I love period pieces of all types and grew up watching mostly European period pieces. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I began watching Korean Historical Dramas. Now unlike in English, in Korean there is a specific name for this type of drama, called “Sageuk” (사극).
While growing up, my mom would bring home huge shopping bags filled with VHS tapes of Korean dramas from the makeshift Korean grocery store-turned-video store. Each big black bulky VHS tape would hold one episode, so imagine the load my parents would carry in for just one drama in its entirety! Although Korean Dramas were always playing on TV in my home and was always part of the background, I never had any interest in them…I mean not even in the slightest…that was my parents’ thing (grandma’s too), that wasn’t MY THANG! Queen Elizabeth, Henry VIII, Shakespeare, and anyone who was ever at Versailles or Colonial America was more my speed.
Fast forward many years later, while scrolling through Netflix one day, I happened to accidentally stumble upon Queen Seon Duk (when I say “many years later”, keep in mind I started off with VHS tapes and now I’m talking about Netflix, so you do the math). My initial reaction was that of surprise, and then for a brief moment, a feeling of homesickness and nostalgia swept over me along with thoughts of my grandma and my mom. I still don’t know exactly what it was for sure, but SOMETHING made me hit that play button! And that, my friends, was the first time I ever made the conscious and deliberate decision to watch a Korean historical drama on my own, without any parental involvement or influence! And let me tell you….I LOVED IT!!! The lush, sweeping, majestic pageantry was right up my alley and I’ve been hooked ever since!!
I have always had a casual interest in history…European and American history, that is. When it came to pre 20th century Korean history, I really knew nothing about it. All I knew was that Korea has been around for 5,000 years. Unfortunately, as a second generation Korean-American, my utter lack of Korean history is not an anomaly – it’s actually the norm among most Korean-Americans.
Each sageuk would be the starting point for me to do my own research in order to separate fact from fiction. As I would watch a particular drama, I would have my iPad handy so I could do real time research into the particular historical figures I was watching at the moment. Whenever I finished a series, I was always on the hunt for the next great sageuk to watch. I came across several blogs that had a various list of sageuks, which were very handy. There was one blog in particular that I came across that I found especially interesting; it had every sageuk listed in chronological order in Korean history (Check out some lists here). I was all over the place! After seeing a chronological list of dramas, I was then inspired to start watching all dramas in chronological order (ok, I say “inspired” but others might call it a crazy idea!). So began my journey through Korean history with none other than the drama, Jumong which begins with the fall of GoJoseon 고조선 in 108 B.C.
It can easily be said that what I learned about Korean history came from watching sageuks!
Having watched these dramas in chronological order, I could see history unfolding. I saw how many of the stories were intertwined and how people were connected with one another. Bit by bit, drama after drama I began to develop a stronger foundation and gained a deeper appreciation for the long and rich history, culture and tradition of Korea.
I realized this isn’t the history of some distant far-away people – this is MY history – this is my family’s history, this is my son’s history and it will be his children’s history. If you are reading this, chances are this is YOUR history too!
Korean History: A Legacy of Challenges and Obstacles
As cool as it’s been to learn about history, it hasn’t been easy an task. I can find way more about K-pop stars and K-Drama recaps than I can find about actual Korean history. Why is that you wonder? It is because Korea’s history has been squeezed out by China and Japan. As a victim of Imperialism, the Japanese literally rewrote Korea’s history to suit its own agenda. For example, The Japanese changed the spelling of what was “Corea” or what is now known as “Korea” because they did not want Korea to come first alphabetically on the international stage. As a result of boundary changes, China has laid claim to ancient Korean artifacts and its history. Much of what is known of Korean history is the Chinese and/or Japanese retelling of Korea’s history.
Then top it all off is the language barrier. All the original sources were written in Chinese, which then had to be translated into Korean. So there isn’t much out there written in English to begin with. Then there are inconsistencies in Romanization that makes searching and research extremely challenging. This is why I have most names and places written in Korean as well and sometimes Chinese/Hanja as well, which sometimes makes it easier to cross reference. Don’t even get me started on the translations programs!
Why Do This?
The purpose of this site is to share what I’ve learned with those who are also interested in learning more about the real historical figures and actual events of each of the dramas that took place during the Three Kingdoms Period in Korean history. Here we will look at each drama to try and separate fact from fiction, view timelines, and see how people connected with one another. My goal is to put this into an easily digestible format that is informative, insightful and interesting.
I want to stress that I am not a professional historian, I’m not a website designer, nor have I ever been involved with blogging. Oh yeah, my Korean is pretty sketchy too! I’m just a regular person who is just sharing what I’ve learned with others who might find it some how useful or meaningful to them. I am also a mom who wants her son to know his history. The initial inspiration to take on such a project was because of my son, but it’s gone beyond that now. This site is dedicated to not only my son, but to my siblings, my cousins, their spouses, my nieces and all future generations to come – so they can learn about their roots.
This site is a work in progress, so keep coming back for more in historical topics related to each of the dramas. I will do my best to include it here. If anyone is interesting in contributing, that would be great!
Again, thank you for visiting and if anyone else is interested in contributing please let me know.
Thank You! 감사합니다!