Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo, or “Map for the National Defense of Korea”


Essay by Jang Sang-hoon

Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Produced in the eighteenth century for purposes of national defense, Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (靑丘關海防摠圖) documents the locations of military bases throughout the country. The map is quite large, with a height of 86.3 cm and a width of 285.0 cm (89.0 cm by 370.0 cm, including the scroll). To explain the title, “Cheonggu” was a former nickname for the nation of Korea, “Gwanghaebang” refers to fortresses installed in remote or coastal regions, and “Chongdo” means “complete map.” Such fortresses and military facilities were established to defend against foreign invasions from China and Japan; accordingly, this map covers not only Korea, but also areas of Manchuria and Japan. The representation of Japan is not accurate, however, as the map shows only the primary route from Iki Island to Kyoto (labeled here as “國都” rather than the present-day spelling of “京都”).

Annotations showing the markings for "東" (east), "西" (west), "北" (north), and "南" (south). Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Annotations showing the markings for “東” (east), “西” (west), “北” (north), and “南” (south). Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Unlike most conventional maps, which are oriented from north to south (top to bottom), this map shows the east at the top and the west at the bottom. In Korea, this style of map is said to have a “crouching bull composition,” since the “sideways” rendering of the Korean peninsula resembles a crouching bull. To minimize confusion for viewers, most of whom were accustomed to maps with a north-south orientation, the top of the map is clearly marked “east” (東) and the bottom is marked “west” (西), while “north” (北) and “south” (南) appear in the left corner and lower right corner, respectively. Since the length of Korea (north to south) is much greater than its width (east to west), it could be difficult for people to simultaneously observe northern and southern regions on a large map. This style of map was intended to rectify such difficulties. With this unique composition, the map provides a variety of perspectives that differentiate it from the north-south maps of today.

Detail of right side with overview of Joseon’s fortresses. Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Detail of right side with overview of Joseon’s fortresses. Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

This composition seems to have been common among traditional military maps of Korea, although only a few such maps have been examined. In maps with this orientation (including this one), east-west distances tend to be compressed, while north-south distances are extended. But despite this distortion, the maps make it easy to quickly discern the relative locations of and distances between towns, counties, mountains, and waterways. Thus, the map fulfills its fundamental purpose, enabling viewers to quickly survey the fortresses located in remote and coastal regions across the country. On the right side of the map, an overview of Joseon’s fortresses is written, along with a relatively long description of Cheolgwanseong Fortress in Deokwon, Hamgyeong Province and the Yeongbyeon area of Pyeongan Province.

Based on the names of various places, we can estimate that this map was produced some time between 1776 and 1787. To be specific, the map uses the names “Chosan” (楚山, city in Pyeongan Province) and “Isan” (尼山, city in Chungcheong Province), both of which were so named in 1776. Also, Jangjin (長津) Dohobu (regional governance) in Hamgyeong Province, which was established in 1787, is not listed, confirming that this map must have been produced before 1787. Furthermore, the map includes the city of “Geumcheon” (衿川, in Gyeonggi Province), which was renamed “Siheung” (始興) in 1795, and the city of Iseong (利城, in Hamgyeong Province), which was renamed “Iwon” (利原) in 1800. All of these names support the assertion that the map was produced between 1776 and 1787.

Copy of Jeong Sanggi, Dongguk Daejido (“Complete Map of the Eastern Country”), 1755–67, Joseon Dynasty, 2.72 x 1.47 m, Treasure 1538 (National Museum of Korea)

Copy of Jeong Sanggi, Dongguk Daejido, 1755–67, Joseon Dynasty, 2.72 x 1.47 m, Treasure 1538 (National Museum of Korea)

This map shows the influence of Dongguk Jido (東國地圖, “Map of the Eastern Country”) and Dongguk Daejido (東國大地圖, “Complete Map of the Eastern Country,” Treasure 1538), both of which were produced by Jeong Sanggi in the mid-eighteenth century. In terms of the overall depiction, this map generally follows Dongguk Daejido (housed at the National Museum of Korea), which also includes areas of Manchuria and Japan. On both maps, the mountains are depicted in a painterly style and differentiated according to their significance. Perhaps most noticeably, both maps include a prominent rendering of the “Baekdudaegan,” the meridian running from Mt. Baekdu through the majority of the peninsula, linking the nation’s mountain ranges. In both cases, this line is beautifully drawn in turquoise pigment, immediately catching the eye of the viewer.

