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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Miscellany 1: Maps and brass

Mapping mountains
Articles in the Korea Times on mapping Korea's mountains have stimulated some debate on the Korean Studies discussion list. According to this article textbooks are going to be changed to reflect the fact that Korean academics now believe that maps of the peninsula have been wrong since 1903. The claim is that due to the malign influence of the Japanese colonialists the standard maps, which have been used during and since the colonial period, chopped up Korea's mountain backbone (the 'Paektu taegan') and diminished the number of her mountain ranges.

Of course it is not hard to detect in this a good dose of the classic post-colonial nationalist discourse that is so common in Korea, with a healthy helping of quasi-environmentalist rapid industrialisation nostalgia and perhaps a smidgen of old school geomancy (風水地理) thrown in.

Here's what Prof. Marion Eggert of Ruhr University Bochum had to say about it:
Critics of the colonial tradition in geography like Yi
Uhyông (d. 2001) maintain that the Japanese division
of mountain ranges five major and seven minor) purposely
hacked the unified body of the Korean landscape into
pieces... This concern with Korean physical geography
has deep roots but became,as far as I know, rampant
in South Korea from the late 90s onward, echoing early
20th century nationalism: The geographic unity of the
Korean peninsula, symbolically expressed in the unity
of mountain ranges descending from Paektu-san, was an
important topic to Ch'oe Namsôn, for example.
One outflow of this recent interest is Kim Sôngbae's
book "Paektu taegan-ûl kada" (2003) which documents a
foot journey (actually, many individual journeys)
following "paektu taegan" from south to north (of
course only in South Korea). The author reports that
a geography reform acknowledging Paektu taegan, although
under another name, has taken place in North Korea in
Needless to say, both concepts of Korean geography are
constructs of the mind. When I once saw satellite photos
of the Paektu-san region, I was impressed by the volcano's
isolated elevation rather than by its connectedness.
if I remember correctly, this is, in fact, the way
pre-18th century maps of Korea tended to depict the

In another post Gari Ledyard points out that how many mountain ranges Korea (or anywhere) has depends on how you define a mountain range. I have to say that all this has really got me thinking, as I'd never really thought about (physical) geography before as a "construct of the human mind."

Making brassware
The English edition of Oh My News today has an excellent photo essay on brassware craftsman Lee Bong-ju (李鳳周).
I have two sets of sujô (spoon and chopsticks) made by him and I have to say they are very satisfying to use. If you live in Seoul you can buy his wares at a brassware shop on Insadong-gil. Not sure what it's called but it's about halfway up on the lefthand side, if that's any help.


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