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Ancient history:
Millet Plant
Millet Plant

Peoples speaking languages that were ancestors of modern Korea came from North Asia in prehistoric times. Originally they made their living by hunting and collecting wild animals and plants. Many already lived in small villages and made pottery. About 5500 years ago, groups of the food collecting people began to cultivate millet, then various kinds of beans including soy. As early as 2700 b.c., rice began to appear in the southern parts of Korea. It was the first of many things borrowed from the developing civilization of neighboring China. By 1500 bronze making techniques were imported from China followed by iron about 1000 years later. Developed agriculture and good metal tools produced more food and farmer populations grew steadily. By about 400 b.c. Korean farmers migrated across the Sea of Japan (called the Eastern Sea by Koreans) to southern Japan. This was the beginning of farming villages in Japan and much of the modern Japanese population is descended from these immigrants. The Japanese and Korean people are really close cousins.

Several rich Korean kingdoms grew up in the first two millennia a.d. Shilla (668-935) occupied what is now South Korea. Its kings established Buddhism as the official state religion, but Confucian scholars and ideas also entered Korea. Near the southeastern city of Kyongju stand huge artificial mounds. They are the burial places for the members of the Shilla royal dynasty and they are loaded with gold and gems, especially jade.

For more information on this subject:

http://violet.berkeley.edu/~korea/history.html

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Royal Burial Mounds
Royal Burial Mounds

Korea and China:

The Korean kingdoms were influenced by Chinese trade goods and culture. Korean writing systems (4th century a.d.), architecture, political systems, religions, and even musical instruments came from China. Koreans adapted these Chinese things and made them their own. Chinese scholars had devised a kind of printing system using carved wooden blocks. Koreans took this invention one step further and created the first world's first metal moveable type in the 12th century. Adaptation of foreign things for their own use is a historical characteristic of Korean culture, even today.

One good example of how foreign things and ideas become "Koreanized" is pottery making. About a thousand years ago Korean potters learned how to make a special kind of fine, blue-green glazed pottery called celadon. Korean artisans adopted the technique and it became one of Korea's great cultural emblems. Even Chinese visitors remarked on how beautiful Korean celadon was. For 600 years a village near Seoul called Ich'on, has been home of Korea's greatest potters and it is here that the great celadon techniques have been revived. Today, it is still prized and sold all over the world.

Celadon happens to be one of the many forms of art and culture that Korea passed on to Japan. Another is writing. The Japanese writing system derives from China, as does paper making, block printing, art styles and much more.

Yet Japan has not always been friendly to its cousin to the west. By the 20th Century Japan had become an industrial power. Early in the century they conquered Korea and imposed Japanese culture and language upon it. Koreans struggled to maintain their language and cultural identity. Only with Japan's defeat in World War II (Independence Day, August 15, 1945) was this yoke removed from Korea's shoulders. By that time many Koreans had become "westernized," and looked forward to industrialization, but yet another conflict intervened.

For more information on this subject:

http://park.org/Korea/Sponsors/Samsung/HoAm/art.html
www.kofo.or.kr/english

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Korean Potter
Korean Potter

Korea and Japan:

After World War II the victorious Allies temporarily divided Korea along the 38th parallel between north and south. North Korea soon became a Communist state under the influence of the Soviet Union. South Korea declared themselves a republic in 1948 and became allies of the United States. After two years of military confrontation along the border, North Korean troops suddenly attacked the south in June, 1950. Almost defeated, the South Korean government called upon the United Nations to help. Many countries, led by the United States, sent troops. The Allied armies drove the North Koreans back but fearing an attack upon themselves, the People's Republic of China sent huge numbers of troops to aid North Korea. By early 1951 the war was stalemated along the old border. Armistice negotiations began, but took two years to complete. In the meantime battles raged and many lives were lost. Fifty thousand Americans died in the war, as did millions of Koreans on both sides. South Korea was devastated, its industries and agriculture ruined. Yet, out of the ashes South Koreans built a strong industrial state with a high standard of living. By the 1990s, along with economic development South Koreans also built a fully democratic western-style government. And, President Kim Dae Jung won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his work in building peaceful relations with North Korea. These remarkable transformations shows Koreans' willingness to adapt outside ideas and to make them part of their culture.

For more information on this subject:

http://violet.berkeley.edu/~korea/history.html