Timeline of Joseon Korea (1392 – 1945)

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

King Yoensangun as depicted in movie

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.

Imjin War depicted in Roaring Currents film
Imjin War. Source
Admiral Yi continues to be celebrated as national hero. Source

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

Second Manchu invasion of Joseon depicted in War of the Arrows film

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

Restaurant in Seoul, 1900. Source
1903 Yunsan, on Han River, logging town near Seoul. Source
Grand-Master of the Emperor’s royal stables escorted through Seoul’s main street in 1903. Source
Seoul in 1904. Source

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)

King Gojong. Source

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)

1910 Taedongmun Street, Pyongyang, North Korea. Source

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

March 1 Movement 1919. Source
Activist Yu Gwansun dies in prison at 17yo. 1919. Source

1920: Korean resistance scores victory at Battle of Cheongsari against Japanese in Manchuria. Independence activities and assassination attempts continue for next few decades.

Myeongdong, Seoul, 1920. Source

– 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

See also:

South Korea (1945 – present): Miracle on Han River
Korea (1392 – 1945): Joseon to Japanese Occupation
Ancient Korea (to 1392): Three Kingdoms, Silla, Goryeo

Visual Timeline Series