Corea or Cho-sen by A (Arnold) Henry Savage-Landor

Produced by Michael Ciesielski, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at COREA OR CHO-SEN COREA OR CHO-SEN THE LAND OF THE MORNING CALM BY A. HENRY SAVAGE-LANDOR AUTHOR OF “ALONE WITH THE HAIRY AINU” With Numerous Text and Full-Page Illustrations from Drawings made by the Author LONDON WILLIAM HEINEMANN 1895 BY GRACIOUS PERMISSION I
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Produced by Michael Ciesielski, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at










With Numerous Text and Full-Page Illustrations from Drawings made by the Author

[Illustration: A. HENRY SAVAGE-LANDOR.]





[_All rights reserved_]


I Humbly Dedicate





In this book I have sought to present the reader with some dry facts about Corea and the Coreans. I have attempted to describe the manners and customs of the people as accurately as possible from the impressions which my visit to their country left upon me, but of course I do not claim that these personal opinions expressed are absolutely infallible. My sojourn extended over several months, and I never during all that time neglected any opportunity of studying the natives, giving my observations as they were made a permanent form by the aid both of pen and of brush. I was afforded specially favourable chances for this kind of work through the kind hospitality shown me by the Vice-Minister of Home Affairs and Adviser to the King, Mr. C.R. Greathouse, to whom I feel greatly indebted for my prolonged and delightful stay in the country, as well as for the amiable and valuable assistance which he and General Le Gendre, Foreign Adviser to His Corean Majesty, gave me in my observations and studies among the upper classes of Corea. I am also under great obligations to Mr. Seradin Sabatin, Architect to His Majesty the King, and to Mr. Krien, German Consul at Seoul, for the kindness and hospitality with which they treated me on my first arrival at their city.

The illustrations in this book are reproductions of sketches taken by me while in the country, and though, perhaps, they want much in artistic merit, I venture to hope that they will be found characteristic.

For literary style I hope my readers will not look. I am not a literary man, nor do I desire to profess myself such. I trust, however, that I have succeeded in telling my story in a simple and straightforward manner, for this especially was the object with which I started at the outset.




Christmas on board–Fusan–A body-snatcher–The Kiung-sang Province–The cotton production–Body-snatching extraordinary–Imperatrice Gulf–Chemulpo.


Chemulpo–So-called European hotels–Comforts–Japanese concession–The _Guechas_–New Year’s festivities–The Chinese settlement–European residents–The word “Corea”–A glance at Corean history–Cho-sen.


The road to Seoul–The _Mapu_–Ponies–Oxen–Coolies–Currency–Mode of carrying weights–The Han River–Nearly locked out.


The Coreans–Their faces and heads–Bachelors–Married men–Head-band–Hats–Hat-umbrellas–Clothes–Spectacles.


The Woman of Cho-sen–Her clothes–Her ways–Her looks–Her privileges–Her duties–Her temper–Difference of classes–Feminine musicians.


Corean children–The family–Clans–Spongers–Hospitality–Spinning-tops –Toys–Kite-flying–Games–How babies are sent to sleep.


Corean inns–Seoul–A tour of observation–Beggars–Lepers–Philosophy–An old palace–A leopard hunt–Weather prophets–The main street–Sedan chairs–The big bell–Crossing of the bridges–Monuments–Animal worship–The Gate of the Dead–A funeral–The Queen-dowager’s telephone.


Seoul–The City Wall–A large image–Mount Nanzam–The fire-signals–The women’s joss-house–Foreign buildings–Japanese settlement–An anecdote–Clean or not clean?–The Pekin Pass–The water-carrier–The man of the Gates.


The Corean house–Doors and windows–Blinds–Rooms–The “Kan”–Roasting alive–Furniture–Treasures–The kitchen–Dinner-set–Food–Intoxicants–Gluttony–Capacity for food–Sleep–Modes of illumination–Autographs–Streets–Drainage–Smell.


A Corean marriage–How marriages are arranged–The wedding ceremony–The document–In the nuptial chamber–Wife’s conduct–Concubines–Widows –Seduction–Adultery–Purchasing a husband–Love–Intrigue–Official “squeezing”–The cause.


Painting in Seoul–Messages from the King–Royal princes sitting for their portraits–Breaking the mourning law–Quaint notions–Delight and despair–Calling in of State ceremony–Corean soldiers–How they mount guard–Drill–Honours–A much-admired shoe–A gift.


The royal palace–A royal message–Mounting guard–The bell–The royal precinct–The Russian villa–An unfinished structure–The Summer Palace–The King’s house–Houses of dignitaries–The ground and summer pavilion–Colds–The funeral of a Japanese Minister–Houses of royal relations–The queen–The oldest man and woman–The King and his throne–Politics and royalty–Messengers and spies–Kim-Ka-Chim–Falcons and archery–Nearly a St. Sebastian–The queen’s curiosity–A royal banquet–The consequences.


Students–Culture–Examination ground–The three degrees–The alphabet–Chinese characters–Schools–Astronomers–Diplomas–Students abroad–Adoption of Western ways–Quick perception–The letter “f”–A comical mistake–Magistrates and education Rooted superstition–Another haunted palace–Tigers–A convenient custom.


Religion–Buddhism–Bonzes–Their power–Shamanism–Spirits–Spirits of the mountain–Stone heaps–Sacred trees–Seized by the spirits–Safe-guard against them–The wind–Sorcerers and sorceresses–Exorcisms–Monasteries –Temples–Buddha–Monks–Their customs and clothing–Nuns–Their garments–Religious ceremonies–The tooth-stone.


Police–Detectives–The plank-walk–The square board–The wooden blocks for hands and feet–Floggings–The bamboo rod–The stick–The flexible board–A flogging in Seoul–One hundred strokes for three-halfpence –Wounds produced–Tender-hearted soldiers–Imprisonment–Exile–Status of women, children, and bachelors–Guilds and the law–Nobles and the law–Serfdom–mild form of slavery.


Executions–Crucified and carried through the streets–The execution ground–Barbarous mode of beheading–Noble criminals–Paternal love–Shut out–Scaling the wall–A catastrophe–A nightmare.


The “King’s procession”–Removing houses–Foolhardy people–Beaten to death–Cavalry soldiers–Infantry–Retainers–Banners–Luxurious saddles–The King and his double–Royal palanquins–The return at night.


Fights–Prize fights–Fist fights–Special moon for fighting–Summary justice–The use of the top-knot–Cruelty–A butcher combatant Stone fights–Belligerent children–Battle between two guilds–Wounded and killed–The end of the battle postponed–Soldiers’ fights.


Fires–The greatest peril–A curious way of saving one’s house–The anchor of safety–How it worked–Making an opposition wind–Saved by chance–A good trait in the native character–Useful friends.


A trip to Poo-kan–A curious monastery.


Corean physiognomy–Expressions of pleasure–Displeasure–Contempt –Fear–Pluck–Laughter–Astonishment–Admiration–Sulkiness–Jealousy –Intelligence–Affection–Imagination–Dreams–Insanity–Its principal causes–Leprosy–The family–Men and women–Fecundity–Natural and artificial deformities–Abnormalities–Movements and attitudes–The Corean hand–Conservatism.




Christmas on board–Fusan–A body-snatcher–The Kiung-sang Province–The cotton production–Body-snatching extraordinary–Imperatrice Gulf–Chemulpo.

[Illustration: CHEMULPO]

It was on a Christmas Day that I set out for Corea. The year was 1890. I had been several days at Nagasaki, waiting for the little steamer, _Higo-Maru_, of the Nippon Yusen Kaisha (Japan Steamship Company), which was to arrive, I think, from Vladivostock, when a message was brought to me saying that she was now in port, and would sail that afternoon for Tsushima, Goto, and the Corean ports.

I went on board, and, our vessel’s anchor being raised at four o’clock, we soon steamed past Battenberg Island and got away from the picturesque Bay of Nagasaki. This was the last I saw of Japan.

The little _Higo_ was not a bad seaboat, for, following good advice, her owners had provided her with rolling beams; but, mind you, she had by no means the steadiness of a rock, nor did she pretend to cut the water at the rate of twenty knots an hour. Still, taken all in all, she was a pretty good goer. Her captain was a Norwegian, and a jolly fellow; while the crew she carried was entirely Japanese, with the exception of the stewards in the saloon, who were two pig-tailed subjects of the Celestial Empire.

“Numbel one Clistmas dinnel has got to-night, Mastel,” expostulated John Chinaman to me in his pidgen English, as I was busy making my cabin comfortable. “Soup has got, fish has got, loast tulkey has got, plan-puddy all bulning has got. All same English countly. Dlink, to-night, plenty can have, and no has to pay. Shelly can have, Boldeau can have, polt, bea, champagne, blandy, all can have, all flee!”

