When I was at Encyclopaedia Britannica, I discovered that encyclopedias and atlases can be small geopolitical battlegrounds. Our maps of southeast Asia, for example, were carefully-crafted to avoid taking a stand on the Kashmir issue, while at the same time not offending either Indian or Pakistani readers. (This is called “creative ambiguity” in diplomatic circles, I think.) Another flash-point was the Sea of Japan. The Korean government took us to task for calling the body of water between Korea and Japan “the Sea of Japan,” arguing that until the early 1900s, it had been called the “Eastern Sea.” Sea of Japan was a colonial construct, an artifact of the Japanese imperial project to literally redraw (and rename) the map of east Asia to justify its expansion.
You can quickly see why this matters. If you can get an apparently “authoritative” publication to change its maps or articles to support your view of the world, you can point to that publication and say, “See? The Encyclopaedia Britannica says this land is ours.” It’s like creating facts on the ground, only in this case the “ground” is a reference work. (The Britannica’s position was always that we didn’t set the standards for things like place-names, but reflected the consensus of the governmental and professional bodies that did decide such things.)
In Korea, at least, attempts to get rid of Japanese-imposed reality doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. Today, the L. A. Times (registration required) writes that some Koreans want to change the spelling of “Korea”:
Is alphabetical order destiny?
Yes, say Korean scholars and politicians who have begun a drive to change the official English-language name of their country to “Corea.” The seemingly arcane campaign is based on an increasingly prevalent belief that the original “C” was switched to a “K” by the Japanese at the start of their 1910-45 occupation of the peninsula so that their lowly colonials would not precede them in the English alphabetical hierarchy….
“Scholars who have studied this more deeply than I believe it was part of the legacy of Japanese imperialists to eradicate our culture,” said Kim Sung Ho, a South Korean legislator who was one of the sponsors of the new resolution.
Most evidence supporting the claim is circumstantial. English books and maps published through the 19th century generally spelled the country’s name as Corea, as did the British government in laying the cornerstone of its embassy in Seoul in 1890 with the name “Corea.” But sometime in the early 20th century, “Korea” began to be seen more frequently than “Corea” a change that coincided with Japan’s consolidation of its grip over the peninsula….
And like many a campaign in this heavily wired nation, this one is being vigorously waged over the Internet. An online poll on one popular portal found that 69.4% of respondents favored a spelling change and 27.4% were opposed….
[T]he South Korean government is unlikely to opt for a spelling change simply because of the burden of changing so many official documents.