The migration of Neolithic nomads from central Asia and Siberia led to the gradual emergence of villages and small communities in Manchuria, China and Korea. Sedentary nomadic clans established agricultural settlements that later evolved into the first walled-town tribal states which set the mold for future social evolution on the Korean peninsula. Developments in China during the Warring States Period led to a buildup of tensions among China, Manchuria, and Korea's emerging tribal states.
[ Tales of Three Kingdoms ]
Alliances among Korea's tribal states gave rise to the kingdoms of Puyo and Koguryo. China conquered the Liao-tung River basin and northern Korea to protect its northeastern frontier from the increasingly powerful northern steppe nomads. After the fall of the Chinese Wei Kingdom, Hsiung-nu nomads took control of northern China and the Liao-tung region. Manchurian Hsien-pei tribes destroyed the northern kingdom of Puyo and battled Koguryo for control of Liao-tung region. Refugees from Puyo later formed the southern Korean kingdom of Paekche. The Kingdom of Silla emerged as a major aristocratic power in southeastern Korea. The Japanese kingdom of Yamato emerged as diplomatic relations developed among Korea's Three Kingdoms and China.
[ Paekche and Silla ]
The powerful nation state of Koguryo dominated northern Korea and much of the Manchurian Plain, fighting China's Sui and T'ang dynasties for both territory and independence. Battling Koguryo and each other, the kingdoms of Paekche and Silla competed for dominance on the peninsula, while the smaller Kaya League struggled to hold its own in the southern Naktong River basin. A major Paekche expedition to Kyushu, Japan, led to the creation of the Yamato Kingdom and the beginnings of a new cultural legacy. The Kingdom of Silla unified Korea and took on the cloak of T'ang Chinese culture, eventually falling victim to the same internal problems that plagued China's great dynasties.
[ Koryo and Khitan ]
Numerous battles among Korea's Later Three Kingdoms led to the surrender of Silla and the collapse of Later Paekche. Wang Kon emerged from the fighting to unify Korea under the kingdom of Koryo. Khitan nomads in Manchuria conquered the Kingdom of Parhae and created the Liao Dynasty. Tense relations between the Khitan and Koryo overshadowed social and political developments under King T'aejo. The Khitan Liao Dynasty in Manchuria increased pressure on both Sung China and Koryo from the north, but the newly formed state held on to its independence, strengthened its government and expanded its territory northward to the Yalu River.
[ Koryo and Mongols ]
In the aftermath of the Khitan invasion of Koryo, Jurchen tribes emerged to create the Chin dynasty in Manchuria. Jurchen warriors broke out of Manchuria to the southwest and conquered the Chinese Sung dynasty. The appearance of aristocratic factionalism in the Koryo government lead to widespread social turmoil in Korea, including a military revolt and numerous peasant uprisings. The emergence of Genghis Khan in Mongolia began a dramatic expansion of nomadic power in Central Asia and led to the conquest of the Chin Dynasty in the Liao-tung region and a series of Mongol invasions into Sung China and Manchuria.
[ Koryo under the Mongols ]
After subjugating the Chin Empire, the Mongols invaded Korea and brought the peninsula under the umbrella of their own expanding empire. Faced with the Mongol onslaught, the government of Koryo fled to Kanghwa Island for refuge while peasants began openly resisting Mongol occupation of their country. Following a military revolt, the Ch'oe clan established a military dictatorship in Koryo. Kublai Khan conquered Sung China and used Koryo in launching two failed invasions against Japan. The Mongols controlled the Koryo government through its "two kings" system, degraded the Koryo royal house, and virtually erased any enhancement of royal authority.
