Gray-blue, unpolished earthenware objects were crafted in the Gyeongsang-do region during the Silla period, and they are generally referred to as Silla earthenware. Silla earthenware was first made mainly in the Gyeongju and Gyeongsang-do regions, but as Silla expanded its sovereign territory, the art of Silla earthenware manufacture spread to other areas.
Silla Clay Dolls (Tou) – a glimpse into the culture of ancient Koreans
These boldly made clay human and animal figurines are stunning symbols of the intricate beliefs of ancient Koreans.
Silla clay dolls – the cultural heritage of Korea. 'Tou' refers to figurines or 'dolls made out of clay', a practice of the Silla people and a burial custom.
<A horse and rider-shaped clay teapot found at the Geumryongchong Tomb from the Silla Kingdom, 6th Century.>
<A photo showing how the teapot was likely used.>
Home > Culture > Korean Heritage
1. Remains of two people from 1,500 years ago found in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, at the site of a palace complex known as Wolseong. 2. Roof tiles found at the site. 3. Mokgan, or wooden sticks, used to document data were also uncovered. 4. Various types of seeds found at the site. 5. One of the clay dolls was wearing a turban, which scholars say must be from Sogdia, an ancient Iranian civilization. 6. Clay dolls unearthed at Wolseong. [GYEONGJU NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF CULTURAL HERITAGE, YONHAP]
Could it be that a famous - and horrific - tale in Korea regarding the so-called Emille Bell could be true after all?
According to the tale, to make the bell in the eighth century, the people of Korea’s Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.-A.D. 935) sacrificed a baby.
Upon royal orders, artisans were in the process of making a large bell that would have an unparalleled, beautiful sound, but they continued to fail.
They decided to sacrifice a boy while casting the bell by throwing him into the molten metal, and the bell that resulted makes a mysteriously beautiful sound. Some say it sounds as if it is saying “Emille,” an ancient Silla word for “mom,” leading the Silla people to believe it’s the baby calling for the mother.
This bell’s official name is Sacred Bell of Great King Seongdeok. Known to be completed in 771, it’s a huge bell weighing about 25 tons and is Korea National Treasure No. 29.
For years, there’s been a debate in Korea’s academic world whether this human sacrifice really took place.
While scientific findings conflicted with each other, further complicating the mystery, no archaeological discovery was made proving that for Silla people human sacrifice was a common practice.
Still, people kept wondering. One reason is the mystically profound sound the bell makes. The resonance goes on for as long as three minutes. Contemporary Koreans attempted to copy the bell and its sound but were never able to make a bell with such a sound.
So did the Silla people really kill to make amazing bells?
Korean archaeologists recently found a pair of human remains in Wolseong, a palace complex of the Silla Dynasty located in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang.
The fifth-century couple - one male and one whose gender has yet to be confirmed - were likely a human sacrifice that reflected people’s wish that the construction of the palace fortress would go well and that the fortress would stand firm for a long time.
They were adults. The male was 166 centimeters (5 foot 4 inches) tall while the other was 159 centimeters tall.
The male was laid to face the sky, while the other was laid to face the first body with his or her right cheek on the ground.
Their faces were covered with the bark of a tree and their bodies were covered with leaves.
The bark of the tree was dated as being from the 5th century, according to carbon dating. At their feet, four pieces of pottery were found, whose characteristics put their date at some time between the 4th and 5th centuries. Given that the fortress, nine meters above them, was constructed in the 5th century, archaeologists believe these two were sacrificed at least 1,500 years ago.
“It was in March [that we found the remains],” Lee Jong-hoon, the director of Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage, told reporters during a press event held earlier this month at the site. “We were all quite surprised to find human remains. … The Silla custom of human sacrifice, which was passed down only in legends, has been proven by archaeological means for the first time.”
Given that they were laid exactly at the bottommost layer of the fortress, that there is tree bark covering them and that there is no tomb-like structure nearby, archaeologists concluded that they were likely human sacrifices for the fortress of Wolseong.
There are also no signs of struggle, leading them to believe that they were likely killed before being buried. Scientists are currently in the process of conducting more studies on the remains to find out more, which will take three months or so.
So far, they say they’ve found protein substances in the feet of the remains of one that could suggest he or she was wearing a pair of leather shoes. The process of drying the remains will take significant time, but once the studies are completed we will gain a more detailed look into the lives of the Silla people.
Park Yun-jeong of the Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage - who is leading the exploration - said that the remains are in rather good condition as the area they found them in is damp. When asked whether they expect to find more human remains as they expand their dig into the site, archaeologists said there is a chance.
There is no official historical record of the Silla Dynasty that mentions human sacrifice when building an architectural structure.