Detail showing Taean Peninsula in Chungcheong Province. Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Detail showing Taean Peninsula in Chungcheong Province. Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo also seems to have adopted some of the symbols and iconography from earlier maps. In Dongguk Jido, for instance, Jeong Sanggi wrote the name of each town or county inside a small rectangle, with different colored rectangles corresponding to the different provinces. In this way, viewers could immediately identify which province each town belonged to. The same method was also applied in Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo. Also, in both maps, if any “eupchi” (邑治, “county seat”) featured a fortress, a small fortress wall was drawn around the respective rectangle of the eupchi. Similarly, mountain fortresses were represented by drawing a fortress wall around the mountain peak, with the name of the mountain recorded next to the symbol. The same method was applied to a fortress for a gateway or chokepoint. Meanwhile, within each region, the headquarters of the naval commander (水營) and army commander (兵營) are written inside a blue circle. Finally, provincial offices (e.g., 海州監營, or “Provincial Office of Haeju”) were written inside a red square, while military bases and transportation stations are marked with a blue or yellow circle (respectively), with the name of the base or transportation station written next to the circle. The areas along the coastlines are densely packed with symbols representing various military units, such as “哨” (small military patrol unit) or “塘” (military flag station established on higher ground, responsible for signaling the enemy’s movements). Furthermore, signal-fire stands are depicted with red ink, the color associated with fire, while strategic military points are also marked in red, symbolizing a flag.

Detail showing Hanseong (present-day Seoul). Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Detail showing Hanseong (present-day Seoul). Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Kim Suhong, Joseon Paldo Gogeum Chongnamdo ("Comprehensive Map of the Eight Provinces of Korea of Past and Present"), 1673 (Joseon Dynasty), woodblock print (Seoul Museum of History; photo: Cultural Heritage Administration of the Republic of Korea)

Kim Suhong, Joseon Paldo Gogeum Chongnamdo (“Comprehensive Map of the Eight Provinces of Korea of Past and Present”), 1673 (Joseon Dynasty), woodblock print (Seoul Museum of History; photo: Cultural Heritage Administration of the Republic of Korea)

On the other hand, Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo also introduces some modes of expression that cannot be found in Dongguk Daejido. First, the overall scale of Hanseong (present-day Seoul) was enlarged in order to emphasize various details of the capital city, such as the city walls, fortresses, gates, and palaces, as well as the ritual sites of Jongmyo (for ancestral rituals) and Sajik (for agricultural rites). This method of highlighting aspects of Hanseong within a map of the entire country was previously seen in Joseon Paldo Gogeum Chongnamdo (朝鮮八道古今摠覽圖), the seventeenth-century map by Kim Suhong.

Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo also represents the interesting perception of the border between Joseon and Qing at the time. As in other contemporaneous maps, Mt. Baekdu is distinctly emphasized. Cheonji Pond is depicted atop the mountain, along with a label that reads “澤周八十里,” indicating that the pond had a circumference of roughly 80-ri or about 32 kilometers (1 ri equals ~0.4 kilometers). Then, the national border monument, which was erected according to an agreement between Joseon and Qing in 1712, is shown next to Mt. Baekdu.

Detail showing the area around Mt. Baekdu and Dumangang River. Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Detail showing the area around Mt. Baekdu and Dumangang River. Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

One of the streams that originates from Cheonji Pond is labeled as “土門江源,” or “origin of Tomungang River.” This stream flows north of the Dumangang River before eventually merging with the Dumangang River between Onseong and Jongseong. Around the point where the stream intersects with the Dumangang River, another label reads “豊界江一名分界江土門江下流,” which means “Punggyegang River, also known as Bungyegang River, is the downstream part of Tomungang River.” Based on these labels, it seems that the Dumangang River and Tomungang River were viewed as two separate rivers at the time. As such, this map is a rare example of a map suggesting that the Dumangang River is formed by two streams originating from Mt. Baekdu.

Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo (“Map for National Defense of Korea”), 18th century (Joseon Dynasty), 285 x 86.3 cm, Treasure 1582 (National Museum of Korea)

Other interesting elements of the map include the representation of two roads extending from Manchuria into Joseon, which intersect in Hoeryeong (會寧), Hamgyeong Province. The road from Ningguta (寧古塔, present-day Ning’an of Heilongjiang Province, China) is approximately 680-ri (~272 km) in length, while the one from Wula (烏喇, near present-day Jilin of Heilongjiang Province, China) is approximately 887-ri in length (~355 km). In addition, the map shows a transportation route from Uiju to Shanhaiguan (China), passing through Fenghuangcheng (present-day Fengcheng), Liaoyang, and Shengjing (present-day Shenyang), implying the existence of a route extending all the way to the Qing Dynasty capital of present-day Beijing. The map also shows a wall built to prevent Mongol invasions from the north, complete with a detailed rendering of the gates in the wall. In addition to the aforementioned national border monument near Mt. Baekdu, which was built through an agreement in 1712, the map also includes information about the national border monument near Seonchullyeong (先春岺), which was established by General Yun Gwan of the Goryeo Dynasty after his conquest of the Jurchens. Finally, it is important to note that the map includes Usando Island (east of Ulleungdo Island) and Nokdundo Island (near the mouth of the Dumangang River).

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Additional resources

Read the essay and learn more on The National Museum of Korea’s website.

Cite this page as: The National Museum of Korea, "Cheonggu Gwanhaebang Chongdo, or “Map for the National Defense of Korea”," in Smarthistory, December 12, 2022, accessed February 6, 2023, https://smarthistory.org/cheonggu-gwanhaebang-chongdo-map-national-defense-korea/.