Chinese forces, from the Han Dynasty, attacked and defeated Gojoseon in 108 B.C. Thus began Korea’s long and troubled relationship with China, which still continues to this day. That initial relationship lasted for four centuries through various successive Chinese dynasties. By 313 AD, a new society emerged called Goguryeo which annexed all of the Chinese powers on the peninsula. From there began the ‘Three Kingdoms’ period in Korea. This time in Korea’s history was also the beginning of conflicts between Southern Korea and Northern Korea. The peninsula was briefly unified in the 5th and 6th centuries, and during this period Korean forces defeated Chinese forces for the very first time. The area which is now known as Seoul began to flourish around the 7th century, and Buddhism was also introduced from China which then made its way across the East China Sea to Japan.
Japan was experiencing its own cultural boom in the Heian period (8th to 11th centuries) and evidence shows that much of its culture was influenced by Korea at that time. Japan sent scholars to both China and Korea to learn as much as they could about writing systems, art, Buddhism, and so forth. Goguryeo became Goryeo over time, and this was the precursor to the name Korea. Hence, modern Korean society truly appeared in the 10th century. Buddhism spread throughout the land, laws were established, and the first civil services were initiated. Even the first metal movable type was invented in Korea in the 13th century. However, it still had to defend itself against attacks by Mongolian and Chinese military. Following a successful defense of its territories, a golden era of peace and prosperity began.
Literature, science, religion, education, philosophy and so forth all matured during this period. Wishing to continue development and avoid war, Korea entered into a relationship with Kublai Khan and enjoyed a relatively peaceful friendship with both China and Mongolia. Hanseong (modern-day Seoul) became the capital and many palaces were built. Diplomatic relations and trade began with the Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa), Vietnam, Thai (Thailand), Burma, Laos, the Philippines and so on, in addition to China and Mongolia. In the 15th century, King Sejong the Great developed the Korean language, known as Hangul.
War began between Japan, China and Russia. The Japanese army then invaded and occupied the Korean peninsula at the start of the 20th century. As Koreans resisted Japanese rule, Japan’s occupation became more brutal, with the Japanese military killing 7000 protestors and forcing thousands more into labor camps. Later, as World War 2 began, Japan forcefully conscripted millions of Koreans, and tens of thousands of Korean men (presumably those who could understand and speak Japanese) were forced to join the Japanese military.
At the end of World War 2, the Korean peninsula was divided into two, the northern half administered by Russia, with the United States being responsible for everything south of the 38th Parallel. A demilitarized zone was established between the two territories. As the Cold War began, two different governments were formed on either side. Strangely, North Korea was called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DRPK), its official title still today, despite it being created as a Soviet style socialist republic under Russian influence (sometimes referred to as a communist dictatorship under the rule of the Kim dynasty).
MacArthur was forced to retreat from North Korea, and was eventually relieved of command. Complicating the matter was the intervention of Chinese forces, with over 300,000 Chinese troops on the ground and hundreds of thousands more at the Chinese-Korean border. The idea of using nuclear weapons was even discussed, but later dismissed. Lieutenant General Ridgeway took command and recaptured Seoul, before forcing both Chinese and North Korean troops back up and beyond the 38th Parallel. War continued until July in 1953, killing over 1.2 million people and destroying many cities. However, little land changed hands and the border (the Demilitarized Zone) remains in place at the 38th Parallel.
From all of its negative experiences throughout history, North Korea remains skeptical and wary of foreign powers, and has continued its isolationist behavior as the ‘Hermit Kingdom’. It holds a special hatred towards Japan for its annexation and brutal occupation of the peninsula at the beginning of the 19th century and for abuses committed during World War 2. Between 1977 and 1983, it is recognized that North Korean agents abducted 17 Japanese citizens, 13 of which North Korea has admitted to, although Japan believes there were many more. Most of the abductees were in their 20s, and five were returned to Japan in 2002. Diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea broke down even further afterwards. Citizens from other countries have also been abducted by North Korea since the 1960s.
In addition, North Korea resents the United States for it occupation of South Korea after World War 2, and blames the American forces for the Korean War. Furthermore, it sees South Koreans as traitors of Korea and regards many of them as puppets of America or even spies. Following the death of Kim Jong-Il in 2011, power passed to his son, Kim Jong-un. While Kim Jong-Il was partial to the idea of unification in the future, and reunions between relatives of those families separated by the border between North and South Korea, Kim Jong-un is much more reluctant to allow this, and remains both suspicious of the South and defiant in his attitude. The relationship between North Korea and the United States has experienced its highest tensions ever since President Trump took power. In recent months there has been a stand-off over the testing of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, with many in the media suggesting that it could lead to World War 3. The stalemate continues while the world waits to see if Kim Jong-un will indeed test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean as threatened, and how the United States will react. Will there ever be peace? One can only hope so. Take care and best wishes.