Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Korea is a peninsula in eastern Asia where people have lived since 12,000 - 15,000 years ago. It was once a huge unified country that had governed territories in Manchuria and limited territories of what is called Siberia today. At one point, it was the world's center for the very best silk in the world as noted by ancient Chinese scripts (but unknown to Europeans) and had the world's best goldsmiths during the 7th-8th Century. The art of movable metal type was invented in Korea before 1232, long before Gutenberg's inception in Europe.

Politically it is currently divided into the communist country of North Korea and the capitalist country of South Korea, since the 1950s when the Korean War occurred. For more on the regions of Korea (both North and South), see Provinces of Korea. The nation is renowned for its traditional dish called kimchi (see Korean cuisine) - which was developed by an innovative and unique process of preserving dietary vegetables (i.e. fermentation) before electric refrigeration existed.

Table of contents
1 Names
2 History of Korea
3 See also
4 External links


(Full article: Names of Korea)

In Korean, Korea is referred to as "Chosŏn" (조선; 朝鮮) in the North and "Hanguk" (한국; 韓國) in the south. The western name "Korea" (from Goryeo (고려; 高麗)) is a neutral name often used by both countries in international contexts. There are complex historical reasons for the use of all three names, of which the following paragraph is a summary.

Before the Three Kingdoms Period, "Joseon" was the name of various early states in northern Korea, while "Han" was used in the names of several tribal confederacies in the south. (According to the Dangun myth, "Old Joseon" was the first Korean state.) In the 660s, the kingdoms of Baekje and Goguryeo came under the control of Silla, and Korea was called "Silla" (or Unified Silla by modern historians) from then until the 10th century. In 936, the newly formed kingdom of Goryeo defeated Silla. From Goryeo came "Cauli" (the Italian spelling of the name Marco Polo gave to the country in his Travels), from which came the English names "Corea" and the now more commonly used "Korea." (For the Corea-vs.-Korea debate, please see Names of Korea.) In 1392, the Joseon Dynasty came to power and the country was renamed "Joseon" (Daejoseonguk in full, or "Great Joseon Nation.") In 1897, the Korean Empire (Daehan Jeguk) was formed, reviving the name "Han." In 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan and the name reverted to "Joseon" ("Chosen" in Japanese). In 1919, the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was formed in Shanghai, which used the name "Republic of Korea" (Daehan Minguk), a modified form of the name "Korean Empire." After independence from Japan and the country's division in 1945, the southern American-occupied zone became the "Republic of Korea" (or Hanguk for short in Korean) in 1948, due to the influence of the non-Communist Shanghai group. Meanwhile, the northern Soviet-occupied zone became the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (or Joseon for short in Korean) under the control of Kim Il-sung, who wished to use the name "Joseon" for its ancient and northern connotations.

History of Korea


There exists archaelogical evidence that people were living in Korea during the Palaeolithic period - i.e., before the last ice age (roughly 18,000 to 12,000 years ago). According to classic legend, Korea's first large social civilization, Gojoseon, was founded by the man-god Dangun (Tangun) in 2333 BC.

Ancient History

According to a few ancient transcripts, a Chinese exile Jizi (Gija) led 5,000 followers to the mountainous peninsula and founded a kingdom called Gija Joseon in 1122 BC by merging with existent populations. Historians are still debating migration of individuals that occurred around this period, and some do not accept this chapter as being solely true.

Three Kingdoms Period

In the period 57 BC to AD 668, the Three Kingdoms of Silla (or Shilla), Goguryeo, and Baekje existed, as well as the minor confederacy of chiefdoms called Gaya (which was eventually absorbed into Silla). All three major kingdoms were influenced by China. Buddhism was introduced in 372. In 660 the stronger kingdom, Silla (also known as Koryu) allied with China's (Tang Dynasty) and overthrew Baekje (in 660) and Goguryeo (in 668), and eventually Goguryeo people found new kingdom, Barhae (a.k.a. Bohai). While Silla was forging diplomatic ties with China, Baekje had sustained a close relationship to Japan - and helped build the Nara Period (see Yamato) - before it completely fell to the Silla-Tang alliance. During the Unified Silla period (681 to 935) Buddhism expanded, and culture developed substantially.


The kingdom of Goryeo was founded in 918 and replaced Silla as the dominant power in Korea in the years 935-936. ("Goryeo" is a short form of "Goguryeo" and the source of the English name "Korea.") The kingdom lasted until 1392. During this period laws were codified, and a civil service system was introduced. Buddhism flourished, and spread throughout the peninsula. In 1231 the Mongols invaded Korea and after 25 years of struggle the royal family surrendered. For the following 150 years the Goryeo ruled, but under the control of the Mongols.


In 1392 a Korean general, Yi Seonggye, was sent to China to campaign against the Ming Dynasty, but instead he allied himself with the Chinese, and returned to overthow the Goryeo king and establish a new dynasty. The Joseon Dynasty moved the capital to Hanseong (formerly Hanyang; modern-day Seoul) in 1394 and adopted Confucianism as the country's official religion, resulting in much loss of power and wealth by the Buddhists. During this period, the Hangeul alphabet was introduced by King Sejong in 1443.

