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Unknown(2333BC?)–108 BC
Gojoseon in 108 BC
Gojoseon in 108 BC
Common languagesYe-Maek language (Koreanic)
Classical Chinese
• 2333 BC ? - ?
Dangun (first)
• ? - ?
• ? - 194 BC
• 194 BC - ?
Wi Man
• ? - 108 BC
Wi Ugeo (last)
Historical eraAncient
• Established
• First mentioned in Chinese texts
c. 700 BC
• Coup by Wi Man
194 BC
109–108 BC
• Fall of Wanggeom
108 BC
Succeeded by
Buyeo kingdom
Four Commanderies of Han
Today part ofNorth Korea
South Korea
Korean name
Revised RomanizationGojoseon
Original name
Revised RomanizationJoseon

Gojoseon (Korean고조선; Hanja古朝鮮), is the first Korean kingdom with written historical record, founded by Dangun, the legendary founder of Korean nation. It was a period in the History of Korea lasting from 2333 BCE (?) to 108 BCE. Gojoseon possessed the most advanced culture in the Korean peninsula at that time and was an important marker in the progression towards the more centralised states of later periods. The addition of Go (, ), meaning "ancient", is used to distinguish it from the much later Joseon dynasty (1392–1897).

According to the Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms, Gojoseon was established in 2333 BC by Dangun, who was said to be the offspring of a heavenly prince and a bear-woman. Although Dangun is a mythological figure for whom no concrete evidence has been found,[1] the account has played an important role in the development of Korean identity. Today, the founding date of Gojoseon is officially celebrated as the National Foundation Day in North Korea[2] and South Korea.

Some of the same sources relate that in the 12th century BC the Shang nobleman and sage Jizi (also known as Gija), a man belonging to the royal family of the Shang dynasty of China, immigrated to the Korean Peninsula and founded Gija Joseon.[3][4]There are many interpretations of Gojoseon and Gija Joseon.[5]

In 194 BC, Gojoseon or Gija Joseon was overthrown by Wi Man (also known as Wei Man), a refugee from the Han vassal state of Yan.[note 1] Wi Man then established Wiman Joseon.

In 108 BC, the Chinese Han dynasty under Emperor Wu invaded and conquered Wiman Joseon. The Han established four commanderies to administer the former Gojoseon territory. After the fragmentation of the Han Empire during the 3rd century and the subsequent chaotic 4th century, the area was lost from Chinese control and conquered by Goguryeo in 313 AD.

Gojoseon was first mentioned in ancient Chinese records in the early 7th century BC.[6] During its early phase, the capital of Gojoseon was in present-day Liaoning; around 400 BC it was moved to Pyongyang, and in the south of the Korean Peninsula, the Jin state arose by the 3rd century BC.[7]

Founding myths[edit]

There are three different main founding myths concerning Gojoseon, which revolve around Dangun, Gija, or Wi Man.[8]

Dangun myth[edit]

Heaven Lake of Baekdu Mountain, where Dangun's father is said to have descended from heaven

The myths revolving around Dangun were recorded in the later Korean work Samguk Yusa of the 13th century.[9] This work states that Dangun, the offspring of a heavenly prince and a bear-woman, founded Gojoseon in 2333 BC, only to be succeeded by Gija (Qizi) after King Wu of Zhou had placed him onto the throne in 1122 BC.[9] A similar account is found in Jewang Ungi. According to the legend, the Lord of Heaven, Hwanin had a son, Hwanung, who descended to Baekdu Mountain and founded the city of Shinsi. Then a bear and a tiger came to Hwanung and said that they wanted to become people. Hwanung said to them that if they went in a cave and lived there for 100 days while only eating mugwort and garlic he will change them into human beings. However, about halfway through the 100 days the tiger gave up and ran out of the cave. On the other hand, the bear successfully restrained herself and became a beautiful woman called Ungnyeo (웅녀, 熊女). Hwanung later married Ungnyeo, and she gave birth to Dangun.[10]

