CHOSUN DYNASTY (A.D. 1392-1910)

General Yi Song-gye overthrew Koryo Dynasty and Mongols and established the Chosun — or Yi or Joseon — Dynasty in 1392. The country was renamed Chosun ("Land of Morning Calm") and the capital was moved to Hanyang (also known as "Seoul" or capital). Despite invasions by Japan and Manchu (Qing) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, respectively, Chosun continued for more than five centuries until 1910, when Japan colonized Korea. As was case in Japan from the 1650s to the 1850s, Korea was culturally isolated during the Chosun dynasty.

Although some traditional class structures were uniquely Korean, Chosun society became deeply influenced by Confucianism; a new secular society developed, and a new Korean mass culture emerged. A phonetic-based alphabet — Hangul (Korean script) — was promulgated in 1446 at the direction of King Sejong (ruled 1418–50), who also fostered the extensive use of movable metal type for book publications 50 years before Gutenberg. Scholars persisted in the use of Chinese characters (Hanja), however, and Hangul did not come into general use until the early twentieth century. North Korea now uses the same system (which it calls Chosun’gßl), with some variations, exclusively, whereas in the South, Hanja occasionally still are used separately and along with Hangul. [Source: Library of Congress, May 2005]

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “When King T'aejo founded the Chosun kingdom in 1392, he began by adapting many of the institutions of the preceding Koryo system. However, he also changed many things. One reason for the overthrow of Koryo and the founding of Chosun was the corruption in the Koryo court that came from favoritism toward wealthy landowners who used their riches to manipulate the royal government. The founders of the new government of Chosun seized the great estates, measured the land, and levied taxes on it to finance the state. They also distributed some of it as rewards to supporters of the new dynasty. The government of Chosun also began a campaign against Buddhist institutions, believing that the great temples and monasteries simply had too much power and had misled the people into spending their time and money seeking salvation from the Buddha instead of working, producing, and serving the greater good. The new king was supported by officials who had passed the Chinese-style civil service examinations that were first held in Korea in 958" — the yangban. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

According to the “Columbia Encyclopedia”: “The Chosun established Confucianism as the official religion. The 1592 invasion by the Japanese shogun Hideyoshi was driven back by Chosun and Ming forces, but only after six years of great devastation and suffering. Manchu invasions in the first half of the 17th century resulted in Korea being made (1637) a tributary state of the Manchu dynasty. Subsequent factional strife gave way, in the 18th century, to economic prosperity and a cultural and intellectual renaissance. Korea limited its foreign contacts during this period and later resisted, longer than China or Japan, trade with the West, which led to its being called the Hermit Kingdom. [Source: “Columbia Encyclopedia”, 6th ed., The Columbia University Press]

General Yi Song-gye and the Founding of the Chousn Dynasty

The Chosun Dynasty began in 1392 when Korean General Yi Song-gye overthrew the Mongols and their puppet Koryo leader with the help of the Ming dynasty, which had driven the Mongols out of China. General Yi had originally been ordered by the Mongols to go to northern Korea and fight Ming Chinese forces. Instead he seized the opportunity and made a deal with the Ming rulers and turned around with their support and overthrew the Koryo puppet king.

Only in the early fourteenth century, when the Mongol Empire began to disintegrate and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) — founded by a former Chinese peasant — pushed the Mongols back to the north, did Koryo regain its independence. In 1359 and 1361, however, Koryo suffered invasions by a large number of Chinese rebel armies, known as the Red Banner Bandits, who sacked and burned the capital at Kaesong, just north of the mouth of the Han River. The country was left in ruins. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990*]

The Mongols continued to hold domains in Koryo even after their defeat by China’s Ming dynasty (1368–1644), and the Koryo court divided into pro-Mongol and pro-Ming factions. In 1392, Yi Songgye, a general who favored the Ming dynasty (which had replaced the Mongols in China), seized the throne and established the Chosun dynasty.

The last period of Mongol influence was marked by the appearance of a strong bureaucratic stratum of scholar-officials, or literati (sadaebu in Korean). Many of them lived in exile outside the capital, and they used their superior knowledge of the Confucian classics to condemn the excesses of the ruling families, who were backed by Mongol power. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

The overthrow of the Mongols by the founders of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in China gave a rising group of military men, steeled in battle against coastal pirates from Japan, the opportunity to contest for power. When the Ming claimed suzerainty over former Mongol domains in Korea, the Koryo court was divided between pro-Mongol and pro-Ming forces. Two generals marshaled their forces for an assault on Ming armies on the Liaodong Peninsula. One of the generals, Yi Song-gye, was pro-Ming.

As the Mongols retreated to the north and the Ming established a garrison in the northeastern part of the Korean Peninsula, the Koryo court was torn between pro-Ming and pro-Mongol factions. General Yi Song-gye, who had been sent to attack the Ming forces in the Liaodong region of Manchuria, revolted at the Yalu and turned his army against his own capital, seizing it with ease. Yi took the throne in 1392, founding Korea's most enduring dynasty. The new state was named Chosun, the same name used by the first Korean kingdom fifteen centuries earlier, although the later entity usually has been called simply the Chosun Dynasty or the Yi Dynasty. The capital of Chosun was at Seoul.

King Taejo

Chosun founder Yi Songgye (1335-1408; later known as King Taejo) reigned from 1392 to 1398. His father, Yi Ja-chun was an official of Korean ethnicity serving the Mongol-led Chinese Yuan Dynasty. Taejo's mother Queen Uihye was a Chinese woman from the Yantai-Weihai area of Shandong. Taejo joined the Koryo army and rose through the ranks before finally seizing the throne in 1392.As king Taejo initiated land reforms, declared state ownership of property, and built a new tax base. Land reform was one of the first priorities. In 1390, even before the official proclamation of the new dynasty, he had the old land records burned and proceeded to revamp Korea’s land ownership system. He abdicated in 1398 during a strife between his sons and died in 1408.

