KOREA. Korean Pocket Atlas. Korea: 19th-century

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A RARE NINETEENTH-CENTURY KOREAN WOODCUT POCKET ATLAS (6 x 3 4/8 inches). Text in Chinese on the verso of each map. 12 fine folding maps on paper, woodcuts with original hand-color in gray and red wash (each map opening to ca 12 ½" x 13 ¼"), bound concertina style (some light staining). Original yellow paper wrappers inscribed in manuscript (a bit worn)..


A rare nineteenth-century pocket atlas providing a fascinating insight into the development of Korean cartography. Korea itself, a state founded by Chinese colonists, was rarely independent. First it was a Chinese satellite, then it achieved independence for a short time during the disorders in China and, after suffering Japanese invasions in the south, finally became subject to China again. Consequently, Korean literature, science, and art were strongly influenced by Chinese or Japanese examples. Korean cartography, in particular, was most influenced by China and wholly follows Chinese models and Chinese methods.

As Asia's oldest civilization, China anticipated Western knowledge of the compass, said to be invented in 1100 B.C., the gnomon and the water-level. Astronomical methods were early used to determine the position of points and the first maps produced are said to have been made in about 2000 B.C. However, until the end of the 4th century B.C., Chinese scholars assumed the world to be a square, the greater portion of which was taken up by their own country. At this time hints of a new cosmogony began to reach China from India, and the world maps changed their shape in consequence. The Indian doctrine of Taoism held that China occupied only 1/81 of the earth's surface and was surrounded by an ocean, beyond which were other countries, separated by concentric rings of ocean. The mythical Chinese work, The Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shan-hai-ching), completed in about 250 B. C., was strongly influenced by these Taoist philosophies and dominated Chinese, and in consequence Korean, mapmaking for many centuries to come.

The Shan-hai-ching contained not only maps, but also representations of distant lands and peoples, with pictures of fantastic men. It undoubtedly was the model for this pocket atlas, the form of which is particular to Korean mapmaking. It consists of maps of the World, China, Japan, Korea and its 8 provinces. Distances and routes are marked in red and on the back of each map is a descriptive text and further reference to distances. Such observations as "in the land of large people, people are 35 feet tall" and "in the land of small people, people are 2 feet tall" are wholly derived from the Shan-hai-ching. The seemingly primitive map of the World, the Ch'onhado map ['map of all under heaven'], displaying its traditional form of sea and land rings, with fictional countries, trees to the north (the thousand-li coiled tree) [li is a geographical distance], west and east (marking the rise and setting of the sun and moon), is also from the Shan-hai-ching. This is a spectacular example of Korean mapmaking at its best and would be a valuable addition to any collection. Such atlases were highly prized by their owners and woodcut versions, such as this one, were regarded more highly than manuscript copies because printing seemed a luxury beside the cheap labor of copying. Catalogued by Kate Hunter