Education About Asia: Online Archives

Korea: From Hermit Kingdom to Colony

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By Michael J. Seth

The World Encroaches on the Hermit Kingdom

At the end of the eighteenth century, Korea was a land with more than a millennium of political unity, proud of its rigid adherence to Confucian cultural norms, and at peace with its neighbors. Under the reigns of two able kings, Yŏngjo (1724– 1776) and Chŏngjo (1776–1800), Korea prospered. In the nineteenth century, however, the state entered a period when weak kings were dominated by powerful clans related to the monarch through royal marriages. Some historians see this as a sign that Korea was entering a decline after 1800. There was an uprising in the northwest in 1811–1812, a rice riot in Seoul in 1833, and some small scale peasant uprisings in the countryside, mainly aimed at local officials.

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