After a national cadastral survey, all extant land registers were destroyed. Except for land doled out to loyalists called merit subjects, Yi Sng-gye declared everything to be owned by the state, thus undercutting Buddhist temples, which held vast farm lands, and locally powerful clans. Both groups had exacted high rents from peasants, leading to social distress in the late Koryo period. These reforms also greatly enhanced the taxation power of the central government. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

Buddhist influence in and complicity with the old system made it easier for the Confucian literati to urge an extirpation of Buddhist economic and political influence, and exile in the mountains for monks and their disciples. Indeed, the literati accomplished a deep Confucianization of Chosun society, which particularly affected the position of women. Often prominent in Koryo society, women were now relegated to domestic chores of child-rearing and housekeeping, as so-called inside people.

Historical Records of the Chosun Dynasty

Historical Records of the Chosun Dynasty are listed on the UNESCO Memory of World Register. They include: Chosun Wangjo Sillok (Annals of the Chosun Dynasty, designated 1997) is a chronological record of 25 kings' historical reigns, from the dynasty's founder King Taejo to King Cheoljong, over a span of 472 years (1392-1910). When a king died, the number of years the king had ruled the dynasty, as well as other everyday affairs that had occurred during his reign were recorded in a book, otherwise referred as the "annals." The Chosun Wangjo Sillok not only covers the historical and cultural aspects of the Chosun Dynasty but also important elements including politics and diplomacy, social systems, economics, and many more. Today, they are indispensable materials for the study of Korean history while providing diverse resources for the study of other East Asian countries. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

Uigwe (Royal Protocols of the Chosun Dynasty, designated 2007) literally means “a model for rituals”. It records text and illustrations of all the important state ceremonies and events of the Chosun Dynasty (1392~1910). Following the tradition of Confucianism, this guide covers royal weddings of a King and Queen, crowning of the prince, succession of a new ruler, funerals and other various state events. It also provides illustrations of major events that take place, along with detailed descriptions. Fairly detailed drawings alongside with written texts, giving more room in understanding the vivid scene from the olden days, and for scholars expanding on historical researches. Such documentary supports are hardly found in other countries that were also introduced Confucianism around the time, thus considered to be a highly valuable legacy not limited to Korea but to the others as well.

Seungjeongwon Ilgi (Diaries of the Royal Secretariat, designated 2001) are the diaries of the royal secretariats, also called Seungjeongwon, responsible for keeping detailed records of the daily events and official schedules of the court including public appeals, state secrets, weather reports, and other court affairs. Through the change of time, there are currently about 3,000 diaries remaining including from the rule of Chosun's founder King Taejong (ruled 1400~1418) up until the last king of the dynasty. They serve as important core archives of Korean history, being highly helpful for the study of ancient Chosun and reveiwing the insights of the kings.

Ils-eongnok (Records of Daily Reflections, designated 2011) is series of records with treasured royal heritages as well as written inscriptions that remain intact even after many decades. First published by King Jeongjo (1752-1800) before his throne succession, who later became the 22nd ruler of Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910). These books are differentiated from other state publications in a sense that it takes the form of personal journal, naturally reflecting not only on historical facts but also a king’s connotations on an array of state affairs and contemporary issues around the time. Noting importance of daily recording of personal thoughts and historical event, the practicing of writing the journal was soon requested for kings’ liege men as well as other scholars. The documents compiled were considered to be an official record of the court and national affairs, credited to be the one of invaluable memories of the world.

Land Reforms in the Early Chosun Period

The Koryo Dynasty had suffered from a number of internal problems; Yi and his followers implemented drastic reforms to place the new dynasty on firmer ground. One of these problems revolved around the deterioration of land administration, a basic issue in a predominantly agrarian society. Contrary to the law specifying public (governmental) ownership of land, powerful clans and Buddhist temples had acquired a sizable proportion of farmland. By exacting a disproportionate share of crops in the form of rents, the "landlords" were causing economic destitution and social discontent among the peasants. By illicitly removing the farms from tax rolls, these clans and temples reduced the government's income, thus straining the treasury. Yi had sided with reformists even before he took power, hence it was natural for him to rectify past inequities after ascending to the throne. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990*]

The reform of the land system, however, had direct repercussions on the practice of Buddhism, because Buddhist temples and monks had been among those exacerbating the land problem. The economic influence of the temples was eliminated when they lost vast lands. The rectification went beyond economic reform, however, because the dominant forces in the new dynasty were devout Confucianists who regarded Buddhism as a false creed. The fact that Buddhist monks had wielded a strong influence in politics, the economy, and society during the latter part of the Koryo Dynasty — and that many of them had been corrupted by power and money — strengthened the opposition to Buddhism. Accordingly, the new dynasty launched a sweeping attack on Buddhism and its institutions, an attack that had profound and enduring effects on the character of civilization on the peninsula.

Many of the outstanding temples were permitted to remain intact; indeed, a few Chosun monarchs were devout Buddhists. Nevertheless, Buddhism exerted little influence over the religious life of Korea under the Chosun Dynasty; nor did any organized religion replace it. Although many people adhered to shamanism, geomancy, fortunetelling, and superstitions, Korea effectively became a secular society.

On Land by Chong Tojon

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “By the end of the Koryo dynasty, arable land had come to be concentrated in the hands of wealthy families and powerful Buddhist temples, leading to a situation in which many people were forced to become tenants or to cease farming altogether.Land reform was one of the first priorities of Chosun founder Yi Songgye (1335-1408; later known as King Taejo), and as a result, in 1390, even before the official proclamation of the new dynasty, he had the old land records burned and proceeded to revamp Korea’s land ownership system. [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University ^^^ ]

Describing the rationale for the reforms, Chong Tojon (1337- 1398), a Neo-Confucian scholar-official close to King Taejo, wrote: “In ancient times, all the land belonged to the state, and the state then granted land to the people; thus, all the land that the people cultivated had been given them by the state. There was no one who did not receive land, and there was no one who did not cultivate land. Therefore, there was no excessive differentiation between the rich and the poor and between the strong and the weak. Because all the produce from the land went to the state, the state was prosperous. [Source: translated by Yongho Ch’oe, “Sourcebook of Korean Civilization”, edited by Peter H. Lee, vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 576-578.

