I decided to do my final project on the city of Seoul in South Korea, because I had visited it six or seven years ago. I really enjoyed myself there and realistically could not complain about the dense foot and automobile traffic nor the overtly distinct and potent smells undulating from it's many little store fronts or street vendors. After all I was use to that growing up in New York City, and expected that from a “Global City.” In international status, Seoul is deemed so, because it is considered an important point in the global economic grid.
It is difficult to talk about Seoul without first understanding the definitive points of the Korean nation throughout the course of history.The beginning of Seoul and it's preliminary stages of prominence goes back to the dynamics of the power struggle between the Three Kingdoms of Korea which dominated the power and poitics of the peninsula during the early common era. These kingdoms competed with one another economically and militarily in much the same way that Athens and Sparta competed with one another. These kingdoms were Goguryeo,Silla, and Baekje.
The history of Seoul can be traced back as far as 18 BC. In that year the newly established kingdom of Baekje built its capital in the Seoul area. During the time when the three kingdoms fought for hegemony in Korea, Seoul was often the site where disputes were carried out. It was thought that only the kingdom who controls the area around Seoul is able to control the whole of the peninsula. So from the beginning, Seoul was more of a symbol of militaristic power and political influence than anything else.
A Bridge in Seoul being bombed by the communist North during the Korean War. Modern Seoul, with one of it's 23 pristine Bridges, highlighting the economic power of the city. Control passed from Baekje to the Gogureyo in the 5 th century A.D. The people in power at that time knew that only the kingdom which controlled the Han River Valley, where Seoul was situated, would be able to control the whole peninsula. The river was immensely important because it was the center of both transportation and thus trade. The strategic physical location of Seoul in the heart of the Han river and the center location point for kingdoms gave it a sense of vital importance and prestige. When I was in Seoul the Han River is very prominent and the many bridges which are especially beautiful at night connect North and South Seoul.
Ancient Goguryeo art piece Stunning craftsmanship of queen's crown from this era. The most infamous Goguryeo general and dictator.Yeon-Gaesomun Goguryeo was a typical class based society, and consisted of a four tiered hierarchy of the King, aristrocrats, commoners, and slaves. The majority of the people cultivated plots of land and payed taxes to the state. Agriculture and especially fishing were mainstays of the ancient economy. Increased agricultural output entailed the development of cities and commercial activities. Although Seoul was not the capital of the Gogureyo empire it grew and flourished as cities and commerce played a more vital role under Gogureyo rule. All great powers in history perished in the long run. And, Goguryeo was no exception. Yeon-gaesomun, who seized power in 642, was a great general. He led Goguryeo to victory in wars against Tang in 645 and 662. But, he also left the legacy of dictatorship. Furthermore, after Yeon-gaesomun died, a power struggle broke out among his three sons over the succession of the throne and this internal dissension threw Goguryeo into doom. The after-effects of Goguryeo's downfall were bad. With the exit of Goguryeo, which used to form an axis of multi-polar civilizations, the Tang-centered asian civilization emerged in East Asia, which in turn came to develop as the East Asian international order.
From the time of the three kingdoms in 57 B.C.-668 A.D. A new kingdom emerged. The Silla Kingdom lasted from 668-935. This period is significant because it marks the real influence that Buddhism had on Korea's cultural development, effecting many facets of life such as architecture and social behavior. The Silla were able to gain power as well as unify the peninsula by forging an alliance with the Chinese Tang Dynasty and holding off aristrocratic revolts on its monarchy. This period is very important considering that buddhism still plays a vital role in Seoul and the rest of South Korea , but approximately 40% of South Koreans are “not” religious while the rest of the population is split between buddhism and christianity. . A sculpture of Buddha in the side of a mountain, chiselled during the Silla Period. Bronze sculpture influenced by Buddhism,sculpted during Silla period Part of a Buddhist temple in Seoul. This circular pattern is quite common in Buddhist influenced cities and marks temples and other structures.