While the Dangun story is considered to be a myth,[1] it is believed it is a mythical synthesis of a series of historical events relating to the founding of Gojoseon.[11] There are various theories on the origin of this myth.[12] Seo and Kang (2002) believe the Dangun myth is based on integration of two different tribes, an invasive sky-worshipping Bronze Age tribe and a native bear-worshipping neolithic tribe, that led to the foundation of Gojoseon.[13] Lee K. B. (1984) believes 'Dangun-wanggeom' was a title borne by successive leaders of Gojoseon.[14]

Dangun is said to have founded Gojoseon around 2333 BC, based on the descriptions of the Samgungnyusa, Jewang Ungi, Dongguk Tonggam and the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty.[15] The date differs among historical sources, although all of them put it during the mythical Emperor Yao's reign (traditional dates: 2357 BC? – 2256 BC?). Samgungnyusa says Dangun ascended to the throne in the 50th year of the legendary Yao's reign, Annals of the King Sejong says the first year, and Dongguk Tonggam says the 25th year.[16]

Gija myth[edit]

Gija, a man from the period of the Shang dynasty, allegedly fled to the Korean peninsula in 1122 BC during the fall of the Shang to the Zhou dynasty and founded Gija Joseon.[17] In the past, the earliest surviving Chinese record, Records of the Three Kingdoms, recognized Gija Joseon. Gija's story was further developed in later Korean texts such as Samguk yusa and Jewang ungi. By the middle of Goryeo dynasty, a state cult had developed around Gija.[18] The Dongsa Gangmok of 1778 described Gija's activities and contributions in Gojoseon. The records of Gija refer to Eight Prohibitions (Korean범금팔조; Hanja犯禁八條), that are recorded by the Book of Han and evidence a hierarchical society and legal protection of private property.[19]

In pre-modern Korea, Gija represented the authenticating presence of Chinese civilization, and until the 12th century, Koreans commonly believed that Dangun bestowed upon Korea its people and basic culture, while Gija gave Korea its high culture—and presumably, standing as a legitimate civilisation.[20]

Many modern experts have denied Gija Joseon's existence for various reasons, mainly due to contradicting archaeological evidence and anachronistic historical evidence.[21][18] They point to the Bamboo Annals and the Analects of Confucius, which were among the first works to mention Gija, but do not mention his migration to Gojoseon.[22] It's just a symbol of the pre-Qin dynasty migrants who have escaped the chaos of Warring States period.[23] [24]

Wi Man[edit]

Wi Man was a military officer of the Yan of northeastern China, who fled to the northern Korean peninsula in 195 BC from the encroaching Han dynasty.[9] He founded a principality with Wanggeom-seong as capital, which is thought to be on the region of present-day Pyongyang.[9] The 3rd-century Chinese text Weilüe of the Sanguozhi recorded that Wiman usurped King Jun and thus took kingship over Gojoseon.[9]

Academic perspectives[edit]

Gojoseon history can be divided into three phases, Dangun, Gija and Wiman Joseon.[25]

  1. Kang & Macmillan (1980), Sohn et al. (1970), Kim J.B. (1980), Han W.K. (1970), Yun N. H. (1985), Lee K.B. (1984), Lee J.B. (1987) viewed the Dangun myth as a native product of proto-Koreans, although it is not always associated with Gojoseon.[25] Kim J.B. (1987) rejected the Dangun myth's association with Gojoseon and pushes it further back to the Neolithic period. Sohn et al. (1970) suggested Dangun myth is associated with the Dongyi, whom they viewed as the ancestors of Koreans. Kim C. (1948) suggested the Dangun myth had a Chinese origin, tracing it to a Han Dynasty tomb in the Shandong peninsula.
  2. Gardiner (1969), Henderson (1959), McCune (1962) considered the Gija myth to be a later conflation. Sohn et al. (1970) dismissed the Gija story as a Chinese fabrication. On the other hand, Hatada (1969), to give Gojoseon a Chinese identity, exclusively ascribed to the Gija myth and moved it to 3rd century BC.[25] Shim Jae-Hoon (2002) accepted the eastward migration of Gija, but denied the relationship between Gija and Joseon, suggesting that the existence of Gojoseon could not be extended to the second millennium BC.[18]
  3. Kim C.W. (1966), Han W.K. (1970), Choi M.L. (1983, 1984, 1985, 1992), Han W.K. (1984), Kim J.B. (1987), Lee K.B. (1984) accepted Wiman as a historical figure.[25] Gardiner (1969) questioned authenticity of the Wiman myth, although he mentioned there were interaction between Gojoseon and the Han Dynasty and social unrest in the area during that time period.[25]

