A History of Korea
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A History of Korea

From "Land of the Morning Calm" to States in Conflict

Jinwung Kim

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eBook - ePub

A History of Korea

From "Land of the Morning Calm" to States in Conflict

Jinwung Kim

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About This Book

A history of the divided region, from prehistoric times to present day, examining at political, social, cultural, economic, and diplomatic developments. Contemporary North and South Korea are nations of radical contrasts: one a bellicose totalitarian state with a failing economy; the other a peaceful democracy with a strong economy. Yet their people share a common history that extends back more than three thousand years. In this comprehensive new history of Korea from the prehistoric era to the present day, Jinwung Kim recounts the rich and fascinating story of the political, social, cultural, economic, and diplomatic developments in Korea's long march to the present. He provides a detailed account of the origins of the Korean people and language and the founding of the first walled-town states, along with the advanced civilization that existed in the ancient land of "Unified Silla." Clarifying the often complex history of the Three Kingdoms Period, Kim chronicles the five-century long history of the Choson dynasty, which left a deep impression on Korean culture. From the beginning, China has loomed large in the history of Korea, from the earliest times when the tribes that would eventually make up the Korean nation roamed the vast plains of Manchuria and against whom Korea would soon define itself. Japan, too, has played an important role in Korean history, particularly in the 20th century; Kim tells this story as well, including the conflicts that led to the current divided state. The first detailed overview of Korean history in nearly a quarter century, this volume will enlighten a new generation of students eager to understand this contested region of Asia. "Using the latest sources, including recently declassified Communist documents, Jinwung Kim's book holds promise of becoming the textbook of choice. Benefiting from his direct and intimate knowledge of the country, he writes with great clarity, providing rich and interesting descriptions of political, social, cultural, economic, and diplomatic developments throughout the history of Korea." —James I. Matray, California State University, Chico "A clearly written, comprehensive, and impressively detailed work." — Journal of Asian Studies