“But as the land system began to disintegrate, powerful individuals acquired more and land. While the land of the rich extended far and wide, the poor had no land even to stand on. The poor thus were forced to lease land from the rich to till. Even though they worked hard and diligently all year round, they still did not have enough to eat. The rich, however, did not cultivate their land and remained idle. Instead, they hired men to work their land and collected more than half of the yield. The government took no measures to alleviate the plight of the poor and did nothing to bring benefit to the state. Thus, both the people and the state became increasingly poor. It was this situation that gave rise to the theories of limited land and equal land. These theories are, however, no more than makeshift measures. The best land policy is for the state to grant land to the people to cultivate. …

“According to the land system of the Koryo dynasty, there were lands for royal descendants, government officials in active service, merit subjects, graduates of the civil service examinations, soldiers, and officials. They maintained their living by collecting rent from these lands. The people who worked the land were allowed to reclaim new land for their ownership, and the government did not intervene. Those who commanded considerable manpower extensively reclaimed new lands; those who were weak and lacked manpower were obliged to submit to the powerful in order to lease land from them. After cultivation, the harvest was divided, half going to the landowner and half to the tillers. This was how there came to be two consumers for every tiller. The rich thus became richer and the poor poorer until the poor became unable to support themselves and were eventually forced to abandon their land and become vagabonds. It was these people who turned to petty occupations and, in extreme cases, even became thieves and bandits. Alas, how can one describe the evil effects of all this? …

“His Majesty King Taejo had personally witnessed the evil effects of this chaotic land situation while he was still a private person and was determined to abolish the private land system as one of his future missions. He believed that all the land in the country should revert to the state and should then be given to the people based on careful account, in order to revive the rectified land system of ancient times. But the old families and the powerful lineage groups, realizing that His Majesty’s plan would work against their interests, slandered and obstructed the plan with all the power at their command. Because of their obstructions, the people were unable to gain the benefits of this reform. It was indeed lamentable! His Majesty, however, together with two or three like.minded ministers, investigated the laws of the former dynasties, deliberated about what would be good for the present situation, and surveyed and measured all the land in the country in terms of kyol.1 [His Majesty then instituted the land reform in the year 1390.] He established court land, military provision land for state use, and office land for civil and military officials. Also, off.duty military men residing in the capital as guards for the royal court, widows remaining faithful to their deceased husbands, government workers in the local magistracies, postal station workers, and river ferry workers, as well as commoners and artisans performing public duties, have all been granted land. Although the distribution of land to the people may not have reached the standard set by the ancient sages, the new land law has restored equity and balance. Compared to the evil system of the former dynasty, the new land reform has brought infinite improvement.”

Chosun Leaders

The Yi clan originated from Chonju (south of Taejon). After seizing power, General Yi changed his name to Yi Taejo ("Great Progenitor) and founded the Yi dynasty which ruled Korea during the Chosun Period (1392-1910) and lasted until the Japanese occupation in 1910. King Taejo (General Yi Song-gye, see Above) reigned from 1392 to 1398, and was the main figure in the overthrowing of the Koryo Dynasty. Taejo's father, Yi Ja-chun was an official of Korean ethnicity serving the Mongol-led Chinese Yuan Dynasty. Taejo's mother Queen Uihye was a Chinese woman from the Yantai-Weihai area of Shandong. Taejo joined the Koryo army and rose through the ranks before finally seizing the throne in 1392. As king Taejo initiated land reforms, declared state ownership of property, and built a new tax base. Land reform was one of the first priorities. In 1390, even before the official proclamation of the new dynasty, he had the old land records burned and proceeded to revamp Korea’s land ownership system. He abdicated in 1398 during a strife between his sons and died in 1408.

The Chosun Dynasty had an auspicious beginning. The fourth king, King Sejong the Great, was a strong leader and enormous strides were made in the arts, science, and technology (See Below). But after Sejong, however, the dynasty fell into the hands of lesser men, and in the late fifteenth century the country began a long decline. Yonsangsun, for example, the 10th king of the Chosun Dynasty, was notorious for his decadent court parties. he was banished from the kingdom in 1506.

King Yeongjo (1694-1776, r. 1724-1776) was the longest-living monarch during the Chosun Dynasty. Regarded as one of most important Chosun rulers, he is celebrated for the big three political feats: 1) the initiation of the “tangpyeong” (harmony and mediation) policy, in which people were selected for government positions based on merit regardless of their clan or faction affiliation; 2) the “gyunyeok law” (military tax system); and 3) the dredging of Cheonggyecheon (a river in the main part of Seoul). He is also regarded as as a talented writer who wrote one to eight works every year of his 53 year reign. Along with King Jeongjo, his successor and grandson, Yeongjo he wrote the “Chinjejemun” after the death of his eldest son in 1728 and devoted himself to writing after he ordered the death of his second son Crown Prince Sado in a large rice chest in 1774 as a result of a conspiracy and political disputes. [Source: Chung Ah-young, Korea Times, August 5, 2011]

In “Eojemuneop,” Yeongjo summarized his policies and political affairs during his reign into six categories at the age of 80. He called his tangpyeong policy as the most “shameful one in his life” because of it failure to achieve it goals and said the military tax system as another failure as Buddhist monks were required to pay the military tax. The dredging of Cheonggyecheon, he said, was a big success.