I must say that when I heard of the elaborate dinner to which we were to be treated by the captain, I began to feel rather glad that I had started on my journey on a Christmas Day.

There were a few Japanese passengers on board, but only one European, or rather American, besides myself, and a most pleasant companion he turned out to be. He was Mr. Clarence R. Greathouse, formerly Consul-General for the United States at Yokohama–at which place I first had the pleasure of meeting him–who was now on his way to Corea, where he had been requested by the Corean Government to accept the high and responsible position of Vice-Minister of Home Affairs, as well as of legal adviser to the King in international affairs.

Curiously enough, he had not been aware that I was to travel on the same ship, and I also never dreamt that I would have had the good fortune of being in such good and agreeable company during a voyage which otherwise would have been extremely dull. Accordingly, when we met again thus accidentally on the deck of the _Higo_, the event was as much to our mutual satisfaction as it was unexpected.

The sea was somewhat choppy, but notwithstanding this, when the steward appeared on the companion-way, beaming all over, in his best silk gown and jacket, and rang the dinner-bell with all his might, we gaily responded to his call and proceeded below.

Heavens! it was a Christmas dinner and no mistake! The tables and walls had been decorated with little paper flags and flowers made of the brightest colours that human fancy could devise, and dishes of almonds and raisins filled the centre of the table. There were little flags stuck in those dishes, and, indeed, everywhere. A big cake in the middle had prudently been tied to the table with a string, as the rolling motion of the ship was rather against its chances of keeping steady in the place that had been assigned to it, and the other usual precautions had been taken to keep the plates and glasses in their proper positions.

Our dinner-party consisted of about eight. At one moment we would be up, with our feet on a level with our opposite companion’s head; the next we would be down, with the soles of their boots higher than our skulls.

It is always a pretty sight to see a table decorated, but when it is not only decorated but animated as well, it is evidently prettier still. When you see all the plates and salt-cellars moving slowly away from you, and as slowly returning to you; when you have to chase your fork and your knife before you can use them, the amusement is infinitely greater.

“_O gomen kudasai_”–“I beg your pardon”–said a Japanese gentleman in rather a hurried manner, and more hurriedly still made his exit into his cabin. Two or three others of his countrymen followed suit during the progress of the dinner, and as number after number of the _menu_ was gone through, so that we who remained had a capital time. Not many minutes also elapsed without our having a regular fusillade of bottles of champagne of some unknown brand, and “healths” were drunk of distant friends and relatives.

Mr. Greathouse, who, like many of his countrymen, has a wonderful gift for telling humorous stories, of which he had an unlimited supply, kept us in fits all evening, and in fact the greater part of the night, so that when we passed the islands of Goto and Tsushima we were still awake and in course of being entertained by his Yankee yarns.

The next day we reached the Corean port of Fusan. I well remember how much I was struck when we entered the pretty harbour and approached the spot where we cast anchor, by the sight of hundreds of white spots moving slowly along the coast and on a road winding up a hill. As we drew nearer, the white spots became larger and assumed more and more the form of human beings. There was something so ghostly about that scene that it is still vividly impressed upon my mind.

There is at Fusan not only a Japanese settlement, but also a Chinese one. About two and a half miles distant round the bay, the native walled town and fort can be plainly seen, while in the distance one may distinguish the city and castle of Tong-nai, in which the Governor resides. If I remember correctly, the number of Europeans at this port is only three or four, these being mainly in the employ of the Chinese Customs service.

We had hardly come to a standstill when a curious-looking being, who had come to meet the steamer in a boat, climbed up the rope-ladder which had been let down on the starboard side and came on board. He was a European.

“Do you see that man?” a voice whispered in my ear. “He is a body-snatcher.”

“Nonsense,” I said; “are you joking, or what?”

“No, I am not; and, if you like, I will tell you his story at luncheon.” And surely what better time could be chosen for a “body-snatching” story than “luncheon.” Meanwhile, however, I lost not my chance, and while conversing with somebody else, the snatcher found himself “snatched” in my sketch-book. It is not every day that one comes across such individuals! I went to speak to him, and I must confess that whether he had as a fact troubled the dead or not, he was none the less most courteous and polite with the living. He had, it is true, at times somewhat of a sinister look in his face; but for his unsteady eyes, you might almost have put him down as a missionary. He informed me that codfish was to be had in great abundance at Fusan, and that the grain export was almost entirely done by the Japanese, while the importation of miscellaneous articles was entirely in the hands of the Chinese.

Fusan is situated at the most south-westerly extremity of the province of Kiung-sang, which words, translated into English mean, “polite compliment.” The kingdom of Corea, we may here mention, is divided into eight provinces, which rejoice in the following names: Kiung-sang-do,[1] Chulla-do, Chung-chon-do, Kiung-kei-do, Kang-wen-do, Wang-hai-do, Ping-yan-do, Ham-kiung-do. The province in which Fusan is situated is, without exception, the richest in Corea after that of Chulla, for it has a mild climate and a very fertile soil. This being the case, it is not astonishing to find that the population is more numerous than in most other districts further north, and also, that being so near the Japanese coast, a certain amount of trading, mostly done by junks, is continually being transacted with the Mikado’s subjects on the opposite shores. Fusan has been nominally in the hands of the Japanese from very ancient times, although it was only in 1876 that a treaty was concluded by which it was opened to Japanese trade. The spot on which the settlements lie is pretty, with its picturesque background of high mountains and the large number of little islands rising like green patches here and there in the bay. Maki, the largest island, directly opposite the settlement, is now used as a station for breeding horses of very small size, and it possesses good pastures on its high hills. In the history of the relations between Corea and Japan this province plays indeed a very important part, for being nearer than any other portion of the kingdom to the Japanese shores–the distance being, I believe, some 130 miles between the nearest points of the two countries–invasions have been of frequent occurrence, especially during the period that Kai-seng, then called Sunto, was the capital. This city, like the present capital, Seoul, was a fortified and walled town of the first rank and the chief military centre of the country, besides being a seat of learning and making some pretence of commercial enterprise. It lay about twenty-five miles N.E. of Seoul, and at about an equal number of miles from the actual sea. For several hundreds of years, Sunto had been one of the principal cities of Corea, when Wang, a warrior of the Fuyu race and an ardent Buddhist, who had already conquered the southern portion of the Corean peninsula, made it the capital, which it remained until the year 1392 A.D., when the seat of the Government was removed to Seoul.

To return to Fusan and the Kyung-sang province. It is as well to mention that the chief product cultivated is cotton. This is, of course, the principal industry all over Corea, and the area under cultivation is roughly computed at between eight and nine hundred thousand acres, the unclean cotton produced per annum being calculated at about 1,200,000,000 lbs. In a recent report, the Commissioner of Customs at Fusan sets down the yearly consumption of cleaned cotton at about 300,000,000 lbs. The greater part of the cotton is made up into piece-goods for making garments and padding the native winter clothes. In the Kiung-sang province the pieces of cloth manufactured measure sixty feet, while the width is only fourteen inches, and the weight between three and four pounds. The fibre of the cotton stuff produced, especially in the Kiung-sang and Chulla provinces, is highly esteemed by the Coreans, and they say that it is much more durable and warmth-giving than that produced either in Japan or China.

Of course the production of cotton could be greatly increased if more practical systems were used in its cultivation, and if the magistrates were not so much given to “squeezing” the people. To make money and to have it extorted the moment you have made it, is not encouraging to the poor Corean who has worked for it; therefore little exertion is displayed beyond what is necessary to earn, not the “daily bread,” for that they do not eat, but the daily bowl of rice. There is much fertile land, which at present is not used at all, and hardly any attention, and much less skill, is manifested when once the seed is in the ground.

The Neapolitan _lazzaroni_, of world-wide reputation for extreme laziness, have indeed worthy rivals in the Corean peasantry. The women are made to do all the work, for by them the crops are gathered, and by them the seeds are separated with the old-fashioned roller-gin. To borrow statistics from the Commissioners’ Report, a native woman can, with a roller-gin, turn out, say, nearly 3 lbs. of clean cotton from 12 lbs. of seed-cotton; while the industrious Japanese, who have brought over modern machines of the saw-gin type, can obtain 35 lbs. of clean cotton from 140 lbs. of seed-cotton in the same space of time. Previous to being spun, the cotton is prepared pretty much in the same way as in Japan or China, the cotton being tossed into the air with a view to separating the staple; but the spinning-wheel commonly used in Corea only makes one thread at a time.

The crops are generally gathered in August, and the dead stalk is used for fuel, while the ashes make fairly good manure. The quantity of clean cotton is about 85 lbs. per acre, and of seed-cotton 345 lbs. per acre.

But to return to my narrative, luncheon-time came in due course, and as I was spreading out my napkin on my knees, I reminded the person who had whispered those mysterious words in my ear, of the promise he had made.

