St. Petersburg: Typ. Of Y.N. Erlich, 1900. Item #591
3 vols. bound together. , xvi, 448; , vi, 490; , v, 318 pp. 27x17 cm. With a large folding lithographed map at rear. Period style navy blue quarter sheep with marbled papered boards; spine with raised bands and gilt lettered title. Private library ink stamp on the title page of vol. 1, several mild water stains in text of vol. 1 & 2, but overall a very good copy.
First and only edition. The first fundamental Korean studies encyclopedic description of all aspects defining the Korean region – an independent Korean Empire at the time, including its history, geography, geology, climate, flora & fauna, provinces and cities, roads, population, religion, language, literature and education, industries, trade, state, administration and courts, military, finance, etc. The book was compiled by a group of Russian orientalists under the general supervision of the Ministry of Finance, and is based on all major European and Eastern works and sources available at the time of writing, reports of Russian ambassadors and consuls in China, Japan, and Korea, surveys of the Chief Hydrographical Department of the Russian Naval Ministry, and special investigations by the “agents of the Ministry of Finance in the Far East”. Among the orientalists who took part in the creation of the book is a notable Japanologist Dmitry Pozdneyev (1865-1937), one of the first Russian Koreanologists Nikolay Kuener (1877-1955), and a specialist in the Korean language Wladyslaw Kotwicz (1872-1944). The essay on the history of Korea written by N. Kuener followed the events from its ancient history up to the first treaties with the western powers in the 1880s, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and the first years of independent Korea; special emphasize in given to the relations and treaties with Russia.
The third volume includes extensive supplements, with texts of twelve treaties between Korea and Japan, China, the United States, Russia and Great Britain signed in 1876-1899, texts of three special treaties between Russia and Japan regarding Korea (1896-98), results of the 1897 census, descriptions of American and British concessions in Korea, tables of Korean finance and foreign trade, essays on the Korean language and alphabet, calendar and measures. An extensive chapter includes the bibliography of all known western and Russian books, articles and maps on Korea. Large folding lithographed map of the Korean Peninsula is based on the latest European and Japanese maps, and the detailed maps of the Korean shores prepared in the Russian Naval Ministry; six inserts include a geological map of Korea, and plans of the Wonsan and Busan Bays, the mouths of the Han and Taedong Rivers, and Port Hamilton (Geomun-do) Islands. The map marks the borders between provinces, cities, towns and villages, ports open for foreign trade, paved and dirt roads (with specially marked roads “with unclear directions”), railways, telegraph lines, rivers and mountain ranges.
Intended mostly for Russian state officials and orientalists, the “Description of Korea” was printed in a small copy run and was practically inaccessible for the general public. Published at the time of growing Japanese and Russian ambitions in the Far East which struggled for dominance in Manchuria and Korea, the book became a milestone in Oriental studies, and offered an encyclopedic overview of the country which would be changed forever just in four years, with the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), and Korea’s annexation by Japan in 1910. Such a deep and content-rich study of Korea retains its value in the modern times, when the peninsula was divided in two hostile states and became one of the most unstable regions on the planet.