Since the 1st
century AD, the kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla grew to control the Korean peninsula and Manchuria as
the Three Kingdoms (57 BC – 668 AD) until the unification by Silla in 676. In
Jo-yeong established the Kingdom of Balhae in old
territories of Goguryeo which led to the North South States Period (698–926).
In the late 9th
century, Silla was divided into the Later Three Kingdoms (892–936),
which ended with the unification by Wang
Geon's Goryeo Dynasty. Meanwhile Balhae fell after an
invasion by the Khitan Liao Dynasty and the refugees including the last
Crown Prince emigrated to Goryeo. During the Goryeo period, laws were
codified, a civil service system was introduced, and culture inlfuenced by
In 1392, Yi
Seong-gye established the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910) after a coup. King
Sejong the Great (1418–1450) implemented numerous administrative, social, and
economical reforms, established royal authority in the early years of the
dynasty, and promulgated Hangul, the Korean alphabet.
From the late
16th century, the Joseon dynasty faced a number of foreign invasions,
internal power struggle and rebellions, and it declined rapidly in the late
19th century. In 1897, the Korean Empire (1897–1910) was founded. However,
Imperial Japan forced the Korean Empire to sign the Eulsa Treaty and in 1910
annexed the Korean Empire, though all treaties involved were later confirmed
to be null and void.
resistance was manifested in the widespread nonviolent March 1st Movement of
1919. Thereafter the resistance movements, coordinated by the Provisional
Government of the Republic of Korea in exile, was largely active in
neighboring Manchuria, China and Siberia.
liberation in 1945, the partition of Korea created the modern two states of
North and South Korea. In 1948, new governments were established, the
Democratic South Korea ("Republic of Korea") and Communist North
Korea ("Democratic People's Republic of Korea") divided at the 38th
parallel. The unresolved tensions of the division surfaced in the Korean War
of 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea.
In Chinese cosmology the four points of the compass are symbolized by the four mythological beasts. This is related to the early cosmological views in China that heaven consisted of four parts. Every part had the shape of a beast and so every beast was the symbol of the corresponding part of heaven, season and point of the compass.
The East, related with Spring had the shape of a dragon, the West and Autumn was symbolized by a white tiger. Both animals were looking to the south. The South, residence of the Summer was symbolized by a bird, the North, residence of the Winter, by a tortoise fighting or copulating with a snake. Their heads were directed to the west.
In addition every beast was associated with one of the main colours: they are called the Blue Dragon, the White Tiger, the Vermilion Bird and the Black Warriors.
These beasts were also known in the Korean Koguryeo kingdom, one of Three Kingdoms of Korea, located
in the cities of P'yŏngyang and Namp'o and existing from 37 BC to
the 7th century AD.. This is demonstrated by the mural paintings
of the Complex
of Koguryo Tombs. In these tombs 5th century paintings were found
of dragons, a phoenix, and a tortoise.
Tortoise and Snake
Another interesting Koguryo mural painting shows an achievement which can be an achievement of state. It is:
Koguryo Mural Painting,
6th century AD.
Emblem: A moon Argent charged with a three-legged bird Sable.
Supporters: D.: The the sun god Fuxi riding a dragon; S.: The moon goddess Nu-wa playing a flute and riding a phoenix, all proper.
í There is no satisfactory explication of the meaning of the three-legged bird.
The Chinese Achievements
Of the Imperial Chinese Achievement there are two kinds, thus reflecting the dualism of the Chinese social organisation:
The Achievement of the Chinese Emperor
Everywhere in the Gyeongbokgung palace are pictures of two dragons curling around a moon. This is the actual achievement of the Chinese Qing Government, the Government considered to be a function of the state, supported by the Emperor, head of the military hierarchy.
It illustrates the suzereinty of the Chinese Emperor (1632-1895).
