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Far East Kingdoms

South East Asia


Feature Korea

(Information for 2333 BC - AD 1932, excluding Koguryo from Ki-baik Lee, A New History of Korea (1984), supplied by Michael Welles, plus additional notes.)

Rulers of Old Choson

A study in 2012 found that eunuchs of the Choson (Chosun or Chaoxian) period lived up to nineteen years longer than their better endowed peers. They even outlived members of the royal family. Records state that eunuchs had some woman-like appearances such as large breasts, big hips, no beard, and thin, high-pitched voices. The imperial court of Choson used eunuchs to guard the gates and manage food. They were the only men outside the royal family who were allowed to spend the night in the palace, and they could not have children of their own, so they adopted girls or castrated boys. Their average age at death was seventy years, although the oldest of them reached 109 years. By comparison, men in other families in the noble classes lived into their early fifties. Males in the royal family lasted on average until they were just forty-five .

(Additional information from External Links: Eunuchs reveal clues to why women live longer than men (BBC - dead link), and Ancient History Encyclopaedia.)

2333 - ? BC

Tan'gun Wanggom

c.300 BC

The Chinese Yen/Yan kingdom conquers Choson during China's 'Warring States' period. Is it coincidental that Japan's Yayoi period begins around the same time? For the past six hundred years or so increasing numbers of rice farmers have been settling areas of southern Japan and bringing with them their differing pottery style from that of the native Jomon people. Could it be refugees from conquered Korea who provide the final push towards ending the Jomon period there?

222 BC

Control of Choson briefly passes to the Qin kingdom of China.

206 BC

Control of Choson passes to the Chinese Han.

? - 194 BC

Chun Wang

Possibly a subject ruler under Chinese Han control.

194 BC

Korean Old Chosen selects this moment to rebel against Han rule. The weakness of Liu Ying (Emperor Hui) in the face of his mother's domination has quickly become apparent. The Koreans regain their independence as Wiman Chosen.

Rulers of Wiman Choson

Wiman led a rebellion against Chinese control, although he was Chinese himself. Choson became independent until re-conquered by the Han Chinese.

194 - ? BC

Wiman Wang

? - 108 BC

Ugo Wang

108 BC

The Chinese Han conquer Choson. The Korean kingdom of Puyo soon emerges to the north of Choson, while Silla, Koguryo, Pon Kaya, and Tae Kaya all emerge soon afterwards.

Rulers of Silla
57 BC - AD 935

Silla (pronounced she-lla) emerged as one of several kingdoms in or around the first century BC, but it was the longest lasting of any of them. The modern territory that formed Silla today forms part of South Korea, and even now Silla is referred to as the millennium kingdom because it lasted (officially) from 95 BC to AD 935.

Kyongju was the capital of the Silla kingdom of Korea. The city was famous for its wide streets that were laid out in a grid. All the houses, palaces, and Buddhist temples had tiled roofs, a sign of wealth and sophistication. Lesser houses would still have had thatched roofs. Decorated roof tiles started to become widespread around AD 688, when this small Korean kingdom, with support from Tang China, conquered two other Korean kingdoms and gained territory that stretched somewhat to the north of modern Pyongyang, although it never gained the far north of Korea. Kyongju became the capital of the unified Korean kingdom rather than just Silla alone, and this unity ushered in an age of prosperity and cultural unity in the Korean peninsula, with the rich and famous no doubt emulating Chinese symbols of wealth and power. Now Silla had to balance the requirements of maintaining the unified kingdom against Chinese ambitions to control Korea directly.

(Additional information by Jane Portal (Matsutaro Shoriki Chair, Art of Asia, Oceania and Africa, Museum of Fine Arts Boston), from the BBC Radio 4 series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, Part 4 Korean Roof Tile - The Silk Road and Beyond (AD 400-700), broadcast on 31 December 2012, and from Pacific northeast Asia in prehistory: hunter-fisher-gatherers, farmers, and sociopolitical elites, C Melvin Aikens (WSU Press, 1992).)

57 BC - AD 4

Pak Hykkose Kosogun

4 - 24

Namhae Ch'ach'aung

AD 12

The state of Koguryo revolts against regional Chinese domination during the early days of the Xin dynasty. These Koreans are not the only ones to spot the fact that a relatively weak emperor now rules the Chinese empire to their west.

