Korea has had a long history dating back to 2,333 B.C. This section follows the History of Korea from the prehistoric age to its current era.
The Prehistoric AgeArchaeological 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 Gojoseon, 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)
An ancient state of the Korean peninsula, Goguryeo occupied the largest territory among the Three Kingdoms. Founded in 37 B.C., 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 A.D.
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 B.C. to 935 A.D. 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 B.C.- 660 A.D.) 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 A.D., 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 the 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 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 hub of Asia with a more democratic style of leadership.
On the other hand, North Korea has been ruled by Kim Jeong-il since the death of Kim Il-Sung in 1994. Faced with dire economic situations, North Korea has begun to implement partial free trade in an effort to remedy the situation.
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, improve the economy, and solve the problem of separated families. The family reunification program, started in 1985, and continues to this day. In 1998, South Korean citizens began to be admitted into North Korea to tour the Geumgangsan Diamond Mountains.