KOREA FOCUS
Origin of the Country Name ‘Daehan’
Yu Seok-jae

Staff Reporter
The Chosun Ilbo



“Daehan Minguk, the Birth of the Nation’s Name”
By Lee Seon-min, Nanam Publishing House, 204 pages, 12,000 won
 
Many people may imagine that on August 15, 1945, when Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule, crowds in the streets shouted, “Hurrah, Republic of Korea!” (Daehan Minguk, manse!) But this is far from the truth. Surprisingly enough, in June 1948, Seo Sang-il, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, reported the following during a regular session at the National Assembly: “There is a lot of controversy regarding the name of the country. Daehan Minguk (Republic of Korea), Goryeo Gonghwaguk (Republic of Goryeo), Joseon, Han….”
 
In the first draft of the Constitution drawn up by Yu Jin-oh, Article I read, “Joseon is a democratic republic.” The committee finally decided that the newborn Korean state would be called “Daehan Minguk” (Republic of Korea) with 17 votes, or 63 percent of the total, supporting the name. As such, popular beliefs are oftentimes under-researched.
 
This book is part of a series about modern Korean history published by the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History. It analyzes in great depth how Korea came to have its current name, a subject that has rarely been studied.
 
In 1897, when he proclaimed the establishment of the Korean Empire (Daehan Jeguk), King Gojong first used the name Daehan, or “Great Han,” which was intended to include the ancient Three Han States of Mahan, Jinhan and Byeonhan. They ruled the southern part of the Korean peninsula in the early part of the first millennium before the Three Kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla consolidated their rule.
 
After the March First Independence Movement in 1919, Daehan Minguk was adopted as the nation’s official name when the provisional government was set up in Shanghai, China. This was intended to give consistency to the name Daehan and at the same time denote that the nation’s sovereignty was transferred from the king to the people by using the character min, meaning people. The book emphasizes that anyone who thinks lightly of the name Daehan is unaware of the weight of the history that defines our lives today.
[January 25, 2014]