Capital City : Seoul (10.2 million) (2012)
National Flag : Taegeukgi
National Flower : Mugunghwa (Rose of Sharon)
The Korean peninsula is located at the eastern end of the Eurasian land mass bordering the Yalu River and the Tumen River to the north with China and Russia, and the East Sea to the east with Japan, and the Yellow Sea with China on the west. Korea is roughly 1,000 km (600 miles) long and 216 km (135 miles) wide at its narrowest point. The de facto boundary between two Koreas is the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which is 4 kilometers wide.
Daegu, Inch’on, Kwangju, and Daejon. In total, there are 68 cities (si) and 103 counties (kun) in the nine provinces. The total area of north and south Korea is 220,847 square kilometers. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north has 122,370 square kilometers (55% of the total), and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south has 98,477 square kilometers. The Korean peninsula is about as large as the U. S. state of Minnesota and slightly smaller than the United Kingdom.
Korea is very mountainous. Mountains cover 70% of Korea’s land area. The lifting and folding of Korea’s granite and limestone base has created breathtaking landscapes of scenic hills and mountains. The Koreans themselves speak of their “three thousand ri*** of beautiful rivers and mountains “” in the national anthem. That mountain range that traverses the entire length of the east coast plunges steeply into the East Sea. Aligning the southern and western coast, the mountains descend gradually to the coastal plains. Only 16 percent of the land in the north and 20 percent in the south is flat enough for agriculture. Korea has a monsoon climate characterized by cold, dry winters and warm, humid summers. It lies in the temperate zone that has four seasons. The Korean spring and autumn are very pleasant, with generally fair weather and moderate, gradually changing temperatures.
From Sogang University
ri*** The ri/li (里, lǐ) is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, which has varied considerably over time but now has a standardized length of about 392metres or 1300 ft.
Unlike Chinese, Koreans have an alphabetical writing system and their language is similar to Turkish, Mongolian, Japanese, and other Central Asian languages and classified as a Ural-Altaic language. Hangul, the Korean alphabet, is composed of 10 vowels and 14 consonants. Under the patronage of King Sejong of Joseon dynasty (1393-1910), a group of scholars invented Hangul in 1443. The Korean language has a two-tier system in which indigenous words with no association with Chinese characters and Chinese characters (i.e., words of direct Chinese origin and with an associated Chinese character) vocabularies are both used and can be both written using the phonetically designed Korean alphabet. Currently, the McCune Reischauer system is most widely used for the romanization of Hangeul (pronunciation – HanGle).
The Joseon dynasty was founded by the gentry and the military in the social confusion and national crisis of the 14th century(1392). Near the end of Koryo dynasty, General Yi Songgye seized political and military power, supported by Jeong Dojeon, Cho Chun, and other powerful civilians. He and his supporters drove out the old aristocratic powers of Koryo and enforced a sweeping land reform program in order to strengthen their economic basis.
Neo-Confucianism was the chosen ideology of the newly found dynasty. The establishment of Confucian learning institutions was given first priority in order to institute a Confucian state. A college and five municipal schools were set up in Seoul, and local schools were established in all the magistracies. From these schools, Confucian-oriented scholar-officials were recruited for central and local government offices.
In addition, to enhance Confucian learning, movable metal type was cast for the printing of Confucian classics and historical literature in 1403. Typography was
developed and improved by the repeated casting of new fonts as a means of promoting Confucian studies for the welfare and prosperity of the state.
The ruling structure was stabilized under the reigns of Kings T’aejong, Sejong, and Sejo and Joseon became a Confucian state with centralized power. While Neo-Confucianism was upheld in governing the nation, Joseon ‘s diplomatic position was pro-Ming, a newly rising power in China.
From: Sogang University
Yangban class and Seomin class(Korea’s working class)
The yangban were part of the traditional ruling class or nobles of dynastic Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. The yangban were mainly composed of civil servants and military officers. The yangban were either landed or unlanded aristocracy who comprised the Korean Confucian idea of a “scholarly official.” Basically, they were administrators and bureaucrats who oversaw ancient Korea’s traditional agrarian bureaucracy until the ancient regime of Joseon Dynasty ended in 1894. In a broader sense, office holder’s family and descendents as well as country families who claimed such descendence were also socially accepted as yangban.
Here is a drawing of the everyday life of ordinary people and “yahgban”. Kim Hong-do was a full-time painter of the Joseon period of Korea. He was together a pillar of the establishment and a key figure of the new trends of his time, the ‘true view painting’. Kim Hong-do was an exceptional artist in every field of traditional painting, even if he is mostly remembered nowadays for his depictions of the everyday life of ordinary people.
Japanese marauders were the perennial source of woe to Korean rulers and people. Korea opened three ports for trade with Japanese feudal lords and the trade was lucrative and proceeded peacefully for a while.
