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Far East Kingdoms

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Feature Korea

(Information for 2333 BC - AD 1932, excluding Koguryo from Ki-baik Lee, A New History of Korea (1984), supplied by Michael Welles, plus additional notes.)

Rulers of Old Choson

A study in 2012 found that eunuchs of the Choson (or Chosun) period lived up to nineteen years longer than their better endowed peers. They even outlived members of the royal family. Records state that eunuchs had some woman-like appearances such as no bear, large breasts, big hips and thin, high-pitched voices. The imperial court of Choson used eunuchs to guard the gates and manage food. They were the only men outside the royal family who were allowed to spend the night in the palace, and they could not have children of their own, so they adopted girls or castrated boys. Their average age at death was seventy years, although the oldest of them reached 109 years. By comparison, men in other families in the noble classes lived into their early fifties. Males in the royal family lasted until they were just forty-five on average.

(Additional information from External Link: Eunuchs reveal clues to why women live longer than men at www.bbc.co.uk (dead link).)

2333 - ? BC

Tan'gun Wanggom

c.300 BC

The Chinese Yen/Yan conquer Choson.

222 BC

Control of Choson briefly passes to the Chinese Ch'in.

206 BC

Control of Choson passes to the Chinese Han.

? - 194 BC

Chun Wang

Possibly a subject ruler under Chinese Han control.

194 BC

Chosen rebels against Chinese rule and re-emerges as the independent Wiman Chosen.

Rulers of Wiman Choson

Wiman led a rebellion against Chinese control, although he was Chinese himself. Choson became independent until re-conquered by the Han Chinese.

194 - ? BC

Wiman Wang

? - 108 BC

Ugo Wang

108 BC

The Chinese Han conquer Choson. The Korean kingdom of Puyo soon emerges to the north of Choson, while Silla, Koguryo, Pon Kaya, and Tae Kaya all emerge soon afterwards.

Rulers of Silla
57 BC - AD 935

Silla (pronounced she-lla) emerged as one of several kingdoms in or around the first century BC, but it was the longest lasting of any of them. The modern territory that formed Silla today forms part of South Korea, and even now Silla is referred to as the millennium kingdom because it lasted (officially) from 95 BC to AD 935.

Kyongju was the capital of the Silla kingdom of Korea. The city was famous for its wide streets that were laid out in a grid. All the houses, palaces, and Buddhist temples had tiled roofs, a sign of wealth and sophistication. Lesser houses would still have had thatched roofs. Decorated roof tiles started to become widespread around AD 688, when this small Korean kingdom, with support from Tang China, conquered two other Korean kingdoms and gained territory that stretched somewhat to the north of modern Pyongyang, although it never gained the far north of Korea. Kyongju became the capital of the unified Korean kingdom rather than just Silla alone, and this unity ushered in an age of prosperity and cultural unity in the Korean peninsula, with the rich and famous no doubt emulating Chinese symbols of wealth and power. Now Silla had to balance the requirements of maintaining the unified kingdom against Chinese ambitions to control Korea directly.

(Additional information by Jane Portal (Matsutaro Shoriki Chair, Art of Asia, Oceania and Africa, Museum of Fine Arts Boston), and from the BBC Radio 4 series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, Part 4 Korean Roof Tile - The Silk Road and Beyond (AD 400-700), broadcast on 31 December 2012.)