[ The Death of Koryo ]
The future of Koryo's highly centralized feudal society became inextricably tied to that of the Y?n Dynasty. The social and political philosophy of Neo-Confucianism took root in Korea and found adherents among a new class of young, highly educated and competent government administrators. China's Red Turban Rebellion threatened Mongol rule and quickly spread into Koryo. Soon after the Ming Dynasty replaced the Y?n in China, Kaesong's conservative pro-Mongol faction blocked reforms to protect its status. Koryo General Yi Song-gye led a coup that toppled the badly weakened Kaesong government and laid the foundation for the emergence of the Yi Dynasty.
[ Chos ]
Confucian philosophy had a deep and lasting impact on Korea's social and political life. Following the formation of the Yi Dynasty, Choson established deeper relations with the neighboring countries of China and Japan. King T'aejo established a new Korean capital at Seoul and laid the foundation for a centralized Neo-Confucian government under an absolute monarchy. Despite Choson's rigidly stratified society and the ever-present political conflicts, Korea witnessed many new and exciting technological developments during the reigns of King T'aejong and King Sejong, including the creation of the Han'gul, the Korean alphabet.
[ A Centralized Society ]
Ming China's symbolic tributary system created a model for diplomatic relations and economic trade with Korea and Japan. As Korea expanded to its present day borders, attempts to reform society triggered clashes between the king and the Neo-Confucian literati which degenerated into bloody, vindictive government purges. Land use and tax reforms contributed to the emergence of powerful land owners and the impoverishment of Korean peasants. Court intrigues and the struggle for power in Korea gave rise to factionalism based on personalities. The nearly constant political infighting became a striking characteristic of Korean politics that lasted until the downfall of the Yi dynasty in the twentieth century.
[ Polotical Turmoil ]
Korea's political atmosphere turned violent under the reign of Yonsan'gun, as the royal palace battled the government bureaucracy for prominence. The rising influence of the Neo-Confucian literati dramatically clashed with the entrenched power of conservative supporters of the king's rise to the throne. Yonsan'gun's tyrannical rule led to abuses of power and two vengeful and bloody government purges. As the purges continued under King Chungjong, open factional strife began in earnest with the Neo-Confucian literati gaining both power and influence in government.
[ Western Encroachment ]
Under pressure from the Mongols along its northern frontiers and financially weakened at home, China turned inward just as Europe began its golden Age of Discovery. The voyages of Marco Polo and the closure of the Silk Road soon prompted an increased European interest in geography and cartography. Driven by curiosity and adventure, Portuguese explorers led Europe into the unknown world and opened the path to empire in India and expansion into China and Japan. With the door to the Orient opened, European sea power carried the Western world into East Asia in search of wealth.
[ Japanese Invasion ]
The Onin War in Japan brought the feudal lords to power under the leadership of Oda Nobunaga. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a subordinate general under Oda Nobunaga, dreamed of conquering Asia and led the first Japanese invasion of Korea. Overpowered on land, Korea found its salvation in the brilliant tactics of naval Admiral Yi Sun-sin, whose navy constantly struck fear in the Japanese military. Although the Korean government retreated north in the face of the Japanese threat, Korean peasants banded together to form guerilla forces that turned against the invaders. China quickly helped Korea drive the Japanese from the peninsula. While Japan and China talked peace however, Japan invaded Korea a second time.
[ The Hermit Kingdom ]
Korea suffered dramatic social and economic changes following the two Japanese invasions. At the top of Korean society, the spread of political factions took a toll on the aristocracy. The emergence of the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan led to the reestablishment of trade relations between Japan and Korea. Meanwhile, in the north, the Jurchen Manchus became a powerful regional force and attacked both Ming China and Korea. The Manchus subjugated Korea as a vassal state and established the Ch'ing dynasty in China. In response, Korea sealed its northern border with Manchuria and, after centuries of being a battleground for neighboring disputes, withdrew into itself.