But the trouble began in late 16th century when Toyotomi Hideyoshi rose to power. Hideyoshi was troubled by the powerful feudal lords of the western part of Japan. He thought that an invasion of China would provide the outlet needed for a peaceful solution at home. When Korea rejected Hideyoshi’s request for aid in attacking China, he ordered his generals to invade Korea in 1592. The Japanese army, armed with matchlock guns with which Korean soldiers were not familiar, reached Seoul within two weeks. They invaded the province of Jeol-la area, only to meet the strong resistance of the people led by General Kim Shimin at Jin-joo. They then turned back towards Seoul.
King Sunjo and the royal princes fled to the northern provinces and appealed to the Ming Emperor for aid against the invaders. The Japanese generals squabbled among themselves, when Korean Admiral Yi Soon Shin conducted a series of brilliant operations in the sea with the famed Geo-book-son (an ironclad turtle ship). Facing the combined forces of the Ming China and the Joseon Korea, the Japanese were hard pressed. Also cut off from supplies and reinforcements owing to Admiral Yi’s control of the sea, the Japanese fled. Peace negotiations continued for five years but Hideyoshi sent his army to Korea again in 1597. The invasion this time encompassed only Kyoungsang area and part of the Jeol-la area provinces, as the invaders were met by strong volunteer armies. Upon Hideyoshi’s death, the war ended at long last, with grave impact upon Korea.
During the Japanese invasions governmental records, cultural objects, archives, historical documents and works of art, were destroyed. Land were devastated, population decreased, and a great number of artisans and technicians were lost. Arable land amounted to only one third of the prewar acreage, and the resulting decrease of revenue necessitated additional taxation of less devastated provinces such as Kyoung-gi area and Chung-cheong area. The government sold official titles and yangban status. The loss of artisans brought a decline in the quality of handiwork as well as manufactured goods such as pottery and book printing. The Neo-Confucian norms and values were uprooted, and the class distinctions dwindled.
While Neo-Confucian orthodoxy was called into question, pragmatic studies were introduced through China. These studies called for socio-economic reforms and readjustment. As some yangban began to be involved in agriculture, agricultural problems drew attention. As a result, production methods improved. Privately-owned factories replaced those run by government and commodity production started, including commercial farming. The circulation of coin currency widely spread connecting rural economy to that of emerging cities. In art, a corresponding development of popular culture can be found in the late Joseon period. Popular verse and narratives directed the attention of the people to the abuses of the powerful and encouraged them to participate in various social reform programs.
Growing Need for a Reform
Both civil and military service examinations virtually became levers in the hands of high-ranking officials and powerful factions. The irregular special examination graduates created a pressing demand for land and the practice of holding unregistered land was wide-spread. Further draining state revenue, the number of private schools whose land was tax-exempt, quadrupled during the 17th century alone. These schools sheltered an increasing number of literati and students.
The relatives of royal family and high-ranking officials accumulated land deserted in wartime and converted it into tax-exempt holdings. As the officialdom presented a chance for economic advance, competition for a government position intensified tremendously and this incurred further factional split. For instance, in 1585 there was a split between a younger and an elder group of scholars, called the Tongin (Eastern) faction and the Sin (Western) faction respectively and this rivalry was intensified under the postwar financial difficulties. Selection of the crown prince and rituals of royal mourning were the issues that led to factional debate.
Declining Yangban’s Hegemony
While factional competition prevailed Joseon court, the newly-established Chung of China invaded Joseon whose pro-Ming stance was a potential problem for the new dynasty. King Injo fled to Namhan-san-sung, then capitulated to the invaders on a bank of the Han River. The King was forced to break relations with the defeated Ming and to send princes as hostages. A sense of humiliation and disgrace dominated as the King and yangban had to acknowledge subservience to the tribes of the Manchu. Distrust of the orthodox Neo-Confucian yangban began to grow in the minds of the people. The peasants and bondsmen openly ridiculed the yangban. Further detrimental to the yangban’s cultural hegemony, offsprings of interclass mating, mostly between yangban male and non-
yangban female, became a serious social problem. These included sons of prominent officials, who never theless were considered outcasts and banned from advancing in government organizations. Consequently, resentment of the rigid social stratification were shared by various sectors of the society.
From Sogang University
King Yong-jo’s Practical Policies
King Yong Jo(r.1724 – 1776)’s attempted to end factional strife by reinstating the short-lived universal military service tax. He also reduced the military service tax by half, and ordered the deficiency supplemented by the taxes on fisheries, salt, vessels, and an additional land tax. King Yong-jo regularized the financial system of state revenues and expenses by adopting an accounting system. The circulation of currency was encouraged by increased coin casting. He promoted agriculture by distributing important agricultural books written in Korean alphabet, mass-producing the pluviometers and distributing them to local offices.
From Sogang University
In the early 19th century, economic development and social improvements continued. The general public as well as intellectuals took foreign ideas and European commercial enterprise seriously. Some officials advocated a thoroughgoing reform of national finance but was thwarted by the establishment. There were numerous agrarian revolts which gradually led to political upheaval.
