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1850 Korean Map of Pyongan Province

[Pyongan]. - Main View

1850 Korean Map of Pyongan Province


Pyongyang and environs, in the good old days.


  1850 (undated)     11.25 x 13.5 in (28.575 x 34.29 cm)     1 : 555000


This is a unique c. 1850 map of Pyongan Province (平安道) published in Korea during the late Joseon period (1392 - 1897). It provides substantial geographic and administrative information on Pyongan, one of the eight traditional provinces of Joseon, now located in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea).
A Closer Look
This map was produced using a combination of engraved woodblock printing and hand-coloring. The names of towns, cities, and other administrative units are either circled or written in a box. Those that are circled include a number (using the traditional Chinese system 一, 二, 三, and so on) followed by a character (府, 守, 監, 令, 營, 官) referring to the presence of government offices and/or garrisons. The names of mountains, islands, and sub-provincial administrative units are also noted. Large characters meaning 'hairy head' (昴), 'net' (畢), and 'well' (井) appear towards top-left, center, and bottom-right, respectively. They correspond to the Twenty-Eight Mansions (二十八宿) zodiac system, though their exact purpose here is unclear.

Text in the margins indicates what features are located in those directions (waterways, mountains, neighboring provinces). The top margin notes the 'realm of the barbarians' (野人界) to the north in Manchuria. Major roads are indicated by black lines connecting major settlements, such as the provincial capital Pyeongyang (平壤), smaller cities like Kusong (龜城), and county seats at Sonchon (宣川) and Unsan (雲山).

Pyeongyang (Pyongyang) was one of the major urban and administrative centers of Joseon. It has an especially long and well-documented history dating to the Chinese Han Dynasty (202 BCE - 220 CE), when one of four 'commanderies' in Korea was established in the area. Subsequent dynasties, both foreign and domestic, used the city on the Taedong River as an administrative center or capital, including Goguryeo and Goryeo. Although Christianity was tightly restricted, even on pain of death, for much of the Joseon period, Pyongyang became a central node in missionary efforts on the Korean peninsula and was known in the late 19th century as 'the Jerusalem of the East' (Kim Il-Sung's mother Kang Pan-sok, from nearby Chilgol, is thought to have been a devout Christian). Due to its importance, the city was frequently subject to sieges and attacks during wars and was destroyed in both the Sino-Japanese War (1894 – 1895) and the Korean War (1950 – 1953), after which the North Korean capital was rebuilt in the austere, functional Soviet style which it maintains today.

Yongchon (龍川) towards top-left is near the modern border crossing with China at Dandong (丹東). The two sides of the Yalu River were not connected by a bridge until the onset of Japanese colonization in 1910, when a rail bridge was constructed linking the Korean railways with the Eurasian network stretching all the way to western Europe. This bridge and a later bridge running parallel to it (the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge) were instrumental to China's intervention in the Korean War, and consequently were bombed repeatedly by American planes, only to be quickly repaired by China.
Late Joseon Korea
This map most likely dates from the latter period of the Joseon Dynasty (see discussion below), a period when Korea encountered one crisis after another. Famines, uprisings, factional infighting at the court and among officials, and foreign invasions struck in succession or simultaneously. Capable governance and limited reforms allowed Joseon to stave off some of these threats, even defeating back-to-back French and American military expeditions in 1866. But Korea's isolationist policies and lack of more thoroughgoing reform left it vulnerable, and Japan gradually expanded its economic, political, and military influence until Korea became a virtual colony and then was annexed outright in 1910.

The northern portion of Pyongan, and especially the northeast, is a harsh mountainous landscape that was a sparsely populated, foreboding frontier for much of Korean history. However, as Japanese influence in both Korea and Manchuria expanded at the end of the 19th century, the area attracted migrants from the south and investment in infrastructure, especially mines, railways, and hydroelectric dams. These newcomers, who had often been displaced by Japanese landowners, faced difficulties adjusting to the climate, cuisine, and dialect of the far north.
Publication History and Census
The exact provenance of this map is unclear. The phrase Yeojido (or in Chinese Yu ditu, 輿地圖), which could be translated as 'atlas,' was common in the title of maps and map collections at least since the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th-14th centuries. There are several works published in Korea bearing the title Yeojido dating from the 17th to the late 19th century that contain maps resembling this one. Often these collections contained maps of China, Japan, and other East Asian territories (usually under the title 大東輿地圖 or 天下輿地圖). These collections, very rare themselves, are held by the Library of Congress, Harvard University, the National Library of Korea, and the Nichibunken (International Research Center for Japanese Studies).

This map most closely resembles those in two collections held by Harvard University: the first, titled World Atlas (天下輿地圖, Cheonha Yeojido, OCLC 1252343134) was published in the early 18th century, and the second, titled Atlas of Korea (韓國輿地圖, Hanguk Yeojido, OCLC 37161862), was published in 1893 by Kim Hong-gyu (金鴻圭, 김홍규). However, the present map differs somewhat from the maps of Pyongan in those works in several respects, including the coloration, the elaboration of mountains and waterways, and other similar details. While it could date to as early as the 17th century, given the relative high level of elaboration, it more likely was produced at some point in the early-mid 19th century.


Good. Some wear along central fold line. Areas of discoloration towards left, right, and top-center. Ink smudges from the time of printing in top-right quadrant.