History of Korea through Korean Dolls
This is an attempt to not only simplify Korean History but also make it interesting using Korean Dolls as props. The idea is to educate the kids about the history of Korea, who might otherwise find this subject boring. We have also made an attempt to highlight the social class structure that existed in Korea during the Chosun Dynasty. Understanding the Social Class structure should give an understanding about the people of Korea and why Korean Society focuses a lot on higher education.
The Ancient age
Kojoseon – 10th century B.C to 108 B.C
Puyo – around the 5th century B.C to 494
Chinguk – from before the 6th century B.C. to 9 A.D.
Evidence of inhabitants in Korea from as early as 4000 BC exists in Korea. Legend has that the Tangun, father of the Korean nation, founded the first ancient state, Kojoseon in 2333 BC. Almost no centralized communities existed from then until three kingdoms emerged in the 1st century BC.
The middle age
The slave-owning society that lasted over a stretch of several hundreds years gave way to the feudal society around the period before and after the Christian era. There appeared many feudal forces in the land of Kojoseon(Gojoseon), Puyo and Chinguk. The biggest ones of all those forces were Koguryo, Paekje and Silla. The three kingdoms existed from the period before and after the Christian era to the 7th century. In Korean history this period is called the period of Three Kingdoms. The Three Kingdoms of Koguryo, Paekje and Silla had similar ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.
Goguryeo (Koguryo) – 277 B.C. to 668
Paekje – 18 B.C. to 660
Silla – 57 B.C. to 935
Koguryo occupied the northern part of the peninsula from the Chinese border to the Han River, while Silla and Baekche dominated the southern regions. All three kingdoms were heavily influenced by China, and Buddhism was introduced to Koguryo in 372. Various alliances were formed either with or against the Chinese until 660 when Silla allied with China to overthrow Baekje. Goguryeo fell shortly afterwards in 668.
The Silla Kingdom period marked the start of Korea’s cultural development. Buddhism expanded and furled the construction of numerous temples and art works. However, despite Chinese influences, Silla remained largely tribal in culture. Society divided into distinct classes with a large semi-slave population supporting an aristocratic minority. Warlords began amassing power bases to the north and eventually took over Silla and founded a new kingdom- Goryeo.
Koryo – 918 to 1392
Korea got its English name during the Koryo period. During this time Buddhism flourished and spread throughout the peninsula. Koryo was subject to external threats, most notably from the Mongols who had taken over China. In 1231 the Mongols invaded Korea, forcing the royal family to flee to Kanghwa Island near Seoul. After 25 years of struggle, the royal family finally surrendered. The following 150 years saw continued Goryeo rule, but under the control of the Mongols. As the Mongols declined in power, so did Goryeo.
Choseon Dynasty (Li dynasty) – 1392 to 1910
In 1392 a Korean general, Yi, Song-gye, was sent to China to campaign against the Ming rulers. Instead, he allied himself with the Chinese, returned to overthrow the Korean king, and setup his own dynasty. The ruler of the Yi Dynasty (also known as the Joseon Dynasty) moved the capital to Hanyang-gun (today’s Seoul) in 1394 and adopted Confucianism as the country’s official religion. As a result, Buddhists lost much of their wealth and power. It was during this period that the Korean alphabet, Hangeul, was invented by King Sejong the Great. This period also had its share of external problems, suffering invasions by the Japanese (1592-1598) and the Manchus (1627-1636). With the arrival of Japanese and Western traders in the 19th century, the Korean rulers tried to prevent the opening of the country to foreign trade by closing the borders, earning Korea its nickname of the Hermit Kingdom. Beginning in 1876, the Japanese forced a series of Western-style trade agreements on Korea, leading to Japan’s eventual annexation of the country in 1910. Due to growing anti-Japanese sentiment, in 1897 King Kojong declared himself to be emperor of the Taehan Empire, an independent Korea. However, during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japanese forces moved onto the peninsula, despite Korean declarations of neutrality. The signing of the Japan-Korea Protection Treaty in 1905 gave Japan virtual control over Korea, and in 1910 a Korean royal proclamation announced the annexation by Japan.
Traditional Social Structure in Korea during the Choson Dynasty
In Choson Dynasty Korea, four rather distinct social strata developed:
Yangban, the scholars, assigned to a government post.
- Chungin, the middle people, technicians and administrators subordinate to the yangban.
- Sangmin, the commoners, a large group composed of farmers, craftsmen and merchants.
- Cheonmin, the despised people at the bottom of society.
The Yangban title was conferred to those individuals who passed state-sponsored civil service exams called gwageo (과거) and their immediate family members. Upon passing such exams several times, which tested one’s knowledge of the Confucian classics and history, a person was usually assigned to a government post. The yangban family that did not succeed to produce a government official for more than three generations could lose its yangban status and become a commoner.
The Chungin were lower than the yangban aristocracy but above commoners (sangmin) in social status. Their roles were minor technical and administrative officials who supported the structure of the government (e.g. interpreters, physicians, jurists, astronomers, accountants, calligraphers, and musicians). Although inferior to the aristocracy in social standing, the chungin enjoyed far more privileges and influence than commoners. Like the yangban, they were allowed to live in the central part of the city, hence the name “middle people”.
The Sangmin were the common people of Chosun Dynasty. About 75% of all Koreans at that time were sangmin. The sangmin consisted of farmers, laborers, fishermen, some craftsmen and merchants. The sangmin were considered “clean workers” but had little social status. Generally they were poor. They paid most of Korea’s taxes and were subject to the military draft. Their lives were hard, but they were the foundation of the Chosun Dynasty, just like the Chungin were the backbone of the government. Some of the sangmin owned land, which they farmed. Others rented land from the yangban as tenant farmers. Those that did not farm had the lowest status. The yangban and chungin controlled and ruled over them. Throughout the dynasty, the sangmin rebelled many times because of the yangbans’ oppression and corruption.
Cheonmin were the lowest caste of commoners in dynastical Korea. They abounded during the Goryeo and Chosun periods of Korea’s agrarian bureaucracy. This social class was largely hereditary and based on certain professions considered “unclean” by the upper classes. This list of unclean professions included slaves, butchers, shamans, shoemakers, metalworkers, prostitutes, magicians, sorcerers, jailkeepers. The cheonmin were barred from most forms of social advancement, including entry into government service or taking the gwageo civil service examinations.
In 1894 a program of social reforms, known as the Kabo Reforms, was initiated by pro-Japanese Korean officials. Yangban and commoners were made equal before the law, the old Confucian civil service examinations were abolished, and slavery and ch’ommin status was ended. Modern forms of government and administration, largely borrowed from Japan, were adopted.
http://countrystudies.us/south-korea/35.htm & Wikipedia
Image source: Amazon