This article analyzed the transformations of perception on Baekdusan in the pre-modern era before the concepts of nation-state took root. Perceptions of Baekdudaegan have existed in an idealized form along with geomancy since the Goryeo period. Elites of early Joseon also recognized Baekdusan as a sacred and representative mountain of Korean national territory. Such perceptions are evident in Choe Bu’s description on Baekdusan in response to the questions of Chinese officials on Korean geography as well as Kim Seryeom’s comparison of Baekdusan with Fuji Mountain of Japan during his trip to Japan as a member of the Korean state envoy. Interest in Baekdusan substantially increased in the eighteenth century—resulting in a clear perception of Baekdudaegan-based national territory. The 1712 erection of the Baekdusan boundary stone as a border marker between the Qing and Joseon aroused further interest in Baekdusan. Contemporaneous proliferation of accurate mapmaking in this period, influenced by Western learning, further strengthened the popular perception of Baekdudaegan-centered national territory. A group of scholars strongly criticized the Baekdusan boundary stone by claiming that Korea lost some 700 li of territory inside of the Duman River through a miscalculation of the Tumen River’s location. With the rise of a culture of traveling as well as interest in Baekdusan after the mid-eighteenth century, the overall number of people visiting and climbing Baekdusan substantially increased. Climbing Baekdusan during this period required mobilization of substantial manpower and supplies. It was a difficult journey that sometimes necessitated the building of new roads. At Baekdusan, according to the local customs, even the elites performed rites to the mountain god. In order to see the magnificent sight of the mountain lake, visitors even left records of oration to the mountain god asking for good weather.
In history of stories related to Baekdusan, Baekdusan is not simply a natural geographical space. Baekdusan is a sacred object of worship—a space of "imagined geography." Myths played an important role in cultivation of such imagined geography. According to ancient myths of national founding, Baekdusan does not stand out as a sacred mountain for the whole of Korean peoples—itwas considered sacred only by the peoples of Gojoseon and Goguryeo who lived around it. A critical change in perception of Baekdusan occurred in Goryeo, with the recorded myth of Goryeo national founding in Pyeonnyeon tongrok being a definite example of such transformation. The myth of Goryeo national founding places the royal family’s origins in Baekdusan, opening up a possibility of it becoming a sacred site for all Korean people. Such perception continued into Joseon, and its fusion with modern nationalism reinforced Baekdusan as a sacred place for the modern Korean nation. Choe Namseon’s Bulham munhwaron of the 1920s is a strong example of its modern transformation.
This study explores the theme-based significance of seven travelogues of Baekdusan written in the 1920s and 1939s by Korean intellectuals, ranging from Min Taewon’s Baekdusan haeng compiled in 1921 to Yi Sangho’s Baekdusan haeng in 1936. These travelogues of Baekdusan are based on a search for the national identity of Korea but they each have their own characteristics. They mainly have two perspectives. One is related to the criticism of the reality of colonial destruction in Korea which was justified under the name of modernization by the Japanese. Through this perspective, authors often paid attention to the draw of Gando (Jiandao), an area that had been lost because of Japanese coercion. The other is about searching for the national identity of Korea by reminiscing about Korean myths while visiting Baekdusan, which is a relatively subjective perspective. As in the case of Choe Namseon’s work, Baekdusan is regarded as the space from which the nation originated via a focus on the relics of Dangun, the individual widely regarded as the founder of the Korean nation.
The erection of the Baekdusan Boundary Stone that demarcated the border between the two countries was not based on any clear exchange of opinions between the two sides as to where Baekdusan belonged. While the southern part of Baekdusan fell within Joseon’s sphere of activity, the northern side was occupied by Qing. Despite this reality, the issue of who possessed sovereignty over Baekdusan was never clearly resolved. In Joseon, Baekdusan was traditionally perceived as the source of Korea’s mountains and rivers and identified as an object of worship. The symbolic significance granted to the mountain was further strengthened following the erection of the Boundary Stone. Shortly thereafter, Joseon began to once again hold ritual ceremonies for the mountain, which was now identified as the point of origin of the royal family. A similar phenomenon also emerged in Qing. Thus, the two kingdoms undertook the process of heightening the symbolism attached to this disputed space in a similar manner. Joseon intellectuals’ interest in Baekdusan was expanded to include the desire to gain firsthand knowledge and investigate the famed mountain. The actual location of the Boundary Stone and the issue of the territorial jurisdiction over Baekdusan were largely ignored in favor of a new approach in which the boundary between the two kingdoms was perceived as being located at the top of Baekdusan. Moreover, in some cases, Baekdusan was perceived as falling entirely within Joseon’s territory. This perception was further strengthened after the modern era, and linked to the upgrading of Baekdusan’s status and the expansion of its symbolism.
