Politics of the lively geos
volcanism and geomancy in Korea
This chapter explores the significance of Mount Paektu (also known as Mount Baedgu or Changbaishan) to the Korean people, and how this important mountain has come to symbolise reunification of the Peninsula. It initially explores Paektudaegan—the chain of mountains that runs down the Peninsula—in relation to Korean history and culture, particularly p"ungsu (geomancy) in Korean thought. It then analyses the portrayal of Paektu within the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, before focussing on the science around the mountain—which is an active volcano. The paper uses evidence from ethnography, Korean texts, poetry and a range of interviews with scientists to analyse the ongoing scientific work around the volcano, and how it relates to the Korean cultural interpretations of Paektu. Ultimately, the paper demonstrates that the Korean understanding of the earth cannot be separated from Korean identity, and the volcano itself has become a focus for future hopes and past memories of reunification. Science itself cannot be separated from this cultural significance—and the position of the volcano on the border with China also means that the future of the earth in Korea has the potential to unsettle geopolitics, just as geopolitics has led to major challenges for science.
Donovan, A. (2019)., Politics of the lively geos: volcanism and geomancy in Korea, in A. Bobbette & A. Donovan (eds.), Political geology, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 293-343.
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