57 BC - AD 4

Pak Hykkose Kosogun

4 - 24

Namhae Ch'ach'aung

24 - 57

Yuri Isagum

57 - 80

Sok T'arhae Isagum

80 - 112

Pak P'asa Isagum

112 - 134

Chima Isagum

134 - 154

Ilsong Isagum

154 - 184

Adalla Isagum

184 - 196

Sok Porhyu Isagum

196 - 230

Naehae Isagum

230 - 247

Chobun Isagum

247 - 261

Ch'omhae Isagum

262 - 284

Kim Mich'u Isagum

284 - 298

Sok Yurye Isagum

298 - 310

Kirim Isagum

310 - 356

Hurhae Isagum

356 - 402

Kim Naemul Maripkan

402 - 417

Silsong Maripkan

417 - 458

Nulchi Maripkan

458 - 479

Chabi Maripkan

479 - 500

Soji Maripkan

500 - 514

Chijung Wang

514 - 540

Pophung Wang

540 - 576

Chinghung Wang

552

MapThe formation to the immediate north-west of the Göktürk khaganate on the steppes of Mongolia seems not to impact upon affairs in the Silla kingdom or upon the Koguryo state to the north. Instead, the empire focuses its attention primarily on Sui China and on expanding across the steppeland towards Europe. Decorated roof tiles start to become widespread around AD 688, a sure sign of wealth and prosperity in the capital.

562

The kingdom conquers Tae Kaya.

576 - 579

Chinji Wang

579 - 632

Chinp'yong Wang

632 - 647

Queen Sondok Yowang

647 - 654

Queen Chindok Yowang

654 - 661

(T'aejong) Muyol Wang

661 - 681

Munmu Wang

667 - 676

China occupies Korea. Silla assists in conquering Koguryo in 667-668. The unified kingdom of Silla is formed with much of the state's wealth and political strength being located in the south of the peninsuila.

All of the aristocrats from the defeated areas of Korea are brought to Silla's capital at Kyongju and no doubt want to create houses and estates in which they could preserve the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. Tiled houses stand in long rows in the city's more affluent areas, with not a thatched roof to be seen (thatch being a constant fire hazard in any ancient city, of course).

681 - 692

Sinmun Wang

692 - 702

Hyoso Wang

698

Parhae emerges. Korea is by now a major player in trade at the far end of the Silk Road.

702 - 737

Songdok Wang

737 - 742

Hyosong Wang

742 - 765

Kyongdok Wang

765 - 780

Hyegong Wang

780 - 785

Sondok Wang

785 - 798

Wonsong Wang

798 - 800

Sosong Wang

800 - 809

Aejang Wang

809 - 826

Hondok Wang

826 - 836

Hungdok Wang

836 - 838

Huigang Wang

838 - 839

Minae Wang

839

Sinmu Wang

839 - 857

Munsong Wang

857 - 861

Honan Wang

861 - 875

Kyongmun Wang

875 - 886

Hon'gang Wang

886 - 887

Chonggang Wang

887 - 897

Queen Chinsong Yowang

897 - 912

Hyogong Wang

912 - 917

Pak Sindok Wang

917 - 924

Kyongmyong Wang

924 - 927

Kyongae Wang

927 - 935

Kim Kyongsun Wang

924

The rulers of Silla are superseded by the Koryo Dynasty.

Koryo / Goryeo Dynasty
AD 924 - 1392

924 - 943

T'aejo I

944 - 945

Hyejong

946 - 949

Chongjong I

950 - 975

Kwangjong

976 - 981

Kyongjong

981 - 997

Songjong I

997 - 1009

Mokshong

1010 - 1032

Hyongjong I

1032 - 1035

Tokjong

1035 - 1047

Chongjong II

1047 - 1083

Munjong I

1083

Sunjong

1084 - 1095

Sonjong

1095

Honjong I

1096 - 1105

Sokjong

1106 - 1122

Yejong I

1123 - 1146

Injong I

1147 - 1170

Uijong

1170 - 1197

Myongjong

1198 - 1205

Sinjong

1205 - 1211

Huijong

1212 - 1213

Kangjong

1213 - 1259

Kojong I

1217 - 1218

The Mongols raid into Korea.

1235

The Mongols invade Korea for the first time with the serious intent of conquering it instead merely of raiding it.

1258

Korea is under Mongol suzerainty.

1260 - 1274

Wonjong

1275 - 1309

Ch'unguyol

1294

With the death of Kublai Khan, the Yuan dynasty survives under his successor, but the Mongol empire effectively ceases to exist. There are no further Khakhans (great khans), and command of the empire's territory is now permanently divided into four distinct and fully independent kingdoms: the Golden Horde (made up of the Blue Horde and White Horde), the Il-Khanate, Mughulistan, and Yuan China, which incorporates Mongolia and much of southern Siberia, along with governing Tibet through the institution of the Xuanzheng Yuan, and with Korea as a tributary state.

