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About this book

This accessible and engaging new edition continues to be one of the leading introductory textbooks on Korean history. Fully revised throughout, the author takes a thematic and chronological approach to guide readers from early state formation and the dynastic eras to the modern experience. Episodic accounts in each chapter are discussed in context with extensive examination of how the events and themes under consideration have been viewed up to the present day.

By discussing recurring themes such as collective identity, external influence, social hierarchy, and family and gender, the author introduces the major historical events, patterns and debates that have shaped both North and South Korea over the past 1500 years.

This textbook is essential reading for undergraduate and postgraduate students of history, and those studying Korean or Asian history in particular. The first half of the book covers the pre-20th century era, and the second half the modern era, reflecting the structure of most Korean history courses.

Table of Contents

1. Goguryeo and Ancient Korea

Abstract
In the first half of the year 612, Sui dynasty China attempted to conquer Goguryeo, a pesky kingdom on its northeastern border, and threw at this the full might of its resources and skills. The final confrontation took place in what came to be known as the “Great Battle of Salsu River,” where Goguryeo forces maneuvered the Chinese army into a death trap that left barely 3,000 survivors out of an initial invasion force of over one million soldiers. This triumphant effort can be considered a formative event for a distinctive civilization, Korea, that would go on to withstand many such threats to its existence. The Goguryeo kingdom (first century BCE to seventh century CE), the earliest political entity on the Korean peninsula supported by substantial and reliable historical records, came to rule a vast territory extending well into Manchuria. This geographical dominion, together with historical evidence of its military prowess, its cultural achievements, and its forms of political and religious authority.
Kyung Moon Hwang

2. Queen Seondeok and Silla’s Unification of Korea

Abstract
Feeling besieged, the monarch of the Silla kingdom sent a tributary embassy to the emperor of Tang dynasty China in 643 with an urgent request for Chinese assistance in fending off incursions from the other two peninsular powers, Goguryeo and Baekje. The Chinese emperor, sensing another opportunity to strike Goguryeo, vowed to attack the two adversaries and even offered thousands of Chinese army uniforms so that Silla soldiers could intimidate their opponents on the battlefield. The emperor’s third suggestion, though, was startling: Silla should accept a Chinese prince as its interim ruler, whose presence would put an end to Silla’s misfortune—a misfortune that, according to the emperor, was due to its monarch. It was not the Silla ruler’s actions or policies that were objectionable, but rather her gender, for it was Queen Seondeok, the first of three female rulers of Silla. Tang China would become the indispensable partner in Silla’s defeat of its peninsular rivals, but the Sillan leaders’ capacity to walk a diplomatic tightrope between autonomy and Chinese assistance would prove instrumental in securing the kingdom’s supremacy. This process began indeed in the reign of Queen Seondeok, from 632 to 647, when the Silla state further systematized central rule and cultivated the realms of religion, culture, science, and the military.
Kyung Moon Hwang

3. Unified Silla

Abstract
The mid–ninth century witnessed the rise of Jang Bogo, a local strongman of the southwestern coast of Silla who dominated the profitable trading networks that linked the peninsula to Japan and China. But despite Jang’s tremendous economic and military might, a wily assassin was able to penetrate the defenses surrounding him and end an ongoing struggle between Jang and the central elites of the Unified Silla kingdom. Jang’s death demonstrated that, for all his powers, he could not evade the intrigues of court politics 200 miles away in the Silla capital of Gyeongju; indeed, Jang had willfully engaged in them, even going so far as to arrange a marriage between his daughter and the Silla monarch. When this effort turned powerful monarchical and aristocratic forces against him, he met his fate.
Kyung Moon Hwang

