[KS] Maps Missing Mountains (allegedly)

gkl1 at columbia.edu gkl1 at columbia.edu
Wed Jan 12 18:34:31 EST 2005

The map woes cited in the article quoted by Aidan are probably not
worth much concern. One can easily add or subtract mountain ranges
simply on the basis of one's criteria for defining them. If it is
conceded that virtually all ranges spring for the great range, the
"taegan" (and I would so concede), then one can can start defining
sub-ranges, and sub-sub-ranges, etc., and depending on how many
degrees of "sub" one wants to pursue, and how long or short the
resulting "ranges" will be, you could come up in the end with an
infinite number of them. I doubt very much that 47 "ranges" would
give a more informative picture than five or ten. The point is that
either scheme would be pretty much the same, differing only in how
one determined and named the respective segments.
     Whatever the sins of Japanese imperialism, they had no interest
in deluding themselves as to the geography of Korea according to the
science that was available to them. It is true that all modern maps
are ultimately based on the Japanese surveys to some degree,
including the highly accurate maps of the American military, which
have been constantly updated with satellite data and global
positioning technology. This process has now gone on for so long,
and to such a degree, that it is fatuous to say that the Japanese
have been deceiving us. Modern Korean (ROK) maps that I have seen
have been similarly upgraded.
     The author of the cited article has spun a huge conspiracy
theory out of good, old-fashioned Korean geomancy. Mind you, I am a
great admirer of the traditional Korean geographic disciplines (see
my book-length article, "Cartography in Korea," in J.B. Harley and
David Woodword, eds., _The History of Cartography_: Vol. 2, Book 2:
Cartography in the Traditional East Asian and Southeast Asian
Societies, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994). Taken on
their own terms, there really is a kind of wisdom in them. And the
mystic faith in geomantic discipline as been a constant in Korean
history, beginning as early as the 9th century. Koreans themselves
have argued over these matters throughout this period. Kim
Ch^ongho's fabulous map of Korea (1864-- and incidentally there
were many fine Korean cartographers before him; he was hardly the
first) reflects the best of that tradition, and does give,
schematically, an extremely clear picture of how the taegan is
structured. Its cartographic conventions emphasize this feature and
really do give a wonderfully informative picture, often more sharply
than a modern topographical map might, of how Koreas mountains and
rivers define the Korean land. But the same information, and much
more, could also be wrung from a good series of modern, updated
topographical sheets if one know how to read them.  There are many
gradations of cartographic literacy.
     It's clear that the author of the cited article has an
anti-Japanese, nationalistic agenda. This will appeal to many. But
we should all keep our minds open and focused as we digest such
stuff (which, in a sense, it is our job to do).

Gari Ledyard

Quoting Afostercarter at aol.com:

> Dear Listmembers,
> This editorial from today's Korea Times caught my eye.
> It's the first I'd heard of the matter.
> Informed comment would be welcome. Is it really the case
> that South (and North?) Koreans have been using inaccurate
> maps, missing out most mountain ranges, for over a century?
> I'm struck, too, by what one might call this article's implicit
> metaphysics of national vertebracy ....
> Happy New Year! (may all chickens come home to roost),
> Aidan
> Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea,
> Leeds University
> Home address: 17 Birklands Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire, BD18
> 3BY, UK
> tel:    +44(0)  1274  588586             mobile:  +44(0)  7970
> 741307
> fax:    +44(0)  1274  773663             ISDN:   +44(0)   1274
> 589280
> Email: afostercarter at aol.com             website:
> www.aidanfc.net
> Real Look of Peninsula
> 'Paektu Taegan' Must Be Preserved
> The map of the Korean peninsula we commonly use is largely based
> on what a
> Japanese geologist drew in 1903. There is no reason to discredit
> the map if it
> shows how the peninsula really looks. However, its accuracy has
> been questioned
> by a new map released by the Korea Research Institute for Human
> Settlements.
> The striking difference is the configuration of mountains on the
> peninsula.
> The new map, which the research institute drew based on satellite
> images and
> its own field studies, shows that the nation is interlinked with
> 48 mountain
> ranges. Of all the ranges, 47 branch out from Paektu Taegan, the
> backbone of the
> peninsula, which starts from Mt. Paektu in the North, the highest
> peak in the
> country, and ends at Mt. Chiri in the South. The old map shows
> only 14 ranges,
> some of which do not even appear on the institute's map.
> More surprising than this difference is the accuracy of a map
> drawn by Kim
> Chong-ho, the nation's first cartographer, in 1861 on the basis
> of a lifetime of
> observation and studies of geographical figures on the peninsula.
> He is
> reported to have climbed Mt. Paektu seven times before completing
> his detailed map
> of Korea, the Taedong Yojido.
> It is deplorable that we have ignored a map that accurately
> depicted mountain
> ranges more than 140 years ago, when it was impossible to travel
> to every
> corner of the then undeveloped peninsula. Probably decades before
> the state
> institute came up with a new map identical with Kim's, it had
> been known among
> mountaineering fans that the Japanese geologist drew the ranges
> according to his
> own whim simply as a means of locating the peninsula's natural
> resources to
> help his country when it colonized Korea, which took place in
> 1909.
> Even though we are all responsible for having used the wrong map
> for some
> time, academic circles should bear most of the blame because they
> have never
> shown any concern. The first thing that the government should do
> right now is
> address the misrepresentation of the peninsula's appearance in
> textbooks used in
> primary and secondary schools. The government also needs to
> correct the names
> of certain administrative units that still carry the legacy of
> Japan's 36 years
> of occupation.
> In the meantime, it is very urgent to take appropriate steps to
> prevent the
> further destruction of the 1,494 kilometers of Paektu Taegan,
> which carries the
> spirit of the Korean people. Many parts of the range in the South
> have
> already seen complete destruction, having become the victim of
> national development
> and the mountaineering boom in recent years. It is our duty to
> pass on
> well-preserved natural assets to coming generations
> 01-09-2005 15:52

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list