Imperial Politics: Kwon Kun’s Kangnido Map (1402)

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What’s most striking about this Korean map, designed by a team of royal astronomers led by Kwon Kun, is that north is at top. “It’s strange because the first map that looks recognizable to us as a Western map is a map from Korea in 1402,” Brotton notes. He chalks this up to power politics in the region at the time. “In South Asian and Chinese imperial ideology, you look up northwards in respect to the emperor, and the emperor looks south to his subjects,” Brotton explains. Europe is a “tiny, barbaric speck” in the upper left, with a circumnavigable Africa below (it’s unclear whether the dark shading in the middle of Africa represents a lake or a desert). The Arabian Peninsula is to Africa’s right, and India is barely visible. China is the gigantic blob at the center of the map, with Korea, looking disproportionately large, to its right and the island of Japan in the bottom right.

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