellectuals did not stop with merely accepting Western teachings, but rearranged Korea’s traditional culture as well. History books were printed in large numbers and new styles appeared in art and music. Many textbooks were also compiled in order to teach students in each school.


The Japanese imperialists, who had robbed Korea of her rights as a nation, enforced cruel colonial rule by mobilizing its army and police forces. Furthermore, they plundered land and food from Korea and exploited her natural resources and labor power. Korea persevered in resisting Japanese colonial control. The fever for national independence which appeared in the March First Movement succeeded with armed struggles and independence movements protesting Japanese imperialism both at home and overseas. The provisional government of the Republic of Korea was this core force. Confronting the Japanese policy to obliterate Korean culture, Koreans strove to safeguard and preserve Korea’s traditional culture. The fact that Korea today still possesses a culture is due, in part, to the efforts of this movement.

1. Colonial Domination by Japanese Imperialism and the National Ordeal

(1) Japanese Imperialists and Korea’s Rights as a Nation
Japan, which had desired exclusive domination of the Korean peninsula, finally declared war on Russia in 1904. War broke out between the two powers, and because the object of this war was the invasion of the Empire of Korea, the battlefield was the entire Korean peninsula. As the Russo-Japanese War broke out, the Korean government declared neutrality. However, Japan, while declaring war, simultaneously dispatched two army divisions to Korea to occupy Seoul and other important locations as bases for their operations. They then forced Korea to sign the Korea-Japan Protocol in 1904 and mobilized Koreans in large scale for war. Using the war as a pretext, Japan swiftly constructed the Seoul-Busan and Seoul-Sinuiju railroads and stole tens of millions of pyeong (standard of land measure) for military use. Afterwards, Japan forced Korea to sign the First Korea-Japan Convention and grasped the real powers of diplomacy, finance, military, police, education, and the palace in 1905. They unilaterally concluded and promulgated the Second Korea-Japan Convention and took away Korea’s diplomatic rights. Japan, which held on tightly to the reigns of control, set up a Bureau for the Governor-General in Seoul to manage not only Korea’s diplomatic but internal affairs as well in 1907. As the first Governor-General, Ito Hirobumi, the mastermind and the arch villain behind the invasion was appointed. Japan stole Korea’s rights as a nation by viciously taking over the will of the Korean people. In the process of concluding the various treaties with Korea, Japan not only threatened and bought off the Korean ministers who opposed them, but also dispatched troops to create an atmosphere of terror throughout the whole country. Emperor Gojong dispatched Yi Sang-seol, Yi Wi-jong and Yi Jun to the World Peace Conference at the Hague as representatives and denounced the unjustifiable acts of aggression by Japan in 1907. Japan, taking retribution against this act, forced the abdication of Emperor Gojong and Emperor Sunjong acceded to the throne. A new Japan-Korea Convention was then signed in 1907 and Japan appointed vice ministers to each government branch who were given actual power of control. Furthermore, Japan forced the Korean army to disband, turning Korea into a country without the power of self-defense. The effects of the Japanese invasion extended to the police force and judiciary powers as well. By depriving Korea of its police and judiciary powers, the Japanese gendarme police took charge of national security. And after taking away the people’ freedoms of speech, press, assembly and association to cast darkness over the whole country, Japan even took away Korea’s nominal sovereignty and turned Korea into a Japanese colony in 1910. The Japanese aggression was not limited to the political field. In the process of aggression, they took away Korea’s rights to currency and stole large areas of land in order to build an economic basis for colonization.

(2) Oppressive Domination by the Gendarme Police
After turning Korea into a colony, Japan established the office of the Government-General of Joseon in Seoul as the central ruling organization. Underneath it, various agencies of aggression and plunder were set up like a string of cobwebs. The Governor-General was directly under the Japanese Emperor and exercised tremendous powers in the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches of government, and also possessed the authority of command over the army. Japan stationed two infantry divisions, 40,000 gendarme and police, in addition to 20,000 auxiliary gendarmes throughout the country to build the foundations for her colonial control. The domination by the gendarme police set up by Japan was so cruel that few similar examples exist in the world. The commander of the Japanese gendarme possessed both central and local police power under one system of command. He was oppressive beyond belief. The gendarme police not only engaged in simple activities to ensure security but also searched out and punished patriotic independence fighters and even moved into the sphere of everyday life of the people. Furthermore, the Korean people were oppressed with threats, and Japan forced even civilian officials and school teachers to wear uniforms and carry long swords. Under the control of the Japanese police, the Korean people lived somber lives as if in prison, completely deprived of their freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Any Korean who was under suspicion by Japanese authorities was immediately arrested and tortured by every imaginable means. The leaders of the Korean people were mercilessly arrested and thrown into prisons. But just as new buds sprout from under a snowbank frozen over in midwinter, the national spirit continued to steadfastly grow, even under the cruel control of the Japanese gendarme. Finally, it burst forth in the March First Movement.

(3) Plunder of Land and Food
After seizing the rights of the nation, the Japanese adopted a policy of plundering. Before colonization, the Japanese had already stolen large areas of land. In 1910, the Temporary Land Surveying Bureau was established in the Government-General’s office and by mobilizing tremendous funds and personnel, usurped more lands away from the Koreans. Under the pretext of reorganizing land ownership through this new survey, the Government-General ordered Koreans to re-register land ownership through a complicated procedure. Land, whether public or private, which failed to be declared or was declared late, fell under the ownership of the Government-General. In this way about, 40% of all farm land in Korea was improperly repossessed by the Government-General. The Government-General sold these lands either to development companies or private Japanese citizens at low prices. With the plundering of the land, Japan took several million Seoks (1 Seok = 80kg) of rice and soybeans a year. When they began to send rice to Japan, Korea’s food situation went from bad to worse. Thus, the Korean people were forced to fill their hungry bellies with grass roots and tree bark.

