Joseon Dynasty


The Joseon Dynasty (alternatively, Choson or Chosun) was the final ruling dynasty of Korea, lasting from 1392 until 1910. It was founded by the Jeonju Yi family, and was preceded by the Goryeo dynasty.

It was officially founded by Yi Seonggye, a general who originally distinguished himself by repelling Japanese pirates who were marauding the peninsula for mainland technology. Later, General Yi would lead the overthrow or coup d'etat of the last king of the Goryeo Dynasty. The name Joseon comes from the ancient founding dynasty of Korea, Gojoseon, which was founded circa 2333 BC. The 518-year-old dynasty came to an end with Japanese annexation in 1910.




At the beginning of the dynasty, Seoul (also known as Hanyang and later as Hanseong) became the new capital. Construction for Gyeongbok Palace began in 1394. General Yi had allied himself with the Chinese Ming Dynasty and under the political situation of that time, extensive trade and information exchange with China was favored again. This included the ginseng trade and exchanges in medicine, technology, and science. The question of land holding, and quelling the growing animosity between the Buddhists and Confucian scholars was a concern, so the new government readily decided to adopted Confucianism as the state ideology. The Hangul alphabet was created by King Sejong in 1443. Prior to Hangul, Koreans used Hanja.

Science and culture

During the Joseon Dynasty, a centralized administrative system was installed based on Confucian yangban scholars who acted as the counsellors to the king and made up most of the officer class of the imperial army. The expansion of scholarship on the Confucian classics was attended by a new moral system, as Buddhism's medieval cloistering of scholars gave way to an urban sophistication based on wider travel and knowledge.

The Joseon Dynasty also presided over two periods of great cultural growth, during which Joseon culture created the first Korean Tea Ceremony, Korean Gardens, and extensive encyclopaedias. The royal dynasty also built several fortresses, trading harbors, and palaces.

Many Korean inventions are from this period, such as the first Asian sundial and the world's first water-powered clock. During the Joseon period, the metal printing press, invented during the Goryeo dynasty in 1232 AD, supplanted the wood-block printing press in China.

Early Japanese invasions

In 1592 and 1597, Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi led the invasion of Korea by daimyo and their troops. This war is generally referred to as the Imjin War or Seven-Year War. Factional infighting in the Joseon court, the inability to assess Japanese military capability and failed attempts at diplomacy led to poor preparation on the Joseon's part. The element of suprise and use of European firearms by the Japanese left most of the southern peninsula occupied within months, with both Pyongyang and Seoul captured.

Local resistance, however, slowed down the Japanese advance and decisive naval victories by Admiral Yi Sunsin left control over sea routes in Korean hands, severely hampering Japanese supply lines. Eventually, with the help of Chinese forces from the Ming, Joseon repelled these invasions. During the war, Koreans developed powerful firearms and high-quality gunpowder and turtle boats, the first cannon-bearing ironclad warships in world history. Eventhough Korea won the Seven-Year War, it left deep scars in Korea. Farmlands were devastated, irrigation dikes were destroyed, villages and towns were burned down, the population was first plundered and then dispersed, and tens of thousands of skilled workers (celadon ware makers, craftsmen, artisans, etc) were either killed during the war or kidnapped to Japan as captives to help Japanese develop their crafts. In 1598 alone, the Japanese took some 38,000 ears as horrific trophies. The long war reduced the productive capacity of farmlands from 1,708,000 kyol to 541,000 kyol. Pillage and foraging by Chinese troops only added to the unmitigated tragedy of a war from which the peninsula kingdom never fully recovered. Following the war, relations between Korea and Japan had been completely suspended. Japan was cut off from the technology of continental Asia. After the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, however, negotiations between the Korean court and the Tokugawa shogunate were carried out via the Japanese lord on Tsushima. In 1604, Tokugawa Ieyasu, needing to restore commercial relations with Korea in order to have access to the technology of the mainland again, met Korea's demands and released some 3000 captive Koreans. As a result, in 1607, a Korean mission visited Edo, and diplomatic and trade relations were restored on a limited basis.

Subsequent history

Following these events the Korean Kingdom became increasingly isolationist. Its rulers sought to limit contact with foreign countries. In addition, the Ming Dynasty was weakened and nearly bankrupt for helping Korea which lead to the destruction of the Ming Dynasty by the Manchu invasion of China, and lead to the establishment of the new Qing Dynasty. The Koreans decided to build tighter borders, exert more controls over inter-border traffic, and wait out the initial turbulence of the Manchu overthrow of the Ming.

Despite these limits, Korea had extensive trade with Mongolia, Northern Asia, China, and Japan. However, at times trade with Japan was limited to missions appointed by the king in order to prevent piracy and conduct orderly trade, which had been a problem even in the Goryeo Period.

After the Manchus defeated the Ming dynasty, the Korean rulers agreed to pay tribute to the new Qing dynasty emperors. Tribute at this time involved two way trade missions with China. The Qing rulers adopted a foreign policy to avoid the creation of foreign trading enclaves on Chinese soil. This policy limited the prescence of the traditional entrepot of the foreign hongs to Macau. These entrepot handled the significant trade of Chinese silks for foreign silver. This arrangement relegated foreign trade to the southern provinces of China, leaving the more unstable northern region under careful regulation and limiting the influence of foreigners. This decision affected Korea since China was Korea's main trading partner.