Kings of Chosun
1) King Taejo (General Yi Song-gye, 1335-1408, r. 1392-1398)
2) King Jeongjong (1357-1419, r. 1398-1400)
3) King Taejong (1367-1422, r. 1400-1418)
4) King Sejong (1397-1450, r. 1418-1450)
4) King Munjong (1414-1452, r. 1450-1452)
6) King Danjong (1441-1457, r. 1452-1455)
7) King Sejo (1417-1468, r. 1455-1468)
8) King Yejong (1450-1469, r. 1468-1469)
9) King Seongjong (1457-1494, r. 1469-1494)
10) Prince Yeonsan (1476-1506, r. 1494-1506)
11) King Jungjong (1488-1544, r. 1506-1544)
12) King Injong (1515-1545, r. 1544-1545)
13) King Myeongjong (1534-1567, r. 1545-1567)
14) King Seonjo (1552-1608, r. 1567-1608)
15) Prince Gwanghae (1575-1641, r. 1608-1623)
16) King Injo (1595-1649, r. 1623-1649)
17) King Hyojong (1619-1659, r. 1649-1659)
18) King Hyeonjong (1641-1674, r. 1659-1674)
19) King Sukjong (1661-1720, r. 1674-1720)
20) King Gyeongjong (1688-1724, r. 1720-1724)
21) King Yeongjo (1694-1776, r. 1724-1776)
22) King Jeongjo (1752-1800, r. 1776-1800)
23) King Sunjo (1790-1834, r. 1800-1834)
24) King Heonjong (1827-1849, r. 1834-1849)
25) King Cheoljong (1831-1863, r. 1849-1863)
26) King Gojong (Emperor Gojong, 1852-1919, r. 1863-1907)
27) Emperor Sunjong (1874-1926, r. 1907-1910) [Source: Samurai Archives]

King Sejong the Great

King Sejong the Great (1397-ruled Korea for 32 years from 1418-1450. A Buddhist rather than Neo-Confucianist, he patronized the arts and set up the equivalent of a Royal Academy in charge of compiling histories, scientific texts and Confucian commentaries. His greatest achievement was overseeing the creation a Korean phonetic alphabet. The Korean script, known as han'gul, which eventually came into common usage in the twentieth century, was developed by scholars in his reign. King Sejong the Great is depicted on Korea's 10,000 won banknote [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]

Sejong was the third son of King Taejong and Queen consort Min. When he was twelve, he became Grand Prince Chungnyeong. As a young prince, Sejong was favored by King Taejong over his two older brothers. As a third son his ascension to the throne was unusual. Taejong's eldest son, Yangnyeong was named crown prince in 1404 but his hedonistic pursuits and love of hunting resulted in his ouster from the position of heir apparent in 1418. It is said that Yangnyeong abdicated in favor of Sejong but there is no evidence of this or definitive records regarding Yangnyeong's removal. Taejong's second son Grand Prince Hyoryeong became a monk. [Source: Wikipedia]

Sejong ascended to the throne in 1418. Following the removal of Yangnyeong as heir apparent, Taejong moved quickly to secure his youngest son's position as heir apparent. The government was purged of officials who disagreed with the removal of Yangnyeong. In August 1418, Taejong abdicated in favour of Sejong. However, after his retirement Taejong continued to influence government policy. During the first four years of Sejong’s reign, Taejong governed as regent and executed Sejong's father-in-law, Sim On, and his close associates.

Sejong's surprising political skill and creativity did not become apparent until after Taejong's death in 1422. Sejong reinforced Confucian policies and enacted major "legal amendments". He personally created and promulgated the Korean alphabet Hangul. He introduced measures to stimulate economic growth, ordered campaigns to the north and instituted the Samin policy to attract new settlers to the region. In the south, he helped subjugate Japanese pirates and captured. Sejong governed as the sole monarch from 1422 to 1450, although after 1442 the king became increasingly ill, and his son, Crown Prince Munjong, acted as regent for him.

King Sejong reorganized the Korean government by appointing people from different social classes as civil servants. Even though he was a Buddhist he performed official government events according to Confucianism, and he encouraged people to behave according to the teachings of Confucianism. He suppressed Buddhism by banning outside Buddhist monks from entering Seoul and reduced the number of Buddhist schools in Korea from seven to two, Seon and Gyo, drastically reducing the power and wealth of the Buddhist hierarchy.

Chosun Period Rule

Succession to the throne often caused long and bitter struggles, particularly when a ruler did not leave behind an heir who had reached the age of majority. Members of the Confucian-educated, scholar-official elite yangban class quarreled over minor points of Confucian ritual and etiquette, especially the proper period of mourning upon the death of a royal personage. Factional groups began vying for power, frequently going to the extreme of exterminating the members of defeated factions. The civil service examination became a sham, and corruption ran rampant. Royal relatives and members of powerful factions increased their landholdings, which became exempt from taxes and thereby reduced the dynasty's sources of revenue. The farmers suffered more and more from tax burdens and other extractions imposed by greedy officials and landlords. In short, the country was not being effectively governed. To make matters worse, Japanese attacks in 1592 and 1597 and Manchu assaults in 1627 and 1636 ravaged the country's economy and turned much of the farmland to waste for a long period thereafter. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]

Seoul was founded in 1394 as the capital of the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910) by King Taejo. Located between Mt. Namsan to the north and Mt. Samgaksan to the south, it was established along the Han River by geomacers (feng shui masters) who were looking for place where the energies of the wind, water and earth would bode well for the future. The liked the site because of the relationship between the winding Han river and the eight surrounding mountains.

After King Taejo (General Yi Song-gye) overthrew Koryo Dynasty and Mongols and established the Chosun Dynasty he moved the capital of Korea to Hanyang (also known as "Seoul" or capital). Throughout most of its history Seoul was surrounded by a huge wall with eight gates (five of which are still standing). But these walls failed to stop a series of invasions over the years. Located on the Han River, which flows toward the Yellow Sea, Seoul grew fast. It became filled with palaces and shrines built by Chosun rulers. By 1428, it covered 16 square kilometers and had a population of 103,328.

In 1876, the Japanese naval fleet forced Korea to sign a trade treaty. In 1905 Korea became a Japanese protectorate. In 1910 Korea was annexed by Japan.

Chosun-Era Bureaucracy and Governance

For more than a century after its founding, Chosun flourished as an exemplary agrarian bureaucracy deeply influenced by a cadre of learned scholar-officials who were steeped in the doctrines of neo-Confucianism. Like Kory, the Chosun Dynasty lacked the typical features of a feudal society. It was instead a classic agrarian bureaucracy. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

Chosun possessed an elaborate procedure for entry to the civil service, a highly articulated civil service, and a practice of administering the country from the top down and from the center. The system rested on an agrarian base, making it different from modern bureaucratic systems; the particular character of agrarian-bureaucratic interaction also provided one of Korea's departures from the typical Chinese experience.

