• Dokdo in the East Sea
  • Controversies surrounding Dokdo
  • Dokdo! It can be seen from Ulleungdo
Dokdo is much closer to another island within Korean territory than it is to Japan. This is not just geographical proximity. Dokdo is so close to Ulleungdo that it is visible from the latter with the naked eye. In addition to the fact that Dokdo is visible from Ulleungdo, the two islands have been perceived as a common living space for many years.
The official distance between Ulleungdo and Dokdo is as follows. In 2005 the Korean government issued a public notice of Dokdo’s official geographic data. Previously, the geographic data on Dokdo had differed across ministries and the private sector, but the 2005 public notice corrected this. The difference was largely due to the fact that the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, the National Geographic Information Institute, and the Korea Hydrographic Oceanographic Administration, which are responsible for land registration, topographic maps, and nautical charts, respectively, used different standards. According to the 2005 public notice, the official distance between Ulleungdo and Dokdo is 87.4 kilometers at low water (47.2 nautical miles) and the distance between Dokdo and the Oki Islands of Japan is 157.5 kilometers (85.0 nautical miles). Even though Dokdo lies between Ulleungdo and the Oki Islands, the distance from Ulleungdo is closer by 70.1 kilometers than from the Oki Islands.
As may be seen here, Ulleungdo and Dokdo are an inseparable common living space or an island group with a relationship of mother and daughter. If the mother island (Ulleungdo) is part of Korean territory, then the daughter must belong to the same territory. In the same way, if Ulleungdo was under Japanese sovereignty, then Dokdo must belong to Japanese territory.
The old name of Dokdo was Usan. Originally, Usan represented the mother island Ulleungdo, but later that place name gradually changed to Ureung, Ulleung, and Mureung. In the process, the name Usan was assigned to the daughter island. Where did the name “Usan” come from originally and why was the name attached to the daughter island? The origin may have to do with Uljin, the port town on the east coast of the mainland from which boats frequently sail to Ulleungdo and Dokdo. Uljin, whose ancient name during the Koguryo period was “Ujinya,” became the main port for ships sailing to Ulleungdo. Since that time, the name Uljin has been used throughout the Goryeo and Joseon periods, and still today. The name “Ujinya” and later “Uljin” had an impact on the names of the islands on the east. The “U” or “Ul” part in the port name was later used in “Usan,” “Ureung,” and “Ulleung.” The name “Usan” is used for the name of Dokdo as boats from the port town often sailed as far away as Dokdo.[note 001]
Dokdo exists only in relation to Ulleungdo. Dokdo by itself is a difficult place to sustain human settlement. But the islet played an important role as a milepost on the way to Ulleungdo and as a stopover point. In the process, it is surmised, the waters surrounding Dokdo became fishing grounds for Ulleungdo residents. Given frequent sail between the two islands and the sea currents around the islands, Ulleungdo and Dokdo are more than just islands visible from each other. Dokdo has long played the role of a milepost and stopover point for sailors and a gathering ground for fish, abalone, and seaweed.[note 002]
It is not clear exactly when people began settling in Ulleungdo. The earliest records suggest that by 245 CE (nineteenth year of King Dongcheon of Koguryo) the island was peopled by a community whose language was different from that of Okjeo in the eastern part of the Korean mainland. According to a historical record, the community held a ritual every seventh month of the year to propitiate the gods by drowning young girls in the sea. In the “Biography of the Dongyi” (Book of Wei, Records of the Three Kingdoms), an elder of Okjeo said, "There was a person from our country who was adrift from a shipwreck for weeks and washed ashore on an island in the east. The island was inhabited but the people did not speak the language of Okjeo. Every seventh month of the year the inhabitants sacrificed girls to appease their gods by drowning them in the sea.” [note 003]The historian Lee Byeong-do commented that the island in the east “must be the State of Usan.” If the island was indeed Ulleungdo, this means that it was inhabited long before the official annexation in 512 (thirteenth year of King Jijeung of Silla) by General Kim Isabu. In addition, it must have been possible for fishermen from the mainland to find themselves ashore in Ulleungdo after a shipwreck. Archeological evidence suggests that Ulleungdo has been occupied since Neolithic times. [note 004]From this, one can derive a tentative conclusion that Usan may have been established by people who lived on Ulleung and Dokdo. The people of Usan may have expanded their sphere of influence farther afield throughout the East Sea based on their iron tool-making skills and pattern-less earthenware civilization. The people of Usan were then subjugated by Isabu’s troops, Isabu being the local head of Hasula County (today’s Gangneung) under Silla in the peninsula in 512. Samguk Saki [三国史記, The History of Three Kingdoms] describes the situation at the time as follows.