The Age of Imperialism
[ Western Contacts ]
Korea learned about the West and got its first exposure to Western culture and knowledge through its diplomatic and tribute mission contacts in Peking. The wreck of a Dutch ship Sparrow Hawk on Cheju Island began the remarkable Korean odyssey of Hendrick Hamel and his fellow survivors. Hamel later published his impressions of Korean society and gave the West its first look inside the Hermit Kingdom. The reemergence of political factionalism and the influence of Western culture led to the Sirhak Movement in Korea and the introduction of a number of social and economic reforms. French missionaries operating out of China introduced Catholicism to Korea, bringing both Western culture and religious conflict onto the peninsula.
[ A Crumbling Dynasty ]
The ever-present drive for power in Korea's government brought the royal in-laws to a dominant position in the Yi court. Catholicism took root in Korea amidst a deterioration of the country's traditional Confucian social order and despite government-backed religious persecutions. Abusive government practices combined with the impact of natural disasters increased the suffering of both the aristocracy and the peasants. While economic mismanagement provoked popular uprisings, the increased activity of the Catholic Church in Korea led to continued religious persecution and increased government fear of foreign influences. The development and spread of the Tonghak Doctrine built the foundation for a major social revolution in Korea.
[ The End of Asian Isolation ]
Japan, like Korea, lived in isolation and actively persecuted the intrusions of Western religion and influence. Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries from Europe worked for both religious converts and increased commercial profitability for their ventures in China. European commerce gained a foothold in China, principally through the Chinese foreign trade system in Canton. Europe and the United States, both seeking increased outlets for their burgeoning industries, expanded trade with the Chinese while Russia made its first attempts to open relations with Japan. The British East India Company, arguably the most powerful influence in the Canton trade system, moved to increase its profits by introducing opium smuggling to the China trade.
[ A Clash of Cultures ]
The British mounted strong pressure both at home and in China for free trade. The conflicting positions taken by Britain and China on the nature of international relations quickly led to clashes between them over trade regulations and practices. China undertook the daunting task of eradicating the opium problem and suppressing the Canton opium trade. The Canton opium crisis brought the British Crown deeper into the China market as China found itself ensnared in a web of Western diplomacy and international law. While China tried to hold tightly to its past, Great Britain forced its Western morality and law into the Orient and pushed Asia toward an uncertain future.
[The Penetration of China ]
Western business interests pressured the British government to intervene in the trading ports of Canton and Macao. Chinese attempts to force a return to the old trade system led to armed conflict with Great Britain. In the wake of the disastrous Sino-British Opium Wars (1839-1840 and 1841-1842), Great Britain acquired the island of Hong Kong and extraterritoriality rights in China as part of the postwar settlement. The later treaties of Nanking and the Bogue set the stage for a whole series of "unequal treaties" with China that formally parted the Bamboo Curtain and opened China to the West.
[ The Western Foothold in Asia ]
Following Britain's "unequal treaty system" with China, the West dramatically expanded its commercial interests in China. In China's interior, the T'ai-Ping Rebellion gave vent to deeply held hatred of foreign intervention and the rule of the Manchus in Peking. The issues of the "Canton City Question" and the "Arrow Incident" near Hong Kong prompted the British and French to dispatch a joint expeditionary force to China. The resulting Treaties of Tien-tsin partitioned Chinese territory among the British, French, Russians, and Americans. Finally, forced with the threat of military force, China signed the Treaties of Peking, which sealed its defeat and final humiliation.
[ The Awakening of Japan ]
The gradual intrusion of shipping into the Pacific sparked American interest in Asian markets. Japan had already learned much about the West through the Dutch East India Company at Nagasaki. The diplomatic missions of Commodores Biddle and Perry gave the Japanese their first lesson in gunboat diplomacy and produced a treaty that finally opened the door to Japan. American diplomat Townsend Harris laid the foundation for Japan's commercial relations with other foreign powers. Rebellious feudal lords accelerated the decline of the Japanese Shogun and the political turmoil that resulted prompted open attacks against foreigners and western interests in Japan.
