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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.
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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