Carving Status at Kŭmgangsan
Elite Graffiti in Premodern Korea
- PUBLISHED: November 2021
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / Korea, Art History / Asian Art
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 224 Pages, 7 x 10 in, 46 color illus., 4 maps, 1 chart
- SERIES: Korean Studies of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies
- ISBN: 9780295749259
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
North Korea’s Kŭmgangsan is one of Asia’s most celebrated sacred mountain ranges, comparable in fame to Mount Tai in China and Mount Fuji in Japan. Carving Status at Kŭmgangsan marks a paradigm shift in the research about East Asian mountains by introducing an entirely new field: autographic rock graffiti. The book details how late Chosŏn (ca. 1600–1900 CE) Korean elite travelers used Kŭmgangsan to demonstrate their high social status by carving inscriptions, naming sites, and joining the literary pedigree of visitors to renowned locales. Such travel practices show how social competition emerged in the spatial context of a landscape. Hence, Carving Status at Kŭmgangsan argues for an expansion of accepted historical narratives on travel and mountain space in premodern East Asia. Rather than interpreting pilgrimage routes as exclusively religious or tourist, in Kŭmgangsan’s case they were also an important site of collective memory.
A journey to Kŭmgangsan to view and contribute to its sites of memory was an endeavor that late Chosŏn Koreans hoped to achieve in their lives. Based on multidisciplinary research drawing on literary writings, court records, gazetteers, maps, songs, calligraphy, and paintings, Carving Status at Kŭmgangsan is the first historical study of this practice. It will appeal to scholars in fields ranging from East Asian history, literature, and geography, to pilgrimage studies and art history.
*Winner of the 2022 Patricia Buckley Ebrey Prize for a distinguished book on the history of China proper, Vietnam, Chinese Central Asia, Mongolia, Manchuria, Korea, or Japan, prior to 1800, sponsored by the American Historical Association
Authors & Contributors
Maya K. H. Stiller is associate professor of Korean art and visual culture at the University of Kansas.
Carving Status at Kŭmgangsan is the first study in a Western language devoted exclusively to carved rock inscriptions at thousands of scenic and historical sites of Kŭmgangsan in North Korea, a currently inaccessible site to most people. The author’s thoughtful analysis of carefully selected cases from rock carvings, maps, paintings, and board games brings insightful perspectives of the culture of journey, religious and secular visions of Kŭmgangsan, history of calligraphy, and material culture relevant to travel in the late Joseon era.- Seoul Journal of Korean Studies
Stiller's work provides a wealth of valuable insights into the history of social status, travel, and cultural production in mid-tolate Chosŏn Dynasty Korea. Carving Status at Kŭmgangsan is also a beautiful example of book production--elegantly laid-out, and richly illustrated with photographs and reproductions of paintings and calligraphy.- Asian Studies Review
Through her analysis of rock carvings, literary documents, and other visual materials, Stiller has uncovered a new layer of cultural history related to Kŭmgang-san.- Acta Koreana
Integrates histories of visual culture, elites, travel, and spatiality to create an unparalleled study of one of East Asia’s great calligraphic mountain sites. Together with the interactive Autographic Atlas of Korea website this is an important example of how the digital humanities is transforming the study of cultural history.- Peter Bol, Harvard University
A magisterial work, comprehensive in scope and meticulous in scholarship, standing as a definitive study of the sociocultural history of Mount Kŭmgang. Stiller’s compelling interpretation of the historical significance of its carved autographic inscriptions provides powerful insights into how the mountain served as space for social mobility and battleground for different status groups to gain social prestige and cultural pride.- Chin-Sung Chang, Seoul National University
A major contribution to the study of travel to ‘sacred’ places in general, and to the understanding of literary (and name graffiti) production as it relates to travel to Kŭmgangsan in particular.- James M. Hargett, author of Jade Mountains and Cinnabar Pools: The History of Travel Literature in Imperial China
For the way it looks at calligraphy and travel as a resource for social mobility, this book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of late Chosŏn society.- Donald Baker, Centre for Korean Research, University of British Columbia
Drawing on a wide range of textual and visual sources, Carving Status at Kŭmgangsan presents fascinating insights into mid- to late Chosŏn society. Through its exploration of travelers to Kŭmgangsan, the volume offers new ways of understanding space as a geopolitical text framed by the political, religious and cultural milieu of its time.- Charlotte Horlyck, author of Korean Art from the 19th Century to the Present
A lucid product of exacting literary and field research which reveals how personal and family identity and status, carved in stone at a spectacular but remote site, epitomized the evolution of social structure and aspiration across three centuries of the late Chosŏn.- Sunglim Kim, author of Flowering Plums and Curio Cabinets: The Culture of Objects in Late Chosŏn Korean Art
This book contains invaluable insights into the function of travel among elites in Chosŏn Korea. Particularly, Stiller demonstrates how inscriptions and autographs in the Kŭmgang Mountains were used to connect with other travelers and to also create a legacy that would honor their lineages in future generations. This work represents a substantial contribution to studies of life, art, and ideology in late Chosŏn.- Michael J. Pettid, coeditor of Premodern Korean Literary Prose: An Anthology