Since the first time it was a capital in the Baekje kingdom Seoul became a capital once again during the Joseon Dynasty which lasted from 1392-1910. Since 5000 BC, Seoul has been one of the major settlement areas and served as a fortress city during the early Baekje Kingdom from which relics can still be found. Seoul became more urban in Joseon times after being selected as the capital city. From early modern times, the city underwent many drastic changes not only resulting from the natural transformation of the city, but also from distortions exerted by the Japanese colonial rule. The ruler of the Joseon Dynasty moved the capital to Hanyang-gun (today's Seoul) in 1394 and adopted Confucianism as the country's official religion. As a result, Buddhists lost much of their wealth and power. The Joseon Dynasty was the final ruling dynasty of Korea with an actual king and queen and monarchy. It was in 1395, three years after the Joseon Dynasty was founded , that the large royal palace was built in Seoul. The palace was named Gyeongbokgung, the "Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven." The site of Gyeong-bokgung Palace was at the heart of Seoul. 0 G Y E O N G B O K G U N G P A L A C E in S E O U L
The population under the Joseon peaked at 18 million. A centralized administrative system was installed by Confucian scholars called the Yangban. The Yangban and the monarchy ruled the peninsula's government and military. About 40% of the population were slaves. Slavery was hereditary, as well as a form of legal punishment. Most of the Population was farmers and merchants and evidence suggests that sometimes citizens had dual roles under the Joseon dynasty. Under this dynasty their was a very strict multlayered class system with many different forms and customs signifying these Distinctions. The Monarchy and the main Yangban council was based in Seoul. Joseon repelling Japanese naval forces
It was during this period that the Korean alphabet, Hangeul , was invented by King Sejong the Great. King Sejong the Great is regarded as the most enlightened king in Korean history. King Sejong was born in 1397, and ascended the throne in 1418 at the age of 21. He was the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty. He died in 1450 at the age of 54. During his 32-year reign, King Sejong energetically promoted learning. He was responsible for the creation of the Korean Hangul alphabet, and this scientific alphabet is his most known achievement. This alphabet enabled literacy to become more available to the general population, who could not be expected to master the classical Chinese language that was the official written language of Korea at the time. The invention of a korean alphabet and language that was distinctly Korean was an immense feat which gave a new meaning to being Korean. This invention did more for Korean pride and identity than anything prior or since. King Sejong was a scholar, philologist, musician, poet, and a skilled swordsman. K I N G S E J O N G
The Imjin War (1592-98), was one of the most disastrous periods of Korean history. Shortly after consolidating control of Japan, the great general Toyotomi Hideyoshi decided to invade China in an attempt to become the ruler of all Asia. The easiest route to China cut through the Korean Peninsula. He asked the Korean king for help, or for unobstructed passage. As Korea had strong diplomatic relations with the Ming Dynasty, the king refused. To teach Korea a lesson, Japanese troops attacked Korea in April 1592 with their full military might. Although there had been voices in the Korean government calling for the strengthening of the military, the crown did not take note and Korea was virtually defenseless when Japan let loose its battlehardened troops. During the latter half of the Joseon Dynasty, Gyeongbok Palace was the main palace, having been rebuilt in the early 1600s after its destruction (along with all of the other palaces in Seoul) during the Hideyoshi invasions of the 1590s. Worth noting is that it was Seoul's citizens, angry that the king was fleeing and leaving them to their fate, who burned Seoul's palaces - not the invading Japanese armies. In the 1860s Gyeongbok Palace, having sat in ruins for over 250 years, was rebuilt, and it became the main palace under King Gojong's rule. The two most common types of protest at the time were peasant uprisings and bowing before the palace's gate and submitting petitions to the King. Invasion of Korea 1592 Imjin War
Japan conquered the Joseon dynasty, and the age of a monarchy in Korea ended. With the Japanese again victorious, Korea was declared a protectorate and annexed as a Japanese colony, ending the centuries-old Korean dynastic structure. The Japanese controlled Korea until the end of World War II in 1945. The Korean political structure reformed again with the advent of the Republic of Korea. During this time the Japanese subjected the people in Seoul and the rest of the peninsula to criminal acts such as rape and plunder. Seoul under Japanese rule
Korean War was the conflict between Communist and non-Communist forces in Korea from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953. At the end of World War II, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into Soviet (North Korean) and U.S. (South Korean) zones of occupation. In 1948 rival governments were established: The Republic of Korea was proclaimed in the South and the People's Democratic Republic of Korea in the North. Relations between them became increasingly strained, and on June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea. The United Nations quickly condemned the invasion as an act of aggression, demanded the withdrawal of North Korean troops from the South, and called upon its members to aid South Korea. On June 27, U.S. President Truman authorized the use of American land, sea, and air forces in Korea; a week later, the United Nations placed the forces of 15 other member nations under U.S. command, and Truman appointed Gen. Douglas MacArthur supreme commander. This war was a direct result of the beginning of the cold war with Russia supporting the North and the US the south. After the division of the two Koreas, Seoul took on a greater symbolic meaning as the commercial symbol of a democratic republic of South Korea. Innocent bystander in Seoul during Korean war UN forces recapture Seoul from the North
On 4 January 1951, the capital city of Seoul changed hands for the third time within a six month period. UN forces along the western front were forced to withdraw once again; however, the Chinese did not aggressively follow-up and contact with the enemy dropped off. While this sector of the front remained uneasily quiet after the capture of Seoul, the central and eastern fronts experienced a series of grim battles fought in sub-zero degree temperatures. Again, some ground was lost. By mid-January the military situation along the central and eastern fronts improved as enemy pressure gradually subsided. The war left indelible marks on the Korean Peninsula and the world surrounding it. The entire peninsula was reduced to rubble, and casualties on both sides were enormous. Combatant deaths alone included as many as 180,000 South Korean and United Nations troops. Seoul suffered the most casualties per capita in South Korea. After the war it went into a massive rebuilding of infrastructure and economy.
