22 December 2010

Overview of Korean History

Before I get into the history, I wanted to clarify something about the name of the Korean peninsula.  I stated in a previous blog that North Korea refers to the peninsula as Choson (조선), which is true.  However, I failed to mention that South Korea does not call the peninsula Korea either.  Korea is simply a western name for the peninsula because western merchants (actually Persian merchants) first visited the peninsula during the Goryeo (고려) dynasty, which sounded like "Korea".  The South Koreans actually refer to Korea as Hanguk (한국), which means "one people" (kind of weird considering Korea is the only divided country in the world).  This term however did not appear until 1919 and prior to this date the South Koreans also reffered to the peninsula as Choson.  The official name of South Korea is Daehan Minguk ( 대한민국 ), which translates as the Republic of Korea.  The official name of North Korea is Choson Minjujui Inmin Gonghwaguk ( 조선 민주주의 인민공화국 ), which means Joseon (or Choson) Democratic People's Republic.
Another interesting fact I found regarding the name is that prior to the Japanese occupation of Korea the name was actually spelled Corea.  The Japanese changed the spelling to a K, but in many non-English speaking countries it is still spelled with a C. 

I've also been referencing Korean history in some of my posts without really providing a basic timeline of the events.  So here you go!

Basic Timeline
  • Prehistory: Hominids arrived at the peninsula as early as 500,000 BC.  The earliest pottery dates to the Jeulman Pottery Period (8,000 BC - 1,500 BC).  The Jeulman was followed by the Mumun Pottery Period (1,500 BC - 300 BC).
  • 2333 - 108 BC: Gojoseon - Ancient kingdom in the northern part of Korea.  Became Wiman Joseon in 194 BC after a general named Wiman usurped the throne
  • 57 BC - 668 AD: Three Kingdoms Period - The peninsula was primarily controlled by the Goguryeo, Baekjae, and Silla Kingdoms
  • 668 - 892: Silla Unification - The Silla Kingdom unites the three kingdoms after conquering Goguryeo in 668 with the help of the Tang Dynasty
  • 892 - 936: Later Three Kingdoms Period - Marks the downfall of the Silla Dynasty as Hubaekje and Hugoguryeo emerge
  • 918 - 1392: Goryeo Dynasty - Unites the peninsula from 936 - 1392
  • 1392 - 1897: Joseon (or Choson) Dynasty - Emerges after the overthrow of the Goryeo Kingdom
  • 1897 - 1910: Korean Empire - A modernization period that took place for short time prior to Japanese occupation
  • 1910 - 1945: Japanese Occupation - Japanese takeover of Korea that ended with the Japanese surrender in World War II
  • 1945 - 1948: Division of Korea - The United States helps to create a provincial government in the south, while the Soviet Union creates a provincial government in the north
  • 1948 - Present: North and South Korea - The United States and the Soviet Union are unable to agree on how to combine the two governments, resulting in the divided country
  • 1950 - 1953: Korean War - The two governments wage war, with an armistice ending official conflict
For anyone interested in Korean history I would really recommend A New History of Korea by Ki-baik Lee.  It was kind of hard to find in the United States, but it provides a great introduction to all time periods in Korean history.

I'm really getting interested in Korean history, so I might go into each of these periods in more depth in future blogs.  I'm planning to do a lot of travel over the Christmas weekend, which means I'll have plenty of time to read up on it.  I would also like to get a history of Busan posted sometime soon.

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