More than 160 years ago, there was a map that drew great attention because of the astounding way it was planned out. It was “Haejwajeondo” or “Map of the Korean Peninsula.” The map was created in the 1850s and so many copies of it still survive that almost every major museum has one. What was the secret behind its popularity? Well, it scratched the users’ itchy spots.
What is knowledge of one’s national territory? Or rather, what does it consist of? Is it alright for knowledge of space to be limited to understanding the physical location of geographical features? No, such knowledge is nothing without the heartfelt stories of the people who lived on the land.
Any story about space is only real when it contains the stories of people’s lives, the stories of how people lived in a certain place. For this reason, maps of Joseon are infused with human beings and time. That’s the way the man who made “Haejwajeondo” thought, and the same with the man who taught him how to make maps. They believed that maps should contain not only space, but various aspects of the people who cultivated that space and their history. Hence, Joseon maps, including “Haejwajeondo,” contain space, time, and human stories. This very popular map was produced in three woodblock print editions, and many handcopied versions of the map also exist. When users first received the map, they would look at the outline of the country and figure out where in the world the precious land where they and their ancestors put down their roots and carried out their lives was located. “Haejwa” in the name of the map “Haejwajeondo” literally means “left sea” and refers to Joseon’s location east of China.
The outline and content of the map are based on “Donggukjido” (literally “map of the eastern nation”) by Jeong Sanggi (1678-1752), a great Korean cartographer of the eighteenth century. According to the concept of geomancy (feng shui), the country’s most important mountain ranges and waterways are depicted on the map in detail. On top of that, the country’s administrative, transportation, and military bases, including counties, post stations, military barracks, and forts across the eight provinces were marked, making it easy to get a grasp of the entire country and the way it was operated. Visualizing the country on a map and distributing it widely among intellectuals would have enhanced the sense of community among the people.
The regional government centers in the eight provinces, organized around the nation’s capital, Hanseong (present day Seoul), are clearly visible at a glance, and it is easy to find the locations of the 330 counties in their respective territories. From Hanseong, which is marked on the map as “Gyeong” (meaning “capital”), the network of roads stretching out to each region is indicated with thin lines that clearly show the transportation network linking the center of the country with other regions. In addition, like Jeong Sanggi’s “Donggukjido,” the names of counties are marked in different colors for each province, and provincial borders are marked with dotted lines.
The explanatory text that tightly fills the margins of the map gives details on Korea’s history, famous mountains, and islands. In the upper left margin, the text briefly and succinctly states that the history of Korea began with Dangun Joseon. Next, it gives information on the administrative districts of all previous dynasties up until the Goryeo Dynasty, showing that the map was made to give an understanding of the country’s space and time.
Most of the text consists of information on 20 famous mountains across the eight provinces, including Baekdusan, Myohyangsan, Geumgangsan, Guwolsan, Songnisan, Gayasan, and Jirisan, as well as large islands such as Jejudo, Ulleungdo, Heuksando, and Deokjeokdo. Also mentioned are famous temples on Mt. Geumgangsan in Gangwon-do Province, as well as Mt. Seoraksan, Mt. Odaesan, Chongseokjeong Pavilion, Gyeongpodae Pavilion, and Jukseoru Pavilion, indicating the importance of these places to the people of that time as sites for travel and exploration.
① This text lists the previous dynasties of Korea from Dangun Joseon to Goryeo, and gives the number of counties in the nine provinces of Silla and the eight provinces of Goryeo. It is interesting to see that the local administrative districts of Goryeo are counted as eight provinces, comprising the capital Gaegyeong and the area under its direct control (Jigye), five provinces, and two border areas (Yanggye). The inclusion of such records shows that traditional Korean maps are historical maps that give information not only on the country’s space but also time.
② The book Sangyeongpyo (Description of Mountains) from the 18th century, which summarizes the flow of Korea’s mountain ranges, is very much like an old genealogy book. Mt. Baekdusan appears at the beginning of the book as it was recognized as the starting point of all the country’s mountain ranges, like a family progenitor. “Haejwajeondo” was not the only map that emphasized Mt. Baekdusan and its crater lake; indeed the same can be seen on most Joseon maps. In addition, Jeonggyebi, the monument marking the border between Joseon and the Qing Dynasty of China erected on Mt. Baekdusan in 1712, was also an important feature on most national maps at the time. Notably, in the margins of “Haejwajeondo” the entire text of the inscription on the monument is given.
Mt. Baekdusan rises up from the northwest, descends directly to a large wasteland, and reaches this point where it stands tall. Nobody knows how many thousands or tens of thousands of ri its height may be. At the top of the mountain is a pond, like the soft spot on a person’s head, with a circumference of 20 to 30 ri, so deep and dark blue that the depth cannot be guessed. In April it is covered in ice and snow and looks like a vast silver sea. […] On the northern side, from an opening of a few feet water bursts and overflows, becoming a waterfall that is the origin of the Heungnyonggang River [Heilong River]. The origin of the Amnokgang River [Yalu River] can only be seen after descending 3 to 4 ri along the ridge.
③ Big rivers such as the Yalu River and the Hangang River were painted in light blue to increase readability and overcome the limitations of a woodblock print map. Notably, not only overland roads but also the waterways leading to Jejudo Island and Ulleungdo Island are all marked. The waterway starting at Uljin, Gangwon-do Province, leads to Ulleungdo. The small island next to it named “Usan” is what we call Dokdo today. This continues the long tradition of marking Dokdo on Korean maps since the first mention of Ulleungdo and Dokdo together on a map at the end of Survey of the Geography of Korea (Sinjeung Dongguk yeoji seungnam) from the fifteenth century.
④ The city of Hanseong along the Hangang River is marked as “Gyeong” (京) , meaning “capital,” and the names of 37 surrounding counties in Gyeonggi-do Province are all written down inside circles. The numbers written down with the names indicate the distance to Hanseong. For example, the record of “170” (一○七) with the place name Anseong means that the distance from Hanseong to Anseong is 170 ri. The number “1,780” (一○七○八) next to Hoeryeong in Hamgyeong-do Province means that the county is 1,780 ri away from Hanseong. The map also gives detailed information on post stations, which were the transportation hubs, and military bases. For example, on Yeongjongdo Island, where the international airport servicing Seoul is located today, the place name Yeongjong is marked with a square (□) , the symbol for a military fort, and Pyeonggu Station in Yangju is marked with a circle (○) , the symbol for a post station. All information recorded on the map was “selected” by the mapmaker according to certain criteria he had set.
⑤ Information about Joseon’s negotiations with Japan is given importance on this map. First, the waterway from Dongnae in Busan, to Tsushima and then to Japan is marked, and an overview of Tsushima’s relations with Joseon is given along with information on its history and geography. In addition, the reason for establishing the Japanese settlement (Waegwan) in Choryang, Dongnae, and its history is also written down. It is interesting to see that the war situation following Japan’s attack on Ulsan during the Japanese invasion of 1597 is recorded in detail.
Tsushima is about 400 ri away by water. […] All the bandits who came to Korea during the late Goryeo Dynasty were Japanese pirates from Tsushima and the islands west of Japan. When the Japanese pirates of Daemado Island [Tsushima] invaded the border during the reign of King Sejong, the king ordered Yi Jongmu to lead nine jeoljesa [military commanders] to subdue them, resulting in great defeat for the Japanese. When the Japanese invaded Joseon in 1592 during the reign of King Seonjo, they stopped on the island as they traveled back and forth. It is the island closest to our country and as it is very poor, every year the residents are given a fixed amount of rice and cloth.