The Birth of North Korea

For this week and the letter ‘N’, I will be giving a brief history on possibly one of the most infamous (if not the most infamous) modern-day political anomaly that is North Korea. North Korea is a byword for oppression, modern-day dictatorships, mass poverty, corruption, and any other negative connotation relating to politics and culture – to the extent that the term “this is like North Korea” is used to immediately express unfairness, personal depravity, and sometimes just commercial inconvenience. But how did North Korea come about? This blog will look at the years between the Second World War and the Korean War and how the political power and state of the land that still exists today originated and grew.

Continue reading “The Birth of North Korea”

The Creation of Hangul


This post will focus on the creation of the Korean Alphabet, namely its creator, how it it is written and what was used before Hangul.

Statue of King Sejong in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul. Note: King Sejong written in Hangul


The Creator-

Hangul was created by King Sejong the Great in the fifteenth century. He was the fourth King of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. It was a phonetic writing system to convey the Korean Language, in the hope that all social classes in Korea could read and write from the same script.
King Sejong wanted to encourage literacy amongst the lower classes in Korea who had little to no educational opportunities and to create a separate cultural identity for the Korean people.

How it is written-

When Hangul was created there were 28 letters, 17 consonants and 14 vowels. Over time this reduced to 24 in modern Hangul in South Korea. 
Hangul is written as syllabic blocks.  Each word that needs to be written is placed square dimension-ally with one symbol above/below the other. These texts were written right to left but nowadays the text is largely written left to right and western punctuation is common in some publications.


Here is an example of written Hangul today. Note: Seoul written in Hangul above the English term

What was used before Hangul?

Before Hangul was used the Upper classes used Hanja. Hanja uses Chinese characters to write. Chinese characters were borrowed and amalgamated to the Korean writing system. Hanja text was the means of written communication in Korea amongst the educated and elite. The less educated and lower classes could not read or write and did not use or understand Hanja.

The writing formation was very different to Hangul and 214 radicals were used. A radical is grammatical component which is a loose equivalent of the Latin alphabet. 

An example of Hanja. Note the differences between Hanja and Hangul.


There was some opposition when Hangul was introduced. The more privileged thought it was a threat on their positions in society. Some worried if more people from the lower classes were educated to use Hangul, it could diminish the influence of the minority elite. Nevertheless, the popularity of Hangul ensued, much to how King Sejong envisioned.

However, a century later in the sixteenth century Hangul was prohibited in publications when a document written in Hangul critised King Yeonsangun. He closed a temple and the royal university Seonnggyeongwang and converted it as a personal brothel. Not only this but he evicted large residential areas for hunting grounds and instigating involuntary labour for making these things possible. These actions made him very unpopular, particularly with those who used Hangul. His successor, half brother, King Jungjong closed a centre of research in Hangul, suggesting Hangul did struggle to gain acceptance amongst these rulers after King Sejong. This shows it was not a simple transition to Hangul without any problems.

Nonetheless, over time Hangul again became popular through a resurgence in poetry, increased Korean nationalism, government reforms and missionaries promoting Hangul literacy in education. It is now the official script in the Korean Peninsula as well autonomous regions in China and Baubau, a city in Indonesia in the Southeast Sulawesi province.

Photos courtesy of my sister.

The British Museum – through the Lens of a Camera pt. 2

This is a continuation of my blog update from yesterday. The images you will see here are taken my by myself-probably very clumsy, in my walk around the British Museum on the 31st August 2015.

Through Asia: Oriental Cultures in the British Museum

So here I have gone around the rooms regarding China, Korea, Japan, and the India. I have taken pictures of several deities, heavenly guardians and other protective spirits, following the pattern that I had accidentally promoted through my Assyrian images. The are a couple of things that are included such as the crown that do not quite fit in with the theme – but what cultural historian with an art background in depictions of power would I be if i neglected that gilded silver beauty… When fitting I have taken pictures of things that perhaps we have catered for in the blog this year-like the japanese picture below. So have a look and enjoy it.

Louhan: in glazed stoneware from the Hebei Province, China (907-1125 AD)
Louhan: in glazed stoneware from the Hebei Province, China (907-1125 AD).

 

(Another glazed stoneware Chinese figure)
(Another glazed stoneware Chinese figure).