Decoration of the ceiling
in the Gyeongbokgung palace
Qing moon (shining pearl)
as on the Chinese Emperor’s Robes
The Chinese Achievement of State
The achievement of State consisted of a moon supported by two
phoenixes, symbols of the Head of State and supreme official of the civil
hierarchy. It was painted on buildings, on the ceiling above the throne, and
carved on the steps of the Gyeongbokhung Palace or Throne Hall. It was also embroidered
on breast patches of official dress.
The achievement is
identical to the Imperial Chinese moon-and-phoenixes achievement and as such
can be qualified as another sign of Chinese suzereinty.
Gyeongbokhung Palace ceiling above the
Gyeongbokhung Palace, steps to the
Ceiling of the Gwanghwamung-gate,
opening to the Throne Hall.
political symbols of the Yi era of Choson or Korea are integrated in the throne
which is a symbolic picture of the socio-political constellation of Korea.
There have been many thrones in Korea which were set up in as many palaces as
there were ‘The Hall of the Government of Truth’ (Ingjǒngjǒn) the ‘Palace of the Flowering Virtue’ (Ch’angdǒkkung),
the ‘Hall of the Shining Government’ (Myǒngjǒngjǒn) the
‘Palace of the Flowering Celebration’
(Ch’anggyǒnggung), the ‘Hall of te Government of Respect’ (Kǔnjǒngjǒn)
the ‘Palace od Shining Happiness’ (Gyeǒngbokgung) the ‘Hall of
Straithforward Harmony ‘(Chunghwajǒn) and the ‘Palace of the
Happy Longevity’ (Tǒksugung). The throne in the Palace of the Shining Happines was first
constructed in 1394 A.D. and reconstructed in 1867. It was nearly destroyed during
the Japanese invasion of the early 20th century and, since 1989, has been in
the process of being restored to its original form. Of all the palaces built
in the Joseon Dynasty era, Gyeongbokgung was the main palace as well
as the largest.
The throne in its extended form consists of the
royal seat standing before a screen covered by a baldachin below a large
canopy supported by four pillars.
Portrait of King Kojong on
his throne 
The King, when seated on his throne, is a part of
this symbolic socio-political constellation. Together they make the symbols
for the Empire, the State and the Ruler.
The Screen shows the Sun and the Moon which are the
symbols of the Empire and the State. They are depicted in a landscape
consisting of five mountain-tops washed by the sea and between some
pine-trees. This landscape is the symbol of the territory of Korea.
The Sun is depicted as a red disc and is identical
to the Chinese and Japanese sun and in fact to the suns of many other
countries. The oldest known red sun is the one of Ancient Egypt.
The Moon is depicted as a white disc and has its
counterparts also in China and Japan.
The Mountain-and-Sea is also a symbol of Chinese
origin and symbolizes Earth. Such mountains are also in the national emblems
of Tibet and some other Indian states. The cascades and trees make it the
earth of Korea.
Screen with the pictures of the sun, the moon and the five mountains.
painter of the Yi-court 18th century.
of six panels of painted silk. 196.2 Í
352.8 cm. From the Palace of the Flowering Virtue. National Museum of the
palace treasures, Seoul.
Whenever during the Yi-era a royal seat was set up, such a screen was placed behind it. The sizes were different and also the number of panels varied but the iconographic program was always the same. This can be seen on many pictures from this era. An example is the picture from a screen from 1795 called “The Procession of King Chongjo to the Mausoleum of his Father.” from the National Museum of Seoul.
Detail of number five of
eight panels from “The Procession of King Chongjo” 1795.
In the little temple below
a version of the tae-guk can be seen coloured black and white. 
See illustration in the
head of this essay
The Royal Seat
The Royal Seat of the Gyeongbokgung throne consists of a bench with a back
decorated with little suns, single dragons-and-suns and dragon’s heads. In
the upper part of it is an achievement consisting of a yin-yang symbol,
charged with a trident and supported by two dragons and on top a sun in the
clouds. This program is repeated on a larger back behind the bench.
sun in the clouds
is a larger and embellished version of the symbol of the Empire.
In Ming China
it was the emblem of civil officials of the 10th rank and lower.
single dragons-and-moons are the symbols of the ruler i.c. the King.
