The name Korea originates from the Koryo dynasty, one of the oldest known kingdoms to rule the peninsula from the 10th to the 14th century AD.
The Koryo dynasty was succeeded by the Choson dynasty around the 14th century. The word "Choson," which translates to "Land of the Morning Calm," comes the legend of the god-like warrior, Tangun, who is said to have founded Korea around 2000 BC.
Though the Choson leaders governed Korea as an independent nation for nearly five hundred years, they paid tribute to the Chinese kingdom, viewing it as East Asia’s overarching authority, and in exchange received China's military protection from nomadic forces from Mongolia and Japan.
Towards the end of the Choson dynasty, Korea struggled to defend itself from regional powers Japan and Russia, and Western nations, including the U.S., France and the United Kingdom.
Korea, unlike many other East Asian countries, effectively repelled the West's aggressive attempts to establish commercial trade relations through the use of military force, a policy now termed "gunboat diplomacy."
U.S. and European traders abandoned their hopes for foreign trade with Korea after the destruction of the armed merchant ship, the USS General Sherman, in the Taedong River near Pyongyang on Sept. 2, 1866.
By the end of the mid-nineteenth century, Korea insulated itself with a staunch closed-door policy, for which Korea became known as the "Hermit Kingdom."
This closed-door policy, however, did not deter Korea's neighbors, Russia, China and Japan, from vying for exclusive access to its ports and natural resources, namely its forests and gold mines.