[KS] Korean Borders

Gari Keith Ledyard gkl1 at columbia.edu
Tue Jan 27 22:57:22 EST 2004

The questions posed by Emanuel on Korea's northern borders contain enough
grist for many discussions.  A general reaction would be that an overall
account of the border between Korea and "China, Manchuguo (sic), and
Russia" does not exist and is greatly to be desired; that specifying the
period for study as from the 15th century to the present is unduly
confining; and that it seems hardly cogent to specify both North and South
Korea in propounding the question.  The time boundaries he suggests are
indeed reasonably researchable and are a good place to start, but the
further back one goes, the more one has to ask: What was "Korea," and
where did it begin and end?  That poses lots of issues, especially for
Silla and earlier times, but even for Koryo, which is crucial for setting
the starting point for Emanuel's earlier time boundary.  From that time
on, for all practical purposes we can consider Korea as a whole, with the
proviso that since 1945 North Korea owns that border, and that South
Korea, while obviously an interested and vitally affected party, is
limited in what in can do.
	Where were the northern borders of Koryo?  On the west Silla's
northern border included most of the present Hwanghae provinces (the DPRK
divides Hwanghae into north and south) but did not reach to Pyongyang; on
the east it certainly went to some point north of Hamhung. Precision is
elusive.  In its first century Koryo pushed the northwestern border to the
mouth of the Yalu and up the courses of the Ch'^ongch'^on and Taedong
rivers to their sources.  By 1034, its territory included the southern
bank of the Yalu up to about Ch'angsong (roughly latitude 40.5N north).
>From about that point Koryo constructed a wall running eastward to the
coast of the East Sea which generally included the northern watersheds of
the Ch'^ongch'^on and Taedong rivers; at about the headwaters of the
latter, the wall turned southeast to about Hamhung.  That was the
situation until 1107, when Koryo launched an anti-Jurchen campaign that
pushed up the coast to about latitude 41.5 degrees N.  This territory
included only the relatively narrow eastern watershed.  But even that area
was retaken by the Jurchen two years later, in 1109.  However, Koryo had
mapped the area and established nine new administrative units along the
coast and continued to regard them as its territory.
	In 1356, Koryo recovered most of this land, which the Mongols had
made an eastern province of the Yuan state when they defeated its Jurchen
occupants in the early 13th century; the Koryo reconquest indeed marks the
end of any Mongol control in Korea.  In its last years, Koryo did push
Korean settlement north in many areas but not so far that it could reach
the Yalu banks north of Ch'angs^ong, much less get even within reach of
the Tuman river.  Thus, when Koryo came to an end in 1392, the northern
border went from the mouth of the Yalu up its southern bank to about
latitude 40.5N, then generally east to the headwaters of the Taedong, then
northeast up the mountainous spine to the east coast at roughly latitude
41.5N.  NOT included south of this boundary was most of the southern
watershed of the Yalu north of latitude 40.5N, Paektusan and all
its slopes in all directions, or any part of the southern watershed of the
Tuman River.  See discussion and map in my "Cartography in Korea," in J.
B.  Harley and David Woodward, eds., <The History of Cartography>, vol. 2,
part 2, devoted to 'Cartography in the Traditional East and Southeast Asia
Societies' (1994, Univ. of Chicago Press), p. 290.
	The early Choson dynasty was aggressive in pushing the frontier as
far north as it could, mainly because the Jurchen in that area were seen
as a threat, and Ming was actively engaged to securing the Jurchen areas.
Indeed it was this Ming policy which precipitated Koryo's fall.  By virtue
of its conquest of the Yuan state, Ming claimed the Yuan province that had
been established in the Hamgyong coastal area, which of course was not
only territory held by Choson but the home grounds of Yi S^onggye himself.
Ming's claim provoked Koryo's campaign against Ming forces in Liaodong,
which ended up in Yi Songgye's famous decision to turn back and overthrow
the Koryo government instead (1389), which led three years later to his
new dynasty.
	During the first fifty years of Choson, most of the southern banks
of the Tuman (Ch. Tumen) and Yalu were conquered, occupied, and fortified.
Within the great bend of the Tuman the so-called six garrisons (Yukchin)
were established, and this area has ever since been uncontested Korean
territory.  Korean military administration reached up the southern bank of
the Tuman just beyond the present town of Musan.
	On the Yalu frontier, Korean control was complete up as far as
Hyesan, where the Yalu, plunging down Paektu's southern slope, abruptly
turns westward toward its mouth on the West Sea.  However, although Sejong