4. Founding of the Goryeo Dynasty

Abstract
The founding of the Goryeo dynasty was a seminal event in many ways. It pacified the peninsula after decades of civil war during what is commonly called the “Latter Three Kingdoms” period (late ninth–early tenth centuries), extended the territory of the country further northward by incorporating the southern edge of the Barhae kingdom, integrated the ruling groups of both the Barhae and Silla into a new aristocratic element that might have lasted into the twentieth century, and expressed a sense of civilizational identity based on a mixture of native religious and cultural elements. The apex figure in this process was Wang Geon, the founder of the Wang dynasty of Goryeo, and the event that binds him to these significant trends is the issuance of the “Ten Injunctions” to his royal successors.
Kyung Moon Hwang

5. Religion and Regionalism in the Goryeo Order

Abstract
In early 1135 an uprising arose in Pyongyang and quickly spread throughout the northwest, as most of this region fell under the control of rebels under the leadership of a charismatic Buddhist monk. Before demonstrating his propensity for havoc, this man, Myocheong, had set his powers of persuasion—the official histories called it something more akin to sorcery—on the king himself, convincing the monarch that the dynastic capital of Goryeo must be moved to Pyongyang in order to avoid national disaster. When the king, under great pressure from his highest officials, changed his mind, Myocheong and his cohorts in Pyongyang broke away. The leaders of this movement proclaimed a new, paradisiacal land, but to the Goryeo court, of course, their actions constituted nothing more than a treasonous insurrection. It took over a year to quash the uprising, which shook the foundations of Goryeo, and the reverberations would endure. Myocheong’s downfall, for example, carried ample repercussions for the structures of political and social power in Goryeo, including the decline of the monk’s home region and home town of Pyongyang. On the whole, the Myocheong Rebellion reflected important social, political, and cultural developments in the Goryeo dynasty, particularly the special influence and character of Korean religion.
Kyung Moon Hwang

6. The Mongol Overlord Period

Abstract
By the summer of 1340, seven decades had passed since Korea had succumbed to a long siege by invading Mongol forces. And in the intervening period Goryeo had become suffused with all things Mongol—its culture, its politics, and even its monarch bore the stamp of Mongol dominance. But soon Koreans received word of an event demonstrating that their country, in turn, could wield influence over the stupendously powerful Mongol empire based in China, the Yuan dynasty. In the previous year, Lady Gi, a Korean and favored concubine of the Yuan emperor, had given birth to the likely crown prince, and now she was being crowned as an imperial consort through her marriage to the Yuan emperor. This outcome could hardly have been imagined two decades earlier, when she was delivered as a captive prize of submission to the Mongol rulers. Indeed she and hundreds of other “tribute women” sent to Mongol-controlled China had embodied the Mongols’ comprehensive domination over the Goryeo kingdom, a period in Korean history normally viewed with shame.
Kyung Moon Hwang

7. Goryeo-Joseon Transition

Abstract
Six years after the founding of the new dynasty, for which he played the role of mastermind and lieutenant, Jeong Dojeon was killed by Yi Bangwon, the fifth son of the dynastic founder. The prince, furious over Jeong’s betrayal in publicly backing Bangwon’s half-brother for designation as the crown prince, now considered the scholar-official a major stumbling block to his own ambitions for the throne. Despite having worked in tandem to topple the Goryeo monarchy, the two had grown increasingly at odds over the issue of royal succession. Bangwon, uneasy at the prospect of not getting his just reward, purged his former partner, thereby eliminating from the scene the primary intellectual force in the expression of dynastic legitimacy. The inception of the Joseon era,then, established the basis of struggle between ambitious monarchs and pious officials that would feature prominently in the dynasty’s politics thereafter.
Kyung Moon Hwang

8. Confucianism and the Family in the Early Joseon Era

Abstract
In 1541, a family inheritance document was drawn up to designate the division of an aristocratic female’s possessions, mostly in the form of slaves. Though normally an unremarkable event, this particular occurrence was notable because some of the recipients of this estate, along with its attendant responsibilities, included a mother and son who later became the most celebrated such tandem in Korean history: Sin Inseon, better known as Sin Saimdang, the venerable poet, painter, and calligrapher; and her son, Yi I, better known by his pen name of Yulgok, recognized as one of the foremost Confucian scholar-officials and a towering genius. This will is valuable also because it represents one of the few surviving such documents from the early Joseon era, and because it distributes the estate ofa female to her female offspring—something that would become increasingly rare.
Kyung Moon Hwang

