Geography and history exert continuing influences on the character of a nation and its people. Korea’s history has been bloody: waves of war, foreign occupation and rebellion, as well as authoritarian, militaristic rule swept over the peninsula. This history brings a certain bitterness or han1 to Korean culture. Nor has the twentieth century been kind to Korea, with 50 years of Japanese colonialism, the nation’s subsequent division, fratricidal war, and dictatorships. By contrast, Koreans also remember, and are proud of, their nation’s previous history of notable accomplishments and survival over countless centuries:
What is past is prologue Inscription on the United States National Archive Building,
The history of ancient Korea is a mix of scholarly discoveries and oral legends. Various interpretations place the Korean peninsula’s origins between 500,000 and 40,000 years ago. Korea has always been a way station for tribal peoples from the Asia subcontinent. The earliest waves of people crossing and/or stopping on the Korean peninsula are believed to be from the Ural Mountains. The new arrivals on the Korean peninsula found an area rich with familiar wildlife: large animals such as deer, brown bear, lynx, wild boar, and the great Manchurian tiger all inhabited the northern highlands. Tribal hunters also found an abundance of smaller animals: weasel, northern pike, water shrew, and muskrat. Nearly everywhere they saw birds: ring-necked pheasant, black grouse, hawk owl, pine grosbeak, and woodpecker. Over one hundred different kinds of fish and nearly forty kinds of reptiles and amphibians lived and thrived in Korea’s many rivers, and
the surrounding seas provided enormous quantities of shellfish and edible seaweed.