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Our Korean Wedding Ceremony
Stretching southward from Manchuria and Siberia for close to miles kilometers , it extends down to the Korea Strait. China lies to Korea's west, separated from the peninsula by the Yellow Sea. Japan lies to its east on the other side of the Sea of Japan. Western societies have traditionally viewed the Korean peninsula as a remote region of the world. They have often referred to it as "The Hermit Kingdom" because it remained isolated from the western world until the nineteenth century. Yet it actually holds a central position on the globe, neighboring three major world powers—the former Soviet Union, China, and Japan. At the end of World War II in , the United States and the Soviet Union divided the peninsula along the 38th Parallel into two zones of occupation—a Soviet controlled region in the north and an American controlled one in the south. North Korea is run by a Communist government, with Pyongyang as its capital city. South Korea's government is an emergent democracy, and Seoul—Korea's largest city—is its capital. An estimated 67 million people live on the Korean peninsula, with a population of approximately Together they are racially and linguistically homogeneous. They are the ethnic descendants of a Tungusic branch of the Ural-Altaic family. Accordingly, the Korean people have found it necessary to defend fiercely their identity as a separate culture. Tungusic tribes from the Altai mountain region in central Asia made the peninsula their home during the Neolithic period around B. These tribes brought with them primitive religious and cultural practices, such as the east Asian religion of shamanism. By the fourth century B. The most advanced of these, Old Choson, was located in the basin of the Liao and Taedong rivers, where Pyongyang is situated today. China invaded Choson in the third century B. Historians commonly refer to the first period of recorded Korean history 53 B. These kingdoms were Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla. Toward the end of the seventh century A. Silla conquered Koguryo and Paekche and united the peninsula under the Silla dynasty. This period saw many advancements in literature, art, and science. Buddhism, which had reached Korea by way of China, was practiced by virtually all of Silla society. By the mid-eighth century the Silla people began using woodblock printing to reproduce sutras and Confucian writings. In , the three kingdoms divided again. Within 36 years the Koguryo kingdom took control and its leader, General Wang Kon, established the Koryo dynasty. The word Korea comes from this dynastic name. During Koryo's year reign, artistic, scientific, and literary achievements advanced further. Improving upon earlier Chinese printing methods, Korea became the first country in the world to use movable cast metal type in Medical knowledge also developed during the thirteenth century. Evolving out of local Korean folk remedies and Chinese practices, Korean medical science was recorded in books such as Emergency Remedies of Folk Medicine and Folk Remedies of Samhwaja. Mongolian forces invaded Koryo in and occupied the kingdom until The Chinese Ming dynasty forced the Mongols back to the far north. This struggle eventually led to the fall of Koryo in , when General Yi Song-Gye revolted against the king and founded the Yi dynasty. In control until the early twentieth century, it proved to be Korea's longest reigning dynasty and one of the most enduring regimes in history. The increasingly militant Buddhist state of the former Koryo dynasty yielded to the thinking of the new Choson kingdom, which was ruled by civilians who devotedly followed Confucian principles. Confucianism is not a religion but a philosophy of life and ethics that stresses an individual's sense of duty to family members and society as a whole. The Yi regime emphasized hierarchical relationships, with highest respect given to family elders, the monarch, and China as the older, more established country. The Yi dynasty remained peaceful until , when Japan invaded the peninsula. Chinese soldiers helped Korea seize control over its land from the Japanese armies. Japan attacked again in , but Korea was able to force its withdrawal by the end of the year. Still, the country was left in tatters from the war. Korea suffered more attacks in and , this time at the hands of the Manchus, who later conquered China. Western scientific, technological, and religious influences began to make their way to Korea during this period, by way of China. France, Great Britain, and the United States had already begun to dominate areas within China and other Asian countries. Calling Korea "The Hermit Kingdom" because of its closed-door policy toward non-Chinese foreigners, Western countries became interested in the peninsula in the nineteenth century. In an English merchant ship landed off the coast of Chungchong province, and in three French warships landed in the same area. Eight years later two armed Russian ships sailed along the Hamgyong coast and killed a few Korean civilians before leaving the region. In the U. General Sherman sailed up the Taedong River