9. The Great Invasions, 1592–1636

Abstract
Though little known outside of Asia, the East Asian war of 1592–8 stands as one of the major events in world history. For the first time since the aborted Mongol invasions of Japan in the thirteenth century, the major civilizations of East Asia became embroiled in a single conflict, with consequences that would far exceed any other in this region until the late nineteenth century, indeed perhaps until the Pacific War of 1937–45. Begun through the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 in a bid to conquer China itself, this war, fought exclusively in Korea, brought together all three countries in a conflict lasting nearly seven years. The destruction was enormous—to the Chinese who sent huge armies in Korea’s defense, and even to the Japanese. In Korea, the scale of the devastation can scarcely be imagined: hundreds of thousands killed, millions injured or uprooted, and a poisoning of relations with Japan that would never disappear.
Kyung Moon Hwang

10. Ideology, Family, and Nationhood in the Mid-Joseon Era

Abstract
In late 1688, news quickly spread that Lady Jang, the favored concubine of King Sukjong, had given birth to a son. Though certainly not an unusual event in the annals of the Korean monarchy, in the tense atmosphere of court politics at the time, it carried strong repercussions. For Lady Jang, known commonly as Jang Huibin, was not just a royal concubine. Through her actions and her unwitting status as a political symbol, she also embodied the tensions and conflicts involving fundamental issues of Korean identity and civilization that had roiled the capital for years. Lady Jang had so smitten the monarch that he promptly designated the newborn as the crown prince, divorced his own queen, who had yet to bear a son, and promoted Lady Jang as her replacement. The vehement objections to this move from many top advisors, including the most notable Confucian scholar of the era, unleashed a storm of political strife.
Kyung Moon Hwang

11. Intellectual Opening in the Late Eighteenth Century

Abstract
In 1778, Bak Jega, a little-known intellectual, gained the privilege of accompanying a close friend on a tribute mission to China. So inspired was he by this trip that, upon his return later in the year, Bak wrote the Discourse on Northern Learning, at once a travelogue as well as a wide-ranging social commentary on the ills of his native country. Through this work, Bak Jega voiced the views of a scholarly movement that drew together some of the country’s brightest minds, who together pushed for a thorough renovation of Joseon society, and particularly its economy, by looking to the example of contemporary China. While Koreans had a long history of adopting Chinese models, for over a century before Bak’s trip most Korean elites had dismissed Qing dynasty China, established by the Manchus in 1644, as a country ruled by barbarians.
Kyung Moon Hwang

12. Popular Culture in the Late Joseon Era

Abstract
“Many upstanding people have lived in our country, which stretches for hundreds of miles in all directions. How can it be, then, that we know about only a few of these people whose stories deserve to be passed down through our words and literature?” So asks the scholar and renowned painter Jo Huiryong in the preface to the book Observations from the Countryside, on behalf of the book’s author, Yu Jaegeon. Yu’s work featured biographical portraits of almost 300 people whose lower social status had prevented their upstanding actions and lives from having become more widely known. Their backgrounds ranged from the welleducated but subordinated technical officials in the government—or jungin, like Yu himself—to local military officers, clerks, doctors, artists, peasants, and merchants, as well as slaves, monks, and other “mean” people. People of all such backgrounds lived as models of filiality, morality, self–cultivation, and sacrifice, Yu wanted to show.
Kyung Moon Hwang