had established civil administration in the great northern bend of the
Yalu north of Kanggye, it proved difficult and expensive to defend, and it
was hard to convince Koreans to settle there, with the result that Sejo in
1455 abolished those districts and abandoned most of the territory inside
the bend.  Historically this area came to be called the P'yesagun, the
"four discontinued commanderies."  Nominally it became the northern
reaches of the vast district of Kanggye, but as a practical matter it was
an unsettled no man's land with Jurchen and Korean hunters, ginseng
gatherers, and smugglers running into each other from time to time.
	But the Paektusan area was still missing from Choson maps.  If one
carefully compares the distance data recorded in the Sinj^ung Tongguk
Y^oji s^ungnam (1531) for the northern districts on Paektusan's southern
flank, one must conclude that a very considerable chunk of territory now
Korean still lay beyond the declared boundaries of the closest Korean
districts (pu, kun, hy^on).  To the extent that there was any Korean
presence in that area, it would have been adventurers, hunters, and
perhaps an occasional military patrol from the towns of Kapsan (establ.
1413), Musan (garrisoned 1438, civil administration 1684) and Samsu
(1441, 1461).  But all of these were a long way from Paektu through some
of the roughest terrain in Korea.  During the late 16th century, the
Jurchen inhabitants of the lands around Paektusan and eastward generally
abandoned the area, moving west to join Nurhaci's already growing Jurchen
confederation, which adopted the name "Manchu" in 1636.  But the Manchus'
traditions viewed Paektusan (their Changbaishan) as their ancestral
homeland, and as such the Kangxi emperor took a great interest in the
area.  The Yalu-Paektu-Tumen frontier was systematically explored and
mapped by Jesuit cartographers working as Qing officials in the early 18th
	Their data stimulated Kangxi to wonder what the situation was
south of Paektu.  If from there the Yalu flowed west and the Tuman flowed
east, what flowed south? he asked.  This interesting episode is detailed
in my "Cartography in Korea," pp. 298-305, with both Jesuit and Korean
maps among the illustrations.  Briefly, in 1710 he sent one of his Manchu
staff officers, named Mukedeng, to make inquiries of the Koreans, who,
naturally enough, were suspicious.  They stone-walled, and gave him a copy
of old maps deliberately selected from the most uninformative and
erroneous ones in their archives.  Kangxi, unsatisfied, told Mukedeng to
go to the top of Paektusan and check things out for himself.  The Koreans
refused him entry on a procedural technicality, so Mukedeng went upstream
a little and crossed the Yalu anyway.  Korean officials had no alternative
but to accompany him or risk being completely in the dark as to what he
was up to.  When they reached the top Mukedeng correctly determined that
the only river that flowed south off the mountain was the Yalu itself.
He set up a boundary stele near the south shore of the crater lake (1712).
This quite unexpected outcome in fact thrilled the Korean court, because
it confirmed unimpeachably that the southern watersheds were theirs to the
satisfaction of Kangxi himself.  One can then say that the present border
between Korea and China was for all practical purposes determined in 1712
and not until then.
	But there was an even bigger consequence.  Korean maps drawn at
the time from on-the-spot surveys showed the boundary line running north
of the upper reaches of the Tumen River.  Nothing really developed from
this in any practical sense until the 1870s, when extensive Chinese
settlement of Manchu territory was underway, and when significant Korean
emigration into Chinese and Russian territory was also long in progress.
It became a matter of importance where the Korean-Chinese border was.  As
a result, a joint Choson-Qing survey team inspected the borders and the
watersheds in the Tumen area, and officials of both sides talked in Seoul.
In the end (1888), the Chinese accepted the Korean case.  As a result,
many Korean emigrants from Hamgyong province, who had been streaming
across the Tumen for years, were recognized to be living on Korean soil.
This was the so-called Kando area (Dong Jiandao for the Chinese).  Korean
maps of the period between 1888 and 1908 show this area as Korean
territory; I have a Russian postcard of the late 1890s with a map of Korea
showing Kando; and I have seen it shown on a map accompanying a British
book published in the 1900s. It occupied about 21,000 sq. km. on the north
bank of the Tumen between Paektusan and the Yukchin area. But after the
Ulsa Treaty, which put Korea's foreign affairs under Japanese
administration, the Chinese reopened the question and Ito Hirobumi signed
Kando over to China, I think in 1908.  Of all territorial claims that
Korea might make on China today, the Kando area is the one where Korea's
case would be strong.  But of course it would get nowhere against China.

