Infographic titled Korean and Chinese calligraphy.
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Korean hangul is used for nearly all written communication in both South and North Korea today.

Analyze Data

How might the introduction of hangul affect literacy rates?

General Yi reduced Buddhist influence and set up a government based upon Confucian principles.

The Invention of Hangul

Despite Chinese influence, Korea preserved its distinct identity. In 1443, King Sejong decided to replace the Chinese system of writing that had never worked well for the Korean language. “The language of this land,” he noted, “is different from China's.” Sejong had experts develop hangul, the Korean phonetic alphabet that uses symbols to represent the sounds of spoken Korean.

Although Confucian scholars and Koreans of the upper classes rejected hangul at the outset, its use quickly spread. Hangul was easier for Koreans to use than the thousands of characters of written Chinese. Its use led to an extremely high literacy rate, or percentage of people who can read and write.

Koreans Battle Japanese Invaders

In the 1590s, an ambitious Japanese ruler decided to invade China by way of Korea. Japanese armies landed and for years looted and burned across the peninsula. To stop the invaders at sea, the Korean Admiral Yi Sun-shin used metal-plated “turtle ships” to beat back the invaders at sea. These turtle-shaped ships were the world's first ironclad warships. They had great mobility and firepower and helped Koreans win sea battles.

After six years of devastating war, the Japanese armies finally withdrew from Korea. As they left, however, they carried off many Korean artisans to introduce their skills to Japan.


  1. Synthesize How are Korea's history and culture linked to those of China and Japan?
  2. Make Generalizations Why might Korea's location be of strategic importance to other countries?
  3. Identify Main Ideas What are two examples of how Korea adapted or modified Chinese ideas?
  4. Evaluate Data Today, Hangul Day is a holiday in South Korea. Why do you think Koreans celebrate this holiday?
  5. Identify Bias Reread the quotation from the fourth-century writer Gihwa. What evidence can you find that he sympathized with the rulers and the upper class?

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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