Circular World Maps of the Joseon Dynasty: Their Characteristics and Worldview

Circular World Maps of the Joseon Dynasty: Their Characteristics and Worldview

By Oh Sang-Hak

Korea Journal, Vol.48: 1 (2008)

Abstract: The introduction of Western geographical knowledge played a key role in bringing about change in the production of traditional world maps in the East. The emergence of “circular world maps” was one of the consequences of this change. Although circular world maps were produced in order to represent the expanded understanding of geography as galvanized by the East’s encounter with Western geographical knowledge, these maps depended on the East’s traditional conception of the world in terms of content and style. Based on Shanhaijing (The Classic of Mountains and Seas), which described the imaginary world beyond human experience, mapmakers established the structure of the four separate parts of the world—internal continent, internal sea, external continent, and external sea—and created place names in each area: names recorded in historical documents are included in the internal continent, and place names related to Taoist immortality (sinseon sasang) in the internal sea. The understanding of the world implied in circular world maps still remains within the Sinocentric worldview and the concept of cheonwon jibang, which defines the heavens as round and the earth as square. In addition, the maps reflect the cosmographical concept of “unity of heaven, earth, and man” and the Taoist idea of immortality rooted in the desire for health and longevity.

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