A picture is worth a thousand words.
That’s certainly the case with the following collection of stunning photographs taken in Korea between 1890 and 1903 by visiting foreigners.
The diverse, everyday scenes they depict shed light on the lifestyles of people at the time.
Interestingly, this pictorial set was circulated around the Internet in Thailand, where people were surprised to see such vast differences in lifestyle as compared to the lives of South Koreans portrayed in modern-day K-dramas.
Let’s begin with a little history review.
The Joseon Era of Korean history spanned from 1392-1897.
It was the last dynasty in Korean history, as well as the longest-ruling Confucian dynasty.
Besides several foreign invasions from neighboring countries, the era was marked by a number of significant cultural achievements, including the relocation of the capital to what is now modern-day Seoul, the construction of Gyeongbok Palace in 1395 (the greatest of the “Five Grand Palaces” built at the time), and the promulgation of the hangul writing system by King Sejong in 1446, possibly the world’s most rational alphabet (and for which there is a national holiday to celebrate on October 9 of every year in South Korea).
The Joseon Era was followed by the short-lived Korean Empire in 1897, which saw the modernization of several domestic industries. After that, you may then recall from your high school history class that Korea became a protectorate of Japan and was formally annexed in 1910.
▼Korean women going out (1904)
▼ Smoking, gambling, and gossiping
▼ The family of a high official
▼ A shortcut to Seoul
▼ Children climbing on the city wall
▼ A bustling alleyway in Pyongyang
▼ A path in Seoul
▼ Grinding beans (Seoul)
▼ Dining at a cheap eatery (Seoul)
▼ Selling chickens (Seoul)
▼ Carrying charcoal (Seoul)
▼ The Han River near the present-day Yongsan District of Seoul
▼ On a road in Seoul
▼ Elderly teacher smoking a long pipe at school (Seoul)
▼ Fishermen on the outskirts of Seoul
▼ Blacksmith working on a horse (Seoul)
▼ Koreans under a large Japanese national flag; note the smaller Korean flag next to it
▼ People erecting something (?)
▼ Officials of the Imperial Department of Communications, Seoul, 1903
▼ Three men in front of a Buddhist temple
▼ Koreans praying to some statues
▼ Two happy men sifting grains on a road in Incheon
▼ A lady of high stature
▼ An elderly man with a pack, 1899 or 1900
▼ A boys school in Seoul, 1903
▼ A married couple visiting relatives, 1903
▼ A minister of the army with his son and grandchildren
▼ Min Yun Huan, the Chief Commander of the Korean army, Seoul, 1900
▼ A wedding ceremony (Seoul)
▼ Men carrying lots of luggage on a mountain near Seoul
▼ Seoul’s “first-class transportation system”
▼ An upper-class girl being transported in a wooden litter (Seoul)
▼ A happy-looking grandmother and children (Seoul)
▼ A popular cheap restaurant (Seoul)
▼ Seduced by the Gisaeng
Gyeongbok Palace North Gate
The North Gate (or Sinmumun) was destroyed during a Japanese invasion in 1592 and later rebuilt in 1865.
Gyeongbok Palace Front Entrance
Gyeongbok Palace went through quite a few changes in the past century, including rebuilding parts of the palace after many of the building were destroyed during the Japanese colonial era.
The long corridors of the palace always felt grand.
Sungnyemun (AKA Namdaemun) Market Place Before,
Market Place Today