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Rare Joseon-era map returns home from Japan

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Visitors take a look at the unfolded
Visitors take a look at the unfolded "Daedongyeojido," a map of the Korean Peninsula from the 19th century, at the National Palace Museum of Korea, central Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap

By Kwak Yeon-soo

A rare map of the Korean Peninsula from the 19th century has been returned to Korea from Japan.

The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) on Thursday unveiled "Daedongyeojido," which was previously owned by a Japanese collector.

Officials of the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation flew to the country to check the condition of the relic and negotiate a deal for its return. In March, the Korean government purchased it with lottery funds and brought it back to Korea. Its price was not disclosed, citing confidentiality reasons.

"Daedongyeojido," translated as "territorial map of the Great East," was first made by cartographer and geographer Kim Jeong-ho in 1861 during the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom. It was republished in 1864 in the form of 22 foldable booklets. The map was significant for its time, as it was one of the first attempts at a comprehensive mapping of Korea, having captured all the administrative divisions, physical features and villages of the country in great detail.

The returned map is a woodblock-printed edition produced in 1864. It is colored and contains "gapil," or hand-written revisions. It contains geographical information from "Dongyeodo," another atlas that features geographical information on Joseon-era Korea including 1,800 traffic routes, military facilities and names of locations.

Unlike Dongyeodo, translated as "atlas of the Eastern State," Daedongyeojido omits many names of places and territories due to the difficulties involved in carving woodblocks.

The returned
The returned "Daedongyeojido" edition consists of a total of 23 folded booklets (22 booklets of maps and one for the list of maps) / Courtesy of Cultural Heritage Administration

The edition returned from Japan is the first known example that compensates for the limitations of the woodblock-printed Daedongyeojido by transcribing the annotations from Dongyeodo.

"The repatriated Daedongyeojido presents a different format and contents compared to other editions in Korean collections, so its return from Japan carries significance," a CHA official said.

This Daedongyeojido edition consists of 23 booklets ― 22 for maps and one for the list of maps. The format follows that of Dongyeodo.

Visitors take a look at the unfolded
Visitors take a look at the unfolded "Daedongyeojido," a map of the Korean Peninsula from the 19th century, at the National Palace Museum of Korea in central Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap

For example, the second booklet, which illustrates Mount Paektu and neighboring regions, shows the distance between a military facility and a memorial stone marking the border at the time with China ― a feature that is not noted in the woodblock-printed edition of Daedongyeojido.

In the 14th booklet, which depicts Ulleung Island in the East Sea and its surrounding area, a point of departure is written for ships heading to the island. That is not found in other editions of Daedongyeojido.

"The retrieved Daedongyeojido will provide material for the study of the production and use of maps during the Joseon Kingdom. It will also expand the scope of research on Joseon-era geographical information as the first woodblock-printed edition with transcribed annotations from Dongyeodo that has been identified to date," a CHA official said.

Kwak Yeon-soo

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