“Yes,” said he, as he cautiously looked round, “I will tell you his story. Mind you,” he added, “this man to whom you spoke a while ago was only one of several, and he was not the principal actor in that outrageous business, still he himself is said to have taken a considerable part in the criminal dealings. Remember that the account I am going to give you of the affair is only drawn in bold lines, for the details of the expedition have never been fully known to any one. For all I know, this man may even be perfectly innocent of all that is alleged against him.”

“Go on; do not make any more apologies, and begin your story,” I remarked, as my curiosity was considerably roused.

“Very good. It was on April 30th, 1867, that an expedition left Shanghai bound for Corea. The aims of that expedition seemed rather obscure to many of the foreign residents at the port of departure, as little faith was reposed in the commander. Still, it must be said for its members that until they departed they played their _role_ well. Corea was then practically a closed country; wherefore a certain amount of curiosity was displayed at Shanghai when three or four Coreans, dressed up in their quaint costumes and transparent horse-hair hats, were seen walking about, and being introduced here and there by a French bishop called Ridel. A few days later the curiosity of the foreign residents grew in intensity when the news spread that an American subject, a certain Jenkins, formerly interpreter at the U.S. Consulate, had, at his own expense, chartered a ship and hurriedly fitted out an expedition, taking under his command eight other Europeans, all of a more or less dubious character, and a suite of about 150 Chinamen and Manillamen, the riff-raff of the Treaty Port, who were to be the crew and military escort of the expedition. A man called Oppert, a North German Jew, and believed by everybody to be an adventurer under the guise of a trader, was in command of the ‘fleet’–which was composed of a steamer, if I remember right, of about 700 tons, called the _China_, and a smaller tender of little over 50 tons, called the _Greta_. Oppert flew the flag of his own country, and in due course gave the order to start.”

“Well, so far so good,” I interrupted; “but you have not told me what connection there was between Bishop Ridel’s four Coreans and your body-snatching friends?”

“Well, you see, the American and Oppert took advantage of their appearance in Shanghai to let people believe that they were high officials sent over by the king, who was anxious to send an embassy to the different courts of Europe to explain the slaughter of foreigners which had taken place in his country, and also with the object of entering, if possible, into treaties with the different European monarchs–in fact to open his country to foreign trade and commerce. It seemed somewhat a large order to any one who knew of the retiring nature of the king, but everything was done so quickly that the expedition was gone before people had time to inquire into its real object.

“The fleet, as I have remarked, in due time started, and after calling on its way at Nagasaki, where rifles and other firearms and ammunition were purchased with which to arm the military escort, steered a course to the mouth of the Han river. Among the eight Europeans of dubious character on board was a Frenchman, a Jesuit priest, who called himself Farout, but whose real name was Feron, and who played an important part in the piratical scheme, for, having lived some time previously in Corea, he had mastered the language. Besides, he had travelled a good deal along the river Han, so that he was entrusted with the responsible position of guide and interpreter to the body-snatchers!”

“Curious position for a missionary to occupy,” I could not help remarking.

“Yes. They reached Prince Jerome’s Gulf on the 8th of May, and the next day, sounding continually, slowly steamed up the river Han to a point where it was deemed advisable to man the tender and smaller rowing-boats with a view to completing the expedition in these.

“This plan was successfully carried out, and during the night, under the command of Oppert, and escorted by the marauders, who were armed to the teeth, they proceeded to the point where l’Abbe Feron advised a landing. Here, making no secret of their designs, they ill-treated the natives, and pillaged their poor huts, after which they made their way to the tomb, where the relics lay of some royal personage supposed to have been buried there with mountains of gold and precious jewels, which relics were held in much veneration by the great Regent, the Tai-wen-kun. The impudent scheme, in a few words, was this: to take the natives by surprise, dig the body quickly out of its underground place of what should have been eternal rest, and take possession of anything valuable that might be found in the grave. The disturbed bones of the unfortunate prince were to be carried on board, and a high ransom was to be extorted from the great Regent, who they thought would offer any sum to get back the cherished bones of his ancestor.

“The march from the landing-place to the tomb occupied longer than had been anticipated, and crowds of astonished and angry natives followed the procession of armed men. The latter finally reached the desired spot, a funny little semi-spherical mound of earth, with a few stone figures of men and ponies roughly carved on either side, and guarded by two stone slabs.

“The ‘abbe,’ who, among other things, was said to have been the promoter of the scheme, pointed out the mound, and, rejoicing with Oppert and Jenkins at having been so far successful, gave orders to the coolies to proceed at once to dig. Spades and shovels had been brought for the purpose, and the little mound was rapidly being levelled, while the turbulent crowd of infuriated Coreans which had collected was getting more and more menacing. These seemed to spring out by hundreds from every side as by magic, and the body-snatchers were soon more than ten times outnumbered. No greater insult or infamous act could there be to a Corean mind than the violation of a grave. As spadeful after spadeful of earth was removed by the shaking hands of the frightened coolies, shouts, hisses, and oaths went up from the maddened crowd, but Oppert and the French abbe, half scared as they were, still pined for the hidden treasure, and encouraged the grave-diggers with promises of rewards as well as with the invigorating butt-ends of their rifles. At last, after digging a big hole in the earth, their spades came upon a huge slab of stone, which seemed to be the top of the sarcophagus.”

“I suppose that no oath was bad enough for the three leaders, then?” said I.

“No; they were mad with fury, and more so when all the strength of their men combined was not sufficient to stir the stone an inch.”

“The crowd which till then had been merely turbulent, now became so exasperated at the cheek of the ‘foreign white devils’ that it could no more keep within bounds, and a wild attack was made on the pirates. Showers of stones were thrown, and the infuriated natives made a rush upon them; but, _helas!_ their attack was met by a volley of rifle-shots. Frightened out of their lives by the murderous effects of these strange weapons, they fell back for a time, only to return by-and-by with fresh ardour to the attack. The body-snatchers, having little confidence in the courage and fidelity of the ruffian lot that composed their military escort, and, moreover, seeing that all efforts were useless to remove the ‘blessed’ stone, deemed it more than advisable to retreat to the tender–a retreat which, one may add, was effected somewhat hurriedly. This being done, they steamed full speed down the river, and once on board the _China_, began to feel more like themselves again.

“They anchored opposite Kang-wha Island, and remained there for three days. Then as they were holding a parley on land near Tricauld Island, they were attacked again by the angry mob, the news of their outrageous deed having spread even hitherwards, and two or three of their men were killed. Realising, therefore, that it was impossible to carry out their plan, the body-snatchers returned to Shanghai, but here a surprise awaited them.

“They were all arrested and underwent a trial. So little evidence, however, was brought against them, and that little was of such a conflicting character, that they were all acquitted. Oppert, nevertheless, was imprisoned in his own country, and even brought out a book in which he described his piratical expedition.”

“Yes,” I remarked, “your story is a very good one; but what part did this particular man, now at Fusan, take in the marauding scheme?”

“Oh, that I do not exactly know–in fact, no one knows more than this, that he was one of the eight Europeans who accompanied Oppert. Here at Fusan all the foreign residents look down on him, and his only pleasure is to come on board when a ship happens to call, that he may exchange a few words in a European tongue, for no one belonging to this locality will speak to him.”

I went on deck to look for the pirate, hoping to get, if possible, a few interesting and accurate details of the adventurous journey of the _China_, but he had already gone, and we were just on the point of raising our anchor, bound for Chemulpo.

On December 27th we steamed past Port Hamilton, formerly occupied by the British, where fortifications and a jetty had been constructed and afterwards abandoned, a treaty having been signed by Great Britain and China, to the effect that no foreign Power was to be allowed to occupy either Port Hamilton or any other port in the kingdom of Corea at any future time.

During that day we travelled mostly along the inner course, among hundreds of picturesque little islands of the Corean Archipelago, and in the afternoon of the 28th we entered the Imperatrice Gulf. On account of the low tide we had to keep out at sea till very late, and it was only towards sunset that we were able to enter the inner harbour where Chemulpo lies, protected by a pretty island on its western side. I bade good-bye to the jolly captain and mate, and getting my traps together, landed for the second time on Corean soil.


[1] _Do_ means province.


Chemulpo–So-called European hotels–Comforts–Japanese concession–The _Guechas_–New-Year’s festivities–The Chinese settlement–European residents–The word “Corea”–A glance at Corean history–Cho-sen.


When I land in a new country a strange sense of the unknown somehow takes possession of me. Perhaps in this, however, I am not alone. The feeling is in part, I think, due to one’s new surroundings, though chiefly to the facial expressions of the people, with which one is not familiar and probably does not quite understand. One may be a student of human character in only a very amateurish way, and yet without much difficulty guess by the twinkle in the eye, or the quivering of the underlip, whether a person is pleased or annoyed, but when a strange land is visited one is apt to be at first often deceived by appearances; and if, as has happened in my case, the traveller has suffered in consequence of being thus deceived, he is rather apt to look upon all that he sees with a considerable amount of caution and even suspicion.