The perception of Baekdusan as the spiritual mountain of the Korean nation, as the ancestor of all Korean mountains, and as the root of the homeland, has existed since ancient times. However, this perception was further strengthened during the Joseon era. Based on a perusal of the geographical materials produced during the Joseon era, this study analyzes the perceptions of Baekdusan that prevailed at the time. To be more specific, the study analyzes how Baekdusan was described in ancient maps, topographies, and Silhak scholars’ geographical works as part of efforts to identify the nature and level of their objective knowledge and subjective perceptions of Baekdusan. Furthermore, based on a chronological approach to the geographical materials, this study analyzes how the perceptions of Baekdusan changed over time. The study found that a significant change in the prevailing perception of Baekdusan began to emerge during the 17th century. This development was in large part the result of the emergence of Mt. Baekdu and the Manchu areas as a mutual zone of interest for both Joseon and Qing following the latter’s conquest of all of Mainland China. During the process of discussing a border between the two sides, in the form of the establishment of demarcation stone, the public began to pay added attention to the actual significance of Mt. Baekdu, which in turn led to more interest in Baekdusan in and of itself. This interest at the social level eventually led to actual visits and literary criticism‐based studies of Baekdusan. Through such activities, the symbolic meaning of Baekdusan as the root of the homeland was further strengthened.
Baekdusan(or Changbaishan in China) was the only land border between Joseon and Qing. During the late nineteenth century, Westerners were more interested in traveling Manchuria and the Korean peninsula than before, in many cases, for the sake of finding benefits for their countries in this area. While they were traveling this region, they recognized the significance of Baekdusan. They gained information of the mountainfrom both East Asian and Western references. Even if they were usually attracted by natural resources, potential industry and labor power of the area, Baekdusan was exceptional in that they just tried to understand its geographical characteristics, historical meaning, and contemporary lives of the local people.After they confirmed the geographical characteristics of the mountain, they were mainly interested in the cultural history inherent to the mountain and virtual lives of the people in that area.It was in the late nineteenth century when Baekdusan finally revealed its genuine identity relating both sacredness and mundanity to the West. And this mountain was almost the final region of East Asia which Westerners explored. Especially, the worksof Baekdusan written by James, Campbell, and Cavendish belong to few travel records which closely approached the mountain's entity in the late nineteenth century.
The paper studies the question how Baekdusan and the surrounding area in the far North of the Korean peninsula are depicted in travel accounts written by Russian and German travelers at the end of the 19thand beginning of the 20th century. The main focus of the research is on the travel account of the Russian writer and engineer Nikolai Georgievich Garin-Mikhailovski (1852–1906) who travelled to the Baekdusan in 1898. Garin-Mikhailovski described the Baekdusan as well as the surrounding area in a multitude of aspects – the geo-physical conditions, geo-political and security questions, the fauna and flora, the habitat of the Korean people, their living conditions, material and spiritual culture. Garin-Mikhailovski was well aware of the fact that the Koreans venerated the Baekdusan as a holy mountain. In his eyes, the holiness of the mountain was related to the belief in the dragon of Lake Cheonji and to the general belief of Koreans in spirits of nature. In contrary, in the discussed travel accounts of Germans there is very scarce informationabout the Baekdusan, even about the Korean border region at all. Unlike the Russians and British, the German travelers just were concerned with the geo-physical conditions and the geo-political position of the Baekdusan, the Amnok and Duman rivers.
This paper examines King Taejo's Buddhist view and his statecraft in tenth-century Korea based on his own words, writings, and activities related to Buddhism. To that end, this research investigates the nature of Buddhism during the king's reign, his Buddhist activities, and the relationship between his politics and Buddhism. I came to a conclusion that: Buddhism during King Taejo's reign was not the state religion but a dominant religion; the king possibly understood Buddhism through the lens of Confucianism and the multi-dimensional cosmology; the king's prime concern was not with early teachings of the Buddha, including the Four Noble Truths, but with such skill-in-means asthe theory of karmic retribution and Buddhist events, which containedthe construction of temples and the performance of Buddhist rituals; and the king used Buddhism while coining Buddhist ethics for his secular purposes, including royal longevity, and putting Buddhist circles under his control; and the Buddhist circles ingratiated themselves with the king’s Buddhist policy in exchange for their sustenance, whose tradition had continued down to the end of the Goryeo dynasty.