The Silla Unite Korea

By 688, backed by the Tang ruler Wu Zhao, the Silla kingdom had defeated Paekche and Koguryo and united Korea. From this time until 1910, Korea had only three dynasties. The Silla dynasty ruled a unified Korea from 668 to 935, the Koryo from 935 to 1392, and the Choson from 1392 to 1910. During much of its history, Korea was a tributary state, acknowledging Chinese power but preserving its independence.

Under Silla rule, Korea prospered and the arts flourished. Koreans made advances in medicine, astronomy, metal casting, and textile manufacturing.

Chinese influences remained strong, and Koreans adopted many features of Confucian China. Korean culture reflected the Confucian emphasis on the family as the foundation of the state. Women's public roles were restricted, and their position within the family became subordinate to the male head of the household.

The Silla built a capital city, Kyongju, modeled on the Tang capital. Buddhist influence grew and spread, and the Silla supported the building of Buddhist temples. A brisk trade encouraged links between Korea and China. Koreans used Chinese written characters and studied Chinese ideas about government.

Small green glazed sculpture of a man in a robe seated in lotus position with hands in double dhyana mudra meditative position.

Celadon is created with a slip, or wash of liquid clay, that contains iron and is applied before glazing. When the pottery is fired at a high temperature, the iron colors the surface.

Koreans Adapt Chinese Influences

At the same time, Koreans adapted and modified Chinese ideas. For example, the Silla set up a Confucian academy to train young men to become high officials. They even adapted the Chinese civil service examination, but the Korean civil service system reflected their own system of inherited ranks. In China, even a peasant could win political influence by passing the exam. In Korea, where rank was important, only aristocrats were permitted to take the test.

The Koryo Dynasty

After a century of conflicts disrupted Silla rule, a rebel general finally seized power and set up the Koryo dynasty in 935. The English word “Korea” comes from the name of this dynasty.

During the Koryo age, Buddhism reached its greatest influence in Korea, while Korea developed more on its own than it had under the Silla. Confucian traditions remained strong, however. Koreans wrote histories and poems based on Chinese models, while artists created landscape paintings that reflected Chinese principles about harmony and balance.

Koreans used woodblock printing they had learned from China to produce a flood of Buddhist texts. In time, Korean investors took the Chinese invention one step further and created movable metal type, which allowed them to print large numbers of books.

Koreans also improved on other Chinese inventions. They learned to make porcelain from China, and then perfected the technique for making celadon, or porcelain with an unusual blue-green glaze. Korean celadon vases and jars were prized throughout Asia. In the 1200s, when the Mongols overran Korea and destroyed many industries, the secret of making celadon was lost forever.

The Choson Dynasty

The Mongols invaded Korea between 1231 and the 1250s. In 1258, the Koryo made peace with the Mongols, but a lack of tax income weakened the kingdom. In 1392, the brilliant Korean general Yi Song-gye (yee sung gyeh) overthrew them and set up the Choson dynasty. This was the last and longest-lived of Korea's three dynasties.

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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