However, in 2000, underneath the site of a well in Gyeongju, the remains of a boy was found, upside down, raising the possibility of a human sacrifice. This, coupled with the famous Silla tale regarding the 7th-century Sacred Bell of Great King Seongdeok, some believe human sacrifice may have been commonplace.
The case of the well, historians say, may be slightly different, as it seems the boy was sacrificed as part of a ritual that Silla people may have held as they abandoned and closed the well.
There is a record in the later Joseon period (1392-1910) that relates to the history of Goryeo (918-1392), and from it we know that during Goryeo there was a rumor that the king would take a commoner boy and bury him underneath the foundation stone of a soon-to-be-built palace.
Also in some parts of Korea, like Gimje, North Jeolla, there is a myth that if a person is buried beneath the foundation stone of a newly constructed building it will not collapse.
In neighboring China, people during the Shang Dynasty (1,600-1,046 B.C.) also resorted to the practice of human sacrifice during large-scale building constructions, although humans buried as sacrifices are typically found with their heads removed.
Archaeologists also found a group of 6th-century clay dolls, including one wearing a turban, which is believed to be of Sogdia, an ancient Iranian civilization.
Silla is known to have had active trade with the West and clay dolls resembling people from the Middle East have been found, but the latest find is the oldest.
Other clay dolls found from Wolseong include one riding a horse with a long corn-shaped hat, a man with exaggerated male genitals and a few dancers.
Wolseong, Korea’s Historic Site No. 16 and a Unesco World Heritage Site, measures more than 200,000 square meters (49 acres) and is located in Inwang-dong, central Gyeongju.
The name literally means Moon Castle, after its celestially-shaped geographical features.
For the same reason, it’s also known as Banwolseong, or Half Moon Castle.
Despite its historical significance, though, the Wolseong area was for some time left largely unexplored. In fact, it is unclear exactly when the Silla palace was built or destroyed. In 1915, a Japanese archaeologist uncovered animal bones and teeth, as well as grains and earthenware, near the fortress. But it is unclear where the relics are at present.
Between 1979 and 1980, the Korean government confirmed the existence of a gate on the eastern side and a defense facility called Haeja near the fortress. The government confirmed the site of several nearby buildings and wells. The latest round of exploration, which will likely take decades, began in 2014.
Proto Three Kingdoms Period and Three Kingdoms Period
Gilt Bronze Crown excavated from Tomb No. 37 in Dalseong, Daegu The Bronze Age of Daegu was influenced by the culture of the Early Iron Age, and representative bronzeware&mdashslender bronze daggers (National Treasure No. 137) found in Bisan-dong and bronze mirrors and spears found in Manchon-dong and Pyeongni-dong&mdashillustrate the social changes that happened in Daegu during this period. The excavated bronzeware was originally used for ceremonies and decorative purposes, and the ironware was originally used as general purpose and agricultural tools.
Around the 1st century B.C., a tribal nation called Dalgubeol lived in the area which is now known as Dalseongtoseong Earthen Fortification. In the Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms), an important historical text, it is noted that the Dalbeolseong Fortress was built in the 15th year of King Cheomhae of the Silla Kingdom (261 AD) and was later developed into a large district.
By the 4th century A.D., the Three Kingdoms of Korea were firmly established, and 87 tombs were later identified from the Three Kingdoms Period in Daegu&rsquos Bisan-dong and Naedang-dong neighborhoods. These tombs, which existed up until the Japanese colonization period, were destroyed during the construction of residential houses in the area and are no longer in existence. The tombs were home to splendid treasures such as gilt bronze crowns and gold earrings that were similar in style to those of Gyeongju, indicating that the tombs were the final resting places of the leaders of Daegu society. Ancient tombs were also found in Bullo-dong, Guam-dong, and Seongsan-ri, suggesting that there were multiple political entities in the Daegu region prior to the kingdoms unifying under the Silla Kingdom.
Collections: Contents and Access
1. The National Museum of Korea
1.1 The Otani Collection
The Central Asia Collection in the National Museum of Korea has 60 mural fragments, about 1700 artefacts, and other items that are mostly from Turfan including murals from the cave temples of Bezeklik. The items are largely divided by topic including religious culture, artefacts of daily life, and funerary culture. (This division is based on the method of classification from the special exhibition entitled 'Arts of Central Asia - Collections in the National Museum of Korea' held from December 2003 to February 2004.)
1.1.1 Religious Objects
One of the mural fragments taken from a cave temple in Central Asia displays the regional characteristics of Buddhist culture. In addition, a variety of statues, Buddhist paintings on silk and hemp, Buddhist scriptures, and Manichean art fragments reveal not only Buddhist culture but also indigenous traits and interactions among Central Asian religions.
1.1.2 Artefacts of Daily Life
Central Asian Culture was formed around the oases of arid desert areas, creating a distinct lifestyle. Earthenware made up the overwhelming majority of containers for daily use. Pottery produced in the Khotan region has reoccurring appliqué decorations, which were produced using molds, creating an attractive decorative effect.
