Korea

The Han people moved into the Korean peninsula from central Asia in the 3rd millenium b.c. The Korean language belongs to the Ural-Altaic group, which does not include Chinese. The earliest period of recorded history on the Korean peninsula is that of the Three Kingdoms, beginning ~57 b.c., with the founding of the Silla kingdom in southeastern Korea. The kingdom of Koguryo was founded in northern Korea in 37 b.c., in an area formerly under the control of China. The kingdom of Paekche was founded in southwestern Korea in 18 b.c. These kingdoms fought among themselves for the next 700 years. Japanese colonies were established on the peninsula at various times and places,29 and Japan frequently attacked Silla. With Chinese help in the mid-7th century, Silla defeated the other major kingdoms and unified the peninsula. Chinese influences, including Buddhism, were strong, and the arts and sciences flourished for the next three centuries.

In 918 a.d., General Wanggon, who led a successful rebellion, was recognized by the king of Silla as ruler of a new state, near the present capitol of Seoul. In 935, the last king of Silla abdicated and Wanggon established the kingdom of Koryo, which lasted until 1392. During this period, the government was administered by Buddhist monks. Mongol forces invaded the country in 1231, but were finally defeated in 1364 by an army led by General Yi Tae-jo, who deposed the last Wang king in 1392. Yi's leadership was recognized by the Ming emperor of China, which called the country Chaohsien (Chosun). The Yi dynasty lasted until the Japanese annexation of 1910. During this interval, the influence of Buddhism was checked, and land formerly owned by the monasteries redistributed. Again, the arts and sciences, including astronomy, flourished. The Japanese invaded Chosun in 1592 but withdrew after seven years; in

28 Ronan and Needham state that a 16th-century naturalist, Li Shih-Chen, cites evidence from books about jade that some types were used to look at the Sun.

29 Including, it is thought, a country called Karak (42-562 a.d.) centered around the present-day city of Pusan, which was eventually incorporated into the Silla kingdom.

Figure 10.12. Champsong-dae or "Star Tower" near Kyongju in southeastern Korea, built in the 7th century during the reign of Queen Songduk of the Silla kingdom. Photo by E.F. Milone.

this interval, the Korean navy inflicted a major defeat on the Japanese fleet in Chinhai Bay, with the help of an ironclad ship, constructed in the form of a turtle. The Manchus invaded in 1627, but after forcing the king to admit Manchu sovereignty, withdrew and permitted the Koreans self-rule.

Royal tombs belonging to the Koryo period king Kongmin (r. 1330-1374) and his wife Noguk have been found near Kaesong. There are asterisms such as the Big Dipper on the ceilings and the oriental or rat zodiac on the wall (Kim and Ahn 1993, cited in Portal 2000, pp. 83-84). Portal states that the practice of painting constellations on ceilings of tombs started in the Han dynasty in China and came into use in the Koguryo kingdom of northern Korea. Near the town of Kyongju in the southeastern part of the Republic of Korea, the Champsong-dae or "Star Tower," built in the 7th century during the reign of Queen Songduk of the Silla kingdom, can still be seen (Figure 10.12). To the southwest, tumuli of royal graves can be seen. The tower has been assumed to have had an astronomical use; if so, it is the oldest standing observatory known.

Nha (1981) has investigated the shape, layout, and orientation of the site and finds no impediment to its having been used as an observatory. Although there is no direct evidence that the structure was indeed actually used as an observatory, the details of the structure are suggestive. The tower contains 365 stones, and there are 28 rows starting at the lower base level up to the brim, which contains two additional square sections. The 30-ft structure has one opening, midway up the tower facing south. The structure is now filled to just below the opening with earth and rock. A platform was in use at the top of the tower and reached from midlevel by stone protrusions on the inside of the tower.

As in China, astronomical records were kept, which provide records of supernovae, eclipses, comets, and meteor showers (see §5). See Ho (1962) for a list of cometary and novae/supernovae observations and a comparison of his list of comets to the catalog of Korean comets by Tamura (1958). Koryo-sa, the History of the Kingdom of Koryo, contains numerous records of sunspot observations during the interval 1150-1210. Stephenson and Clark (1978, pp. 97-102) plot the numbers of observations of naked-eye sunspots along with those of atmospheric phenomena and eclipses. Of special interest is their suggestion that enhanced solar activity indicative of the peak of the sunspot cycle (i.e., within ±2 years of "sunspot maxima") may have occurred during the years 1151, 1160, 1171, 1185, 1202, 1355, 1362, 1373, and 1382. They note that these "maxima," however, do not coincide with the predicted cycles of Hill (1977), a result they attribute to inadequacies of the model.

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