Korea under Choson Dynasty  

The King made Seoul his residence after establishing of the new dynasty only in 1405. New reforms gave the King unlimited power. At the same time the government strengthened the armed forces making its number as 50 thousand in the capital city and 100 thousand in the provinces. Another 50 thousand people served in the navy. The reserve had about 400 thousand of the so called poin who was to support those in the active duty army. Compulsory military service in Korea was obligatory for men from 16 to 60 years old, exceptions were made for nobel officials and their bondservants, and monks.
In 1413, a law ordered every man to carry all the time an identification tag hopae (號牌) with the name, address and occupation of the holder. 
The system of five households (Ogatong, 五家統) that required joint liability among inhabitants of the same place, was introduced in 1407. Similar practice still exists in North Korea. 
Korea started showing clear signs of decay from the early 16th century. Major feudal lords gained more wealth and weakened the centralized power of the state over the land. Having got lands for public service in their hands, nobles began laying hands on others' land property, sometimes even killing people in villages to obtain their lands by pretext of fighting bandits. 

One report to the King in 1552 noted, that "even having land and bondservants, the owners without influence finally lose everything they have, because anyway it would be taken away by officials or Naesusa (Household Agency)".  

Korea faced a severe challenge, when in 1592, unified Japan started a large offense against the country, that was unable to protect itself properly at that time. That year by the Korean calendar was called Imjin, so the fighting against Japanese aggression and occupation is known widely as the Imjin War

Top Japanese leader, general Toyotomi Hideyoshi tried to conquer Korea, to make it an outpost for occupation of Ming's China, and to create a vast Japanese Empire. Hideyoshi had got ready an army of 220 thousand soldiers with European weapons, like muskets, and marine force with nine thousand people. Very soon, Japanese troops occupied and ravaged Seoul without fighting. After that Pyongyang fell as well, and Japanese reached northern borders of the country. 

But occupation did not mean control over Koreans. They started anti-Japanese resistance in the form of activity of small groups of peoples' militia called "Uibyon" ("Righteous army"). As an example, a Confucian scholar Kwak Jae-u spent all his wealth on organizing a rebel unit which liberated three towns from Japanese. 

Another famous Korean name in the Imjin War was Lee Sun-shin who was a commander of the Koryo fleet. For the first time, he used very maneuverable ships, protected with iron sheets on top so that they were unbeatable for the enemy's fire. These ships were called kobukson (turtle ship). Lee Sun-shin could destroy most of the Japanese ships providing supremacy in the see over the aggressor without big loss. 

At the same time, fierce battles occurred on the ground. At the end of 1592, Chinese army of 43 thousand soldiers, headed by general Li Rusong (李如松), crossed Amnok (Yalu) River and at the beginning of 1592, stormed Pyongyang. Japanese retreated and Li entered Seoul. Japanese started peace negotiations with the Chinese, having in mind to continue assault of Korea. They managed to capture Jinju but couldn't continue further fighting. Japan left Korea, except a small forces deployed near Pusan. 

When the Korean King returned to Seoul, the country was devastated, roads were filled with dead bodies, hunger forced people to eat human flesh. Rebellions in provinces further worsened the situation. The government tried to strengthen its armed forces, while Hideyoshi was preparing for the second aggression. Japanese used an army of 140 thousand soldiers and fleet of new armored ships. At the same time intrigues against Lee Sun-shin made him reduced to the ranks. He was replaced by a rival general Won Gyun, who dismissed all the Lee Sun-shin's people and represented severe punishment system among troops. In 1597, the Korean fleet was almost destroyed. Won Gyun tried to escape but he was killed. Lee Sun-shin was returned to the position of the fleet commander but at that time only 12 ships and a hundred sailors had left. However, even with the limited force with a little help from Chinese he was able to make a significant strike back against Japanese. 

Hideyoshi died in 1598, Japanese troops were escaping Korea under strikes of Korean fleet. During one of such battles Lee Sun-shin was killed, but the victory of Korea in the Imjin War had already been inevitable. 

Suffering of Korean people from the war had not stopped. Jurchen tribes, headed by Nurhaci, established Manchurian state. In 1627, an army of 30 thousand Manchurians all of the sudden attacked Korea, grossing frozen Amnok (Yalu) river, captured Pyongyang and was moving further to the south. Then, after short tactical ceasefire they began a new aggression in 1636. Korea signed the capitulation paсt with Manchurians, that had founded Qing Empire. The agreement put an end to any Korea's ties with Ming's China and made Korea a vassal state on Qing. 

After Imjin war and the Manchurian invasions, Korea started isolation policy and became so called "hermit kingdom". Korean government thought that this would help them to protect the country from external threats. Laws were adopted to ban any contacts with foreigners by threat of the death penalty. Along the sea shore, an isolation zone were created with no inhabitants inside. Block posts deployed in the zones were supposed to prevent any foreign ship coming close to shore. Koreans themselves were not allowed to built deep-see vessels, even fishing boats could not sail far away. 

