History
(Korea has had a long history dating back to 2,333 B.C. )

The Prehistoric Age
Archaeological findings have indicated that the first settlements on the Korean Peninsula occurred 700,000 years ago.



Gojoseon (2333 - 108 B.C.)
According to legend, the mythical figure Dan-gun founded Gojoseon, the first Korean Kingdom, in 2333 B.C. Subsequently, several tribes moved from the southern part of Manchuria to the Korean Peninsula. People began living on the Korean Peninsula and its surrounding areas from some 700,000 years ago. The Neolithic Age began some 8,000 years ago. Relics from that period can be found in areas throughout the Korean Peninsula, mostly in coastal areas and in areas near big rivers.
The Bronze Age began around 1,500 to 2,000 B.C. in present-day Mongolia and on the peninsula. As this civilization began to form, numerous tribes appeared in the Lioaning region of Manchuria and in northwestern Korea. These tribes were ruled by leaders, whom Dangun, the legendary founder of the Korean people, later united to establish Gojoseon (2333 B.C.). The founding date is a testament to the longevity of Korea's history. This heritage is also a source of pride that provides Koreans the strength to persevere in times of adversity.


The Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. - A.D. 676)
The Three Kingdoms refers to a period of time (early 4th to mid-7th centuries A.D.) marked by the struggle of three rival kingdoms: Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla over the territory spanning the Korean peninsula and part of Northeastern Asia.
Goguryeo
An ancient state of the Korean peninsula, Goguryeo occupied the largest territory among the Three Kingdoms. Founded in 37 B.C., Goguryeo prospered on a vast area encompassing the northern part of the Korean peninsula and south-central Manchuria. The kingdom expanded its territory in fierce battles against Chinese kingdoms, but fell to an alliance of Silla and Tang forces in 668 A.D.
Silla
One of the ancient states of the Three Kingdoms, Silla originated in the southeastern part of the Korean peninsula. The kingdom lasted for 992 years, from 57 B.C. to 935 A.D. It conquered Baekje and Goguryeo, one after the other, by joining forces with the Tang Empire of China. Following the unification of the Three Kingdoms, the Tang Empire was no longer an ally, but an invader. Hence, Silla joined forces with the people of Goguryeo and Baekje to drive out Tang forces, and founded the first unified state in the history of Korea in the territory south of the Daedonggang River and Wonsanman.
Baekje
One of the three ancient kingdoms, Baekje (18 B.C.- 660 A.D.) was founded by King Onjo, the son of the king of Goguryeo, in the southwestern part of the Korean peninsula. The kingdom witnessed the florescence of the elegant and delicate Baekje culture, which in particular greatly affected Japanese culture. In 660 A.D., Baekje was defeated by the coalition troops of Silla and Tang of China.




The Unified Silla Kingdom and Balhae
By the mid-sixth century, the Silla Kingdom had brought under its control all of the neighboring town-states within the Gaya Confederation.
Through an alliance with the Tang Dynasty of China, Silla unified the Korean Peninsula in 668 and saw the zenith of its power and prosperity in the mid-eighth century. It attempted to establish an ideal Buddhist country. Bulguksa Temple was constructed during the Unified Silla period. However, its Buddhist social order began to deteriorate as the nobility indulged in increasing luxury.
Silla had repelled Tang attempts to subjugate Goguryeo and Baeche by 676. Then in 698, the former people of Goguryeo who resided in south-central Manchuria established the Kingdom of Balhae. Balhae included not only people of Goguryeo, but also a large Malgal population.
Balhae established a government system centered around five regional capitals, which was modeled after the Goguryeo Kingdom's administrative structure. Balhae possessed an advanced culture which was rooted in that of Goguryeo.
Balhae prosperity reached its height in the first half of the ninth century with the occupation of a vast territory reaching to the Amur River in the north and Kaiyuan in south-central Manchuria to the west. It also established diplomatic ties with Turkey and Japan. Balhae existed until 926, when it was overthrown by the Khitan. Many of the Balhae nobility, who were mostly Goguryeo descendants, moved south and joined the newly founded Goryeo Dynasty.
The Unified Silla (676-935)
The Unified Silla Kingdom promoted the development of culture and arts, and the popularity of Buddhism reached its peak during this period. The Unified Silla Kingdom declined because of contention for supremacy among the noble classes, and was annexed by Goryeo in 935.
Balhae(698-926)
The Balhae Kingdom began to emerge just as the Goguryeo kingdom was on the verge of collapsing. Goguryeo General, Dae Joyeong founded Balhae along with his army of displaced peoples. At one point, Balhae became so powerful that it was able to acquire territories in northern and eastern parts of China. At those times, the Tang Dynasty of China referred to Balhae as 'the strong country by the sea in the east.' The significance of the Balhae Kingdom is greatly inherited from Goguryeo, including the land that it was able to retrieve.

The Goryeo Dynasty (918 - 1392)
The Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) was founded by Wang Geon, a general who had served under Gungye, a rebel prince of the Silla Kingdom. Choosing his native town of Songak (present-day Gaeseong in North Korea) as the capital, Wang Geon proclaimed the goal of recovering the lost territory of the Goguryeo Kingdom in northeast China.
Wang Geon named his dynasty Goryeo, from which the modern name Korea is derived. Although the Goryeo Dynasty could not reclaim lost lands, it achieved a sophisticated culture represented by cheongja or blue-green celadon and flourishing Buddhist tradition.
No less significant was the invention of the world's first movable metal type in 1234, which preceded the Gutenberg Bible of Germany by two centuries. About that time, skilled Korean artisans also completed the herculean task of carving the entire Buddhist canon on large woodblocks.
These woodblocks, numbering more than 80,000, were intended to invoke the influence of Buddha for the repulsion of the Mongol invaders. Called the Tripitaka Koreana, they are now stored at the historic Haeinsa Temple.




