Korea is an Asian peninsula extending into the sea, with China to the northwest, Japan to its east, and Taiwan to the south. The capital of North Korea is Pyongyang while that of South Korea is Seoul. To the east of the Korean peninsula is the Sea of Japan, and to its west is the Yellow Sea. North and South Korea are separated at the 38th parallel. Historically, Korea is full of sociopolitical strife as well as natural calamities. Japan occupied Korea in 1910, and at the end of World War II it was freed by the consensus of Russia and America who in turn occupied it again. The Soviets occupied the northern part and America influenced southern Korea. Korea has a rich history with many famous people.
1. Queen Seondeok
Queen Seondeok was the Queen of Silla, which was one of The Three Kingdoms of Korea comprising Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla. Her father King Chinp’yong reigned for 50 years but had no son. Therefore, his eldest daughter became the Queen of Silla after his death. Her rule from 606-647 is remembered as an era of prosperity and peace. She belonged to the Kim Clan, and the current rulers of Korea are descendants of the same clan.
2. King Sejong
King Sejong was born on May 15, 1397 as the grandson of the founder of the Choson Dynasty near the Gyeongbokgung Palace which is located in Seoul and is still intact. A road nearby the palace has been named after King Sejong. He was made king in suppressing his elder brother. He was a learned king, and his reign is known for significant achievements in political, social, medical, linguistics, agricultural, and other fields. A simplified Korean language was developed in his regime. A medical encyclopedia comprising 85 volumes describing treatments for over 1,000 diseases was accomplished during his reign.
3. Kim Jong II
Kim Jong II, according to the 2009 Constitution of North Korea, was the ‘Supreme Leader.’ He was also variously known as ‘Dear Leader,’ ‘The General,’ and at times as ‘Generalissimo.’ He was born in a military camp of Japanese Korea on February 16, 1942. His father, Kim II Sung, founded North Korea in 1948, and Kim Jong II succeeded his father after his 46 years of rule after his death in July, 1994. In 1997, North Korea suffered a horrible famine which continued until 1997 and killed more than two million North Koreans. In 2010, he appointed his 27-year-old son, Kim Jong Eun in order to groom an heir following his suffering a stroke in 2008. He expired on December 19, 2011.
4. Hawang Jini
Hawang Jini was the most famous ‘gisaeng’ or dancer, singer, and actor of Korea. She was born in 1520 and lived until 1560. She belonged to the Joseon Dynasty and lived in the era of King Jungjong. On account of her extraordinary beauty, she was more popularly known as ‘Myeongwol,’ the bright moon. Unlike a Japanese geisha, the Korean gisaeng was not meant for sexual entertainment. On the contrary, they were intelligent persons with artistic skills. Hawang Jini could play the typical Korean musical instrument a ‘geomungo.’ Her personality inspired the Korean society and an award-winning film was created in remembrance of her tragic life story.
5 . Shin Yun-bok
Born in 1758 in Korea, Shin Yun-bok was popularly known as Hyewon. He was the most famous painter of his time, and his father as well as grandfather were painters of high renown in their times. Hyewon inherited their artistic qualities. His most famous work is a realistic portrait titled ‘Portrait of a Beauty.’ The subject is shown wearing the then prevalent traditional dress, a hanbok. It was not usual to portray women in his time. On account of his free thinking and some portraits falling beyond the ethical limits of that time, he was expelled from Dohwaseo.
Uisang, born in 624, lived until 702. He was an important monk in the Korean history of Buddhism. His name is closely associated with the name of a contemporary Wonhyo. Uisang was popularly known as Gisho. His biography is traced in the oldest Korean document written by Irion in 1289. He propagated Buddhism in Korea. In the year 650, Uisang traveled to China in pursuit of learning more about Buddhism and stayed there for over 20 years. Uisang advocated the Hwa OM sect which believed in the coherence and oneness that the man form of Buddha, known as Shakyamuni, by the act of practicing virtue was raised to become the Supreme Buddha, the Vairocana Buddha.
7. Ko Un
Born in 1933 in a small village in southern Korea, Ko Un is the most famous Korean poet. Although he also wrote fiction, drama, and essays, it is for his poetry that he is best known to the world. His popular poems prompted the younger generation to revolt against the authoritarian rule of President Chun Doo Hwan in 1987. He was listed for the Nobel Prize. He explained poetry in his own words as, ‘My poetry is flow. That flow will at times produce rhythms as it strikes against the riverbanks or frolics speckled by light and shade.’
8. Park Ji-Sung
Park Ji-Sung was born in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do in South Korea. He is the most famous sportsman of Korea. He started his international career in football at the age of 19. He is currently playing for Manchester United. Park Ji-Sung won the Champions League, Premier League medal, and many other awards and titles. He was the captain of the South Korean National Team which played in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
9. Yu Kwan Sun
She was the most famous fighter of Korea. She was to Korea what Martin Luther King was to America. Yu Kwan Sun planned an unparalleled, peaceful demonstration against the Japanese and made a notable contribution in the freedom of Korea. The peaceful demonstration inspired millions of Koreans to join hands for the cause of freedom. Her tenure was from 1904 to 1920.
10. Admiral Yi Sun-shin
He was the most famous Korean military hero. During his examination prior to the commission in the Army, he fell from his horse and failed to qualify. However, after his recovery he reappeared for the test, passed it, and was commissioned. He achieved the rank of admiral through his ceaseless efforts and persistence. He developed an iron-covered ship and used it to defeat the Japanese. A replica of the ship known as Turtle Ship and his statue have been erected in Seoul in his remembrance.
This review of famous Koreans reveals that dictatorial regimes cannot completely oppress the freedom fighters, and that the society does not prosper during the rule of oppression. The ‘will’ to resist oppression works to achieve its ultimate goal of freedom. The dictatorial philosophy of cutting off communication is invalid now. Koreans are from a great nation. Remembering their history and appreciating what was good, they are fully alive in the current situation and determined to progress. One thing North and South Korea may expect in the future is a unified Korea. Success and progress will be theirs if at any point in the future united they stand. Korea has a rich past, a vibrant present, and shall emerge as one of the great nations of the world.