The modern era of Seoul started with it's rebuilding after the Korean War. At that time Seoul's economy was equal to most South American and African countries, but lo and behold today South Korea, with Seoul as it's financial hub had a GDP that is more than 14 times that of it's rival North Korea. Seoul is now one of the 10 most economically powerful cities in the international scene. A female trader at the main stock exchange in Seoul
Seoul was traditionally a city, but even during the Joseon Dynasty the majority of it's population was agricultural. Like many cities after the industrializion period Seoul became a truly global city whose economy was directly interdependent with other global cities. Today's Seoul is a far cry from the isolationist “Hermit Kingdom” from the past and agriculture has lessened greatly with huge export markets for products such as cars and technology like phones and televisions. The economic success through the late 1980s was achieved by a system of close government/business ties, including directed credit, import restrictions, sponsorship of specific industries, and a strong labor effort. The government promoted the import of raw materials and technology at the expense of consumer goods and encouraged savings and investment over consumption. Seoul is the job center of South Korea saw in the last 50 years an immense migration from rural areas has taken place. LG is one of the many famous Korean technology manufacturers Hyundai is another famous South Korean company based in Seoul
Public transportation in Seoul is stellar and efficient. It puts New York City's subway system to shame. I have personally rode the subways there and once a westernere gets use to the system you find that it is cleaner and more efficient, and far safer. The only issue I had with the system is that it did not run as late as New York's on certain outer lines. Because Seoul's population is currently about 12 million inhabitants and Seoul's terrific public transportation really helps people who are not wealthy enough to have a car or those who are tourists or eco-friendly. S E O U L R A I L M A P
Korea does have many visitors but overall it is more homogenous than many nations of similar economic standing. Seoul, although quite huge has a relatively homogenous gene pool. While there was a considerable mixing of races among the various peoples in Manchuria, the inhabitants of the Korean Peninsula maintained their ethnic identity with only minimal mixing with external groups. Although cultural contacts were extensive between Korea and China from the early stages of their history, ethnic assimilation did not occur. Koreans were (and still are) highly conscious of ethnic differences and cultural distinctions, which meant safeguarding their ethnic identity despite relations with China and Japan. Koreans exported their own culture and transmitted Chinese culture to Japan from ancient times, but they did not attempt to engage in any ethnic mixing with the Japanese. Many ethnic groups in Manchuria lost most of their ethnic identity and were even completely assimilated with dominant groups; Koreans, however, have kept their ethnic identity and culture intact. Even to this day this is quite evident. For instance Seoul does not have the same issues of cultural identity that a city like Paris does.
The West and particularly America has had a huge influence on South Korea and Seoul since the end of the Korean war. American music, pop culture, fast food,films, and capitalism have permeated South Korea's culture for some time now. USA and South Korea have a very symbiotic relationship where Korea sees the US as a military protector and the US views Korea as a great strategic ally in it's future endeavors. When I was in Seoul I saw how superior the Korean diet was to the American one. Their high intake of vegetables and fish and natural ingredients really were far superior for the human body, so you can imagine how I felt when I saw a KFC and Mcdonalds there. Purely unnecessary, and shame on any foreigner who eats there as opposed to having authentic Korean cuisine. Sometimes the western influence has not been great. Mcdonalds In Seoul
Seoul has had a tremendous pollution problem for sometime now and it is one of it's biggest problems.During the first two decades of Korea's economic boom, there was little attention paid to the damaging effects of rapid industrialization on the environment. It was not until the 1980's that Korea began paying close attention to the environment, but the problems have arisen so quickly, that the Korean government has not been able to manage all of them. One of the arising problems in connection with rapid industrialization is acid rain. Studies indicate that a large part of Asia is being threatened by acid rain. Factory smoke and automobile exhaust fumes contribute to thesulfur-oxides contained in the precipitation of rain. Although China is the largest producer of sulfur dioxide emissions in Asia accounting for 20 million tons of SO2 emissions in 1987, South Korea is also a major producer of SO2. This is not Los Angeles it is Seoul and some Nasty smog.
I wanted to end this on a personal note. My favorite part of Seoul is the people and the nightlife. Seoul is more alive than NYC and far more exciting and practically no street crime compared to any other city in the world. I felt perfectly safe there at 4 am outside. There is so much to do there and it truly is the city that never sleeps. Seoul is divided into 25 districts, and although certain districts might be intended for shopping and others for industry, in general no one district plays a specific overall role versus another. I really love the energy and boisterousness of Korean nightlife as well as the emphasis of food and drink around a table. I think we really miss this aspect here in the states. Nightlife in Seoul