Thursday, 28 March 2013

Historic Photographs of Korea

In lieu of more travel-based photos (I recently enjoyed a very rare sightseeingless weekend), here are some historic photos of Korea from across the last 150 years. I found them at various sites on the internet, the URLs of which I've posted at the bottom of the post.

One of the oldest photos of Korea shows a Joseon era military general sitting atop a strange, one-wheel sedan chair, 1863.
Villagers gathering to see western women, 1863.
The port of Incheon in the 1880s.
A public school in Seoul, 1919, long before the days of hagwons and English teachers.
Emperor Gojong, who ruled the short-lived Korean Empire during the first decade of the twentieth century.
People sharing food, around the turn of the twentieth century.
A town in the Korean Empire.

An institute for blind and disabled children, 1903.

A street scene in the early 1900s. A woman can be seen using a basket as a parasol.
A chicken farmer, around 1900.
Between 1910 and 1945 Korea was ruled by Japan. This photo shows Japanese soldiers marching near a city gate.
Myeongdong District, Seoul, under the Japanese Empire. Check out this photo to see how Myeongdong looks today.
Korean "Comfort Women" under the Japanese Empire. While Japan claimed these women volunteered their services to the Empire, many of the former prostitutes later testified that they were coerced, deceived, or kidnapped from their homes, and forced into the industry. Once recruited, the women were posted in "comfort stations" throughout the Japanese occupied territories, where they were frequently raped and beaten by Japanese soldiers. Around three quarters of comfort women died, and many survivors were left infertile due to sexual trauma or disease. Though the Japanese government has since made several formal apologies and provided compensation to victims, it's understandable why many Koreans find it hard to forgive the country.
Some tiger hunters in the countryside during the 1920s. Until relatively recently Siberian tigers were quite abundant throughout the the Korean peninsula. Now there remain no wild tigers in South Korea, and only around ten still wander freely in the mountains of North Korea.
Used in warfare since ancient times, archery has a long tradition in Korea, and it became a leisure activity during the early twentieth century. Even today, South Korea dominates in the sport at the Summer Olympics and other big sporting tournaments.
A western nun with Korean converts. Protestant and Catholic missionaries brought their religion to Korea during the 1880s, and established many schools, orphanages, hospitals, universities and churches throughout the country. Under Japanese occupation, christians became strongly associated with the independence movement, lending legitimacy to the religion, and it became particularly popular during South Korea's modernisation in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, though South Korea's population remains predominately nonreligious, almost a third of South Koreans describe themselves as Christian, surpassing even Buddhism (though it should be noted that contemporary Korean culture remains much more strongly influenced by Buddhist and Confucian ideals than by Christian ones).
The March 1st Demonstrations, taking place in 1919, were one of the earliest displays of public resistance against Japanese occupation. Tens of thousands of Koreans were killed or injured during the protests, and many surviving activists were faced with the abysmal conditions of Seodaemun Prison, which I visited last month.
After Japan was forced to withdraw from Korea in the wake of World War II, the Soviets and the Americans partitioned the peninsula into two opposing states, resulting in the Korean War. The picture above shows a tired Korean girl carrying her brother on her back near a stalled M-26 tank, 1951.
Thousands of families were forced to flee from one side of the country to the other as the frontline moved up and down the peninsula.
A battlefield in Seoul as South Korean soldiers attempt to recapture the capital.
Slaughtered South Korean peasants and prisoners of war, 1952.
General Douglas MacArthur, seen sitting in the front seat of the jeep, was leader of the US Army during the Korean War, until he was relieved of duty by President Truman in 1951.
In the decades following the end of the war, thousands of US troops remained in South Korea to help rebuild the country while keeping peace with the North.
Marilyn Monroe performing for American soldiers in Korea.

Kids line up for food rations in the devastated capital following the war.
A suburb of Seoul in the 1960s.
The 1960s saw the erection of giant apartment blocks and skyscrapers, changing the landscapes of Seoul and other large Korean cities.
A soldier checks the length of a woman's skirt. From the 1960s to the 1980s South Korea was ruled by a series of military dictatorships.
Koreans riot against their government in the 1980s.
Seoul's Summer Olympics of 1988, marking a new period of optimism for South Korea.
And that about does it. Here are the websites I obtained the photos from:
US National Archives
Okinawa Soba on Flickr


  1. Amazing stuff. I love rarely seen pictures!

  2. Great page and I love seeing the earlier pictures. I live in Seoul and am always amazed how much change takes place here over the years.

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