1309 - 1314

Ch'ungson

1314 - 1330

Ch'ungsuk

1330 - 1332

Ch'unghye

1332 - 1339

Ch'angsuk

Restored?

1339 - 1344

Ch'unghye

Restored?

1344 - 1348

Ch'ungmok

1349 - 1351

Ch'unajong

1340s

The Red Turban Army is created as a result of opposition to the faltering and unpopular Yuan Mongol rulers by the followers of the White Lotus sect of Buddhism. Kuo Tsu-hsing founds the army, named after the red turbans its members wear and the red banners they carry. The rebellion starts slowly, with Yuan officials being assaulted, but it blossoms, although overtures towards Koryo are repulsed militarily by Ch'unajong.

1351 - 1374

Kongmin / Gongmin / Buyantumur

Son of Ch'angsuk. Assassinated.

1372/1373

Yuan Khan Ayushiridara asks Kongmin for assistance in the fight against the Ming. As a former Mongol vassal, he is acclaimed as a fellow descendant of Chingiz Khan, and will therefore be happy to work together wth the Yuan in their current reduced state. However, Kongmin's reforms have already cut many ties with the Yuan in favour of the Ming, and he not only refuses to help, he actively pursues a policy of reconquering territory that had been annexed by the Great Khans in the 1270s.

1374

The pro-Mongol faction at court, which is led by Yin In-im, kills Kongmin. Immedately, they sent envoys to the Mongols at Liaoyang, and Ayushiridara quickly recognises the legitimacy of the king's successor, the young Sin U, despite the boy being a puppet of Yin In-im. Despite this, when Ayushiridara repeats his request for military assistance, the Korean court declines.

1374 - 1389

Sin U

Crowned by court official, Yi In-im. Puppet.

1389

Sinch'ang

1389 - 1392

Kongyang

Yi Dynasty
AD 1392 - 1910

(Additional information from the BBC series, The Story of China, by Michael Wood, first broadcast between 21 January and 25 February 2016, and from External Links: Britannica.com, and History Extra.)

1392 - 1398

T'aejo II

1398 - 1400

Chongjong III

1401 - 1418

T'aejong

1418 - 1450

Sejong

1450 - 1452

Munjong II

1452 - 1455

Tanjong

1456 - 1468

Sejo

1468 - 1469

Yejong II

1470 - 1494

Songjong II

1494 - 1506

Yonsan Gun

1506 - 1544

Chungjong

1544 - 1545

Injong II

1546 - 1567

Myonjong

1567 - 1608

Sonjo

1592 / 1598

Japan invades Korea but is defeated in 1592 and 1598. Toyotomi Hideyoshi dies on 18 September 1598, and the Council of Five Elders keeps it a secret until they can withdraw the army from Korea. The dream of invading China is over, and Toyotomi's son, the infant Toyotomi Hideyori now faces the threat posed by the powerful Tokugawa Ieyasu.

1609 - 1623

Kwan Naegun

1623 - 1649

Injo

1650 - 1659

Hyojong

1660 - 1675

Hyonjong II

1675 - 1720

Sukchong

1720 - 1724

Kyonjong

1725 - 1776

Yongjo

1777 - 1800

Chongjo

1801 - 1834

Sunjo

1835 - 1849

Honjong II

1850 - 1864

Ch'oljong

1864 - 1907

Kojong II

Japanese vassal (1904). Forced to abdicate. Died 1919.

1894 - 1895

With the Qin rapidly losing the age-old Chinese influence in Korea to a newly-resurgent Japan, tensions are high. A decade of peace between the two over Korea comes to an end when the pro-Japanese Korean leader of the 1884 coup, Kim Ok-kyun, is lured to Shanghai and is assassinated. Japanese public opinion is outraged by the subsequent treatment of his body. The peasant-led Tonghak Uprising breaks out in Korea in the same year, and Chinese attempts to reinforce the Korean king are met with military opposition by Japan.

