[KS] Hangul Map

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreanstudies.com
Fri Jul 19 08:47:52 EDT 2013

Further thoughts related to the importance of the Gabor map and reply 
to Gari Ledyard’s notes (of July 10):

Disclaimer:  For those who do not have the time or interest to read 
through my notes below: just wanted to make very clear that this is 
neither an argument for or against the map under discussion to be 
authentic, nor is it in any way meant to criticize Professor Ledyard’s 
prior analysis (more to the opposite). The map simply stands out, is as 
such highly important, and its existence deserves further research and 
concrete explanations, because there is a possibility that such 
explanations might get us to a revised picture of various aspects of 
18th century life in Korea. I am just trying to put this into a wider 
cultural spectrum, on my own terms, and according to my own interests, 
and I am sharing some thoughts here, no more, no less. Hope this is 

Let me start this by repeating my explanation of why I brought up the 
original vs. forgery issue (sorry about some repetitions):
This is issue is so important to look into exactly because the Gabor 
map, to put it in Gari Ledyard’s words, “seems to have been a voice 
in the wilderness”—because this Han’gŭl map just does not fit in. 
Same as with any work of art or literature, or even with technology, 
when we newly discover a historic work that stands out stylistically 
and/or in content, that is different in some major aspect from the 
material or intellectual production of the period, then the very first 
question we have to ask is always if it is authentic. I repeat that 
addressing this issue is not an attempt to criticize Gari Ledyard’s 
convincing analysis of orthographic changes and of some other historic 
aspects. I simply pointed to the need to do a thorough physical, a 
material examination of that map. If that where just any map from that 
period, then “who cares” if it is authentic or not—other than its 
collector. Here we have a map where almost all names are rendered in Han
’gŭl, and, the way I read Gari Ledyard’s reply to the question of how 
that fits into the 18th century, that question is not being answered in 
a convincing way because it is not concrete. When I say concrete, then 
what I mean is that we seem to have no clear and plausible answer as of 
how exactly a map in Han’gŭl was utilized, made by whom and for whom 
and for what purpose in Han’gŭl (instead of Hanmun)? I am sure there 
is an answer to this question. I am sure the question itself is a valid 
question. We simply do not have a concrete answer yet. If we accept 
this map to be authentic, then it seems that we would have to fill in 
some blanks in the cultural history of the 18th century, and one 
wonders if that means changes in what we think we know about the 
utilization of Han’gŭl itself. Some possible (simplified) explanation 
models: (a) Han’gŭl was at the time already used by lower classes, 
maybe in certain areas of society where its use could have made some 
sense, or, a quite different possibility, (b) Han’gŭl was not used by 
commoners or otherwise illiterate people but by the upper classes for 
very specific purposes (almost like a code that not everyone could 
read, not even Korean yangban, e.g. by the military—or by very early, 
late 18th century Christians). I really do not know. Maybe anyone on 
the list into Chosŏn period literature or history could share her/his 
thoughts? But we have here a very concrete material and intellectual 
object that demands very concrete explanations. Somebody did not just 
start to produce such a map in Han’gŭl without a purpose and out of 
any cultural context (the next such map in Han’gŭl comes roughly a 
hundred years later). 

