History Files

Far East Kingdoms

East Asia


Koryo / Goryeo Dynasty (Korea)
AD 924 - 1392

Out of the Samhan confederacies, the 'Three Kingdoms' of Baekje, Gaya, and Silla emerged, although not entirely directly in most cases. Despite the fact that they replaced the preceding confederacies rather than evolving directly from each of them, the 'Samhan' term remained in use in regard to them. It was even appropriated by the later Goryeo dynasty to refer to all of Korea. The Tang Chinese frequently referred to the collective Korean kingdoms as 'Samhan'. The northern kingdom of Koguryo became a 'Samhan' kingdom too, despite being located outside the former confederacy's territory.

Goryeo is also an alternative translation of the name of the ancient Korean state of Koguryo, which had been destroyed in AD 668.

(Additional information from External Link: Academic Kids Encyclopaedia.)

918 - 943

T'aejo I

944 - 945


946 - 949

Chongjong I

950 - 975


976 - 981


981 - 997

Songjong I

997 - 1009


1010 - 1032

Hyongjong I

1032 - 1035


1035 - 1047

Chongjong II

1047 - 1083

Munjong I



1084 - 1095



Honjong I

1096 - 1105


1106 - 1122

Yejong I

1123 - 1146

Injong I

1147 - 1170


1170 - 1197


1198 - 1205


1205 - 1211


1212 - 1213


1213 - 1259

Kojong I

1217 - 1218

The Mongols raid into Korea.


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


Korea is under Mongol suzerainty.

1260 - 1274


1275 - 1309



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


1314 - 1330


1330 - 1332


1332 - 1339



1339 - 1344



1344 - 1348


1349 - 1351



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.


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.


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 - 1392


Yi / Joseon Dynasty (Korea)
AD 1392 - 1910

The Joseon period.

The Yi or Joseon dynasty (Chosun in older works) serves as a symbol of Korean submission to Chinese hegemony - a direct opposite of Korea's 'Three Kingdoms' period in which Wiman Chosun, Koguryo, and Silla resisted Chinese domination. Relationships with China were now structured by the ritual of the Ming tributary system. By acknowledging Korea's ritual subordination the Yi founder solved, for the most part, the problem posed by the constant Chinese military threat while legitimating his own rule. However, Yi subordination later created a psychological problem for twentieth century Korean nationalists who saw the Yi as shamefully subservient in light of their own fight against Japanese Annexation and the subsequent division of Korea in 1953.

(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, and The Koguryo Controversy, National Identity, and Sino-Korean Relations Today, Peter Hays Gries (available as a PDF via ResearchGate), and Academic Kids Encyclopaedia.)

1392 - 1398

T'aejo II

1398 - 1400

Chongjong III

1401 - 1418


1418 - 1450


1450 - 1452

Munjong II

1452 - 1455


1456 - 1468


1468 - 1469

Yejong II

1470 - 1494

Songjong II

1494 - 1506

Yonsan Gun

1506 - 1544


1544 - 1545

Injong II

1546 - 1567


1567 - 1608


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


1650 - 1659


1660 - 1675

Hyonjong II

1675 - 1720


1720 - 1724


1725 - 1776


1777 - 1800


1801 - 1834


1835 - 1849

Honjong II

1850 - 1864


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.


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.


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 / Sin Ch'aeho

Son. Japanese vassal. Fled to Manchuria.


Japan annexes Korea on 22 August 1910, ending the pretence of the Korean monarchy remaining in charge of the country. Sin Ch'aeho flees to Manchuria to live in exile there, and later in Beijing and Shanghai. However, he does write a Korean history which consists of victorious struggles against foreign imperialism, beginning with the resistance of Koguryo to Sui Chinese dominance. The hope is that it will serve to create pride in the past for Koreans in order to help them resist the Japanese.

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.


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


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.


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



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.


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 South Korea
AD 1948 - Present Day

Modern Korea is a divided nation thanks to a succession of events which began with Japanese annexation at the start of the twentieth century and ended with the Korean War of 1950-1953. Today, having supplied much of the territory for two of Korea's historical 'Three Kingdoms', Baekje and Silla, along with the lesser, tribal confederation of Gaya, South Korea is now divided from North Korea along a border which was initially supplied by the thirty-eighth parallel, and then the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), which effectively 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.

Bearing a name that is said to descend from that of Koryŏ, Korea was annexed to Japan in 1910. It 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 that were 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 from a capital at Seoul - although US General Douglas MacArthur in fact controlled the south from his headquarters in occupied Tokyo - while Soviet Russia would do the same in the north. The situation in the south was chaotic, with the American-backed administration under Syngman Rhee openly stating its intent to reunify Korea by force. 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.

