RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2014

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90 A Topography of Co-Production: Mountains and the Mountainous on the Korean Peninsula
Convenor(s) Robert Winstanley-Chesters (University of Leeds, UK)
Chair(s) Robert Winstanley-Chesters (University of Leeds, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 27 August 2014, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Skempton Building, Room 060a
Session abstract The Korean peninsula entered modernity as a space of acute contest; Colonial Japan sought to utilise it as space of military-industrial production, atomising and co-opting nascent national identities, while external Cold War powers crystallised global conflict upon its landscapes during the Korean War. To this day, the images of the two countries sharing the Korean peninsula are still largely shaped by external ambitions and interests. Early explorers of Korea represented it as a wild, avowedly foreign space. This was helped in no small part by the peninsula’s landscape, much having been made of the apparent topographic restlessness of the peninsula, its mountainous aspect contributing to the conceptions of a once hidden, ‘hermit’ state, now open for further exploration and exploitation.

In-spite of this inauspicious beginning contemporary representations of the peninsula have started to moved away from the once dominant colonial and Cold War narratives, making room for new cultural and spiritual aspects. Mountains, and particularly Mt Paektu, hold a key role in national and philosophical narratives. Accordingly, this panel seeks to investigate the reality and impact of Paektu’s political, social and metaphysical significance, examining the massif’s place within the culture of the two Koreas, investigating its relationship with local spiritual traditions and analyzing its construction as a symbolic landscape in the Cosgrovian sense. The panel ultimately aims to build a trans-disciplinary framework in which topography and topographic features in North Korea can be seen as both works and processes of co-production.

Sponsored by: Beyond the Korean War Project (University of Cambridge/Academy of Korean Studies)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2014@rgs.org
Constructing Paektu: Political Charisma and The Geographic
Robert Winstanley-Chesters (University of Leeds, UK)
Following the work of Denis Cosgrove and others demonstrating analytical frameworks through which the action of socio-political process on the realm of landscape and the natural can be identified and deconstructed, the work of Heonik Kwon identifying a theatric functionality and charismatic approach to both North Korean politics and political narratives and past work from this author uncovering and analysing environmental narratives and strategies within North Korean developmental process and processes, this paper seeks to locate the topographic features of the northern half of the Korean Peninsula within these theoretic and methodological frames.
Centering its focus on the Mt Paektu massif mountain itself this paper will review those political and historical narratives which converge upon its slopes and landscapes, constructing the space of national political and ideological categoric importance that the mountain currently is. It will investigate the process by which these narratives bestow and embed charismatic political authority and authenticity on the mountain and how this charisma is then re-directed to form a key legitimative support to the current Kim dynasty’s claim to authenticity. Finally it will analyse how this charisma is engaged in both the co-production of more simple political narratives and more complex metaphysical and transcendental claims to authority during their interaction with actual and imagined topographic and geographic space.
The Paektu Mountain Range and Revolutionary Mystique in North Korea since 1945
Benoit Berthelier (Yonsei University, South Korea / Institut National des Langues et Civilisations, France)
In 2011, following the Korean Central News Agency’s reporting of a string of mysterious phenomena on the northern Jongil and Janggun peaks during the mourning period for Kim Jong-Il, national television presented Kim Jong Un as the “next in the bloodline of the Great Generals of Mount Paektu” (paektusan changgun). The media and cultural production surrounding this North Korean power transition mobilized all of its political symbols and confirmed mountains’ pre-eminent role in the ruling family’s legitimacy rhetoric.
From Kim Il-Sung’s accession to power to Kim Jong-Un’s recent rise as Supreme Leader, North Korea has skilfully drawn upon mythological images and traditional perceptions of mountains to strengthen the revolutionary mystique of its leaders. After the country’s independence in 1945, the popular perception of mountains as revolutionary bastions, emerging as early as the 1894 Tonghak rebellion became central to the political communication of Kim Il-Sung. At the same time myths surrounding the sacred Paektu range were associated with the new leader presented as the “Son of Mount Paektu”. These two aspects became increasingly important in the representations of North Korea’s leadership, mixing the fantastic with glorious tales of revolutionary valor. In turn, these narratives have transformed the country’s mountainous landscapes both physically and in the way it is seen and experienced. This paper will thus examine how the study of North Korean literature, film and popular imaginary can contribute to the co-production of geographical knowledge about the Paektu Mountain Range.
Mountains as a Collectively Constructed Image: the case of Korean GiCheon
Victoria Ten (Leiden University, The Netherlands)
Korea is a land of mountains, topographies symbolic of inner alchemy and immortality, possessed of figurative meaning, actively reinforced and incorporated into re-invented traditions of ki suryŏn (ki-training). As an antidote to South Korea’s hectic urbanism, mountains are associated with fresh air, nature, health and relaxation. Utilising the ki suryŏn discipline of GiCheon as a case study, this paper investigates the cultural and philosophical co-production of mountains by its adherents and instructors in their literature, lore and personal bodily practice.
According to the myth of its genesis, GiCheon originated at Mt. Paektu. Having been “transmitted in secret for thousands of years in the mountains of Korea”, it became more widely known in the 1970s, while the co-production of the mythos started in the 1980s. Many of its legends focus on mountains; retreats at mountain centres are essential for GiCheon practice.
This paper will review the place of the mountains and their engagement in the spiritual co-production of GiCheon, through empirical analysis of a set of interview material. GiCheon initiator Taeyang Chinin for example recounts his being raised in the mountains by an immortal. When it comes to visual production and narrative, images of mountains are equally vital for GiCheon practitioners performing painful positions in mountainous spaces, deriving moral value and content from this environment. The current paper analyses the process by which those inspired by GiCheon mythology become active co-creators and co-producers of this experience developing both spiritual connections with topographies and terrains and cultural images of those mountains themselves.
Discussant
Wei-Cheng Lin (University of North Carolina, USA)
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