The Joseon Dynasty (1392 - 1910)
In 1392, General Yi Seong-gye established a new dynasty called Joseon. The early rulers of Joseon, in order to counter the dominant Buddhist influence during the Goryeo period, supported Confucianism as the guiding philosophy of the kingdom.
The Joseon rulers governed the dynasty with a well-balanced political system. A civil service examination system was the main channel for recruiting government officials.
The examinations served as the backbone for social mobility and intellectual activity during the period. The Confucian-oriented society, however, highly valued academic learning while disdaining commerce and manufacturing.
During the reign of King Sejong the Great (1418-1450), Joseon's fourth monarch, Korea enjoyed an unprecedented flowering of culture and art. Under King Sejong's guidance, scholars at the royal academy created the Korean alphabet Hangeul. It was then called Hunminjeongeum, or "proper phonetic system to educate the people."
King Sejong's interest in astronomical science was comprehensive. Sundials, water clocks, celestial globes and astronomical maps were produced at his request. King Sejo (r.1455-1468) later established an institutional framework for government by publishing a compendium of legal codes, called Gyeongguk Daejeon.
In 1592, Japan invaded the peninsula to pave the way for its incursion into China. At sea, Admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598), one of the most respected figures in Korean history, led a series of brilliant naval maneuvers against the Japanese, deploying the geobukseon (turtle ships), which are believed to be the world's first ironclad battleships.
From the early 17th century, a movement advocating Silhak, or practical learning, gained considerable momentum among liberal-minded scholar-officials as a means of building a modern nation.
They strongly recommended agricultural and industrial improvements along with sweeping reforms in land distribution. The conservative government aristocrats, however, were not ready to accommodate such drastic change.
In the latter half of the Joseon era, government administration and the upper classes came to be marked by recurring factionalism. To rectify the undesirable political situation, King Yeongjo (r.1724-1776) eventually adopted a policy of impartiality. He was thus able to strengthen the royal authority and achieve political stability.
King Jeongjo (r.1776-1800) maintained the policy of impartiality and set up a royal library to preserve royal documents and records. He also initiated other political and cultural reforms. This period witnessed the blossoming of Silhak. A number of outstanding scholars wrote progressive works recommending agricultural and industrial reforms, but few of their ideas were adopted by the government.

Japanese Occupation
In the 19th century, Korea remained a "Hermit Kingdom," adamantly opposed to Western demands for diplomatic and trade relations. Over time, a few Asian and European countries with imperialistic ambitions competed with each other for influence over the Korean Peninsula. Japan, after winning wars against China and Russia, forcibly annexed Korea and instituted colonial rule in 1910.
Colonial rule stimulated the patriotism of Koreans. Korean intellectuals were infuriated by Japan's official assimilation policy, which even banned Korean-language education in Korean schools. On March 1, 1919, a peaceful demonstration calling for independence spread nationwide. The Japanese authorities ruthlessly repressed the demonstrators and their supporters, slaughtering thousands.
Although it failed, the March 1 Independence Movement created strong bonds of national identity and patriotism among Koreans. The movement led to the establishment of a Provisional Government in Shanghai, China, as well as an organized armed struggle against the Japanese colonists in Manchuria. The Independence Movement is still commemorated among Koreans every March 1, which is designated a national holiday.
During the colonial period, Japan's economic exploitation of Korea continued. The lives of Koreans deteriorated under colonial rule until the end of World War II in 1945.

Founding of the Republic
Koreans rejoiced at Japan's World War II defeat. However, their joy was short-lived. Liberation did not instantly bring about the independence for which the Koreans had fought so fiercely. Rather, it resulted in a country divided by ideological differences caused by the emerging Cold War. Korean efforts to establish an independent government were frustrated as U.S. forces occupied the southern half of the peninsula and Soviet troops took control of the north.
In November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that called for general elections in Korea under the supervision of a UN Commission.
However, the Soviet Union refused to comply with the resolution and denied the UN Commission access to the northern half of Korea. The UN General Assembly then adopted another resolution calling for elections in areas accessible to its commission.
The first elections in Korea were carried out on May 10, 1948, in the areas south of the 38th parallel. This parallel came to divide the Korean Peninsula into South and North.
Syngman Rhee was elected the first President of the Republic of Korea in 1948. Meanwhile, north of the 38th parallel, a communist regime was set up under the leadership of Kim Il-sung.
On June 25, 1950, North Korea launched an unprovoked full-scale invasion of the South, triggering a three-year war which drew in U.S., Chinese and other foreign forces. The entire peninsula was devastated by the conflict. A cease-fire was signed in July 1953.
Korea's growth-oriented, export-led economic development since the 1960s was so remarkable that it earned the expression "the Miracle on the Hangang River" in the 1970s. Subsequently, Seoul successfully hosted the 24th Olympics in 1988 and Korea co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup soccer finals with Japan. Through these occasions, Korea has demonstrated to the world its rich cultural heritage and love of art, as well as modern technologies. In the 1950s, Korea ranked among the poorest countries. Today, its economy is around the 13th largest in the world, and the nation is determined to become even more of a global economic leader throughout the new millennium.
The Republic of Korea has steadily followed the path to mature democracy and market economy. Even though the legacies of the Cold War still linger on this peninsula, Korea today is poised to make a new economic take-off. The Koreas are also working toward a durable structure of peace on the peninsula and promoting common prosperity for South and North Korea through peace, reconciliation and cooperation.