Map of Xin China c.AD 9-23
The map of China remained largely the same as it had been at the end of the Early Han period, with their conquests in northern Vietnam enduring and control of the north-western corridor towards Gaochang being expanded only a little (click or tap on map to view full sized)

23 - 36

Emperor Wang Mang faces a rebellion in China by clan members of the former ruling Han. Despite the emperor's superior number of troops, the rebels manage to breach the walls and the usurper emperor dies soon after. It takes another thirteen years before Han imperial descendant Liu Xiu can fully reunite the country as Emperor Guangwu of the Late Han dynasty.

24 - 57

Yuri Isagum

57 - 80

Sok T'arhae Isagum

80 - 112

Pak P'asa Isagum

AD 91

Dramatic changes in the superiority of the northern barbarians on Chinese borders is now taking place. Having been chased out of the Tarim Basin in AD 73, the Xiongnu are forced to flee into the Ili river valley region in this year, close to the gateway into Central Asia. The nomadic Xianbei rapidly expand to fill the void between Buyeo in the northern reaches of Korea to the River Ili which is dominated by the Wusun.

112 - 134

Chima Isagum

134 - 154

Ilsong Isagum

154 - 184

Adalla Isagum

184 - 196

Sok Porhyu Isagum

196 - 230

Naehae Isagum


230 - 247

Chobun Isagum

247 - 261

Ch'omhae Isagum

262 - 284

Kim Mich'u Isagum

284 - 298

Sok Yurye Isagum

298 - 310

Kirim Isagum

310 - 356

Hurhae Isagum

356 - 402

Kim Naemul Maripkan

402 - 417

Silsong Maripkan

417 - 458

Nulchi Maripkan

458 - 479

Chabi Maripkan

479 - 500

Soji Maripkan

500 - 514

Chijung Wang

514 - 540

Pophung Wang

540 - 576

Chinghung Wang


MapThe formation to the immediate north-west of the Göktürk khaganate on the steppes of Mongolia seems not to impact upon affairs in the Silla kingdom or upon the Koguryo state to the north. Instead, the empire focuses its attention primarily on Sui China and on expanding across the steppeland towards Europe. Decorated roof tiles start to become widespread around AD 688, a sure sign of wealth and prosperity in the capital.


The kingdom conquers Tae Kaya.

576 - 579

Chinji Wang

579 - 632

Chinp'yong Wang

632 - 647

Queen Sondok Yowang

647 - 654

Queen Chindok Yowang

654 - 661

(T'aejong) Muyol Wang


The Chinese T'ang invade and conquer the kingdom of Paekche. Empress Saimei of Paekche's close ally and trading partner in Asuka Japan fully intends to launch an invasion of the rival Silla kingdom which is assisting the Chinese in order to support Paekche's nobility. An army that is made up of Japanese and Paekche troops is assembled and departs soon after the unexpected death of the aging empress.

661 - 681

Munmu Wang

667 - 676

China occupies Korea. Silla assists in conquering Koguryo in 667-668. The unified kingdom of Silla is formed with much of the state's wealth and political strength being located in the south of the peninsula.

All of the aristocrats from the defeated areas of Korea are brought to Silla's capital at Kyongju and no doubt want to create houses and estates in which they could preserve the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. Tiled houses stand in long rows in the city's more affluent areas, with not a thatched roof to be seen (thatch being a constant fire hazard in any ancient city, of course).

681 - 692

Sinmun Wang

692 - 702

Hyoso Wang


Parhae emerges. Korea is by now a major player in trade at the far end of the Silk Road.

Marco Polo on the Silk Road
Marco Polo's journey into China along the Silk Road made use of a network of east-west trade routes that had been developed since the time of Greek control of Bactria

702 - 737

Songdok Wang

737 - 742

Hyosong Wang

742 - 765

Kyongdok Wang

765 - 780

Hyegong Wang

780 - 785

Sondok Wang

785 - 798

Wonsong Wang

798 - 800

Sosong Wang

800 - 809

Aejang Wang

809 - 826

Hondok Wang

826 - 836

Hungdok Wang

836 - 838

Huigang Wang

838 - 839

Minae Wang


Sinmu Wang

839 - 857

Munsong Wang

857 - 861

Honan Wang

861 - 875

Kyongmun Wang

875 - 886

Hon'gang Wang

886 - 887

Chonggang Wang

887 - 897

Queen Chinsong Yowang

897 - 912

Hyogong Wang

912 - 917

Pak Sindok Wang

917 - 924

Kyongmyong Wang

924 - 927

Kyongae Wang

927 - 935

Kim Kyongsun Wang


The rulers of Silla are superseded by the Koryo Dynasty.

