Essay by Jang Sang-hoon
Dongguk Daejido, or “Complete Map of the Eastern Country” (東國大地圖, Treasure 1538), is a comprehensive map of the Korean territory, produced by Jeong Sanggi (鄭尙驥, 1678–1752) in the mid-eighteenth century. Although Jeong’s original map is no longer extant, this is considered to be the most faithful surviving copy. The word “Daejido” means “large and complete map,” while “Dongguk” means “country in the east,” which was a common name for the nation of Korea at the time. As the name suggests, the map is quite large in size, measuring 2.72 meters tall and 1.47 meters wide.
Precursor to Daedongnyeojido, “Territorial Map of the Great East”
The most renowned map in Korean history is generally considered to be Daedongnyeojido, or “Territorial Map of the Great East” (大東輿地圖), which was produced by Kim Jeongho in 1861. Indeed, Daedongnyeojido is the most comprehensive and accurate map made with traditional methods, before the advent of modern technology. Yet it is crucial to remember that Daedongnyeojido was not just a remarkable individual achievement, but the end result of a sterling tradition of map production that had developed over many centuries. Within that lineage, perhaps no other map had a more profound influence than Dongguk Daejido, the “Complete Map of the Eastern Country.” In truth, Daedongnyeojido could never have been produced without Dongguk Daejido, which provided an essential stepping-stone by combining and updating information from a number of earlier maps.
In the late eighteenth century, Shin Gyeongjun used Dongguk Daejido as his primary resource in producing a series of county maps drawn to the same scale, divided into grids of 20-ri or about 64 square kilometers (1ri equals approximately 0.4 kilometers). Shin’s maps then served as the primary reference for Kim Jeongho’s production of a large-scale map of the entire nation, such as Daedongnyeojido. With this in mind, some would contend that Dongguk Daejido should be afforded an even higher status and significance than that of Daedongnyeojido.
Although not as well known as Kim Jeongho, Jeong Sanggi certainly deserves a place of honor within the pantheon of great cartographers of the late Joseon period. As a disciple of “Silhak” (“practical learning,” a movement for social reform), Jeong studied and published treatises in many different fields, including politics, economics, national defense, military strategy, medicine, and agriculture. His son Jeong Hangryeong, a government official, followed in his father’s footsteps as a mapmaker. Indeed, several of Jeong Sanggi’s descendants, stretching down at least to his great-grandson, also produced maps, although few records about them have survived.
Sadly, the great achievement of Dongguk Daejido was not publicly recognized until after Jeong Sanggi’s death in 1752. In 1757, King Yeongjo heard that a low-ranking official named Jeong Hangryeong (i.e., Jeong Sanggi’s son) possessed an outstanding map of the entire country, and thus ordered the map to be brought to the royal court. Upon examining the map, King Yeongjo immediately recognized its excellence in precisely depicting many details of the nation, including mountains, waterways, and roads.
According to historical records, after the king viewed Dongguk Daejido, he sent it to the Office of Special Counselors and ordered them to copy it. Then a few days later, Jeong Sanggi’s album Dongguk Jido (東國地圖, “Map of the Eastern Country”), which contained the map in the format of an album, was brought from the house of Jeong Hangryeong and presented to the royal court. Several copies of the album were then produced and stored in the Office of Special Counselors and at the Border Defense Command. It is further documented that King Yeongjo marveled at the quality of the map, declaring that he had never seen its like in all his seventy years. Officials of the royal court also heaped praise upon Jeong’s map, with some hyperbolically boasting that the scale and measurement of the map was almost perfect.
Vastly improved depiction of the north
From the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, both maps and geography books were widely produced, although few maps from this period have survived. Prior to Jeong Sanggi, one of the most important maps documenting the entire nation was Dongguk Jido, (東國地圖, “Map of the Eastern Country”), produced by Jeong Cheok in the fifteenth century. Dongguk Jido provided a thorough depiction of the country, with precise delineations of about 330 administrative units of the Joseon government, such as bu (府), mok (牧), gun (郡), and hyun (縣).
The map also featured detailed renderings of mountains and waterways throughout the nation, and included the locations of various military facilities, such as naval camps and the headquarters of the army commander. As the definitive map of its time, Dongguk Jido was popularly used until the sixteenth century, and was still being referenced as late as the seventeenth century, after the Imjin War (a series of Japanese invasions of Korea, 1592–1598).
Although no original version of this map has survived, there is an extant copy of a close revision of Jeong Cheok’s map, entitled Joseon Bangyeok Jido, which was produced in 1557 or 1558. However, Dongguk Jido and subsequent maps that it influenced had some notable flaws, especially in their rendering of the northern region of the country. In those maps, for example, both the Amnokgang River and the Dumangang River are simply represented as almost straight lines, failing to reflect their true shape.
The most significant advancement of Dongguk Daejido from the earlier maps is its greatly improved depiction of the northern region. Here, both the Amnokgang River and the Dumangang River are drawn more realistically, and the renderings of Pyeongan and Hamgyeong provinces are much more accurate.
