Timelines of Korean History

1. Comparative Timeline: China-Korea-Japan

As seen in the table below, dynastic dates for the East Asian countries line up with reasonable precision. This can be understood in terms of a shared geography, and encourages us to think about East Asia as a unit. At the macro level these influences flow from west to east, that is from China to Korea to Japan. In the tables below, and generally on this website, NK designates the ancient Korean heartland that includes present-day North Korea but also extended, in earlier times, across the Yalu river, north into Manchuria and west into Lionang.

Approximate Date China Korea Japan
before 1000 BC Longshan (2500 BC)
Shang (1600-1046 BC)
Neolithic Jomon
1000 BC - 500 BC Western Zhou (1046-771 BC)
Spring & Autumn (770-475 BC)
Old Joseon (NK; 1000-108 BC)
Introduction of bronze (ca. 800 BC)
Final Jomon (1000-300 BC)
500 BC - 1 AD Warring States (475 BC - 221 BC)
Western Han (206 BC - 9 AD)
Introduction of iron (300 BC)
Buyeo (Manchuria; 200 BC - 494 AD)
Yayoi (300 BC - 300 AD)
1 AD - 300 AD Eastern Han (25 AD - 220 AD) Proto-Three Kingdoms (Samhan) Late Yayoi
300 - 600 Six Dynasties (221-581)
Sui (581-618)
Three Kingdoms (300-668) Kofun (300-552)
Asuka (552-645)
600 - 900 Tang (618-906) Unified Silla (668-935)
Balhae (Manchuria, 698-926)
Nara (645-794)
Early Heian (794-900)
900 - 1400 Northern Song (9601127)
Southern Song (1127-1279)
Yuan (1279-1368)
Goryeo (936-1392) Late Heian (900-1185)
Kamakura (1185-1392)
1400 - 1900 Ming (1368-1644)
Qing (1644-1911)
Joseon (1392-1910) Muromachi (1392-1568)
Momoyama (1568-1615)
Tokugawa (1615-1867)
Meiji (1868-1912)
1900 - 1945 ROC (1911-1949) Japan colonizes Korea (1910) Taisho (1912-1926)
Showa (1926-1989)
1945 - present PRC (1949-present) Korean War (1950) and North-South split (1953) Akihito (1989-present)