The First Sino-Japanese War is triggered. Japan's modern military forces entirely outmatch the more numerous but outdated forces of China. By March 1895 the Japanese have successfully invaded Shandong Province and Manchuria and have fortified posts that command the sea approaches to Beijing. China sues for peace. In the Treaty of Shimonoseki China recognises the independence of Korea and cedes to Japan the island of Taiwan, the adjoining Pescadores, and the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria.

1904

Japan occupies large areas of Korea during the Russo-Japanese War, with the result that a protectorate is formed to oversee these areas. Japanese resident-generals are appointed to 'manage' the country with the Korean emperor remaining in charge in name only.

1907

Kojong II sends delegates to the Hague Peace Conference (the Hague Convention of 1907), where they appeal to the world to end Japan's dominance over Korea. Instead the prevailing trend of colonial administration of 'lesser' nations persuades the convention to endorse Japan's dominance. As a result of the failed attempt, Kojong II is forced to abdicate by his controllers.

1907 - 1910

Sungjong

Son. Japanese vassal.

1910

Japan annexes Korea on 22 August 1910, ending the pretence of the Korean monarchy remaining in charge of the country.

Japan-Korea Annexation
AD 1910 - 1945

The First Japan-Korea Convention was signed between the two countries on 22 August 1904, effectively forcing Yi dynasty Korea to become a protectorate. The Gwangmu emperor of Korea was now highly monitored and his access to external diplomatic channels controlled. This act was quickly followed on 17 July 1905 by the Taft–Katsura Agreement, which set out some ground rules between Japan and the USA and which encouraged Japanese influence in Korea for the sake of general peace. In September of the same year, Japan and Russia signed the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War and confirming Japan's dominance in Korea. The Korean emperor was forced to abdicate in 1907, to be succeeded by his son, but the final act came in 1910. The former Korean empire was formally annexed to the growing Japanese empire on 22 August 1910.

(Additional information from A Concise History of Modern Korea: From the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present, Michael J Seth.)

1910 - 1916

Terauchi Masatake

General in the Japanese army. First governor-general.

1914

With the First World War already underway in Europe, Japan declares war on Germany on 23 August 1914. The principle motive is to take advantage of Europe's confusion - especially Germany's - to expand its own sphere of influence in China and the Pacific.

Japanese troops in Korea
Japan's occupation of Korea was viewed with some unease by the Western powers but was generally accepted as being necessary to ensure peace and stability in the region

1916

Terauchi Masatake's term of office, first as resident-general before 1910 and then as governor-general of Korea, comes to an end when he becomes prime minister of Japan, the eighteenth such incumbent (although half of these have been repeated terms of office). He has been instrumental in overseeing the introduction of a large number of schools across Korea which have Japanese culture and language at the centre of their curriculum. Land reforms which really do improve a previously chaotic system still result in many lower class landholders or partial landholders losing out, adding to a sense of bitterness at the Japanese takeover.

1916 - 1919

Hasegawa Yoshimichi

Field marshal and general chief of staff. Died 1924.

1919

The Sam-il Movement embodies a growing resistance to Japanese occupation of Korea. On 1 March 1919, a group of activists read a Korean declaration of independence before signing it and sending a copy to the governor-general. The movement's leaders subsequently hand themselves in to the police, but a student reads the declaration in public. Mass demonstrations follow, increasing in size until a panicked Japanese military uses force to resolve things. Massacres and various atrocities follow, resulting in thousands of dead and injured.

1919 - 1927

Saitō Makoto

Admiral.

1927

Ugaki Kazushige

Former Japanese Minister of War.

1927 - 1929

Yamanashi Hanzō

Former Japanese general and army minister.

1929 - 1931

Saitō Makoto

Second term of office.

1931 - 1936

Ugaki Kazushige

Former Minister of War for a second time. Second term of office.