It was then with some such feelings as these that I landed at Chemulpo. Hundreds of coolies running along the shore, with loads of grain on their backs, to be shipped by the _Higo-Maru_, had no compunction in knocking you down if you were in their way, and a crowd of curious native loafers, always ready to be entertained by any new arrival, followed you _en masse_ wherever you went.

When I visited Chemulpo there were actually three European hotels there. These were European more in name than in fact, but there they were, and as the night was fast approaching, I had to make my choice, for I wanted a lodging badly.

One of these hotels was kept by a Chinaman, and was called Steward’s Hotel, for the simple reason that its owner had been a steward on board an American ship, and had since appropriated the word as a family name; the second, which rejoiced in the grand name of “Hotel de Coree,” was of Hungarian proprietorship, and a favourite resort for sailors of men-of-war when they called at that port, partly because a drinking saloon, well provided with intoxicants of all descriptions, was the chief feature of the establishment, and partly because glasses were handed over the counter by a very fascinating young lady, daughter of the proprietor, a most accomplished damsel, who could speak fluently every language under the sun–from Turkish and Arabic to Corean and Japanese. The third hotel–a noble mansion, to use modern phraseology–was quite a new structure, and was owned by a Japanese. The name which had been given by him to his house of rest was “The Dai butzu,” or, in English parlance, The Great God. Attracted by the holiness of the name, and perhaps even more by the clean look, outside only, of the place, I, as luck would have it, made the Dai butzu my headquarters. I know little about things celestial, but certainly can imagine nothing less celestial on the face of the earth than this house of the Great God at Chemulpo. The house had apparently been newly built, for the rooms were damp and icy cold, and when I proceeded to inspect the bed and remarked on the somewhat doubtful cleanliness of the sheets, “They are quite clean,” said the landlord; “only two gentlemen have slept in them before.” However, as we were so near the New Year, he condescended to change them to please me, and I accepted his offer most gracefully as a New-Year’s gift.

“O Lord,” said I with a deep sigh when the news arrived that no meat could be got that evening, and the only provisions in store were “one solitary tin, small size, of compressed milk.”

“Mionichi nandemo arimas, Konban domo dannasan, nandemo arimasen”: “To-morrow you can have anything, but to-night, please, sir, we have nothing.” As I am generally a philosopher on such occasions, I satisfied my present cravings with that tin of milk, which, needless to say, I emptied, putting off my dinner till the following night.

Corea, as everybody knows, is an extremely cold country, the thermometer reaching as low sometimes as seventy or even eighty degrees of frost; my readers will imagine therefore how delightfully warm I was in my bed with only one sheet over me and a sort of cotton bed-cover, both sheet and bed-cover, I may add, being somewhat too short to cover my feet and my neck at the same time, my lower extremities in consequence playing a curious game of hide-and-seek with the support of my head. I had ordered a cold bath, and water and tray had been brought into my room before I had gone to bed, but to my horror, when I got up, ready to plunge in and sponge myself to my heart’s content, I found nothing but a huge block of solid ice, into which the water had thought proper to metamorphose itself. Bells there were none in the house, so recourse had to be made to the national Japanese custom of clapping one’s hands in order to summon up the servants.

“He,” answered the slanting-eyed maid from down below, as she trotted up the steps. Good sharp girl that she was, however, she quickly mastered the situation, and hurried down to fetch fresh supplies of unfrozen liquid from the well; although hardly had she left the room the second time before a thick layer of ice again formed on the surface of the bucketful which she had brought. It was bathing under difficulties, I can tell you; but though I do not much mind missing my dinner, I can on no account bring myself to deprivation of my cold bath in the morning. It is to this habit that I attribute my freedom from contagious diseases in all countries and climates; to it I owe, in fact, my life, and I have no doubt to it, some day, I shall also owe my death.

The evil of cold was, however, nothing as compared with the quality and variety of the food. For the best part of the week, during which I stayed at the Dai butzu, I only had an occasional glance at a slice of nondescript meat, served one day as “rosbif,” and the next day as “mutin shops,” but unfortunately so leathery that no Sheffield blade could possibly divide it, and no human tooth nor jaw, however powerful, could masticate it.

As luck would have it, I was asked out to dinner once or twice by an American gentleman–a merchant resident at Chemulpo–and so made up for what would have otherwise been the lost art of eating.

Chemulpo is a port with a future. The Japanese prefer to call it Jinsen; the Chinese, In-chiang. It possesses a pretty harbour, though rather too shallow for large ships. The tide also, a very troublesome customer in that part of the world, falls as much as twenty-eight or twenty-nine feet; wherefore it is that at times one can walk over to the island in front of the settlement almost without wetting one’s feet.

Chemulpo’s origin is said to be as follows: The Japanese government, represented at Seoul by a very able and shrewd man called Hanabusa, had repeatedly urged the Corean king to open to Japanese trade a port somewhat nearer to the capital. Though the king was personally inclined to enter into friendly negotiations, there were many of the anti-foreign party who would not hear of the project; but such was the pressure brought to bear by the skilful Japanese, and so persuasive were the king’s arguments, that, after much pour-parleying, the latter finally gave way. Towards the end of 1880, the Mikado’s envoy, accompanied by a number of other officials, proceeded from the capital to the Imperatrice Gulf and selected an appropriate spot, on which to raise the now prosperous little concession, fixing that some distance from the native city. In course of years it grew bigger, and when I was at Chemulpo there was actually a Japanese village there, with its own Jap policemen, its tea-houses, two banks, the “Mitsui-bashi” and “The First National Bank of Japan,” and last but not least, a number of _guechas_, the graceful singers and posturing dancers of Nippon, without whom life is not worth living for the Nipponese.

Like the Australians generally, who begin building a town by marking out a fine race-course, so the light-hearted sons of the Mikado’s empire, when out colonising, begin as a first and necessary luxury of life by importing a few _guechas_ who, with their quaint songs, enliven them in moments of despair, and send them into ecstasies at banquets and dinner-parties with their curious fan-dances, &c, just as our British music-hall frequenting youth raves over the last song and skirt-dance of the moment.

The _guechas_, mind you, are not bad girls. There is nothing wrong about them except that they are not always “quite right,” for they are well educated, and possess good manners. They are generally paid by the hour for the display of their talent, and the prices they command vary from the low sum of twenty sens (sixpence) to as much as two or three yen (dollars), for each sixty minutes, in proportion, of course, to their capacity and beauty.

As the New Year was fast approaching, and that is a great festivity among the Japanese, the _guechas_ at Chemulpo were hard at work, and from morning till night and _vice versa_ they were summoned from one house to the other to entertain with their–to European, ears excruciating–music on the Shamesens and Gokkins, while _sake_ and foreign liquors were plentifully indulged in.

I walked up the main street. Great Scott! what a din! It was enough to drive anybody crazy. Each house, with its paper walls, hardly suitable for the climate, seemed to contain a regular pandemonium. Men and women were to be seen squatting on the ground round a huge brass _hibachi_, where a charcoal fire was blazing, singing and yelling and playing and clapping their hands to their hearts’ content. They had lost somehow or other that look of gracefulness which is so characteristic of them in their own country, and on a closer examination I found the cause to be their being clad in at least a dozen _kimonos_,[2] put on one over the other to keep the cold out. Just picture to yourself any one wearing even half that number of coats, and you will doubtless agree with me that one’s form would not be much improved thereby in appearance. The noise increased until New-Year’s Eve, and when at last the New Year broke in upon them, it was something appalling. The air was full of false notes, vocal and otherwise, and I need scarcely say that at the “Dai butzu” also grand festivities went on for the greater part of the night.

I was lying flat in bed on New-Year’s Day, thinking of the foolishness of humanity, when I heard a tap at the door. I looked at the watch; it was 7.20 A.M.

“Come in,” said I, thinking that the thoughtful maid was carrying my sponge-bath, but no. In came a procession of Japs, ludicrously attired in foreign clothes with antediluvian frock-coats and pre-historic European hats, bowing and sipping their breath in sign of great respect. At their head was the fat proprietor of the hotel, and each of them carried with him in his hand a packet of visiting cards, which they severally deposited on my bed, as I, more than ten times astounded, stood resting on my elbows gazing at them.

