Close
FICTION

The Geographer Who Pulled Off a Miracle: The Map Maker by Park Bum Shin

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.6 Winter 2009
  • byJung Yeo-ul
The Map Maker
2009
359pp.

Kim Jeong-ho, who went by the pen name Gosanja, holds a special position in Korean history. He succeeded in creating Daedongyeojido, the most accurate map ever of the peninsula, despite belonging to the lower class of Joseon society, which was regimented by a strict class order.

At the time, maps of the peninsula were mostly created for the purposes of military and administrative control. In an era when all information was controlled by a small minority of leaders, Kim Jeong-ho aspired to create a map for the dreams and happiness of the common people. Through the success of his magnum opus, a task unheard of even for the gentry class, let alone a mere commoner, Kim transformed himself into a mythical figure. His map Daedongyeojido is outstanding, nearly flawless even by the standards of modern science. Because he was able to accomplish this task under his own power without any influence from Western science, Kim stood out in the public eye all the more.

Unfortunately however, little is known about this historical figure. Author Park Bum Shin focuses on the many gaps and mysteries in the life story of Kim Jeongho.

Because there is so little concrete information, Park uses his imagination to fill in the gaps. The Map Maker is a biographical novel of the real-life figure Kim Jeong-ho. It is another bestseller from Park, the much-loved author of Chollache and Namaste.

In vivid prose, Park Bum Shin restores the remarkable life of a Joseon dynasty geographer, a life unimaginable for modern people through the power of science and reason alone. There are many mythical tales of the life of Kim Jeong-ho. However, few of these tales are actually true. What is known is that Japan, at the time it colonized Korea, immediately recognized the value of Daedongyeojido. One of Japan’s first steps towards taking control of Korea was the Joseon Land Survey. In order to survey the peninsula, Japan dispatched hundreds of experts and mobilized all of its cutting-edge scientific technology learned from the West and created a map of Korea. But they were soon shocked by their discovery of Kim Jeong-ho’s Daedongyeojido.

 

 

ⓒ Pusan National University Library

 

The accuracy of Kim’s map was on par with the map created by hundreds of experts using modern technology. The Japanese were amazed by the ability of just one man, the geographer Kim Jeong-ho, who created the map during the pre-modern era when Korea had not yet become acquainted with Western technology.

For Joseon intellectuals at the time, there was hardly any such thing as the popularization of knowledge. All important knowledge was circulated through Chinese characters, which was the private reserve of intellectuals, and the printing technology that was developed was not used for the enlightenment of the common people.

Knowledge was a closed sphere, circulated only among the royal palace and the literati. Kim Jeong-ho, resurrected after 200 years in Park Bum Shin’s The Map Maker, was a pioneer who strove after the popularization of knowledge. He did it for the countless commoners who could not afford the government’s exorbitant taxes and were forced to wander, homeless until they died. He did it for those who could not travel even if they wanted to, as they did not know the geography, and had to spend their lives restricted to the same place where they were born. Kim’s plan was an ambitious one of creating and distributing an innovative type of map that would be easy to print and easy to carry. The life story behind this remarkable task, pulled off by a single person who received no institutional support, remains a mystery to this day. Author Park Bum Shin’s novel helps to restore this as yet mysterious figure and the miracle he achieved, and to bring him closer to modern readers.