2. Cultural Timeline: Korea

7000 BC Neolithic migrants move from Siberia into Manchuria, and from there (5000 BC) into Korea and Japan.
3000 BC Pit houses in riverine and coastal villages. Clan organization. Animism (nature religion). Stone tools include sinkers for fishnets and millstones for grinding grain and nuts. Beginnings of weaving and farming. Jeulmun (comb-pattern) pottery.
2333 BC Legendary date of the founding of Korea by Dangun, the offspring of a Chinese prince (Son of Heaven) with a Siberian princess (Bear Woman). See Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia for related examples.
1000 BC Bronze Age culture (actual bronze from ca. 800 BC) and rice cultivation arrive from China. Bronze bells and mirrors. Walled towns. Social stratification into "big men" and commoners. Elite burials in dolmen and stone cist tombs. Shamanism (spirit religion). Mumun (plain-ware) and undecorated redware pottery.
700 - 100 BC Gojoseon (Old Joseon) is the earliest attested state on the Korean peninsula (NK).
300 BC Iron Age culture arrives into NK from China. Migrations from Bronze Age SK initiate the Yayoi culture in Japan, whose shared cultural features include dolmen, cist, and jar burials, ritual bells and mirrors, gogok, and shamanism. Rock art in Gyeongju and Cheonjeonri. Early state formation. Political hierarchy of rulers, gentlemen, and commoners. Elite burials in mounded tombs. Wooden above-ground houses, that are heated by ondol (under-floor) system.
200 BC - 494 AD Buyeo is a long-lived but little-known Manchurian buffer state between Han China in the west, the Xianbei in the north, and Goguryeo in the east and south.
108 BC Han Wu Di conquers Wiman Joseon. China governs NK by a colonial system of commanderies (administrative districts), up until 313 AD.
42 AD - 562 AD Gaya, a small but wealthy and cultivated federation of states, is awkwardly wedged between Baekje (W) and Silla (E) on the south coast of Korea; it serves as a culturally important staging area between Korea and Japan.
300 AD -600 AD
Three Kingdoms
Korea's Three Kingdoms (Goguryeo in the north, Baekje in the west, and Silla in the south) coalesce along geographic lines. During this time Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism enter Korea from China. Silla is the latest, but as it turns out the strongest, of the three kingdoms; an Animist holdout, it does not adopt Buddhism until the 6th century AD.
313 AD Goguryeo destroys the last Han commandery in the north.
4th century AD Early Three Kingdoms culture, including iron metallurgy, horses, painted chamber tombs, distinctive gold crowns, and other elite artifacts, makes its way into Japan during the Kofun period. One theory to account for this is that Korean "horseriders" from Baekje could have entered Japan to become the new ruling elite. Whether or not the "horserider" theory is true in detail, at the very least there was a massive and defining cultural transmission from Korea to Japan during this time.
6th century AD Korean officials, teachers, and sculptors introduce Buddhism and Buddhist art to Asuka Japan.
614 AD Goguryeo defeats a major invasion by China's Sui dynasty.
Unified Silla
The Silla kingdom, allied with China's Tang, defeats Baekje in 660 and Goguryeo in 668 to form Unified Silla, the first pan-Korean state. Meanwhile, in Manchuria, the Balhae (Parhae), 698-926, establish a northern kingdom. During this time Buddhism is dominant, and favorable trade relationships with China and Japan help Korea to become brilliant and wealthy.
7th century Introduction of Huayan and Chan (Zen) Buddhism from China. Confucian National Academy opens in 682.
771 - after 774 Building of Seokkuram cave chapel.
8th-9th centuries Relationships with Tang China change from conflict to cooperation, resulting in widespread cultural influence on Korea. Luxury goods (including books and artworks) are imported from China, and many Korean monks visit China to study Buddhism. Korean trade relations also include contact with Japanese and Arab merchants. Scholarship and technology, such as woodblock printing, flourishes.
Silla in the late 9th century, overcome by political and social disunity, breaks apart into smaller regional entities. General Wang Geon establishes the Goryeo kingdom in 918 and unifies the entire peninsula by 936 (the English word "Korea" comes from "Koryŏ," the McCune-Reischauer spelling of "Goryeo.") Outstanding cultural products from this time include inlaid celadon (sanggam), other types of celadon, the Tripitaka Koreana (Buddhist scripture woodblocks), and the world's earliest movable metal type.
1018 Goryeo defeats Liao in the Goryeo-Khitan Wars.
1087 Completion of the first Tripitaka Koreana, which was destroyed in the Mongol invasions of Korea in 1232.
1145 Compilation of Samguk sagi (Histories of the Three Kingdoms), Korea's earliest surviving history.
1231-1368 Mongols invade China in 1211 and Korea in 1231. They eventually conquer China (Yuan dynasty, 1271-1368) and reduce Korea to a client state with close relations including royal intermarriage between the two courts. These ties facilitate a ceramics exchange, with Cizhou-style iron brown underglaze techique imported from China to Korea, and underglaze copper red moving from Korea to China.
ca. 1234 Invention of movable metal type in Korea. (Movable ceramic type was invented two hundred years earlier, in Song China.)
1251 Completion of the second Tripitaka Koreana, which is still extant today in Haeinsa.
1274, 1281 Using South Korea as a base, the Mongols launch two massive but unsuccessful invasions against Japan, that are repelled with the help of typhoons (kamikaze, meaning "divine winds").
1285 Compilation of Samguk yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms), Korea's second-oldest surviving history.
General Yi Seonggye establishes the Joseon (Yi) dynasty in Korea, following the collapse of Mongol rule. Culturally aligned with Ming China, the early Joseon enjoy 200 years of peace until about 1600, the start of the modern (pan-global) era when Japan, China, and Europe all collide with monumental effect upon the Korean shore.
15th-16th century society Confucianism displaces Buddhism as the state ideology at the start of the Joseon dynasty. Rise of the yangban governing class. The Buddhists literally "run for the hills," upon which they build their temples far from official notice; but Buddhist religion remains popular among royals and commoners. Women are gradually relegated to inferior status according to the Confucian model, losing the extensive property and social rights that they had previously enjoyed.
1418-1450 King Sejong the Great supervises an era of cultural achievement that includes the creation of hangul, Korea's native writing system.
15th-16th century painting With the change of dynasty, there is a reaction against Buddhism and Buddhist art. Joseon painting, as in the work of An Gyeon (ca. 1440-1470), becomes inspired by the earlier landscapes of China's Northern Song, while also incorporating a variety of influences from China's Ming and Korea's Goryeo dynasties.
15th-16th century ceramics Porcelain ware is created for the elite, while buncheong ware serves the less exalted. Ceramic production in Korea halts in the 1590s due to Japanese invasions. When production restarted in the 17th century, only porcelain was manufactured; the less-refined buncheong was no longer produced in Korea, although it continued in Japan where its use was favored in the tea ceremony.
1592, 1597 Imjin War: Japanese under Toyotomi Hideyoshi invade Korea causing great loss of life. They are eventually repelled, thanks in large part to Admiral Yi Sun-sin's technologically advanced Turtle Ships. Hundreds of Korean potters are kidnapped by the Japanese and forcibly relocated to southern Kyushu, where they kick-start the Satsuma and Arita ware ceramic traditions, and develop Raku ware for Japan's tea ceremonials.
1627, 1636 Manchu invasions reduce Korea to a tributary of China (Qing dynasty, 1644-1911).
18th century At this time there are contradictory developments in Korean society. A growing middle class and its amusements (compare Tokugawa Japan) bypasses Confucian hierarchialism with a new concern for ordinary life in literature, true-view, and genre painting; while Western incursion poses even more fundamental political and cultural challenges. In response, a philosophy called sirhak, or "practical learning," seeks to advance agriculture and improve the lot of the common people. Although Korea - like China and Japan - tries to preserve its own uniqueness and independence, all of East Asia is ultimately drawn into the evolving world system.
1767 King Yeongjo starves to death his own son, Crown Prince Sado, by locking him in a rice chest; only thus was he able to prevent Sado, who was reputedly insane, from becoming king after him.
1776 Jeongjo, Sado's son, ascends the throne; he initiates major political reforms against the Yangban officials and in favor of the middle class.
1784 Yi Sung-hun introduces Catholicism from China to Korea. After a slow start and sporadic persecutions (1866), Christianity sinks deep roots into the Confucian kingdom; today (2010) about 1/3 (over 13 million) of South Koreans are Christian.
1876 Japanese gunboats force the opening of Korea's ports, an operation that Japan had learned all too well from the United States in 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry did the same thing to Japan.
1895 Japanese agents assassinate Queen Min, an independence reformer, in Gyeongbok Palace.
1910-present Japan colonizes Korea (1910-1945). North-South split after WW II. Korean War (1950-1953) devastates the peninsula, with over two million civilian casualties. By the late 20th century, SK achieves democratic prosperity and over one million South Koreans immigrate to the US. As of 2011, NK remains isolated under Chinese protection.