(4) Oppression of National Industries and Exploitation of Labor
While plundering the land and food, the Government-General oppressed the development of Korea’s national industries. First, they passed a corporation law which interfered with industrial activities carried out by Koreans. Then, they passed a Forestry Law by which the Government-General and private Japanese citizens occupied 50% or more of all Korean forests. The Japanese took control of the fishing industry as well. Under the support of the Government-General, Japanese fishermen took over the Korean fishing industry, which had at one time been the second largest catching nation in the world. The Government-General and the Japanese plutocrats (cartels) also took possession of the underground resources of Korea. Gold, silver, iron, coal, and tungsten and other important mines were owned by the Japanese. The quantity of minerals excavated from the mines owned by Koreans did not exceed 1/300 of the total. In addition, the Government-General monopolized the operation of banks, railroads, harbors, roads, and communication facilities. In this way, Japan thoroughly oppressed Korea’s national industries and Japanese enterprises built with Japanese capital became the main industries. When Japan oppressed the development of Korean industries, the Korean people were forced to consume Japanese-made goods in exchange for food, and to supply labor at low wages. In 1930, Japan turned Korea into a weapons depot for a continental invasion and enforced a policy for industrialization. To this end, Japan demanded exceptionally hard labor. Koreans, irrespective of age or sex, were forced to go to the munition factories in Korea and abroad to work long hours at the risk of their lives.

(5) Enforcement of the Policy to Obliterate the Korean Nation
The Japanese policy of colonial domination was evident in education as well. They destroyed Korea’s national history and culture and strove to inculcate the Japanese spirit and culture into the Korean people. All text books were rewritten to fit the Japanese aggression policies and the use of Hangul and the Korean language were prohibited. Furthermore, they closed the Seodangs (villages schools) which instituted patriotic education while allowing some industrial and vocational education in order to create mild and obedient colonial subjects out of the Korean people. Such Japanese policies were further strengthened in the process of invading Manchuria and the Chinese continent. Japan determined a plan to squeeze out as much commodity and labor as possible from Korea in order to carry out their war plans. In order to obtain these objectives, the Japanese could not but train Koreans to become colonial slaves loyal to the Japanese Emperor. At first, Japan tried to appease the Korean people with a vain and unfounded theory that the Korean and Japanese people are descendants of the same ancestors and thus, are like brothers. Then, they forced Koreans to study Japanese history, to use the Japanese language and to swear allegiance to their Emperor. All insubordinators were thrown in prisons or expelled from their jobs. In order to make Koreans just like the Japanese, the Korean people were forced to change their family names into Japanese names. In religion life, Japan forced the Korean people to worship the Japanese gods as a part of their duty. This policy was aimed at erasing the Korean nation from the earth forever and to nurture them as colonial subjects and slaves obedient only to the Japanese. Ultimately, the Japanese drew countless Korean youths and women to the battle fields, factories, and mines to aid in their conquests and wars.

(6) Emigration of Nationals Abroad and Japanese Suppression
After the opening of the ports, rapid changes occurred in domestic politics and society, and as the Japanese economic aggression intensified, many Korean people emigrated abroad. Many left due to desolate economic conditions to search for a new life elsewhere with their families and others left hoping to amass huge fortunes in commerce. However, some Koreans left to establish Korean villages beyond the reach of the Japanese in order to set up national schools, train independence fighters and wage wars to restore Korea’s independence. The number of Koreans living abroad in early 1910 had exceeded 200,000 and under Japanese rule, this number further increased until at the time of liberation, there were over 4,000,000 Koreans living abroad. Koreans lived in large numbers in Manchuria and the Maritime Province. In particular, since Gando (Jiandao) in eastern Manchuria was believed to be a part of Korea from ancient times, Koreans crossed the river to live there. In the days of the Empire of Daehan (Daehanjeguk) , an administrator was dispatched to Gando to protect the Koreans residing there. But Japan, which deprived Korea of its diplomatic rights, transferred Gando to China in exchange for their right to occupy the Anbong railroad which would enable them to march to Manchuria. From then on, Gando was excluded from the Korean territory forever. Despite this fact, Korean residents in Gando organized large units of independence fighters to attack the aggressive Japanese army. The Bong’odong and Cheongsalli Battles are such examples. Nevertheless, Japan continued their suppression of the Koreans living in Gando. In particular, the Japanese massacre of the Korean people through surprise attacks toward the end of 1920 was notably cruel. This incident was carried out in revenge of their defeat in Cheongsalli. At the time, the Japanese attacked Korean villages around the Amnok (Yalu) and Duman (Tumen) Rivers under the pretext of searching for independence fighters. They massacred more than 10,000 innocent Koreans and burnt a majority of their houses, schools and churches. But the Koreans in Gando refused to surrender and continued to carry out anti-Japanese struggles to restore the independence of their country. Koreans living in the Maritime Province carried out similar activities. They supported the bases of the independence fighters as they cultivated the paddy rice fields in the cold. Even though they were later forced to resettle in Central Asia by the Soviet government, they have not forgotten their national consciousness and traditional cultures. Even today, they continue to live there in group settlements. Among the foreign lands, the place where the greatest number of Koreans lived was Japan. During the Japanese colonial domination, oppression and plundering increased in severity and some Koreans sailed to Japan to build a new life. As victims of discriminatory treatment by the Japanese, they worked hard in the factories and mines. During the Kanto earthquake of 1923, approximately 7,000 Koreans living in Japan were mercilessly massacred by the Japanese without reason. There were also many Koreans who were dragged away to Japan. Whenever labor shortages occurred, Japan took Korean youths and women to work in Japanese munition factories, mines, or textile factories. In fear of death, they worked, but the Japanese discrimination and persecution against Koreans only increased in severity. Although smaller in numbers, Koreans also resided in the U.S., Mexico, and other countries. In these strange new lands, Koreans lived enthusiastically all the while holding held on to their national tradition. They also collected funds to send to the independence fighters to support the independence movement.