13. Nineteenth–Century Unrest

Abstract
In the summer of 1866, residents of Pyongyang sighted something strange in the Daedong River: a black, iron-clad merchant steamship, with cannons, and carrying mostly Asian sailors but headed by a few pale-faced men. This American vessel, named the “General Sherman” after a union commander in the recent American civil war, had become stuck on a sandbar in the middle of the river. Impatient with the negotiations regarding their demands for trade, the General Sherman’s officers began firing on the shore and even abducted a Korean negotiating official. Soon, the order came from royal authorities to attack the ship, and after a few days of fighting, Korean soldiers managed to set it afire. No crew members survived. The Pyongyang governor who directed the attack was Bak Gyusu, grandson of Bak Jiwon, the famed scholar-official of the late eighteenth century. As it turned out, the General Sherman was not simply a wandering intruder, but rather an ominous harbinger of imperialism, a force that had already engulfed China and Japan, and would soon push Korea into the currents of a new world order. Within a month, Korea would be attacked again, this time from French forces.
Kyung Moon Hwang

14. 1894, A Fateful Year

Abstract
In July of 1894, Otori Keisuke, Japanese minister in Korea, presented to the Korean government a set of demands for domestic reforms that would protect Japan’s security interests. Otori could act with such impudence because his soldiers were encamped in and around Seoul. They had been sent to the peninsula in the wake of the Chinese military’s own entrance into the country, which had come, officially at the behest of the Korean court, to help pacify the Donghak Uprising. This rebellion had exploded in the southwest earlier in the spring and threatened to bring down the five-century-old Joseon dynasty. When the Korean government refused to respond directly to Otori’s demands, Japanese troops stormed the royal palace and sent most of the government leaders scurrying. The Daewongun, father of the Korean king and former Prince Regent, returned to power with the support of the Japanese and formed a Deliberative Assembly, with sweeping governmental authority, to take charge of reform efforts.
Kyung Moon Hwang

15. The Great Korean Empire

Abstract
“The noise from the rolling fire-wheeled chariot was like that of thunder, as the earth and heavens shook and the smoke from the chimney of the engine erupted into the air,” wrote a newspaper reporter who rode the inaugural train trip in Korea in September of 1899. “As I sat in the car and looked out the window, the whole world seemed to be racing past us, and even flying birds could not catch up.” Such awestruck accounts accompanied the introduction of railroads throughout the world in the nineteenth century, as the enormous bellowing machines heralded the onset of a new era. In Korea, the opening of the first rail line between Seoul and Incheon, a distance of approximately twenty kilometers, took on a similarly epochal significance. This event furthermore came to reflect the mixture of confidence, potentiality, and uncertainty that came to mark the “Great Korean Empire,” the brief period, from 1897 to 1910, when the Joseon kingdom formally became an “empire” like the foreign powers that surrounded the country. As with the railroad, this period witnessed the birth of many fundamental features of the modern era, not only in communications and transportation infrastructure, but in the wider realms of technology and commerce, and as well as in culture and institutions.
Kyung Moon Hwang

16. The Japanese Takeover, 1904–18

Abstract
On June 25, 1907, three Asian men bearing a Korean flag and a fierce determination appeared on the grounds of the Second World Peace Conference in The Hague, Netherlands. They had been sent clandestinely by the Korean monarch, Emperor Gojong, to plead their case for Korea’s independence from the encroaching Japanese empire. This trio, however, was denied a platform before the gathered diplomats. From their perspective, they could not grant the Koreans formal recognition because Korea itself had no diplomatic presence on the world stage, having fallen into status as a Japanese protectorate in late 1905. The Koreans, however, sought to demonstrate that the 1905 protectorate “treaty” had been garnered fraudulently.
Kyung Moon Hwang

17. The Long 1920s

Abstract
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Kyung Moon Hwang

18. Nation, Culture, and Everyday Life in the Late Colonial Period

Abstract
The first evening edition of the August 25, 1936 issue of the Korean language newspaper, Donga Ilbo, had cleared the colonial censors. But just as the authorities had feared, a second evening edition quickly published thereafter caused a stir. On its front page was emblazoned the picture of national hero Son Gijeong, who two weeks earlier had captured the gold medal in the marathon in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The cause for alarm was not that Son himself, pictured solemnly on the medal stand, was prominently featured, but rather that the Japanese flag on Son’s uniform had been rubbed out, leaving a black smudge in its place (see Image 18). Unbeknownst to their own editors and managers, a group of journalists had pulled off the stunt in a fit of emotion comprised of both pride and shame—pride that a Korean had reached a pinnacle of world sport, and shame that he had been forced to don a foreign conqueror’s flag. Not surprisingly, the ringleaders were fired, blacklisted, even jailed, and the newspaper was shut down for almost a year.
Kyung Moon Hwang