1936 - 1942

Minami Jirō

Former general.

1942 - 1944

Koiso Kuniaki

Former general and government minister.

1944 - 1945

Abe Nobuyuki

Former prime minister.

1945 - 1948

On 6 August 1945, an atom bomb is dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima by the US bomber, 'Enola Gay'. A further bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August brings a declaration of surrender from Japan on 2 September. Japan also surrenders its empire, including territory in China and Korea. Korea is occupied by the victorious Second World War allies, with Russia controlling the northern half and the USA the southern half.

1948

A republic is created in the form of South Korea, to be administered by the USA, while North Korea becomes a hard-line communist state under the direction of Soviet Russia and administered by a local client ruler.

Modern North Korea
AD 1948 - Present Day

North Korea is separated from China on its north-western border by the River Amrok (or Yalu to the Chinese), whose river basin formed the core of the kingdom of Goguryeo. The country is also bordered to the south by South Korea, while Japan lies on the eastern side of the Sea of Japan.

Korea had been annexed to Japan in 1910, and remained a satellite territory until the conclusion of the Second World War. Japan's defeat saw Korea occupied by the allied powers for three years until summit meetings held after the conclusion of the war decided that Korea would be divided along the thirty-eighth parallel. The USA would administer the southern half while Soviet Russia would do the same in the north. Russia placed a client ruler in charge in the form of Kim Il-sung, and he created the North Korean People's Army, which was equipped with Russian hardware including tanks and artillery. He went onto become the country's autocratic 'Great Leader', and the state became ultra-secretive and highly dangerous.

1948 - 1994

Kim Il-sung

'Great Leader' and first ruler of North Korea. Born 1912.

1950 - 1953

After several years of increasingly hostile small scale actions along the thirty-eighth parallel, North Korea's forces attack South Korea on 25 June 1950. North Korean troops sweep south, capturing most of the country. Under United Nations authorisation, a multinational force made up primarily of troops from the USA, and Britain and the Commonwealth nations (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and India), pushes back the North Koreans to the Manchurian border. This prompts Communist China to intervene, pouring troops across the frontier and taking South Korea as far as Seoul. By 1951 the allies have stabilised a front line around the thirty-eighth parallel and the remainder of the Korean War consists of heavy fighting in this region, until a ceasefire is agreed in July 1953.

1994

The death of Kim Il-sung sees his son replace him as head of state, but not president. That post is assigned 'eternally' to Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il continues the cult of personality which leads a state that is rigidly controlled and stagnant.

1994 - 2011

Kim Jong-il

Son. 'Dear Leader'. Born 1941.

2006

In October, North Korea announces that it has successfully tested a nuclear weapon, causing alarm and consternation throughout the region.

North Korean military parade
North Korea parades its military hardware from one of the world's largest standing armies

2010

On 28 September, Kim Jong-un is promoted to general, a clear sign that he is being groomed as his father's successor. What muddies the waters is the fact that Kim Jong-il's sister, Kim Kyong-hui, is also promoted to general, suggesting that her husband, the real power behind the throne of the ailing dictator, could be positioning himself for an eventual takeover.

2011

Kim Jong-il dies of a heart attack on 17 December, at the age of sixty-nine (the news is announced to the North Korean people two days later). His death occurs on a train while he is visiting an area outside the capital, and comes three years after he suffers a stroke. His favoured son, Kim Jong-un, is his successor.

2011 - Present

Kim Jong-un

Youngest son. 'Great Comrade'. Born 1983/1984.

2013

Kim Jong-un seals his control over the country by purging some of his father's most loyal allies. His aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, promoted to general in 2010, survives as an important member of Kim Jong-un's inner circle, but her potentially ambitious husband is executed on charges of treason and corruption.

Modern South Korea
AD 1948 - Present Day

Having supplied much of the territory for two of the historical three kingdoms, Paekche and Silla, along with the lesser kingdom of Kaya, South Korea is now divided from North Korea along the thirty-eighth parallel which cuts the Korean peninsula in half. Across Korea Bay to the west is China, with Japan to the south and east, across the Korea Strait and the Sea of Japan.

