▲ Jeju plays an important role in the theory of the East Asian Mediterranean Sea Photo courtesy Douglas MacDonald
The concept of the East Asian Mediterranean Sea comes from the theory that says the sea surrounding the Korean peninsula, including the East China Sea, creates a marine network which brought civilization to Northeast Asia. This concept was first used in Northeast Asian history and has recently also been applied to fables and in economic fields in Korea.
However, if you take a close look at the recent past, an open and multicultural marine network did not appear during the Joseon dynasty. Because of this, it is hard to see the existence of the East Asian Mediterranean Sea after the Ming dynasty as during this time there was a strong policy of centralism with limitations on marine traffic, trade, and industry.
It wasn’t until the 19th-century when the Opium Wars (1840~1842) eroded the existing East Asian order that the growth of Northeast Asia's marine network really took off.
During the Joseon dynasty, the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876 opened Joseon’s ports to western countries. Because of this, regions along the western coastline such as Mokpo, Gunsan and Incheon started to grow.
The commercial networks that connected China, the Joseon dynasty and Japan were also created during this time, which led to further networks with western countries.
Although this reconstitution of Northeast Asia and its connection to the global system was led by China, this was soon reorganized as a Japan-centered system which would then last for a long time.
Of course, Jeju could not be unaffected by these regional changes.
Until the mid-19-century, Japan consistently traded with China. Commonly traded products such as sea cucumbers, abalones, seaweed and shark's fin were exported to China from Hokkaido through Nagasaki port.
During this time Japan's feudal government had a monopoly on the trade of these products with China. However, due to growing demand from western countries, these products were finally liberalized in 1865.
Japanese fishermen and merchants who were now allowed to trade freely started to search for products even before the Joseon-Japan Commercial Treaty of 1883. Considering at the time Jeju was rich in abalones and sea cucumbers, Jeju was a good target for Japanese fisherman wanting these products.
In the early stages, Japanese fisherman came to Jeju with diving apparatus for catching abalone and sea cucumber and they also fished for shark and sea bream using newly introduced fishing gear. Later on, Japanese fishing boats started to catch mackerel and sardines as well. Jeju's rich waters and the success these boats achieved meant the export of Jeju’s produce expanded rapidly.
The products that were caught on Jeju were largely sent in two directions. Firstly seaweed and bream that were widely used in rituals in Japan were sent to Japan to satisfy the increasing domestic demand. Secondly, abalones, sea cucumber, and shark’s fin were re-exported to China.
As well as this, anchovies were one of Japan's main exports to Europe at the time, this means many of Jeju’s anchovies might have also been sent to Europe via Japan. Therefore, through this system, Jeju’s sea was connected to the global world.
However, this East Asian Mediterranean Sea network disappeared with the collapse of the Japanese empire and the introduction of the Chinese Communist system in the mid 20th century. It wasn't until Chinese economic reform in the late 20th century that the network started to appear again.
The rise of the Chinese cruise tourism industry once again reveals Jeju's status change in the East Asian Mediterranean Sea.
Starting in the 1980s, the Chinese cruise industry achieved rapid growth with three top international cruise companies' entering the Chinese market.
According to a Cruise Lines International Association research paper in April 2015, the number of cruise tourists in Asia was double that of 2012. This came at the same time as the increasing number of Chinese tourists.
In terms of visitors itineraries, 91% of cruise tourists in Asia chose a short itinerary. Four nights and five days (48%) was most popular, followed by two nights and three days (38%).
If you look at major travel companies and their travel routes, cruises that stop in Jeju generally belong to the routes departing from Tianjin or Shanghai before stopping in Jeju and then traveling on to Kyushu. This matches the western part of the East Asian Mediterranean Sea.
In terms of who travels on cruises, more Chinese male tourists enter through Jeju port than through Jeju airport. On the other hand, there are more than double the number of female tourists who visit the airport than male tourists.
Cruises are considered suitable for family trips according to Chinese traveling patterns. This pattern is slightly different from the pattern seen in cruises that depart from Singapore and travel the Sunda peninsula as well as cruises that depart from Hong Kong and travel through Vietnam.
All in all, the number of Chinese tourists surpasses the number of Japanese tourists in the Northeast travel market and as such, the growth of the East Asian Mediterranean Sea goes hand in hand with Chinese tourism. Cruise tourism triggered by Chinese tourists and the reorganization of the global cruise industry sees Jeju takes its place as the central part of the East Asian Mediterranean Sea.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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