“So-and-so, brick-layer and roof-maker. So-and-so, hotel proprietor and shipping agent; so-and-so, Japanese carpenter; so-and-so, mat-maker; X, merchant; Z, boatman,” &c. &c, were how the cards read as I inspected them one by one. I need hardly say, therefore, that the year 1891 was begun with an extra big D, which came straight from my heart, as I uncoiled myself out of my bed at that early hour of the morning to entertain these professional gentlemen to drinks and cigarettes. And yet that was nothing as compared with what came after. They had scarcely gone, and I was just breaking the ice in order to get my cold bath, when another lot, a hundredfold more noisy than the first, entered my room unannounced and depositing another lot of “pasteboards,” as Yankees term them, in my frozen hands, went on wishing me all sorts of happiness for the New Year, though I for my part wished them all to a place that was certainly not heaven. In despair I dressed myself, and going out aimlessly, strolled in any direction in order to keep out of reach of the New-Year’s callers. But the hours were long, and about eleven I went to pay a visit to Mr. T., the American merchant who had kindly asked me once or twice to dinner. If I considered myself entitled to complain of the calling nuisance, he must have had good reason to swear at it. Being the richest man in the place as well as the principal merchant, his place was simply besieged by visitors. Many were so drunk that they actually had to be carried in by coolies–a curious mode of going to call–while others had even to be provided with a bed on the premises until the effects of their libations had passed off. A well-known young Japanese merchant, I remember, nearly fractured his skull against a table, through losing his equilibrium as he was offering a grand bow to Mr. T.

Wherever one went in the Japanese quarter there was nothing but drink, and the main street was full of unsteady walkers.

Curiously enough, on proceeding a few yards further on towards the British Consulate, one came to the Chinese settlement, which was perfectly quiet, and showed its inhabitants not only as stern and well-behaved as on other occasions, but even, to all appearance, quite unconcerned at the frolic and fun of their merry neighbours. Here business was being transacted as usual, those engaged therein retaining their well-known expressionless and dignified mien, and apparently looking down disgusted upon the drunken lot, although prepared themselves to descend from their high pedestal when their own New-Year’s Day or other festival occasions should arrive.

I was much amused at a remark that a Chinaman made to me that day.

I asked him how he liked the Japanese.

“Pff!” he began, looking at me from under his huge round spectacles, as if he thought the subject too insignificant to waste his time upon.

“The Japanese,” he exploded, with an air of contempt, “no belong men. You see Japanese man dlunk, ol no dlunk, all same to me. He no can speak tluth, he no can be honest man. He buy something, nevel pay. Japanese belong bad, bad, bad man. He always speak lie, lie, lie, lie,” and he emphasised his words with a crescendo as he curled up what he possessed in the shape of a nose–for it was so flat that it hardly deserved the name; indeed, to give strength to his speech, he spat with violence on the ground, as if to clear his mouth, as it were, of the unclean sound of the word “Japanese.”

Not even in those days could the Chinese and Japanese be accused of loving one another.

The Chinese settlement is not quite so clean in appearance as the Japanese one, but if business is transacted on a smaller scale, it is, at all events, conducted on a firm and honest basis. Chemulpo has but few natural aptitudes beyond its being situated at the mouth of the river Han, which, winding like a snake, passes close to Seoul, the capital of the kingdom; and yet, partly because of its proximity to the capital, the distance by road being twenty-five miles, and partly owing to the fact that it is never ice-bound in winter, the town has made wonderful strides. As late as 1883 there were only one or two fishermen’s huts along the bay, but in 1892 the settlement contained a score of Europeans, over 2800 Japanese souls, and 1000 Chinese, besides quite a respectable-sized native conglomeration of houses and huts.

When I visited the port, land fetched large sums of money in the central part of the settlement. The post-office was in the hands of the Japanese, who carried on its business in a very amateurish and imperfect manner, but the telegraphs were worked by the Chinese. The commercial competition between the two Eastern nations now at war has of late years been very great in Corea. It is interesting to notice how the slow Chinaman has followed the footsteps of young Japan at nearly all the ports, especially at Gensan and Fusan, and gradually monopolised a good deal of the trade, through his honest dealings and steadiness. And yet the Chinese must have been, of course, greatly handicapped by the start of many years which the dashing Japanese had over them, as well as by the much larger number of their rivals. A very remarkable fact, however, is that several Japanese firms had employed Chinese as their _compradores_, a position entirely of trust, these being the officials whose duty it is to go round to collect money and cheques, and who are therefore often entrusted with very large sums of money.

But now let us come to the foreigners stranded in the Corean kingdom. If you take them separately, they are rather nice people, though, of course, at least a dozen years behind time as compared with the rest of the world; taken as a community, however, they are enough to drive you crazy. I do not think that it was ever my good fortune to hear a resident speak well of another resident, this being owing, I dare say, to their seeing too much of one another. If by chance you come across a man occupying only a second-rate official position, you may depend upon it you will see airs! One hardly ventures to address any such personage, for so grand is he that, he will hardly condescend to say “How do you do?” to you, for fear of lowering himself. There are only about four cats in the place, and their sole subject of conversation is precedence and breaches of etiquette, when you would imagine that in such a distant land, and away, so to speak, from the outer world, they would all be like brothers.

You must now consider yourselves as fairly landed in Corea, and having tried to describe to you what things and people that are not Corean are like in Corea, I must provide you–again of course only figuratively–with a tiny little pony, the smallest probably you have ever seen, that you may follow me to the capital of the kingdom, which I am sure will be interesting to you as being thoroughly characteristic of the country. First of all, however, we had better make sure of one point.

The name Corea, or _K_orea, you may as well forget or discard as useless, for to the Corean mind the word would not convey any definite idea. Not even would he look upon it as the name of his country. The real native name now used is Cho-sen, though occasionally in the vernacular the kingdom goes by the name of Gori, or the antiquated Korai. There is no doubt that the origin of the word Corea is Korai, which is an abbreviation of Ko-Korai, a small kingdom in the mountainous region of the Ever White Mountains, and bordering upon the kingdom of Fuyu, a little further north, whence the brave and warlike people probably descended, who conquered old Cho-sen. The authorities on Corean history, basing their arguments on Chinese writings, claim that the present people of Cho-sen are the true descendants of the Fuyu race, and that the kingdom of Ko-Korai lay between Fuyu on the northern side and Cho-sen on the southern, from the former of which a few families migrated towards the south, and founded a small kingdom west of the river Yalu, electing as their king a man called Ko-Korai, after whom, in all probability, the new nation took its name. Then as their numbers increased, and their adventurous spirit grew, they began to extend their territory, north, south, and west, and in this latter direction easily succeeded in conquering the small kingdom of Wuju and extending their frontier as far south as the river Tatung, which lies approximately on parallel 38 deg. 30″.

During the time of the “Three Realms” in China, between the years 220 and 277 A.D., the Ko-Korai people, profiting by the weakness of their neighbours, and therefore not much troubled with guerrillas on the northern frontier, continued to migrate south, conquering new ground, and so being enabled finally to establish their capital at Ping-yan on the Tatong River. After a comparatively peaceful time with their northern neighbours for over 300 years, however, towards the end of the sixth century, China began a most micidial war against the king of Ko-Korai, or Korai, as it was then called, the “Ko” having been dropped. It seems that even in those remote days the Chinese had no luck in the land of Cho-sen, and though army after army, and hundreds of thousands of men were sent against them, the brave Korai people held their own, and far from being defeated and conquered, actually drove the enemy out of the country, killing thousands mercilessly in their retreat, and becoming masters of the Corean Peninsula as far south as the River Han.

To the south of Korai were the states of Shinra and Hiaksai, and between these and Korai, there was for a couple of centuries almost perpetual war, the only intervals being when the latter kingdom was suffering at the hands of the formidable Chinese invaders. But as I merely give this rough and very imperfect sketch of Corean history, to explain how the word Korai originated and was then applied to the whole of the peninsula, I must now proceed to explain in bold touches how the other states became united to Korai.

After its annexation to China, the Korai state remained crippled by the terrible blow it had received, for the Ko-Korai line of kings had been utterly expelled after having reigned for over seven centuries, but at last it picked up a little strength again through fresh migrations from the north-west, and in the second decade of the tenth century a Buddhist monk called Kung-wo raised a rebellion and proclaimed himself king, establishing his court at Kaichow.

One of Kung-wo’s officers, however, Wang by name, who was believed to be a descendant of the Korai family, did away with the royal monk and sat himself on the throne, which he claimed as that of his ancestors. Coming of a vigorous stock, and taking advantage of the fact that China was weak with internal wars, Wang succeeded in uniting Shinra to the old Korai, thus converting the whole peninsula into a single and united realm, of which, as we have already seen in the first chapter, he made the walled city of Sunto the capital. Wang died 945 A.D., and was succeeded by his son Wu, who wisely entered into friendly relations with China, and paid his tribute to the Emperor of Heaven as if he ruled a tributary state. In consequence of this policy it was that Corea enjoyed peace with her terrible Celestial rival for the best part of two centuries.

