Item ID: 8659 KŬMO SŬNGNAM [Easy Overview of Kyŏngju].
KŬMO SŬNGNAM [Easy Overview of Kyŏngju].

A History of Kyŏngju

KŬMO SŬNGNAM [Easy Overview of Kyŏngju].

76; 69; 89; 83 folding leaves. Four fascicles in four volumes. Large 8vo, orig. patterned semi-stiff wrappers, new stitching. [Kyŏngsong: Chŏng Chae-yŏl], 1936.

A rare woodblock edition; the first edition appeared in 1669, with subsequent editions in 1711 and 1845. The book is a reprint of a so-called gazetteer — a local history divided into treatises on various topics — for the city of Kyŏngju in present-day South Korea (Kŭmo is an alternative name for Kyŏngju). Kyŏngju was the “Eastern Capital” of the Silla Kingdom (57 BCE-935 CE) and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site, replete with numerous historical remains such as temples, stone pagodas, imperial mausoleums, mounds, and castle sites.

The treatises cover topics such as geography, famous families, palaces, temples, virtuous local women, and local lore. It is an example of a book from a genre with a long history in Korea and continental East Asia more broadly. The book is entirely written in classical Chinese rather than Korean, including the preface and colophon written for the new 1936 edition.

The now rare word “gazetteer” is used in reference to a genre of East Asian historical and geographical texts known as (di)fang zhi in China and most often as ŭpchi in Korea, both translating roughly to “local treatises.” “Gazetteer” is used in analogy with a similar genre that existed in British India.

Treatises dedicated to the geography, sociopolitical makeup, culture, or history of localities exist from early times, but the local gazetteer as we know it largely took shape in China in the Song period (960-1279). In Korea, mentions of treatises covering larger geographical units such as provinces or indeed the whole country are found in medieval sources, but no such books have come down to us. Truly local gazetteers covering smaller jurisdictions date only from the early 16th century, with the earliest surviving book dating from 1581. In total, 1637 gazetteers are known to have been produced in Korea up until the advent of Japanese colonial rule in 1910. Many of them circulated only in manuscript. As our copy shows, the tradition of printing gazetteers in Korea did not end with Japanese rule but continued during the following decades.

The book opens with a preface by Son Hu-ik (1888-1953), dated 1935 (ŭlhae). The tone of Son’s preface is clearly nationalistic. He claims a parity of Korea and China in terms of history and culture. This heritage is, in his view, reflected in the city of Kyŏngju, the “Eastern Capital” of the medieval Korean state of Silla. Given the date of Son’s preface — written during Japan’s occupation of Korea — it is tempting to read his nationalistic assertions as directed against Japan as much as against China.

Son’s preface is followed by two “old prefaces” (kusŏ). The first wass written by Nam Chi-hun (n.d.) in 1711 (sinmyo), when Nam apparently held office in Kyŏngju. This preface refers to the book using an alternative title, Tunggyŏng chi [Gazetteer of the Eastern Capital]. Nam says he does not know when the book was first written, but that an edition was published long ago, by Min Chu-myŏn (1629-70) in 1669 (kiyu), and copies were damaged or already unavailable in Nam’s day. This was lamentable and inconvenient, because precious information about the region’s early history risked being lost if the book disappeared from circulation altogether. Since the beginning of his tenure in Kyŏngju, Nam had therefore wanted to reprint the book, which happened on the occasion of his writing this preface, when he had some respite from his official duties.

The second “old preface” was written by Sŏng Wŏn-muk (1785-1865) in 1845 (ŭlsa) and describes some changes made to the text for the reprinting at this time.

At the end of the final volume is a colophon (pal) written in 1936 (yujo kondon, i.e., pyŏngja), by Yi Sŏk-hŭm (b. 1883), a local resident. Yi explains that this expanded edition is the “Continuation of the Gazetteer of the Eastern Capital” (Tunggyŏng sokchi).

A fine set. Minor marginal dampstaining, except towards the end of the third volume where it touches text. With thanks to Prof. Marten Soderblom Saarela of the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan.

Price: $3,500.00

Item ID: 8659

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