“The Map Against the World” (2016) and History

This is an excerpt from my review of  “The Map Against the World” (2016) starring #ChaSeungwon

The Map Against the World” (2016) is a story inspired by the life of a historical person call “Kim Jeong-Ho” who lived in the 19th century when the Joseon dynasty was nearing its ends after more than a century of decline in which the people suffered terribly. Have you heard about “Anti-stratfordians?” They are people who deny that William Shakespeare even wrote the works contributed to him because of the lack of historical documentation. If we would take that approach, we would have to deny “Kim Jeong-Ho” even existed since there is barely any information about him. What we know is that he was born and died during the 19th century and was a great map maker or in fancy terms a “cartographer”. The most famed map “Daedongyeojido” of the era which lays out in detail the geography of 19th Korea is contributed to him.

For those who don’t know Korean history, you would have to ask “why is this map maker famous?” I would say “that is a good question! What map maker every garnered such fame beyond their niche world?” I googled “famous map maker” and I don’t recall anyone on that search result. And I have a decent or at least passable knowledge of history. In contrast, every South Korean knows about “Kim Jeong-Ho!” Not sure about the North! He is essentially a folk hero like “Davy Crockett” who is more myth than real at this point. However we know more facts about “Davy Crockett” than “Kim Jeong-Ho!” This is because he wasn’t enough of a prominent person during his time to have much written about him.  We guess he fell into the “Middle person” caste who were a section of the Joseon (Korean) population that were low level government officials or craftsmen who do work for the government. There is not have much recorded about this caste.

Let’s get back to the question of “why is Kim Jeong-Ho a folk hero?” You get why “Davy Crockett” is a folk hero. It is far less easy to comprehend why a map maker, who no one really knows anything about  and living in the age when craftsmen were viewed as being of very low social status, is a folk hero. They aren’t as interesting as artesian or even courtesans! To understand the reason for this, you have to understand the death of the Joseon dynasty. The dynasty lasted about 500 years and essentially was dying for at least the last 300 years of its existence. At the end, it really had nothing to claim as its accomplishments other than corruption, incompetence, and starvation. The dynasty didn’t even end with a bang. There was no war. The last king basically sold his right to rule over to the Japanese and it was over. Dead and buried but for the people left without a King and a country to call their own.

Entering the 2oth century under the Japanese occupation and facing the modern age of practical science, there was a need to fabricate a folk hero to unite the Korea people. This folk hero needed to be one that fit into the 20th century the Korean people were suddenly shoved in to. What would this hero look like? You have to remember the fact that the early 20th century was the age of practical science. Inventors and scientists were being elevated as folk heroes. Think “Thomas Edison” (1847 – 1931)! Influenced by this trend, the Koreans looked for someone who fell into this category but this was not an easy task. Practical knowledge was vilified for most of the Joseon dynasty and only ethical/philosophical dogma had value. During this search, “Kim Jeong-Ho” was discovered and a myth of him being this noble progressive modern figure/scientist who worshiped practical science, resisted the ruling class, and shared knowledge widely with everybody including normal folks and slaves was born. In reality, he most likely would have been a great map maker employed by the government. He lived. He did good work. Then, he died. That is mostly all that should have been said about this map maker without the intervention of history.

To read my review, click here: LINK


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