[KS] Korean Commons?

gkl1 at columbia.edu gkl1 at columbia.edu
Wed Sep 5 17:50:43 EDT 2012

Along with Lauren Deutsch, I’ve found the “commons” discussion very  
interesting. As an early respondent to John Eperjesi’s original  
question, I made some rather jejune comments, to say the least, that  
John and others on the list quickly and kindly corrected while not  
referring to my post. Many thanks for that.

But apart from John’s own second posting on the Paektu Taegan (白頭大幹)  
there has been little comment on the “taegan” element of his original  
question. The Paektu Taegan, or “Great Trunk”, refers to the imagined  
substructure of the major mountain range that runs from Mt. Paektu  
southward along Korea’s East coast, a minor branch continuing on to  
the Pusan area, the major branch turning westward and then south to a  
point near the southern coast in the Chirisan area on the  
Kyŏngsang-Chŏlla border. At this point it continues under  
Korea’s South Sea (Namhae) to Cheju island--thus linking the great  
bulk of Korean terrain into what might be called a single  
energy-and-spiritual-force distribution system. From this trunk extend  
countless major and minor offshoots, called “maek” (脈), arteries and  
veins, which reach into all corners of the peninsula.

The theory behind this basic structure was developed by the Chinese  
scholar Yang Yunsong (楊筠松), a ninth-century geographic thinker who  
made his living by identifying ideal sites for Buddhist monasteries.  
It was applied in Korea by the Korean monk Tosŏn 道宣 (827-98), who  
did the same thing. He was guided by a mysterious stranger who said he  
would instruct Tosŏn on the banks of a river by the South Sea,  
and then disappeared. Tosŏn went to such a place and again found  
the stranger, who took a stick and arranged the sand into a diagram to  
demonstrate “the concordant and refractory forces of the mountains and  
streams.” Over the centuries and especially in the Koryŏ and  
early Chosŏn periods monks and lay people alike roved over  
Korea’s mountains and valleys, analysing the ridges and rivers to  
designate what lands were good and not good for siting temples,  
shrines, homes, burial places, and government buildings. Experts  
(known as kam’yŏga (堪輿家 “heaven-and-earth specialist”) answered  
the needs of the rich, and shamans and p’ungsu (風水, Ch. fengshui)  
specialists for the poor were always in demand.

Can such a theoretical structure be considered a commons, in the  
manner of the internet or the well field? Well, yes, if the  
individuals resorting to it believe in the theory and are aware of its  
risks. (No geologist has yet come forth to verify its existence  
scientifically.) But there are difficulties. The Taegan is not just  
the Great Trunk. Countless arteries extend from it in all directions,  
and from the arteries extend veins, and from them more offshoots until  
every last bit of land is connected. So the entire Korean nation,  
north and south, is the commons. I’m not sure about Korea’s hundreds,  
maybe thousands of islands and islets are included, but if the Great  
Trunk can go under the sea to Mt. Halla and Chejudo, what’s to stop it  
from connecting to the smallest bits of rocky turf in the seas? (Could  
this be the clincher for Korean possession of Tokto? What if those  
arteries and veins reach Tsushima, the Senkakus and the Spratleys! We  
could eliminate a great amount of bickering in East Asian waters!)

Another problem is that not all the arteries and veins are “good.” As  
indicated above, the theory provides for both “concordant and  
refractory forces in the mountains and streams” (山川順逆之勢) in the Great  
Trunk. The traditional analysts were always on the lookout for bad  
outcomes from parts of the trunk. Folks looking for a commons must  
also take this into account. I think what we're really talking about  
is an imaginary, not a commons.

Gari Ledyard

Quoting Lauren Deutsch <lwdeutsch at earthlink.net>:

> There is a very active "creative commons" online through which wonderful
> exchanges are flourishing ...
> http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
> --
> Lauren W. Deutsch
> 835 S. Lucerne Blvd., #103
> Los Angeles CA 90005
> Tel 323 930-2587  Cell 323 775-7454
> E lwdeutsch at earthlink.net
> From: Charles Muller <acmuller at l.u-tokyo.ac.jp>
> Reply-To: Korean Studies Discussion List <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
> Date: Mon, 03 Sep 2012 12:17:57 +0900
> To: Korean Studies Discussion List <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
> Subject: Re: [KS] Korean Commons?
> On 08/31/2012 04:37 PM, John Eperjesi wrote:
>> Would it be wrong to use the concept of the commons, which has a
>>  very specific history in England, to read Korean practices?  The
>>  struggle for the commons has become a global rhetoric that
>> addresses many different geographical and historical situations.
> No doubt stretching this a bit much, but for a somewhat detailed
> discussion of the notion of "commons" in the contemporary framework
> of "intellectual commons" I offer this:
> http://www.acmuller.net/reviews/future_of_ideas.html
> Regards,
> Chuck
> -------------------
> A. Charles Muller
> University of Tokyo
> Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, Faculty of Letters
> Center for Evolving Humanities
> 7-3-1 Hong?, Bunky?-ku
> Tokyo 113-8654, Japan
> Office: 03-5841-3735
> Web Site: Resources for East Asian Language and Thought
> http://www.acmuller.net
> <acmuller[at]l.u-tokyo.ac.jp>
> Mobile Phone: 090-9310-1787

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