Friday, May 18, 2012

A Book which is trying to trace the history of Korean Maps


Part of a map of Korea from 1530
This article is written by John Rennie Short and published in The Korea Times News

“Korea: A Cartographic History” is a general introduction to how Korea was and is represented in maps. The book is a very accessible and well-written general history of Korea and its role in the history of cartography.

The first part, “Separate Worlds,” reveals the differing cartographic traditions prevalent in the early Joseon period in Korea and its temporal equivalent in early modern Europe, roughly from 1400 to 1600.

In Joseon Kingdom (1392-1897), a sophisticated cartography drew upon Chinese influences, themselves drawing upon Arabic and European knowledge to envision the world. The emphasis of the early Joseon was on mapping the nation state and its near neighbors. Maps were an important form of surveillance and a vital information base for ensuring political control and maintaining regime legitimacy.

A rich variety of pictorial styles develop as the state mapped its territory and surveyed its borders. At the same time European merchants and explorers were traveling to the region. The book also looks at the cartographic emergence of Korea in early European maps.



Understanding of global geography resulted from cartographic encounters between Europe and East Asia. An improved understanding of Korea for Europeans and the discovery of Europe for Koreans became part of a new global perspective. The book shows how Korean mapmakers embodied, reflected and even contested Western depictions. There are a number of similar projects that have been conducted by both China and Japan. There is no Korean equivalent, and that is a major gap in our understanding that does a disservice to the global appreciation of the Korean role in world intellectual history.

The discussion of cartographic encounters between Korea and the rest of the world is central to Part Two, Cartographic Encounters, which covers the period roughly 1600 to 1900.

Chapter four explores how a distinctly Korean cartography is in fact a product of encounters with impinging empires and other nations and centers of representation. The earliest influence was China but the author also shows the influence of Japan and Europe.
Joseon rule encompassed an enormous range and depth of cartographic production providing a rich context for the masterpiece of late Joseon cartography, the 1861 “Daedong Yeojido” (Map of The Great East Korea). This work is a culmination of the encounter between an indigenous Korean cartography with a modern, more universal cartographic practice.

This hybrid map, neither simply Korean nor decontextualized modern, but a subtle combination and intermingling of the two, stands as an example of two centuries of cartographic encounters.



It is a masterpiece that uses modern methods and indigenous practices to create the best-known example of a “modern Korean” map of Korea. The map signals the combination of “Korean” and ‘“modern” in one artifact. It is probably the best example of “early modern Korean.”

Part Three, “Representing Korea in The Modern Era,” covers the period from Japanese colonization of the country to the present day. The author demonstrates how some of the tumultuous events of the past 120 years are recorded and contested in maps. Chapter six shows the cartographic incorporation of Korea by Japanese mapmakers. This cartographic encounter has marked asymmetry with the Japanese mappings a form of colonial control.

Chapter seven considers postcolonial Korea and the cartographic implications of the continuing split of the Korean Peninsula.

East Sea vs. Sea of Japan

Chapter eight covers recent “cartroversies” of the national representation of the peninsula, the naming of the East Sea/Sea of Japan and claims of ownership on the island of Dokdo. Maps, ancient and modern, play an important part in these contemporary debates.
In terms of the naming of the East Sea, the writer highlights the usage of the term East Sea in old maps and the common European usage of a dual naming of East/Sea of Japan throughout the 18th-19th centuries.

The singular naming of the Sea of Japan is relatively recent, a late 19th century example of Japanese colonialism. We live in a postcolonial world and we need a postcolonial sensitivity.

Around the world communities and nations are responding rather than denying or perpetuating colonial mentalities. Global citizenship now implies, indeed demands, an honest historical reckoning of a nation’s colonial past. And to move into the future as a proactive force in the global community, a nation and especially its leaders, need to see the colonial legacy that continues to guide their policies.
By recognizing the dual naming of the East Sea/Sea of Japan, Japan can invoke a postcolonial sensitivity and embrace a more effective global citizenship. Dodko also occupies a complex cartographic space. The Korean claim is backed up with reference to old maps and documents that seem to show Korean de jure, if not de facto, possession of the islands. In summary, Korean maps show indications of Dokdo as Korean, while the Japanese cartographic records either tends to confirm Korean sovereignty or fails to even show Dokdo.

The book is written very much for a general audience. It is clearly written and beautifully illustrated with many pictures of old Korean maps, European maps of Korea and recent examples of maps of Korea.

The 160-page book will be released internationally on May 23 by the University of Chicago Press.

The author is a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Batimore County.

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