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The Republic of Korea is a nation in East Asia, which up until 1947 was a kingdom. It is part of the so-called "East Asian Bloc" along with China and, at times, Japan, although the Sino-Korean Alliance is a far more appropriate moniker due to traditional Japanese independence, and the dependence of Korea upon their neighbor. The current President of Korea is Lee Myung-Bak, who succeeded the office following the suicide of his predecessor. The primary language is Korean, although there are sizable Japanese and Russian minorities. Buddhism is widely practiced, although Christianity has rapidly been on the rise since Korea opened its borders to Western missionaries in 1849. The country currently has a population of approximately 85,000,000. The capital is at Hansong, and other major cities include Pusan, Inchon, Pyongyang, Kwangju and Taejon.
Choson Era and Foreign Influence
The Choson Dynasty of Korea had, for hundreds of years, practiced a strict policy on non-interaction with European powers. Following the Imperial Wars in Europe and the drain upon the non-French Western powers, many in the traditional Korean leadership embraced the seeming end to foreign interaction.
However, in the 1820's, especially towards the end of the decade, a flood of Russian refugees flooded across the Yalu River into Korea. While most were bound for China, many were settling at the far-flung Pacific port of Vladivostok, which was near Korean territory.
Sunjo, at the time the king of Chosun Korea, was pressured to expel the Westerners - in fact, violent riots spread throughout the impoverished countryside, and thousands of Russians were beheaded between 1830 and 1834. Sunjo died suddenly in 1834 at the mere age of 45, however, and his successor, Munjo, took a lighter stance towards the European expatriates. Because the Orthodox Russians did not proselytize or demand as much political influence as Catholics, even Korean Catholics, did, he legalized the practice of the Orthodox faith in the Decree of 1838. Historians agree that Hamjeong saved the Russian-Korean population.
The Russians brought with them valuable knowledge as well - to Korea they brought Western technology, philosophy and practices. The Russian soldier Arkady Valipov, who had fought as a private at Petrograd, was appointed head of the Kingdom of Korea's military in 1839 to modernize the Hermit Kingdom's forces in case of Japanese attack.
The Koreans were not without cause to fear the Japanese - in the late 1830's, Japan's borders had opened to the French following the Jules Darnier expedition to Nagasaki and Edo. Europeans, particularly the French and English, were flexing their wings in the South China Sea and a potential European clash with China was brewing. The Korean modernization with Russian assistance, which soon included the annexation of Vladivostok and the construction of a Grand Cathedral in Pusan, was going at full tilt.
In 1847, an American voyage under Daniel Oliver arrived in Pusan, where it was met begrudgingly. The Oliver Expedition was brought to Hanseong to see King Munjo, who did not trust the Americans in the same manner that he did his Russian minority, which was now almost 20% of Korea's population and controlled most of the country's wealth. The Americans were sent back to Busan and promptly expelled.
The Americans would not return until 1854, this time with a full fleet and a landing party of Marines that stormed Busan. Munjo sent his army, now with over a decade of experience of European military training, against the Americans. The brief American-Korean War had an inconclusive result, and the Americans agreed to withdraw their troops if Hamjeong would apologize and allow the establishment of an American enclave trading port at Pusan, similar to what the French had done for themselves at Nagasaki and Hong Kong.
Modernization under Gojong
Japanese Occupation, Yellow Sea War and Independence
Rising Tension and Pacific War
Fall of the Kingdom of Korea, Civil War and Turbulent Reform
By 1929, when Korea officially withdrew from the Pacific conflict, King Sunjong had lost most, if not all, of his popular support. The ports of Pusan and Inchon had been ravaged, the Siege of Haeshinwae had been one of the most vicious in the history of warfare, and the Japanese had been so hemorrhaged by the Americans that they could no longer protect the Koreans from assaults in Asia itself. The Chinese were, as per usual, slow to react and themselves haggard from the courageous Siberian, Tibetan, Burmese and Siamese efforts to assault their homeland. The Pacific War had ravaged Asia. The Asian Powers were running out of bodies to throw at more careful enemies.
With the Hilo Accords signed in 1929, the Pacific War was over, and nobody had gained much of anything, except for Japan's refusal to give up occupied coastal territory in Siberia. Korea soon found itself embroiled in a new conflict - in 1935, Japan and China engaged in war once again, and Korea was once more the battlefield. Korean troops managed to hold the underequipped Chinese army at bay, but the modern Japanese occupied most of the southern half of the peninsula.
A brave Korean general by the name of Pak Mae-Hyeong organized the embattled Royal Army, which had been hammered by the Japanese a few days before, at Hanseong, the capital. There, while Sunjong and his consorts fled north, Mae-Hyeong protected the capital throughout the three-month Siege of Hanseong, from August to October 1935. By late October, starving and with most of his original 200,000 man force dead, Mae-Hyong managed to secure the surrender of the main Japanese army besieging the city and brokered the retreat.
Mae-Hyong's victory helped encourage guerrilla warfare throughout the Korean peninsula, and what was referred to as the "Korean Campaign" soon ended thereafter. The Japanese finally formally recognized the Kingdom of Korea as a legitimate nation (having still considered them a "protectorate" since the end of the Yellow Sea War) and in 1936, the Japanese finally defeated the Chinese. Korea was, for the time being, safe - at least from foreign troubles.
Sunjong and his flight from the capital, and in turn Mae-Hyeong's victorious survival of the Japanese siege despite staggering casualties, deepened the distrust in Korea for the royal family. Sunjong died in 1939 after nearly 25 years on the throne and his successor, nephew Junsaek, was eager to restore the country.
Two camps began to slowly emerge in opposition to Chunsaek in the early 1940's, both of them seeking to overthrow the monarchy. One side, the Republicans, was led by Mae-Hyong and other more politically adept members of the government. The other camp, the Communists, was composed mostly of peasants, and led by the young idealist Kim Il-Sung, who while young was eager to form a communist state in Korea, one that could compete with the vast population of China and the modern empire of Japan.
On June 3rd, 1942, with Korea still poor and recovering from its devastating recent two wars (the Pacific War claimed almost five million Korean lives, the Korean Campaign of the Sino-Japanese War claimed about one and a half million) the Communists assassinated Junsaek and seized control of Hanseong. The Hansong Riots over the course of the next two weeks resulted in nearly ten thousand dead.
The Republicans at first sought to work with the Communists against the "Monarchists," but a skirmish in the Baekdu Mountains and the murders of seven Republican leaders in Pyongyang soon ended such hopes. A three-way civil war soon began.
Between 1942 and 1945, the Korean Civil War claimed an additional three to four million lives, most of them civilian. Finally, in 1945, Mae-Hyeong led a brave offensive against the Monarchist stronghold of Taejon. The Battle of Taejon resulted in nearly 60,000 dead combined, but it resulted in the capture and eventual execution of Monarchist leader Syngman Rhee on March 20th, 1945. With the Republicans in control of much of the peninsula besides the Hanseong-Incheon region, a ceasefire and power-sharing agreement deal was finally struck with the Communists.
On December 8th, 1946, tensions flared up again in what was called the "Incheon War." Communist agitators tried to attack Republican lawmakers attempting to form a new government in Hanseong, and the Republicans struck back in a fifty-two day campaign in the central region of the peninsula. Kim Il-Sung was shot to death in Pyongyang in early February, and the Communist effort had all but failed.
Mae-Hyeong held a meeting on April 1st, 1947, to officially form the Republic of Korea, thereby forming the first real government the country had had since 1942. The conditions during the Korean Civil War have often been compared to those of the English Anarchy, and finally it was over.