19. Wartime Mobilization, 1938–45

Abstract
Two of the foremost Korean intellectuals of the colonial period, Choe Namseon and Yi Gwangsu, made a discreet visit to Meiji University in Tokyo on November 24, 1943. At the height of the “Greater East Asia Holy War,” the pair had come to assist the mobilization of manpower by urging Koreans studying in Japan to enlist as student soldiers. Afterward, the two writers gathered in a roundtable discussion to assess the motives, meaning, and reception of their message. They also recounted their own experiences as students in Japan forty years earlier. Their lives thereafter had traversed the entirety of the period under Japanese domination, during which they won recognition as among the most pioneering and influential figures in Korean letters. That they found themselves in old age promoting the dissolution of Korean identity itself constitutes a profound if not tragic irony, as well as a microcosm of the final years of colonial rule as Koreans became swept up by war.
Kyung Moon Hwang

20. The Liberation Period, 1945–50

Abstract
On May 10, 1948, people formed long lines to do something they had previously only heard about: choosing government officials in a national election. These voters were electing legislators for the National Assembly, which would be charged with devising a constitution and a new government for southern Korea. That this new state would materialize three years after the end of Japanese colonial rule, and that its jurisdiction would cover only one half of the peninsula, encapsulated the uneasy circumstances leading to this momentous event. The jubilation that had greeted liberation in the summer of 1945 had quickly faded into a somber realization that freedom from Japan did not mean freedom from foreign rule. Indeed the division of the peninsula into separate northern and southern occupation zones headed by the Soviet Union and the United States, respectively, turned the peninsula into the opening Asian theater of the emerging rivalry between these World War II allies: the Cold War.
Kyung Moon Hwang

21. The Korean War

Abstract
In late October of 1950, hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers began crossing the Yalu River to flood the battlefront of the Korean War. This brought about a startling turn in the conflict, which by the closing months of 1950 had been approaching a decisive victory by the US-led United Nations forces. The Chinese soldiers, along with their North Korean allies, quickly pushed the front down to the middle of the peninsula, where the Korean War had started a half-year earlier, and where it would be waged for another two-and-a-half years, with tremendous bloodshed, until the Armistice of July 27, 1953. By then, Chinese intervention had been integral to the Korean War as well as to the emerging Cold War order that engulfed the Korean peninsula, and indeed the entire East Asian region.
Kyung Moon Hwang

22. Early North Korea

Abstract
To an audience of propaganda officials of the North Korean Communist Party, Kim Il Sung delivered a speech in late December of 1955 that introduced the notion of “Juche,” the ideal of self-reliance that would eventually become the country’s ruling ideology. Kim’s emphasis, as it would be for the Juche concept itself, lay in forging a distinctively Korean path to socialism through a focus on national customs and conditions. The mistakes made thus far in North Korea, he claimed, stemmed from an excessive dependence on external models, particularly those of the Soviet Union. Not coincidentally, this speech came amid a purge of Kim’s political rivals, including those Soviet-Korean communists who had come to the country as Soviet occupation advisors. Indeed, despite the outward appeals for achieving “peaceful reunification” by presenting a stellar model of Korean socialism in the North, this speech and its political context pointed directly to the solidification of Kim’s political power. It encapsulated the core elements in the politics, economy, and culture of the early northern system and became the basis for the dominion of Juche as North Korea’s ideological justification for Kim’s absolute rule.
Kyung Moon Hwang