Back to the authentic vs. forgery issue: 
Gari Ledyard replied (longer than I quote him below): “How can 
something hitherto unknown that suddenly appears be a forgery? A 
forgery of what??” Again, I am NOT saying it is one, just that we 
should be as sure as possible that it is not, exactly because it stands 
out so much and because there is no good explanation for its existence 
yet. Knowing the ownership history of that map would be part of that. 
We live at times where the majority of “products” that we buy and 
consume can be classified as forgeries. That starts with the “original
” brand name products we buy for good money at licensed shops, which 
often turn out not to have been manufactured in the country the label 
indicates but in China, North Korea, Malaysia, Romania, wherever. Even 
Swiss banks are outsourcing their gangster businesses with 
international clients to the Seychelles or some other ROW countries. 
The subway in Seoul carries ads reading “Kimchi from Korea”—and that 
is not a joke but a serious statement, advertising the exception from 
the rule. There are no borders to what areas forgery stops; you see 
this happening everywhere where profit is being generated or power 
fights happen, everywhere. Just that a majority of people mostly 
associate terms like “forgery” with art works and collectibles—and 
indeed, less than 1% of those many $5,000 to $20,000 Picasso drawings 
and sketches you see in established museums and in New York, Paris, 
Berlin, Zurich, or Shanghai galleries and museums are authentic (you 
actually can mathematically calculate that using simple subtraction), 
and maybe 5 to 10% (maybe far less) of all those signed Kim Whanki 
prints are. Associating forgery to such artists’ works though produces 
wrong ideas, an entire set of unreal limits, far apart from historical 
and daily practice. Part of that problem, our mostly limited 
association of such practices with the high-end art market, is the 
creation of the “artist” in the Renaissance and his exceptional 
status and image as intellectual capacity that he was from then on 
given in society—and Korea, like all other developing countries, 
adapted that (outrageously bloomy and idealized) image in the 
modernization process. I may add that exactly this process is largely 
responsible for the almost complete loss of direction, cultural 
self-confidence, and appreciation of both traditional and early modern 
Korean art then and now, where value is either being reduced to, 
replaced by, and/or closely associated with national identity or 
measured according to partially adapted Western normative models 
(usually both at the same time, which adds to the loss). The forgery of 
documents, art objects, and all kind of collectibles is and never was 
in history limited to high-end art as defined since the Renaissance. I 
am just now back from a trip to Hamburg, a city which ows its early 
economic success with the Hansa from the 13th century onwards to a 
forged document supposed to have come from the Roman Emperor and 
granting the city a tax-free status and much more. Just the same 
applies to the then powerful city of Lübeck, another major city of the 
Hanseatic League which was responsible for the dramatic economic shift 
in wealth from Southern to Northern Europe. If we push this a little 
further: without such “successfully” implanted forged document Max 
Weber would not have been able to develop his Protestant Ethic and the 
Spirit of Capitalism book, his theory of how and why Western capitalism 
succeeded and the modern nation-states evolved, but may well have 
written a thesis on why the Catholic denomination and its ethics 
continue to rule the Western world and why 60% of the youth in northern 
(not southern) Europe are unemployed. Sun Tzu [Sunzi] 孫子 (trad. 
believed to be a contemporary of Confucius) in his _Art of War_ already 
advises that all warfare is based on deception, and the author 
therefore advocates the use of spies, forgery, and any other deceptive 
techniques. The book itself, of course, seems a Sui dynasty (581-618 
AD) “forgery” (as was pointed out as early as 1910) done a thousand 
years later. Or, maybe we can just say that the association of text an 
author is an illusion? Details, details, details, we should not be so 
Weberian about it. In short, deception, manipulation, and the forgery 
of documents and also any other objects are by no means the exception 
but the rule and essential means in politics and war all through human 
history and society. 

When it comes to maps as such, what could be a better example for that 
above statement than maps? In the country I was born in every Hans & 
Franz would proudly be yodeling that it was Galileo Galilei who 
discovered Earth to be spherical and not flat (which brought him before 
the Inquisition), a story following the plot of Brecht’s popular stage 
play. What we have here is political moralizing and manipulation by 
utilizing and thematizing maps, models and interpretations of the 
world. Brecht himself certainly kew better. But his task was not the 
neutral or scientific enlightenment of his audience. The same fathers 
that spread the Galileo wisdom to their kids might hang some world map 
in their office or entrance hall, and very likely their country or 
continent is in the center of that, and that would be some variation of 
a Mercator projection and sure not be an equal-area map (Gall-Peters 
Representing our egg-shaped Earth on a flat surface offers many options 
and offers as many choices as representing our egg-shaped heads in a 
two-dimensional painting. What maps are in your kids’ or grandchildren
’s textbooks these days? Those based on the old Mercator projection or 
those on the modern Peters projection? The Mercator projection it is, 
isn’t it? Some coffee table books from the local museum shop with 
images of African drawings or old Chinese or Korean maps come in handy 
here, help us to explain how the “realistic” 16th century Mercator 
map is so much more exact and scientific than those older ROW country 
maps. We have learned to be very selective with the data that 
satellites and research in general are producing, and we choose in 
which areas we want to continue to stay with Galileo, Brecht’s 
Galileo, with his political and economic choices, with forgery, 
deception, and self-deception at the very center of our decision making 
processes. At its base the representation of three-dimensional space 
with its cultural and political borders onto a flat surface does 
thereby not defer that much from the same task in painting, 
photography, or graphical depictions. Just the technical realizations 
differ: pulling different rabbits out of different hats for the same 
cause. For a simple example, just zoom yourself into any of the South 
Korea’s online maps of the North, e.g. those by Naver. The elected 
government seems to stop trusting its own people at the scale of 1 : 
400,000; in North Korea that is probably worse. (Note: Since June 27 
Naver offers more detailed maps on selected cities.) And—same 
unrefined method—in photographs or graphic representations Northern 
leaders were until not too long ago depicted blurry and distorted: 
different medium, same basic technique, same purpose. In the 18th 
century they would have been more sophisticated at that, less Barbaric 
than just wiping out faces and places. Or not? Maybe not.

