South Korea — History and Culture
Korea has had a tumultuous history, from warlords to Japanese invasions, the Korean War, and the Cold War, which ultimately led to the division of the Korean Peninsula. These events have shaped the modern Korea of today, which is now home to some of the leading consumer products and car makers in the world. Traditional Korea retains its colorful past and Korean cuisine, which despite its spiciness has become globally popular.
Civilization on the Korean peninsula can be dated back to 4,000 BC when the region was originally made up of tribes. Over the years, these people banded together to form kingdoms, and Korean history, similar to the Chinese, is broken down into the rule of these kingdoms.
The first was the Silla, which dates from 668 to 935 AD, followed by the Goryeo (918 to 1392). During this period, Korea was invaded by China and the Mongols. This event was followed by the Joseon period (1392 to 1910), when the capital of the country was moved to Seoul in 1394 and the current hangul Korean alphabet was introduced in 1443. Prior to this, Koreans were using the Chinese writing system.
This early history is well-showcased at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul. The year 1592 saw Japan invade Korea, which is the reason why there is still animosity between the two countries today. Withdrawing by 1598, the 19th century brought the arrival of the Europeans, primarily for trade, but they also brought Christianity with them. Even today, Korea is one of the most Christian countries in Asia, with roughly 30 percent of the population subscribing to the religion.
By 1910, Korea was again forced under Japanese rule, becoming an annex of Japan to serve primarily as an outsourced agricultural and production center. During this time, many Koreans were forced to learn Japanese and take on Japanese names. The annexation was finally lifted in 1945 after Japan lost WWII. Russian troops landed in the north of the Korean peninsula and American troops in the south, and the country was divided in two along the 38th parallel, which today still remains the Demilitarized Zone. The on-set of the Cold War further divided the two Koreas and in 1950, the north invaded the south, signaling the start of the Korean War. This war ended in a stalemate in 1953, with the border reverting again to the 38th parallel.
After the war, South Korea was successively ruled by military leaders and democracy did not really take hold until the late 1980’s. The Olympics came to Seoul in 1988, which helped to expand their global presence and to begin rebuilding the nation. Large Korean conglomerates and global brands such as LG, Samsung, and Hyundai began to dominate the economy. These companies are now helping to reshape Korea’s cultural history by backing institutions such as the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul.
The Korean culture is vibrant in color and steeped in history. Temples and palaces, such as the Gyeongbok Palace, and traditional dresses like the formal hanbok, showcase ancient traditions which you can see at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul. Changdeokgung Palace is also a great place to see the architectural heritage of Korea.
In Asia, K-pop, or Korean pop, has also become extremely popular. Known for their dynamically choreographed dance routines and beautiful stars, K-pop groups have obtained serious celebrity staus. Seoul is a great place to buy CDs, DVDs, and goods from groups like Kara, Super Junior, and Shinee. Korean television series have also become well known around the world, which are dubbed into various languages and broadcast around the globe. Whether soap opera or historical drama, these stories showcase life in Korea.