Unified Silla Kingdom and Koryo

unified silla (668–935) and Koryo (918–1392)

reunification in China preceded unification in Korea.China had fallen into chaos after the fall of the Han dynasty in 220 . ., but a powerful dynasty called the Sui (581–618) reunified all of China in 589. Like the short-lived Qin dynasty, which unified China but soon gave way to the long-lived Han, the ruthless Sui were not able to hold on to the unified empire and were replaced by the Tang in 618.

These events in China had a ripple effect on the Three Kingdoms of Korea—Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla. Eventually, Silla, through its alliance with Tang China, conquered the other two and established the Unified Silla period, which lasted from 668 to 935. The unification of Korea brought about far-reaching changes in government, including the adoption of Chinese-style structures and an enlarged role for the king and the cen-tral government, accompanied by an increasingly wealthy aristocracy.

When Silla began to weaken in the ninth century, cracks in the body politic appeared along the lines of the former kingdoms. Though Kyongju was the capital of Unified Silla and for more than 200 years was the center of power for the whole peninsula, when it began to lose control of the outlying areas, the leaders of the resurgent forces drew on the memory of the former kingdoms. The rebels in the area that was once called Paekche called their new state the “Later Paekche” king-dom, and those inhabiting what was once Koguryo called their region “Later Koguryo.”

The Later Koguryo, which was soon renamed Koryo, is the dynasty that eventually appeared on European maps and gave the West the name it still uses for Korea today. The Koryo court lasted for nearly 500 years, from 918 to 1392, enjoyed years of peace, but also withstood chaotic years of war. However, Koryo is better known for its cultural achievements than for its wars or politics. One of the greatest prizes of Korean culture is the beautiful pottery known as Koryo celadon.

The Koryo dynasty also saw two unique developments in the field of print-ing: The largest collection of Buddhist scripture was carved in the early 13th century on 80,000 wooden blocks for printing paper editions. At about the same time Korea was the first country in the world to develop metal movable typography, about 200 years before Johannes Gutenberg developed typography in Europe.