Foreign trade restrictions except China helped strengthen Korea: the wealth of Korean natural resources, sophisticated technology, ceramics innovations and the key medicinal trade in ginseng was fostered by trading with the most technologically advanced nation at that time which was China. At this time a relatively sophisticated economy developed and the first western visitor, Hendrick Hamel, a Dutchman, arrived.

Decline and collapse

In the 19th century tensions mounted between Qing China and Japan, culminating in the First Sino-Japanese War (日清戦争 갑오전쟁 甲午戰爭, 18941895). Much of this war was fought on the Korean peninsula. Japan, after the Meiji Restoration (明治維新), acquired Western military technology, had forced Joseon to sign the Kanghwa Treaty in 1876. Japan encroached upon Korean territory in search of fish, iron ore, and natural resources. It also established a strong economic presence in the peninsula, heralding the beginning of Japanese imperial expansion in East Asia.

The Chinese defeat in the 1894 war led to the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which officially guaranteed Korea's "independence from China." The treaty effectively granted Japan direct control over Korean politics. The Joseon court in 1894, pressured by encroachment from larger powers, felt the need to reinforce national integrity and declared the "The Great Han Empire" (대한제국 大韓帝國). King Kojong assumed the title of Emperor (황제 皇帝) in order to assert Korea's independence by putting himself on the same level as the Chinese Emperors. In addition, other foreign powers were sought for military technology, especially Russia, to fend off the Japanese. Technically, 1894 marks the end of the Joseon period, as the official name of the state was changed; however, the Yi Dynasty would still reign, albeit perturbed by Japanese intervention, until the Japanese annexation of the Korean peninsula in 1910.

The collapse of Russia's navy in the historic battle of Port Arthur (in which Russia's imperial navy was destroyed in a decisive surprise attack), led to a great weakening of Korea's umbrella of protection.

The combined effect on China of the opium wars to the south and Japanese naval strikes in the north increasingly led the Japanese to see Korea as a strategic foothold into north China, just as Macau and Hong Kong were Portuguese and English trade enclaves into south China.

Japanese occupation

In a complicated series of manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres, Japan pushed back the Russian fleet at the Battle of Port Arthur in 1905. Both the fleets of China and Russia had given Korea sufficient protection to prevent a direct invasion, but this ambuscade of the Russian fleet gave Japan free reign over north China, and Korea was left at the mercy of the new regional naval power: Japan.

Korea became a protectorate of Japan in 1895 when Japan forced Emperor Gojong of Korea to abdicate his throne and assassinated his wife, Empress Min of Joseon. Japan annexed the country in 1910 and Korea became a Japanese colony.

The event is recalled both in books and at the historical site itself, (Cheong'duk Palace in Seoul), with a monument. Queen Min's brutal murder — she was stabbed repeatedly, cut into pieces, desecrated, and thrown into a fish pond — didn't shock the world powers as it should have: the events were not known widely for decades because of the suppression of journalism and the sacking and looting of Seoul, which was occurring at the same time.

The family today

After the Invasion and de facto annexation of Korea by Japanes in 1910, the Princes and Princesses of the Imperial Family were forced to leave for Japan to be re-educated and married. The Heir to the Throne, Imperial Crown Prince Uimin, married Princess Yi Bang-ja nee Nashimoto, and had two sons, Princes Yi Jin and Yi Gu. His elder brother, Imperial Prince Ui had twelve sons and nine daughters from various wives and concubines.

The Crown Prince lost his status in Japan at the end of World War II and returned to Korea in 1963 after an invitation by the Republican Government. He suffered a stroke as his plane landed in Seoul and was rushed to a hospital. He never recovered and passed away in 1970. His brother, Imperial Prince Ui passed away in 1955.

Presently His Highness Prince Yi Seok is one of two pretenders to the throne of Korea. He is a son of Prince Gang of Korea, a fifth son of Gojong of Korea and currently a professor of history lecturing at Jeonju University in the Republic of Korea.

The Imperial Family

About references

The Joseon Dynasty recorded its history as Annals of Joseon Dynasty.

There is presently no official historian of the Korean royal family, and the Imperial records have ceased to be recorded since the Japanese invasions. Occasional references to the Korean Royal Family and its present charities and activities in the arts or in cultural preservation are found on websites on world royalty.


  • A Cultural History of Modern Korea, Wannae Joe, ed. with intro. by Hongkyu A. Choe, Elizabeth NY, and Seoul Korea: Hollym, 2000.
  • An Introduction to Korean Culture, ed. Koo & Nahm, Elizabeth NJ, and Seoul Korea: Hollym, 1998. 2nd edition.

See also

Template:History of Korea

External links

de:Joseon-Dynastie fr:Dynastie Chosun ko:조선 (국호) ja:李氏朝鮮 zh:李氏朝鲜


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