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Korea Main Page

 

Korea's History/Background


The history of human activity in Korea can be traced far into the Paleolithic period, about 500,000 years ago.  The beginning of Korean history is often dated to 2333 B.C. when King Tan-gun, a legendary figure born of the son of Heaven and a woman from a bear-totem tribe, established the first kingdom named Choson, literally meaning the "Land of the Morning Calm."  While the historicity of the Tan-gun myth is disputed among scholars, it is known that ancient Korea was characterized by clan communities which combined to form small town-states.  They rose and fell so that by the first century B.C., Three Kingdoms, Koguryo (37 B.C. - A.D. 688), Paekche (18 B.C. - A.D. 660) and Shilla (57 B.C. - A.D. 935), had emerged on the Korean Peninsula and part of what is now known as Manchuria. 

 

mountain_castle.jpg (19678 bytes)Ever since Shilla unified the peninsula in 668, Korea has been ruled by a single government and has maintained its political independence and cultural and ethnic identity in spite of frequent foreign invasions.  Both Koryo (918-1392) and Choson (1392-1910) Dynasties consolidated their dynastic power and flourished culturally, while repelling intruders like the Khitans, Mongols, Manchus or Japanese. 

 In the late 19th century, Korea became the focus of intense competition among imperialist nations such as China, Russia or Japan.  In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and instituted colonial rule, bringing the Choson Dynasty to an end and with it traditional Korea.  National liberation occurred in 1945 but was soon followed by territorial division.  The Republic of Korea in the South has a democratic government, while the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the North is ruled by a Communist regime.  

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