Koryo / Goryeo Dynasty
AD 924 - 1392

924 - 943

T'aejo I

944 - 945


946 - 949

Chongjong I

950 - 975


976 - 981


981 - 997

Songjong I

997 - 1009


1010 - 1032

Hyongjong I

1032 - 1035


1035 - 1047

Chongjong II

1047 - 1083

Munjong I



1084 - 1095



Honjong I

1096 - 1105


1106 - 1122

Yejong I

1123 - 1146

Injong I

1147 - 1170


1170 - 1197


1198 - 1205


1205 - 1211


1212 - 1213


1213 - 1259

Kojong I

1217 - 1218

The Mongols raid into Korea.


The Mongols invade Korea for the first time with the serious intent of conquering it instead merely of raiding it.


Korea is under Mongol suzerainty.

1260 - 1274


1275 - 1309



With the death of Kublai Khan, the Yuan dynasty survives under his successor, but the Mongol empire effectively ceases to exist. There are no further Khakhans (great khans), and command of the empire's territory is now permanently divided into four distinct and fully independent kingdoms: the Golden Horde (made up of the Blue Horde and White Horde), the Il-Khanate, Mughulistan, and Yuan China, which incorporates Mongolia and much of southern Siberia, along with governing Tibet through the institution of the Xuanzheng Yuan, and with Korea as a tributary state.

1309 - 1314


1314 - 1330


1330 - 1332


1332 - 1339



1339 - 1344



1344 - 1348


1349 - 1351



The Red Turban Army is created as a result of opposition to the faltering and unpopular Yuan Mongol rulers by the followers of the White Lotus sect of Buddhism. Kuo Tsu-hsing founds the army, named after the red turbans its members wear and the red banners they carry. The rebellion starts slowly, with Yuan officials being assaulted, but it blossoms, although overtures towards Koryo are repulsed militarily by Ch'unajong.

1351 - 1374

Kongmin / Gongmin / Buyantumur

Son of Ch'angsuk. Assassinated.


Yuan Khan Ayushiridara asks Kongmin for assistance in the fight against the Ming. As a former Mongol vassal, he is acclaimed as a fellow descendant of Chingiz Khan, and will therefore be happy to work together wth the Yuan in their current reduced state. However, Kongmin's reforms have already cut many ties with the Yuan in favour of the Ming, and he not only refuses to help, he actively pursues a policy of reconquering territory that had been annexed by the Great Khans in the 1270s.


The pro-Mongol faction at court, which is led by Yin In-im, kills Kongmin. Immedately, they sent envoys to the Mongols at Liaoyang, and Ayushiridara quickly recognises the legitimacy of the king's successor, the young Sin U, despite the boy being a puppet of Yin In-im. Despite this, when Ayushiridara repeats his request for military assistance, the Korean court declines.

1374 - 1389

Sin U

Crowned by court official, Yi In-im. Puppet.



1389 - 1392


Yi Dynasty
AD 1392 - 1910

The Joseon period.

(Additional information from the BBC series, The Story of China, by Michael Wood, first broadcast between 21 January and 25 February 2016, and from External Links: Britannica.com, and History Extra.)

1392 - 1398

T'aejo II

1398 - 1400

Chongjong III

1401 - 1418


1418 - 1450


1450 - 1452

Munjong II

1452 - 1455


1456 - 1468


1468 - 1469

Yejong II

1470 - 1494

Songjong II

1494 - 1506

Yonsan Gun

1506 - 1544


1544 - 1545

Injong II

1546 - 1567


1567 - 1608


1592 / 1598

Japan invades Korea but is defeated in 1592 and 1598. Toyotomi Hideyoshi dies on 18 September 1598, and the Council of Five Elders keeps it a secret until they can withdraw the army from Korea. The dream of invading China is over, and Toyotomi's son, the infant Toyotomi Hideyori now faces the threat posed by the powerful Tokugawa Ieyasu.

1609 - 1623

Kwan Naegun

1623 - 1649


1650 - 1659


1660 - 1675

Hyonjong II

1675 - 1720


1720 - 1724


1725 - 1776


1777 - 1800


1801 - 1834


1835 - 1849

Honjong II

1850 - 1864


1864 - 1907

Kojong II

Japanese vassal (1904). Forced to abdicate. Died 1919.