 

Ming dinasty stoneware figure from judgement group - 16th Century
Ming dynasty stoneware figure from judgement group – 16th Century.

 

Ming dinasty stoneware figure from judgement group - 16th Century
Ming dynasty stoneware figure from judgement group – 16th Century.

 

"Painted pottery tomb guardian", North China, tang dynasty 7th-8th Century AD
“Painted pottery tomb guardian”, North China, tang dynasty 7th-8th Century AD.

 

Glazed pottery group from North China during the Tang dynasty, 8th Century AD
Glazed pottery group from North China during the Tang dynasty, 8th Century AD.

 

"Sandstone figure of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara" Northern Qi dynasty, AD 550-577
“Sandstone figure of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara” Northern Qi dynasty, AD 550-577.

 

Brahma, South India, Tamil Nadu AD 1001-1050
Brahma, South India, Tamil Nadu AD 1001-1050.

 

Gilt silver crown from the late Ming early Qing period (17th Century)
Gilt silver crown from the late Ming early Qing period (17th Century).

 

Shiva dakshinamurti, South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, late 10th Century
Shiva dakshinamurti, South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, late 10th Century.

 

"Ambika, the Jain Mother Goddess" Dhar, Paramara dynasty (CE 1084)
“Ambika, the Jain Mother Goddess” Dhar, Paramara dynasty (CE 1084).

 

Vahara, the boar god - Vishnu's incarnation 12th Century
Vahara, the boar god – Vishnu’s incarnation
12th Century.

 

"Shiva and Parvati", Orissa, 12-13th Century
“Shiva and Parvati”, Orissa, 12-13th Century.

 

"Amitabha Buddha" - the buddha of infinite light- statue in marble, found in the Hebei Province (China), from the Sui dynasty from AD 581-618.
“Amitabha Buddha” – the buddha of infinite light- statue in marble, found in the Hebei Province (China), from the Sui dynasty from AD 581-618.

 

"cloisonne enamel figure of a Tibetan Lama, seated on a lotus base" Qing dynasty, early 19th century
“cloisonne enamel figure of a Tibetan Lama, seated on a lotus base” Qing dynasty, early 19th century.

 

Statue of Kudara Kannon, from Japan. Copy from the original statue by the temple of Nara made for the British Museum in 1930. (the original statue is from the c.600 AD).
Statue of Kudara Kannon, from Japan. Copy from the original statue by the temple of Nara made for the British Museum in 1930. (The original statue is from the c.600 AD).

 

IMAG0428_BURST002[1]
“Entertainers in Niwaka Festiva”l by Kitagawa Utamaro (c. 1753 – 31 October 1806). Colour print from 1793.
 

Depiction of the guardians of the Buddhist realm. Joseon period, Korea, 1796-1820.
Depiction of the guardians of the Buddhist realm. Joseon period, Korea, 1796-1820.

 

Polynesia & the Barkcloth

As we were walking by, my father made me aware that they had brought some items from Polynesia, including the Barkcloth for a little while to the BM…And obviously we had to go have a look! Here are some pics of the items I found most interesting. The masks are particularly awesome!

 

pa'u (woman's skirt) an example of barkcloth decorated with ula'ula, or red plant dyes
pa’u (woman’s skirt) an example of barkcloth from Hawaii decorated with ula’ula, or red plant dyes.

 

Kovave mask - worn by male initiates from the Elema people from the Gulf region of Papua New Guinea, and used to call out the spirits of the bush. Early 1880s - in barkcloth too!
Kovave mask – worn by male initiates from the Elema people from the Gulf region of Papua New Guinea, and used to call out the spirits of the bush. Early 1880s – in barkcloth too!

 

Kavat from the Baining people (New Britain, Papua New Guinea). Mask to attract the spirits of the forest that this people depended on for harvesting, hunting and war. 1970s.
Kavat from the Baining people (New Britain, Papua New Guinea). Mask to attract the spirits of the forest that this people depended on for harvesting, hunting and war. 1970s.

 

Barkcloth headdresses used by the warriors of Papua New Guinea
Barkcloth headdresses used by the warriors of Papua New Guinea.

 

Kua'ula - use for men's loincloth in the 1700s (Hawaii).
Kua’ula – use for men’s loincloth in the 1700s (Hawaii).