James B. Palais, a widely respected historian of the Chosun Dynasty, has shown that conflict between bureaucrats seeking revenues for government coffers and landowners hoping to control tenants and harvests was a constant during the Chosun Dynasty, and that in this conflict over resources the landowners often won out. Controlling land theoretically owned by the state, private landed interests soon came to be stronger and more persistent in Korea than in China. Although Korea had a centralized administration, the ostensibly strong center was more often a façade concealing the reality of aristocratic power.

One interpretation suggests that Korea's agrarian bureaucracy was superficially strong but actually rather weak at the center. A more conventional interpretation is that the Chosun Dynasty was ruled by a highly centralized monarchy served by a hereditary aristocracy that competed via civil and military service examinations for access to bureaucratic office. The state ostensibly dominated the society, but in fact landed aristocratic families kept the state at bay and perpetuated local power for centuries. This pattern persisted until the late 1940s, when landed dominance was obliterated in a northern revolution and attenuated in southern land reform; since then the balance has shifted toward strong central power and top-down administration of the whole country in both Koreas. The disruptions caused by the Korean War magnified the sociopolitical consequences of these developments.

Chosun Korea and Ming and Manchu China

When the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in China claimed suzerainty over former Mongol domains in Korea, the Koryo court was divided between pro-Mongol and pro-Ming forces. Two generals marshaled their forces for an assault on Ming armies on the Liaodong Peninsula. One of the generals, Yi Song-gye, was pro-Ming. Yi prevailed and founded the Chosun Dynasty.

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “In the 1390s the kingdom of Chosun sought a peaceful relationship with the Ming. King T'aejo sent tribute to the Ming emperor and promised to live peacefully, making no alliances with the emperor's enemies or doing anything that would seem improper for a "younger brother" country. The Koreans voluntarily assumed this subordinate position as a matter of Confucian propriety, and they were not ashamed to copy Ming laws, the Ming way of measuring days, months, and years, and even Ming clothing styles. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

“These were signs of "serving the great," which Chosun regarded as the proper stance for a civilized but weaker kingdom hoping to survive on the fringe of the great Chinese empire. It was Korean policy to give China no reason to invade, or interfere, in Korean affairs. The best way to do this was to assure the Chinese that they would never be a threat or source of trouble. By giving the Chinese no reason to interfere in their internal affairs, the Koreans thus purchased their autonomy, or right to rule themselves. They were then free to continue building their own Korean culture to a very high level.”

The war between Japan and Korea in the late 16th century — in which Korea was weakened but survived “coincided with the rise of a powerful new Manchurian state under a gifted leader named Nurhachi. Nurhachi and his sons unified the nomadic tribes formerly known as the Jurchen, organized them into fighting units, and made plans to conquer the fast-fading Ming dynasty in China. Before they did that, the Manchus, as they were called, subjugated the Koreans by invading the peninsula, first in 1627 and again in 1636, and forcing the king to swear loyalty to them. Then, with Korea under control, they found an opportunity to invade China and overthrow the Ming government in 1644. Having to bow to the barbarian Manchus was a bitter defeat for the Koreans, but they had little choice. The Manchu invasions, together with the Japanese invasions of the 1590s, caused a serious disruption of Korean society and were a blow to the state of Chosun. Despite this, however, the Korean system proved resilient.”

Religion and Neo-Confucianism in the Chosun Dynasty

According to the Asian Society: “Buddhism flourished until the Chosun dynasty (1392 – 1910), when Neo-Confucianism became the state ideology. Buddhism, however, remained a spiritual force in Korean society, and private devotional objects and works for monasteries and temples continued to be made throughout the centuries. Large-scale banner paintings, for example, were popular during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Buddhism was more widespread, in part because of the loosening of government prohibitions against it. The size and iconography of this painting suggest that it came from a worship hall of the highest level of sanctity, that is, one that enshrined an image of Shakyamuni Buddha. “

Confucianism — or more precisely Neo-Confucianism — was the mandatory state religion for over 500 years under the Yi dynasty during the Chosun period (A.D. 1392-1910). The Yi dynasty, wrote Pico Iyer in Smithsonian magazine, "set up a new and more systematic brand of Confucianism. Previously, Buddhism had always been regarded as a compliment of to Confucianism, concentrating not on society but self, not on this world but the next. Yi's new Confucianism, however, saw Buddhism's notions of individualism and meditation as threats to social harmony. Monastery lands were confiscated, Buddhist cremations were replaced by Confucian ancestor worship and reverence for authority. By 1425 all but 18 of the country's Buddhist temples were shuttered."

According to Columbia University's Asia for Educators: “Neo-Confucianism, which interpreted Confucian doctrine through the teachings of the Chinese scholar Zhu Xi (1130-1200), was a socially activist and reformist philosophical movement that began to become influential on the Korean peninsula late in the Koryo period. Pak Ch’o (1367-1454) was a member of Koryo’s National Academy during the reign of its last king, Kongyang (ruled 1389-92). He expresses hostility towards Buddhism typical of Neo- Confucian scholars at the end of Koryo, but contrary to the relatively tolerant attitude of most scholars and officials earlier in Korean history. During the Chosun dynasty, which began in 1392 following a coup led by General Yi Songgye (1335-1408), Neo-Confucianism would further gain influence to become the central state ideology and a blueprint for social reform — and Buddhism would be increasingly driven to the margins.” [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, ^^^]

Shamanism remained alive in the Chosun dynasty. The king had his own private shaman who used the Big Dipper to perform a ritual of well being for him.


