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Korea? Where is it?
Part II from "A Brief History of the US-Korea Relations Prior to 1945"
Kim Young-Sik, Ph.D.

Map of Asia, 1812 (Ruderman, 2003) - During the last Ice Age, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Malay, Siberia, and Alaska were connected. The East Sea (Sea of Japan) was an inland lake. Humans migrated to Korea. Japan, and Alaska in waves from Central Asia and Polynesia. Earlier maps showed Korea as an island.

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The early US-Korea relations
A brief history of the US-Korea relations prior to 1945 (Part I)
[This is the second excerpt from Kim Young-Sik's paper entitled "A Brief History of the US-Korea Relations Prior to 1945."]

The history of Korea begins with Go-Chosun (“Old Chosun” – Chosun means 'Land of Morning Calm'). The Go-Chosun people, called the Dongyi ("eastern bowmen" or "eastern barbarians"), inhabited Manchuria, East China, and the Korean Peninsula. In addition to Koreans, the Dongyi included Jurchens (Manchus), Mongols, Khitans, Xiongnu (Huns), and perhaps, some of the Native American tribes. (UC Berkeley, 1997)

It is believed that a group of Dongyi tribes formed an alliance called "Han-guk" in about 7193 BC. This nation was ruled by Han-In ("Lord of Heaven"). Today, South Korea is called Han-guk, but there exists no conclusive documentary or physical evidence that such a nation did in fact exist. Recently, three complete sets of 300,000-year old human fossils have been discovered in Korea in an ancient lava bed. Modern DNA tests showed that the remains were those of a woman, a teenage boy, and a female child, most likely a family that died in a sudden volcanic eruption about 300,000 years ago. ("Korean History", 2003)
The recorded history of Korea dates back to 2333 BC, when a tribal chieftain Dangun united warring tribes into a nation-state, Go-Chosun (or Dangun Chosun). Dangun established his capital at Asadal (today's Pyongyang) and was buried there. Korean archeologists have restored Dangun's grave and the remains of Dangun and his wife are preserved in a glass showcase in North Korea. Although Dangun's life is shrouded in fanciful myths, Dagnun was a real person who founded the first nation in Korea.

Many Koreans use the Dangun calendar, which puts 2003 AD at 4336 Dangun. The first nation in Egypt, Narmer, was formed in 3185 BC and the first nation in China, Xia, was formed in about 2200 BC. Go-Chosun is one of the oldest known nations of the world, and the Korean race and culture are unique. Dangun's birthday and the Go-Chosum foundation day are celebrated in Korea.

Go-Chosun fell in 108 BC to Han China. From the ashes of Go-Chosun, there arose three Korean kingdoms: Silla in 57 BC, Koguryo in 37 BC, and Baikje in 18 BC. Baekje and Silla occupied southern Korea while Koguryo occupied Manchuria and northern regions of Korea. Silla, after decades of warfare, united Korea in 668 AD. Silla imploded in 935 AD from internal conflicts and the Koryo Kingdom came into being. The word ‘Corea’ originally came from “Koryo”. Mongols invaded Koryo in 1238 and ruled it for about a century. Kublai Khan launched two disastrous invasions of Japan from Korea, in both attempts, tens of thousands of Koreans and hundreds of Korean ships, forced to serve the Mongols, perished in kamikaze (divine winds - typhoons).

In 1389, General Yi Seong Gye, noted for his successful campaigns against Japanese pirates, seized the power. Gen. Yi instituted land reforms to lighten the loads on the peasants and established institutions of Confucian learning. He set up public schools for training Confucian scholar-officials for government offices. His reforms were well received and his popularity with the people soared. Yi became the King by popular acclaim in 1392. Gen. Yi called his kingdom Chosun after Go-Chosun and moved his capital from Kaesong to Seoul.

Chosun lost much of the glory of Go-Chosun and controlled less than 90,000 square miles roughly equal to the combined area of Tennessee and Kentucky, a mere fraction of the land formerly occupied by Go-Chosun and Koguryo. The Chosun Kingdom (commonly referred to as the "Yi Dynasty" in Western publications) lasted over 500 years. It had wise progressive Kings as well as retarded tyrants.

Japanese Occupation - 1592 - 1598

The Chosun Kingdom was under constant attacks by Japanese pirates and Chinese bandits. In addition, China, Russia, and Japan made numerous attempts to occupy the nation. Thus, for example, in 1592, a 200,000-men Japanese army led by Shogun Hideyoshi invaded Korea and devastated the land. The Japanese were driven away in the following year, but they came back in 1597 and left Korea when Hideyoshi died in 1598. (imjin-waeran, 2002).

The Japanese invaders took about 300,000 Koreans, many of them young girls, as slaves to Japan. (Some Japanese historians claim that less than 30,000 Koreans were taken, while South Korean historians put the number at about 100,000. The figure of 300,000 comes from a Portuguese archive cited by Lee Hae Gang, 2000.) The Japanese cut noses and ears off their Korean victims as souvenirs. A kind-hearted Japanese governor had the trophies confiscated and buried in a mass grave near Kyoto, which exists even today known as Mimizuka ("Ear/Nose Mound" in Japanese). (Kristof, 1997)

Chesun Falls

In the aftermath of the Hideyoshi fiasco, adding insults to injury, a Manchu army invaded Korea in 1627, which was repulsed, but nine years later in 1636, another Manchu army invaded Korea. The Land of Morning Calm became a desolate land of skeletons and starving people. After these catastrophic invasions, Korea shut itself off from the world and became a ‘hermit’ kingdom. Christian missionaries and other foreigners were expelled or executed. Borders were sealed shut and no one was allowed in or out. It was against law to fraternize with foreigners of any nationality.

The Chosen Kingdom remained sealed until 1876, when Japan forced it to sign the Treaty of Kanghwa (also known as Treaty of Friendship), and soon the United Stated and other nations followed the Japanese example. On May 22, 1882: Korea and the United States signed the Treaty of Amity, Friendship, and Mutual Defense at Chemulpo (today's Inchon). In 1904, the United States secretly nullified the Chemulpo Treaty in the Taft-Katsura Agreement. Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and the Chosun Kingdom was no more.
Korea Liberated in 1945

Korea remained a Japanese colony until August 15, 1945, on which day, Korea was divided into two halves along the 38th Parallel. The US military ran South Korea from 1945 to 1948, when the Republic of Korea came into being under Rhee Syngman, a Korean-American. The Soviet Red Army ruled North Korea from 1945 to 1948, when the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established under Kim Il Sung, a noted anti-Japanese guerrilla commander.

On June 25, 1950, Kim Il Sung invaded South Korea. Kim's troops had occupied much of South Korea when the United States intervened and pushed back Kim's troops to the Korea-China border. Mao Zedong sent in Chinese volunteers and Stalin dispatched Soviet air force units to fight the US military and its allies. An armistice agreement was ironed out in 1953 and the fighting stopped, but no peace treaty has been signed, and so, technically speaking, the war is still on.

Today, South Korea is an economic powerhouse and democracy rules South Korea, while North Korea has become a nuclear power that cannot feed its people and is ruled by military dictatorship of Kim Il-Sung's son, Kim Jong-Il. Dark clouds of war are once again hovering over the Korean Peninsula.

* Kim Young-Sik is editor for Korea WebWeekly.

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