2. Movement to Protect National Rights and the Independence Struggle

(1) Resistance to Save the Nation by the Righteous Army
In confronting the Japanese invasion, the Righteous Army waged a valiant armed struggle against the aggressors. The Righteous Army began to rise up with the murder of Myeongseong Hwanghu (Queen Min) and the enforcement of the short hair policy. The Righteous Army was formed in the tradition of the armed forces that repelled the Hideyoshi Invasion. The Righteous Army units, under the command of Yu In-seok and other Confucian scholars, punished the pro-Japanese bureaucrats and the Japanese throughout the country. The Righteous Army, who put down their guns by the order of the King to disband, waged a full uprising again when the aggressions by Japan became full-fledged after the Russo-Japanese War. Under the leadership of Min Jeong-sik, Choe Ik-hyeon and Sin Dol-seok, the Righteous Army attacked the Japanese army, Japanese merchants and pro-Japan bureaucrats in the Gangwon, Chungcheong, Jeolla and Gyeongsang provinces. Choe Ik-hyeon was captured by the Japanese army and dragged away to Tsushima Island where he refused to eat the food given by the Japanese army and finally died as a martyr. The Righteous Army commander Sin Dol-seok was a commoner, but his soldiers numbered over 3,000. The movement to save the nation by the Righteous Army expanded with the forced abdication of King Gojong and the disbanding of soldiers, peasants, fishermen, hunters, miners, merchants, and laborers, embracing all classes and social strata. The men of the Righteous Army were united and implemented an operation to recapture Seoul in 1907. That is, ten thousand troops under the command of Yi In-yeong, were concentrated in the city of Yangju. They formed 24 units and were organized to recapture Seoul. These soldiers marched as far as 30 Li (standard of measure for distances; 12km) outside of Seoul but as a result of counter-offensives by the Japanese, they retreated and dispersed. The Japanese mercilessly oppressed members of the Righteous Army. The Japanese army which had mobilized two army divisions and even its warship for the purpose of subjugating insurgents, did not hesitate to burn down villages, massacre and plunder grain. Thus, in the period between August 1907 and 1909, over 17,000 Righteous Army soldiers were massacred and another 37,000 were injured. Units of the Righteous Army fleeing from these Japanese attacks gradually moved into the mountains to wage guerrilla wars. Furthermore, as Japan began to steal the national rights of Joseon and set up a network of oppression via its gendarme, the Righteous Army of Joseon waged wars of resistance, setting up bases in Manchuria and the Maritime Province of Siberia. Among the battles of resistance waged by the Righteous Army in various places, the patriot An Jung-geun who had been active in the Maritime Province, assassinated the mastermind of Japanese aggression, Ito Hirobumi, at a railroad station, and Jeon Myeong-un assassinated Stevens, a pro-Japanese diplomatic advisor in San Francisco.

(2) Enlightenment Movements of Patriotic Organization
Amid the Russo-Japan War, as Japanese policies of aggression became more blatant, the harbingers of enlightenment developed a movement to recover the lost national sovereignty by nurturing nationalist forces. They organized various social organizations and carried out enlightenment activities in order to stir up patriotism. The enlightenment movement developed in two directions. One was directed toward reviving national commerce with national capital in order to create a healthy and self-sufficient economy, and the other was directed toward heightening the national consciousness and thus revive the educational basis to build a self-reliant and independent nation. One of the movements for a self-sufficient economy was to repay the national debt of 13,000,000 won which the Japanese government loaned to the Daehanjeguk in order to invade it. All nationals participated in this movement and large amounts were collected, but the movement was suspended as a result of Japanese suppression. On the other hand, the harbingers organized a society called the Sinminhoe (New People’s Society) propagated a nationwide enlightenment movement in various areas of politics, media, society, culture, and education. The Daehan Maeil Sinbo, the Hwangseong Sinmun and other newspapers and publications by various organizations of the time played an important role in inspiring ideas of self empowerment and reform among the people. In particular, the thousands of schools established in the country by leaders of the enlightenment movement, greatly contributed to the patriotism of Korean youths. The enlightenment movement was promoted at a time when the fate of the nation was dubious, but it was not able to greatly assist in the recovery of national rights because of the severity of Japanese oppresions. However, it is of great significance that many leaders at that time became the leaders of the anti-Japanese resistance movement, and the youths who were educated by them grew up to become the primary force in the national independence movement.

(3) Establishment of Independence Movement Bases Overseas
When Japan robbed Korea of its national sovereignty and established a military government, an independence movement was nearly impossible at home. The independence movement carried out their activities at home through clandestine educational and religious organizations, such as the Gwangbokhoe. But at the same time, bases of the independence movements were set up in Manchuria and the Maritime Province to carry out a full-fledged resistance movement. Many Koreans had lived in these areas for a long time, but around 1910, hundreds of thousands of Koreans emigrated to these areas to flee Japanese oppression. The Righteous Army units and the leaders of the enlightenment movement joined hands in establishing these bases of the independence movement and made preparations to attack the Japanese in Korea. Hong Beom-do was representative of leaders of the Independence Army unit who carried on the traditions of the Righteous Army and engaged in the independence struggles in Manchuria and the Maritime Province. He was a commoner who led a unit composed of hunters and carried out activities in the forests of Baekdu Mountain. Later when Korea lost its sovereignty, he led the Righteous Army abroad where he reinforced his military strength and continuously attacked the Japanese army crossing the Korean border. The representatives of the Sinminhoe, who had led the patriotic enlightenment movement, also established Korean villages and trained independence fighters in Manchuria and the Maritime Province of Siberia. Yi Sang-ryong and Yi Dong-hwi established the majority of nationalist and military schools in Manchuria and the Maritime Province where they trained leaders in the independence movement. They were the main forces in the anti-Japanese Independence War which was fiercely waged from the early 1920s.

(4) Development of the Independence Movement
The Independence Movement, which was rising both at home and abroad, finally exploded into nationwide demonstrations after the forced abdication of Emperor Gojong. This was known as the March First Movement. Because the March First Movement was planned in utmost secrecy by Son Byeong-hui, Yi Seung-hun, Han Yong-un and other nationalist leaders, it was not detected by the intelligence network of the Japanese imperialists. On March 1,1919 when a declaration of independence was read in Pagoda Park, countless citizens raised high the Taegeuk flag and marched into the streets of Seoul as they cried “Daehan (Joseon) Dongnip Manse (Long Live Korean Independence!)”. During a month after the first outbursts of the Manse Movement in Seoul, more than two million people participated in the Independence Manse demonstrations on 1,500 occasions in 211 counties. The strength of our people’s ardent desire for independence was thus revealed. The Japanese imperialists were greatly taken back by these Independence Manse Movements. Japan ignored the people’s demands and mercilessly suppressed them by mobilizing police and military forces. At that time, the number of people slaughtered by Japanese swords and guns exceeded 7,500, with another 16,000 being wounded and 47,000 arrested. Seven hundred civilian homes, 47 churches and two schools were reduced to ashes. In particular, all the inhabitants of a village in Jeam-ni, Suwon were imprisoned in a church and slaughtered by setting fire to the church. As the Japanese imperialists suppressed the peaceful demonstrations of Koreans, the resistance was only strengthened. As the Manse demonstrations spread to the country districts, the farmers who were robbed of their land by the Japanese took hoes and spades to attack the Japanese Myeon offices and police stations. When peaceful expressions of their opinions were rejected by the Japanese, they could not but use violence against the Japanese. The March First Movement which took place not only at home but also in Manchuria failed due to Japanese suppression. Although this movement was unable to bring about independence immediately, it was an epoch-making event which expressed the will of the Koreans and their strength to the world. The March First Movement also laid the groundwork for unifying the independence movements which were, till then, dispersed. Thus, the March First Movement developed into an ideological model for future national independence movements. The March First Movement greatly contributed to implanting a consciousness for national independence not only in the Korean people but also to the small nations all over the world. Upon hearing the news of the March First Movement, China also rose up in its May 4 Movement and, in India and many other nations in Southwest Asia, movements for national autonomy sprang up.

