The Medieval and Early Modern History section displays historical and cultural items from the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1897) periods, tracing the events, conflicts, and achievements that marked the two most significant periods of Korea’s national development.
The Joseon Dynasty was founded in 1392, during a time of major political turmoil for neighboring East Asian countries. In China, during the mid-14th century, the Mongol Dynasty of Yuan was overthrown by the Ming Dynasty. Meanwhile, Goryeo, crippled by internal conflicts, was already beginning its death throes. By the late 14th century, emerging factions of Goryeo’s political and military leadership collaborated to establish the Joseon Dynasty, announcing a Neo-Confucian system with a ruler whose legitimacy would be determined by the people. Joseon was a law-abiding state, governed in accordance with a basic code of laws called Gyeonggukdaejeon (National Code). Its political system was a monarchy with a centralized bureaucratic system, as opposed to Goryeo, wherein the power had been centralized in hereditary aristocratic clans. For the first 100 years after the founding of Joseon, the legitimacy of the new dynasty was solidified and its identity was further defined. The city of Hanyang (currently Seoul), located in the central section of the Korean Peninsula, was chosen as the new royal capital, and was constructed in a manner to reflect the ideals and prestige of the new dynasty. Celestial maps and world maps were drawn up to legitimize the king’s authority as being bestowed by both heaven and earth. The early decades of the dynasty also witnessed the introduction of Hangeul (the Korean alphabet), the creation of an independent calendar, and the invention of various astronomical instruments and movable types. Also, for the first time, many important medical, pharmaceutical, and agricultural treatises and compendiums which reflected Joseon’s Confucian ideology were compiled and published, rather than simply being copied from Chinese or foreign documents, as had been done previously.