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The Paleolithic Age

As a nation, Korea has a long history. The archeological finds suggest that, at some point in the misty past, tiny bands of tribesmen inhabiting the lands along the Altai Mountains of Central Asia began making their way eastward in the eternal quest for the “land of life” (the East), moving into Manchuria and the Korean peninsula. The habitation of early men in the Korean peninsula started as early as 700,000 years ago. Some North Koreans claim that the peninsula may have been inhabited for a million years. Until now Paleolithic remains, dating about 700,000 to 8,000 years ago, have been excavated in various parts of the Korean peninsula, from the Tumen River basin to the north to Cheju-do Island to the south. The most important Paleolithic sites, amounting to more than a hundred, are mostly found at the sides of big rivers.
The best-known sites of the Early Paleolithic Age, which ended approximately 100,000 years ago, include those at Sangwŏn county (Kŏmŭnmoru cave and Yonggok-ni) in the Taedong River basin, at Yŏnch’ŏn county (Chŏn’gok-ni) in the Hant’an River basin, at Chech’ŏn city (Chŏmmal cave of P’ojŏn-ni) and Tanyang city (Kŭmgul cave) in the South Han River basin, and at P’aju county (Chuwŏl-ri and Kawŏl-ri) in the Imjin River basin. The sites of the Middle Paleolithic Age, dating about 100,000 to 40,000 years ago, include those at Unggi county (Kulp’o-ri) in the Tumen River basin, at Sangwŏn county (Yonggok-ni) and the Yŏkp’o area of Pyongyang in the Taedong River basin, at Tŏkch’ŏn county (Sŭngni-san) in the Ch’ŏngch’ŏn River basin, at Yanggu county (Sangmuryŏng-ni) in the North Han River basin, at Yŏnch’ŏn county (Namgye-ri), Yangp’yŏng county (Pyŏngsan-ni), Chech’ŏn city (Myŏngo-ri), and Tanyang city (Suyanggae cave) in the South Han River basin, and on Chejudo (Pile-mot pond). The sites of the Late Paleolithic Age, dating about 40,000 to 8,000 years ago, include those at Unggi county (Kulp’o-ri [the upper layer] and Pup’o-ri), Pyongyang (Mandal-ri) in the Taedong River basin, Kongju city (Sŏkchang-ni) and Ch’ŏngwŏn county (Turubong cave) in the Kŭm River basin, Hwasun county (Taejŏn-ni), Koksŏng county (Chewŏl-ri), and Sunch’ŏn city (Chungnae-ri) in the Sŏmjin River basin. Given the wide distribution of these sites, it is presumed that Paleolithic men lived in virtually every part of the Korean peninsula.
At the remains mentioned above, Paleolithic stone tools such as choppers, scrappers, hand axes, and cleavers have been unearthed. Choppers and scrappers were mainly used to take animal meat off the bones. Hand axes and cleavers were later produced for many purposes. At Sangwŏn county and Yonggokni, fossilized human bones were uncovered. Although North Koreans argue that these bones may date back to 500,000 to 1,000,000 years ago, interpretations have varied on the estimated dating.
In the Paleolithic Age the implements needed for hunting were fashioned by chipping stone. At first a lump of rock, flint stone in particular, was struck until a usable tool with sharp edges or points was produced. Later a number of pieces that had been broken off were also given additional edge or sharpness by chipping or flaking and then were utilized as implements. This improvement in tool-making methods allowed access to a wide range and amount of food sources, and was essential to the invention of bows and spear throwers. Bone implements made of animal bones and horns were also used for fishing.
Paleolithic men at first lived in caves, and later they began to build dugouts on level ground. Instances of the former are found at the Kŏmŭnmoru cave (Sangwŏn county) and at the Chŏmmal cave (P’ojŏn-ni, Chech’ŏn city), and the latter is illustrated by a dwelling site at Sŏkchang-ni. A hearth, together with animal figures of a bear, a dog, and a tortoise, radiocarbon-dated to 20,000 years old, has been unearthed at Sŏkchang-ni. The existence of a hearth demonstrates that fire was used both for heating and for cooking food.
These Paleolithic men were grouped together in small-scale societies such as bands and gained their subsistence from hunting wild animals as well as gathering fruit, berries, and edible plant roots. They also gathered firewood and materials for their tools, clothes, and shelters. The invention of harpoons allowed fish to become part of human diets. At Sangwŏn county, many fossilized fauna remains from the diet of early humans have been discovered. By the late Paleolithic period, beginning about 40,000 years ago, Paleolithic people had begun to carve animal images on the walls of caves, demonstrating their simple artistic activity.
Whether these Paleolithic people were the ancestors of present-day Koreans is difficult to know. The Paleolithic Age lasted for an extensive period, and presumably, upon experiencing a succession of glacial eras, Paleolithic men periodically perished and were replaced by newcomers or survivors migrated to other warmer areas.