Throughout the late Joseon dynasty, powerful yangban officials expanded their social network, through their marriage ties with the royal family and could exert tremendous influence by formulating national policies to further increase their power. While these yangbans were divided into numerous cliques and competing among themselves, at the end of the 18th century, the British made their first probing into Korean waters. Russian and French vessels also appeared in the 1840s and caused a great stir among people.
In 1863, in order to strengthen the royal authority, Prince Yi Hang, better known as the Daewongun or Prince Regent, initiated a series of sweeping reforms in the areas of national finance and government administration. He strongly opposed the increasing infiltration of foreign commercial interests into the country and ordered rigorous persecution of Catholics in 1866. Upon this persecution, the French fleet sailed up the Han River and hostilities broke out on Kanghwa Island.
Whereas economic and social developments drove the majority of yangban to bankruptcy, the peasants and merchants thrived and were eager to rid of the traditional social constraints, for instance, the ban on marriage between yangban and non-yangban. From Sogang University
Although the elimination of bondsmen resulted in an increase in the number of taxable commoners, the exploitation of farmers by the ruling class reduced the state’s tax revenues. In addition, drought and flood alternately struck the country and resulted in a cycle of severe famine. Excessive tax collection and forced labor continued. These adverse natural and social conditions ignited a series of agrarian revolts.
Hong Kyngnae in 1812 rose up with the peasants at Kasan in the northern part of Korea and held power in that district for some months. Government officials dispatched the army, and was barely able to suppress the revolt. Nevertheless, throughout the nation, peasants continued to struggle against the oppression of the government, the local nobility and the wealthy landlords.
Half a century after Hong Kyongnae’s revolt, a group of farmers in Jin-ju, Kyoung-sang province, rebelled against their oppressive overlords, the provincial officials, and the wealthy landowners. This uprising of 1862 started by the exploitation of Paek Naksin, a newly-appointed military commander in charge of the western half of Kyngsang province. Yu Kyech’un, an intellectual native to the district who was outraged by Paek Naksin’s misrule led the farmers’ riot, denouncing corrupt officials and wealthy landlords. The rebels killed local government functionaries and set fire to government buildings. The central government sent an investigator to the scene. On the basis of his findings of fraudulent practices on the part of the local officials concerned, the government revised the land, military and grain lending systems in an effort to eliminate such abuses. However, these measures were not successfully implemented to quell the revolt and peasant revolts spread out the whole nation.
Under such social conditions, Ch’oi Cheu formulated Tonghak (Eastern Learning) in order to rescue the farmers from prevalent poverty and unrest, and to restore political and social stability. His teachings was received as a message of salvation to farmers in distress and spread out rapidly. Tonghak was a mixture of traditional elements from Confucianism, Buddhism and Sngyo (teachings of Shilla’s Hwarang), with a dint of modern humanistic ideas. However, the ideology was highly nationalistic and rejected alien thought.
From Sogang University
Against the Opening of the Nation
In the late 19th century, European powers such as the British and the Russians started demanding commercial relations with Joseon were made. Twice in 1866 the Prussian merchant Ernest J. Oppert made requests to open trade to no avail. In the same year the American ship led by General Sherman made its memorable foray into Korean waters and forced the Korean government to enter into commercial relations. However when the vessel reached the Daedong River with European merchandise in a cargo and used military force in dealing with Korean soldiers and civilians. This infuriated Koreans and they set the ship afire in retaliation.
France, an established imperial power in Indochina, found Daewongun’s massacre of Catholics a good excuse for their aggressive move into Korea. Admiral Pierre G. Roze, commander of France’s Indochina fleet, led his squadron to waters off Ganghwa Island on October 13, 1866 and landed troops on the island. Korean forces repulsed them, however and the French fleet was forced to withdraw.
As a first step in its aggressive policy toward the peninsula, Japan started pressing Korea to renegotiate the character of diplomatic tie between the two nations. Upon Daewongun’s insistence on the traditional diplomatic procedure in which the ruling clan of Tsushima Island served as an intermediary between the two governments, Japanese sent 30 regiments to occupy the Korean peninsula. As a way to relieve domestic discontent as well as to extort Korea’s natural resources and abundant rice, the Japanese sent their warships to raid points on Korea’s coast such as Busan and Kanghwa Island. The Japanese delegation landed at Ganghwa Island on January 16, 1876, escorted by 400 troops.
Forced by this military confrontation, Joseon had to conclude the 12-article treaty presented unilaterally by the Japanese. This pact included a trade accord and a customs agreement designed to provide unequal benefit to Japan. These articles also provided a legal basis for further Japanese aggression by granting the Japanese such privileges as extraterritoriality, exemption from customs duties, and legal recognition of Japanese currency in the ports to be opened to foreign trade. In 1881, Wonsan and Inchon were also opened allowing the Japanese further aggression in the peninsula. A Japanese consul was now stationed in the capital.