“In the sixth month of the thirteenth year of [of the reign of] King Jijeung, the State of Usan surrendered to Silla and promised to pay tribute every year in the form of local specialties. Usan, or Ulleungdo, is an island located due east of Myeongju (today’s Gangneung). The land is 100 ri (about 50 kilometers) in length and width, and the king had refused to surrender to Silla believing that its rough terrain would defend the kingdom from invasion. After Isabu became the head of Hasula Prefecture, he said, “The inhabitants of Usan are difficult to subjugate by force because they are unruly people. But they can be tricked into surrender as they are unsophisticated.” Isabu ordered his people to make numerous wooden lions and carry them on battleships. He threatened the people of Usan, ‘If you do not surrender, I will let the lions loose and have you killed.’ Immediately afterward, the people capitulated and agreed to become a tributary state of Silla.[note 005]
 
This is how the defeat of Usan was described in Samguk Saki[三国史記, The History of Three Kingdoms]. Although Usan was small with a width and length of 50 kilometers, the people were fierce and the terrain mountainous, which made it difficult for the head of Hasula Prefecture to easily subjugate them. In the end, Usan was annexed by Silla by trickery. The troops under the command of the head of Hasula Prefecture were elite forces at the time. The fact that such troops had difficulty subjugating Usan hints that the country’s military and cultural levels were highly sophisticated. Even after establishing the tributary relationship with Silla, Usan did not disappear from history, but instead prospered further. According to archeological evidence, most tombs found in Ulleungdo today were created during the Unified Silla period. From this, one may conclude that the subjugation of Usan by Isabu did not result in the annihilation of the Usan culture. Instead, the subjugation by Isabu can be considered the establishment of a tributary relationship.
〈FIG 1〉Sixth Month of the Thirteenth Year of King Jijeung, ”Book of Silla,” Samguk Saki[三国史記, The History of Three Kingdoms]
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After Isabu’s landing in the early sixth century, Usan paid tribute to Silla and Goryeo. In the early eleventh century, the Goryeo government allowed refugees from Usan, who had sailed to the mainland and away from the devastation caused by Jurchens from the north, to settle in Yeju (today’s Yeongdeok). There is no further mention of the name Usan in Korean historical sources such as History of Goryeo (Goryeosa) or Essentials of Goryeo History (Goryeo cheolyeo).[note 006]
As Usan consisted of today’s Ulleungdo and Dokdo, the annexation of Usan by Silla means that the two islands were Korean territory from that time forward. In other words, the records of Isabu’s Usan expedition in 512 are used as the historical grounds of Korea’s territorial claims to Dokdo. [note 007]Other historical records that support Korea’s claims on Dokdo are found in the The Annals of King Sejong Geographical Records, in the entries for Samcheok County and Uljin County in Gangwon-do.
The The Annals of King Sejong Geographical Records is a record of the area under Joseon control during the reign of King Sejong (r. 1418-1450). In the description of Uljin County is written, “The two islands of Usan and Mureung [under the jurisdiction of Uljin County] lie straight across the sea to the east from Uljin. The two islands are not far apart and are visible from each other on a clear day. During the Silla period they were called the State of Usan.” [note 008]
It is evident that Mureung indicates Ulleungdo. This is again confirmed by testimonies of Ulleungdo residents who resettled there in 1425 (the seventh year of King Sejong). The small islands of Gwaneum and Jukdo near Ulleungdo are clearly visible even on cloudy days as they are located nearby. The only island visible from Ulleungdo only on clear days is Dokdo. Given that there are only a few islands in the East Sea, there is no doubt that these remarks regarding Usan Island indicate Dokdo.
The Joseon court took much time in preparing Complete Conspectus of the Territory of the Eastern Country (Dongguk yeoji seungnam) in 1481 (the twelfth year of King Seongjong), followed in 1530 (the twenty-sixth year of King Jungjong) by New and Expanded Complete Conspectus of the Territory of the Eastern Country (Sinjeung Dongguk yeoji seungnam). These are not just geography texts. They also delineate the territory controlled by the Joseon government. The Joseon court intended to make clear its territories through publication of these texts. The texts include both Usan Island (Dokdo) and Ulleungdo in the section on Uljin County, Gangwon-do, making clear that both islands are part of Joseon. From this it can be seen that during the early fifteenth century Joseon kings (Taejong and Sejong) called Dokdo as Usan Island.
