Why Korea is known as the “Land of Morning Calm”

December 8, 2023 | 1629 Visits

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Korea…

…may look small on a map. And that includes a unified Korea, which comprises a considerably bigger landmass than if we just consider North or South alone. But Korea has a lot going on, North and/or South! Certainly, a reference to Korea as a whole, or one of the two Koreas will bring to mind a whole laundry list of things. The Korean War, K-Pop, K-Dramas, Hallryu, Gangnam Style, nuclear threats, kimchi, K-Beauty, BTS, Squid Game, and much, much more.

One thing Korea, at least the South, may be known for is its 24/7 non-stop energy and drive. Which may make it surprising for some to learn of one of Korea’s alternative names. What might that name be? Why, the Land of Morning Calm, of course! But what’s in a name? And why of all titles did Korea earn “Morning Calm”? Keep reading to learn the history and meaning behind this beautiful and serene title for one of Asia’s most vivacious nations!

 

Day and Night

Across the East Sea from Korea lies Japan, which many may know by its other name, the Land of the Rising Sun. But, hopping back to the other side of the East Sea, on the Korean peninsula side, is the Land of Morning Calm. Japan’s name came from the idea that the sun rises first on the Japanese islands and was developed as a point of national pride as Japan became more centralized and unified as an island nation. Rising Sun and Morning Calm are a fun and logical juxtaposition, but Korea’s title as Land of Morning Calm is not in reference or in relation to Japan’s title as Land of the Rising Sun.

So how and where did Korea’s name as the Land of Morning Calm originate from? Well, it is important to know that countries like China, Japan, and Korea among many others have different names in their own languages, and had names before their modern names, too.

For Example, South Korea is known as “DaeHanMinGuk/대한민국” or “Great Korean People’s Country” or more simply, “HanGuk/한국” which means “Korean (Han) People’s Country” today. But prior to such modern names Korea was known by a different one; Chosun, or Joseon as it is written more commonly nowadays. Ah, but now what does Korea’s ancient name and dynasty have to do with “Land of Morning Calm”? Everything, actually!

 

https://www.nathanielmerz.com/post/shooting-korea-s-majestic-mountain-pine-trees

 

The Joseon Dynasty

The year was 1392. This was when Korea was still ruled by the Goryeo dynasty. The Goryeo dynasty, interestingly enough, is often theorized to have given Korea its modern name, “Korea” after the name was written on maps during the Age of Exploration. However, the Goryeo dynasty was overthrown by the military general, Yi Seong-Gye in the year 1392.

Yi Seong-Gye would go on to found the Joseon dynasty which would rule Korea and influence its culture and language for the next 500 years. In fact, such Korean things as Hanbok or Korean folk clothing that is often seen in historical K-Dramas, Hangul which is the Korean alphabet, and most of the very Confucianized social customs and mores still seen in Korea today all have their origins (mostly) in the Joseon era.

But as for the name “Joseon/조선”, this is the part that is of particular interest to us today. The name comes from the Chinese characters “朝鮮” which mean “Pristine Morning” or “Morning Calm” and are pronounced in Korean as “Joseon”. The name, according to legend, was given to Korea ages and ages ago by one of China’s mythical rulers who looked out and saw the beauty of Korea’s mountains, rivers, flowers, forests, and general natural splendor. The sight brought a feeling of peace to the emperor especially when viewed in the early hours of the morning when the light just touched the Earth. Hence Korea’s first semi-mythical kingdom, GoJoseon, was believed to be the “Land of Morning Calm”.

Though the name is considered ancient, the Joseon rulers chose it to give their dynasty more legitimacy by invoking the legacy of a far older and more mythic dynasty from the past. In this way, politically and symbolically, they were not overthrowing a current ruler, the Goryeo dynasty, but rectifying the present age by reviving and rejuvenating an ancient and rightful dynasty instead.

The name “Joseon” has also not died out, with North Korea still using the name “Joseon” to refer to themselves, and their language is known as “Joseonmal” or “Joseon Speech/Language” to North Koreans rather than “Hangukmal” or “Korean Country Language” as it is known in South Korea.

 

What’s in a name?

Thus, the origins of Korea’s title of “Land of Morning Calm” originates from a myth and was carried into the modern era thanks to the reign of the Joseon dynasty who used the title themselves. But is there more to the name than just some ancient poetics and political maneuvering?

Yes, there is! Though modern Korea may have a reputation as a land where the party (and the work) never stops, it is certainly also true that Korea’s natural landscape and beauty are truly awe-inspiring. Whether in the majestic mountains, the deep forests, or the enchanting coasts, Korea is a country that has a great deal of natural beauty and splendor to behold. Thus, while a modern role as a 24/7 nation persists, one can experience firsthand the very serene, blissful, and calm feeling of looking out on the Korean landscape in the early hours of the morning, just as mythic emperors are said to have done. Before the hustle and perhaps after all the bustle, the moments in which the night turns to that soft morning light are truly tranquil. The name, Morning Calm, is also a quite literal one!

 

The Land of Morning Calm

We can thank Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, or “Morning Calm” dynasty for giving modern Korea this wondrous title. If one is lucky enough to come and pay a visit to Korea, one will be able to experience firsthand just how accurate of a name this is! Maybe after experiencing the restless nightlife and fast-paced experiences big cities like Seoul or Busan have to offer, one can encounter the serenity of the early mornings in Korea’s natural treasures as well.

 

 

—-Kevin H.

 

 

Works Cited

https://plus.google.com/+UNESCO. “December 1978.” UNESCO, 24 Apr. 2017, en.unesco.org/courier/december-1978.

Kim, Jinwung. A History of Korea: From “Land of the Morning Calm” to States in Conflict. JSTOR, Indiana University Press, 2012, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt16gh5vd. Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

“Names of Korea.” KoreanAmericanStory.org, koreanamericanstory.org/written/names-of-korea/#:~:text=Joseon%20(hangeul%20%E2%80%93%20%EC%A1%B0%EC%84%A0%2C%20Chinese. Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

 

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