Such was the rules in Korea when the Dutch ship "Sparwehr" (Sparrow hawk)  was shipwrecked near the shore of the Jeju (Quelpart) island in the South of this inhospitable country in 1653. She was one of the ships, commanded by Captain Reynier Egbertz of Amsterdam, which was bound to Japan from Batavia (Indonesia) and Taiwan. Among the crew 36 persons survived and went ashore, including the secretary Hendrick Hamel, who wrote a journal that let the rest of the world know how this group of Europeans managed to survive for 13 years in captivity until their escape. But they were not the first foreigners which found out themselves in the same situation. As Hamel mentioned in his journal, while in Koryo they had met a man with red beard who appeared to be their compatriot John Wetterree. He was driven by wind to a Korean coast in a boat in 1627, together with two of his fellows. As the narrative goes, they were killed in the wars, when Mongols invaded Korea.   

Peace in the Korea made it possible to develop agriculture, which was devastated during the recent wars. According to "Cheonillok" (Thousand and one record, 18th c), province Kyonggi specialized in cotton, mulberry trees, vegetables and fruits, Hwanghae produced cotton and hemp fabrics, Chungcheon and Pyongan did the same, Hamgyeong typically was known by its linen thread, Kangwon made linen fabrics and tobacco, Kyeongsan also produced linen fabrics and tabacco, as well as persimmons, silkworms and paper-trees, Cholla was able to produce tobacco, linen and cotton fabrics, ramie, mulberry trees, bamboo house ware, combs (Y.V.Vanin "Economicheskoye razvitie Korei" in 17-18th cc, p. 33).  

Serfdom was abolished in Korea in 1801. All bonds in the country became commons. But life did not get better: peasants beggared themselves, taxes were so high that nobody could pay it off, bad harvests and hunger occurred permanently, epidemics killed the population in great numbers. Cholera swept the country in 1833, thousands people died in Seoul alone. Koryo's population significantly declined. As it is mentioned in "Cheunbon munheon pigo", if in 1807 the populayion number was 7,5 million people, it decreased to 6,4 million by 1835. Frequent uprisings shook the country in the hope of the people to get a rightful authority.  

Underaged King Kojong came to the throne in 1864. His father Lee Ha-eun took the position of taewongun (regent) and started the policy of strengthening isolation of Korea. Monetary reform was performed in 1866, when old copper coins chon was replaced by the new coins tanbaekchon). The new coin was 4-5 times more expansive than the old one but the exchange rate was forcibly set as 1:100. Some amount of coins the Korean government purchased from China, where they were twice as cheaper as the Korean coins, but the exchange rate was 1:1. Chaos spread out in the financial situation of Korea, economy was damaged and suffering or the people increased once again.   

The unrest in the country led to emerging a new philosophy - tonghak ("eastern learning"). It was formed in opposition to Confucianism and Christianity, although the new Korean religion absorbed ideas of them both plus Buddhism and Taoism as well. Taewongun felt the danger from tonghak and proclaimed the religion as antigovernment thought. However, the repression could not stop spreading of tonghak in the society. 

The government headed by taewongun used the slogan: "Protect the truth, get rid of heresy!" (Wijon choksa). The "truth" meant Confucianism, the "heresy" represented everything related to the foreign countries. Keeping this slogan in mind, the authorities of Korea executed nine French catholic missionaries and killed about 10 thousand Korean catholics. 

The American ship "General Sherman" sailed to Korea from China with the aim to open the Hermit Kingdom for trade, but some reports claimed that the crew was attracted by rumors about ancient Koguryo tombs filled with gold. Having entered the Taedong River the ship came closer to Pyongyang. The local authorities supplied the crew with food, but the Americans reportedly detained the head of the county on board and demanded 100 sacks of rice, silver and gold for his freedom. 

The local Korean governor Pak Kyu-su ordered to set adrift burning wooden boats. As the boats reached the General Sherman, the fire spread on the ship and she was burnt down and the crew died. 

England and France also tried to force Koreans make trade pacts, but the resistance to foreign powers made them retreat. At the same time after Meiji revolution in Japan in 1968, the Japanese set plans to create an Asian Empire, first of all by conquering the Korean peninsula. Russia was concerned about the plans and wanted to spread influence in Korea. The aggressive ambitions of the foreign powers gave the conservative Korean elements a reason to oppose opening of the country. But on February 26, 1876 Korea signed a treaty with Japan, opening ports for Japanese ships and allowing the Japanese merchants to avoid custom taxes and use Japanese money for trade. 

On May 22, 1882 Korea made a trade pact with the US, in 1884 with Germany and England, in 1884 with Italy and Russia, in 1886 - with France.