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Carving Status at Kŭmgangsan: Elite Graffiti in Premodern Korea

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.

Embarking on 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.

Maya K. H. Stiller is associate professor of Korean art and visual culture at the University of Kansas.

Source: publisher’s website

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