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1850 Korean Map of Hamgyŏng Province

[Hamgyong]. - Main View

1850 Korean Map of Hamgyŏng Province


The northernmost portion of Korea.


  1850 (undated)     10 x 13 in (25.4 x 33.02 cm)     1 : 1285000


This is a unique c. 1850 map of Hamgyŏng Province (咸鏡道) published in Korea during the late Joseon period (1392 - 1897). It provides substantial geographic and administrative information on Hamgyŏng, 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 character meaning 'basket' (箕) and 'tail' (尾) appear near top-left and center, 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, while the Tumen River (here as豆滿江) is noted at top-right. Major roads are indicated by black lines (sometimes painted over in red) connecting major settlements along the coast, with a large concentration around Kyongsong (鏡城) and another in the mountainous north around Kapsan (甲山).

Near top-center is Mt. Peaktu (here as 白頭山), one of the most important cultural symbols in Korean identity, which also, along with the Yalu and Tumen Rivers, formed the traditional border between Korea and China. The mountainous north of Hamgyŏng is a frigid and desolate region, historically a place of exile and nowadays home to many of North Korea's gulag-style prison camps. Most of the settlements of a significant size were along the coast, especially Hamhung (咸興), today the second largest city in North Korea (the third largest, Chongjin, was a tony village at this time, but grew rapidly after being developed as a port by the Japanese).
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 part of the Korean Peninsula is generally 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 Hamgyŏng 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 dur to offsetting and ink smudges from the time of printing.