	The above pretty much responds to Emanuel Pastereich's first two
questions; I would now like to add some comments on his third: "how does
Manchuria as a separate, or pseudo-separate, political entity complicate
the issue of border?"  By "Manchuria," given the first few lines of his
message, he seems to mean specifically Manzhugwo (Manchukuo).  In terms of
the Japanese puppet state itself, I would say, probably not much, since
nobody sees it as historically legitimate.  In any case, the border
between Korea and China in 1932, when Manchukuo was established, and in
1945, when it ended, was exactly the same as far as I am aware, so what
could it change?
	However, it is important to consider the special status of
"Manchuria," i.e. the homeland of the Manchus, during the Qing dynasty,
and ask to what extent was it a part of "China."  Of course, China proper
and Manchuria were both ruled by the same imperial dynasty from 1644 to
1911.  But in its administration and social system Manchuria was sharply
separate from China proper.  This was symbolically marked by the famous
barrier at Shanhaiguan, which functioned much like an international
boundary.  Only Manchus, Mongols, and ethnic Chinese enrolled in the
banner structure (so-called Hanjun) could live there.  Customs inspectors
scrupulously checked everything and everybody entering and leaving.  The
adminstration for the area was directed not from Beijing, but from the
separate capital of Shengjing (Shenyang).  Foreign relations concerning
countries or peoples near or in that area were not handled by the Board of
Rites as for the traditional tributary states, but by the Lifanyuan, which
handled all questions relating to Tibet, the Mongols, Russia, and various
tribal groups.  One gets a very strong sense of the separate status of
Manchuria and China proper when one reads Korean travel literature
associated with the tribute embassies or trade.  Travelers constantly made
all kinds of distinctions between "guannei" and "guanwai"-- that is,
"inside and outside the Shanhai barrier."
	This distinction played a large role in two major boundary issues,
the 1712 boundary settlement, and the Kando issue.  When Kangxi concerned
himself with his Changbaishan boundary question, he did not consider it a
"Chinese" issue, but a Manchu-Korean border issue.  He completely bypassed
and kept in the dark the Board of Rites, which was in charge of Qing-
Korean relations, deputing a special deputy from his personal Manchu
staff, Mukedeng, to handle all matters concerned with his questions.
>From beginning to end over two and a half years and several trips,
Mukedeng handled everything personally and reported only to Kanqxi
personally.  As a result, when China in the 1880s tried to settle the
Kando/Jiandao issue with Korea, the Board of Rites had no documentation
and no institutional history of the 1712 boundary settlement.  Korea, on
the other hand, had archives stuffed with documents concerning Kangxi's
boundary concerns and other matters deriving from the Mukedeng mission,
plus numerous maps of the area and other supporting materials.  China
could not match Korea's case, and it must have indeed been overwhelmingly
strong if Korea prevailed, particularly in the late 1880s, when Yuan
Shih-kai, operating from his permanent office in Seoul, could and did
interfere in just about everything concerning Korea's internal and
external affairs.  In spite of that, Korea prevailed on the boundary
matter, at least until Japan gave Kando away to China in 1908.
	There is a very interesting study of the issues surrounding 1712
and the Kando business by a Taiwan scholar, Chang Ts'un-wu (Zhang Cunwu),
valuable for its rich citation of sources including a wide range of Korean
ones: "Qingdai Zhong-Han bianwu wenti tanyuan" (An inquiry into the
Sino-Korean border question during the Qing dynasty), Zhongyang yanjiuyuan
jindaishi yanjiusuo jikan 2 (Taibei, 1971), pp. 463-503.  Chang bitterly
laments that the Koreans have all the best sources because of Qing
officials' poor handling of the 1712 events.
	In any event, Kangxi's theory and practice in connection with the
separate status of the Liaodong area vis-a-vis China proper is worth
noting.  And interestingly enough, Japan's claims in setting up Manzhuguo
as a sovereign independent successor state to the Qing dynasty, while in
its own terms a brazen outrage and seen as such at the time, resonates
with the special status of the Manchu homeland that was in effect for most
of the Qing dynasty--up to the 1850s and 1860s, when Chinese emigration
into Manchuria, no longer within the control of a decaying Manchu state,
changed the picture completely.