State formation[edit]

Gojoseon is first found in contemporaneous historical records of Guanzi of the early 7th century BCE as located around Bohai Bay and trading with Qi (齊) of China.[26] The Zhanguoce, Shanhaijing, and Shiji—containing some of its earliest records—refers to Joseon as a region, until the text Shiji began referring it as a country from 195 BC onwards.[27]

By the 4th century BC, other states with defined political structures developed in the areas of the earlier Bronze Age "walled-town states"; Gojoseon was the most advanced of them in the peninsular region.[7] The city-state expanded by incorporating other neighboring city-states by alliance or military conquest. Thus, a vast confederation of political entities between the Taedong and Liao rivers was formed. As Gojoseon evolved, so did the title and function of the leader, who came to be designated as "king" (Han), in the tradition of the Zhou dynasty, around the same time as the Yan (燕) leader.[28] Records of that time mention the hostility between the feudal state in Northern China and the "confederated" kingdom of Gojoseon, and notably, a plan to attack the Yan beyond the Liao River frontier. The confrontation led to the decline and eventual downfall of Gojoseon, described in Yan records as "arrogant" and "cruel". But the ancient kingdom also appears as a prosperous Bronze Age civilisation, with a complex social structure, including a class of horse-riding warriors who contributed to the development of Gojoseon, particularly the northern expansion[29] into most of the Liaodong basin.

Around 300 BC, Gojoseon lost significant western territory after a war with the Yan state, but this indicates Gojoseon was already a large enough state that it could wage war against Yan and survive the loss of 2000 li (800 kilometres) of territory.[19] Gojoseon is thought to have relocated its capital to the Pyongyang region around this time.[28]

Wiman Joseon and fall[edit]

Han Dynasty destroys Wiman Joseon, establishing Four Commanderies of Han in the northern Korean peninsula.

In 195 BC, King Jun appointed a refugee from Yan, Wi Man, to guard the frontier.[30] Wi Man later rebelled in 194 BC and usurped the throne of Gojoseon. King Jun fled to Jin in the south of the Korean Peninsula.[31]

In 109 BC, Emperor Wu of Han invaded near the Liao River.[31] A conflict would erupt in 109 BC, when Wiman's grandson King Ugeo (우거왕, hanja: 右渠王) refused to let Jin's ambassadors through his territory in order to reach the Han dynasty. When Emperor Wu sent an ambassador (涉何) to Wanggeom-seong to negotiate right of passage with King Ugeo, King Ugeo refused and had a general escort him back to Han territory—but when they got close to Han borders, he assassinated the general and claimed to Emperor Wu that he had defeated Joseon in battle, and Emperor Wu, unaware of his deception, made him the military commander of the Commandery of Liaodong. King Ugeo, offended, made a raid on Liaodong and killed him.

In response, Emperor Wu commissioned a two-pronged attack, one by land and one by sea, against Gojoseon.[31] The two forces attacking Gojoseon were unable to coordinate well with each other and eventually suffered large losses. Eventually the commands were merged, and Wanggeom fell in 108 BC. Han took over the Gojoseon lands and established Four Commanderies of Han in the western part of former Gojoseon area.[32]

The Gojoseon disintegrated by 1st century BCE as it gradually lost the control of its former fiefs. As Gojoseon lost control of its confederacy, many successor states sprang from its former territory, such as Buyeo, Okjeo, Dongye. Goguryeo and Baekje evolved from Buyeo.