 (below: Naver map, showing South-North border area around Kaesŏng)
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Misrepresentation, deception, and forgery, as Sun Tzu—if he ever 
existed—is said to have known and mastered, are closely related 
techniques. In the minds of many, though, forgery is something mostly 
associated with “criminal” activities to produce art and other 
high-value items (including technical devices) to then sell them with a 
huge profit. While that is one essential definition, we should consider 
that we live in a world where even brand name companies produce 
cheapish counterfeits of their own products in China, and where 
products that cost no more than a dollar or two are replaced by 
forgeries that only cost 10 cents. And entire countries like South 
Korea, countries who must feel they have no “identity” whatsoever 
(what other explanation would there be?), now see the need to create 
one by initiating “nation branding” campaigns, so the country’s 
industries sell the newly designed and streamlined national culture 
like Chanel N°5 or Swiss Army knives. Research institutions, national 
museums, and the such are supposed stay in line to provide any needed 
details and fill in the blanks where needed (read the government 
program about it if you think I agitate or overstate). In an 
international market where forgeries make probably up more than half of 
the total profit we should really not expect our $400 brownish print 
signed by Kim Whanki and bought at eBay to be any more authentic than 
the $2.30 Wonder Bread, colored in some pumpernickel brown to make it 
appear as if it were some health food. You can probably eat that Kim 
Whanki too and experience the same fluffy taste with the same 
chemicals. If you own a Kim Whanki, I actually suggest you do this: put 
some orange marmalade (or if you want it more authentic Korean, use 유자
차) on top, eat it, and then upload a video clip of it onto Youtube. 
That would save it, and you then have an original work of art. 
Seriously, when we buy a larger sculpture or other artwork by, for 
example, an established Korean or German contemporary artist now, do we 
believe that was actually still produced by that artist himself, with 
his own hands, in Korea or Germany (instead of China or Romania or 
North Korea)? And when we visit an established, state-run or private 
museum, do we take it for granted that the exposées there are 
authentic works by the artists given on the labels, and that if a 
museum becomes aware of a forgery or a whole series of forgeries, that 
it removes it? Are we supposed to belief that there is no intentional 
misinformation about authorship of works being produced in museums (for 
whatever the reason)? If we do, then, in my humble opinion, only so 
because those who know better have financial interests, are scared to 
loose their jobs, or fear to have to deal with law suits against them 
for the rest of their lives if they would write about it in clear text, 
and thus, such publications deal mostly with historic times (where it 
was no different than today). Of course, what I write here is spotty, 
simplified, and can never be 100% accurate. The main point is that 
forgeries (and known improper attributions of authorship) are by no 
means the exception from the rule but daily practice. The forged crap 
that comes into South Korea alone from the North, via China, sometimes 
fills up entire shipping containers, and you know how large such a 
shipping container is—the same size as a train wagon. The European and 
American markets swallows a multitude of those shipments every single 
week. And once more, in principle that was just the same during 
historic times for anything collectable with value. 

When one thinks of forgery and deception in Korea the first cases that 
may come to mind are naturally those that were widely covered in the 
press, e.g. that of Yi Chung-sŏp’s son in Japan producing forgeries of 
his father’s work (no copies but works the father never produced). Or, 
on a more shocking and far reaching political scale, the Sin Chŏng-a 
case, where a young woman was sleeping her way up the ladder, with a 
completely made-up academic and private bio and a fake PhD degree from 
Yale U.  She was then assigned the job of artistic co-director for the 
2008 Kwangju Biennale, one of over 200 such art supermarkets 
world-wide, but thanks to heavy state orchestration one of the most 
successful ones. Yet, 99.99% of such cases never appear in the press, 
as they are either less spectacular or too spectacular. For example, 
what about that famous 19th century bulldog painting at the Korean 
National Museum? I wonder since 30 years about it. Earlier its 
authorship was attributed to Kim Hong-do and the 18th century. An 
incredibly poor attribution, but it was identified as such in Korean 
middle and high school textbooks for a long time! Now we are to believe 
that it was done by an unknown Korean artist of the 19th century. Some 
blogger even quotes an official National Museum of Korea text stating 
it is from the 18th century (I was unable to locate it at the museum 
website, could not confirm; http://blog.daum.net/dwban22/4134). If 
there is any parallel case to the Gabor map in the field of art 
history, then this bulldog painting is the one! 