Confucianism is based on the family and an ideal model of relations between family members. It generalizes this family model to the state and to an international system — the Chinese world order. The principle is hierarchy within a reciprocal web of duties and obligations:the son obeys the father by following the dictates of filial piety; the father provides for and educates the son. Daughters obey mothers and mothers-in-law; younger siblings follow older siblings; wives are subordinate to husbands. The superior prestige and privileges of older adults make longevity a prime virtue. In the past, transgressors of these rules were regarded as uncultured beings unfit to be members of society. When generalized to politics, the principle mean that a village followed the leadership of venerated elders and citizens revered a king or emperor, who was thought of as the father of the state. Generalized to international affairs, the Chinese emperor was the big brother of the Korean king. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

The glue holding the traditional nobility together was education, meaning socialization into Confucian norms and virtues that began in early childhood with the reading of the Confucian classics. The model figure was the so-called true gentleman, the virtuous and learned scholar-official who was equally adept at poetry and statecraft. In Korea education started very early because Korean students had to master the extraordinarily difficult classical Chinese language — tens of thousands of written ideographs and their many meanings typically learned through rote memorization. Throughout the Chosun Dynasty, all official records and formal education and most written discourse were in classical Chinese. With Chinese language and philosophy came a profound cultural penetration of Korea, such that most Chosun arts and literature came to use Chinese models.

Confucianism is often thought to be a conservative philosophy, stressing tradition, veneration of a past golden age, careful attention to the performance of ritual, disdain for material goods, commerce, and the remaking of nature, combined with obedience to superiors and a preference for relatively frozen social hierarchies. Much commentary on contemporary Korea focuses on this legacy and, in particular, on its allegedly authoritarian, antidemocratic character. Emphasis on the legacy of Confucianism, however, does not explain the extraordinary commercial bustle of South Korea, the materialism and conspicuous consumption of new elites, or the determined struggles for democratization by Korean workers and students. At the same time, one cannot assume that communist North Korea broke completely with the past. The legacy of Confucianism includes the country's family-based politics, the succession to rule of the leader's son, and the extraordinary veneration of Kim Il Sung.


According to Columbia University's Asia for Educators: “Neo-Confucianism” is a general term used to refer to the renaissance of Confucianism during the Song dynasty (A.D. 960-1127) following a long period in which Buddhism and Daoism had dominated the philosophical world of the Chinese and also to the various philosophical schools of thought that developed as a result of that renaissance... The revival of Confucianism in Song times was accomplished by teachers and scholar-officials who gave Confucian teachings new relevance. Scholar-officials of the Song such as Fan Zhongyan (989-1052) and Sima Guang (1019-1086) provided compelling examples of the man who put service to the state above his personal interest. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, ^^^]

“As Neo-Confucianism developed, two trends of thought emerged out of the Southern Song philosopher and official Zhu Xi's synthesis of the “learning of Principle” and the “Learning of the Mind and Heart." Both trends agreed that all the myriad things of the universe are manifestations of a single “Principle” (li) and that this Principle is the essence of morality. By understanding the Principle that underlies the universe (just as Buddhists understood all things in the universe as manifestations of the single Buddha spirit), then, men may understand the moral principles that they must put into practice in order to achieve an ordered family, good government, and peace under heaven. The two trends of thought differed, however, on the way in which human beings are to understand Principle.”

The thinking surrounding the “Learning of the Mind and Heart” is most often identified with the Ming general and statesman Wang Yangming (1472-1529). Wang argued that inasmuch as every living thing is a manifestation of Principle, then one need not look outside oneself in order to understand Principle (and therefore morality): one should consult one's own heart (or mind), wherein Principle surely lay. Since Principle is the basis of human nature, then it follows that anyone who understands his or her true nature understands the Principle of the universe.

Wang Yangming wrote: “The key to understanding does not lie in the world outside the mind: People fail to realize that the highest good is in their minds and seek it outside. As they believe that every thing or every event has some specific aspect of principle, they search for the highest good in individual things. Consequently, the mind becomes fragmentary, isolated, broken into pieces; mixed and confused, it has no definite direction. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The outside world has no existence at all, independent of man's mind: The innate knowledge of man is the same as that of plants and trees, tiles and stones... Even Heaven and earth cannot exist without the innate knowledge that is inherent in man, for at bottom, Heaven, earth, the world of things, and man form one body. A friend pointed to flowering trees on a cliff and said, “You say there is nothing under heaven external to the mind. These flowering trees on the mountain blossom and drop their blossoms of 5 themselves; what have they to do with my mind?” The Teacher said, “Before you look at these flowers, they and your mind are in a state of silent vacuity. As you come to look at them, their colors at once appear clearly. From this you can know that the flowers are not external to your mind."

Neo-Confucian Reforms

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “From the beginning of the Chosun period onwards, Neo-Confucian reformers sought to encourage Koreans to undertake forms of ritual observance described in Confucian texts. These were often at odds with existing Korean practices. When it came to funeral customs, they encouraged Confucian memorialization while decrying forms of religious and social commemoration that had been common during the Koryo period. The Neo-Confucian reform agenda in its spread and enforcement over the course of the Chosun dynasty provides an example of a certain sort of social transformation: a top-down, textually — and ideologically — driven re-engineering of society. Excerpted here is a 1437 decree on funeral practices drawn from the royal annals. [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University ^^^ ]

The royal edict to the Department of Punishments on the Reform of Funerary Practices in Sejong sillok reads [in 1437] reads as follows: The people of our country follow in their mortuary and ancestral rites the bad customs of Koryo. Although prohibitions were put into the Six Codes of Governance, the authorities areunable to investigate the violations, and the old practices are thus still observed. We are a long way from correcting them. Nowadays people of high and low social status commonly compete with each other in upholding wanton ceremonies; they respect and trust shamans and dissipatefortunes. [Source: translated by Martina Deuchler, “Sourcebook of Korean Civilization”, edited by Peter H. Lee, vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 558.

“Some mourners visit shaman houses where music is played and the spirit of the dead is feasted. Others go to Buddhist temples and have a service held for the repose of the soul. Still others serve wine and food on the burial day, and host and guests console each other. All strive to outdo one another in lavishness and extravagance. The rich are boastful; the poor make strenuous efforts. They call in guests and friends, and men and women mix freely. Only when the costs of entertainment are excessive do they rejoice in their hearts and get praise from their neighbors. Because this has become a custom, they do not restrain themselves. Once they have a bad harvest, they come close to starvation. This is indeed something to worry about, because the people’s livelihood consequently deteriorates, and the quality of the customs is bound up with this.