	On Frank Hoffman's remarks on this same thread, his view that the
border between China (I would say the Manchu homeland) and Korea was
"somewhat of a loose concept" needs reconsideration.  It was loose up
until the 1680s, but from then on both the Koreans and the Manchus were
very active in that area-- see my "Cartography in Korea," p. 298 ff.
	Also, at no time during the Qing dynasty could von Richthofen have
described the Korea Gate (Gaolimen) as being "at the Yalu River."  The
Korea Gate (called by the Koreans Ch'aengmun [Ch. Zhamen], "Palisade
Gate")  was nowhere near the Yalu.  As Frank himself notes, there was a
border strip of considerable width between the Yalu and the gate at the
Willow Palisade. Assuming that von Richthofen's "100 li" was in Chinese
li, that would be about 57km.  His approximate guess was a little on the
long side if you calculate from the gate, on the short side if you count
from the town of Fengcheng which administered the gate.  Using the Korean
li (0.43km), Korean itineraries from Qing times have 120 li (52km) from
Uiju (considerably upstream from modern Sin Uiju) to the gate, and another
25 li (11km) to Fengcheng, for a total of about 63km altogether.  That
strip was indeed Manchu territory, and was regularly patrolled by Manchu
guard units.  Apart from a few designated officials of the Uiju district
and Fengcheng district administrations and their respective provincial and
Shengjing superiors, no Koreans could traverse that strip except at times
of diplomatic missions or of periodic markets or fairs.  But the rules
were even more strict for Manchu or Hanjun Chinese civilians: they could
not be in that strip under any circumstances at all.  Chinese officials
never served as ambassadors to Korea, only Manchus.  All Korean
interpreters on the Manchu side were Manchu bannermen in formal fact,
although mostly ethnic Koreans in actual fact.  But there were no Chinese
except Hanjun Chinese on Qing embassies to Korea.
	Also, given some of the points made here, Frank's statement that
the borderline from "at least the 16th century onwards (but likely
earlier)" was "very close to today's Chinese-Korean border" cannot hold
up.  You can't even begin to say that until 1712, and even then Kando will
keep you from saying that for any year before 1908.

Gari Ledyard

On Fri, 23 Jan 2004, Emanuel Yi Pastreich wrote:

> Dear Associates,
> I would like to take on this issue of the Chinese-Korean border seriously.
> What I would like first of all is a historical record of all changes and
> modifications in the borders between China, Manchuria (Manchuguo), Korea
> (North and South) and Russia. Between the 15th century and the present. The
> question is, 1) what are the concrete examples of changes in the borders
> between the Ming dynasty and the present and what was the
> historical/political context for each. 2) What possible claims could be made
> based upon the various changes by China or Korea respectively. 3) How does
> Manchuria as an separate, or pseudo-separate, political entity complicate
> the issue of borders. 4) Where exactly are the borders of Kokugyo.
> It would be great to find an article or two dealing specificially with this
> issue, and actual maps that I can show people to illustrate each change,
> whether related to Ming and Manchu policies, the Qing dynasty, Republican
> and Japanese interactions, Russian, PRC and North Korean agreements.
> Thanks,
> Emanuel

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