The ancient state of Korea was established about 4,000 years
ago. About the founding of Korea there is the Tan-gun mythology of the bear
totem. Once long ago the king of heaven, Hwanin sent his son Hwanung to earth
where he married Ungnyo who was changed from a bear into a woman. She gave birth
to a son named Tan-gun, on the third of October in 2333 B.C. He was the founder
of Korea. The country which Tan-gun built was the first nation of the Korean
people, Kochoseon, Ancient Choseon.
Tan-gun founded the state by integrating many primitive tribes who lived in Manchuria as well as the Korean peninsula. He built an altar for worship on Mt. Mani, the highest peak of Kanghwa Island. And the state is thought to have lasted for about 1,200 years.
After Kochoseon fell down, the Korean peninsula was divided into three kingdoms; Koguryo, Paekje and Silla. Their founding dates are 37 B.C. for Koguryo, 18 B.C. for Baekje, and 57 B.C. for Shilla.
Situated closer to China, Koguryo was first influenced by Chinese culture including Buddhism. Koguryo was the most powerful and largest one of the three states. Koguryo extended its territory from south of the Han river to the east bank of the Liao river.
The Baekje kingdom occupied the southwestern corner of the Korean peninsula. The people were nothern tribes who kept moving south to avoid Koguryo and China. Baekje introduced its Buddhism, art and life culture to Japan. the culture of Baekje spread to the central and western part of what is Korea today.
Silla was smaller than Koguryo and Baekje, but it finally conquered both of them and unified the Korean peninsula. During the Silla period, unique architecture, sculpture, painting, industrial arts and pottery were produced in abundance. In 618 the Chinese Tang Dynasty helped the Silla Dynasty overthrew Baekje and Koguryo. The Baekje Dynasty fell down in 660 A.D., and the Koguryo Dynasty, 668 A.D. Thus Korea was unified as a single nation for the first time in history.
The Unified Silla Dynasty reached its peak in the middle of the 8th century, called the 'Golden Age' of Korean history. Buddhism continued to spread and prosper throughout the Unified Silla Dynasty. After the 8th century, the battle for power between many nobles was one fatal reason for the decline of Silla. Finally General Wang-keon established the Koryo Kingdom. Thus the great kingdom which lasted almost a full millennium came to an end in 935 A.D.
General Wang-keon became king Tae-jo, the first king of the Koryo Dynasty. The name Koryo is a shortened form of the old Koguryo and the name from which the modern word Korea is derived. Under this government which centered about the aristocracy, they established a state examination based on an elite Confucian recruiting system. Also, they thought about harmony between the Buddhist and the Confucian culture. The 475 years of the dynasty saw Buddhist culture and national ideology develop until the kingdom came under the domination of corrupt monks. Meanwhile they experienced invasions from other countries. Between 11th and 12th centuries Koryo experienced more invasions from Mongolia. For 100 years from 1231, they were under Mongolian rule. During that time the 80,000 wooden blocks of Buddhist scripture, one of the Korea's greatest achievements, was undertaken, and it took about 16 years to complete.
This era also saw the development of the art of printing. In 1392, General Yi Song-gye came up the throne and moved his capital from Song-do(Kae-seong) to Han-yang(Seoul). and the name of Chosen was adopted for the new kingdom, the last Korean dynasty.
A new kingdom Chosen began to solve the domestic and foreign difficulties of the Koryo Dynasty, making effort to change the capital, and also the state religion from Buddhism to Confucianism. Under this kind of effort they made real industrial development and succeeded in establishing practical studies in all fields. However, from the 16th to 17th centuries they were invaded several times, including Hideyoshi 's invasion from Japan and the Manchu war. In the 18th century there was an ideological movement to change from the feudal social system to a new type of society. This was a movement in Practical Science which advocated reforming the irrational society and remodeling the social system.
In the 19th century Chosen was faced with the collapse of the dynasty. With the economy of the country in financial difficulties and a crisis among the rulers of the dynasty, and here and there over the country, there were popular uprisings called 'insurrections of the people'. At this time the influence of western powers came in, including Catholics, and the Chosen feudal society felt seriously threatened.
About this time China and Japan were opened up to the western powers but Chosen shut the door, in a kind of isolation. But the isolation of the kingdom did not last long, and finally in 1876, it opened its door. Then the Korean Peninsula became the battle field of the great powers like the Port Hamilton incident, the Cheong-Japanese war, and the Russo-Japanese war.
At last, Korea could not escape from the great powers' interference, and became a colonial country of Japan. However, the Korean people initiated resistance movements against Japan, both inside and outside of Korea in order to regain their freedom and independence. all the while the resistance and long-cherished desire of the people continued to increase until they finally regained their country in August, 1945.
Even before reconstruction of this devastation during the Japanese occupation, the war between brothers on the two divided halves of the nation occurred in 1950, and there was even more serious destruction over the whole land, including Seoul over the 3 year dragged war.
For more than 30 years since the Korean Civil War, Korea has developed into a great modern society by efficient management of the social order and environment, to such a degree that people who remember the Korean war can not easily believe how greatly the country has developed.
Korea is recognized as one of the most attractive countries which preserve the virtue of their own long culture and their beautiful tradition.