Containers made of fabric generally originate from the Lop-Nor region. They are made of materials found in the surrounding area and woven together with adept weaving skills. These containers demonstrate the use of diverse materials and techniques for the production of containers for daily use. Moreover, the spread of Hellenistic culture through the Silk Road is apparent in artefacts such as bronze seals and Serapis statues.
1.1.3 Burial Items
The burial artefacts that were excavated in the Turfan region reveal the lifestyles of the Qu family, rulers of Gaochang (Karakhoja/Kocho) (502-640), and the ruling caste of the Tang who governed the area. The markings on the tomb, guardian monsters, and funerary banner showing Fuxi and Nuwa found in groups of tombs reveal the cultural adeptness of Central Asians who recreated their culture by integrating local characteristics with Chinese culture. Moreover, figurines - particularly female figurines that display the contemporary make-up and hair style of the time - provide evidence of cultural exchanges between the cultures to the east and west.
Continuous bead patterns, which were typical motifs prevalent in the Sassanian Kingdom and served as evidence of exchanges with Western Asia, are found on the surface of diverse types of earthenware that were placed on top of the dead. Since continuous bead patterns were also widely used for patterns on roof tiles in Unified Silla (668 – 935), it is easy to imagine the activity and cultural exchanges along the Silk Road which extends from Central Asia to the Korean peninsula.
1.2 Access to the National Museum of Korea
The museum is closed on Mondays and New Year's Day (January 1).
Hours: Thusday, Thursday & Friday: 09:00- 18:00 / Wednesday & Saturday: 09:00-21:00 / Sunday & Holidays: 09:00-18:00
Some of the artefacts are permanently exhibited in Central Asia section in Asian Arts Gallery. Artefacts held by the museum but not exhibited are open to those who have a clear research purpose after being issued special access to artefacts by the museum. The hours of operation are every Monday from 14:00 to 17:00.
Ai Weiwei, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds)
Ai Weiwei often uses his art to critique political and economic injustice. This can be seen in work such as his 2010 installation, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds) at Tate Modern, London.
Ai Weiwei, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds), 2010, one hundred million hand painted porcelain seeds (photo: Drew Bates, CC BY 2.0)
Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds) consists of more than 100 million tiny, handmade porcelain sunflower seeds, originally weighing in at 150 tons. They filled the enormous Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, an industrial building-turned-contemporary art space. Sunflower seeds evoke a warm personal memory for the artist, who recalls that while he was growing up, even the poorest in China would share sunflower seeds as a treat among friends. The use of sunflower seeds as the basis of his installation was also designed to subvert popular imagery rooted in the artist’s childhood. Communist propaganda optimistically depicted leader Mao Zedong as the sun and the citizens of the People’s Republic of China as sunflowers, turning toward their chairman. Ai Weiwei reasserts the sunflower seed as a symbol of camaraderie during difficult times.
Ai Weiwei, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds), 2010, one hundred million hand painted porcelain seeds (Tate Modern, London)
Though each of the 100 million carefully crafted individual seeds can draw the viewer’s attention, once arranged together in a neat rectangle, or covering the floor of an entire room, the hyper-realistic seeds create a sense of vastness. In the Tate installation, there was a sense of precision in the arrangement of the seeds, creating visual order and uniformity. The individual seed is lost among the millions, a critique of the conformity and censorship inherent in modern China.
Ai Weiwei, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds), 2010, one hundred million hand painted porcelain seeds (Tate Modern, London) (photo: Waldopepper, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Made In China
More than 1,600 artisans worked to make the individual porcelain seeds by hand in Jingdzhen, the city known as the “Porcelain Capital,” where artists have been producing pottery for nearly 2000 years. Porcelain, first produced during the Han dynasty in about 200 B.C.E. and later mastered during the Tang dynasty, is made by heating white clay (kaolin) to a temperature over 1200 degrees Celsius. The fusion of the particles within the clay during firing allowed artists to create vessels with thin but strong walls. Porcelain— a symbol of imperial culture in China—was also made for export via the Silk Road and became important to the creation of the idea of China in the West.
Some of the 1,600 highly skilled craftspeople from Jingdezhen hired to create and paint porcelain sunflower seeds
Ai Weiwei’s use of porcelain comments on the long history of this prized material while also rejecting the common negative connotations of the modern term “Made in China.” Utilizing skilled artisans known for their exquisite craftsmanship to make objects that can only be differentiated one from another upon close inspection, alludes to the important porcelain tradition in Jingdzhen, as well as to the uniformity and diffusion of modern (cheap and fast) labor that is responsible for China’s hard-won place in the world economy. Sunflower Seeds asks us to examine how our consumption of foreign-made goods affects the lives of others across the globe.