“From now on the playing of music, the gathering of guests, and the performance of wanton ceremonies for the spirits, as well as visits of mourners to shaman houses to feast the spirit of the dead, or the invitation of guests to pray for the soul’s repose, and the serving of wine on funeral days must be clearly and sternly prohibited by the censorial offices in the capital and by the local authorities in the province. If there are offenders, host and guests will be held equally responsible.”

Buddhism in the Chosun Dynasty

According to the Encyclopedia of Buddhism, “With the collapse of the Koryo regime, Buddhism came under further attack. The new Chosun dynasty (1392–1910), which was built upon neo-Confucian ideology, severed its official relationship with Buddhism. Land holdings were confiscated and hundreds of monasteries were disbanded. As anti-Buddhist measures grew more severe, people were prohibited from ordaining, monks were not allowed to enter the capital city, the monks' examination system was abolished, and the various Buddhist denominations were forced to consolidate. Only two denominations, Sonjong and Kyojong, were left, all others being absorbed into them. In short, Buddhism was forced out of mainstream society, and monks were downgraded to the lowest social stratum. [Source: Encyclopedia of Buddhism, The Gale Group Inc., 2004]

“It was during this period of persecution that the denominational identities of the traditional Buddhist schools disappeared and the ascendancy of Son began. Less dependent, perhaps, upon institutional and doctrinal structures, Son withstood the persecution better than Kyo and managed to maintain its tradition deep in the mountain areas.

“On the whole, during the Choso˘n period, Buddhism fell from the place of high respect and honor that it had enjoyed during the Silla and Koryo˘ periods, and it remained largely confined to the countryside, isolated from mainstream intellectual and cultural life. Nevertheless, monks of high learning and character continued to flow into the san˙gha, providing leadership during a difficult period.

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “The founders of the Chosun kingdom attacked Buddhism and other folk religions as corruptions that only served to mislead the people. The founders of Chosun were Confucianists who wanted to redirect attention to state and society in the present instead of toward prayers to Buddha. The Confucianists were reformers who wanted to root out all kinds of evil that had flourished under the former dynasty. In their view, the wealth that was flowing to Buddhist temples would better be used by the state for education, defense, and public welfare. They believed that Buddhist monks and nuns were wrong to be celibate, never marrying or having children to carry on their ancestors' family lines. They thought that there were too many monks and nuns, in any case, and the new government ordered that these religious professionals, who had previously been honored as a kind of nobility, be treated like members of the lowest social class. And because they thought there were too many temples, they ruled that only temples in the mountains could remain standing. They pulled down many temples in towns and cities and when they built their new capital at what is now Seoul, they ordered that no temples be built within the city limits. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

Neo-Confucianist Hostility Toward Buddhism

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Confucianists looked down on Buddhism as a tool for distracting the masses from the work at hand, which was building a society based on justice and propriety using humanity and conscience as guides instead of the spirits, or gods. Confucianists disliked the way Buddhist monks withdrew from society and lived in monasteries instead of providing examples of correct leadership and behavior. Monks did not marry or have children, for example, appearing to disrespect their parents by not carrying on their family lines. The Confucianists thought it wasteful for temples to use the hard-earned contributions of ordinary people to create luxurious displays, gilded images of Buddha, and expensive religious festivals. They were offended that some of the biggest Buddhist temples were so rich they had to train guards to protect their material assets. Thus, though some of the early Chosun reformers were actually Buddhists in their personal lives, they agreed that the organized Buddhist religion had to be suppressed, its temples confiscated, its monks and slaves "returned to their former occupations" (i.e., farming and taxpaying), and the remaining Buddhist clergy banished to a few temples in the mountains.” [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

Pak Ch'o, an Anti-Buddhist Memorial, goes: “I, His Majesty’s subject, have heard that it was after heaven and earth existed that the myriad things came into being; that it was after the myriad things existed that man and woman came into being; that it was after man and woman existed that husband and wife came into being; that it was after husband and wife existed that father and son came into being; that it was after father and son existed that king and minister came into being; that it was after king and minister existed that senior and junior came into being; and that it was after senior and junior existed that ritual and righteousness were established. This is the universal way of the world and the normal law of all times that cannot be disregarded even briefly. If it is abolished, heaven and earth will not tolerate its abandonment, the sun and moon will not shine, the ghosts and spirits will carry out executions jointly, and all the generations under heaven will concur with the joint beheading. [Source: translated by John Duncan, “Sourcebook of Korean Civilization”, edited by Peter H. Lee, vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 373-374]

“What kind of man is this Buddha who makes a son that should carry on the family line betray his father and sever the affection between father and son; who makes men resist the Son of Heaven and destroy the righteousness between lord and minister; who says that for men and women to live together is not the Way; who says that for men to plow and women to weave is not righteous, thus severing the way of generating life and blocking off the source of food and clothing; and who thinks that through his way he can transform all under heaven? If his way were really carried out, humanity would be finished in a hundred years. Heaven would carry on above and earth would bear below, but the only things to grow would be grasses and trees, birds and beasts, fishes and turtles, and dragons and snakes. How, finally, could the Way of the Three Bonds and the Five Relations endure?

“This Buddha was originally a barbarian whose language was not like that of China, whose dress was weird, whose mouth did not speak of the kingly way of old, and whose body did not wear the sacerdotal clothing of the kings of old. He gave false revelations of three unhappy ways (to the hell of fire, of blood, and to the asipattra hell of swords) and incorrectly propounded the six ways of sentient existence, ultimately leading the foolish and ignorant to seek senilely for merit, fearing not the norms and carelessly violating the basic law.

