Korea, 1000–1400 A.D.

  • Gourd-shaped ewer with decoration of waterfowl and reeds
  • Melon-shaped ewer with decoration of bamboo
  • Trefoil-shaped covered box with decoration of chrysanthemums
  • Oil bottle with decoration of peony leaves
  • Amitabha Triad
  • Maebyeong with decoration of cranes and clouds
  • Bottle with decoration of chrysanthemums and lotus petals
  • Illustrated manuscript of the Lotus Sutra
  • Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara
  • Kshitigarbha


1000 A.D.

1100 A.D.

Goryeo dynasty, 918–1392

1100 A.D.

1200 A.D.

Goryeo dynasty, 918–1392

1200 A.D.

1300 A.D.

Goryeo dynasty, 918–1392

1300 A.D.

1400 A.D.

Goryeo dynasty, 918–1392
Joseon dynasty, 1392–1910


Some of the most outstanding achievements in Korean art and culture date to the Goryeo dynasty (918–1392), which rules the peninsula for nearly 500 years. Buddhism, even more lavishly patronized by the court and aristocracy during this period than in the preceding Unified Silla period (676–935), is a major creative force in the arts, exemplified in part by the proliferation of temple complexes in the new capital Songdo (modern Gaeseong) and elsewhere in the peninsula, with their elaborate stone pagodas, exquisite paintings, stone and gilt bronze sculptures, and refined ritual objects in lacquer, ceramic, and bronze. Goryeo potters produce elegant green-glazed ceramic ware, highly praised by contemporaneous Chinese and later known and appreciated in the West as celadon ware. The invention and use of cast-metal movable type in Korea in the early thirteenth century predates by two centuries Gutenberg’s invention of metal movable type in Europe.

Relations between the Goryeo court and the mainland are not always friendly. In the northern part of the peninsula, Goryeo engages in border struggles with northern China’s conquerors, the Khitan and Jurchen tribes, and suffers three invasions by the Khitan between 993 and 1018. Between 1231 and 1257, Korea is ravaged by invasions by the Mongols, who will rule China under the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). By the mid-fourteenth century, the Mongol Yuan dynasty begins to lose control in China, and in 1368 is ousted by the Chinese rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). In 1388, a weakened and divided Goryeo court sends a military expedition to invade Manchuria, in response to a Ming government declaration that it intends to claim Goryeo’s northeastern territory. One of the expedition commanders, Yi Seonggye (1335–1408), who favors a pro-Ming policy, leads his troops back to the capital and seizes control of the government. In 1392, having consolidated his power, he founds a new dynasty, Joseon (1392–1910).

Key Events

  • early 11th century

    Motivated in part by the attempt to solidify the authority of Buddhism as the state religion, and in part by the desire to invoke the protection of Buddhist deities in response to armed incursions from the mainland by the Khitan, founders of the Liao dynasty (907–1125), the Goryeo court orders the carving of woodblocks for printing a complete edition of the Buddhist canon (Tripitaka). This monumental undertaking, begun in the early years of the reign of King Hyeonjong (r. 1009–31), is not completed until 1087, long after peace with the Liao has been established.

  • Buddhist painting, known in Korea as taenghwa (literally “hanging painting”), achieves an extraordinary artistic and religious importance in Korea during the Goryeo period. State and private religious activities ensure a constant demand for images to serve as objects of worship. Buddhist paintings, executed on silk in intense color and embellished with gold, are commissioned by members of the court and aristocracy, who spare no cost in their production. Extant examples of Goryeo Buddhist paintings date from the thirteenth century.

  • early 12th–early 13th century

    With the adoption of celadon production techniques used at the Yue kiln complex in southeastern China, Korean potters have by the ninth to tenth century perfected the high-fired glaze techniques that enable them to undertake the manufacture of celadon ware. The Goryeo celadon industry reaches its pinnacle both technically and artistically between the early twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, when it achieves the celebrated translucent glazes, refined forms, and naturalistic designs that win high praise from the Chinese, one of whom pronounces Korean celadons as “first under Heaven.” It is during this period that Goryeo celadon ware acquires a character independent of its Chinese counterparts, developing distinctive features in shape, design, color, and decoration. While potters employ several methods to decorate these wares, including incising and carving, the use of white and black inlays (sanggam) is the most innovative and highly regarded technique.