(5) Activities of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
When the heat of the March First Movement swept across home and abroad, provisional governments were established in Seoul, Pyongan province, Gando, Vladivostok, and Shanghai. In September 1919, these governments were combined to establish the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea. This government began with a modern constitution based on democratic principles and consisted of legislative (Uijeongwon) and executive (Gukmuwon) branches. All of the nationalist leaders of the independence movement both at home and abroad participated in these two branches of government and the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea became, in name and reality, the representing institution for Korea’s nationalist independence movement. Furthermore, Korea had established a democratic government for the first time in 10 years after losing its rights as a nation. The Provisional Government first adopted a system in which the President was to supervise all affairs of the state, then through a number of constitutional amendments, a parliamentary system in which the Prime Minister would be responsible for administering the affairs of the state was adopted. During its initial stage, Rhee Syng-man became the President and then Kim Koo served as the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea combined the movements at home and abroad and maintained close relations with the people at home. Through liaison units which were established in the Korean provinces, counties and Myeons by the Provisional Government in secrecy, the people were able to participate in the movement providing funds for its activities. But, the liaison system was discovered by Japan in 1921 and due to its oppression, was severely weakened. Many Koreans living abroad also participated in the independence movement of the Provisional Government. Koreans living in Japan, the U.S. and China sent funds through diplomatic organizations set up by the Provisional Government in these countries or published/distributed information on the independence movement. When Japan invaded the Chinese continent, the Provisional Government moved its office to various other places in China to continue to carry out its independence activities. In particular, in 1940, it organized an army (Gwangbok-gun) in Chungching to make preparations for war. This army was comprised of young Korean men who were active in Siberia and China and strengthened its fighting capabilities by absorbing Joseon volunteers as well. When the Pacific War broke out in 1941, the Provisional Government ordered the Gwangbok-gun to participate in the war as a member of the Allied Forces. The Gwangbok-gun was dispatched to the Indian and Burmese fronts and fought side by side with the British troops against Japan. Gwangbok-gun then prepared to wage attacks against Japanese forces in Korea, but even before the operation for the recovery of their homeland began, Japan was defeated in World War II.

(6) The Independence Army’s Armed Struggle
There were some brilliant battles waged during the independence movement by the independence fighters in Manchuria and the Maritime Province. By 1910, numerous bases for independence fighters were already established in these areas and engaged actively in battle. These units reorganized its ranks with the March First Independence Movement and the Korean border to attack Japanese troops in Korea. The greatest triumphs were reaped by the Daehan Dongnip-gun under the command of Hong Beom-do and the North Route Army led by Kim Jwa-jin. The Daehan Dongnip-gun continued to wage small battles with the Japanese army in Gando. On 1920, it encountered a battalion of Japanese troops in Bong’o-dong, Gando and killed 500 of its troops. The defeated Japanese mobilized two army divisions and challenged the Korean troops in its largest battle. The united forces of Korean armies lured a Japanese regiment into the valley of Cheongsal-li and slaughtered 3,300 of its men in October 1920 within one week. To revenge the two defeats, Japanese troops made surprise attacks against the inhabitants of Manchuria. In the attacks, made during the end of the 1920’s, over 10,000 Korean people were killed and a dozen Korean villages were burnt. In spite of the attacks by the Japanese, the armed struggles of the Independence Army continued. In Manchuria, the Chamuibu, Jeonguibu and Sinminbu were organized in order to administer to the Korean people through the Provisional Constitutional Government while at the same time perpetrating guerrilla warfare against the Japanese army. Such armed resistance continued even after Japan dominated the territory of Manchuria. However, when Japanese oppression reached its height in Manchuria, the Korean people relocated to China and Siberia to continue battles of resistance.

(7) Domestic Anti-Japanese Struggles After the March First Independence Movement
Students, laborers and farmers also played important roles in the independence movement. This was quite natural since the independence movement had an effect on all classes of people. In the process of the March First Movement, students took charge of writing and distributing declarations of independence and expanded these activities to organize a nationwide movement. In particular, 400 Korean students residing in Japan proclaimed a declaration of independence, which is known as the Declaration of February Eighth, even prior to the March First Independence Movement. Such student activities were displayed in the Dongnip Manse Movement of 10th (1926) and in the anti-Japanese movement of the Kwangju students (1929). In the case of the Gwangju Student’s Movement there was an explosion of nationalist feelings, and citizens participated to develop a nationwide anti-Japanese movement. Almost all of the schools participated. More than 3,000 students were either expelled or indefinitely suspended from school as a result of their activities in this movement. As their economic conditions worsened, the labors’ and farmers’ anti-Japanese struggles were even more acute. From 1920, laborers began to form various labor organizations and waged dozens of labor strikes. The general strike of the Wonsan dock workers which arose in 1929 was the most outstanding strike both in terms of its magnitude and the forms of struggle. From the 1920’s, farmers also formed various farmers’ organizations to resist against the landlords and their protectors, the Japanese. As a result, in Amtae-do, land rents were lowered for tenant farmers and farmers succeeded to some extent in achieving some of their other demands. As the domestic independence movement gradually became more diverse and economic struggles of laborers and farmers increased in frequency, the national leaders attempted to bind such movements into one organized body. From the early 1920’s, when Japan’s policy to divide the Korean people was strengthened, Yi Sang-jae and others declared the need for national unity in order to achieve national independence, and formed the Singanhoe (New Fraternal Society) in 1927 which transcended differences in ideologies. The Singanhoe established 140 branches nationwide and had a membership of 40,000 people, to become the core of the domestic independence movement until 1931. Singanhoe also greatly served as a great inspiration to the students, laborers and tenant farmers on the road to independence. The spirit of Singanhoe was succeeded by other independence movements and implanted the idea of transcending differences in class and ideologies to unite for national liberation.