Around 2000 BCE, a new pottery culture of painted and chiselled design is found. These people practised agriculture in a settled communal life, probably organised into familial clans. Rectangular huts and increasingly larger dolmen burial sites are found throughout the peninsula. Bronze daggers and mirrors have been excavated, and there is archaeological evidence of small walled-town states in this period.[29][33] Dolmens and bronze daggers found in the area are uniquely Korean and cannot be found in China. A few dolmens are found in China, mostly in the Shandong province.[34]

Mumun pottery[edit]

In the Mumun pottery period (1500 BC – 300 BCE), plain coarse pottery replaced earlier comb-pattern wares, possibly as a result of the influence of new populations migrating to Korea from Manchuria and Siberia. This type of pottery typically has thicker walls and displays a wider variety of shapes, indicating improvements in kiln technology.[7] This period is sometimes called the "Korean Bronze Age", but bronze artifacts are relatively rare and regionalised until the 7th century BC.

Rice Cultivation was very popular in the lower parts of South Korea and Manchuria most popular in the 1900BC to 200AD. Most common food in South Korea long ago

Bronze tools[edit]

The beginning of the Bronze Age on the peninsula is usually said to be 1000 BC, but estimates range from the 13th to 8th centuries.[35] Although the Korean Bronze Age culture derives from the Liaoning and Manchuria, it exhibits unique typology and styles, especially in ritual objects.[36]

By the 7th century BC, a Bronze Age material culture with influences from Manchuria, eastern Mongolia as well as Siberia and Scythian bronze styles, flourished on the peninsula. Korean bronzes contain a higher percentage of zinc than those of the neighbouring bronze cultures. Bronze artifacts, found most frequently in burial sites, consist mainly of swords, spears, daggers, small bells, and mirrors decorated with geometric patterns.[7][37]

Gojoseon's development seems linked to the adoption of bronze technology. Its singularity finds its most notable expression in the idiosyncratic type of bronze swords, or "mandolin-shaped daggers" (비파형동검, 琵琶形銅劍). The mandolin-shape dagger is found in the regions of Liaoning, Hebei, and Manchuria down to the Korean Peninsula. It suggests the existence of Gojoseon dominions. Remarkably, the shape of the "mandolin" dagger of Gojoseon differs significantly from the sword artifacts found in China.

Dolmen tombs[edit]

Megalithic dolmens appear in Korean peninsula and Manchuria around 2000 BC to 400 BC.[38][39] Around 900 BC, burial practices become more elaborate, a reflection of increasing social stratification. Goindol, the dolmen tombs in Korea and Manchuria, formed of upright stones supporting a horizontal slab, are more numerous in Korea than in other parts of East Asia. Other new forms of burial are stone cists (underground burial chambers lined with stone) and earthenware jar coffins. The bronze objects, pottery, and jade ornaments recovered from dolmens and stone cists indicate that such tombs were reserved for the elite class.[7][40]

Around the 6th century BC, burnished red wares, made of a fine iron-rich clay and characterised by a smooth, lustrous surface, appear in dolmen tombs, as well as in domestic bowls and cups.[7]

Iron culture[edit]

Around this time, the state of Jin occupied the southern part of the Korean peninsula. Very little is known about this state except it was the apparent predecessor to the Samhan confederacies.

Around 300 BC, iron technology was introduced into Korea from Yan state. Iron was produced locally in the southern part of the peninsula by the 2nd century BCE. According to Chinese accounts, iron from the lower Nakdong River in the southeast was valued throughout the peninsula and Japan.[7]


In the book of gogeumju(古今注) written by Cui Bao(崔豹) of Western Jin period, poetry called gonghuyin(箜篌引) or gongmudohaga(公無渡河歌) is said to be of Gojoseon origin. The poetry is as follows:

公無渡河 "Don't cross the river,my love."