Ai Weiwei, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds), 2010, one hundred million hand-painted porcelain seeds (Tate Modern, London) (photo: Loz Flowers CC BY-SA 2.0)
How we experience an artwork impacts our perception of the work. In the tradition of participatory contemporary art, Sunflower Seeds asks the public to physically interact with the art. Initially, Tate visitors were invited to walk over and lie on the seeds, though the museum, in consultation with the artist, suspended this opportunity about a week into the exhibition because of safety concerns.
Art and activism
Ai Weiwei was arrested at the Beijing Capital International Airport on April 3, 2011 during his Tate exhibition. He was detained for 81 days. The artist, along with many in the international community, asserted that his true offense was his political activism for democracy and human rights. Ai Weiwei had blogged for four years—investigating cover-ups and corruption in the government’s handling of a devastating 2008 earthquake in Sichuan and the country’s hosting of the Olympics. Ai Weiwei’s blog was shut down in 2009. Since then, he has turned to Twitter and Instagram. During his detention, the international community, including major US art institutions, rallied for his release. Officials eventually released him, charging Ai Weiwei with tax evasion, but his passport was withheld, preventing him from leaving the country for four years. It was returned in 2015.
Ai Weiwei, @Large, 2015, Alcatraz, trace, Legos (photo: Ian Abbott, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Ai Weiwei continues to address issues of human rights in his work. The 2015 exhibit @Large, installed on Alcatraz, the former island prison in the San Francisco Bay, comments on surveillance, freedom, and political prisoners by mixing fine and traditional arts with pop culture materials including silk dragon kites and Lego portraits (above).
Buddhist legends say that in heavenly kingdoms, everything—from the birds to the trees—shines like gold. That is the visual effect you get when you emerge from a dark foyer meant to mimic the subterranean experience of an ancient Korean tomb and come face to face with cases upon cases of gold and gilded objects.
This first part of this exhibit features the regalia of Silla royalty excavated from the royal tombs in Gyeongju, Silla’s capital.
Until the mid-sixth century when small stone tombs were adopted, the tombs at Gyeongju were “constructed of wood, sealed with clay, and covered with mounds of stone and earth,” according to an essay on the Met’s website by department of Asian art associate curator Soyoung Lee.
A video of such a site—grassy and tranquil, nearly indistinguishable from any normal hill—plays on a large screen in the entrance to the exhibit.
Humble and nondescript though these tombs were, their contents are dazzling.
Bold necklaces, earrings, rings, bangles, and headgear finished with delicate details Van Cleef and Arpels would envy, could be found in the tombs of both male and female royalty. But a ceremonial sword, shaped like a reflex bow and therefore impossible to draw from its sheath, would have only been found in a male royal’s tomb. There’s even a pair of shoe soles, made of bronze and gilded.
These two horse-rider-shaped vessels, designated as National Treasure No.91, are representative artifacts of the Silla Kingdom and recognizable emblems of Korea&rsquos cultural heritage. Upon their discovery in 1924, the pair of unique ceramic vessels immediately grabbed people&rsquos attention, and they remain among the most popular displays at the National Museum of Korea. The vessels seem to depict a master and servant, each on horseback. The riders&rsquo clothing and the horse trappings are expressed in a very realistic manner, providing important information about the daily lives of the Silla people.
Horse-rider-shaped Vessel (Master), Silla (early sixth century), Height: 26.8cm, National Treasure 91
Discovery of the Vessels
The horse-rider-shaped vessels were excavated from Geumnyeongchong Tomb in Nodong-dong, Gyeongju (the former capital of the Silla Kingdom), on May 30, 1924, during the Japanese colonial period. Constructed in the early sixth century, Geumnyeongchong Tomb is situated within a cluster of large Silla tombs. For example, Geumnyeongchong Tomb is about 15 meters south of Bonghwangdae Tomb, the largest known Silla single tomb mound. Other large tombs in the vicinity include Hwangnamdaechong Tomb and Cheonmachong Tomb to the south, and Geumgwanchong Tomb and Seobongchong Tomb to the west. In particular, Geumnyeongchong Tomb is only about 50 meters from Geumgwanchong Tomb, the tomb where the first Silla gold crown was discovered, in 1920.
Public interest was greatly aroused by the discovery of that crown, with Geumgwanchong Tomb being hailed as &ldquoTutankhamen&rsquos Tomb of the East.&rdquo In truth, however, little was known about the structure or conditions of the tomb, since the crown had been discovered by accident during the construction of a house. Two other tombs were identified at the construction site, which were later named Geumnyeongchong Tomb and Signichong Tomb. Japanese archaeologists persuaded the Joseon Governor-General to give them permission to excavate Geumnyeongchong Tomb, since its mound had been partially destroyed. To the surprise of everyone, the resultant excavations of Geumnyeongchong Tomb uncovered another gold crown.