3. Safeguarding and Preserving the National Culture

(1) Development of National Education
The enlightenment movement came into being during the period when Japan’s invasion into Korea became evident and placed great importance on the future of education. At the time, harbingers of the movement wanted to safeguard the people. They held a strong belief that the people’s abilities should be fostered through education for the construction of a modern nation. Thus, between 1905 and 1910, more than 5,000 nationalist schools were established at home and abroad. New academic learnings along with national history and Hangul were taught at these schools for the purpose of implanting a consciousness for self-empowerment and autonomy as well as patriotism in the heart of its students. But after completely robbing Korea of its sovereignty, Japan strongly oppressed nationalist education and closed up many of the schools. Japan strengthened colonial education in order to demand subservience to Japan. After a while, nationalist education became active along with the rise of the independence movement. Its leaders stood in opposition to the government schools set up by the Japanese and established private schools in various areas nationwide to teach their students. Young leaders, who also shared the nationalist sentiment, set up lecturing institutions or night schools to teach poor youths in the cities and villages. In spite of the Japanese oppression against the traditional rural schools, Seodangs gathered students from rural villages to nurture patriotism and teach the basics of education. Such active enforcement of nationalist education at home and abroad not only aided in preserving Korean culture but also played a decisive role in training leaders of the independence movement.

(2) Research and Preservation of National Learning
Following the development of national education interest in the national language and history also grew. Since the national language and history are cultural heritages of the people, studies in these areas became more active as a means of nurturing nationalist sentiments among the people. This was at a time when the Japanese oppression against the nation increased in severity. A harbinger in these activities, Ju Si-gyeong passed on the results from his successful studies and works to promote the national language. He taught Korean to youths during the period of the Patriotic Enlightenment Movement. In addition, the disciples of Ju Si-gyeong set up the Joseon Language Institute to research and propagate the Korean language even under Japanese oppression. The Japanese opposed the study and use of Korean and threw many scholars into prison (the Joseon Language Institute Incident). Research in national history developed in opposition to the Colonial Historical Perspective which was written by Japanese government scholars. In order to inspire a national consciousness, Sin Chae-ho systematically described our ancient history. Bak Un-sik wrote a book on the modern history of Korea in order to inform the world of the atrocities under Japanese rule and the woeful independence movement of the Korean people. These two persons were not simply historians but were national leaders who offered their lives to the independence struggle as they traveled to Manchuria and China. Bak Un-sik was the president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea and Sin Chae-ho was a martyr who was captured by Japanese officials and put into the Lüshun Prison for having participated in the independence movement. Japan, in an effort to fully colonize the Korean nation, oppressed the study of national history but also used every means to oppressed its spreading. The Japanese even prohibited the use of Korean at school and at home and prohibited people from reading its history. But thanks to efforts of such enlightened thinkers, Koreans were able to recover their national language and history to take its place as one of the most developed countries in the world today.

(3) Mass Media Activities and the Art Movement
During the Japanese invasion, the leaders of the enlightenment movement published newspapers and magazines to inspire patriotism and bring modern thought to the nation. Such papers include the Hwangseong Sinmun, Jeguk Sinmun, Daehan Maeil-Sinbo, Manse-Bo and the Daehan Jaganghoe Monthly. Prominent enlightenment thinkers such as Jang Ji-yeon, Bak Un-sik, Sin Chae-ho, Ju Si-gyeong wrote patriotic editorials for these newspapers and magazines. For this reason, the Japanese closed down these press agencies. The Japanese, who were thrown into shock by the Korean’s will for independence through the March First Movement, could not but permit the publication of Hangul newspapers and magazines. The newly published papers during this period, such as the Dong-A Ilbo and Chosun Ilbo, implanted a modern consciousness in the people and greatly contributed in inspiring the development of national thought. However, these papers were countlessly suspended and confiscated as a result of Japanese oppression and all of them discontinued by 1940. As the modern consciousness among the people grew, new movements began to spring up in the fields of literature and art. New novels, discounting feudalistic morality and superstitions, were written during the patriotic enlightenment period. In addition, Koreans also sang songs which inspired a sense of independence and patriotism. Free development of such art activities was impossible under Japanese rule. However, after the March First Movement, some art magazines were published and spurred new activities in literature and art. There were some activists in this field such as Yi Yuk-sa, Yun Dong-ju and others who displayed the joys and sorrows of the nation, as well as the consciousness for resistance. Thus, awakening these sentiments in the people. Such endeavors in nationalistic art began to fade during the 1940s due to Japanese oppression and only the pro-Japanese art remained.

(4) New Trends in Religious Activities
During the enlightenment movement period, there were changes in the field of religion as well. The thought of Donghak, which was greatly oppressed due to the peasant movement of 1894, was redeveloped and expanded as a religion by the works of Son Byeong-hui. However, as a minority of his followers began to commit pro-Japanese acts, Son Byeong-hui parted from them and created the Cheondogyo religion which evolved from the traditions of Donghak. Cheondogyo possessed a strong nationalist consciousness which resisted the Japanese, and played a pivotal role in the March First Movement. Na Cheol developed the nationalist worship of Dangun and founded the Daejonggyo religion in 1909. Because it emphasized a nationalist position, Daejonggyo was widely developed in the Korean societies of Manchuria where armed independence struggles were widespread. Buddhism also displayed changes concomitant with modernization. The Buddhist monk Han Yong-un stood at the front lines of the March First Movement and Zen Buddhism, which was a new formulation of Buddhism, carried out reclamation projects and a movement to increase savings in order to nourish the capabilities of the nation. Foreign religions in addition to national religions were widespread. Through such education institutions, they helped raise a modern consciousness and the desire for independence among Koreans. Japanese imperialists similarly waged oppressive measures against religion. In the process of invading the Empire of Daehan (Daehanjeguk), Japan suppressed Donghak and created a pro-Japanese religion of Sicheongyo (Heaven Worship), and then they infiltrated into Buddhism and all chief priests of important temples were appointed by the Government General. Beginning with Sino-Japanese and Pacific Wars, Japan waged an all-out campaign against religion, forcing people to only worship the Japanese gods. Japan deprived the Korean people of freedom of religion and demanded that Koreans become its colonial slaves by offering loyalty only to their emperor.


