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Old Seoul (Images of Asia)

From the back cover:

Seoul has one of the richest histories of any Asian city, and yet the vestiges of its past are often masked by its ultra-modern landscapes. Old Seoul takes the reader back to the last decades of the nineteenth century, when the city evolved from being the closed capital of the ‘Hermit Kingdom’, in the shadow of China, to becoming the international entrepot it is today.

Crucial to this transition was the influence of a handful of Western adventurers, such as the intrepid American female doctor Lillias Underwood, the British world traveller Isabella Bishop, and the Prussian Paul-Georg von Mollendorff, who was sent by China to set up a Korean branch of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service. As well as learning about the city first-hand from their accounts, we also glimpse the city as its Korean citizens saw it, learning about the importance of shamanism to everyday life; peeking into a house to observe the differences between the male and female quarters; shopping for everyday needs at the official ‘Six Licensed Shops’; and becoming privy to palace intrigues, such as when King Yeongjo confined his son Crown Prince Sado to death in a cramped rice chest.

Old Seoul‘s rich illustrations and insights capture the city at a fleeting yet vital time in its growth. Its fresh approach will delight both armchair travellers and people who know the city well.

Keith Pratt is Emeritus Professor and former Head of the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Durham. He first visited Seoul in 1972, and has subsequently visited South Korea many times.

‘Images of Asia’ offers a range of titles covering aspects of life and culture in East Asia. Each book in the series combines an introductory text, written for the non-specialist reader by an authority on the subject, with extensive illustrations both in colour and black-and-white. As such, ‘Images of Asia’ provides a means of acquiring a deeper understanding and appreciation of the region in all its diversity.

LKL says:

A slim volume (76 pages) with nice illustrations that gives brief potted history of the Joseon dynasty followed by cahpters on Seouls geographical setting, inhabitants, buildings and streets, palaces, and its foreign community at the end of the 19th century. A nice introduction to Seoul before its more recent emergence as a modern metropolis. Now out of print, but worth a look if you find a reasonably priced copy in a second-hand shop.

LKL rating: score-2score-2score-2score-2score-0

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