- About the Cover
Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910) is to the tributary system what the nematode is to developmental biology: a model organism studied in the expectation that insights into its workings will translate into other contexts. If only Chosŏn were as accommodating a model as Caenorhabditis elegans. It exercised too much agency to fit the ideal type of a loyal and plastic vassal state—so much, in fact, as to cast doubt on the ideal itself. Nevertheless, it is true that Chosŏn drew heavily from the stock of Ming and Qing institutions, practices, and ideas, even as it adapted them to its own circumstances and needs.
The image on the cover is an example of a Korean adaptation of a Chinese model. It is a rank badge (hyungbae 胸背) from the nineteenth century. Often called “mandarin squares” in the West, such insignia were sewn onto officials’ surcoats as a mark of rank. Civil officials wore badges with representations of volant animals, such as cranes, while military officials’ badges bore images of tigers, leopards, and other fierce beasts. Chosŏn first borrowed this system of rank badges from the Ming in 1454, but the rules governing their use evolved during the succeeding centuries. According to guidelines codified in 1871, but likely put into place earlier, single animals represented low ranks, while pairs embellished the badges of high-ranking officials. Thus, the solitary leopard—actually, a “cloud tiger” (unho 雲虎)—on the badge shown here belonged to a military officer of low to middling court rank.1 HJAS thanks the Harvard Art Museums for their kind permission to reproduce the image and H. H. Kang for his research assistance. [End Page ix]
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1. For more information on Korean rank badges, see Lee Eun-joo (Yi Ŭn-ju) 이은주, “Chosŏn sidae mugwan ŭi kil chimsŭng hyungbae chedo wa silche” 조선시대 무관의 길짐승흉배제도와 실제, Poksik 복식 58.5 (2008): 102–17.