With liberation, due to the confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Korea’s territory and people were divided and Koreans tasted the tragedy of fratricide. Despite these facts, the Republic of Korea made steady progress and continues to make efforts to unify Korea’s territory and people. During the past fifty years, the Republic of Korea has made splendid economic developments and has entered the threshold of an advanced nation. Its industrial development has made it into one of the top 11 trading countries in the world and its enterprises and labor power capabilities have made inroads overseas. The rapid development of Korean communities in foreign countries is another special feature in this growth. Culturally, Korea has now become an influence in the world. National education has greatly expanded and science, arts and technologies have also developed. The 1988 Olympics in Seoul was made possible through the world’s recognition of the cultural advances in Korea.

1. Birth and Growth of the Republic of Korea

(1) Birth of the Republic of Korea
On August 15, 1945, Korea was liberated.. But before Korea could even take in all the joys of liberation, Koreans were confronted with the tragedy of a territorial division. The United States and the Soviet Union, whose roles were decisive in defeating the Japanese forces as members of the Allied Forces, separately occupied the territories south and north of the 38th parallel in Korea for the purpose of disarming the Japanese Army. Then, the Allied Forces, following the decision of the Three Ministers’ Conference in Moscow, planned to place South and North Korea under the Trusteeship of the United Nations for the next five years.
The U.S. and the Soviet Union proposed setting up a U.S.-Soviet Joint Committee Conference in Seoul for the purpose of placing Korea under the trusteeship of the U.N. The Koreans vehemently objected to the plan of placing Korea under the U.S.-Soviet Trusteeship. Many social organizations as well as political parties arranged their own program to establish a new Korean nation. In South Korea, where political freedoms were secured, confrontations between the forces of the right and the left were acute. Within this whirlpool, the U.S.-Soviet Joint Committee Conference broke down.
The U.S. presented the matters of Korea to the United Nations, upon which the United Nations made a proposal for a general election to be held in Korea and a unified independent government be set up. However, North Korea, which was under the control of the Soviet Army, rejected the activities of the U.N. Korean Provisional Committee and thus the general election took place only in South Korea. The result of this election was the establishment of a new state standing for free democracy and capitalism in South Korea on August 15, 1948. This is today’s Republic of Korea.

(2) The Tragedy of War
As the Republic of Korea was established in South Korea, North Korea’s Kim Il-sung who had already set up a separate government, established a government leading toward communism under the support of the Soviet Union in September 1948. Thus, within three years after casting off the chains of Japanese imperialism, Korea faced its greatest historical tragedy–the division of the nation.
This division of the South and North drove the Korean peninsula into an extreme state of tension. Furthermore, as the world political situation led by the U.S. and Soviet Union rapidly rushed into a cold war structure, the Korean peninsula became a region of instability, not knowing when war might break out. Using this international political situation, North Korea obtained tremendous military aid from the Soviet Union and was soon equipped with a strong military force. After the establishment of the government of the Republic of Korea, communist groups in North Korea attacked various places in South Korea and after it reinforced its military forces, it finally invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. The Republic of Korea’s army which was confronted by this unforeseen attack fought courageously with its inferior weaponry. Within three days, enemy forces captured Seoul and the national army was forced to retreat temporarily from the area. The national army, which was pushed down to the Nakdong River, began to march northward again with the aid of the U.N. forces. The United Nations had already branded the North Korean communists as aggressors, and ordered its forces, composed of the armies of the United States, the United Kingdom and 14 other nations, to aid South Korea. With the entry of the UN forces on the South Korean side, the tables were turned again. As the national army and the UN forces drove the enemy to the Amnok (Yalu) River, it seemed that hopes for unification would be realized. However, the Chinese Communist Army joined forces with North Korea and launched a massive counter attack on the south, the country entered a new phase in what was to be a long, protracted war. Finally, after three years of intense fighting, the UN forces accepted the Soviet Union’s proposal for a cease-fire and an Armistice Agreement reached on July 27, 1953. The Korean War left a deep scar on Korea. There were millions of human casualties during the war. Countless homes and factories were destroyed. Moreover, due to the war, mistrust between North and South Korea deepened.

(3) Tests of Political Development
With the armistice, the Republic of Korea attempted to reconstruct its devastated lands. The U.S. and other free nations supported Korea’s efforts. And Korea and the U.S. concluded a mutual defense treaty in order to prepare against any aggressions. The disasters of war were for the most part, finally overcome in the last 10 years due to the enthusiastic participation of the people. However, ROK’s first President. Rhee Syng-man exercised dictatorial rule and because of his tight grip on power, free democracy was impossible. The Liberal Party led by Rhee Syng-man amended the Constitution as they pleased, in order to extend their political power. Government corruption was so great that the people’s complaints could no longer be suppressed. Thus, the Liberal Party government finally crumbled with the April Revolution (April 19, 1960) of students and citizens (April 26,1960). After the April Revolution but before the newly formed Democratic Party government could take control of the political situation, a group of soldiers under the command of General Park Chung-hee carried out a coup d’etat and established a military government on May 16, 1961. They soon organized the Democratic Republican Party, revised the constitution with a president-centered system and formed a new government. Under the slogan of “Modernization of Korea”, the ruling Republican Party under President Park Chung-hee launched the Saemaeul Movement and pushed for economic development policies. The policies received strong support and cooperation from the people and as a result, the standard of living rose to the level of semi-developed countries. President Park, in order to maintain long-term political power, amended the Constitution and enforced the October Restoration (Yusin) System to construct a one-man dictatorship structure in 1972.
With the strengthening of the Yusin System, the resistance movement for democracy expanded. In this state of affairs, President Park was assassinated and in order to cope with the political unrest, another group of soldiers loyal to General Chun Doo-hwan made their advance into politics. They formed the Democratic Justice Party and promulgated a revised Constitution and set forth a new government. The efforts of people, who demanded political democracy, continued to cast bright prospects for the realization of a completely free country. This has been urged on for the past 50 years since Korea’s restoration.