“Furthermore, although life and death and longevity and brevity originate in nature, although power and fortune and punishment and virtue are linked with the ruler of men, and although poverty and wealth and nobility and baseness derive from accumulated merit, foolish deceiving monks all attribute these things to Buddha, thus stealing the authority of the ruler of men, treating arbitrarily the power of creation, dimming the eyes and ears of the people, plunging all under heaven into corruption, living in intoxication and dying in a dream without ever realizing it. Thus they build palaces and halls, which they serve; they decorate them with stone,wood, copper, and iron which they form; and they shave off the hair of commoner men and women whom they make reside there. Even though the Buddhists’ palaces surpass the palaces and halls of Chieh of Hsia [trad. 2205.1766 B.C.], the beautiful palace and Deer Terrace of Chou of Shang [trad. 1766.1122 B.C.], the Chang.hua Terrace of King Ling of Ch’u [740.330 B.C.], and the Ap’ang palace of the First Emperor of Ch’in [221.209 B.C.], do they not all come from the resources of the people? How distressful! Who will correct this situation? It can only be set right after he who is above demonstrates propriety by cultivating himself with virtue and instructing those below and leads the people to know wherein the principle of heaven resides.”

Buddhism Hangs On in the Chosun Dynasty

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “The Confucian attack on Buddhism at the beginning of the Chosun dynasty was ironic since the dynasty's founder and his family, along with many of their associates, continued personally to revere the Buddha and to maintain their personal Buddhist faith. Indeed, the purge was more institutional than religious, breaking the political power of the Buddhist church. However, over the course of the dynasty it did succeed in diminishing the visibility of Buddhism in Korea and in relegating it to the status of folk religion. Buddhist believers continued to hike into the mountains to visit temples and pray. Women continued to practice Buddhism in greater numbers than men, and educated men with social ambition actively shunned any association with Buddhism so that it became a religion for the lower classes. Institutional Buddhism suffered a long period of repression that did not end until the twentieth century. Its eventual revival and resurgence is a major development in modern Korean history. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

According to the Encyclopedia of Buddhism, ““Buddhism experienced a short revival during the sixteenth century when HyujOng (1520–1604) became the most important leader of the Chosun sa gha, both Son and Kyo. Although a Son master, Hyujong demonstrated an accommodating attitude toward doctrinal studies. He argued that Kyo is the word of the Buddha, whereas Son is his mind. Although he believed in their essential unity, Hyujong taught that a monk's training should begin with Kyo, but eventually the trainee must move on to Son in order to attain perfection. Hyujong thus established the principle of "relinquishing Kyo So and entering into Son" (sagyo ipson), which is still followed among Korean monks today. [Source: Encyclopedia of Buddhism, The Gale Group Inc., 2004]

“Hyujong and his followers, especially YujOng (1544–1610) and Yonggwan (1485–1571), also played an important role in mobilizing the monks' militia against Japanese forces during the Hideyoshi invasion (1592–1599). Although Buddhist monks were held in contempt in the strongly anti-Buddhist Confucian society, they were ironically the salvation of the state during this national crisis. Many monks were subsequently given high honorific military titles, and their improved status continued for a while after the war.

“Hyujong and his followers, especially YujOng (1544–1610) and Yonggwan (1485–1571), also played an important role in mobilizing the monks' militia against Japanese forces during the Hideyoshi invasion (1592–1599). Although Buddhist monks were held in contempt in the strongly anti-Buddhist Confucian society, they were ironically the salvation of the state during this national crisis. Many monks were subsequently given high honorific military titles, and their improved status continued for a while after the war.

Changes and Upheaval in the Korean Ruling Class

A combination of literati purges in the early sixteenth century, Japanese invasions at the end of the century, and Manchu invasions in the middle of the seventeenth century severely debilitated the Chosun state, and it never regained the heights of the fifteenth century. This period also saw the Manchus sweep away the Ming Dynasty in China, ending a remarkable period when Korean society seemed to develop apace with China, while making many independent innovations. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993*]

The doctrinaire version of Confucianism that was dominant during the Chosun Dynasty made squabbles between elites particularly vicious. The literati based themselves in neo-Confucian metaphysics, which reached a level of abstraction virtually unmatched elsewhere in East Asia in the writings of Yi Hwang, also known as Yi T'oe-gye, who was regarded as Korea's Zhu Xi after the Chinese founder of the neo-Confucian school. For many other scholar-officials, however, the doctrine rewarded arid scholasticism and obstinate orthodoxy.

First, one had to commit his mind to one or another side of abstruse philosophical debate, and only then could the practical affairs of state be put in order. This situation quickly led to so-called literati purges, a series of upheavals beginning in the mid-fifteenth century and lasting more than 100 years. The losers found their persons, their property, their families, and even their graves at risk from victors determined to extirpate their influence — always in the name of a higher morality. Later in the dynasty, the concern with ideological correctness exacerbated more mundane factional conflicts that debilitated central power. The emphasis on ideology also expressed the pronounced Korean concern with the power of ideas; this emphasis is still visible in Kim Il Sung's juche doctrine, which assumes that rectification of one's thinking precedes correct action, even to the point of Marxist heresy in which ideas determine material reality. By the end of the sixteenth century, the ruling elite had so homogenized its ideology that there were few heterodox miscreants left: all were presumably united in one idea.

Social Movements in the 17th and 18th Centuries

The resulting social and economic depression of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries fostered the rise of a new intellectual movement advocating the practical use of human knowledge. Pioneered by a Confucian scholar named Yi Su-kwang, the new thought — soon to be called Sirhak (practical learning) — was partly inspired by the firsthand knowledge of occidental sciences that Yi Su-kwang had acquired while on official visits to Beijing. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990*]

As historian Ki-baik Lee has noted, Sirhak thought encompassed a variety of intellectual activities and several diverse viewpoints. These included proposals for refinement of the traditional administrative and land systems, advocacy of commercial and manufacturing activity, and a renewed interest in Korean history and language. Brought to maturity in the late eighteenth century by Chong Yag-yong, the Sirhak Movement was supported by a group of discontented scholars, petty officials, former bureaucrats, and commoners.

The Sirhak Movement found itself in direct confrontation with the dominant trend in neo-Confucian thought, which stressed the metaphysical and abstract teachings of the renowned Chinese philosopher Zhu Xi. Neither the efforts of such wise and able kings as Yongjo (1725-75) and Chongjo (1776-1800), nor those of the Sirhak scholars, were able to reverse the trend against empirical studies and good government.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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