Busan or Pusan? The name is spelled both ways on signs around the city. Before arriving, I’d have bet that the official name was Pusan, but I would have been wrong. In 2000, a new method of transliterating Korean was implemented and the name changed overnight to “Busan”. The Korean character ? represents both “b” and “p” (which, when you think about it, are nearly the same letter anyway). For the city’s residents, there’s no change at all. ?? remains ??.
To my ears, “Pusan” sounds more like what people are actually saying, but it’s a close call. Regardless, Busan is a lot easier for Western tongues than the city’s original name, Geochilsanguk! Here’s a quick look at Busan’s long, tumultuous history:
|Prehistory||The earliest evidence of humanity in Busan dates from around 18000 BC. Pottery and shell middens mostly found along rivers and the coast indicate a fishing-based society.|
|2nd Century AD||The town is organized for the first time as “Geochilsanguk”, under the administration of the Jinhan Confederacy.|
|757||After being absorbed into the powerful dynasty of Silla, the city’s name is changed to Dongnae, still the name of one of Busan’s neighborhoods. Silla was one of the Three Kingdoms of ancient Korea.|
|10th Century||The Goryeo Dynasty (whose name would evolve into “Korea”) had succeeded in uniting the Three Kingdoms, and renames Dongnae to Busan-po. “Busan-” means “kettle”, referring to the shape of the city’s mountain, and “-po” means “harbor”.|
|15th Century||Busan is designated an official trading post with Japan, leading to the formation of a large Japanese population in the city.|
|1592||Busan becomes the scene for the opening strike in the Imjin War, during which Japan invades Korea. The Japanese have a new technology in firearms, and overrun the city in two days.|
|1876||Busan becomes Korea’s first international port, and the city expands rapidly from a fishing village into a major center of commerce.|
|1910-1945||In 1910, Korea was annexed by an aggressive imperial Japan. Not the finest moment for the country, but Busan flourished under the Japanese administration, and technological innovations not seen in the rest of Korea are introduced here.|
|1946||Following WWII, Koreans are outraged by the unilateral Allied decision to split the country into two protectorates (American to the south, Soviet to the north). Railroad workers in Busan strike, kicking off the Autumn Uprising, which quickly spreads throughout the country.|
|Korean War||Busan serves as Korea’s provincial capital, after most of the peninsula falls under Communist control. The Battle of the Pusan Perimeter lasts 45 days, sees 120,000 casualties and ends in a successful US-led defense of the city.|
N. Korean POWS in Busan
(Dept of Defense)
|1995||After a period of steady post-war economic progress and urban development, Busan is promoted to a Metropolitan City, giving it the same status as a province.|
And Beyond… Construction continues in Busan at a furious pace, with giant retail stores, housing, and business centers sprouting up all over. It’s hard to imagine Busan sprawling out even further, but we probably shouldn’t underestimate the city’s hard-working, optimistic populace.