Geumnyeongchong Tomb is a wooden-chamber tomb with a stone mound, consisting of an in-ground wooden chamber that is covered first with a thick layer of stones, and then with dirt. A wooden coffin was placed in the wooden chamber, with the head of the deceased facing east. Buried on the east side of the coffin was a small casket containing grave goods, which is where the horse-rider-shaped vessels were found.
Tomb of a Prince?
The person buried in the tomb was laid to rest wearing a gold crown, gold earrings, a gold belt, and a sword at the waist. The opulent nature of these objects indicates that the deceased may have been a member of the Silla royal family. The deceased appears to have been male, based on the fact that he wore thin-ringed earrings and a sword. Interestingly, the gold belt was significantly shorter than other belts from Silla tombs. Since the gold crown is also smaller than comparable examples, it is likely that the deceased was a child. Considering all of this information, the occupant may have been a young prince who died before reaching adulthood.
Function of the Vessels
At first glance, these artifacts may look like simple ceramic sculptures, but they actually function as serving vessels for pouring liquids. The hollow interior of the horse holds about 240 ml of liquid it could be filled through a funnel on the horse&rsquos back, and the liquid could be poured out through a tubular spout extending from its chest. The vessels may have been used by members of the Silla royal family to serve alcohol or water.
Funnel on horse&rsquos back
Demonstration of pouring
Why would a serving vessel be made in the shape of a horse? Of course, horses were very important to the Silla society, especially as a means of transportation. But the Silla people also believed that horses guided the deceased to the afterlife. Perhaps reflecting this belief, many artifacts associated with horses have been discovered in ancient tombs. Examples include the &ldquoPainting of the Heavenly Horse&rdquo in Chonmachong Tomb, as well as various horse-shaped ceramic figures or figurines attached to pottery. As mentioned, these two vessels appear to depict a servant and his master. The servant is carrying a bell, and seems to be leading his master into the afterlife. Supporting this interpretation, the servant vessel was discovered just in front of the master vessel.
The servant vessel was found in front of the master vessel, as if guiding the master to the heavens.
Making the Vessel
Below is an X-ray photo of the horse-rider-shaped vessel (i.e., the master), showing its hollow interior. Close examination of this photo reveals a number of other fascinating details. First, look closely at the base of the horse&rsquos body, where the legs were attached. When attaching the legs, the craftsperson would have had to apply quite a bit of pressure, pushing against the body. Thus, we would expect to find that the interior wall had been pushed slightly inward from this pressure, but that is not the case. Thus, it can be ascertained that some type of hard object&mdashlikely a cylindrical piece of wood&mdashwas placed against the hollow body when attaching the legs. But then, how was the wood removed from the interior of the horse? Again, the answer can be found in the photo, which shows traces of pinching in the area of the horse&rsquos backside. Hence, the wood was probably removed through a hole in the backside, which was then pinched closed.
Insights from the Vessel
Many other interesting details can be gleaned by taking a closer look at specific parts of the vessel. For example, let&rsquos take a closer look at the rider.
At first glance, the rider seems to have a long goatee, but the extension below his chin is actually the tie securing his hat. The rider&rsquos high-bridged nose is particularly striking.
The rear view of the rider shows his unique hat, as well as some type of guard across his upper back.
The rider&rsquos feet are secured in stirrups that seem to be made of leather, and the tips of his shoes are pointed like beoseon (traditional Korean socks).
Now, let&rsquos take a closer look at the horse and its trappings.
The horn-like extension on the horse&rsquos head is part of its mane, which has been tied into a single strand. The horse also wears bells around its chest.
The horse seems to be smiling as it bites down on its bit.
The front of the saddle is decorated with a pattern of triangles, and the clasp of its strap can also be seen.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF KOREA
By 4000 BC there were stone age farmers living in Korea. By 1000 BC they had learned to use bronze. By about 300 BC they had learned to use iron to make tools and weapons. At first, Korea was divided into tribes but eventually organized kingdoms emerged. There were 3 of them, Goguryeo in the north and Silla and Baekje in the south.
According to legend Silla was founded in 57 BC by Bak Hyeokgeose, Jumong founded Goguryeo in 37 BC and Onjo founded Baekje in 18 BC. In reality, the 3 kingdoms emerged later between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD. These 3 kingdoms were heavily influenced by Chinese civilization. By the 4th century, they were highly civilized.
The three kingdoms of Korea fought for supremacy. China tried to defeat the northern kingdom of Goguryeo twice. Both times they were defeated by General Eulji Mundeok. However the Chinese then made an alliance with the Silla kingdom against the other two. The Baekje kingdom was defeated by 660 AD and became part of Silla. Goguryeo followed in 668. Korea was then united under the Silla.