Cho-sen, then, is now the only name by which the country is called by the natives themselves, for the name of Korai has been entirely abandoned by the modern Coreans. The meaning of the word is very poetic, viz., “The Land of the Morning Calm,” and is one well adapted to the present Coreans, since, indeed, they seem to have entirely lost the vigour and strength of their predecessors, the Koraians. I believe Marco Polo was the first to mention a country which he called Coria; after whom came the Franciscan missionaries. Little, however, was known of the country until the Portuguese brought back to Europe strange accounts of this curious kingdom and its quaint and warlike people. According to the story, it was a certain Chinese wise man who, when in a poetic mood, baptized Corea with the name of Cho-sen. But the student of Corean history knows that the name had already been bestowed on the northern part of the peninsula and on a certain portion of Manchuria, and that it was in the year 1392, when Korai was united to Shinra and the State of Hiaksai became merged in it, that Cho-sen became the official designation of united Corea. The word “Corea” evidently is nothing but a corruption of the dead and buried word “Korai.”


[2] Long gown, the national dress of Japan.


The road to Seoul–The _Mapu_–Ponies–Oxen–Coolies–Currency–Mode of carrying weights–The Han River–Nearly locked out.

[Illustration: THE WEST GATE, SEOUL]

I left Chemulpo on January 2nd, but instead of making use of the minuscule ponies, I went on foot, sending my baggage on in advance on a pack-saddle on one of them. I was still suffering considerably from an accident I had sustained to my foot among the hairy folk of the Hokkaido, and I thought that the long walk would probably be beneficial to me, and would take away some of the stiffness which still remained in my ankle. At a short distance from the port I came to a steep incline of a few hundred yards, and crossing the hill-range which formed the background to Chemulpo as one looks at it from the sea, I soon descended on the other side, from which point the road was nearly level all the way to the capital. The road is not a bad one for Corea, but is, of course, only fit for riding upon; and would be found almost of impossible access to vehicles of any size. The Japanese had begun running _jinrickshas_, little carriages drawn by a man, between the capital and the settlements; but two, and even three men were necessary to convey carriage and passenger to his destination, and the amount of bumping and shaking on the uneven road was quite appalling.

These little carriages, as every one knows, generally convey only a single person, and are drawn by two men, who run in a tandem, while the third pushes the _ricksha_ from the back, and is always ready at any emergency to prevent the vehicle from turning turtle. This mode of locomotion, however, was not likely to become popular among the Coreans, who, if carried at all, prefer to be carried either in a sedan-chair, an easy and comfortable way of going about, or else, should they be in a hurry and not wish to travel in grand style, on pony or donkey’s back. Europeans, as a rule, like the latter mode of travelling best, as the Corean sedan-chairs are somewhat too short for the long-legged foreigner, and a journey of six or seven hours in a huddled-up position is occasionally apt to give one the cramp, especially as Western bones and limbs do not in general possess the pliability which characterises those composing the skeleton of our Eastern brothers.

The scenery along the road cannot be called beautiful, the country one goes through being barren and desolate, with the exception of a certain plantation of mulberry trees, a wretched speculation into which the infantile government of Cho-sen was driven by some foreigners, the object of which was to enrich Corea by the products of silk-worms, but which, of course, turned out a complete failure, and cost the Government much money and no end of worry instead. Here and there a small patch might be seen cultivated as kitchen garden near a hut, but with that exception the ground was hardly cultivated at all; this monotony of landscape, however, was somewhat relieved by the distant hills covered with maples, chestnuts and firs, now unfortunately for the most part deprived of their leaves and covered with snow, it being the coldest time of the year in Corea.

The mile-posts on the high roads of Cho-sen are rather quaint, and should you happen to see one for the first time at night the inevitable result must be nightmare the moment you fall asleep. They consist of a wooden post about eight feet in length, on the upper end of which a long ghastly face is rudely carved out of the wood and painted white and red; the eyes are black and staring, and the mouth, the chief feature of the mask, is of enormous size, opened, showing two fine rows of pointed teeth, which might hold their own with those of the sharks of the Torres Strait, of world-wide reputation. A triangular wedge of wood on each side of the head represents the ears. The directions, number of miles, &c, are written directly under the head, and the writing being in Chinese characters, runs from up to down and from right to left.

It was pretty along the road to see the numerous little ponies, infinitely smaller than any Shetlands, carrying big fellows, towering with their padded clothes above enormous saddles, and supported on either side by a servant, while another man, the _Mapu_, led the steed by hand. The ponies are so very small that even the Coreans, who are by no means tall people, their average height being about 5 ft. 4 in., cannot ride them unless a high saddle is provided, for without these the rather troublesome process of dragging one’s feet on the ground would have to be endured.

This high saddle, which elevates you some twenty inches above the pony’s back, naturally involves a certain amount of instability to the person who is mounted, the balancing abilities one has to bring out on such occasions being of no ordinary degree. The Corean gentleman, who is dignified to an extreme degree, and would not for the world run the risk of being seen rolling in the mud or struggling between the pony’s little legs, wisely provides for the emergency by ordering two of his servants to walk by his side and hold him by the arms and the waist, as long as the journey lasts, while the _Mapu_, one of the stock features of Corean everyday life, looks well after the pony and leads him by the head as one might a big Newfoundland dog. The _Mapu_ in Corea occupies about the same position as Figaro in the “Barber of Seville.” While leading your pony he takes the keenest interest in your affairs, and thinks it his business to talk to you on every possible subject that his brain chooses to suggest, abusing all and everybody that he thinks you dislike and praising up what he fancies you cherish, that he may perhaps have a few extra _cash_ at the end of the journey, which he will immediately go and lose in gambling. He speaks of politics as if he were the axis of the political world, and will criticise the magistracy, the noble, and the king if he is under the impression that you are only a merchant, while evil words enough would be at his command to represent the meanness and bad manners of the commercial classes, if his pony is honoured by being sat upon by a nobleman! Such is the world even in Cho-sen. The _Mapu_ will sing to you, and crack jokes, and again will swear at you and your servants, and at nearly every _Mapu_ that goes by. The greater the gentleman his beast is carrying, the more quarrelsome is he with everybody. The road, wide though it be, seems to belong solely to him. He is in constant trouble with citizens and the police, and it is generally on account of his insignificance, poverty, and ignorance that so many of his evil doings and wrongs are forgiven. None the less it must be said for them that they take fairly good care of their minuscule quadrupeds. They feed them, usually three times a day, with boiled chopped straw and beans, and grass in summer-time, and with this diet you see the little brutes, which are only about 10 hands high, and even less sometimes, go twenty-five or thirty miles a day quite easily, with a weight of a couple of hundred pounds on their backs, quickly toddling along without stopping, unless it be to administer a sound kick to some bystander or to bite the legs of the rider. These ponies have a funny little way of getting from under you, if you ride them with an English saddle. They bend their legs till they see you firmly planted on the ground, and then quickly withdraw backwards leaving you, with your legs wide apart and standing like a fool, to meditate on equine wickedness in the Realm of the Morning Calm. They are indeed the trickiest little devils for their size I have ever seen; and for viciousness and love of fighting, I can recommend you to no steed more capable of showing these qualities. The average price of an animal as above described varies from the large sum of five shillings to as much as thirty shillings (at the rate of two shillings per Mexican dollar), the price of course varying, as with us, according to the breed, age, training, condition, &c., of the animal.

These ponies are much used all over the kingdom, for good roads for wheel traffic hardly exist in the country, and wide horse-tracks form practically the whole means of communication between the capital and the most important ports and cities in the different provinces of Corea. They are used both for riding purposes and as pack-ponies, “for light articles only,” like the racks in our railway carriages, but when heavy loads are to be conveyed from one place to another, especially over long distances, the frail pony is discarded and replaced by the sturdy ox. These horned carriers are pretty much of a size, and fashioned, so far as I could see, after the style of our oxen, except that they are apparently leaner by nature, and almost always black or very dark grey in colour; their horns, however, are rather short. They carry huge weights on a wooden angular saddle which is planted on their backs, and a _Mapu_ invariably accompanies each animal when loaded; indeed, in the case of the ponies the man even carries on his own back the food both for himself and for his beast, the latter generally having the precedence in eating his share. The sleeping accommodation also is, as a rule, amicably divided between quadruped and biped, and, taken all round, it cannot be said that either is any the worse for their brotherly relations. I firmly believe that the _Mapus_ are infinitely better-natured towards their animals than towards their wives or their children, who, as you will find by-and-by, are often cruelly ill-treated.

