Gwangandaegyo Bridge

History of Busan

It is known that the prehistoric relics in the Busan area include more than 20 sites from the Neolithic Age, more than 40 sites from the Bronze Age, and 4 sites from the Paleolithic Age. The distribution of these sites and relics encapsulates Busan’s unique timeline from the Paleolithic to the Bronze Age.

Geumgwan Gaya flourished in the regions of Busan and Gimhae, flourising next to the Nakdonggang River. Geumgwan Gaya was the central power of Gaya, which grew as a result of its iron production, and was thus named the Iron Kingdom. The Gaya Empire, including Geumgwan Gaya, was conquered by the Silla kingdom.

During the period of Unified Silla, Dongnae-gun county was an independent county, home to Dongpyeong-hyeon and Gijang-hyeon. However, from the end of Unified Silla and the beginning of Goryeo, Dongnae-gun was reorganized into Dongnae-hyeon, governed by Ulju-gun, and Gijang-hyeon.

During the Joseon Dynasty, Busan emerged as a gateway to the country and a center for diplomacy with Japan. Immediately after the conclusion of the Jeongmi Yakjo (1547: Korea-Japan Trade Treaty in the Year of Jeongmi), the Joseon Dynasty promoted Dongnae to Dongnae Dohobu and dispatched a high-level official, Dangsanggwan. Unlike other governors, Dongnae magistrate was at the forefront of foreign affairs with Japan while having jurisdiction over Waegwan. In this regard, the governor held great responsibility for diplomatic and military affairs. Waegwan, constructed at Busanpo Port, was a residential and commercial area for Japanese traders.

With the opening of ports in 1876, Busan became a platform for modern culture to flow in. Modernized with the opening of the ports, the present Jungang-dong area began to develop into a city, along with the traditional city of Dongnae. However, in the face of Japanese imperialism, Busan had no choice but to serve as a gateway and bridgehead for Japan's advance into the continent.

In the aftermath of the liberation from the Japanese and the Korean War, most areas of Korea were left devastated, bearing deep physical and emotional scars. Fortunately, Busan, which was behind the front lines, was able to avoid direct fire from the war, and therefore served as the temporary capital of Korea and home to many refugees.

After the war, Busan served as the foundation for Korea to take a new economic leap forward. In addition, Busan Port played a significant role as an export base. Busan's population expanded rapidly as people flowed in from other regions as a result of industrialization, centered on light industries, such as textiles and shoes. In this process, Busan was transformed into a city of commerce, administration, and consumption.

Since modern times, Busan has grown through a complex historical process, and its civil society has also developed with diversity and dynamism. Busan citizens' aspiration for democratization finally created the momentous Busan-Masan Democratic Uprising (October 16). 2019 marked the 40th anniversary of the uprising. Only after 40 years was the true meaning of the uprising memorialized and designated as a national anniversary. Though a belated sign of success for Busan citizens’ aspirations and achievements, it shed new light on the citizens who pushed through the turbulent democratization process in Korea. The diversity and dynamism of Busan's citizens was a volcanic eruption in Korean political and social history and played a key role in growing the Korean economy.

Nowadays, political and economic concentration in the Seoul metropolitan area is intensifying, but Busan is losing its growth engine with its decreasing population due to a lack of jobs, etc. Therefore, once again, it is time for Busan citizens to work together to revitalize the city. Currently, as home to a gateway airport, Busan is preparing for dramatic development through the “Urban Renewal Project,” including construction of a new airport, hosting EXPO 2030, and the redevelopment of Busan North Port.

Source: The City History Compilation Committee of Busan, “Walk in Busan History,” Busan Metropolitan City Hall, 2020.