Facing this foreign encroachment of the nation, Koreans were divided into two camps; those advocating the repulsion of foreign powers, and those calling for domestic reforms.
From Sogang University
The political upheaval of 1884
Whereas at the conclusion of a series of commercial treaties between Chosn and foreign countries the encroachment of capitalist powers deepened, Korean leading politicians used foreign influence in enhancing their own purposes. For instance, at the wake of the army revolt, empress Myeong-seong and her family heavily relied on Chinese military intervention to quell the uprising. This resulted in the Chinese occupation of the nation’s capital. Although China had withdrawn part of its expeditionary forces from Korea, the Chinese maintained far superior military strength over the Japanese.
Opposing the empress Myeong-seong family’s politics, such reformists as Kim Okgyun and Hong Youngsik tried to introduce reforms that would improve social conditions and strengthen national power. At the outbreak of war between China and France, Japanese Minister to Korea Takes Shinichiro talked these young reformists into a coup d’etat.
The reformists first called on King Gojong (1863 – 1907) at the royal palace and pressed for his sanction of their reform plan. On December 5, they assassinated military commanders and ministers inside the palace gate on their way to a royal audience. The reformists were forced to flee, however, without proclaiming their comprehensive 14 point Reform Decree. Kim Okgyun and Seo Jae-pil escaped to Inchon, where they boarded a Japanese ship for asylum in Japan.
Japan settled pending problems with China by concluding the Tientsin Treaty, in which the two sides agreed to pull their expeditionary forces out of Korea simultaneously and not send military instructors for the training of the Korean army. They also agreed to notify the other side beforehand should one decide to send troops to Korea. However, China’s Yuan Shihkai remained in Seoul interfering in Korea’s internal affairs, while Japan was ready to pounce upon any suitable opportunity for intrusion.
Nevertheless the Japanese commercial encroachment continued aggravating Korean economy. At the beginning, Japanese exports to Korea consisted mainly of the resale of European, especially English, and American commodities. While keeping these European commodities for home consumption, Japan gradually replace their export goods with their own low-quality products. For these commodities, the Japanese took Korean grain products further worsening the life of Korean peasants. In 1889 and 1891, in the midst of massive crop failure in Hamgyoung and Hwanghae provinces, the Japanese government exacted exorbitant indemnities for losses allegedly suffered by Japanese merchants. This impoverished farmers even further, and they held Korea ruling class responsible for their plight. During the period from 1884 to 1894, farmers’ struggles broke out repeatedly in all provinces.
From Sogang University
The assassination of the Queen Min and modernization reforms
As Japanese aggression intensified, Empress Myeong-seong and her family collaborated this time with Russian Minister Karl Waeber to force Kim Hong-jip to reorganize his cabinet, and pro-Russian figures such as Yi Pomjin were given cabinet posts. As Empress Myeong-seong was making secret overtures to China and Russia, Japanese Minister Miura Goro and other Japanese decided to assassinate the Queen. Utilizing the palace guards trained by the Japanese officers and those who opposed the Min family, Japanese troops intruded into Kyngbok Palace at dawn on October 8 and assassinated the Queen.
European powers, however, welcomed the Japanese action as they were more concerned with Russia’s southward expansion. Germany, for example, considered the continued presence of the Japanese army as indispensable, while the Great Britain believed the entrusting Korea to Japan was a proper measure to check the Russian advance. The American government instructed its minister not to make any statement unfavorable to Japan.
At the assassination of Empress Myeong-seong by a mob of Japanese intruders, Confucian scholars mobilized volunteers to fight against the Japanese while the Kim Hong-jip cabinet expedited reform. It adopted the solar calendar, introduced smallpox vaccinations, started modern postal service, and reorganized the military system, with the Royal Army Guards stationed in Seoul and other detachments in the provinces. As part of this reform, the Japanese forced the cabinet to issue a decree banning topknots, which invited nation-wide resistance. Viewed as the Japanese attempt to wipe out Korean heritage, these reforms only met with the armed resistance of the Korean volunteer “righteous armies.”
While the Royal Guards of Seoul were dispatched to suppress the protest of righteous armies against the ban on topknots, the Russian ex-minister Waeber plotted to persuade King Gojong to take refuge at the Russian legation. At dawn on February 11, 1896, Gojong and the Crown Prince went to the Russian legation to escape the Japanese menace, and were protected by guards provided by other legations as well. Following a proposal made by the Russian minister, the Korean government appointed Russians as consultants for military training and financial administration.
In May, a Korean delegation led by Min Young-hwan and Yun Cheol-ho concluded a treaty in Russia with Foreign Minister Lobanoff. The content of this treaty included that Russia would protect the Korean monarch and, if necessary, would send additional troops to Korea; the consultants in question would be subject to the guidance of the Russian minister; the two governments would enter into a loan agreement when deemed necessary in view of Korea’s economic conditions; and the Russian government would be authorized to connect its telegraph lines with the Korean telegraph network. With the Korean king in custody, Russia rushed to implement the aggressive provisions of the treaty.