1894 - 1895

With the Qin rapidly losing the age-old Chinese influence in Korea to a newly-resurgent Japan, tensions are high. A decade of peace between the two over Korea comes to an end when the pro-Japanese Korean leader of the 1884 coup, Kim Ok-kyun, is lured to Shanghai and is assassinated. Japanese public opinion is outraged by the subsequent treatment of his body. The peasant-led Tonghak Uprising breaks out in Korea in the same year, and Chinese attempts to reinforce the Korean king are met with military opposition by Japan.

The First Sino-Japanese War is triggered. Japan's modern military forces entirely outmatch the more numerous but outdated forces of China. By March 1895 the Japanese have successfully invaded Shandong Province and Manchuria and have fortified posts that command the sea approaches to Beijing. China sues for peace. In the Treaty of Shimonoseki China recognises the independence of Korea and cedes to Japan the island of Taiwan, the adjoining Pescadores, and the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria.


Japan occupies large areas of Korea during the Russo-Japanese War, with the result that a protectorate is formed to oversee these areas. Japanese resident-generals are appointed to 'manage' the country with the Korean emperor remaining in charge in name only.


Kojong II sends delegates to the Hague Peace Conference (the Hague Convention of 1907), where they appeal to the world to end Japan's dominance over Korea. Instead the prevailing trend of colonial administration of 'lesser' nations persuades the convention to endorse Japan's dominance. As a result of the failed attempt, Kojong II is forced to abdicate by his controllers.

1907 - 1910


Son. Japanese vassal.


Japan annexes Korea on 22 August 1910, ending the pretence of the Korean monarchy remaining in charge of the country.

Japan-Korea Annexation
AD 1910 - 1945

The First Japan-Korea Convention was signed between the two countries on 22 August 1904, effectively forcing Yi dynasty Korea to become a protectorate. The Gwangmu emperor of Korea was now highly monitored and his access to external diplomatic channels controlled. This act was quickly followed on 17 July 1905 by the Taft–Katsura Agreement, which set out some ground rules between Japan and the USA and which encouraged Japanese influence in Korea for the sake of general peace. In September of the same year, Japan and Russia signed the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War and confirming Japan's dominance in Korea. The Korean emperor was forced to abdicate in 1907, to be succeeded by his son, but the final act came in 1910. The former Korean empire was formally annexed to the growing Japanese empire on 22 August 1910.

(Additional information from A Concise History of Modern Korea: From the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present, Michael J Seth.)

1910 - 1916

Terauchi Masatake

General in the Japanese army. First governor-general.


With the First World War already underway in Europe, Japan declares war on Germany on 23 August 1914. The principle motive is to take advantage of Europe's confusion - especially Germany's - to expand its own sphere of influence in China and the Pacific.

Japanese troops in Korea
Japan's occupation of Korea was viewed with some unease by the Western powers but was generally accepted as being necessary to ensure peace and stability in the region


Terauchi Masatake's term of office, first as resident-general before 1910 and then as governor-general of Korea, comes to an end when he becomes prime minister of Japan, the eighteenth such incumbent (although half of these have been repeated terms of office). He has been instrumental in overseeing the introduction of a large number of schools across Korea which have Japanese culture and language at the centre of their curriculum. Land reforms which really do improve a previously chaotic system still result in many lower class landholders or partial landholders losing out, adding to a sense of bitterness at the Japanese takeover.

1916 - 1919

Hasegawa Yoshimichi

Field marshal and general chief of staff. Died 1924.


The Sam-il Movement embodies a growing resistance to Japanese occupation of Korea. On 1 March 1919, a group of activists read a Korean declaration of independence before signing it and sending a copy to the governor-general. The movement's leaders subsequently hand themselves in to the police, but a student reads the declaration in public. Mass demonstrations follow, increasing in size until a panicked Japanese military uses force to resolve things. Massacres and various atrocities follow, resulting in thousands of dead and injured.

1919 - 1927

Saitō Makoto



Ugaki Kazushige

Former Japanese Minister of War.

1927 - 1929

Yamanashi Hanzō

Former Japanese general and army minister.

1929 - 1931

Saitō Makoto

Second term of office.

1931 - 1936

Ugaki Kazushige

Former Minister of War for a second time. Second term of office.

1936 - 1942

Minami Jirō

Former general.

1942 - 1944

Koiso Kuniaki

Former general and government minister.

1944 - 1945

Abe Nobuyuki

Former prime minister.