(4) Progress in South-North Dialogues
The Korean War has separated the two Koreas for 50 years. It seems this gulf cannot be bridged. But a truly meaningful national happiness cannot be enjoyed without the peaceful reunification of North and South Korea. For this reason, proposals for a peaceful democratic unification of the South and North have been cautiously sought between the divided country. In that sense, the South-North communique announced on July 4, 1972 was seen as dramatic progress toward reunification. In this communique, the South and North Korean authorities declared national unity transcending structural or ideological differences. Each has set up concrete programs to realize this vision. As a step toward this, the South-North regulation commissions installed a direct telephone line and shared a number of dialogues between Seoul and Pyongyang. But these dialogues have been unilaterally cut off by the North on the pretext of domestic political change. However, efforts by both sides to reopen these dialogues continue and have resulted in limited reunions between separated families and art performance troupes in 1985. It would be difficult for South and North Korea to achieve peaceful unification at this very moment. However, recognizing that only a peaceful reunification can guarantee a happy life for Koreans, the two sides should not be closed to continuing dialogues and abandoning the mutual distrust which exists between the South and North.

2. Economic Growth and Inroads Overseas

(1) Promotion of Economic Development
From the beginning of 1960, after restoration of much of the damages from the Korean War, a policy for full-fledged economic development was promoted. The Third Republic, established through the May 16 coup d’etat in 1961, was especially successful at enforcing the framework for economic development through a number of five-year economic programs. The basic direction of economic development at this time was to build factories with foreign capital and to export goods produced to foreign markets. This was an inevitable method considering the reality of a country lacking in natural resources and without capital and technology.
Koreans participated enthusiastically in the economic development policy which was strongly promoted by the government. Thus, 20 years after the beginning of economic development, the rapidly growing power of Korea became the focus of attention worldwide. In particular, as the growth of exports geometrically increased, Korea became an important constituent in the world market. Economic development brought big changes in Korea’s industrial structure and to the lives of the people. The backwardness in industry was overcome and an industrial structure of an advanced nation was developed, with the automotive and electronics industries at its center. At the same time, the daily lives of the people were stabilized and the number of people who were able to enjoy a life of leisure increased. Furthermore, a network of roads was completed which connected the entire country and made the whole nation into a one-day traveling space. This has greatly contributed to narrowing the differences in cultural standards of the cities and farming villages.

(2) Expansion of the Saemaeul (New Community) Movement
In the early 70’s, the government developed the Saemaeul (New Community) Movement in order to modernize the farming and fishing villages. This movement was created to awaken the people and to improve their living standard through a spirit of diligence, self-help and cooperation among farmers and fishermen. The government improved the living conditions of the farming and fishing villages and with positive responses from farmers and fishermen, their living conditions and income standards rose remarkably. When the Saemaeul Movement in the farming and fishing villages began to show signs of success, cities and factories also began to carry out some of the same practices. In this way, the spirit of “My Homeland And My Workplace Must Be Cared For By My Own Hands” was implanted in the hearts of the people nationwide. This has become the basis of Korea’s social and economic development.

(3) Inroads Overseas by Enterprises and Labor Force
As the economy developed through the strong will of the people, Korea’s enterprises and labor force began to reach the nations worldwide. Korea’s trading enterprises have opened branches in the important cities around the world, and large domestic enterprises have established electronic goods factories in the United States and Europe. Korea’s construction industry, in particular, with its outstanding technology and reputation have made advances into Southwest Asia, Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, where they are actively engaged in various construction projects. Korean workers and technicians have also made inroads overseas and at one time exceeded 200,000 persons.
Agricultural and fishing industries also made active advances abroad. Experts in agricultural technology have not only been dispatched to Africa to help agricultural developments there but Korea’s ships have made their way through the five oceans where they are engaged in catching fish. The reason why Korea’s enterprises and labor force have been able to make such advances into the world stage is because Korea’s power as a nation has progressed to such a great extent. Thus, Korea is now in a position to give assistance to others. Koreans can say that this bespeaks of their generosity and the diligence of its people.

(4) Development of Korean Societies Abroad
The intelligence and diligence of Koreans are manifested not only by people at home but also by those residing in foreign countries. The Korean societies which have sprung up during the 50 years since restoration in Japan, the United States, China, and the Soviet Union have made steady progress. At present, there are approximately 700,000 Koreans residing in Japan. They are mostly the people and their descendants who sailed there to find a means of living or were forcibly taken there during the period of Japanese colonization. The Korean residents in Japan who have been discriminated against since the colonial days have made their way advancing with patience and diligence. They have thus built the social and economic foundations for their lives which even the Japanese cannot ignore and have proudly become a Korean society which also contributes to the development of their homeland. The 1,800,000 Koreans who now reside in the U.S. are composed mostly of people who immigrated since restoration and their children. They have overcome the prejudice of a white-centered society with their patience and fighting spirit and have courageously obtained a secure life. Today, Korean communities exist in many of the large cities in the United States. There are about 1,950,000 Koreans also living in the area of Yuanbian in Jilin, China. These people have formed their own autonomous district and manage all aspects of government, economic, social, and cultural activities through their own strength. There are also 460,000 Koreans residing in the central Asia area of the former Soviet Union. These people originally resided in the Maritime Province until they were forced to resettle in central Asia by the Soviet Union in 1930. In spite of this, however, they overcame this unfamiliar environment with their strong wills and have now secured prosperous lives for themselves. In addition, Korean societies are expanding to every part of the world. Today’s Korean societies are overcoming difficulties with their outstanding abilities and will, and building a reputation of proud Koreans.