As protecting the royal family from further violence by the Japanese or by any other foreign aggressors, was the paramount concern of the Korean government, they ended up relying on Russia despite its aggressive policy. Also the government granted unconditional concessions to the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Japan without the usual stipulations as to the terms of lease or conditions of taxes.
The enlightenment of the public
On his return to Korea in 1896 after studying medicine in the United States, Seo Jae-pil (Philip Jaisohn) resumed leadership of the nation’s modern reform program. Appointed a consultant to the Privy Council, S inaugurated the newspaper Dongnip Shinmun (The Independent) on April 7, 1896. Published in Hangeul (the Korean script) and in English, the journal was well received by the public. The newspaper called for strengthening the national autonomy and promoting the public good. The government responded to the demand by giving top priority to the promotion of civil rights and national sovereignty against the growth of foreign influence. The newspaper also introduced modern science and various ideas from the West.
The Dongnip Shinmun’s popularity grew rapidly, as its circulation grew to 3,000 from its initial distribution of 300. The newspaper enlightened the citizenry to the urgent needs of eliminating corruption, expanding education, solidifying national sovereignty and promoting civil rights.
The Independence Club, which S helped to found, was formally established in July 1896. The Club’s members were prominent government and civic personages who took part in modern reform and in the struggle for independence. The Crown Prince, as a token of cooperation, made a donation of 1,000 won to the club, which drew great interest among people throughout the nation.
The Independence Club frequently pressed their views concerning the reform of domestic administration to the Korean government and its demands for the dismissal of ranking government officials guilty of irregularities and fraud were put in effect. The club also conducted an investigation of the government’s concession of rights in lumbering, mining, and railway construction, and filed protest in order to correct the government’s mishandling. This time the government, however, imprisoned the club’s leading figures and ordered its dissolution. The club, albeit short-lived, bequeathed its spirit to subsequent national movements.
Seo Jae-pil saw the following steps vital to national development: mass education, road construction, commerce promoting national wealth, women’s education, Hangeul (pronunciation – Han Gle) for mass education, currency in domestic transactions, wide circulation of both domestic and foreign newspapers, growth of mining industry, and establishment of a congress. He opposed to government’s delegation of its financial and military authority to Russia since February 1897, and protested against the government concerning Russia’s demand for the concession of Choryong Island off Pusan, and for the establishment of a Korean-Russian Bank. Speaking at a mass rally in the heart of Seoul, S asked the government to dismiss the Russian military and financial consultants. Syngman Rhee (이승만) and other speakers who took the rostrum at the same rally also drew enthusiastic applause from the audience by pointing out the absurdity of entrusting the financial and military authority of Korea to another country.
The Koreans responded to the calls made by the Independence Club with enthusiasm and condemned the king’s flight to a foreign legation and the continuous granting of economic concessions to foreigners. As a result of this, Gojong moved back to the palace (today’s Duksu Palace) in February 1897, and named his reign Kwangmu (Martial Brilliance) in August. He proclaimed to the nation and the world the establishment of an independent “Great Han Empire(Taehanchekuk)” in October and called himself an emperor.
From Sogang University
The Russo-Japanese War
In the wake of the Boxer Rebellion and subsequent anti-foreign ambiance, Russia sent a huge army of 180,000 troops to Manchuria on the pretext of guarding its railways. Three-fourths of the Manchurian territory came under occupation by the Russians, where they remained in active search for an opportunity to further southward expansion. In 1903, the Russian government proposed an establishment of Russia’s lumber company south of Amnok River. Accordingly, Russia assembled its fleet in Port Arthur and deployed ground forces in Fenghuangch’eng and along the Amnok River. In August 1903, Russia occupied Yongamp’o and constructed military facilities, including fortresses, barracks, and communication lines.
Japan, with the cooperation of the Great Britain, obtained international recognition for its imperial intention toward Korea. In return for the British support for Japanese aggression in Korean peninsular, Japan would assume the burden of checking the Russian southward advance in the Far East. Japan agreed to recognize the Russian or Russia’s occupation of Manchuria, on condition that Russia recognizes its activities in Korea.
Nevertheless the confrontation between Russia and Japan was inevitable, as each attempting to occupy both sides of the Amnok River in order for the eventual occupation of both Korea and Manchuria. On February 8, 1904, Japan opened fire on the Russian fleets off Inch’on and Port Arthur, thereby touching off the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905).
The Russo-Japanese Treaty III was concluded on April 25, 1899 in which Japan consented to Russia’s 25 year lease of Port Arthur as a naval base and Talien as a commercial port in exchange of Russia’s agreement not to hamper Japanese commercial and industrial activities in Korea.
In spite of Korea’s declaration of neutrality to the world at the break of the Russo-Japanese war, Japan sent troops into Seoul and, on February 23, 1904, forced the Korean government to sign the Korea-Japan Protocol. The Japanese mobilized Koreans in large scale for war. Japan stationed six and half battalions in Korea, which laid military railways, seized Korean telegraphic and telephone networks by occupying the Central Telecommunications Office, and pre-empted land for military use. In September, Japan proclaimed military control over the whole territory of Korea.
