Early history and founding of a nation
Prehistoric toolmaking has been discovered on the Korean Peninsula dating back to 70,000 BC, with the earliest pottery discovered about 8000 BC. Around 3500-2000 BC, the comb-pattern ceramic civilization peaked.
According to mythology, Korea started with the mythical Dangun’s foundation of Gojoseon (also known as Ancient Chosun)in 2333 BC. Gojoseon as a kingdom may be traced back to the 7th-4th century BC, according to archeological and contemporary literary sources. The Chinese Han Dynasty ultimately conquered Gojoseon, and its holdings were divided into four commanderies. The political instability that followed the collapse of the Han Dynasty in China enabled local tribes to reclaim control of Korea, resulting in the formation of the Three Kingdoms of Korea (,), notably Goguryeo Silla and Baekje. Despite numerous Chinese efforts to capture the Korean Peninsula, notably the Sui Dynasty and subsequently the Tang Dynasty, northern-based Goguryeo was able to resist them. Goguryeo was eventually conquered by a Silla-Tang coalition, which had destroyed Baekje earlier and united Korea under the Silla Dynasty. A second Tang invasion was repulsed by Silla troops, preserving Korea’s independence. The remains of Goguryeo founded a new kingdom called Balhae in what is now Northeast China, which lasted until A.D. 926, when it was defeated by the Khitans.
The Goryeo Dynasty (also known as Koryo) (,) succeeded Unified Silla and gave rise to the current name “Korea.” One of the most notable achievements of the Goryeo dynasty was the invention of the world’s first metal movable type by a Korean called Choe Yun-ui in 1234 (200 years before Gutenberg’s printing machine). After a coup by one of its generals, Goryeo was deposed and replaced by the Joseon Dynasty (also known as Chosun). The Joseon dynasty governed Korea from 1392 to 1910, making it one of the world’s longest reigning empires. Korean technical breakthroughs such as the world’s first water clock, armored ship, and other innovations occurred during the early Joseon dynasty. The world’s first rain gauge was developed under King Sejong the Great’s reign, as was the Korean script known as hangul.
Japanese occupation and division
In the late 16th century, Korea was invaded by the Japanese, headed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who were ultimately destroyed by an alliance between the Joseon dynasty and China’s Ming dynasty. This loss, along with Hideyoshi’s unexpected death, led the Japanese to withdraw from Korea for the time being.
After China’s loss in the Sino-Japanese War and the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Korea’s position as an autonomous kingdom inside the Chinese sphere of cultural influence () came to an end in 1895. The pact required China to acknowledge the severance of the many centuries-old formal elder-younger brother connection between China and Korea, allowing Japan to push Korea into its own expanding area of influence. Despite the fact that the elder-younger brother connection between China and Joseon was a voluntary diplomatic formality adopted by Joseon’s rulers in order to profit from sophisticated Chinese culture and commerce, the breaking of this link was a symbolic triumph for Japan. It enabled Japan to seize control of Korea without fear of Chinese interference. Imperial Japan conquered Korea in 1910, kicking off a 35-year occupation of the nation. Despite numerous armed rebellions, assassinations, and intellectual and cultural resistance, Japan was able to maintain control of the peninsula through suppression and a cultural assimilation policy that included forcing Koreans to adopt Japanese names and prohibiting them from speaking the Korean language.
Following Imperial Japan’s loss in World War II, the northern half of Korea was controlled by Soviet troops, while the southern half was held by American forces. In 1948, North and South Korea proclaimed independence as independent nations, with Kim Il-Sung in the north establishing a communist government with Soviet Union backing and Syngman Rhee in the south establishing a capitalist regime with US support. After years of animosity on both sides, North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, triggering the Korean War, which devastated most of the nation. The United States and other United Nations troops backed South Korea, while the Soviet Union and China backed the North. After the conflict came to a halt with no major territorial gains on either side, an armistice was signed in 1953, dividing the peninsula along a demilitarized zone. However, since no peace treaty has ever been signed between the two Koreas, they are still legally at war.
Republic of Korea
Despite being outperformed economically by its northern adversary, South Korea ultimately rose from the ashes of the Korean War and began to experience significant economic development in the 1960s under the iron-fisted leadership of President Park Chung Hee (). The South Korean economy’s industrialization and modernization initiatives gained momentum in the 1980s and 1990s as one of the East Asian Tigers, with per capita income increasing to 20 times that of North Korea. South Korea joined the OECD in 1996. South Korea is now an industrialized and developed economy, home to some of the world’s most well-known high-tech companies, such as Samsung and LG.
National protests for more press freedom and human rights culminated to democratic elections in 1987, shortly before the South Korean city of Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.
South Korea is currently a free democracy with a thriving economy. The historic first meeting between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean late leader Kim Jong-il took place in June 2000 (Kim Dae-jung was given the first Nobel Peace Prize for South Korea), but the peace process has since proceeded at a glacial pace. Park Geun-hye, the country’s first female president, was elected in 2012.
In recent years, a movement known as the “Korean Wave” (or Hallyu) has swept much of Asia and many other areas of the globe, drawing greater attention to South Korea’s cinema, television, music, cuisine, and other cultural elements.