a talk by Chin-Sung Chang, Seoul National University
The City of Great Peace, an early nineteenth-century painting, now in the National Museum of Korea, is a spectacular eight-panel screen showing various images of social stability and economic prosperity. The screen portrays in exquisite detail the urban civilization of late Joseon Korea. Largely inspired by Chinese urban landscapes, particularly the Qingming shanghe tu (Spring Festival on the River or Peace Reigns over the River), attributed to Zhang Zeduan (active early 12th century), now in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and its later copies, The City of Great Peace presents a peaceful, economically affluent environment with thriving commercial districts and creates an auspicious image of good governance. The two large Chinese characters tae and pyeong, literally meaning “great peace,” shown in the screen, epitomize the characteristics of The City of Great Peace. Ironically, however, when this screen was painted, the Joseon court was in crisis. During the reign of King Sunjo (1800-1834), the real political power was in the hands of the Andong Kim clan, a powerful family connected to the royal house through marriage. The severe famines of 1809 and 1810 and the Hong Gyeongnae Rebellion of 1811-12 led to the rapid decline of the dynasty. The outbreak of cholera in 1821 ravaged the capital city. Soon after, the Joseon dynasty faced revolts, political conflicts, financial difficulties, and foreign threats. The City of Great Peace was created during a period of social unrest and disorder. It is still a mystery why The City of Great Peace was commissioned and for what purpose the screen was painted at a time of political turmoil and social disruption. This talk examines how images of good governance functioned in late Joseon Korea and what inspired the production of such images. The significance of The City of Great Peace will be discussed within the larger context of East Asian painting, highlighting the relationship between crisis and visual politics.
Chin-Sung Chang is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Seoul, and is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.