[ Mounting Pressure Against Choson ]
The impact of China's Opium War and the opening of Japan turned Korea strongly isolationist and fearful of the outside world. Korea's Prince Regent, the Taewon'gun, gave strong impetus to this sense of isolationism by introducing many reforms and changes to Korean society. The country's foreign and domestic relations remained guided by his anti-foreign exclusionist policy. Continued religious persecutions in Korea, the bizarre Oppert affair, and the tragic voyage of the merchant schooner General Sherman led to direct intervention by France and the United States. The fall of the Japanese Shogunate and the Meiji Restoration turned Japan on a new path to the future. In Korea, it was the beginning of the end of the peninsula's long period of isolation.
[ Resistance to Change ]
The Japanese Shogunate came to an end, replaced by the imperial government of the Meiji Emperor. The Meiji Restoration led to new initiatives to improve relations with Korea, but the peninsula nation adamantly resisted any attempt by the West to gain entry, diplomatically or physically. The American diplomatic mission of Frederick Low and Admiral Rogers led to a military clash at Kanghwa Island that, ironically, convinced Korea it was strong enough to repel foreigners. Although Japan and China entered into the first treaty between Asian nations, Japanese attempts at diplomacy in Korea were continually frustrated. In the end, Korea's powerful Prince Regent was finally forced from power.
[ The Opening of Choson ]
China urged King Kojong to be cautious in dealing with the Japanese, prompting the king to reevaluate Korean-Japanese relations Out of frustration, the Meiji government shifted its attitude and advocated the use of gunboat diplomacy in Korea. The "Unyo Maru Incident" provided Japan both a pretext for direct talks with Korea and an opportunity to blame Korea for its diplomatic isolation. While pressuring Korea to open talks, Japan exerted diplomatic pressure to challenge China's traditional suzerain-vassal relationship with Korea. A Japanese diplomatic mission backed by armed force traveled to Kanghwa Island and pressured Kojong's government into signing the Treaty of Kanghwa, an unequal treaty that finally brought Korea out of isolation and onto the international stage.
[ Japanese Expansion into Choson ]
As Korea learned more of the West through its continued contacts in China and Japan, the government made a number of social and administrative reforms. Frustrated by years of deteriorating treatment, the Korean military rebelled in 1882. As tensions mounted between Japan and China, Korea became the focus of a gathering conflict. After lengthy talks between China and Japan over the status of Korea, the Treaty of Inch'on strengthened Japan's position in Korea by weakening Chinese claims to suzerainty.
[ End of the Hermit Kingdom ]
China took an active role in assisting the United States and other Western powers to enter into treaty agreements with Korea, in large part to check the growing influence of Japan. Britain and Germany took an active interest in Korea as a potential check against Russian expansion. The reforms instituted by King Kojong brought some benefit to Korea, but the people were not pleased with the influx of Western influences and the changes left the military badly discontented. The military mutinied and turned against Japanese nationals living in Korea. Japan responded with troops and strong diplomatic pressure for further reform. The deepening involvement of both China and Japan in Korea intensified the growing rift between the two powers.
[ Coup d'état and Rivalries ]
The Korean Progressive Party staged a coup d'état against Queen Min's conservative pro-Chinese faction. The Li-Ito Convention of Tien-tsin settled Sino-Japanese differences and defined the relationship between China and Japan in Korea. While Russia disputed Korea's status relative to China, Japan continued to expand its commercial interests on the peninsula, causing a further deterioration of the Korean economy. The resurgent Tonghak Movement staged another major revolt in Korea, bringing Chinese and Japanese intervention to suppress them. The result was to intensify the Sino-Japanese conflict over the future status of Korea.
[ Rebellion and Mounting Tentions ]
The inroads of foreign powers in Korea and the mounting rivalries between them brought many of the domestic problems of the participants onto the peninsula. China, Japan and Russia struggled to win the support of King Kojong and the powerful Min clan. With anti-foreign sentiments still running high, the Tonghak Rebellion erupted again, supported in part by Japanese interests. China and Japan used the rebellion as a pretext for stationing troops in Korea. The Korean government, through negotiation and the use of force, quelled the rebellion, but could not convince Japan or China to remove their forces from the peninsula. Although Britain and Russia tried to intervene in the mounting dispute between China and Japan, nothing short of war would settle the matter.