 (below: "Bulldog," painting on paper, unknown artist, now dated 19th 
cent., Nat. Museum of Korea)
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It just does not fit into Korean art history anywhere, it is cut off 
from any direct predecessors and has no direct successors. I personally 
never believed this to be done by a Korean artist, at least not a the 
19th century or earlier one (it was “discovered” in Seoul in the 
1910s). Personal disbelief aside, in such cases we do not have all too 
many possible scenarios to explain the existence of such an object (and 
I wonder if at its base that can be applied to the Gabor map):
(a) It was imported from another culture—in the case of this painting 
China or Hongkong seems most likely, or possibly Japan. 
(b) Less likely, it was done by a Westerner living in or visiting 
Korea, a Western artist who “tried out” local materials (Hubert Vos 
and Leopold Remion come to mind first). 
(c) The work was painted by a Korean who had also directly been trained 
by either a Japanese or a Western painter, and it might well have been 
produced on commission for a Western household in late 19th century 
Korea. We do have one example of such a case in the now well-known 
Ki-san (alias Kim Chun-gŭn) —Junker, Prunner, Walraven, many others 
have worked about him. The difference just being that Ki-san was 
seemingly neither trained by a Korean nor by a Western professional 
painter, while the creator of the bulldog painting must likely have 
received professional training in both, European and East Asian 
painting techniques. That brings me to the last option. 
(d) It is a forgery from the 1910s. While this last options seems at 
first sight unlikely, it makes more sense if you consider the mentioned 
Kim Hong-do attribution that was based on the painting’s owner’s 
inscription of Kim Hong-do’s name and pen name. Two prominent early 
modern painters already around at that time, An Chung-sik and Ko 
Hŭi-dong, do report in for the times typical story-telling manner that 
he was able to then sell the painting for enough money to get drunk for 
several days and nights. In short, selling a Kim Hong-do would not 
enable you to buy a villa It’aewŏn, as it might today, but it 
certainly was still worth it.

Now, back to the Gabor map that also stands out just like the bulldog 
painting in that it does not seem to have direct predecessors and no 
direct successors, which should waken our curiosity and maybe make us 
suspicious. I think we can use some of the same above listed possible 
options to explain its existence. Its ownership history until its 
appearance in your article is not known (at least not to us, not at 
this time), and 19th century maps are not auctioned for high prices as 
sometimes the case with art work (my best guess is between $400 and 
$1,200), but the article immediately boosts the market price to maybe 
$20,000+ because of its now explained very unique historic importance 
in Korean map-making. Before anything, we should therefore consider it 
most essential to get more information about the map’s ownership 
history from its present owner or the auction house (we do not even 
know where it was auctioned). If we knew more about the ownership 
history then we would not need to speculate about things like “how did 
the map end up at a European auction” and the such. Last month a 
ten-panel screen of the late Chosŏn period that had been given by King 
Kojong to the German Carl Wolter, then the director of the company H.C. 
Eduard Meyer & Co, later to become Carl Wolter & Co., changed its 
ownership for c. $570,000 at an auction in Seoul. In such a case we 
have a complete and simple ownership history and no doubts about the 
authorship of the work. If a map like the Gabor map had a similar 
history, if it would have come to Europe under such circumstances, then 
that would already exclude several other options. I hope the owner can 
tell us a little about this, that would be great.