Joseon (as Korea was called during the Joseon Dynasty) suffered invasions by Japan (1592 to 1598). Korea's most famous military figure, Admiral Yi Sun-sin was instrumental in defeating the invasion. The Manchus (1627 to 1636). Throughout most of its rule, the Joseon Dynasty were in a tributary relationship to the Chinese.

The 19th century

During the 19th century, Korea tried to prevent the opening of the country to foreign trade by closing the borders to all nations but China, resulting in it being called the Hermit Kingdom by many. In 1871, the United States first met Korea militarily, in what the Koreans call the Shinmiyangyo. Beginning in 1876 the Japanese forced trade agreements on Korea, won influence over Korea following the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), and assassinated Queen Min in 1895. In 1897, Joseon was renamed Daehan Jeguk (Korean Empire), and King Gojong became Emperor Gojong. A period of Russian influence followed, until Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Korea became a protectorate of Japan on 25 July 1907, the 1905 Protectorate Treaty having been promulgated without Emperor Gojong's required seal. In 1910 the country was officially annexed by Japan establishing the Japanese Colonial Period in Korea.

Japanese Colonial Period

(Main article (under construction): Japanese Colonial Period)

In 1910 Japan annexed Korea by military force. Korea continued to be a Japanese colony until Japan's surrender to the Allied Forces on 15 August 1945.

During the colonial rule Koreans were deprived of many rights, including freedom of assembly and association, free speech and an independent press. A Japanese school system was introduced, where subjects such as Korean history and language were dropped in favour of their Japanese equivalents.

Modern Transport and communication networks were established across the nation. This facilitated Japanese commerce. Koreans were barred from engaging in similar activities. Many farmers were stripped of their land after failing to register their ownership with the colonial rulers. Joint ownership as it was common in Korea at the time was not recognized by Japan.

After the former Korean emperor Gojong had died, anti-Japanese rallies took place nationwide on 1 March 1919 (the March 1st (Samil) Movement). A declaration of independence was read in Seoul. It is estimated that 2 million people took part in these rallies. This peaceful protest was brutally suppressed by the colonial rulers: an estimated 47,000 were arrested, 7,500 killed and 16,000 wounded.

As a consequence Japan's iron rule was softened. A constabulary force replaced the gendarmerie and partial freedom was given to the press. The oppression of the people and the exploitation of Korea's resources continued, although using different methods. Japan's speedy development as a capitalist society was only possible at the expense of Korean people, although as a by-product of the colonization Korea was industrialized.

Continued anti-Japanese rallies, such as the nationwide uprising of students in November 1929, led to the reinstating of military rule in 1931. After the outbreaks of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and World War II Japan attempted to wipe out Korea as a nation. Worship at Japanese Shinto shrines was made compulsory. The school curriculum was radically modified to reflect the changed policies. Korean people were forced to adopt Japanese names whilst the celebration of Korean culture was suppressed. Newspapers were prohibited from publishing in Korean and the study of Korean history was banned at university. Hundreds of thousands of able-bodied Koreans were drafted to work in Japanese mines and factories. Many Korean men were forced to join the Japanese military to fight against China whilst many women were forced to work as comfort women.

During the Colonial Period, the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was established in Shanghai. On December 11, 1941 this provisional government declared war again and fought with its Korean Restoration Army alongside the Allied Forces. Seven days after the sundering of the friendship Pact, Soviet tanks invaded Korea from Siberia, meeting little to no resistance. Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces on 15 August 1945, ending 35 years of formal colonial rule. US forces under General Hodge, would not arrive to southern part of Korea until September 8th. Colonel Dean Rusk proposed splitting Korea at the 38th parallel at an emergency US meeting to determine spheres of influence during this time.

List of Japanese governors-general in Korea

The Division of Korea

Main article: Division of Korea

The surrender of Japan, the earlier collapse of Nazi Germany, combined with fundamental shifts in global politics and ideology, led to the division of Korea into two occupation zones effectively starting on September 8, 1945, with the United States administering the southern half of the peninsula and the Soviet Union taking over the area north of the 38th parallel. This division was meant to be temporary and was first intended to return a unified Korea back to its people until the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and Republic of China could arrange a trusteeship administration.

At the Cairo Conference on 1 December 1945, it was agreed that Korea would be free "in due course as one unified country;" at a later meeting in Yalta in February 1945, it was agreed to establish a four-power trusteeship over Korea. In December 1945, a conference convened in Moscow to discuss the future of Korea. A 5-year trusteeship was discussed, and a joint Soviet-American commission was established. The commission met intermittently in Seoul but deadlocked over the issue of establishing a national government. In September 1947, with no solution in sight, the United States submitted the Korean question to the UN General Assembly.

Initial hopes for a unified, independent Korea quickly evaporated as the politics of the Cold War and domestic opposition to the trusteeship plan resulted in the 1948 establishment of two separate nations with diametrically opposed political, economic, and social systems. In June 1950 the Korean War broke out, ending any hope of a peaceful reunification for the mean time. See History of North Korea and History of South Korea for the post-war period.

See also

External links