Japan then forced Korea to sign the First Korea-Japan Convention and grasped the real powers of diplomacy, finance, military, police,and education in 1904. They unilaterally concluded and promulgated the Second Korea-Japan Convention and took away Korea’s diplomatic rights. Japan set up a Bureau for the Governor-General in Seoul to manage not only Korea’s diplomatic but internal affairs as well in 1906.
The United States, Great Britain, and Russia at last gave international acquiescence to Japanese aggression in Korea. Previously during the war with Russia, Japan revised the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Alliance on August 12, 1905, and obtained the British consent to the Japanese scheme for colonizing Korea under the guise of protection. In the secret Taft-Katsura agreement, Japan and the United States recognized Japan’s prerogatives in Korea. At the Portsmouth Peace Conference, which was concluded in September 1905, Japan requested that “Korea be placed at Japan’s free disposal” in accordance with the second Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Alliance and the US-Japanese agreement.
From Sogang University
Oppressive Measures: Media, Education, and Land
Under the first governor-general, Terauchi Masatake, Koreans went through numerous oppressive changes, as he attempted the forced acculturation of Koreans and the systematic destruction of the Korean identity. He justified colonialism by proclaiming the “natural affinity” between the Koreans and the Japanese due to the deep historical and cultural ties. Other forms of systematic oppressions were suspending all newspapers, disbanding all political organizations, and banning the right of assembly and so on. Under this circumstance, underground movements sprang up and nationalistic organizations rallied for international support of the Korean cause.
New schools were built but the educational practices were extremely discriminating towards Koreans. The purpose of Korean education was simply to mold them into loyal Japanese subjects. Higher education was severely limited and vocational training was emphasized. The new education policies created many problems for the younger generation for the Korean identity was being warped by a Japanese culture.
Therefore many underground movements strove to preserve the Korean culture and promote the use of the language. The next major restructuring was on land system. Land as the traditional symbol of wealth had been subject to a complex system of absentee landlords, partial owner-tenants, and cultivator-laborers in which legal proof of land rights was not necessary to work or own land. Ignoring this local reality, Terauchi’s new Land Survey Bureau conducted surveys that reestablished ownership by basis of written proof (i.e. deeds, titles, and similar documents). For those who could not provide such documents, like the lower class and partial owners, land could not be claimed by traditional “cultivator rights” alone. Consequently, Japanese developers could buy up the most of Korean land. For instance, the notorious Oriental Development Company came to own almost 300,000 acres of land.
The March First Movement
Against this backdrop of political, economic, and social repression came the March First Movement. The March First Movement was the first major demonstration that mobilized the masses into action and subsequently instrumental in shaping Korean nationalism and left tremendous impact on the minds of Koreans. A massive but peaceful protest against their colonial oppressors was however, met with the police violence. Although the March First Movement did not succeed in that Korea remained under Japanese control, it did stimulate nationalism and was the impetus for the creation of the Provisional Government.
The official Japanese count of casualties included 553 killed, 1,409 injured, and 12,522 arrested but was contested by a Korean nationalist estimate, including over 7,500 deaths, about 15,000 injured, and around 45,000 arrests. After the nation-wide uprising was suppressed, the Japanese changed their colonial policy to ensure that demonstrations such as these would not occur.
Whereas nationalist movements in the past were carried out by various factions and proved ineffective, the March First Movement was an unprecedented unilateral cohesion on the part of the Korean people. Although the movement failed in regards to actually establishing independence, it was a huge success in instilling a new sense of pride and empowerment. Other nationalist groups emerged after the movements.
Throughout the entire colonial period, Koreans had tried to obtain liberation from the Japanese colonial rule, as demonstrated in the March First Movement of 1919 and the Kwangju Student Movement of 1929. With the introduction of the new Governor-General Ugaki, and especially Minami, who was a former Minister of War and one of the leading generals in the Manchurian Incident, resistance by the general public dwindled and guerrilla warfare was the only possible form.
Those involved with guerrilla warfare were mostly located in Manchuria and North China. In the 1930s resistance movements like the Righteous Brotherhood (Uiyltan) and other communist forces in Korea and China, as well as the Korean nationalists joined forces, while others, like Syngman Rhee (Yi Sngman) in America, used diplomatic channels in order to gain support for the Korean cause. However, the resistance movements of this period never achieved the prominence and mass support of the Korean people as in the 1920s, because of the brutal Japanese countermeasures such as imprisonment, torture, work camp, or death penalt
At the end of the World War II, in 1945, Koreans gained independence from their colonial rulers. Unfortunately, Korea would soon be divided in two by the United States and the Soviet Union around the 38th parallel, now the last front of the Cold War.