1945 - 1948

On 6 August 1945, an atom bomb is dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima by the US bomber, 'Enola Gay'. A further bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August brings a declaration of surrender from Japan on 2 September. Japan also surrenders its empire, including territory in China and Korea. Korea is occupied by the victorious Second World War allies, with Russia controlling the northern half and the USA the southern half.


A republic is created in the form of South Korea, to be administered by the USA, while North Korea becomes a hard-line communist state under the direction of Soviet Russia and administered by a local client ruler.

Modern South Korea
AD 1948 - Present Day

Modern Korea is a divided nation thanks to a succession of events which began with Japanese annexation at the start of the twentieth century and ended with the Korean War of 1950-1953. Today, having supplied much of the territory for two of Korea's historical three kingdoms, Paekche and Silla, along with the lesser kingdom of Kaya, South Korea is now divided from North Korea along a border which was initially supplied by the thirty-eighth parallel, and then the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), which effectively cuts the Korean peninsula in half. Across Korea Bay to the west is China, with Japan to the south and east, across the Korea Strait and the Sea of Japan.

Korea was annexed to Japan in 1910, and it remained a satellite territory until the conclusion of the Second World War. Japan's defeat in 1945 saw Korea occupied by the allied powers for three years until summit meetings that were held after the conclusion of the war decided that Korea would be divided along the thirty-eighth parallel. The USA would administer the southern half from a capital at Seoul - although US General Douglas MacArthur in fact controlled the south from his headquarters in occupied Tokyo - while Soviet Russia would do the same in the north. The situation in the south was chaotic, with the American-backed administration under Syngman Rhee openly stating its intent to reunify Korea by force. The Americans greatly limited the amount of military equipment available to him, leaving the republic of the south with little more than a lightly-armed gendarmerie.

In the north Russia placed a client ruler in charge in the form of Kim Il-sung before withdrawing in 1948. With the south vocal but toothless, he created the North Korean People's Army. Russia insisted that the north was sovereign over all of Korea. When that proved not to be the case and the south declared its own sovereign status, war was almost inevitable in the febrile post-Second World War political climate. Following just two years of increasingly hostile small-scale actions along the thirty-eighth parallel, North Korea's forces attacked South Korea on 25 June 1950. North Korean troops swept south, capturing most of the country. Under United Nations authorisation, a multinational force made up primarily of troops from the USA, Britain, and the British Commonwealth nations (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and India), pushed back the North Koreans, prompting the Chinese to intervene. More troops poured in and peace was only ensured when a ceasefire was agreed in July 1953. Since then the dividing line between the two Koreas has remained heavily militarised, possibly one of the most militarised borders in the world.

South Korea's flag

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A Concise History of Modern Korea: From the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present, Michael J Seth, from the BBC series, The Story of China, by Michael Wood, first broadcast between 21 January and 25 February 2016, from The making of modern Korea, Adrian Buzo (Taylor & Francis, 2007), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Post War History (since 1945) (Japan-Guide.com), and BBC Country Profiles, and Maj-Gen A L Lerch dies in Korea at 53 (The New York Times), and South Korea Removes President Park Geun-hye (The New York Times), and Timeline on North Korea’s Nuclear Program (The New York Times).)

1945 - 1948

On 6 August 1945, an atom bomb is dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima by the US bomber, 'Enola Gay'. A further bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August brings a declaration of surrender from Japan on 2 September. Japan also surrenders its empire, including territory in China and Korea. Korea is occupied by the victorious Second World War allies, with Russia controlling the northern half (soon to be known as North Korea) and the USA the southern half.


Archibald V Arnold

US military governor, Sep-Dec. Retired 1948.

1945 - 1947

Archer L Lerch

US military governor, Dec-Sep. Died in office aged 53.

1947 - 1948

William F Dean

US military governor, Oct-Aug. PoW (1950-1953). Died 1981.

1948 - 1949

Charles G Helmick

US military governor, Aug-Jun. Handed over to Rhee.


South Korea holds a constitutional assembly in May, and a constitution is adopted, heralding the start of the country's 'First Republic'. Given the country's main external influence (the USA), it is unavoidable that a presidential form of government is selected, with a four-year term of office for the presidency. An indirect presidential election is held in July according to the provisions of the constitution. Syngman Rhee becomes head of the new assembly, assuming the presidency and proclaiming the republic of Korea (South Korea) on 15 August 1948.

