During my visit to South Korea on October 5 to 13, 2017, I had the pleasure of going with my family on a guided tour from Hanatour. We explored Seoul, and then traveled to the western part of Korea and to Jeju Island.
Below is the itinerary that we followed.
- October 5 to 6: Seoul (서울)
- October 7: Gongju (공주시) – Daejeon (대전)
- October 8: Jeongju (전주시) – Jinan (진안군) – Gwangju (광주시)
- October 9: Boseong (보성군) – Suncheon (순천시) – Yeosu (여수시)
- October 10: Yeosu (여수시) – Jinju (진주시)
- October 11 to 13: Jeju Island (제주도)
Before diving into the travel journals, I personally recommend reading the following overview of South Korea’s history.
“Korean history is quite complex! You can continue reading below the cut, or if you really want to skip ahead, click on the city name that you are interested in reading about.”
During 57 B.C. to 668 A.D., also known as the Three Kingdoms Period, three tribes vied for power over the Korean peninsula. The three tribes were the Koguryo (located in the northwest), Paekche (located in the southwest) and Silla (located in the southeast). The Koguryo kingdom arose in 37 B.C. under the rule of Chu Mong, who rapidly expanded his control over most of Manchuria and the southern half of the peninsula. The Koguryo kingdom adopted features of Chinese civilization, such as Buddhism and Confucianism.
From the beginning of the 7th century, the Sui Dynasty of China attacked the Koguryo kingdom. Although the attacks were repelled by Ulji Moonduk, the Tang Dynasty of China would launch large-scale military campaigns beginning in 657. Meanwhile, the Silla kingdom bided its time, and would side with the Tang Dynasty in 660 to conquer the Paekche kingdom. After their success, the allied Silla-Tang forces would then overthrow the Koguryo kingdom as it grew weaker due to consecutive war and internal political struggles for the throne. As a result, Korea was united for the first time in 668. The Silla remained in control of Korea for five centuries until 935. The collapse of the Silla kingdom was due to the peasant revolts that stemmed from the creation of private ownership of land that lead to the depletion of the national treasury.
The Goryeo (also written as Koryo 고려) kingdom (918-1392) rose from the wars that took place during the period known as the Later Three Kingdoms. Founded by Taejo (Wang Geon) and Gyeon Hwon, the kingdom saw the emergence of Buddhism and Confucianism as the main ideologies of the country and the steady growth of agriculture and handicraft economies. Furthermore, the invention of the metal printing types and the celadon pottery techniques characterized the growth of Korean culture.
From the early 13th century, Mongolian invasions had made the country economically unstable, leading to social unrest among the populace. Eventually, the Goryeo kingdom struggled with internal and external conflicts leading to its collapse in the 14th century. Yi Seong-gye, a rising leader, overthrew the Goryeo dynasty and with Ming China’s authorization, he founded the Joseon (조선) dynasty (1392-1910). The capital was moved to Hanyang (modern-day Seoul) located along the Hangang River and the center of the Korean peninsula. During the Joseon dynasty, power was centralized under the monarch and the Six Ministries of Joseon: Personnel (Ijo), Taxation (Hojo), Rites (Yejo), Military Affairs (Byeongjo), Punishments (Hyeongjo), and Public Works (Gongjo) were created. In addition, Confucianism replaced Buddhism as the main ideology of the new dynasty. Many cultural achievements and inventions characterized this dynasty, including the creation of Hangeul (the Korean phonetic alphabet), celestial charts, sundials, rain gauges, compasses, ironclad turtle ships, and movable metal printing types.
While the Joseon dynasty kept good diplomatic ties with China and Japan in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Japanese invaded Korea in a war that lasted seven years called the Imjin War (1592-1598). Following the death of the Japanese leader, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the war ended, but that would not stop Japan from trying again to take control of the Korean peninsula.
From the rise of the Industrial Revolution to the 19th century, the Joseon dynasty maintained its isolationist stance despite increasing pressure from Western countries. Then, in 1875, Japan launched military campaigns against Joseon, leading to the signing of the unequal Ganghwa Treaty in 1876. From this point, Japan and the Western countries vied to take control of the resources of Joseon. After waging successful wars against Qing dynasty China and Russia in the 1890s, Japan went forth to annex Joseon. Despite opposition from the Joseon dynasty, Japan succeeded in annexing Joseon (the Korean Empire) in 1910. Their control of Korea would last for 35 years.
Under the Japanese, the Koreans were not able to speak Korean or teach Korean language, culture, or history. They were also exploited to be conscripted into the work force or serve as soldiers in the Pacific War. Koreans organized demonstrations and persisted in their struggles for independence, until on August 15, 1945, they were liberated as a result of Japan’s surrender in the Pacific War.
In 1948, the Republic of Korea (ROK) was established as the liberal democracy of the country, and it was formally recognized by the United Nations as the only legitimate government on the Korean peninsula. However, in the north part of the Korean peninsula, an election could not be carried out due to the Soviet Union’s opposition; this resulted in the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and creation of a communist dictatorship. Disagreement between the north and south were not reconciled. On June 25, 1960, North Korean troops invaded South Korea, leading to war known as the Korean War of 1950-1953. With the assistance from the UN forces, an armistice was signed in 1953. The desolation of the Korean peninsula following the war motivated the South Korean people to help drive the country to modernization. In the years that followed, the country went through governmental reforms and transition from an agricultural-based economy to one of manufacturing. Today, South Korea is known as the “Land of Morning Calm;” it is a nation that has persevered through more than fifty occupations by foreign powers, yet the people have come through time and time again, staying true to their Korean identity.
Choy, Bong-Youn. (1971). Korea: A History. Tuttle Publishing.
Korea Culture and Information Service (KOCHIS). (2021). About Korea: History. Retrieved from https://www.korea.net/AboutKorea/History