> Useful Information > Korea in Brief > History
in the Muyoungchong
('tomb of the dander's
of the Goguryeo)
March 1. 1919
The Prehistoric Age
Archaeological findings have indicated that the
first settlements on the Korean Peninsula occurred
700,000 years ago.
Gojoseon (2333 - 108 B.C)
According to legend, the mythical figure Dan-gun founded
Gojseon, the first Korean Kingdom, in 2333 B.C. Subsequently,
several tribes moved from the southern part of Manchuria
to the Korean Peninsula.
The Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. - A.D. 676)
The Three Kingdoms refers to a period of time (early
4th to mid-7th centuries AD) marked by the struggle of
three rival kingdoms: Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla over
the territory spanning the Korean peninsula and part of
An ancient state of the Korean peninsula, Goguryeo occupied
the largest territory among the Three Kingdoms. Founded
in 37 BC, 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 AD.
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 BC to 935 AD.
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.
One of the three ancient kingdoms, Baekje (18 BC-660 AD)
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 AD, Baekje was defeated by the coalition
troops of Silla and Tang of China.
The Unified Silla Kingdom and Balhae
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.
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.
The Goryeo Dynasty (918 - 1392)
The Goryeo Dynasty was established in 918. Buddhism
became the state religion during this time and greatly
influenced politics and culture. Famous items produced
during this time include Goryeo celadon and the Tripitaka
Koreana. Jikjisimgyeong, Buddhist scripture printed with
the world's first movable metal type developed in Korea
during Goryeo Dynasty, is at least 78 years older than
the first Gutenberg Bible.
The Goryeo Dynasty's strength decreased gradually in the
latter half of the 14th century.
The Joseon Dynasty (1392 - 1910)
The Joseon Dynasty was formed at the end of the 14th
century. Confucianism became the state ideology and exerted
a massive influence over the whole of society. The Joseon
Dynasty produced Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, which was
invented in 1443, during the reign of King Sejong. The
dynasty's power declined later because of foreign invasions,
beginning with the Japanese invasion of 1592.
The Japanese Colonial Period (1910 - 1945)
In 1876, the Joseon Dynasty was forced to adopt an open-door
policy regarding Japan. The Japanese annexation of Korea
concluded in 1910, and Korean people had to suffer under
the Japanese colonial rule until the surrender of Japan
in 1945, which ended World War II.
Establishment of the Korean Government (1945-1948)
Korea was liberated from Japanese oppression on August
15, 1945, but it soon faced the tragic division of North
and South along the 38th parallel. Both regions were placed
under temporary military rule by the U.S. and Soviet armies.
In 1948 with the help of the United Nations, South Korea
held an election on May 10th and elected Dr. Rhee Syngman
president. On August 15th of that same year, an official
declaration was made about the birth of the South Korean
government. On the other hand, North Korea formed the
Provisional People’s Committee for North Korea, led by
Kim Il-sung, in February 1946. On September 9, 1948, the
Democratic People's Republic of Korea was officially founded.
The Korean War (1950-1953)
In the early hours of June 25th, 1950, North Korea attempted
a forcible unification of North and South Korea by invading
South Korea over the 38th parallel. In response, military
help from over 16 nations helped defend South Korea against
the threat of communism under the leadership of UN General
Douglas MacArthur. China and the Soviet Union lent their
military might to North Korea. The war continued over
the next 3 years until coming to an end on July 27th 1953,
with a peace agreement signed at Panmunjeom, located in
the DMZ. Not only did the war ravage the peninsula, it
also heightened hostile sentiments between the North and
South, making reunification a difficult task.
The Aftermath of War (1954-Current)
The Rhee Syngman government focused on an anti-communist
approach to government beginning in 1954, but in 1960
the government's power collapsed with the student's anti
government movement, the 4.19 Revolution. In 1963, Park
Chung-hee was elected president and ruled with a controversial
iron fist for the next 17 years. President Park Chung-hee's
'Saemaeul Undong' (New Community Movement, an effort to
modernize Korea that began in 1970) brought about much
progress in South Korea, and the systematic approach to
economic development also yielded increased exports and
positive returns. But with the democratic movement in
progress and the citizens becoming wary of such extended
rule, Park Chung-hee's life ended in a 1979 assassination.
Afterwards in 1980, Chun Doo-hwan came to power and continued
to lead the nation with an authoritarian slant as had
been the case with former rulers. His rule came to an
end in 1987 after massive protests across the country
demanded democracy. In 1988 the Roh Tae-woo government
started off the year on a good note by successfully hosting
the 1988 Seoul Olympics. His government went on to join
the UN in 1991. The Kim Young-sam government which began
in 1993 implemented a new system in which people were
required to use their real names when making financial
transactions, a much needed revolution at the time. In
1998, Kim Dae-jung was elected president and threw his
efforts into overcoming the IMF financial catastrophe
that hit Asia in 1997, and also hosted the 17th FIFA World
Cup in 2002. President Kim Dae-jung was also the winner
of the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for his Sunshine Policy
regarding North Korea. President Rho Moo-hyun's term began
in 2003 aiming, to achieve economic growth, and develop
Korea as the hus of Asia with a more democratic style
North and South Korea jointly signed an agreement on July
4th, 1972 concerning the reunification of the two Koreas,
and in 2000 Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jeong-il took early steps
to explore reunification, improving the economy, and solving
the problem of separated families. The family reunification
program, started in 1985, continues until this day. In
1998, South Korean citizens began to be admitted into
North Korea to tour the Geumgangsan Diamond Mountains.
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