Two phrases are commonly used by Westerners to express the essence of Korea as a nation: "Land of the Morning Calm" or "The Hermit Kingdom." The former is a semi-literal translation of Cho-Sun ("fresh morning"), the last Korean dynasty (1392-1910). When Koreans say the name 'Cho-Sun,' however, they do not conjure up an image of 'morning calm.' Although Cho-Sun may mean that in Chinese, the name simply reminds Koreans of the things past, which are not always pleasant and often more tumultous than calm.
The Hermit Kingdom is a bit more relevant to the image of Korea. Sandwiched between China, Russia and Japan, Korea had been isolated well into the middle of the 20th century. A typical short history of Korea in Western references begins with the end of World War II. Before that, as far as others are concerned, Korea had been a tributary nation of China and later a colony of Japan.
This short history will not do such an injustice. But neither will this be a version of official, tamed rendition of Korean history, which had been twisted and re-invented ever so often to suit the needs of particular regimes. Books on Korean history had been much more diverse and interesting than today's lame textbooks. Park's regime began controlling historical interpretation and teaching through official government agency in the early 1970s.
Frankly, this short essay is from my memory and knowledge I gained when I was a student of Korean history years ago. But I'm not trying to offer you a scholary overview. Rather, it's a reflection of what I think and know about our common past, and this short essay will hint in some way where I am coming from. ("What is history but a fable agreed upon?" as Napoleon Bonaparte said.) But, with...