Learn about Korean History through K-Dramas!

By Sayantani Banerjee

Looking at the past becomes important when trying to learn about a foreign culture, and while history books give us plenty of information, there are other avenues to get you excited as visual media has come to become a tool for knowledge creation!

Thanks to brilliant production and meaningful storytelling, cinema; TV shows; and theatre are popular forms of media that are being consumed in bulk. There is something for everyone and if you're wondering how best to understand Korea better, worry not, because there are a few K-dramas that will get you to learn a little about Korean history, aiding your curiosity. 

The history of Korea and its transition to what it is today comes in various different phases. Whilst dramas may have not paid attention to all the details, there are several shows that are either inspired by real-life incidents or have settings that are important to Korean history.  Historical K-dramas are great sources to understand a particular time period! While there are many that purely use fiction for the purpose of creating art, there exists quite a few that talk about important historical instances. 


Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo 

This heart-wrenching love story left several of us teary-eyed, but did you know that the characters mentioned in the drama were based on real kings and princes? The Kingdom of Goryeo ruled ancient Korea between 918 CE and 1392 CE, replacing the Unified Kingdom of Silla that was ruling Korea for a long period of three centuries. With the advent of the Goryeo dynasty, several changes followed. Whether it be the fairer treatment of women or better relationships with China and Japan, Goryeo changed the course of history. Interestingly, ‘Korea’ is derived from the word ‘Goryeo’!

Following the kingdom of Goryeo, the dynasty of Joseon was established, ruling for a period of five centuries. A quick peek into the Joseon dynasty makes one understand that the Korea we see today is a reflection of that period. From everyday beliefs and norms to everyday etiquette, modern Korea has adopted several characteristics of this time period. 

Moon Lovers managed to showcase that era but with a special twist. Playing with time, we get to see a modern-day girl, played by IU, transported to the kingdom of Goryeo. If you want a new drama to binge-watch while learning some interesting facts about Korean history, Scarlet Heart is the way to go! 


Six Flying Dragons 

This historical drama stands as a true classic! Delving into several true incidents of the Joseon time, the story of the third prince of the dynasty, Lee Bang Won, lies at the center of several narratives. Given that it is a K-drama, not all facts are based on true circumstances, but in order to get an idea of what it must have been like back in the days, Six Flying Dragons seems to be a perfect start! 

The Joseon period faced its decline with efforts of Japanese colonization. The instances that unfolded in the late Joseon era have played an important role in shaping modern Korea. 


Mr. Sunshine 

While several movies and dramas that have explored the colonization period, Mr. Sunshine attracted a lot of attention as a romantic fiction set against the backdrop of Japan’s first attempts at annexation. As the love story unfolds, we see changes in the political empire of Korea and its effects on the characters. With an excellent cinematic narrative, Mr. Sunshine came to have the fourth highest cable television ratings! 

Modern Korea stands today as a reflection of the past but with its own set of events and incidents that are slowly but surely shaping the future of Korea. 


Reply Series 

It would be a shame to not mention Reply, which provides more than just accounts of history! This three-part series is set in 1988, 1997 and 1994; each showing tiny details of that particular era very carefully, making it warm and lovely! 

Whilst Reply 1988 takes us back to the beginning of the fast modernization period of Korea,  Reply 1994 and Reply 1997 deal with real issues Korea had to deal with at the time by highlighting the advent of the IMF crisis and the downfall of the Sampoong Department store amidst very personal stories of the characters on screen. 


That's all for today's history lesson! If you were given the chance to go back in time, when would you choose to go back and who would you want to meet? Let us know in the comments below!

Cover Image: Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (SBS)
Written by Sayantani Banerjee

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