公竟渡河 "My love eventually crossed the river.'

墮河而死 "Now that my love is drowned,"

當奈公何 "There's nothing that I can do."

Proto–Three Kingdoms of Korea[edit]

Numerous small states and confederations arose from the remnants of Gojoseon, including Goguryeo, the Buyeo kingdom, Okjeo, and Dongye. Three of the Chinese commanderies fell to local resistance within a few decades, but the last, Nakrang, remained an important commercial and cultural outpost until it was destroyed by the expanding Goguryeo in 313 AD.

Jun of Gojoseon is said to have fled to the state of Jin in the southern Korean Peninsula. Jin developed into the Samhan confederacies, the beginnings of Baekje and Silla, continuing to absorb migration from the north. The Samhan confederacies were Mahan, Jinhan, and Byeonhan. King Jun ruled Mahan, which was eventually annexed by Baekje. Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla gradually grew into the Three Kingdoms of Korea that dominated the entire peninsula by around the 4th century.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b
    • Seth, Michael J. (2010). A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 443. ISBN 978-0-7425-6717-7.
    "An extreme manifestation of nationalism and the family cult was the revival of interest in Tangun, the mythical founder of the first Korean state... Most textbooks and professional historians, however, treat him as a myth."
    "Although Kija may have truly existed as a historical figure, Tangun is more problematical."
    "Most [Korean historians] treat the [Tangun] myth as a later creation."
    "The Tangun myth became more popular with groups that wanted Korea to be independent; the Kija myth was more useful to those who wanted to show that Korea had a strong affinity to China."
    "If a choice is to be made between them, one is faced with the fact that the Tangun, with his supernatural origin, is more clearly a mythological figure than Kija."
  2. ^ uriminzokkiri 우리민족끼리 official website of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
  3. ^ Kim, Djun Kil (2014). The History of Korea, 2nd Edition. ABC-CLIO. p. 8. ISBN 9781610695824.
  4. ^ Ebrey, Patricia Buckley; Walthall, Anne (2013). Pre-Modern East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, Volume I: To 1800. Cengage Learning. p. 100. ISBN 9781285546230.
  5. ^ "기자조선". terms.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2021-05-02.
  6. ^ Peterson & Margulies 2009, p. 6.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Timeline of Art and History, Korea, 1000 BC – 1 AD". Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  8. ^ Barnes, Gina (2000). State Formation in Korea: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives. Richmond: Curzon. p. 10. ISBN 9780700713233.
  9. ^ a b c d e Barnes, Gina (2000). State Formation in Korea: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives. Richmond: Curzon. p. 11. ISBN 9780700713233.
  10. ^ Samguk Yusa《삼국유사》(三國遺事)
  11. ^ 고조선(古朝鮮). Encyclopædia Britannica( Korean) (in Korean).
  12. ^ Barnes 2001, pp. 9–14.
  13. ^ 서강 2002.
  14. ^ Lee 1984.
  15. ^ 국학원 제24회 학술회의 - 단기 연호 어떻게 볼 것인가 - 단기가 최초로 산정된 것은 《동국통감》으로 요임금 즉위 25년 무진년을 기준으로 삼았다. 《동국통감》〈외기〉 의 주석에는 다음과 같은 해석이 실려있다. - 古記云, 檀君與堯竝立於戊辰, 虞夏至商武丁八年乙未, 入阿斯達山爲神, 享壽千四百十八年. 此說可疑今按, 堯之立在上元甲子甲辰之歲, 而檀君之立在後二十五年戊辰, 則曰與堯竝立者非也. 이에 대한 한글 해석은 네이버 지식백과 국역 동국통감(국역:세종대왕기념사업회) 에서 확인할 수 있다.
  16. ^ Yoon, N.-H. (윤내현), The Location and Transfer of Go-Chosun's Capital (고조선의 도읍 위치와 그 이동), 단군학연구, 7, 207–38 (2002)
  17. ^ Barnes 2001, pp. 9–10.
  18. ^ a b c Shim, Jae-Hoon (2002). "A new understanding of Kija Chosŏn as a historical anachronism". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 62 (2): 271–305. doi:10.2307/4126600. JSTOR 4126600.
