The Jeoson Period of Korea

This is a period of history that the Koreans are especially proud of because there were many accomplishments made in Korea during this era.  It came from 1392-1910 A. D., after the Goryo period.  If you go site seeing in Korea or watch any movies about Korea, this period is always talked about and highlighted.

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The Chinese system of writing is extremely complicated.


If you go to Gangwamun in the center of Seoul, in the middle of the street, in front of the  American embassy and in front of Geyongbuk Palace, there is a huge statue of a Korean hero that lived during this time.  His name was King Sejong. He was the fourth king during the Jeoson period.  He invented hangul, the Korean alphabet.  The whole world can be thankful to him for this alphabet because Korean is an extremely complicated language, and to have people speaking such a complicated language using the Chinese characters which are also very complicated, just cut Korea off from many, many people in the world.  The hangul, the Korean alphabet, is ingenious.  In some ways, it functions like the English alphabet in that each letter stands for a sound unlike the Japanese alphabet, the hiragana, where each letter is a short syllable consisting either of a consonant and a vowel or just a vowel except the letter that represents “n.”  Korea didn’t ditch the Chinese characters right away and used them in conjunction with this alphabet for a long time, but when they finally decided to basically just use the hangul, it made a world of difference for people trying to learn Korean.  You see, if you want to learn to read using the Chinese characters, my Japanese teacher told me to read the Japanese newspaper, it would take 12 years of study in Japan because of the Chinese characters the Japanese use, but it only took me one day to learn to read the hangul.  With as complicated at the Korean language is, personally, I have a debt of gratitude to King Sejong. Without him, I would never have gotten as far in Korean as I have gotten.  The American government classifies the Korean language as the second hardest in the world for English speakers to learn, and it would have been near to impossible without King Sejong.

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a sundial

King Sejong also invented some other things the Korean people became indebted to him for.  He invented a sundial, a water clock, and an udometer the Koreans call Cheukugi. He had an amazing amount of influence on the Korean people.

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With Confucianism, the grandparents make the rules.

Seoul already existed during the Jeoson period, but during Joseon, it became the capital.  The people of Jeoson banned Buddhism, and the took Confucianism as the major philosophy of governing.  Confucianism is not an actual religion, but just a philosophy. It is actually a very useful way for ordering a people.  The older people control the younger people.  It is as simple as that.  Grandmother and Grandfather are in charge.  However, if they aren’t around, the parents are in charge. If they aren’t around, the older brother or sister is in charge.  The younger people become very humble and just accept their place in life until they get older.  It keeps crime down. It keeps immorality down.  However, some of the older people become bossy and arrogant.

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Osaka castle

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Chinese tribes wanted Korea too.

During this period of time, in 1592, Korea was invaded by Japan.  The leader of Japan was Totomi Hideyashi.  He was the Shogun during the Tokugawa period of history in Japan who lived in Osaka in the Osaka castle.  He had united all of Japan and decided that next, he needed to add Korea, or as it was called at the time, Joseon to Japan. After all, they were related people just as the groups he united in Japan were.  However, he was unsuccessful at adding the Joseon people to the Japanese people.  This war lasted for seven years. The Koreans called the war Im-jin-wae-ran.

Right after that war, Joseon had another war.  They were attacked by a Chinese tribe called Chung.  China is a very complicated country, and this was not actually China, but just one of the many people groups that make up modern day China.  This war was called Byeong-ja-ho–ran.

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You can always tell the different between a picture of Korea and the other oriental nations.  In Korea, there is always lots and lots of steps.  Their buildings were built like this for their protection.  I toured a place that was up on top of a hill, and even after you got there, there were many, many steps to get to the actual building where the people lived.  The reason for all the steps and being on top of a hill was because of the Chinese and Japanese invasions.  Korea is the most mountainous country in the world, and they used their mountains strategically for their protection.  Once the enemy got up all those steps, he was out of breath and it was difficult for the enemy to fight.


The Chinese tribe also failed to take over Joseon. After those wars, Joseon enjoyed political stability and great cultural development. However, they also decided to shut themselves off from the rest of the world.  There is a reason why old Korea was called “the hermit nation.”  They didn’t like war, and if it meant that they would have to hide from the rest of the world so that other people didn’t know they were here, then so be it.  If you were a foreigner and happened into Korea during this time, you were not allowed to leave, and the Koreans were not allowed to leave. It was for self preservation.

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This is a Japanese kimono, the traditional clothing of Japan. At home, the men and women still wear the yukata, the cotton, summer kimonos for comfort, but this one is more formal.  The yukatas are not very expensive, not very formal, worn like a robe, and easy to wear, but this kind of kimono is extremely expensive and complicated to know how to wear.  Now a days, they wear them to formal occasions like weddings.  The world “kimono” literally means “wearing thing.”


However, the Japanese still knew the Koreans were there.  From 1866-1912 A. D. was known as the Meiji Era in Japan.  It was a period in Japan where they had an emperor.  Japan had thrown the Portuguese and other western foreigners out of Japan which ensued with a large wave of Christian persecution in Japan during the Tokugawa period, 1603-1866.  If Christianity was not to grow, the Japanese people looked to their original religion, Shintoism.  Shintoism taught that the emperor was a god, they were descended from the gods, and that it was their destiny to take over the world.  They had already had the idea that Korea and Japan should be part of the same country, so they tried again, and this time, they were successful.  During the Meiji period, the westerners were allowed to enter Japan again in 1854 when an American, Commodore Matthew Perry showed up and the Japanese let his ship dock and began the contact with the outside world in Japan again.

In one of my favorite books about Korea “Tales of a Korean Grandmother,” The grandmother is constantly complaining about “the little men from Japan” because Japan has been a source of trouble off and on for a long time in Korea always showing up thinking they wanted to take over Korea.  This time, these “little men” were successful.

The Japanese had been opened up to western influence beginning when Commodore Matthew Perry docked in Japan.  Now, Japan took Korea over, and Korea began to be influenced by western culture too.  Many Koreans learned to speak Japanese. The Japanese and Korean languages have the same grammatical systems, and they both have the Chinese characters in common.  Some of the words are the same, and several are similar, but they are two very distinct languages.  You can see the influence between the two languages that happened through time if you study them both, but they are not as close as languages like Spanish and Italian.  Their similarities are more like Italian and English which are both European languages with Latin, the basis for Italian influencing English, but still English is a very different language from Italian just as Korean and Japanese are very different languages. When I came to Korea 13 years ago, I couldn’t speak Korean yet, but I could speak Japanese, and there were many older Koreans who could speak Japanese because of the occupation of the Japanese in Korea, so spoke Japanese with me.

This is not the end of Korean history, but it is the end of the Joseon era.  The Koreans became a conquered people, but it didn’t stay that way.  In my next blog about Korean history, I will talk about the time of Japanese occupation and how Korea got away from Japan.  Korea had been around a long time at this point. Their history could be traced back to 2333 B. C., and the ancestry of their first king. Dangun, could be traced back to the tower of Babel. In the early years of their history, they struggled to see which people group in Korea would rule and eventually became one people group  again, and for many years, they were an independent nation, but at the end of the Joseon period, they became an occupied nation, but Japan was eventually thrown out.

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