To the 13th century

Chinese in Korea: from 108 BC

Korea, hanging like an appendix from northern China, cannot avoid being influenced by its powerful neighbour. Korean legend describes a Chinese scholar, by the name of Kija, bringing civilization when he arrives with 5000 followers. Certainly Chinese influence must have penetrated the peninsula long before the formal establishment, in 108 BC, of four Chinese colonies in northwest Korea.

The next century sees the beginning of a more independent Korea, in the Period of the Three Kingdoms. The first of these, Silla, is formed in the southeast in 57 BC; it is followed by Koguryo in the north in 37 BC; and by Paekche in the southwest in 18 BC.

Three Kingdoms: to AD 668

During the early centuries of the Christian era there is continual warfare between the three kingdoms, until Silla unites the peninsula by defeating the other two (Paekche in AD 660, Koguryo in 668).

Meanwhile Buddhism in korea has been profoundly influential, arriving from China. In the 6th century Buddhism takes a further step of great significance, crossing from Korea to Japan. It is a path taken in previous centuries by earlier ideas, such as Bronze and iron technology. From at least the 4th century onwards there is a reverse link as well - with Japanese military incursions into the southern tip of Korea. The relationship between Korea and Japan becomes, and remains, one of closely linked rivalry.

Korea unified and independent: 7th - 13th century

The kingdom of Silla gives Korea (or Choson, 'land of the morning calm', as it is called at this time) a period of stability and prosperity in which the arts flourish in the service of Buddhism. Temples and stone pagodas are built, large statues of holy figures are carved in granite or cast in bronze. The influences here are from China. But in one Buddhist speciality, that of Printing, the Koreans seem to have been the leaders in the 8th century. And six centuries later they remain in that position.

In about 1230 a Korean type foundry is established – the first step in the most significant development in the history of Printing, that of creating pages from separate pieces of Movable type, cast in metal.

In about 900 the old kingdom of Koguryo is revived in rivalry to Silla. In 935 the king of Silla abdicates and his place is taken by Wang Kon, the ruler of Koguryo. Controlling the whole peninsula, Wang changes the name of his kingdom to Koryo, meaning 'high and beautiful'. This is the word which the west adopts as Korea. The Wang dynasty lasts more than four centuries, until 1392, ruling the country on largely Chinese principles with a well-tried blend of Buddhism and Confucianism.

The kingdom of Koryo remains for the most part on good terms with China. Its main problem derives from barbarians living beyond the northern border, in Manchuria. One such group, the Khitan, overrun the peninsula and burn the capital city (Kaesong) in 1011. Even more disastrously, in the 13th century Koryo is on the southward route of the Mongols.

13th - 20th century

Mongol overlords: 1231-1364

In 1231 a Mongol horde conquers the Korean peninsula. The court of the Wang dynasty in Koryo submits to a new way of life. Mongol customs are introduced, Mongol princesses enter the royal harem. Later in the century Kublai khan uses Korea as his base for two invasions of Japan. The Mongol troops sail in Korean ships. On both occasions the fleets are shattered by great typhoons, the famous kamikaze.

The Mongols are finally driven from Korea in 1364 by a young general, Yi Song-gye. The enfeebled and discredited Wang rulers survive another twenty-eight years before Yi topples them, in 1392, to establish a dynasty of his own.

The Joseon dynasty: from 1392

Yi Song-gye changes the name of his kingdom back to an earlier name, Joseon, by which his dynasty becomes known, and he moves the capital to Hanyang (the present-day Seoul). His successors develop an increasingly close link with China, accepting the status of 'tributary kingdom' to first the Ming and then the Qing dynasty. Confucianism is now the accepted state system, and as in China the influence of the Buddhists is curbed. Korean painting flourishes in the Chinese landscape style. For the second time, in the technology of Printing, Korea shows China the way - on this occasion with movable metal type, a highly significant development in the history of Printing.

But in the long term friendship with China proves no defence against an ancient enemy - Japan.

Korea and Japan: 1592-1910

Korea first suffers from Japanese expansionism during the reign of one of the most successful shoguns, Toyotomi hideyoshi. Attempting to attack China through Korea, the Japanese invade the peninsula in 1592 and remain there for seven years of conflict before being driven out in 1599.

Three centuries later Korea is again the battleground between Japan and rival powers on the mainland. Hostilities between Japan and China on Korean soil in 1884-5 are followed by the Chinese-japanese war of 1894-5. It is won by Japan, exposing Korea to continuing Japanese interference. This in turn brings Japan into conflict with a new great power in the region - Russia.

When the Russo-japanese war breaks out in 1904, Japan occupies Korea as a mainland base. The war ends in 1905 with a treaty to Japan's advantage. Russia accepts the principle of Japanese involvement in Korea.

The country is immediately declared by Japan to be a Japanese protectorate. Five years later, in 1910, Korea is formally annexed and placed under a Japanese governor-general. A prince of the Yi dynasty is taken to Tokyo and is given an aristocratic Japanese bride. The Korean royal family becomes, after the death of the Yi prince, a branch of the Japanese nobility.

This History is as yet incomplete.
Arrow Arrow
Page 1 of 2
Arrow Arrow