In other official maps, Dokdo was also identified as Usan Island belonging to the Joseon government. Due to the lack of precise mapmaking skills and conventions, the location of Usan Island is indicated in all four directions of Ulleungdo. For example, the “Map of the Eight Provinces” and the “Map of Gangwon-do” in New and Expanded Complete Conspectus of the Territory of the Eastern Country depict Usan Island as separate from Ulleungdo, with Usan located west of Ulleungdo. As the mapmakers who compiled the maps had to rely on past records and reports without actual surveys, they were unable to know the exact location of Usan in relation to Ulleungdo. (Imprecise composition of maps was the norm elsewhere during the fifteenth century, too.) Without dwelling on precise rendering of maps, the territorial right on Usan (Dokdo) is clearly established. First, the islands of Usan and Ulleungdo belong to Uljin County, Gangwon-do, which was an integral part of Joseon.
In addition, the practice of drawing Usan west (closer to the Korean mainland) of Ulleungdo may be interpreted as a desire to show that Usan is part of Joseon. According to the map in New and Expanded Complete Conspectus of the Territory of the Eastern Country, if Ulleungdo is part of Joseon, it naturally follows that the island located to the west must also be part of Joseon.
As mapmaking technology developed, the location of Usan began to be described in more precise detail, making clear that the island belongs to Joseon. For example, the East Land Map by Jeong Sang-gi (1678–1752) corrected inconsistencies of New and Expanded Complete Conspectus of the Territory of the Eastern Country in both country and provincial maps and correctly indicated Usan as east of Ulleungdo.
Afterwards, most maps showed Usan as east of Ulleungdo and indicated it as part of Joseon territory. Such maps composed from the eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century include the East Land Map. From the fall of Usan to the printing of the The Annals of King Sejong Geographical Records, however, there is a gap of 900 years. There is no extant historical record regarding that island from those years. The “Book of Military Affairs” in Essentials of Governance (Mangi yoram), which was printed in 1808, stated, “According to geographical records, both of the islands of Ulleung and Usan were part of the State of Usan. Usan Island is what is called ‘Matsushima’ (Songdo) by Japanese.”[note 009] But this text was published much later than The Annals of King Sejong Geographical Records, and thus it must be believed that this information was based upon the earlier record.
Although it is evident that Dokdo was within visible distance from Ulleungdo and was part of Usan, it remains to be seen how much persuasive power this argument based upon old historical records will have with Japan and the wider international community. It was not that Usan and the other island were present from time immemorial. Rather, Usan was on the island of Ulleung and the name was affixed to the other island from Ulleung after Usan’s subjugation.
The argument based upon The Annals of King Sejong Geographical Records and Essentials of Governance that Ulleungdo encompassed today’s Ulleungdo and Dokdo has little merit in that it is based upon an old idea from the early nineteenth century. Given that there is no mention of any islands other than Ulleungdo in the East Sea in records prior to the Joseon period and that the State of Usan is known to have been based on Ulleungdo only from records in Samguk Saki[三国史記, The History of Three Kingdoms] and History of Goryeo, one must accept the argument that Usan was the earlier name for Ulleungdo. [note 010]
Still, the fact that the State of Usan mentioned in Samguk Saki[三国史記, The History of Three Kingdoms] indicates Ulleungdo does not negate the close relationship that the two islands of Ulleung and Dokdo have had for centuries as a common living space. As seen above, Lee Byeong-do argued that “Usan” is the old name for the mother island of Ulleung and that island later was called alternatively as “Ureung,” “Ulleung,” and “Mureung.” In the process, the name Usan was assigned to its daughter island of Dokdo. Although there is ample possibility for a mother island’s name to transition to that of the daughter island, it is also possible that frequent sail to Dokdo by Ulleungdo fishermen may have moved the name to Dokdo. [note 011] The fact that the name Usan shifted to the daughter island signifies frequent visits to Dokdo by Ulleungdo residents and the two islands’ intimate relationship as a common living space. Since the beginning of time, Ulleungdo and Dokdo were inseparable historically and geographically.
