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Old Korean photos

Haps Archives: Awesome Photos of Korea – Way Back When

Step back 100 years into life on the peninsula during a different era as captured by expat photographers of the time.

Korean women playing a board game and enjoying a smoke. 1900, photographer unknown.

A well-to-do Korean family. 1900, photographer unknown.

A rustic road in Seoul. 1904, photographer unknown.

Late Chosun Dynasty general  Yun Ung-nyeol (1840-1911). He is wearing the Western-style uniform of the Korean Empire. In modern Korean historiography, General Yun has been designated as Chinilpa
, or pro-Japanese activists of the first decade of the 20th century. To his left is his son Yun Chi-ho, who broke with his father and became a Korean independence activist. 1903 photo by Herbert G. Ponting.

General Yun Ung-nyeol (left) at his home in Seoul playing ‘Go Ban’. 1904.

General Min Yeong-hwan (1861-1905). He was born in Seoul into the powerful Min clan and committed suicide as an act of resistance against the Eulsa Treaty imposed by Japan on Korea. He was a nephew of Empress Myeongseong. One year after Min’s death, it was widely reported that a bamboo plant appeared where his bloody clothes had been laid. Many people believed the bamboo was nurtured by Min’s blood so it was called Hyeoljuk, or ‘Blood Bamboo’. Interestingly, the number of its leaves was 45, Min’s age at the time of his death. (Source: Wikipedia)

Korean hunters. 1899, unknown photographer shooting for the Kilburn Stereoview Company of New Hampshire.

Carrying Korean pottery to market. 1899, photographer unknown.

Workers winnowing barley in Jemulpo, which is now modern day Incheon. In 1883 the population of Jemulpo was a mere 4,700. Now it is home to 2.76 million people.

Jemulpo (Incheon) at low tide. The street divides the Japanese and Chinese settlements in the area.


Korean women known as Gisaeng, similar to the Japanese Geisha, who entertained male clientele with song, dance, and varied ‘services’. Gisaeng first appeared in the Goryeo Dynasty, acting as entertainers of the government to perform at various functions for the state. The most famous Gisaeng is  Hwang Jin-i, (not in photo) known for her exceptional beauty and sharp wit. Her story inspired a 2006 TV series. 1900, photographer unknown.

Gisaeng. 1910, photographer unknown.

Koreans have a long history of being excellent archers, even today, taking several gold medals in the Olympics. 1903, photographer unknown.


The photo of Korean archers was later used in a 1920s cigarette advertisement.

A Korean school in 1903. Notice the three boys in the back wearing hats: that indicates that they were married. Older women would sometimes marry young boys, raising them as sons until the marriage could be consummated. 1903, Photo by Herbert G. Ponting.

Miss Peary’s English Mission Orphanage for the Destitute and Blind. 1903, photo by Herbert G. Ponting.

A wedding in Seoul. 1900, photographer unknown.

Korean wedding with the timeless faces of bored children who would rather be out playing.

Two women carrying the modern equivalent of umbrellas, to avoid exposure to the sun. 1900, photographer unknown.

Dong Gwan-Wang-Myo, or the East Shrine of War. It was built by Chinese soldiers in the 1600s in honor of  a legendary third-century Chinese general, later worshipped by both Koreans and Chinese as a God of War. China came to Korea’s assistance in the Japanese-Korean War of 1592. There were three similar shrines built by the Chinese in Seoul with this being the only one that remains.

Children playing by the railroad tracks. 

Yongsan on the Han River near Seoul was at one time a logging town. The Japanese Imperial Army later made it a military base. It is now known as Yongsan Garrison, and is the headquarters of the American military presence in Korea. 1903, photo by Herbert G. Ponting.

An American trolley at the west gate of Seoul in 1903. The gate, known as Don-Eui-Mun, was built in 1392 and torn down by the Japanese in 1914, to make way for their modernization development plans. In 2009 the Korean government set aside 136 million won to restore the gate. Photographer unknown.

A number of these photos are from the Okinawa Soba Collection on Flickr. You can see these and many more of this amazing collection on the here.

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