Circular patch on the
A dragon guardant and a moon.
As suggested by the Royal Seat the emblem of the King was a dragon and moon.
The image of the king is known from a series
of royal portraits which suggests that the royal official dress
was decorated with three dragons curling around a moon.
achievement on the throne is the achievement of the Royal Government, the
trident symbolizing armed authority.
achievement is different from the achievement of (the Chinese) government
because a trident is added. For that reason it might be called the
achievement of the Korean Royal Army Staff.
The seal was first introduced to Korea in approximately 2nd century BC. The oldest record of its usage in Korea states that Kings of Buyeo used a royal seal (oksae) which had the inscription ‘Seal of the King of Ye’. The use of seals became popular in Three Kingdoms period.
The State Seals of the kingdom of Korea, were of two kinds: Gugin which was conferred by the Emperor of China to Korean kings, and were meant to confirm the brotherhood (Sadae-jui) of the Chinese Emperor and the Korean King. These seals were used only in diplomatic intercourse with China and at the coronation of kings. Others, generally called eobo or eosae, were used in diplomatic intercourse with countries other than China, and for domestic purposes. Seals were also used by government officials in documents. These types of seals were called gwanin and it was supervised by specialist officials.
The royal seal after 1392, was made of gold. On its face was an inscription in phags-pa script, and its prints were made in red ink. Its handle was a tortoise, the symbol of the north in Chinese cosmology, thus making the seal “the Seal of the King of the North”. In the time of Chinese suzereinty the seal was kept in a box decorated with the achievement of the Imperial Chinese Government, consisting of a moon supported by two dragons.
Recently articles about the royal seal of King Mokcho and the seal of King Kojong have been published. 
Seal of King Mokcho, handle and face, 1411 ca.
Gilded metal and silk 9.8Í9.8Í9.8
cm. From the Chongmyo, the royal ancestor’s
shrine. Made for king T’aejong (1400-’18). National Museum of the Palace
inscription in phags-pa script reads: Merciful, Good and Wise King Mok (Inmunsong Moktaewang).
Seal of King Chŏngjo
The incription changed
By King Kojong the inscription in phags-pa script was replaced by an inscription in Hangeul.
With the proclamation of Republic of Korea in 1948, its
government created a new State Seal, guksae and it is used in
promulgation of constitution, designation of cabinet members and ambassadors,
conference of national orders and important diplomatic documents.
The badges of civil and military rank closely followed the Chinese system. Their development however was slightly different from the Chinese model. So, we meet the lion and the crane as emblems of high ranking military and civil officials but these are not always worn on a square on the breast patch of the official dress, like the Chinese Mandarin square.
These badges of rank were abandoned in the Kojong-era.
Embroidered breast patch of a Korean Inspector Gen-eral, 15th century.
In 15th century China a lion, shizi,
was the badge of rank of a military official of the 1st rank.
On the breast patch of Admiral Yi-sunshin
(1545-’98) were two leopards (bao, military official of the 3rd rank).
Embroiderd breast patch of
Kang Se-hwang (1712-’91)
showing two cranes and a
A crane, xianhe,
was the badge of rank of a civil official of the 1st rank in Qing China. The badge
in fact means: The office of a
civil official of the 1st rank of the Empire.
© Hubert de Vries 2012-02-01
 Lithography by Joseph de la Nezière. From: l'Extrême Orient en Image, 1903.
 Korea. Die Alten Königreiche. Essen, 1999. With an extended bibliography
 On this most interesting screen the banner of state and the royal banner can be seen, the first square charged with two dragons, the second triangular with a single one, both on a yellow cloth and on staffs crested with a trident. Also, the drum from the orchestra is decorated with a buddhist whirl and has a standard with a crane.
 Korea, op. cit., pp.
345-348. Garcia, Cathy Rose A.: A seal used by King Gojong. In: Korea Times, 2009.03.17.
 From Korea, loc. cit.
 From Korea, op.cit. No 82, pp. 324-27