23. 1960s South Korea

Abstract
In the spring of 1964, as throngs of young people in some other parts of the globe were enraptured by Beatlemania, their counterparts in South Korea filled the streets for something quite different. With news that the South Korean government was close to reaching an agreement to formally reestablish diplomatic ties with Japan, Korean students erupted in protest. To them, the shameful period of Japanese colonial rule, especially the horrors of wartime mobilization, remained a contemporary event. They could not fathom why the South Korean government, under the direction of President Park Chung Hee, would even consider such a thing. Their demonstrations reached a crescendo in June of 1964, when tens of thousands of university students disrupted campus life throughout the country and invited a government crackdown as well as the imposition of a state of emergency. Such a struggle between students and state power would act as defining moments for much of the 1960s, just as they did around the world.
Kyung Moon Hwang

24. Culture and Politics in 1970s South Korea

Abstract
Gim Jiha, a budding poet laden with personal travails from the 1960s, published one of his earliest major works in 1970, and was promptlyarrested. His alleged crime, and that of his publishers, was violation ofthe Anti-Communist Law, although the poem in question, “Five Bandits,” made no mention of support for North Korea or communism. It simply satirized the gross inequalities in South Korean society due to corruption,though in an unmistakably condemnatory and mocking fashion. For continuing to protest the political and economic injustices of the South Korean autocracy, Gim Jiha spent most of the 1970s in jail, even receiving a death sentence in 1974. Gim was not alone in openly criticizing contemporary South Korean society and politics, for the primary thrust of cultural expression in this period carried a political undertone, particularly in response to the heightening of repression itself.
Kyung Moon Hwang

25. Monumental Life in North Korea

Abstract
The construction of Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel, a massive, pyramidshaped building over 100 stories and 300 meters tall, began in 1987 amid the ongoing battle for prestige in advance of the Seoul Summer Olympics the following year. The North Korean regime believed this mammoth edifice would symbolize the advancement, power, and pride of North Korea. But after construction was halted in 1992, which left the building an empty shell for over fifteen years thereafter, the Ryugyong Hotel became a national monument for all the wrong reasons. Like North Korea itself, and especially its regime, the structure originated in visions of grandeur, depended on foreign assistance, was built on the backs of the suffering masses, and stalled in the face of cold reality. In 2008 construction of this colossus restarted. What remained unclear was whether it would ever function as originally intended, endure more as a symbol of the decay, mystery, and tragedy of North Korean history, or perhaps reflect the stunning changes of the early twenty-first century.
Kyung Moon Hwang

26. South Korean Democratization

Abstract
Tear gas again filled the streets of downtown Seoul and other major cities in June of 1987, just as it had so often in recent South Korean history in response to civil unrest. This time, however, the number, determination, and makeup of the demonstrators portended something on another level altogether. Anger and frustration against the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship among the students and workers had been a given for many years, but in June they were joined by increasing numbers of white-collar workers,representing the burgeoning middle class. These soon swelled the ranks of the protestors to upwards of a million people throughout the country. They called for the immediate revocation of plans, just announced, to hand over the presidency to Chun’s designated successor, Roh Tae-woo, which had appeared as clear intent to continue the dictatorship in defiance of the popular will.
Kyung Moon Hwang

27. South Korea in the Twenty-First Century

Abstract
As South Koreans entered the new century they were trying to overcome the so-called “IMF period,” which had begun when the economy fell into a foreign exchange crisis in 1997 and had to be rescued by a colossal loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But following the election of longtime dissident Kim Dae Jung as president later that year, citizens had rallied to recover from this shock. Not only did the government repay the IMF loan ahead of schedule, but the weathering of this crisis, together with the 2000 summit between Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong Il of North Korea, instilled a widespread sense of a new era: South Korea had matured past the growing pains of rapid industrialization and social transformation, dictatorship and democratization, and even the Cold War. Behaviors and technologies, often devised by Korean companies.
Kyung Moon Hwang
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