National Museum Of Korean Contemporary History

Exhibition Hall 1

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Exhibition Hall 1 Prelude to the Republic of Korea(1876 ~ 1948)

Prelude to the Republic of Korea (1876-1948)' covers the period from when Korea opened its ports to foreign countries to when the nation was liberated from Japanese colonial rule..

At the entrance of Exhibition Hall 1, the prologue video takes visitors from space to earth and then to the Korean Peninsula. The satellite image of the Korean Peninsula is rendered bright with the sound of palpitating heart. The northern, southern, eastern, and western ends of Korea's territories—e.g., Mt. Baekdu (northern end) and Dokdo (eastern end) —are displayed with the Korean national anthem playing in the background. The video closes with the earth in the center transforming into Taegeukgi (Korean national flag). The video is designed to offer visitors an overview of Korea's key symbols: national anthem, Taegeukgi, and territory.

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    In the late 19th century, Western ships often appeared in Joseon's coastal areas demanding trade relationships. At first, the Joseon government refused based on closed-door policy. However, in 1876, Joseon opend its doors to the outside by signing the Treaty of Ganghwa (Korea-Japan Treaty of 1876) with Japan. The treaty, actually, was an unequal one, including provisions for extraterritorial rights for Japanese citizens in Joseon and other unilateral Japanese demands. Trade treaties with Great Britain, Germany, Russia, and France followed suit. With its ports’ opening, many western cultures were introduced to Joseon. Modern education was offered at schools set up by the government and Western missionaries, and Joseon adopted Western architecture infrastructures such as electric power, telephone, telegraphic, traffic, postal, and financial systems and institutions.
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    Top government officials and leading intellectuals founded the Dongiphyeophoe (Independence Club) to free Korea from its dependence on foreign powers and designated the construction of Dongnimmun (Independence Gate) and Dongnip Park (Independence Park) as the association's inaugural project. King Gojong, who witnessed the assassination of Empress Myeongseong (also known as Queen Min), took refuge at the Russian legation in Seoul. The pro-Russian leaning of the Joseon government was thus established. Calls grew for Joseon's independence and King Gojong's return to the royal palace. After around a year at the Russian legation, King Gojong returned to the palace and proclaimed the founding of Daehan Jeguk (Great Han Empire) and assumed the title of emperor.
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    On display are historically significant Taegeukgis (Korean national flags), from Denny Taegeukgi—the oldest surviving Taegeukgi—and a Taegeukgi signed by Kim Gu (upper right) to the Taegeukgi of the Gwangbokgun (Korean Liberation Army).
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    This calligraphic work by An Jung-geun was presented by An to Yasuoka, an inspector at Lushun (formerly called Ryojun or Port Arthur) Prison where An was imprisoned after his assassination of Ito Hirobumi, the Japanese Resident-General of Korea. The piece, which used to be housed at the An Jung-geun Memorial Hall, has been put in the Museum's care. The calligraphic work is Treasure No. 569. After the Russo-Japanese War, Korea was recognized as part of Japan's sphere of influence by the great powers, including Great Britain, the United States, and Russia. In 1905, Japan forced Joseon to sign a treaty that took away Korea's diplomatic sovereignty (Eulsa Treaty, Korea-Japan Treaty of 1905). Jang Jiyeon condemned the treaty in an editorial in Hwangseongsinmun (Capital Gazette) entitled 'I Wail Bitterly Today.' Min Yeonghwan and Jo Byeongse took their own lives as an act of protest. With the loss of diplomatic sovereignty and Japan's growing interference in Korea's internal affairs, the Patriotic Enlightenment Movement took place and righteous army mobilized to safeguard Korea's sovereignty.
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    The narrow passageway and low ceiling are spatial representations of the oppression and exploitation under Japanese colonial rule, while barriers and obstacles symbolize the overwhelming trials and tribulations of the period. The artifacts in this section document the times under Japanese rule, from how Koreans were forced to take on Japanese names to how they were forcibly mobilized as soldiers, laborers, and comfort women.
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    In the March 1 Independence Movement section, the interactive moving text display facilitates the understanding of the central ideas of the March 1 Declaration of Independence, which are equality, co-existence, independence, freedom, and peace.
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    The actual artifacts and supplementary video footage here offers an overview of the movement of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea as well as other domestic and overseas independence movement efforts. 'Past and Present in Photographs' presents a comparison of today's Korea with colonial Korea, drawing visitors into the history time travel.
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    '8.15 Liberation' is comprised of the photographs of patriots who had sacrificed their lives for Korea's independence. The photographs are arranged to form the numbers 8 and 15, which stand for August 15, Korea's Liberation Day. For the patriots whose photographs are not included, their photos and names are displayed in video format.
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    '8.15 Liberation' is a video documentary of the step to the liberation. The special video display system comprised of two overlain screens enhances the three-dimensionality and dynamism of the projected footage.
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    After liberation, Korea put under the influence of the Cold War rivalry between the Western bloc and the Eastern bloc. Korea was divided along the 38th parallel. This section showcases a sign for the 38th parallel and a demarcation line on the floor representing the 38th parallel. Photographs and artifacts on the right and left are chronicled the sequence of events in South Korea and North Korea, respectively.