The Japanese surrender in 1945 did not bring the complete liberation from the colonial conditions to which Koreans had been subjugated for almost four decades. As in the case of other postcolonial peoples, Koreans had domestic ideological conflicts. Furthermore, the occupation of a divided Korea by the United States and Soviet Union prevented Koreans from establishing an independent government. Two conflicting political ideologies were prevalent and the trusteeship by the United States and the Soviet Union was established in the south and north of the 38th Parallel.
Initially, it was the intention of both sides to establish a stable and unified Korea in order to withdraw their military forces from the area. However, neither the Soviet Union nor the United States wanted the peninsula to fall into the other’s hand. The Soviets desired a Communist Korea
whereas the U. S. wanted a democratic nation to be established. Therefore the
roots of division were laid from the very onset of Korea’s liberation.
In the Soviet-occupied northern area of the Korean peninsula, now under Soviet tutelage the leftist factions were able to seize power. During the period of civil turmoil of 1945 and 1946, there were many different leftist factions vying for power. It was during this time that the Soviets helped establish Kim Il Sung as the leading political figure in the North.
In the United States-occupied southern area, U. S. General Hodge’s primary aim at the time was to prevent communist takeover of South Korea. During this time, a Korean nationalistic leader named Syngman Rhee began to acquire political power among the conservative elitists in South Korea. Although his dogmatic advocacy for Korea’s full independence often caused friction between him and the U. S. officials, due to his strong anti-communism stance, General Hodge chose Rhee to be the dominant political leader in South Korea around 1947.
After the Soviet Union and the United States occupied Korea, each imposed its own jurisdiction systems on the area. However, political conflict and social disorder became rampant; worse in the south of the 38th Parallel in proportion to the rigid regimentation of society under the communist system in the North. Then in 1948 two ideologically opposing governments were established.
In the south, the Government of the Republic of Korea was proclaimed on August 15, 1948, claiming the inheritance of the Provisional Government in Shanghai. Without being able to eliminate the vestiges of colonial rule, the new Government of Korea faced the pressing task of reconstructing the bankrupt economy left by the Japanese, and the chaos of the three years of the post-liberation period.
During the same time, the north held its own elections and Kim Il Sung was declared president of the new Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPKR). Immediately the Soviet Union and other communist countries recognized the DPKR as the legitimate government of Korea. In this way, Korea became permanently divided at the 38th parallel by winter of 1948.
The ideological confrontation between the North and the South inevitably gave rise to a tense military confrontation, another major burden placed on the government. In 1948, the US Military Government handed over to the ROK Government its administrative authority and withdrew its occupation forces from Korea, leaving only a small group of military advisers. The Soviet Union had already done the same in the northern half of Korea, where the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was established. A number of agreements were concluded for the Soviet Union to provide North Korea with military, economic, technological, and cultural assistance. China also established diplomatic relations with North Korea. In 1949, the Communist army in North Korea provoked sporadic skirmishes along the 38th parallel.
From Sogang University
The Constitution of the Republic of Korea was first adopted and promulgated by the National Assembly on July 17, 1948. In the National Assembly’s first session on May 31, 1948, which followed the U.N.-supervised general election of May 10, Taehan Minguk (the Republic of Korea) was chosen as the nation’s official name. The Constitution was then drafted, adopted and promulgated. Under this Constitution, the Assembly elected the first president of the Republic of Korea and on August 15, 1948 the foundation of the Republic of Korea was proclaimed throughout the world.
The Republic of Korea government has a principle of liberal democracy and is built based upon the separation of powers and a system of checks and balances. Sovereignty resides in the people, from whom all state authority is derived. The people’s basic rights to freedom and to the benefits of and participation in government are guaranteed by the Constitution. The Constitution also provides for the independence of the three branches of the government: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
For the executive branch of the government the Constitution prescribes a presidential system, to insure a strong and stable leadership based on a popular mandate. All citizens are entitled to personal liberty as well as the freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and association. The Constitution promotes national unity and harmony and aims for the reunification of South and North Korea. It also respects international obligations, treaties, and obliges the rules of international law. The Constitution calls for free competition in presidential elections and limits presidential tenure to a single five-year term.
The Constitution guarantees the right to equality before the law regardless of gender, religion, or social status; freedom from arbitrary arrest; and freedom of residence. It also recognizes economic rights including the right to own property, the right and the duty to work, freedom of choice of occupation, and the right to collective bargaining. The rights to seek happiness, optimum wages, fair compensation, and privacy are also emphasized in the Constitution.
From Sogang University
The elections of 1948 and the division of Korea that ensued set the stage for a civil war and by 1950, both North and South Korea sensed that war was inevitable. Both Syngman Rhee and Kim Il Sung declared on several occasions that military force would be necessary to unify Korea. North Korea had a clear advantage over the south, as it had prepared for war, possessed a larger army and many experienced veterans who had fought in China’s Civil War. North Korea had ability to manufacture some of its own weapons in addition to many Soviet made weapons. Finally, the North had the support of the Chinese military.
