As part of the Visual Timeline series, this pages highlights key events in Korea from 1392 to 1945.
1368: Ming dynasty (1368-1644) in China, preoccupied with northern frontier, undergoes isolationist stance
1388: Goryeo general Yi Seonggye, loyal to scholar Jeong Do Jeon seeking neo-confucian govt, turns army against Goryeo court instead of conquering Liaodong
1392: Last Goryeo king deposed; Goryeo becomes Joseon (1392-1897), and Yi Seong Gye becomes first king king Taejo (r.1392-1398). Joseon embraces Confucianism over Buddhism and becomes Chinese vassal
1394: Joseon capital moved to Hanyang (modern Seoul)
1418: King Sejong the Great starts reign (r.1418-1450)
1443: King Sejong The Great creates Hangeul (Korean writing system); promulgated in 1446
1455: Hungu faction (support King Sejo’s absolutism) seizes power over Gwanhak faction (support balancing royal and beaurucrat authority); remains in power until 1575.
1494: King Yoensangun (r.1494-1506); notorious for vicious purges of those who poisoned his mother
1542: Portugese traders and missionaries arrive in Japan
1592: Imjin War (1592-1598) begins. Unified Japan under Hideyoshi invades Joseon with 160k troops. (for context, largest European force Spanish armada 1588 was just 30k troops) Japanese scores victories on land but is forced to retreat by undeafeated Admiral Yi at sea; 130k casualties.
1598: Joseon-Ming alliance defeat Japanese at Battle of Noryang Point, last major battle of Imjin War
1615: Manchu Qings unite and begin invasion of Ming China
1627: First Manchu invasion of Joseon (Jin); but they retreats with settlement due to preoccupied front at home
1636: Second Manchu invasion of Joseon, Qing replaces Ming as new tributary overlord
1644: End Ming dynasty (1368-1644), start Manchu Qing dynasty (1644-1912)
1724: Joseon prospers under King Yeongjo (r.1724-1776)
1762: King Yeongjo controversially executes his mentally ill son Sado
1791: Joseon begins to persecute Catholicism
1849: Several yangban (noble) clans gain power and install puppet King Cheoljong
1863: Gojong king of Joseon (r.1863-1997) and emperor of Korea (r.1897-1907) launches modernization policies
1866: Joseon repels minor 1866 French Campaign and 1871 US Expedition
1868: Meiji Restoration in Japan ends isolationist Shogunate rule (1600-1868), and kicks off rapid industrialization.
1876: Isolationist Joseon forced to open ports with Japan at Treaty of Ganghwa
1894: Donghak Peasant rebellion suppressed with China’s aid
1895: Japan defeats Qing in first Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895); mostly over Korea; ceding Taiwan, and transferring Korea to Japanese sphere of influence
1896: Japan assassinates Joseon’s Queen Myeongseong
1897: Korean Empire (1897-1910) replaces Joseon dynasty (1392-1897). King Gojong returns to palace after 1 year refuge in Russian legation
1899: Boxer rebellion in Qing China suppressed with Western intervention
1905: Japan wins Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905); Asian state defeating European colonial power shocks world
1907: Japan forces king Gojong to abdicate (r.1863-1907)
1909: Korean independence activist assassinates Japanese PM Ito Hirobumi; imprisoned and later executed in Mar10
1910: Japan annexes Korea; last emperor Sunjong deposed (r.1907-1910)
1912: Xinhai Revolution (Oct11-Feb12) overthrows Ming dynasty, new republic founded in China.
Provisional Government of Republic of Korea est in Shanghai
Japanese brutally suppress March 1st Movement Korean protesters; including activist Yu Gwansun
1920: Korean resistance scores victory at Battle of Cheongsari against Japanese in Manchuria. Independence activities and assassination attempts continue for next few decades.
– Japan annexes Manchuria
– Independence activist Yun Bong Gil sets off time bomb that kills several Japanese in Shanghai
– Independence activist Lee Bong Chang unsuccessful in attempt to kill Japanese emperor Hirohito
1937: Second Sino-Japanese War begins (part of WW2); Japanese commit atrocities to Koreans and Chinese
1945: Japan surrenders to Allies, ending WW2.
(Aug 10-15) Korea divided at 38th parallel; US-controlled South, Soviet-controlled North