Those of you initiated in The Age of Stones universe are well aware of how much of a monumental sucker I am for maps and all things world-building. The wondrous world of cartography has sometimes even found its way into my characters’ background, like that of Drynoe’s missing, mapmaker father. Therefore, it didn’t come as a surprise that sooner or later I was bound to pen such an article as a contributing writer for the Korean Embassy in Greece. Whether you share this cartographic interest with me or not, this blog post recounts a story you’ll surely end up being in awe of. Ready? Here we go!
Mapmaking has been a part of the Korean history for at least fifteen centuries. And of course many were the factors that played a decisive role in this. For example, the fact that the country is mostly bordered by sea led to precise knowledge of its shape from early on. As one also gathers from Korea’s traditional, descriptive sobriquet as sam chen li kang san (‘three thousand li of mountains and rivers’), equally spot-on was the knowledge of its people about its terrain. Furthermore, geomantic approaches as well as a long tradition of mapmaking for administrative and cultural purposes contributed too to the creation of unique and praiseworthy maps.
Which brings us, of course, to Daedongyeojido.
Daedongyeojido (대동 여지도 – Territorial Map of the Great East) is nothing more—and nothing less—than a huge map of Korea. Made by cartographer and geographer Kim Jeong-ho (김정호 – pen name ‘Gosanja’ [고산자 – ‘man of the high mountain’]), its year of birth was 1861, that is during a period when the country was going through particularly hard times. The main source of Kim’s knowledge were his yearslong travels from one edge of Korea to the other. It is said that he traveled on foot for thirty years, even climbing on mountain tops in search of that panoramic view which would enable him to capture in his mind each and every landscape down to its smallest detail.
Up until Daedongyeojido, maps of the country were designed mainly for administrative or military purposes. Moreover, knowledge was an exclusive privilege of the upper, educated social classes. So, Kim Jeong-ho’s goal was to make all knowledge of Korea’s territory accessible to everyone. Using the pyeonghwan technique and at a scale of 1: 162,000, the renowned cartographer along with a team of experts like artists, accountants, etc., divided the Korean Peninsula into 22 sections, each of them 47 km high and 32 km wide. With as much detail as possible, Kim carved his designs on both sides of sixty linden woodblocks. Those blocks were then used for printing each piece of the map on paper, thus avoiding handwriting errors and wasting no time or money. The final result was a booklet that could be easily folded, carried and printed in many copies, thereby making its public distribution easier. When all these 22 volumes are unfolded and placed side by side, they form a huge map of Korea, whose dimensions are approximately 7 x 4 metres.
The Daedongyeojido map contains thousands of important geographic, socioeconomic, military and cultural details. For example, it depicts mountain ranges, rivers, islets, harbours, sea routes, administrative headquarters of each province, traffic networks, beacons, walled cities, granaries, pastures, bridges, markets, farms, water canals and historical landmarks. The map also features incredibly accurate lines corresponding to mountain ridges, waterways and transport routes, with each such line containing black marks approximately every 10 li (4 km). Notable administrative and cultural sites are in turn marked with a variety of symbols comparable to the ones used by modern mapping methods. Finally, every province is accompanied by tables with a wide range of information, such as its postal and military networks, the distances from one part of it to another, the number of households and individuals obligated to serve in the military.
Daedongyeojido is regarded as the grandest and most scientific cartographic achievement of its era in Korea. And since its detail and accuracy can rival those of later maps, which were obviously designed with the help of advanced equipment, Daedongyeojido has served as a point of reference for the maps that followed in the 1920s. Copies and versions of Daedongyeojido can be found in various museums and institutions of the country, such as the Kyujanggak Institute of Korean Studies at Seoul National University, but also overseas, like the Library of the University of Wisconsin or the Milwaukee and Harvard-Yenching Library of Harvard University.
Thanks to this feat of his, a feat uninfluenced by western science and unimaginable even for a nobleman, let alone a mere commoner like himself, Kim Jeong-ho acquired immense fame after his death and attained the status of a legend. Beyond cartography, however, little else is officially known about his life and death. The sure thing is, though, that after the publication of an improved version of Daedongyeojido in 1866, Kim Jeong-ho is never mentioned again. Nevertheless, because of his valuable legacy, ‘Gosanja’ has inspired both literature and cinema—Kang Wu-suk’s film The Map Against the World (‘Gosanja, Daedongyeojido’ – 고산자, 대동여지도) is based on Park Bum-shin’s historical novel The Map Maker (고산자). These fictional versions fill in the gaps of the unknown aspects of the famous cartographer’s life, depicting him as a pioneer who fought passionately and with dedication for the dissemination of knowledge, therefore bringing him and his remarkable achievement closer to both readers and cinephiles.
All in all, one thing remains indisputable: Daedongyeojido, a map nearly flawless even by modern cartographic standards, is an inconceivable creation and bearer of priceless historical significance.
Catch a glimpse of Korea’s incredible scenery, as it’s depicted at the beginning of the trailer for the film ‘The Map Against the World’.
(You can find the Greek version of this article (again, written by me) on the facebook page of the Korean Embassy in Greece ( 주 그리스 대한민국).)
Other articles of mine for the Korean Embassy in Greece:
Indicative source links for this article:
Detailed Map of Korea (Daedongnyeojido), Woodblock
KIM JEONG-HO – single-sheet version of the Daedong Yeojido map
The Geographer Who Pulled Off a Miracle: The Map Maker by Park Bum Shin