In 1910, Japan formally claimed Korea as its own, marking the end of Korea’s long-lived Joseon dynasty. The dynasty, which began in 1392, was lead by Gen. Yi Sŏng-gye, who, in what is now Seoul, established the capital of Hanyang.
Gen. Yi Sŏng-gye, also known as King Taejo, maintained relations with Korea’s Chinese neighbors, the Ming dynasty. This heavily influenced the Peninsula as King Taejo followed the model of the Chinese bureaucracy as well as allow neo-Confucianism to take hold throughout ancient Korea.
Throughout Korea’s past, the land had simply belonged to high-ranking bureaucrats, but with the installation and rise of the Joseon dynasty, the land began to be redistributed, and with it came the rise of a new aristocracy, the yangban. The yangban were scholar-officials and throughout the early years of the Joseon dynasty scholarship bloomed, even bringing about the Korean phonetic alphabet, Hangul, in 1443.
Unfortunately, this peace and prosperity would be short-lived as Japan began to invade and war against the Korean peninsula in 1592. Though their Chinese allies managed to repel the Japanese troops, the damage had already been done. This damage was only multiplied in 1627 as invaders from the Machu tribes of Manchuria, in preparation for an invasion of China, ransacked Korea’s Northwest border in an attempt to protect their rear. These back to back invasions, with little time to recover, left the Joseon central government severely weakened. It would take nearly a century for the dynasty to recover.
With the reigns of King Taejo’s descendants, King Yŏngjo and King Chŏngjo, much of what the invasions had stolen were now being recovered. Agriculture became prosperous, as irrigation became more widespread and Korea’s monetary economy was on the upswing. Though there were many administrative problems within the government, the Joseon dynasty managed to instill a new school of practical learning or Silhak in order to remedy these problems.
As many of their counterparts did, Korea practiced a policy of isolationism until the 1880s, where, in 1876 Japan urged them to sign the treaty of Kanghwa which declared Korea an independent state and ultimately lead them to form diplomatic relationships with Japan and their ancient ally China. As they began to open up to the outside world, Korea became the center of competition between the world powers and was ultimately influenced by Japan, who had claimed victory over China and Russia in Sino-Japanese war and Russo-Japanese war respectively.
Korea harbored disdain towards their Japanese overseers and in 1895 Japanese officials assassinated Korea’s Queen Min, a person suspected of inciting the resistance. This left her husband King Kojong as ruler until he was forced to cede the throne to his son in 1907, who ruled until the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910, marking the fall of the Joseon dynasty for good.
Founded through the strength and courage of Gen. Yi Sŏng-gye, the Joseon dynasty ruled and prospered Korea for over 500 years and became Korea’s longest-lived dynasties. They survived wars and instilled Korea’s phonetic alphabet, and instilled new schools of learning in their time of rule and they truly are Korea’s greatest dynasty.