[KS] What is the history and use of charcoal in South Korea?

Brother Anthony ansonjae at sogang.ac.kr
Fri Dec 9 21:24:30 EST 2011

I do not want to flog a dead horse, but the extract from Bak Jehyeong (Pak Chehyong)'s "Geunse Joseon jeonggam" (Kunse Choson chonggam) in the "Sourcebook for Korean Civilization 2 page 307ff that describes the fate of the "General Sherman" says that the replica (?) of the destroyed ship built for the Taewongun had charcoal-fired engines that could not provide sufficient steam to move the boat.

With all due respect to my dear friend in Harvard, I do not believe that the lethal yeontan briquettes so common in Korea until recently were ever made of charcoal. They were (and still are) made using coal dust. Korea had no wood to make such huge quantities of charcoal in those days. I wonder how much charcoal was needed in pre-modern Korea? Obviously (I suppose) blacksmiths and other workers of metal would have used it. But who else? They did not have all the barbeque restaurants we have here now, and probably did not believe or care that sticks of charcoal are supposed to absorb bad odors. Unlike wood, charcoal is very apt to produce carbon monoxide, so it is not ideal for ondol use. A few scraps in the straw rope when a baby was born and some pieces when soaking meju to make soy sauce  . . .  Whereas in North Korea in recent years "Official North Korean estimates set wood (used each year) for charcoal production at 0.8 to 1 million m3," and "fuel wood (as wood and converted to charcoal) accounts for about a quarter of North Korea’s primary energy supply ? about the same as South Korea in 1965." (From  http://japanfocus.org/-Peter-Hayes/3233 ) gives food for thought.

Brother Anthony
Sogang University, Seoul

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list