This improvement directly reflects the contemporaneous political and military situation in the region. From 1627 to 1637, the Manchus (who established the Qing Dynasty in 1636) inflicted great damage on Joseon’s northern areas in the First and Second Manchu Invasions of Korea. In 1644, Joseon’s long-time ally the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) met its demise, and the Qing Dynasty took control of China. Thus, Joseon immediately turned its attention to defending its northern regions. To this end, a series of invasions against the Qing Dynasty, known as the “Northern Campaigns,” were planned. Although the “Northern Campaigns” were never executed, the Joseon government remained ever vigilant against Qing attacks from the north.
At the time, most Joseon people felt that the Qing Dynasty would be short-lived, believing that the Manchus, an ethnic group from the northern region, would not be able to maintain control over central China. Should the Qing Dynasty fall, the Manchus would likely be driven back to their base in Manchuria, forcing them to pass through the northern part of Joseon. This scenario remained a pressing concern until the mid-eighteenth century, causing the Joseon government to continuously strengthen its defenses in the north. Given these issues, it became a priority for Joseon to develop more accurate maps of the north.
Precision and accuracy through scale
Another notable breakthrough of Dongguk Daejido is its use of a single scale for the entire nation. Of course, earlier maps were also rendered according to a scale, but they often used different scales for different parts of the country. Overcoming this problem, Jeong Sanggi applied the same scale to the entire country. This improvement was especially important for a map as large as Dongguk Daejido.
As another innovation, Jeong Sanggi was one of the first Joseon cartographers to include a bar-shaped graphic clearly representing the scale of the map. Unfortunately, this particular copy of the map is missing the area where the scale was marked. But a preliminary drawing of the map includes a bar-shaped graphic on the sea east of Hamgyeong Province, indicating that Dongguk Daejido originally had a similar graphic denoting the scale.
Furthermore, in the album Dongguk Jido (東國地圖, “Map of the Eastern Country”), the precision was further advanced through an ingenious new scaling system that Jeong Sanggi devised. This new scale, commonly known as the “100 ri cheok” scale (wherein 100 ri equals 1 cheok), was conveniently marked on each page of the album, enabling readers to easily calculate the true distance between points on the map. Containing both large maps of each of the eight provinces and a smaller map of the entire Joseon territory, the album Dongguk Jido had an even greater public impact than Dongguk Daejido (i.e., the map), remaining popular from the mid-eighteenth to the late nineteenth century.
Another interesting feature of Dongguk Daejido is its faithful reflection of the traditional conception of mountains as the heart of the nation. In the pre-modern era, mountain ranges and waterways were not just aspects of the natural topography; they were widely regarded as conduits for the internal energy of the earth. This internal power could be either harmful or beneficial, depending on various environmental conditions and principles of yin and yang. Areas associated with positive energy were known as “propitious sites.”
For generations, people considered Mt. Baekdu to be the center of Korea’s wide network of mountains. Reflecting this status, Mt. Baekdu is highlighted in Dongguk Daejido, as well as in most maps of the late Joseon period. Looking at the map, viewers can immediately identify the “Baekdudaegan,” the meridian running almost the entire length of the peninsula, from Mt. Baekdu to Mt. Jiri, passing through Mt. Geumgang and Mt. Taebaek.
The important subsidiary mountains diverging from the Baekdudaegan are also highlighted, with a special emphasis on the six mountains with military significance. The large, dark-green mountain peaks are rendered in a painterly style that catches the viewers’ eye, a characteristic technique of Korean traditional maps.
Using symbols for easy comprehension
Dongguk Daejido includes about 2,200 geographical names, consisting of about 1,200 physical sites (including mountains, rivers, and natural features) and 1,000 human sites (such as towns, roads, and structures). The vast majority of the physical sites are mountains. The names of many hills and mountain passes are also listed, demonstrating the map’s emphasis on transportation. Likewise, among the human sites, the network of roads is rendered in great detail, with red lines marking the most important roads.
The map also includes the names of about 330 different towns and other administrative districts, as well as 250 military-related sites, such as military bases, mountain fortresses, and the headquarters for the commanders of both the army and navy.
For easy comprehension, various symbols are used to delineate the different places, an innovation that was unprecedented at the time. For example, different symbols are used to respectively indicate provincial offices, provincial military headquarters (of both the army and navy), the chalbang postal station, military bases, mountain fortresses, signal-fire stands, and mountain passes. These symbols were rendered in a painterly style, making it easy for readers to immediately understand the nature or function of the various places. For example, the symbols for mountain passes or signal-fire stands look like miniature versions of the actual sites. In addition, small fortress walls were drawn to indicate the boundaries of towns with a fortress wall.
The quantity and proportion of place names represented in Dongguk Daejido reveal the map’s two main purposes: administration and national defense. At that time, maps were primarily intended to help the government strengthen its rule and defend the nation from foreign enemies. A clear and precise rendering of the network of roads was especially important to facilitate both governance and defense.
Read the essay and learn more on the National Museum of Korea website.