Early on the Sunday morning of June 25, 1950, without a declaration of war, North Korean troops invaded the unprepared South across 38th parallel. South Korea’s troops fought bravely, but proved no match for the heavily armed Communists and the Russian T-3 tanks. Within three days, North Korean forces captured Seoul and the national army was forced to retreat temporarily from the area. The national army, which was pushed down to the Naktong River, began to march northward again with the aid of the UN forces. In response to the South Korean government’s appeal, the Security Council of the United Nations passed a resolution ordering the Communists to withdraw to the 38th parallel and encouraged all member countries to give military support to the Republic. US troops soon began to arrive and were subsequently joined by those from 15 other nations.
Under the command of General Douglas MacArther, the allied forces began to take the initiative, and after a surprise landing at Inch’n, pushed the Communists out of South Korea and advanced into the North. As the national army and the UN forces drove the enemy to the Amnok(Yalu) River, the unification of the two Koreas looked feasible.
However, the Chinese Communist Army joined forces with North Korea and launched a massive counter attack on the south the UN forces were forced to retreat. The UN Forces mounted a counterattack and retook Seoul on March 12. A stalemate was reached roughly in the area along the 38th parallel, where the conflict had begun. Finally, after three years of intense fighting, the UN forces accepted the Soviet Union’s proposal for a cease-fire and an Armistice Agreement reached on July 27, 1953.
At this point the Soviet Union called for truce negotiations in July of 1951. The talks continued without a result for two years before an armistice agreement was reached on July 27, 1953.
From Sogang University
At the end of World War II, Koreans rejoiced independence from the Japanese occupation. However, soon the Korean Peninsula, which had been under single governance since the 7th century, was tragically divided into two states as a result of postwar rivalry among the powerful nations.
Soon after a secret decision at Yalta, the Soviet Union entered the northern half of the Korean peninsular in order to disarm Japanese troops, which was a reward for entering the war against Japan. The United States proposed the 38th parallel as the division line between the Soviet-dominant North and the South. The US-USSR Joint Commission met in Seoul, but failed to reach an agreement for Korean independence.
The Korean problem was discussed at the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 and it resulted in a resolution that general elections would be held immediately to ensure independence and unification. However, the Soviet Union strongly objected to the UN decision and refused to allow UN delegates to enter the north. An election was held in southern Korea under UN supervision and the Republic of Korea was officially formed in 1948 with a democratic presidential system. In the northern area, a communist regime was established under Russian influence.
On June 25, 1950, the North Koreans, supported by the Soviet Union, launched an unprovoked invasion of the South. The South Korean troops were no match for the heavily armed communists. The North Korean troops took almost all of Korea in a few days, except a corner in the southeast known as the “Pusan perimeter”, which was overrun in about a month. The UN General Assembly immediately decided to send troops to aid the South. Under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, the UN troops soon began to reverse the trend of the war. Some units of the troops reached the northern border of the Amnokkang River. But the Chinese intervened, and the UN forces retreated. A cease-fire agreement was finally reached on July 27, 1953. The war bred long-lasting antagonism between people on both sides. The prolonged division since has escalated ideological and cultural differences and led to a diminishing sense of community. Territorial partitioning and the war separated millions of people from their families.
The Republic of Korea’s economy has made outstanding performance over the last three decades, what is widely touted as “the economic miracle on the Han River.” Despite unfavorable initial conditions for development (such as limited natural resources, a small domestic market, negligible domestic savings, and a lack of experience), the Korean economy has grown at one of the fastest paces in the world. It has successfully implemented an export-oriented growth strategy that utilized Korea’s abundant, well-educated, industrious human resource.
Since Korea launched its first five-year development plan in 1962, real Gross National Product (GNP) has expanded by an average of more than 8 percent per year. As a result, Korea’s GNP increased from US$2.3 billion in 1962 to US$480.2 billion in 1996, and per capita GNP increased from a meager US$87 to US$10,543 at current price level.
In addition, Korea’s industrial structure has been drastically transformed. The manufacturing sector increased its share of the GNP from 14.3 percent in 1962 to 25.9 percent in 1996. Korea’s commodity trade volume increased from US$477 million in 1962 to US$274.9 billion at current price level, and the gross savings ratio rose to 34.8 percent from 11.0 percent during the same period. The Korean economic development is even more remarkable in view of its historical conditions until the early 1960s. Few significant industries developed before the Japanese occupation (1910-1945). Though it was, for the most part, for the Japanese imperialistic purposes such as war, the Japanese colonial government laid the foundation for Korean industrialization. However, the Korean War (1950-1953) destroyed what was left behind by the Japanese colonialism. As late as the early 1960s, Korea was fraught with problems that hindered its economic development. In addition to its extreme poverty, Korean population was growing by three percent annually, and unemployment and underemployment was widespread. Domestic savings were negligible; Korea had no notable export items; and depended heavily on imports for both raw materials and most manufactured goods.