28 December 2010

Busan: A History of Violence

Maybe I'll start naming all of my blog posts after movies?  I don't know, but anyway...

Let it snow!  I got my first snow day today so I'm going to take advantage of it by catching up on some history.  My first topic is the history of Busan.  I've now been to Busan twice and I've really enjoyed wandering around the city.  I can't wait to see what it's like in the summer because Busan is supposed to have some of the most beautiful beaches on the Korean peninsula. 

Busan, also known as Pusan or 부산, is currently the second largest city in South Korea (and also the largest coastal city) with a population of about 3.6 million people.  The full name of the city is 부산광역시 or Busan Gwangyeoksi, which means Busan Metropolitan City.  Busan translates to "Kettle mountain" with 부, or Bu, meaning kettle and 산, or san, meaning mountain.  This name is in reference to the shape of the mountain next to the city.  

So on to some history...

As stated in previous blogs, humans arrived on the Korean peninsula during the Paleolithic Age.  Busan did not become populated until late in the Paleolithic Age due to its location at one of the southernmost points on the peninsula.  The Bronze Age also arrived late to Busan, presumably again due to its location.  During the Three Kingdoms period, the Busan area was a focal point of battles between the Gaya and Silla Kingdoms.  After the Silla unification, the area was combined with an area named Geochilsanguk, or 거칠산국 (I think), and was renamed Geochilsangun, or 거칠산군.  The name is derived from Geochinmoe, which was the ancient name for a mountain now named Hwangnyeongsan.  The name was changed again in 757 to Dongnaehyeon (the same Dongnae as the fortress I visited on Sunday).  

Dongnae Fortress wall
After the Silla Dynasty, the area was briefly controlled by the Hubaekje Kingdom beforing coming under the control of the Goryeo Kingdom.  The Busan area became an important part of Goryeo's defense strategy against the Japanese, which resulted in the construction of many village fortresses.  This was also the time period in which the area was named Busanpo (po means bay or harbor).  

After the collapse of the Goryeo Dyansty, power shifted to the Joseon Dynasty.  During this time, Busan continued to grow in its role as both a trading center with Japan and a defense post against Japan.  Chungnyeolsa, which I also saw on Sunday, was built in remembrance of the Imjin War, which took place against invading Japanese forces from 1592 to 1598.

Brief history of the Imjin War ( 임진왜란):
The war is also referred to as Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea and the Seven Year War.  The name "Imjin" refers to the year in which the war started in the Chinese sexagenery cycle. The year 1592 was the 29th year of the 71st cycle on the Chinese calendar, which was the year of the Yang Water Dragon.

The war was caused by Korea's unwillingness to submit to the Japanese ultimatum that they join the Japanese forces in a war against China.  China actually ended up greatly aiding the Korean forces in the war in order to prevent a Japanese invasion of their own country.  A mix of firearms and archery units were used in the war.  Japan weilded the arquebus, which was an early firearm brought to Japan from Portugal.  Korea primarily used composite arrows, which had a range of 150 yards longer than Japanese arrows.  In addition to bows and firearms, the Chinese brought early forms of land mines and hand grenades into play.  The Chinese also utilized rocket-propelled arrows (I'm not sure what those are, but they sound pretty awesome).  

The war began on April 13, 1592 when Japanese forces attacked Busan.  The city fell in about a day and within two months both Seoul (then referred to as Hanseong, or 한성) and Pyeongyang ( 평양 ) had come under Japanese control.  The Chinese soon realized the threat posed by the Japanese and came to the aid of Korea.  Approximately one year after the start of the war, Japanese forces had retreated back to the Busan area and over the next two years they would slowly head back to Japan.  However, in 1597 the Japanese returned to again try to capture Korea.  The second campaign was not as successful and the final battle took place on December 16, 1598.  

The war ended up being the most devastating event in Korean history.  Workable farmland on the peninsula was reduced by a third, which resulted in a postwar famine.  Also, the total number of Korean military and civilian deaths has been estimated around one million.  However, a national hero named Admiral Yi arose as a result of the war.  He was successful in all 23 of his naval battles and died during the final battle of the war.

So I figured that could be informative since personally I had never even heard of the Imjin War and I doubt that many people outside of the Far East had either.  Following the Imjin War, Busan continued to be a trading post with Japan.  During the Japanese takeover from 1910-1945, Busan was a center for the anti-Japanese struggle.  Busan also served as a provisional capital during the Korean War after the capture of Seoul.  

So that about sums it up.  Busan has experienced a war-torn past, but today it is a pretty amazing city to tour around.  I may be done with Busan for the winter, but I plan on returning in the other seasons cause there is so much to see.

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