As may be seen in the material below, bureaucrats obsessed with the etymology of the name “Usan” argued that Usan and Ulleung were one and the same. Another group of bureaucrats, who focused on historical facts, claimed that Usan (Dokdo) and Mureung (Ulleung) were two separate islands and they were visible from each other on a clear day.
”Ulleungdo lies straight east of Uljin County. It was called the State of Usan during the Silla period. It was called either Mureung or Ureung. The island’s length and width was 100 ri. The inhabitants of the State of Usan surrendered to Silla in the twelfth year of the reign of King Jijeung. In the thirteenth year of King Taejo’s reign during the Goryeo period, Usan residents sent two envoys, Baek Gil and To Du, to pay tribute to the Goryeo court. During the eleventh year of King Euijong’s reign, the king ordered Kim Yurip, a warehouse supervisor in the eastern county of Myeongju, to visit Ulleungdo to determine if the island was fertile enough for settlement. Kim reported later that there was a high peak in the middle of the island, with 10,000 paces to the eastern shore, 13,000 to the western shore, 15,000 to the southern shore, and 8,000 to the northern shore. He reported seeing seven village sites, with a Buddhist statue, iron bell, and stone tower in the vicinity. Wild plants such as water celery and rhododendrons were seen in abundance. The Goryeo court finally abandoned the plan to repopulate the island due to its rocky, arid land. According to reports, Usan and Mureung are two separate islands but visible from each other on clear days.” [note 012]
 
Nonetheless, it is evident that Usando in this record is none other than today’s Dokdo. That is because there is no other island to consider in the East Sea. On a cloudy day, the two islands are not visible from each other. But on a sunny day, the only islands visible from each other are Ulleungdo and Dokdo. The several islands near Ulleungdo are so close and visible even on cloudy days that they do not fit the description above. The only two islands that are visible only on clear days are Ulleungdo and Dokdo. As Mureungdo is repeatedly identified in History of Goryeo as Ulleungdo, there is no doubt that Usando is Dokdo.
The two islands of Ulleungdo and Dokdo are located at a distance that enables one to be seen from the other. The remark that “the two islands can be seen with each other on a clear day” shows vividly the intimate relationship between the two. Even though the two islands are separated by 87.4 kilometers, which is no small distance, that is not a great distance because the two islands are linked closely by their visual proximity. For this reason one can see that the records were created based upon precise geographical knowledge about Dokdo.
Through this visual proximity residents of Ulleungdo could nurture their interest in Dokdo and the idea of a common living space. To the people of the State of Usan, the sea was their main source of livelihood. Dokdo, therefore, was also an integral part of the residents’ living space. It is thus natural to consider that Dokdo was part of Korea as it has been within a visible distance from Ulleungdo since the time of State of Usan. In this way the two islands of Ulleungdo and Dokdo began as a common living space. The geographic proximity is an important piece of evidence arguing against Japan’s territorial claims on Dokdo. For this reason, Japanese scholars who claim Dokdo as their own territory deny this incontrovertible fact of Dokdo’s visibility from Ulleungdo.

 
[note 001]
Lee, Byeong-do (1963), “Historical Examination on the Name of Dokdo,” Journal of Buddhist History, p. 39.
[note 002]
Baek In-gi and Sim Mun-bo (2006), “A Study on Distance and Sea Current between Ulleungdo and Dokdo,” Korea Maritime Institute, pp. 103-104.
[note 003]
East Okjeo, Biography of the Dongyi, Book of Wei, Records of the Three Kingdoms.
[note 004]
Seoul National University Museum (1997), Report on Ulleungdo Surface Archeological Survey (1).
[note 005]
Volume 4 “Book of Silla” Samguk Saki [三国史記, The History of Three Kingdoms]: “十三年夏六月 于山國歸服 歲以土宜爲貢 于山 國在溟州正東海島 或名鬱陵島 地方一百里 恃嶮不服 伊飡異斯夫 爲何瑟羅州軍主 謂于 山人愚悍 難以威來 可以計服 乃多造木偶師子 分載戰船 抵其國海岸 誑告曰 汝若不服 則放此猛獸踏殺之 國人恐懼則降.”
[note 006]
Song, Byeong-gi (2007), “Ulleungdo and Dokdo,” Dankook University Publishing, p. 19.
[note 007]
Song Byeong-gi (2004), “Selected Records in Support of Korea’s Dokdo Claims,” Hallym University Institute of Asian Studies, p. 202.
