Sungkyunkwan was established in 1398 as the Joseon Dynasty’s highest educational institution. Its name means, “Sung (成, to make), Kyun (均, harmonious society), Kwan (館, institute).” It focused on in-depth study of the Chinese Classics, Confucian canon, and literature of the era, and how to apply the knowledge to governing the nation and understanding the nature of humanity. It also served as a shrine (see Munmyo) to the Confucian sages where rituals were held regularly to honor them and their teachings.
It was located within the city walls of the capital during the Joseon period, Hanseong, or modern-day Seoul. It followed the example of the Goryeo-period Gukjagam, which in its latter years was also known by the name “Sungkyunkwan”.
Numerous Korean historical figures, including Yi Hwang and Yi I, studied at and graduated from Sungkyunkwan. A considerable amount of Korean literature and works of hanja calligraphy were created and archived by Sungkyunkwan scholars over the centuries.
During the period of Japanese rule in the first half of the twentieth century, Sungkyunkwan was downgraded and almost closed by the Governor-General of Korea in favor of the imperial university. At the end of World War II, however, it was officially reopened as a college by the United States Army Military Government in Korea. Before long, it was reinstated by the ex-rector of Sungkyunkwan, Kim Changsook.
After the Korean War, as the nation modernized and underwent social, political, and economic reforms, SKKU played an important role in academic freedom in higher education and also kept traditional ethics and morality alive in Korean society.