Conquest and Division
[ The Sino-Japanese War ]
Korea became the prime focus of international rivalries in Asia. Japan pressured the Yi government for economic concessions and led a coup that ended the rule of the pro-Chinese Yi government. A Japanese puppet regime in Seoul forced political, social and administrative reforms on Korea. To solidify its preeminent position on the peninsula, Japan attacked China without warning and began the Sino-Japanese War, scoring notable military successes against China in Korea. The Japanese Fleet under Admiral Togo quickly gained control of the Yellow Sea and devastated the Chinese navy in the Battle of the Yalu River. While fighting the Chinese, Japan used its army to ruthlessly suppress the Tonghak Revolt in Korea.
[ Twilight of the Yi Dynasty ]
Japan treated Korea as a conquered land. When Queen Min maneuvered the Yi government against Japan, Japanese militarists plotted and carried out her assassination and forced many radical reforms on Korea. Japan's rapid military expansion prompted Russia to develop closer ties with China in an attempt to isolate Japan. A Sino-Russian treaty gave Russia territorial rights in Manchuria and a firm foothold on Chinese soil. A separate protocol divided Korea into Russian and Japanese spheres of influence. Faced with continued Russian expansion and European encroachment in Asia, Korea gave concessions to foreign powers in order to play one intruder off against another. In the process it lost control of its own future.
[ The Last Hope for Freedom ]
Western culture influenced a move toward enlightened thought in Korea and led to a national independence movement for democracy. The Yi government turned against the independence movement to protect its position and the perquisites of power. Mounting hatred of foreigners led to the Boxer Rebellion in China, which immediately triggered a large-scale foreign intervention by the West. In its aftermath, the treaty settlement of the Boxer Rebellion led to the further weakening of Chinese autonomy and gave Russia a pretext to seize Manchuria, a leasehold at Port Arthur, and additional territory on the Liao-tung Peninsula.
[ Prelude to War ]
Russian expansion in East Asia and its threat to Japanese interests in Korea caused anxiety in Japan. While the West mounted increasing pressure on China to remove Russia from Manchuria, Japan and Russia negotiated over the future of Manchuria and Korea. Japan soon realized the inevitability of a war with Russia over Manchuria. In a futile attempt at self-preservation, Korea proclaimed itself neutral as the Japanese Imperial Fleet moved against the Russian navy at Port Arthur. Admiral Togo again gained quick mastery over the Yellow Sea. The Battle of Port Arthur opened the Russo-Japanese War.
[ The Russo-Japanese War ]
While the Japanese Army rapidly advanced through Korea toward Manchuria, the Japanese government laid plans for the eventual annexation of the Korean peninsula. Japan pushed Russia out of Korea, captured Darien and Port Arthur and fought the Russians deep into Manchuria. Admiral Togo defeated Russia in the dramatic Battle of Tsushima Straits and secured Japan's status as a world class military power. Meanwhile, as King Kojong gave Japan a stronger economic hold over Korea, America and Great Britain bargained away Korea's freedom to protect themselves from the rising power of Japan.
[ The Protectorate ]
The Portsmouth Peace Conference insured Japan's dominant position in Korea and East Asia. Unhindered by outside forces, Japan expanded and solidified its control over Korea. The Protectorate Treaty of 1905 gave Japan full authority over Korean foreign relations and placed the peninsula under the administration of the Japanese Residency-General. The West ignored Korean pleas for help against Japan. As Japan tightened its grip, Koreans resisted Japanese regulations and reforms. Korean exiles and numerous anti- Japanese guerilla groups formed to continue the struggle for independence.