[note 008]
『世宗實錄』 「地理志」 江原道 蔚珍縣條: “于山•武陵二島 在縣正東海中 二島相距不遠 風日淸明 則可望見 新羅時稱于山國 一云鬱陵島 地方百里.”
[note 009]
『萬機要覽』 軍政篇: “輿地志云 鬱陵于山皆于山國地 于山則倭所謂松島也.”
[note 010]
Bae Seong-jun (2002), “Change in Perceptions Regarding Dokdo Seen from Name Changes in Ulleungdo and Dokdo,” Jindan hakbo, vol. 94, p. 31.
[note 011]
Lee Byeong-do (1963), op. cit., pp. 37-40.
[note 012]
『高麗史』 卷 58 「地理志」 3, 蔚珍縣條: “鬱陵島 - 在縣正東海中 新羅時稱于山國 一 云武陵 一云羽陵 地方百里. 智證王十二年來降 太祖十三年 其島人使白吉土豆 獻方物 毅宗十一年 王聞 鬱陵島 地廣土肥 舊有州縣 可以居民 遣溟州道監倉 金柔立往視 柔立 回奏云 島中有大山 從山頂 向東行至海一萬余步 向西行一萬三千余步 向南行一萬五千 余步 向北行八千余步 有村落基址七所 有石佛鐵鍾石塔 多生柴胡蒿本石南草 然多岩石 民不可居 遂寢其議. 一云于山•武陵本二島 相距不遠 風日淸明 則可望見.”
[note 001]
Lee, Byeong-do (1963), “Historical Examination on the Name of Dokdo,” Journal of Buddhist History, p. 39.
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[note 002]
Baek In-gi and Sim Mun-bo (2006), “A Study on Distance and Sea Current between Ulleungdo and Dokdo,” Korea Maritime Institute, pp. 103-104.
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[note 003]
East Okjeo, Biography of the Dongyi, Book of Wei, Records of the Three Kingdoms.
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[note 004]
Seoul National University Museum (1997), Report on Ulleungdo Surface Archeological Survey (1).
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[note 005]
Volume 4 “Book of Silla” Samguk Saki [三国史記, The History of Three Kingdoms]: “十三年夏六月 于山國歸服 歲以土宜爲貢 于山 國在溟州正東海島 或名鬱陵島 地方一百里 恃嶮不服 伊飡異斯夫 爲何瑟羅州軍主 謂于 山人愚悍 難以威來 可以計服 乃多造木偶師子 分載戰船 抵其國海岸 誑告曰 汝若不服 則放此猛獸踏殺之 國人恐懼則降.”
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[note 006]
Song, Byeong-gi (2007), “Ulleungdo and Dokdo,” Dankook University Publishing, p. 19.
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[note 007]
Song Byeong-gi (2004), “Selected Records in Support of Korea’s Dokdo Claims,” Hallym University Institute of Asian Studies, p. 202.
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[note 008]
『世宗實錄』 「地理志」 江原道 蔚珍縣條: “于山•武陵二島 在縣正東海中 二島相距不遠 風日淸明 則可望見 新羅時稱于山國 一云鬱陵島 地方百里.”
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[note 009]
『萬機要覽』 軍政篇: “輿地志云 鬱陵于山皆于山國地 于山則倭所謂松島也.”
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[note 010]
Bae Seong-jun (2002), “Change in Perceptions Regarding Dokdo Seen from Name Changes in Ulleungdo and Dokdo,” Jindan hakbo, vol. 94, p. 31.
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[note 011]
Lee Byeong-do (1963), op. cit., pp. 37-40.
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[note 012]
『高麗史』 卷 58 「地理志」 3, 蔚珍縣條: “鬱陵島 - 在縣正東海中 新羅時稱于山國 一 云武陵 一云羽陵 地方百里. 智證王十二年來降 太祖十三年 其島人使白吉土豆 獻方物 毅宗十一年 王聞 鬱陵島 地廣土肥 舊有州縣 可以居民 遣溟州道監倉 金柔立往視 柔立 回奏云 島中有大山 從山頂 向東行至海一萬余步 向西行一萬三千余步 向南行一萬五千 余步 向北行八千余步 有村落基址七所 有石佛鐵鍾石塔 多生柴胡蒿本石南草 然多岩石 民不可居 遂寢其議. 一云于山•武陵本二島 相距不遠 風日淸明 則可望見.”
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