The Silla in Korean (668-935)
Although Korea was united under one monarch it was still largely a tribal society. This was underlined by the existence of the hwabaek. Originally they were a council of tribal leaders. Later they were a council of nobles and they had the power to decide who succeeded to the throne.
Korean society was strictly hierarchical. Most of the population were serfs and even the nobility was divided into ranks. Following the Chinese example, a university was formed where Confucian classics were taught. (You had to be of noble birth to study there). There were also civil service exams following the Chinese model. (Again only those of noble birth could take them).
Buddhism was introduced into Korea in the 4th century AD and soon many Buddhist temples were built.
In the late 8th century AD the Silla kingdom begannto break down. There were fights over the succession to the throne. Moreover, local warlords began to break away from the government in the capital, Gyeongju, and formed their own states. One warlord called Wang Geon formed anstate called Goryeo in 918. He defeated his rivals and in 935 became ruler of Silla.
The Goryeo in Korean(918-1392)
The Goryeo kingdom was faced with aggressive neighbors. A people called the Jurchens conquered north China and frequently fought the Koreans. Then China fell to the Mongols. They soon turned their attention to Korea and they invaded in 1231. The Korean royal family fled to the island of Ganghwa. The Mongols were unable to take the island but they were able to rampage throughout mainland Korea.
However, the Koreans fought back and the Mongols were never able to completely subdue Korea. Finally, in 1258, the Korean royal family surrendered. They were allowed to remain as puppet rulers.
In the 13th century the Chinese philosophy called Neo-Confucianism arrived in Korea. This was also an age when exquisite celadon pottery was made. A man named Kim Bu-sik wrote a history of Korea callednSamguk Sagi, The History of the Three Kingdoms.
However, the Goryeo dynasty was in decline. In 1392 a General named Yi Seong-gye was ordered to lead an army against the Ming rulers of China. Instead, he turned against his own ruler. The general became the new king of Korea.
The Joseon in Korea (1392-1910)
The king moved the capital to Hanseong (Seoul) in 1394. Under the Yi rulers, Confucianism was made the official religion of Korea. Buddhism lost its influence. In 1443 king Sejong created a native Korean alphabet.
In Korea, there was a class of scholar-officials called the yangban. In order to join the civil service or to become an army officer, you had to pass certain exams in Confucian thought. In order to take the exams, you had to be the son of a yangban. So the scholar-official class was hereditary. Below the yangban were a class of clerks and specialists like doctors and accountants. They were called the jungin (middle-men).
Below them was the great mass of Korean society called the yangmin. They were peasants, craftsmen, and merchants. Certain trades such as butchers, tanners, and entertainers were outcasts. At the bottom of the pile were slaves.
Japan invaded Korea in 1592. They prevailed on land but at sea, they were defeated by Admiral Yi Sun-sin. The Japanese were forced to withdraw. They invaded again in 1597 but they withdrew in 1598.
In the 17th century, Korea suffered from factionalism among its ruling class. Silhak (practical learning). Scholars discussed the practical ways of solving Korea’s problems rather than purely abstract ideas.
In the 18th century the Kings clamped down on factionalism. In Korea, trade and commerce flourished. Merchants had low status in Korean society. Confucianism regarded them with suspicion since they did not actually produce anything, unlike peasants and craftsmen.
The first contact with Europeans came in 1656 when a Dutch ship was shipwrecked off the coast of Korea. Then in the 18th century Jesuit priests traveled to China. Koreans visiting China met them and by the end of the 18th century, some Koreans had been converted to Catholicism. The new religion slowly spread in Korea despite waves of persecution in 1801, 1839, and 1866.
In the 1850s a new religion spread among the peasants. It was called Donghak (Eastern Learning) and it was led by Choe Je-u. The peasants were discontented in the 19th century and in 1864 there was a rebellion. The rebellion was crushed and Choe Je-u was executed.
Europeans Arrive In Korea
During the 19th century, Korea adopted an isolationist policy. The Koreans refused to trade with Westerners. At first, this policy was successful. Some French priests were killed in Korea in 1866. The French sent a gunboat to avenge them but they were driven off by Korean shore defenses. In 1871 Koreans burned a US ship called General Shermannwhich came to plunder the coast. The USA sent ships to Korea but they too were fought off.
However, Korea’s policy of isolation meant she fell behind other countries in technology and industry. After 1880 king Gojong attempted reform. In 1882 he introduced the slogan ‘eastern ethics, western technology’ but his measures were unpopular and were resisted by conservative officials and by the ordinary people. Confucianism was a very conservative religion or philosophy and made radical change difficult.
Until 1876 Japanese merchants were only allowed to trade in Busan. In that year they forced the Koreans to sign a treaty of trade and friendship. (King Gojong realized that Korea was too weak to fight them). Other ports were opened to the Japanese. There were to be no tariffs on Japanese goods. The treaty stated that Japan and Korea were independent nations. However, Japan had increasing power and influence over the Koreans.
