Glasses were once considered a product of Western-style modernization, but as the movies and TV series starring King Jeongjo of Joseon showed the appearance of the king wearing glasses, the “Eyeglasses in the Joseon Era” no longer became an unknown idea. Who invented the glasses? When and how were they first introduced to East Asia?
The invention of glasses dates back to the 1280s in Europe. Behind the invention of glasses was the knowledge and technology about glass held by Islam, and this new civilization spread simultaneously in Europe and the Arab countries at the end of the 13th century. Eyewear was first introduced to China during the reign of Emperor Xuande of the Ming Dynasty (1425-1435), according to records, but it was not until the 16th century that the glasses were actually made there. used.
In its introduction to ancient Asia, the glasses spread along the Ming Dynasty tributary trade route, which combined diplomacy and commerce. The tributary states of the Ming Dynasty include Samarkand (present-day Uzbekistan), Mecca (present-day Saudi Arabia), and Melaka (Malaysia), showing how the Ming dynasty controlled ethnic groups, distinguishing those in the north and those in the sea. The author believes that the spread of glasses in China is proof that the trade network across Eurasia, which was reportedly cut off after the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, has been restored. The Ming Dynasty gave a generous award for the tribute, and high-quality glasses began to arrive in China.
It appears that the glasses were first introduced to Joseon during the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592. Lee Ick wrote in Seonghosaseol that “The glasses called ‘Ae-chae’ will come from China, and they will surely be used in the House.” The “Ae-chae” was one of the most well-known names for eyeglasses during the Joseon Dynasty. The glasses have been mentioned countless times in the records of the Yeonghaeng, a delegation to Beijing in the 18th century. In “Type of glasses” written by the scholar Silhak Lee Kyu-gyeong (1788-1856), there is an article which divides glasses into myopic and hyperopic and according to their shapes.
The book is interesting in that it carefully disentangles world history focusing on the subject of important everyday objects, but is lacking in some areas. The author assumes that the glasses arrived in China half a century after their appearance in Europe, but does not provide detailed evidence. As this is not an important part of the subject of the book, it would have been better to omit it. In addition, it would have been kinder to readers in general, who are not familiar with Chinese history, than phrases such as “during the reign of Emperor Xuande” and “during the reign of Emperor Qianlong Are also expressed in years AD. Finally, ‘gliding’, which appears often in the book, appears to be a typo of ‘grinding’.