History(Korea has had a long history
dating back to 2,333 B.C. )
Archaeological findings have indicated that the first
settlements on the Korean Peninsula occurred 700,000
(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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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