The Impact of Location

Korea's location on China's eastern border has played a key role in its development. From its powerful mainland neighbor, Korea received many cultural and technological influences. At various times in history, China extended political control over the Korean peninsula. Korea has also served as a cultural bridge linking China and Japan. Koreans have, from early times, adapted and transformed Chinese traditions before passing them on to the Japanese.

The earliest Koreans probably migrated southeastward from Siberia and northern Manchuria during the Stone Age. They spoke a language unrelated to Chinese and evolved their own ways of life long before any Chinese influences reached the peninsula.

About 108 B.C., the Han emperor, Wudi, conquered the northern part of the peninsula and set up a military colony there. For almost 400 years, the Han administered the area around what is today Pyongyang. From this outpost, Confucian traditions and Chinese ideas about government, as well as Chinese writing and farming methods, spread into Korea.

The Silla and Koryo Dynasties Develop

Between 100 B.C. and A.D. 676, powerful local rulers forged three separate kingdoms: Koguryo in the north, Paekche in the southwest, and Silla in the southeast. Although they shared the same language and cultural background, the three kingdoms often warred with one another or with China.

Chinese Influences

Still, Chinese influences continued to arrive. Missionaries spread Mahayana Buddhism, which took root among the rulers and nobles. Korean monks then traveled to China and India to learn more about Buddhism. They brought home the arts and learning of China. A Korean writer of the time explained the benefits that he believed Buddhism could bring to his country:

”If you teach people to rely on this teaching [Buddhism] and practice it, then their minds can be corrected, and their bodies can be cultivated. You can regulate your family, you can govern the state, and you can bring peace to the world.”

—Gihwa, The Exposition of the Correct

A map shows Korea's three kingdoms, from A D 300 to 600.
Image Long Description

The three early kingdoms of Korea shared an ethnic background, culture, and language, although they were frequently at war with each other.

Analyze Maps

Which of these kingdoms was probably most influenced by Chinese civilization? Why?


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments