A History of Korea: From "Land of the Morning Calm" to States in Conflict

A History of Korea: From "Land of the Morning Calm" to States in Conflict

A History of Korea: From "Land of the Morning Calm" to States in Conflict

A History of Korea: From "Land of the Morning Calm" to States in Conflict

Synopsis

Contemporary North and South Korea are nations of radical contrasts: one a bellicose totalitarian state with a failing economy; the other a peaceful democracy with a strong economy. Yet their people share a common history that extends back more than 3,000 years. In this comprehensive new history of Korea from the prehistoric era to the present day, Jinwung Kim recounts the rich and fascinating story of the political, social, cultural, economic, and diplomatic developments in Korea's long march to the present. He provides a detailed account of the origins of the Korean people and language and the founding of the first walled-town states, along with the advanced civilization that existed in the ancient land of "Unified Silla." Clarifying the often complex history of the Three Kingdoms Period, Kim chronicles the five-century long history of the Choson dynasty, which left a deep impression on Korean culture. From the beginning, China has loomed large in the history of Korea, from the earliest times when the tribes that would eventually make up the Korean nation roamed the vast plains of Manchuria and against whom Korea would soon define itself. Japan, too, has played an important role in Korean history, particularly in the 20th century; Kim tells this story as well, including the conflicts that led to the current divided state. The first detailed overview of Korean history in nearly a quarter century, this volume will enlighten a new generation of students eager to understand this contested region of Asia.

Excerpt

Koreans, a branch of the Ural-Altaic family, began their long, rich history as small tribes entering Manchuria (Manzhou) and the Korean peninsula from the Asian mainland hundreds of thousands of years ago. The vast plains of Manchuria, which now belong to China, had been the main arena of activity for Koreans until AD 926, when the Korean kingdom of Parhae fell to Qidan (Khitan) Liao. At first the Korean people came together into a cluster of villages and tribal states, termed “walled-town states.” As stronger walled-town states subjugated weaker ones under their dominion, these walled-town states grew into confederated kingdoms, including Old Chosŏn, Puyo, Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla, as well as the Kaya confederation. Among these, the kingdoms of Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla developed into centralized kingdoms, opening the period of the Tree Kingdoms. When Silla unified two rival kingdoms in 676, or certainly when Koryo ended the period of the Later Tree Kingdoms in 936, Koreans finally came together into a single homogeneous nation that has kept its identity despite repeated invasions by surrounding countries and peoples.

During the Koryo and Chosŏn dynasties, Korea was an autonomous, unified state with a sophisticated central government for a millennium. When Japan annexed the Chosŏn kingdom in 1910, Koreans lost their independence and came under Japanese colonial rule. Koreans tenaciously resisted unrelenting pressure from the Japanese to annihilate their way of life, and they succeeded in preserving their own culture intact. Since liberation from the Japanese in 1945, and as a result of the Cold War, Korea came to be divided into two states, North and South. Despite this division, Koreans in each state have regarded those in the other as their brethren and have aspired to reunification.

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