But let us now continue our journey towards Seoul. Here several coolies are to be seen approaching us, carrying heavy loads on their backs. A man of a higher position follows them. And, strange circumstance! they are carrying money. Yes; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight–yes, actually eight men, bent under heavy loads of coins. Your first idea, I suppose, will be that these men are carrying a whole fortune–but, oh dear! no. You must know that the currency in Corea is entirely brass, and these brass coins, which go by the name of _cash_ are round coins about the size of a halfpenny, with a square hole in the centre, by which they are strung together, generally a hundred at a time. There are usually as many as two thousand to two thousand eight hundred _cash_ to a Mexican dollar, the equivalent of which is at present about two shillings; you can, therefore, easily imagine what the weight of one’s purse is if it contains even so small a sum as a pennyworth in Corean currency. Should you, however, be under an obligation to pay a sum of, say, L10 or L20, the hire of two oxen or six or eight coolies becomes an absolute necessity, for a sum which takes no room in one’s letter-case if in Bank of England notes, occupies a roomful of hard and heavy metal in the country of the Morning Calm. Great trouble has been and is continually experienced in the kingdom owing to the lack of gold and silver coins; but to the Corean mind to make coins out of gold and to let them go out of the country amounts to the same thing as willingly trying to impoverish the fatherland of the treasures it possesses; wherefore, although rich gold-mines are to be found in Cho-sen, coins of the precious metal are not struck for the above-mentioned reason.


So much for Corean political economy. The coins used are of different sizes and value. They range, if I remember right, from two _cash_ to five, and an examination of a handful of them will reveal the fact that they have been struck off at different epochs. There is the so-called current treasure coin of Cho-sen, one of the more modern kinds, as well as the older coin of Korai, the Ko-ka; while another coin, which seems to have been struck off in the Eastern provinces, is probably as old as any of these, and is still occasionally found in use. The coins, as I have said, are strung together by the hundred on a straw rope; a knot is tied when this number is reached, when another hundred is passed through, and so on, until several thousands are sometimes strung to one string. As curious as this precious load itself was the way in which it was carried. It is, in fact, the national way which all Corean coolies have adopted for conveying heavy weights, and it seems to answer well, for I have often seen men of no very abnormal physique carry a burden that would make nine out of ten ordinary men collapse under its heavy mass. The principle is much the same as that used by the porters in Switzerland, and also in some parts of Holland, if I am not mistaken. A triangular wooden frame rests on the man’s back by means of two straps or ropes passed over the shoulders and round the arms. From this frame project two sticks, about 35 inches in length, on which the weight rests, and by bending the body at a lower or higher angle, according to the height or pressure of the load, a perfect balance is obtained, and the effort of the carrier considerably diminished. For heavy loads like wood, for instance, the process of loading is curious. The frame is set upon the ground, and made to remain in position by being inclined at an angle of about 45 deg. against a stick forked at the upper end, with which every coolie is provided. When in this position, the cargo is put on and tied with a rope if necessary; then, the stick being carefully removed, squatting down gently so as not to disturb the position of the load, the coolie quickly passes his arms through the straps and thus slings the thing on to the back, the stick being now used as a help to the man to rise by instalments from his difficult position without collapsing or coming to grief. Once standing, he is all right, and it is wonderful what an amount of endurance and muscular strength the beggars have, for they will carry these enormous loads for miles and miles without showing the slightest sign of fatigue. They toddle along quickly, taking remarkably short steps, and resting every now and then on their forked stick, upon the upper end of which they lay their hands, forcing it against the chest and the ground, and so making it a sort of _point d’appui._

Just a word as to the coolie’s moral qualities. He much resembles in this the Neapolitan _lazzarone_–in fact, I do not know of any other individual in Eastern Asia that is such a worthy rival of the Italian macaroni-eater. The coolie will work hard when hungry, and he will do his work well, but the moment he is paid off the chances are that, like his _confrere_ on the Gulf of Naples, he will at once go and drink a good part of what he has received; then, in a state of intoxication, he will gamble the next half; and after that he will go to sleep for twenty-four hours on a stretch, and remain the next twelve squatting on the ground, basking in the sun by the side of his carrying-machine, pondering, still half asleep, on his foolishness, and seeking for fresh orders from passers-by who may require the services of a human beast of burden. Then you may see them in a row near the road-side drinking huts, either smoking their pipes, which are nearly three feet in length, or if not in the act of smoking, with the pipe stuck down their neck into the coat and down into the trousers, in immediate contact with the skin.

Going along at a good pace I reached the half-way house, a characteristically Corean building, formerly used as an inn, and now being rented by a Japanese. Having entertained myself to tea and a few items of solid food, I proceeded on my pedestrian journey towards the capital. And now, as I gradually approached the river Han, more attention seemed to be given to the cultivation of the country. The staple product of cereals here is mainly buckwheat, beans and millet, a few rice-fields also being found nearer the water-side. Finally, having arrived at the river-side, after shouting for half an hour to the ferry boatman to come and pick me up, I in due course landed on the other side. The river Han makes a most wonderful detour between its estuary and this point. As the river was left behind, more habitations in the shape of miserable and filthy mud-huts, with thatched roofs, became visible; shops of eatables and native low drinking places following one another in continuation; and crowds of ponies, people, and oxen showed that the capital was now being fast neared; and sure enough, after winding along the dirty, narrow road, lined by the still dirtier mud huts for nearly the whole of the distance between Mafu, the place where the Han river was ferried, and here, a distance of about three miles, I found myself at last in front of the West Gate of the walled city of Seoul.

I could hear quite plainly in the distance, from the centre of the town, the slow sound of a bell; and men, women and children, on foot or riding, were scrambling through the gate in both directions. As I stopped for a moment to gaze upon the excited crowd, it suddenly flashed across my mind that I had been told at Chemulpo, that to the mournful sound of what is called the “Big bell” the heavy wooden gates lined with iron bars were closed, and that no one was thereafter allowed to enter or go out of the town. The sun was just casting his last glorious rays on the horizon, and the excitement grew greater as the strokes of the bell became fainter and fainter, and with the mad crowd of men and beasts mixed together upon it, the road might be compared with the tide entering the mouth of a running river. I threw myself into the thick of the in-going flow, and with my feet trampled upon by passing ponies; now knocking against a human being, now face to face with a bull, I finally managed to get inside. Well do I remember the hoarse voices of the gate-keepers, as they shouted out that time was up, and hurried the weary travellers within the precincts of the royal city; well also do I recollect, as I stood watching their doings from the inside, how they pushed back and ill-treated, with words and kicks, the last people who passed through, and then, out of patience, revolved the heavy gates on their huge and rusty hinges, finally closing the city until sunrise next day. Shouts of people, just too late, on the other side, begging to be let in, remained unacknowledged, and the enormous padlocks and bolts having been thoroughly fastened, Seoul was severed from the outer world till the following morning. Adjoining the gate stood the gatekeeper’s house, and in front of the door of this, a rack with a few rusty and obsolete spears standing in a row, was left to take care of the town and its inhabitants, while the guardians, having finished the work of the day, retreated to the warm room inside to resume the game or gambling which the setting sun had interrupted, and which had occupied their day. With the setting of the sun every noise ceased. Every good citizen retired to his home, and I, too, therefore, deemed it advisable to follow suit.

There are no hotels in Seoul, with the exception of the very dirty Corean inns; but I was fortunate enough to meet at Chemulpo a Russian gentleman who, with his family, lived in Seoul, where he was employed as architect to His Majesty the King of Corea, and he most politely invited me to stay at his house for a few days; and it is to his kind hospitality, therefore, that I owe the fact that my first few nights at Seoul were spent comfortably and my days were well employed, my peregrinations round the town being also conducted under his guidance.


The Coreans–Their faces and heads–Bachelors–Married men–Head-band–Hats–Hat-umbrellas–Clothes–Spectacles.

Being now settled for the time being in Seoul, I must introduce you to the Corean, not as a nation, you must understand, but as an individual. It is a prevalent idea that the Coreans are Chinese, and therefore exactly like them in physique and appearance, and, if not like the Chinese, that they must be like their neighbours on the other side–the Japanese. As a matter of fact, they are like neither. Naturally the continuous incursions of both Chinese and Japanese into this country have left distinct traces of their passage on the general appearance of the people; and, of course, the distinction which I shall endeavour to make is not so marked as that between whites and blacks, for the Coreans, speaking generally, do bear a certain resemblance to the other peoples of Mongolian origin. Though belonging to this family, however, they form a perfectly distinct branch of it. Not only that, but when you notice a crowd of Coreans you will be amazed to see among them people almost as white and with features closely approaching the Aryan, these being the higher classes in the kingdom. The more common type is the yellow-skinned face, with slanting eyes, high cheek-bones, and thick, hanging lips. But, again, you will observe faces much resembling the Thibetans and Hindoos, and if you carry your observations still further you will find all over the kingdom, mostly among the coolie classes, men as black as Africans, or like the people of Asia Minor.

For any one interested in types and crosses, I really do not know of a country more interesting than Cho-sen. It seems as if specimens of almost every race populating Asia had reached and remained in the small peninsula, which fact would to some degree disprove the theory that all migrations have moved from the east towards the west and from north to south, and never _vice versa_.