  • 1123

    The Chinese scholar-official Xu Jing (1091–1153) visits the Goryeo capital as a member of a diplomatic mission from the court of the Northern Song emperor Huizong (r. 1100–1125). Xu Jing’s written account of his one-month visit to Korea, entitled Xuanhe fengshi Gaoli tujing (Illustrated Record of the Chinese Embassy to the Goryeo Court during the Xuanhe Era), is the earliest known and most concise commentary on the production of Goryeo celadon ware.

  • 1145

    The first of Korea’s two earliest surviving histories, Samguk sagi (Histories of the Three Kingdoms), compiled under the direction of the Confucian scholar-official Kim Busik (1075–1151), is presented to the Goryeo king Injong (r. 1122–46). The compilers use as their sources earlier documents that have now been lost.

  • early 13th century

    Cast-metal movable type is invented in Korea in the early decades of the thirteenth century, some two centuries before Gutenberg’s invention of metal movable type in Europe, to facilitate in particular the distribution of Buddhist and Confucian texts. The skill of Korean paper- and ink-makers in producing sufficiently strong and thick paper and an oilier grade of ink is crucial to the success of this new printing technique. One of the earliest recorded works printed in metal movable type is a volume concerning Confucian ritual published in about 1234. A Buddhist text published in Korea in 1377 (now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris) is the oldest extant book printed in this manner.

  • 1231–1257

    The Mongols, who occupy large portions of northern China and will rule all of China under the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), launch six invasions into the Korean peninsula during this period. In 1231, the Goryeo court flees the capital of Songdo (modern Gaeseong, North Korea) and takes refuge on nearby Ganghwa, a large island just offshore in the Yellow Sea, where it remains in exile for the next forty years.

  • 1236

    The Goryeo court orders the preparation of another set of woodblocks for printing the Buddhist Tripitaka, which is intended both to gain protection against the Mongol invaders and to replace the earlier eleventh-century set that had been destroyed by the Mongols in 1232. Known as the Tripitaka Koreana, this set of more than 80,000 woodblocks is completed in 1251. (Today it is preserved intact at Haeinsa temple, in South Gyeongsang Province.)

  • 1270

    By this date, peace has been negotiated with the Mongol invaders, and the Goryeo court enters an era lasting more than a century of close relations (including royal intermarriage) with the Mongol emperors of China’s Yuan dynasty.

  • ca. 1285

    The Buddhist monk Iryeon (1206–1289) compiles the Samguk yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms), the second of Korea’s two earliest surviving histories. Most of the text consists of Buddhist legends from the Silla period.

  • 14th century

    Neo-Confucianism, a reformulation of Confucian teachings developed in China during the Song dynasty (960–1279) that is the conceptual basis for China’s civil service examinations, is introduced into Korea toward the end of the Goryeo dynasty through the efforts of Korean scholars. Many of the early advocates of this philosophy in Korea come to question the domination of Goryeo society by Buddhist clerics and a small number of aristocratic families.

  • late 14th century

    The disintegration of the Mongol regime in China during the late fourteenth century, which culminates in its replacement by the indigenous Chinese dynasty known as the Ming (1368–1644) causes substantial turmoil at the Goryeo court. Conflict between those who believe that Korea ought to remain loyal to the Yuan and those who favor alignment with the emerging Ming precipitates the Goryeo dynasty’s downfall. In 1388, Yi Seonggye (1335–1408), founder of the succeeding Joseon dynasty, ousts the reigning Goryeo king and the leading officials responsible for the court’s anti-Ming policy.

  • 1392

    After the last Goryeo monarch is deposed in 1392, Yi Seonggye is proclaimed king of the new Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) and the capital is moved to the site of modern Seoul. The change in dynasty spurs major social and cultural transformations. Yi (like the first Goryeo king, known by the posthumous title of Taejo, or Grand Founder; r. 1392–98) and his immediate successors move aggressively to augment the power of the royal government. Particularly noteworthy are their efforts to reduce the wealth and influence of both the Buddhist establishment and the noble families that had been prominent at the Goryeo court, and their adoption of Neo-Confucianism as the new official state ideology.