Korea signed a similar trade treaty with the USA in 1882. This was followed by treaties with Britain and Germany the same year. In 1884 she signed a trade treaty with Russia and in 1886 with France.
In 1882 some soldiers in Imo rebelled. They burned the Japanese legation and killed the Japanese military adviser. Korea was forced to pay compensation to the Japanese and signed a new treaty, the Treaty of Jemulpo, which increased Japanese influence. Furthermore, the Chinese used the uprising as an excuse to station their troops on Korean territory.
In 1894 members of the Donghak religion and discontented peasants rose in rebellion. They insisted they were loyal to the king but they demanded certain reforms. The king appealed to the Chinese for help and they sent troops. Japan also sent troops. The king then made a truce with the rebels but the Japanese refused to leave. China and Japan then fought a war, which Japan won easily. For centuries Korea was a ‘tributary’ state of China. Chinese influence was now ended and japan began to dominate Korea.
The Japanese installed a regent to rule and under Japanese pressure, a Deliberative Council was formed to introduce reforms. From July 1894 to December 1895 the Council swept away much of Korean tradition. There were many Koreans who wanted some reform but the Japanese forced them to introduce these reforms anyway. The regent resigned in October 1894 but the king made no attempt to stop the reforms.
The old rigid division of Korean society into classes was abolished. In the past, the Yangban, the scholar-official class, was not allowed to be involved in a trade. Now they were free to engage in business. The old civil service exams based on Confucian thought were abolished. New exams were introduced based on modern subjects. A new curriculum was introduced for schools with modern subjects. Slavery was abolished. Widows were now allowed to remarry and child marriage was abolished.
While all this was being done the Donghak started a second rebellion. They were crushed by the Japanese and the movement was destroyed. Their leader was captured and executed in 1895. Some further reforms were undertaken in the years 1895-1910. The first modern textile mill in Korea was built in 1897 and the first railway, from Seoul to Incheon, was built in 1901. However, Korea remained an overwhelmingly agricultural nation.
By 1900 there were many Protestant missionaries in Korea. By 1910 there was a small but rapidly growing number of converts.
Increasingly Korea fell under Japanese domination.nIn Korea was made a Japanese ‘protectorate’ which meant that Japan now controlled Korean foreign policy and its relations with other countries. Then in 1907 Korea was forced to accept limited Japanese control of its internal affairs and the Korean army was disbanded. A Japanese official was sent to run things. He was assassinated in 1909. That gave the Japanese an excuse to annex Korea which they did in 1910.
The Colonial Period in Korea (1910-1945)
The Japanese turned Korea into a colony to supply Japan with food. However, they also built bridges, railways, and roads. The Japanese also built many factories in Korea. The urban population grew rapidly although Korea remained predominantly agricultural. Nevertheless, Japanese rule was repressive. In 1919 many Koreans took part in peaceful demonstrations for independence. The Japanese responded by arresting and executing thousands of people.
Afterward they made some small reforms. The Koreans were allowed to print newspapers and hold meetings. They were also granted religious freedom and more respect was shown to Koreanncustoms.
However, all these reforms were superficial and in the 1930s the Japanese tried to assimilate the Koreans by persuading them to adopt Japanese names. From 1938 education was only in Japanese. Schoolchildren were forbidden to speak Korean. The Japanese also tried to persuade the Koreans to adopt Shinto (the Japanese national religion) without much success. During World War II many Koreans either volunteered or were forced to work in Japan. However Japanese attempts to turn Korea into part of Japan were ended in 1945 when they surrendered to the allies.
Even before the war ended Russia and the USA had agreed that after the war Korea would be divided into two zones, Russian and American. In August 1945 Russian troops entered the north. In September, after the Japanese surrender, American troops landed in the south. Korea was divided in two along an imaginary line, the 38th parallel. It was originally intended that the two zones would eventually be united into one.
Of course, that did not happen. With the onset of the cold war, the divide between them hardened. The Russians installed a communist government in the north and in the south, a government was elected in 1948. Korea became two countries, one Communist, and one democratic.
The North Korean army invaded the south on 25 Junen1950. They quickly drove south and captured Seoul. The UN Security Council invited members to help the south. US troops arrived on 30 June but they were forced to withdraw into the area around Busan. The first British troops arrived in Korea on 29 August 1950. On 15 September other US troops landed at Incheon 150 miles north of Busan. The soldiers in the Busan area broke out and pushed north and linked up with the troops in Incheon on 26 September. On the same day, allied troops liberated Seoul. United Nations troops then pushed the communists back over the 38th parallel and by 24 November they controlled about 2/3 of North Korea.