to Pyongyang. The crew's goal of drawing up a trade agreement was thwarted by an enraged mob of Koreans who set fire to the ship, killing everyone aboard. Korean animosity toward Western countries stemmed largely from their awareness of China's troubles with these same nations, particularly Great Britain, which had devastated China during the First Opium War of Despite Korean resistance, Japan forced the country to open to trade in In Korea reluctantly agreed to trade with the United States. For two centuries China and Japan fought for control over Asia. China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War greatly weakened Chinese dominance. After this victory Japan invaded the Korean peninsula. Korean students from American-founded schools resented this invasion. These schools had become a place to learn about democracy and national liberation. The Japanese army despised the American missionaries who had established these schools but knew better than to confront citizens of the powerful U. Instead, they took advantage of Korean citizens and outlawed Korean customs. Korea turned to Russia for financial support and protection. What followed was a ten-year struggle between Russia and Japan for control over the Korean peninsula. The Russo-Japanese War of ended in another Japanese victory. Korea became a protectorate of Japan, and Japan officially annexed the country in Japan modernized the country along Western lines, but Korea did not reap the benefits. Japan used half of the Korean rice crop for its own industry. Most Korean farmers were forced off their land. All Korean schools and temples were controlled by the Japanese. By the s Koreans were forced to worship at Shinto shrines, speak Japanese in schools, and adopt Japanese names. Japan also prevented them from publishing Korean newspapers and organizing their own intellectual and political groups. Thousands of Koreans participated in demonstrations against the Japanese government. These marches were mostly peaceful, but some led to violence. On March 1, , a group of 33 prominent Koreans in Seoul issued a proclamation of independence. Close to , Koreans, including students, teachers, and members of religious groups, organized demonstrations in the streets, protesting against Japanese rule. This mass demonstration, which became known as the March First Movement, lasted two months until the Japanese government suppressed it and expanded the size of its police force in Korea by 10, According to conservative estimates from Japanese reports, the Japanese police killed 7, Koreans, wounded 15,, and imprisoned another 46, in the process of quelling the movement. The Japanese government put Koreans to work in munitions plants, airplane factories, and coal mines in Japan. Before the war, Korean nationalists living outside of the country in Siberia, Manchuria, China, and the United States organized independence efforts, often using guerrilla tactics against the Japanese. One of these nationalists residing in the United States, Syngman Rhee, went on to become the first president of South Korea. Another Korean who was making a name for himself as a rebel was Kim Song-Je. He organized one of the first anti-Japanese guerrilla units in Antu, Manchuria, on April 25, , and became North Korea's first president. On December 8, this provisional government declared war on Japan and formed the Restoration Army to fight alongside the Allies in the Pacific theater. When Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 15, , ending the Japanese occupation of Korea, Koreans took to the streets in celebration of the end of 36 years under oppressive rule. But the freedom they expected did not follow. The Soviet Union immediately occupied Pyongyang, Hamhung, and other major northern cities. The United States followed by stationing troops in southern Korea. This division, which was supposed to have been a temporary measure, remained a source of turbulence and tragedy for Koreans at the dawn of the twenty-first century. In the months that followed the end of World War II, postwar international decisions were made without the consent of the Korean people. The Soviet Union set up a provisional Communist government in northern Korea, and the United States created a provisional republican government in the South. In the Republic of Korea was founded south of the 38th Parallel, followed by the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north. Both governments claimed authority over the entire peninsula and tempted fate by crossing the border at various points along the 38th Parallel. On June 25, , North Korea launched a surprise attack on South Korea, beginning a costly, bloody, three-year struggle known as the Korean War. It was perhaps the most tragic period in modern history for the Korean people. In the end, neither side achieved victory. On July 27, , in the town of Panmunjom, the two sides signed an armistice designating a cease-fire line along the 38th Parallel and establishing a surrounding 2. The war left the peninsula a wasteland. An estimated four million soldiers were killed or wounded, and approximately 1 million civilians died.
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