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With a healthy respect for philosophical enquiry, the Joseon are an inquistive, meritocratic culture always willing to examine their beliefs in the light of new evidence.

Stretching from 1392 until 1910, the “Joseon” period refers to the time when Korea was ruled by a dynasty of the same name. Sometimes also known as the Yi dynasty, it was founded by General Yi Seong-gye after he overthrew the kingdom of Goryeo and put an end to the Mongol domination that had existed since 1259. In addition to moving the capital closer to Hanyang, present-day Seoul, its rulers began a movement to fundamentally restructure the country and stabilize its borders by reducing the threat posed by Japanese pirates.

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During the five hundred years of Joseon rule, Korea went through a period of profound administrative and economic reform, while the peninsula gained new palaces, monasteries, fortresses, temples, and schools. The emergence of Confucian and Neo-Confucian philosophies resulted in the need for a new form of management and a centralized administrative system for the kingdom, and thus a new class of officials holding all the key positions: the Yangban. Inspired by the bureaucratic system in Song China, officials had to pass a mandatory examination to gain access to these positions. The Joseon period is noted for being a flourishing time for the arts, especially during the reign of Sejong the Great, but it was also a time of spectacular scientific progress, represented by the scholarly figure of Jang Yeong-sil. At the start of the 15th century, he led research in astronomy and time calculation, which led to developments and improvements in the water gauge, water clock, and sundial, and the creation of a celestial globe.

Did you know?

It was under the reign of King Sejong that the modern Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, was invented in 1443 replacing Chinese characters. However, this new alphabet was ousted by Sejong’s successor and only reintroduced in the late 19th century. It finally gained popularity after the Second World War and contributed to rising literacy rates in the population.