Part 1: Korean History – The Basics: A basic overview of ancient Korean history through the end of the Joseon period, including distinct cultural contributions from each of the the three Korean dynasties.
1. Create a timeline detailing the key dynasties, events, transitions, and innovations in Korean history. Create a color coded key to denote each of these, and compose a summary that analyzes Korea’s cultural significance – what makes this nation and its history unique?
2. Plot a one week travel itinerary through South Korea that focuses on historically and culturally significant sites reflecting Korea’s ancient history. Where will you go? How will you travel between attractions? Where will you stay? What will you eat for each meal? Be sure to explain why each of your stops is significant enough to be included in your itinerary.
3. What happens next? Continue this survey of Korean history into the modern day. Research and analyze the significant events to compose a history of Korea’s 20th century, beginning with the Japanese Occupation, and continuing through World War II, the partition of Korea, the Korean War, life in North Korea, and the economic, democratic, and cultural resurgence of South Korea in the latter half of the century. Be certain to highlight key events and figures, along with notable cultural contributions and technological innovations.
Part 2: Pungsu, the Art of Korean Geomancy: A detailed look at an ancient spiritual technique for understanding the flow and balance of energy through and over the earth.
1. Identify and discuss some of the core values of Korean society revealed by pungsu. How are these values similar or different from the core values of your own society?
2. Anthropologist Hong-Key Yoon calls geomancy “a quasi-religious and pseudo-scientific system which regulates human ecology…” (p.22) suggesting that pungsu helps Koreans live harmoniously and sustainably with the environment around them. Research and compare beliefs of other religious systems such as Judasim, Christianity, or Islam regarding humanity’s relationship the environment.
3. In what ways is your own lifestyle in harmony or disharmony with the environment?
4. Research and report on another traditional Korean practice, creating an informative multimedia resource like this one to share with your peers. Possible topics could include:
Kimchi, bibimbap, bulgoki, and Korean dining traditions
Part 3: King Sejong the Great: Rooted firmly in Korea’s Confucian tradition, King Sejong the Great, reigning from 1418 to 1450, inventing and promoter of Hangul, stands as the most preeminent and renowned of the Korean scholar heroes.
1. Sejong once wrote, “All that I am, or will be, I have learned from my family, my friends, my teachers…” How are his Confucian virtues revealed in this statement? Why do Koreans consider Sejong to be one of their great national heroes?
2. The Chinese word for China is Zhōngguó, which can be translated as “the Middle Kingdom” – meaning that it is the center of the universe. It was considered by many neighbors to be the height of civilization and stood in contrast with barbarians such as Mongols to the north. In what ways do you see Korea’s great leader Sejong imitating China, and in what ways do you see him distinguishing Korean culture from Chinese? Is it better for a nation to adopt a dominant neighbor’s ways, or to create its own distinct culture?
3. Why is Hangul so important a tool in Sejong’s plan to create a meritocracy, and in the long term, an important democratizing tool?
4. What qualities make a leader great? Who is one of the greatest heroes of your nation? In what lasting ways have they shaped your life?
5. Research and evaluate the achievements and qualities of one of the historical figures featured on the other denominations of won listed on the table to the right. What does his or her inclusion on the national currency say about Korean values and aspirations?
Part 4: Admiral Yi Sun-sin: Despite a complete lack of naval training, during the seven years Korea was consumed by the two Japanese invasions, Admiral Yi never once suffered defeat at sea, emerging victorious in all battles and playing a decisive role in defending Korea.
1. The grand monument to Admiral Yi is Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square has no English plaque. Write a five sentence caption to explain to English speaking visitors just why Yi is so important to the Korean people.
2. What qualities made Yi such an effective strategist and leader? How could these same qualities also have been weaknesses had Yi not been victorious so often?
3. Yi’s renown exists in part because he defied direct orders from his king when he knew them to be wrong. Why is this behavior so rare in military command structures? Are there any circumstances under which would it be permissible – even heroic – to defy direct orders from a superior? Is it too dangerous for soldiers to use their own judgement or conscience when a nation’s security is at risk?
4. Research one of the following individuals who have defied the chain of command. Compare their actions to those of Yi. Do they deserve the same sort of recognition that he has received – monuments, museums, plaques? Why or why not?
Edward Snowden, NSA contractor
Vasili Arkhipov, Soviet nuclear submariner
Kim Young Hwan, Korean bomber pilot