3. A Flourishing Modern Culture

(1) Expansion of National Education
During the 50 years since restoration, dazzling improvements in the quantity of education were made. Today, in Korea, there are 290 colleges, 1,800 high schools, 2,650 middle schools, 5,900 primary schools and countless kindergartens. This is evidence of Korea’s long respect and value for education. Educational developments furnished the people with a foundation to accumulate knowledge and master technology in a short time. The literacy rate in Korea nears 99% and secondary education standards have risen to such an extent that they no longer lag behind advanced nation such as the United States and Britain. The astronomical economic growth and social developments of Korea were made possible by the quantitative and qualitative growth in education. With the expansion of educational opportunities, the contents of education have also become diverse. In 1968, the government revised the National Educational Charter and placed a stronger emphasis on practical learning based on national consciousness. This was a move to encourage autonomous development in education. It was an effort to stop the trend toward Western education and restore traditional national values. Today, the world is a global village. The people of each nation, while maintaining their own identity, live together in mutual understanding and cooperation. Accordingly, Korea’s educational system has changed to nurture persons of the world with a national consciousness.

(2) Development of Academic Research
Progress has been made in academic research along with swift developments in education. In particular, traditional academic fields such as national language, national literature, and national history have made strides in their development. During the colonial rule, the Japanese imperialists thoroughly oppressed the research in fields related to national language and history in order to obliterate Korea’s culture. Obviously, national language and history are the life and soul of Koreans. Thus, it was natural for research in the national language and history to be actively pursued after the fall of Japan and the recovery of Korea’s national sovereignty. Hence, a systematic recognition of Korea’s national language, national history and even its national culture is now possible. Along with the Korean classics, astonishing progress in the social sciences and cultural sciences were also made. After restoration, students studying abroad who left in floods returned home to take positions in universities and research institutions teaching students advanced academic theories of the West and applying them. As Korea built its independent social and economic foundations, new trends in academic research also appeared. That is, scholars did away with rapid accommodation of Western academic theories, but became active in establishing Korean theories of learning based on the Korean perspective. Thus, it will not be long before Korean academic development can contribute to scholastic development in the world. Today, in Korea, tens of thousands of new books are being published annually. The fact that so many books written in Hangul are being published bespeaks of the rise in Korea’s scholastic standards.

(3) Development of Science and Technology
Science and technology are essential elements in present day civilization. This is proven by the fact that today’s culturally and economically advanced nations are also the advanced nations in science and technology. Thus, since restoration, Korea has continued to invest in advancing scientific and technological developments. Korea has now made dazzling developments in modern sciences and general technology. The accumulation of scientific and technological developments are the dynamics of economic development as well. In the field of science, Korea has made outstanding developments in the applied sciences. The fact that Korea’s chief exports are steel, textile fiber, electronics, cars, ships, and computers indicates the degree of development in the applied sciences of these fields. Scientific development is impossible without technological development. Koreans possessed outstanding scientific and technological abilities from early on. Exemplifying this tradition, Korea now stands as a vanguard in the technological field. The fact that Korea’s technological developments have grown into advanced stages is also proved by the fact that young people have continued to do well in the World Technological Olympic Conference each year. Korea has developed technological advances which range from jewelry to the construction of gigantic factories and dams. This is the reward for the efforts of Koreans who worked long for these technological advancements. Korea must now find ways to contribute to the development of human civilization and culture on the basis of such scientific and technological advancements.

(4) Religion and Artistic Activities
In the Republic of Korea, where a system of free democracy was maintained, the freedoms of religion and artistic activities are guaranteed and religious and cultural activities have thrived. From the 1960’s when the people’s standard of living began to improve, such activities became even more varied and active. The most striking feature of religious activities is the fact that Christianity has spread extensively by riding the tides of Western influence in Korea. Therefore, Protestants, Catholics and Buddhists make up the majority of the religious population in Korea. These religions not only gave comfort to the souls of the people during times of political confusion, but also greatly assisted in spreading and expanding national education and modern democratic ideas. Artistic activities in the fields of literature, fine arts, music and architecture were also carried out. As Korea recovered its language and letters post-restoration, many literary works were written. In the fields of arts and music, the utilization of traditional thoughts along with the absorption of modern Western trends were invigorated. The rapid economic development created an architectural boom and magnificent modern buildings now stand in rows in the important cities throughout the country. Recently, Korea’s construction technology has been exported overseas. Both religion and art display the outstanding abilities of Koreans. Now, such activities should be recreated in harmony with Korean traditional culture and contribute to the development of the global culture.

(5) Cultural Abilities which Extend Worldwide
Korea’s cultural abilities, which accumulated during the past 50 years since restoration, are now stretching out onto the world stage. The fact that the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, the sports festival of mankind, was sponsored by the Republic of Korea, bespeaks this fact. In major universities in the United States, Japan, France, and other countries, specialists are carrying out research on the Korean culture. And each year, international conferences on Korean studies are held. Korea’s cultural troupes also perform dazzling shows, hold exhibitions, and introduce Korea’s traditional cultural heritage to many other countries. Dance and drama performances by these troupes are also carried out in worldwide tours. Korea’s artists have also made their way into the world stage. Their talents vary from piano, violin and other classical instruments to modern music such as video art. In the field of sports, Korean athletes participate annually in international games and obtain good results. The 1988 Olympic Games held in Seoul was made possible through worldwide recognition of the nation’s cultural abilities. Despite the fact that the Korean territory and nation have been divided into the South and North, South Korea has developed into a nation in the eyes of the world in just 50 years. This has been because of the blood and sweat of Koreans both at home and abroad. Koreans must now exert more efforts toward the reunification of the two Koreas for a brighter and more fruitful future. Based on this, Koreans must adopt a posture of contributing to world peace and the development of the human culture.

Korea is a proud country with a unique culture and tradition that are over 5,000 years old. Yet results of various surveys indicate that many people around the world do not have a correct understanding of the country’s history, and information in this area has been relatively scarce. The purpose of this source is to address the inaccuracies or distortions foreigners may have in their knowledge of the history of Korea.

History of Korea is co-published by Radio Korea International of KBS and the National Institute for International Education Development under the Ministry of Education & Human Resources Development of Korea.

VANK has the permission on the use of “History of Korea” from the two organizations mentioned above.

Radio Korea International of KBS http://rki.kbs.co.kr

*As the above text was written before 2000, the original version used McCune Reischauer system (M-R) for pronouncing Korean words. The current article was revised and modified into the current Revised Romanization system by Kim Hyeonjong on March 2021. Some words follow the proper name instead of the Revised Romanization system.