Goryeo dynasty, a Korean dynasty, was established in 918 CE by King Taejo (태조왕건) and lasted till 1392 CE. It followed after the Later Three Kingdoms period (889-935/892-936) and unified most of the Korean peninsula (the next time the peninsular was split was in 1945 after World War II; the huge split to North and South Korea as we know them now) thus it left behind an important legacy of sense of belonging.
Another reason why the Goryeo dynasty is important and significant to us today is that, as you might be able to tell, it is where the country’s name, as we now call it, Korea originated from.
There was little social mobility, much like previous rulers. Below the civil administrative level was local magistrates, who could be considered all-powerful in the districts, since centralised governments administering the area could be absent. All these governmental officials governed a largely peasant populace, however there were low and lower ranks within the peasants. These were slaves, who commonly either served certain rich aristocrat masters and tended to household chores around their large villas, or were owned directly by the government and worked on building projects - for example, in 1033-1034, a Long Wall stretching across the northern Korean border (천리장성 or 千里長城, not to be confused with 万里长城 aka Great Wall of China).
Goryeo was significant to history also due to slavery being made hereditary 😱 This edict was passed in 1037 CE and continued into the Joseon dynasty that followed aka it proceeded to exist for the next 500 years (not a proud achievement but something noteworthy after all?🤔)
However, one unexpected social norm despite the social immobility was the equal treatment of women. This is out of the blue as Goryeo was heavily influenced by China (as could be seen by their state religion, Buddhism and Chinese influences in terms of literature, Confucianism and even coinage!) Examples of fair and equal treatment include women’s right to inheritance and divorce. Women having the right to divorce was present in our ancient Egyptian research as well so it did not surprise us that much, but women of Goryeo had favourable treatment to the extent that sometimes, a newlywed couple moved into the wife’s family home 😱 this is usually unheard of in Chinese/Asian family settings, even today.
Civil service examinations were modelled based on the Chinese, thus reflecting the Chinese influence in Goryeo. However, in order to even sit for the exam in the first place, you had to be of a certain birth. Thus sadly, on the whole, social inequality was still considered rampant in society then.
As a conclusion for the social aspects, our group's opinion is that social inequality was more stark between social classes and rankings in society caused rifts between different groups of people such as aristocrats versus the commonfolk. However, social inequality between genders was visibly reduced as compared to previously.
As mentioned many times, Goryeo was linked to China a lot (due to their proximity, which can be seen clearly in this map) and we could see this in the trade they engaged in as well. Chinese exports consisted of silk, books, spices, tea leaves, medicine and ceramics whereas Goryeo, on the other hand, traded metals like gold, silver, copper as well as porcelain, ginseng (홍삼) and pine nuts in return. You might question why the Chinese wanted to exchange porcelain goods with Goryeo when they had their own ceramic potters. Goryeo’s porcelain and ceramic works were on a whole different level from Chinese ones as they had celadon glaze - giving rise to a distinct green hue of the pottery. Such beautiful in-laid design celadons were a global first /cue applause to ancient Goryeo 👏👏
It would be naive to think that trade was limited between these two countries. Goryeo also got goods from Japan and even Arab spices, apart from Chinese spice, as the Silk Road connected China to other parts of Asia and the Middle East (as we learnt in class).
Another product of the Goryeo era was alcohol (술) or more specifically, distilled alcohol (soju/소주) which emerged and was perfected between the 13th and 14th century CE. In 2014, soju was named "Korea's most popular alcoholic beverage" thus proving that it, in fact, lasted through the decades and centuries of Korean age.
Basically, we wanted to introduce a less well-known part of Korean history that has been less talked about but has had lasting effects on the nation. History makes the present day today, and we hope learning these little bits of info have been useful and interesting! 🙃
Done by: Nicole Chong, Fionna Liaw, Shanel Tan