Rare Photos Of The Unified Korea Before It Was Torn In Two

Published September 13, 2017
Updated September 14, 2017
Korean Empire Two Women
Girl In A Basket
Transporting Pottery Across Mountain
Flying See Saw Girls
Rare Photos Of The Unified Korea Before It Was Torn In Two
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There was a time when Korea was a free and united nation. Long before North Korea rose and the Korean War tore a nation apart, the people of north and south lived together in peace.

However, this free, united Korean Empire only existed for a short time. For a brief period starting in 1897, Korea was an independent nation, left alone by other world powers. The Korean people had gained their freedom from Russian rule, formed their own empire, and finally won the opportunity to develop and revel in their own culture.

But nearly as soon as Korean had won its freedom, the Japanese swept in and took it away. By 1905, Korea was a protectorate of Japan and, by 1910, they were completely annexed by the Japanese Empire. Now, a foreign power was systematically crushing the Korean identity, abolishing their currency, doing away with their Emperor, and bringing in a new infrastructure of their own.

For 40 years, the people of the former Korean Empire struggled under Japanese rule. Time and time again, the Korean people raised rebellions only to see them get squashed. And they wouldn’t win their freedom again until the whole world broke out into war.

When the Allied armies defeated the Japanese in World War II, it seemed, for a brief moment, like there would be a free and united Korea once more. But the Soviet and American armies that rolled down their streets were more worried about keeping each other’s power and ideology at bay than they were in liberating a country.

Instead, the Soviets and Americans carved up Korea, with the U.S. claiming every part of the nation south of the 38th parallel and the Soviet Union claiming every part to the north. They justified it as a “five-year trusteeship,” promising that Korea would be reunited and given its freedom when they were ready for it — but that would never happen.

With the world’s superpowers feeding their ideas and armies into the two halves of Korea, it didn’t take long for an all-out war to break out. In 1950 — a mere five years after the nations had been divided — the country descended into civil war. Korea’s fate to be divided by hatred and conflict was sealed.

But there was a time, before the Korean War, before North Korea and South Korea, when the nation was united. A time before the country had been turned into a pawn in a game between two foreign powers.

See what life was like inside the Korean Empire and the decades that followed in the photos above.

After this look at the Korean Empire, check out these picture of Iran before the Islamic Revolution and China before the Communist Revolution.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Oliver, Mark. "Rare Photos Of The Unified Korea Before It Was Torn In Two." AllThatsInteresting.com, September 13, 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/korean-empire. Accessed May 22, 2024.