The Neolithic Age

About 6,000 BC the tribes on the Korean peninsula began to pass from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic Age. It is presumed that the late Paleolithic people on the Korean peninsula evolved into the early Neolithic people, because when the Paleolithic evolved into the Neolithic Age the Korean peninsula experienced no rapid increase in population and pottery found in some areas of Korea predated pottery discovered in Siberia and Mongolia. These original natives were supplemented by Neolithic newcomers who migrated from Siberia. Numerous sites of the Neolithic period have been found on the Korean peninsula, particularly along the Taedong River near Pyongyang and the Han River near Seoul, and in the Naktong River estuary near Pusan. The best-known sites include those at Tongsam-dong on Yŏng-do Island off Pusan, Amsa-dong in Seoul, and Misa-ri in Kwangju city, in the Han River basin; Kulp’o-ri at Unggi county, in the Tumen River basin; and Kŭmt’an-ni and Ch’ŏngho-ri near Pyongyang, in the Taedong River basin.
Neolithic men were characterized by their ability to make polished stone tools and to manufacture and use pottery. By polishing stone, they produced sharp knives, spears, and arrowheads. They also manufactured a range of stone tools for farming. The polished stone axe, above all other tools, made forest clearance feasible on a large scale. As a result, Neolithic people were able to enjoy more conveniences in their lives than their Paleolithic predecessors. Their greatest technical invention was the use of pottery. At first they manufactured plain, round-bottomed pottery, and then, from sometime around 4000 BC, a new type of pottery called chŭlmun t’ogi (comb-pattern pottery) appeared on the Korean peninsula and became characteristic of Korea’s Neolithic Age. Comb-pattern pottery was gray in color with a V-shaped pointed bottom, and was distinguished by designs on the entire outer surface of parallel lines (comb-patterning, cord-wrapping decorations) that resembled markings made by a comb. The comb-pattern design was added to prevent cracks on the surface. Mainly used to store grains, this pottery has been found at numerous Neolithic sites throughout the Korean peninsula. The wide distribution of the pottery in Manchuria, Siberia, and Mongolia indicates that Neolithic men on the Korean peninsula bore cultural ties with the Ural-Altaic regions.
Around 2000 BC a third pottery culture, originating in central China, spread into the Korean peninsula from Manchuria, and was characterized by painted designs marked by waves, lightning, and skeins on the outer surface and the flat bottom. Much of this newly introduced pottery has been found in the western and southern coastal regions and the river basins. Stone plowshares, stone sickles, and stone hoes have been discovered with carbonated millet at the remains of this new pottery culture, indicating that stone implements and harvested grains were stored in pottery.
Like previous Paleolithic settlers, these Neolithic people first lived by hunting, fishing, and gathering. By about 4000 BC, however, people had learned to plant grains, especially millet, using horn or stone hoes to dig and stone sickles to harvest. An incipient farming culture appeared in which small-scale shifting (“slash-and-burn”) cultivation was practiced in addition to various other subsistence strategies. Carbonated millet found at the remain at Chit’am-ni (Pongsan county in Hwanghae province) attests to this early farming culture. These Neolithic people practiced agriculture in a settled communal life, organized into familial clans. They also domesticated and raised livestock such as dogs and pigs. They used nets to catch fish and learned to fish with hook and line.
These Neolithic people turned animal skins to good account for clothing. They scraped away flesh for food with stone knives and then sewed skins together using bone needles made of deer horns. People later wove cloth from animal fur or plant fibers, especially hemp, with primitive spindles, and their clothes were often adorned with shells or beads.1
Once they began farming, the growing need to spend more time and labor tending crops required more localized dwellings, and so Neolithic men increasingly moved from a nomadic to a sedentary existence. As a result, permanent or seasonally inhabited settlements appeared. Mainly living in pit dwellings, they built huts in round or rectangular dugouts, with posts set up to support a straw thatch covering to protect against the wind and the rain. The rough ground was covered by platforms, mats, and skins on which residents slept. One to several hearths were placed in the center of the floor of the dwelling and used for cooking and heating. Storage pits for storing grains and instruments were located beside the hearth or near the entrance, which faced south to benefit from the sunlight. Five or six family members inhabited a dwelling pit.
The basic unit of Neolithic society was the clan, which was bound together by its distinct bloodline. Economically independent and self-sufficient, each clan formed its own village. Economic activities within territories claimed by other clans were prohibited, and such a violation would incur either punishment or compensation. Despite this tight-knit economic life, exogamous marriage was common, and spouses were invariably sought from other clans. Neolithic society, in a word, was relatively simple and egalitarian.
Neolithic clans held totemic beliefs in which they worshiped objects in the natural world, namely certain animals or plants, as their ancestors. In its worship of a specific totemic object with which it closely identified, a clan differentiated itself from others. Neolithic men also had animistic beliefs, as they were convinced that every object in the natural world possessed a soul. They therefore worshiped mountains, rivers, and trees. Foremost among natural objects to be worshiped was the sun, considered the greatest being in the universe, which they called hanŭnim, or heavenly god. Man, too, was believed to have an immortal soul which would ultimately return to heaven where God resided. Thus, when a man died, he was said to “return” to nature and, in burying the man’s body, his corpse was laid with its head facing eastward, in the direction of the sunrise.
The cult of heaven and the spirits caused Neolithic men to look upon a shaman, who was believed to have the ability to link human beings with heavenly god and the spirits, as the greatest figure. Neolithic people beli...

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