[ The Annexation Agreement ]
Korea's Prime Minister collaborated in the annexation of Korea and signed the annexation agreement with Japan. The Japanese forced the abdication of the King, ended the Yi Dynasty, and took control of Korea under the new regime of a military Governor-General. Japanese efforts to subordinate Korea in thought, word and deed led to striking measures designed to forever erase Korea's heritage. Japanese merchants and industry began an expanded "economic" invasion of Korea. Thousands of Koreans joined anti-Japanese guerilla movements in northern Korea, southern Manchuria and the Russian Maritime Territory as Japan proceeded to exploit the Korean economy and its natural resources to support its continued economic growth.
[ The Rise of Nationalism ]
The rise of Japanese militarism and imperialism threatened the future of East Asia. One side effect of World War I was the birth of a sense of nationalism in Asia. Korean exile groups moved against Japan through diplomatic efforts and the use of armed force. President Wilson's Fourteen Points and the perceived impact of Russia's Bolshevik Revolution contributed to the spread of nationalism and gave oppressed nations a sense of hope for freedom. A resurgent Korean independence movement, encouraged in part by the rapid spread of Asian communism, triggered major nationwide demonstrations for freedom.
[ The Rape of Korea ]
Japan placed stringent economic demands on Korea and dominated its economy, forcing many Koreans into poverty. As Korea became a captive market for the Japanese economy, the exploitation of Korea's natural resources and labor force continued unabated. The activities of anti-Japanese Korean guerrillas in Manchuria and the many fragmented attempts of Korean exiles to rid Korea of the Japanese kept the hope for freedom alive. Korean students, disturbed over the state of affairs in the Korean education system, took the lead in the independence movement against Japan.
[ The Road to War ]
Russian communism took root in China at the same time the Chinese Nationalist movement began gathering strength in southern China. The emergence of General Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang signaled the start of a nationalist revolution in China and a rising conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists. Japanese suspicions regarding these developments prompted Japan to turn towards war in China. After China and Japan clashed over the status of Manchuria, the Mukden Incident opened Japan's push toward the conquest of China. Japan rebuffed a League of Nations' attempt to settle the matter, established the puppet state of Manchukuo, and turned its eyes toward the heart of China.
[ Exploitation ]
Japan expanded into Manchuria and began the exploitation of its vast wealth. The increased Japanese influence over the Korean economy intensified Korean resistance to occupation. Korea's living standard dropped dramatically and the country suffered widespread labor problems. Significant Japanese investments in Korea led to the development of new industries, the production of hydroelectric power, mining, the exportation of natural resources, and the development of Korea's railway system and seaports. The increased emphasis on the production of war materiel converted Korea into a wartime economy.
[ World War II ]
The Communists under Mao Tse-tung secured a foothold in China and declared war on Japan. Chiang Kai-shek began a civil war against the Communists and the United States maintained a policy of neutrality in Asia. Unchallenged by the West, Japan opened hostilities against China and signed the Triple Alliance with Germany and Italy. After the Japanese opened the war in the Pacific, Korean exiles and guerilla organizations in China and Manchuria joined the war effort against Japan. In Korea, the Government-General adopted a policy of assimilation. Near the end of the war, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union established the concept of a Korean trusteeship at the Potsdam Conference.
[ A House Divided ]
Russia advanced into Korea in the remaining weeks of World War II, a move which forced the hasty division of Korea at the 38th Parallel. The People's Committee of North Korea was created under Russian guidance as a national government. Mao Tse-tung drove the Nationalists out of China and proclaimed the creation of the People's Republic of China. Japan underwent a massive social and economic transformation under the aegis of General Douglas MacArthur. China, the oriental monarchy, had become a communist state. Japan, once a feudal island nation, had become a newly-born democracy. Korea an agrarian monarchy and former Japanese colony had become a divided nation; communist in the north and a developing democracy in the south. The stage was set for the Korean War.