There is no doubt that the Gabor map is “a voice in the wilderness” 
as Professor Ledyard characterizes it. But is it indeed a “
game-changing innovation” as he also states? I think not. Just like 
that bulldog painting, if indeed from the 19th century (in the case of 
the map the 18th century) it stands isolated, was thus not changing the 
rules of the game—no predecessors, no successors. His given 
social-historical explanation makes a lot of sense .... 
---- quote ----
As for how the Gabor Map figures in the late Chosŏn period, one can 
consider the great growth of markets and trade in the middle and late 
17th century and all of the 18th century. That helped to encourage 
social mobility, of which there was a considerable amount, much of it 
in the lower social orders. Slaves fled from their masters and in an 
active market place could find niches for profit. Second and third sons 
could more easily find work in the economy. Many would have depended on 
Hangŭl literacy to advance.
---- end ----
.... but, but, what is missing is a concrete explanation. Concrete in 
the sense that it explains how and why and under what circumstances and 
for what purpose this map was created—the way that we can today 
explain drawings like those by Ki-san and how and why they were 
produced. A map, like any other physical object, is very concrete, is 
physical, has a purpose, and so forth. There must be an explanation why 
there is nothing similar before and after it to be seen. I am also not 
sure how to understand the last sentence: “Many would have depended on 
Hangŭl literacy to advance.” Can you explain this further?
The making of objects is always embedded in a process. I do not have an 
answer to above questions, just some thoughts of what the process could 
have been. Let me at least think aloud: 
(a) It was a map produced in connection with Christianity in the very 
late 18th century. 
(b) The fact that Han’gŭl appears in a clumsy style and with spelling 
errors while the few Hanmun characters look a little better might 
indicate that this is a map produced by an educated upper class Korean 
and not a lower class person. Han’gŭl might have been used like some 
sort of ‘secret code’ that, for example in the military, the enemy 
could not read. 
(c) This is a colonial period forgery, done for Japanese collectors of 
Korean ‘folk’ items. Yes, such items were also forged, however small 
the profit. There still is very little research on this whole area 
though. We do know that there were traders Yanagi worked with that did 
this. Name lists with changes and histories of such Korean provincial 
changes had been published by the Japanese colonial government. The 
clumsiness in style when it comes to Han’gŭl might then be due to a 
Japanese antique dealer having done the work—copying another map, but 
replacing the Hanmun of most place names with Han’gŭl. Yanagi (and I 
am not sure about possible other customers) tended to specifically ask 
his dealers for certain objects. That was not any different from what 
British, French, or German grave diggers did going to Egypt or Greece 
and asking their local dealers there for specific objects they did not 
yet have in their collection. Now, if such objects did never actually 
even exist in Egyptian or Greek history, then the dealer still knew how 
to satisfy a good customer. You find some cute examples of this at the 
Pergamon Museum in Berlin (not on display though). ....and I have a 
suspicion that nowadays you can even buy Cuban or North Korean 
propaganda posters that were never produced for the purpose of 

There would likely be several more possible explanations if we had any 
information about the ownership history of that map. And someone else 
with a different background than myself might have a completely 
different suggestion.

As a sidenote, since I just mentioned colonial period forgeries and 
earlier referenced Prof. Li Jin-Mieung’s article and book: Professor 
Li also wrote a book (with Maurice Goyaud) that you sure have seen in 
some bookstore or museum shop, as it probably sells like hot potatoes: 
_Peintures érotiques de Corée_ (Arles, 1995). Translated into 
American English the title reads _Peintures pornographiques de Corée_. 
As I recall that came out before any such books on the same topic in 
Korea itself. For the first two three years most of the Kim Hong-do and 
Sin Yun-bok paintings in that book were kindly honored with the ‘
forgery’ status in Korea, because it could not be what should not be. 
That is very understandable, as it really is porn, also in our 
contemporary understanding (excepting certain cultures like that of 
Paris where the term is pretty meaningless). Several things seem highly 
interesting in this book (and indirectly relate to our issue): (a) the 
just mentioned two famous professional court painters, members of the 
Tohwasŏ, did paint in a pretty crappy, rough, and relatively 
unsophisticated style when the task was to just generate some extra 
income (at least in the true for Sin Yun-bok, less so for Kim); (b) 
they did what one could call one-to-one copies of Qing Dynasty albums, 
mostly just replacing pieces of Chinese cloth and interior that appear 
in the paintings with Korean ones. (c) The third painter represented, Ch
’oe U-sŏk, was an established, award-winning Japanese colonial period 
painter. He again copied pornographic works by Sin Yun-bok and also 
directly from Qing Dynasty albums, whereby the borders between copy and 
forgery seem rather fluid, which is again in line with the East Asian 
tradition of painting, of course—yet, these specific, seemingly 
quickly done paintings were commissioned for specific purposes, and for 
the painter they just were a good source of income. We thus should not 
underestimate the “services” that artists provided its mostly 
Japanese customers with in colonial times. Forgeries, copies, and 
altered copies were certainly a big part of these services. 

Last, Professor Ledyard, the explanations you wrote about the map by 
Kim Tae-gŏn (alias André Kim) in Paris, and the other two Paris maps: 
I am not sure if I understood everything. It still stays as before: the 
only map we know of Kim Tae-gŏn is done in Latin letters, and the Han’
gŭl-only map that Li discusses is a later one. Am I misunderstanding 
something? That Kim Tae-gŏn ever did any map in Han’gŭl is pure 
speculation. Please correct me if I overlooked or misunderstood 
anything, which is quite possible.
So far for today.

Frank Hoffmann

Frank Hoffmann

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