In the north Russia placed a client ruler in charge in the form of Kim Il-sung before withdrawing in 1948. With the south vocal but toothless, he created the North Korean People's Army. Russia insisted that the north was sovereign over all of Korea. When that proved not to be the case and the south declared its own sovereign status, war was almost inevitable in the febrile post-Second World War political climate. Following just two years of increasingly hostile small-scale actions along the thirty-eighth parallel, North Korea's forces attacked South Korea on 25 June 1950. North Korean troops swept south, capturing most of the country. Under United Nations authorisation, a multinational force made up primarily of troops from the USA, Britain, and the British Commonwealth nations (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and India), pushed back the North Koreans, prompting the Chinese to intervene. More troops poured in and peace was only ensured when a ceasefire was agreed in July 1953. Since then the dividing line between the two Koreas has remained heavily militarised, possibly one of the most militarised borders in the world.

South Korea's flag

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A Concise History of Modern Korea: From the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present, Michael J Seth, from the BBC series, The Story of China, by Michael Wood, first broadcast between 21 January and 25 February 2016, from The making of modern Korea, Adrian Buzo (Taylor & Francis, 2007), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Post War History (since 1945) (Japan-Guide.com), and BBC Country Profiles, and Maj-Gen A L Lerch dies in Korea at 53 (The New York Times), and South Korea Removes President Park Geun-hye (The New York Times), and Timeline on North Korea’s Nuclear Program (The New York Times).)

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 annexed territory in China and Korea. Korea is occupied by the victorious Second World War allies, with Russia controlling the northern half (soon to be known as North Korea) and the USA the southern half.


Archibald V Arnold

US military governor, Sep-Dec. Retired 1948.

1945 - 1947

Archer L Lerch

US military governor, Dec-Sep. Died in office aged 53.

1947 - 1948

William F Dean

US military governor, Oct-Aug. PoW (1950-1953). Died 1981.

1948 - 1949

Charles G Helmick

US military governor, Aug-Jun. Handed over to Rhee.


South Korea holds a constitutional assembly in May, and a constitution is adopted, heralding the start of the country's 'First Republic'. 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 two 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 (Major-General William F Dean, former US military governor of South Korea, commands the 24th Infantry Division during the war, and is captured at the retreat from Taejon in 1950 as the advance of the invaders is slowed down).

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.


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.


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. This places him into the category of would-be dictator.

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 at the start of the 'Second Republic' period, and this is quickly disposed of in a coup led by General Park Chung-hee on 16 May 1961.

April Revolution in South Korea of 1960
The April Revolution of 1960 saw mass demonstrations on the streets of Seoul, leading to the fall of the 'strongman' government of Syngman Rhee

1961 - 1979

Park Chung-hee

Military 'president' following a coup. Assassinated.

1962 - 1963

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. The start of the Park-Chung-hee government with him as 'president' in 1963 also signals the start of the 'Third Republic' period. Two more republics come and go - the fourth in 1972 and the fifth in 1981 - before the 'Sixth Republic' begins in 1988.


The 'Blue House Assault' at the height of the Cold War sees North Korea send a team of thirty-one commandos from Pyongyang to assassinate South Korea's President Park Chung-hee. They are stopped just a hundred metres from the presidential Blue House. Gunfights erupt and more than ninety South Koreans are killed, including many civilians on a bus. Only two of the commandos survives; one flees to the north and one is captured. A later assassination attempt on the president succeeds.

1979 - 1987

Chun Doo-hwan

Military 'president' following a coup.

1987 - 1988

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. The commencement in 1988 of the administration of the Roh Tae-woo government also heralds the start of the 'Sixth Republic' period in South Korea which survives to the present day.


North Korea accepts a proposal for exchange between the two Koreas, which leads to high-level talks and cultural and sporting exchanges. A joint communiqué in 1991 covering denuclearisation is agreed, and the two Koreas simultaneously become members of the UN.

UN accession in 1991 by the two Koreas
Prime Minister Chung Won-shik of South Korea (right) with Prime Minister Yon Hyong-muk of North Korea in Seoul, after signing a pact of reconciliation between their countries, in December 1991

2013 - 2016

Park Geun-hye is the first female president of South Korea, daughter the Park Chun-hee who had taken power by force in 1961. Her reputation, whilst initially good, is hampered by a degree of incompetence in the handling of the Sewol ferry disaster. A subsequent major scandal leads to her being impeached in December 2016. To a background of some of Korea's largest-ever public protests she is forced out of office.