  19. ^ a b "Daum 요청하신 페이지의 사용권한이 없습니다". status.daum.net.
  20. ^ Kyung Moon hwang, "A History of Korea, An Episodic Narrative", 2010, p. 4
  21. ^ "古朝鮮과 琵琶形銅劍의 問題". 단군학연구 (12): 5–30. June 16, 2005 – via www.dbpia.co.kr.
  22. ^ "기자조선". terms.naver.com.
  23. ^ Even with this immigration, Proto-koreanic language was still used in Gojoseon.
  24. ^ Immigrants provided Gojoseon with the opportunity to absorb advanced technologies, but it is presumed that they were only a minor(because of the distinct language). It is presumed that later Koreans claimed to be "Gija" for their relations with China and for their desire to be Chinese civilization.
  25. ^ a b c d e Cited in Barnes, Gina (2014). State Formation in Korea: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives. New York: Routledge. pp. 10–13. ISBN 9780700713233.
  26. ^ 고조선 (in Korean). Naver/Doosan Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 2012-07-01.
  27. ^ Barnes, Gina (2000). State Formation in Korea: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives. Richmond: Curzon. pp. 9–10. ISBN 9780700713233.
  28. ^ a b "두산백과 : 네이버 지식백과". terms.naver.com.
  29. ^ a b "Korea's Place in the Sun". The New York Times.
  30. ^ Academy of Korean Studies, The Review of Korean Studies, vol. 10권,3–4, 2007, p. 222
  31. ^ a b c Lee Injae, Owen Miller, Park Jinhoon, Yi Hyun-Hae, Korean History in Maps, Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 20
  32. ^ Jae-eun Kang, The Land of Scholars: Two Thousand Years of Korean Confucianism, Homa & Sekey Books, 2006, pp. 28–31
  33. ^ "North Korea - THE ORIGINS OF THE KOREAN NATION". www.country-data.com.
  34. ^ Joussaume, Roger (1988). Dolmens for the dead : megalith-building throughout the world. London: Batsford. ISBN 0713453699. OCLC 15593505.
  35. ^ "청동기문화". terms.naver.com.
  36. ^ 김정배, 고조선 연구의 사적 고찰 (Historical Survey on Research of Kochosun), 단군학연구, 7, 185 - 206 (2002)
  37. ^ The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Arts of Korea, Bronze Age Objects
  38. ^ "A Tripolar Approach to East Asian History" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-07-04. Retrieved 2015-04-29.
  39. ^ Holcombe, Charles (December 16, 2011). A History of East Asia: From the Origins of Civilization to the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521515955 – via Google Books.
  40. ^ Unesco.
  41. ^ http://encykorea.aks.ac.kr/Contents/Item/E0004279
  1. ^
    "The term was used again by a refugee from the Han dynasty named Wiman, who about 200 B.C.E. set up a kingdom in Korea called Wiman Choson."
    "The earliest documented event in Korean history involves China. After an unsuccessful rising against the first Han emperor Gaozu, the defeated rebels sought refuge beyond the imperial frontier and one of them Wiman, took control of Choson, a Korean state in the north of the peninsula."
    "For instance, Wiman, a refugee from the Yan dynasty, which then existed around present-day Beijing, led his band of more than 1,000 followers into exile in Old Chosŏn in the early second century bc."
    "Retaliation by the Han then brought in refugees from Yan, the most notable of whom was a war lord, Weiman ('Wiman'in Korean), who somewhere about 200 BC led his followers into the territory held by Choson."
    "Here, Wiman was described as a "Gu Yanren 故燕人"or a person from former Yan. It is confusing because there were two Yans around this period. The first was the Yan state, which was one of the seven states during the Warring States period, and the second was the vassal state of Yan of the Han dynasty."