However the Chinese then intervened. Strengthened by Chinese 180,000 troops the communists then counter-attacked and drove the allies south. By the end of 1950, the allies were back at the 38th parallel. The communists attacked again on 1 January 1951. The allies counter-attacked on 25 January and on 14 March they again liberated Seoul. Several communist offensives followed but all of them were repulsed. The war ended in a stalemate and on 27 July 1953 a cease-fire was signed. The 38th parallel was once again the border between the two countries.
South Korea In The Late 20th Century
Democracy did not flourish in South Korea in the 1950s. The president, Syngman Rhee used a national security law of 1949 to close newspapers and imprison critics. However, his administration was corrupt and by 1960 it was facing growing economic problems. In 1960 riots by students forced Rhee to resign. Faced with inflation, unemployment, and continuing riotsnthe army staged a coup in 1961. General Park Chung-hee became ruler.
The South Korean Economic Miracle
At first, the general declared martial law but in 1963 he held presidential elections and won. Nevertheless, his rule was repressive. He won a second election in 1967. The General won the third election in 1971 by only a small margin. Afterward, he drew up a new constitution which gave him more power. He was assassinated in October 1979.
Despite the repressive rule, South Korea’s economy began to grow rapidly from the mid-1960s and by the 1990s the country had undergone an economic miracle. It was transformed from a poor, relatively undeveloped country into a thriving and rich economy. The state played a large part in the transformation. In the 1960s General Park built roads and bridges and expanded education. A series of 5-year plans were drawn up and the government took a central role in running the economy. Industry became dominated by large corporations called Chaebol.
After the assassination of General Park in 1979 the army again stepped in to restore order. General Chun Doo-hwan took power in May 1980. He declared martial law and arrested his opponents. Demonstrations against him were held in the city of Gwangju. They were led by students. The army crushed the protests by force, killing hundreds of people.
In the 1980s the Korean economy continued to grow and the country climbed out of poverty. South Korea became an affluent society
In 1988 the Olympics were held in Seoul which brought South Korea into the international limelight. However, from the mid-1980s, there was increasing unrest in South Korea led by students unhappy with the regime. In 1987 Christian leaders spoke out against the regime and many people held mass demonstrations. General Chun agreed to step down and democratic elections were held. In 1988 General Roh Tae-woo was elected president.
By the 1990s South Korea had become a fairly rich nation and its people had quite a high standard of living. It was also a democratic country. In the 1990s the government began to deregulate industry.
North Korea In The Late 20th Century
In stark contrast is North Korea. After Russian troops occupied the north a communist government was installed. Kim Il Sung was made a ruler. Like many dictators, he created a ‘cult of personality’ by erecting statues of himself everywhere. Schoolchildren were taught to see him as the font of all wisdom. In fact, he created a very repressive regime. Religious belief was outlawed and the people strictly controlled. Today North Korea is the last Stalinist regime in the world. With a great deal of Russian aid, North Korea was transformed from a poor agricultural country into an industrial one.
However, in the mid-1970s the economy began to stagnate and North Korea was overtaken by the south. Furthermore, North Korea was harmed by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kim Il Sung died in 1994 but was succeeded by his son. In effect, the Communists have created a new dynasty. Kim Jong-Il. He died in 2011 and he was followed by his son Kim Jong Un.
In the late 1990s, a severe famine occurred in NorthnKorea. There were unusually heavy rain and floods in 1995-96, followed by and drought in 1997 and typhoon damage in 1997. Malnutrition became common, especially among children. How many people died in the famine is not known.
In 2008 a woman named Yi So Yeon became the first Korean to travel in space. Then in 2013 Park Geun Hye became the first woman president of South Korea. In 2018 there was a thaw in relations between North and South Korea. In 2020 the population of North Korea was 25 million while the population of South Korea was 51 million.
Gyeongju : The Capital of Golden Silla
Gyeongju, the capital of the Kingdom of Silla, grew from a loose confederation of villages, called Saro, to become the capital of most of the Korean peninsula. Its relationships with Japan, the Eurasian Steppes, and countries along the Silk Road leading to Europe helped to make the city one of the most prosperous and significant in ancient East Asia. In this seminal new volume, Sarah Milledge Nelson draws on over 30 years’ experience to offer the first complete history of this fascinating city. Gyeongju explores culture, class and rank, industry, international relations, rulers, and socio-cultural issues such as gender, and examines in detail the complex systems of class and rank, Gyeongju’s position as the royal seat of Silla, and the influence and legacy of the ancient city.
Excavations in Gyeongju have provided evidence not only of the wealth and power of the monarchy, but also of production and agriculture, and the reach of Gyeongju’s trade routes, making this city a fascinating case study for the region. Augmented with extensive maps and images which illustrate the city’s rich history, this volume is crucial reading for anyone interested in the city, the kingdom of Silla, the history and archaeology of Korea, and early urbanism and state formation in East Asia.