Korea was annexed to Japan in 1910, and remained a satellite territory until the conclusion of the Second World War. Japan's defeat in 1945 saw Korea occupied by the allied powers for three years until summit meetings held after the conclusion of the war decided that the country would be divided along the thirty-eighth parallel. The USA would administer the southern half while Soviet Russia would do the same in the north. US General Douglas MacArthur controlled the south from his headquarters in occupied Tokyo. The situation in the south was chaotic, and the Americans backed an administration under Syngman Rhee in the hope of finding some form of resolution. Syngman Rhee's openly stated intent was the reunification of Korea by force, so the Americans greatly limited the amount of military equipment available to him, leaving the republic of the south with little more than a lightly-armed gendarmerie.

1945

Archibald V Arnold

US military governor, Sep-Dec.

1945 - 1947

Archer L Lerch

US military governor, Dec-Sep.

1947 - 1948

William F Dean

US military governor, Oct-Aug.

1948 - 1949

Charles G Helmick

US military governor, Aug-Jun.

1948

South Korea holds a constitutional assembly in May, and a constitution is adopted. Given the country's main external influence (the USA), it is unavoidable that a presidential form of government is selected, with a four-year term of office for the presidency. An indirect presidential election is held in July according to the provisions of the constitution. Syngman Rhee becomes head of the new assembly, assuming the presidency and proclaiming the republic of Korea (South Korea) on 15 August 1948.

South Koreans of Jeju
One of the new republic's first acts under the dictatorial Syngman Rhee was to exterminate at least 30,000 civilians on the South Korean island of Jeju for resisting his US-supported governance of a strongly anti-Communist country

1950 - 1953

After several years of increasingly hostile small scale actions along the thirty-eighth parallel, North Korea's forces attack South Korea on 25 June 1950. North Korean troops sweep south, capturing most of the country. Under United Nations authorisation, a multinational force made up primarily of troops from the USA, and Britain and the Commonwealth nations (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and India), pushes the North Koreans back to the Manchurian border. This prompts Communist China to intervene, pouring troops across the frontier and taking Korea as far south as Seoul. By 1951 the allies have stabilised a front line around the thirty-eighth parallel and the remainder of the Korean War consists of heavy fighting in this region, until a ceasefire is agreed in July 1953.

1952

South Korea's elected president, Syngman Rhee, orders a mass arrest of opposition politicians so that he can force through an amendment to the constitution that allows him to be re-elected by direct popular vote. He wins a normally-unlikely 74% of the vote.

1952 - 1960

Syngman Rhee

'President' following rigged elections. Then president for life.

1956

Soon after an easy third election win, Syngman Rhee, amends the constitution again so that he can run for an unlimited number of elections instead of the three originally stipulated.

1960 - 1961

Rhee wins 90% of the vote in his fourth election - a margin of victory normally only witnessed in dictatorships. Rhee also gets his own man elected to the post of vice-president with an apparent landslide victory. Finally the populace are stirred up enough to protest, leading to some of them being shot at a demonstration in Musan. The resultant April Revolution forces Rhee to resign his office on 26 April 1960. A weak government is elected the following year, and this is quickly disposed of in a coup led by General General Park Chung-hee on 16 May 1961.

1961 - 1979

Park Chung-hee

Military 'president' following a coup. Assassinated.

1962

South Korea's economy begins a thirty year spurt of massive growth that leaves it amongst the world's richest nations by 1995. However, its position alongside ever-hostile North Korea ensures that it also has one of the world's top ten defence budgets.

1979 - 1987

Chun Doo-hwan

Military 'president' following a coup.

1987

The despotic 'presidency' of former general Chun Doo-hwan comes to a voluntary end following the death by torture of a university student. Chun is pressured into allowing direct presidential elections which are narrowly won by Roh Tae-woo of his own Democratic Justice Party, thereby handing over the reigns of power to his democratically-elected successor.