South Koreans of Jeju
One of the new republic's first acts under the dictatorial Syngman Rhee was to exterminate at least 30,000 civilians on the South Korean island of Jeju for resisting his US-supported governance of a strongly anti-communist country

1950 - 1953

After two years of increasingly hostile small scale actions along the thirty-eighth parallel, North Korea's forces attack South Korea on 25 June 1950. North Korean troops sweep south, capturing most of the country. Under United Nations authorisation, a multinational force made up primarily of troops from the USA, and Britain and the Commonwealth nations (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and India), pushes the North Koreans back to the Manchurian border (Major-General William F Dean, former US military governor of South Korea, commands the 24th Infantry Division during the war, and is captured at the retreat from Taejon in 1950 as the advance of the invaders is slowed down).

This prompts Communist China to intervene, pouring troops across the frontier and taking Korea as far south as Seoul. By 1951 the allies have stabilised a front line around the thirty-eighth parallel and the remainder of the Korean War consists of heavy fighting in this region, until a ceasefire is agreed in July 1953.


South Korea's elected president, Syngman Rhee, orders a mass arrest of opposition politicians so that he can force through an amendment to the constitution that allows him to be re-elected by direct popular vote. He wins a normally-unlikely 74% of the vote.

1952 - 1960

Syngman Rhee

'President' following rigged elections. Then president for life.


Soon after an easy third election win, Syngman Rhee amends the constitution again so that he can run for an unlimited number of elections instead of the three originally stipulated. This places him into the category of would-be dictator.

1960 - 1961

Rhee wins 90% of the vote in his fourth election - a margin of victory normally only witnessed in dictatorships. Rhee also gets his own man elected to the post of vice-president with an apparent landslide victory. Finally the populace are stirred up enough to protest, leading to some of them being shot at a demonstration in Musan. The resultant April Revolution forces Rhee to resign his office on 26 April 1960. A weak government is elected the following year at the start of the 'Second Republic' period, and this is quickly disposed of in a coup led by General Park Chung-hee on 16 May 1961.

April Revolution in South Korea of 1960
The April Revolution of 1960 saw mass demonstrations on the streets of Seoul, leading to the fall of the 'strongman' government of Syngman Rhee

1961 - 1979

Park Chung-hee

Military 'president' following a coup. Assassinated.

1962 - 1963

South Korea's economy begins a thirty year spurt of massive growth that leaves it amongst the world's richest nations by 1995. However, its position alongside ever-hostile North Korea ensures that it also has one of the world's top ten defence budgets. The start of the Park-Chung-hee government with him as 'president' in 1963 also signals the start of the 'Third Republic' period. Two more republics come and go - the fourth in 1972 and the fifth in 1981 - before the 'Sixth Republic' begins in 1988.


The 'Blue House Assault' at the height of the Cold War sees North Korea send a team of thirty-one commandos from Pyongyang to assassinate South Korea's President Park Chung-hee. They are stopped just a hundred metres from the presidential Blue House. Gunfights erupt and more than ninety South Koreans are killed, including many civilians on a bus. Only two of the commandos survives; one flees to the north and one is captured. A later assassination attempt on the president succeeds.

1979 - 1987

Chun Doo-hwan

Military 'president' following a coup.

1987 - 1988

The despotic 'presidency' of former general Chun Doo-hwan comes to a voluntary end following the death by torture of a university student. Chun is pressured into allowing direct presidential elections which are narrowly won by Roh Tae-woo of his own Democratic Justice Party, thereby handing over the reigns of power to his democratically-elected successor. The commencement in 1988 of the administration of the Roh Tae-woo government also heralds the start of the 'Sixth Republic' period in South Korea which survives to the present day.


North Korea accepts a proposal for exchange between the two Koreas, which leads to high-level talks and cultural and sporting exchanges. A joint communiqué in 1991 covering denuclearisation is agreed, and the two Koreas simultaneously become members of the UN.

UN accession in 1991 by the two Koreas
Prime Minister Chung Won-shik of South Korea (right) with Prime Minister Yon Hyong-muk of North Korea in Seoul, after signing a pact of reconciliation between their countries, in December 1991

2013 - 2016

Park Geun-hye is the first female president of South Korea, daughter the Park Chun-hee who had taken power by force in 1961. Her reputation, whilst initially good, is hampered by a degree of incompetence in the handling of the Sewol ferry disaster. A subsequent major scandal leads to her being impeached in December 2016. To a background of some of Korea's largest-ever public protests she is forced out of office.