If you take the royal family of Corea, for instance, you will find that the king and queen, and all the royal princes, especially on the queen’s side (the Min family), are as white as any Caucasian, and that their eyes are hardly slanting at all, and in some cases are quite as straight as ours. Members of some of the nobler families also might be taken for Europeans. Of course the middle classes are of the Mongolian type, though somewhat more refined and stronger built than the usual specimens of either Chinese or Japanese; they are, however, not quite so wiry and tall as their northern neighbours the Manchus, with whom, nevertheless, they have many points in common. The large invasions, as we have seen, of the Ko-korais and Fuyus may account for this.

[Illustration: A BACHELOR]

Taken altogether, the Corean is a fine-looking fellow; his face is oval-shaped, and generally long when seen full face, but it is slightly concave in profile, the nose being somewhat flat at the bridge between the eyes, and possessing wide nostrils. The chin is generally small, narrow and receding, while the lips, usually the weaker part in the Corean face, are as a rule heavy, the upper lip turned up and showing the teeth, while the lower one hangs pitifully downwards, denoting, therefore, little or no strength of character. They possess good teeth and these are beautifully white, which is a blessing for people like them who continually show them. The almond-shaped, jet-black eyes, veiled by that curious weird look peculiar to Eastern eyes, is probably the redeeming part of their face, and in them is depicted good-nature, pride and softness of heart. In many cases one sees a shrewd, quick eye, but it is generally an exception among this type, while among the lower classes, the black ones, it is almost a chief characteristic. The cheek-bones are prominent. The hair is scanty on the cheeks, chin, and over and under the lips, but quite luxuriant on the head. There is a very curious custom in Corea as to how you should wear your hair, and a great deal of importance is attached to the custom. If by chance you are a bachelor–and if you are, you must put up with being looked down upon by everybody in Corea–you have to let your hair grow long, part it carefully in the middle of your skull, and have it made up into a thick tress at the back of your head, which arrangement marks you out as a single man and an object of sport, for in the Land of the Morning Calm it seems that you can only be a bachelor under the two very circumstances under which we, in our land of all-day restlessness, generally marry, viz., if you are a fool and if you have not a penny to live upon! When thus unhappily placed you rank, according to Corean ideas, as a child, no matter what your age is, and you dress as a child, being even allowed to wear coloured coats when the country is in mourning, as it was, when I visited it, for the death of the dowager-Queen Regent, and everybody is compelled to wear white, an order that if not quickly obeyed by a married man means probably to him the loss of his head. Thus, though looked down upon as outcasts and wretches, bachelors none the less do enjoy some privileges out there. Here is yet another one. They never wear a hat; another exemption to be taken into consideration when you will see, a little further on, what a Corean hat is like.


Married men, on the other hand–and ninety-nine per hundred are married in Cho-sen–wear their hair done up in a most wonderful fashion. It is not as long as that of bachelors, for it is cut. It is combed, with the head down, in the orthodox fashion, as women do, I suppose, when they comb it by themselves, and then passing the left hand under it, along the forehead, it is caught close to the head just about the middle of the skull. This being satisfactorily done, what remains of the hair above the hand is twisted round into the shape and size of a sausage, which then remains sticking up perpendicularly on the top of the head, and which, in the natural order of things, goes by the sensible name of top-knot. Occasionally a little silver or metal bead is attached to the top of the knot, and a small tortoiseshell ornament fastened to the hair just over the forehead. This completes the married man’s hair-dressing, with which he is always most careful, and I must say that the black straight hair thus arranged does set off the head very well. The illustration shows the profile of a married man of the coolie class, who, of course, wears the hair dressed just like the others, it being a national custom; only the richer and smarter people, of course, wear it more tidily, and, probably, not quite so artistically. Besides, the better class of people are not content with the process of beautifying themselves which I have just described, but surround the forehead, temples and back of the head with a head-band, a curious arrangement made of woven black horse-hair, which keeps the real hair tight under it, and not only prevents it from being blown about, but forms a more solid basis for the wonderful hats they wear. The nobler classes, upon whom the king has bestowed decorations in the shape of jade, gold or silver buttons, according to the amount of honour he has meant to accord them, wear these decorations, of all places, behind the ears, and fastened tight to the head-band.

Thus much on the subject of the Corean’s head. I shall spare you, my dear readers, the description of his body, for it is just like any other body, more or less well made, with the exception that it is invariably unwashed. Instead, I shall proceed to inspect with you his wardrobe and his clothing, which may be to you, I hope, much more interesting. To do this, let us walk along the main street of the town, where the traffic is generally great, and examine the people who go by. Here is a well-to-do man, probably a merchant. Two features at once strike you: his hat, the _kat-si_, and his shoes; and then, his funny white padded clothes. But let us examine him carefully in detail. It is a little difficult to decide at which end one should begin to describe him, but I imagine that it is the customary thing to begin with the head, and so, coming close to him, let us note how curiously his hat is made. It is just like a Welshwoman’s hat in shape, or, in other words, like a flowerpot placed on a flat dish, as seen in the illustration; but the extraordinary thing about the Corean hat is that it is quite transparent, and has none of the virtues that, according to our ideas, a hat ought to possess. It is a wonderful work of art, for it is made of horse-hair, or, more commonly, of split bamboo so finely cut in threads as to resemble white horse-hair, and then woven into a fine net in the shape described. A thin bamboo frame keeps it well together, and gives to it a certain solidity, but though varnished over, it protects one’s head from neither sun, wind, nor rain. It is considered a rude thing in Corea to take one’s hat off, even in the house, and therefore the _kat-si_, not requiring instant removal or putting on, is provided with two hooks at the sides of the central cone, to each of which a white ribbon is attached, to be tied under the chin when the hat is worn, the latter resting, not on the hair itself, but on the head-band. This shape of hat is never worn without the head-band.

The hat just described is that most commonly worn in the Land of the Morning Calm, and that which one sees on the generality of people. But there! look at that man passing along leading a bull–he has a hat large enough to protect a whole family. It is like a huge pyramid made of basket-work of split bamboo or plaited reeds or rushes, and it covers him almost half way down to his waist. Well, that poor man is in private mourning for the death of a relation, and he covers his face thus to show his grief.


Here, again, comes another individual with a transparent hat like the first, only worn over a big hood open at the top over the head and falling rounded over the shoulders, thus protecting the ears from the severe cold. This is lined with fur, with which it is also trimmed, and looks quite furry and warm, if not exactly becoming. Ah! but here is something even more curious in the shape of head-gear. It is just beginning to snow, and, one after the other, our transparent _kat-sis_ are undergoing a transformation. I daresay, as we stand watching the people go by, it will be noticed that nearly each one who has a transparent hat, also wears in his girdle round his waist a triangular object made of yellow oil-paper which resembles a fan. Well, now, you will see what it is. An oldish man turns up his nose to scrutinise the intentions of the weather-clerk, and, apparently little satisfied at the aspect of the threatening clouds, stops, and unsheathing his fan-like object from his belt, opens it, when it is seen to become like a small umbrella without the stick and handle, about two and a half feet only in diameter, which, by means of a string, he fastens over his brand new hat. When thus used, it takes the shape of a cone, except, of course, that there will be a multitude of folds in it. It is called _kat-no_. The idea is not at all bad, is it? for here you have an umbrella without the trouble of tiring your arms in carrying it.

One cannot help being considerably puzzled by the differences in the various classes and conditions of the men. To all appearance, the generality of men seem here dressed alike, with this difference, that some are dirtier than others; occasionally one has an extra garment, but that is all. Yes, there is, indeed, difficulty at first in knowing who and what any one is, but with a little trouble and practice the difficulty is soon overcome. In the main the clothes worn by the men are the same, only a great difference is to be found in the way these garments are cut and sewn, just as we can distinguish in a moment the cut of a Bond Street tailor from that of a suburban one. In Corea, the tailor, as a rule, is one’s wife, for she is the person entrusted with the cares of cutting, sewing, and padding up her better-half’s attire. No wonder, then, that nine-tenths of the top-knotted consorts look regular bags as they walk about. The national costume itself, it must be confessed, does rather tend to deform the appearance of the human body, which it is supposed to adorn. First, there is a huge pair of cotton trousers, through each leg of which one can pass the whole of one’s body easily, and these trousers are padded all over with cotton wool, no underclothing being worn. When these are put on, they reach from the chin to the feet, on to which they fall in ample and graceful folds, and you don them by holding them up with your teeth, and fastening them anywhere near and round your waist with a pretty, long silk ribbon with tassels, which is generally let hang down artistically over the right side. When this has been successfully accomplished, the extra length of trousers is rolled up so as to prevent the “unmentionables” from being left behind as you walk away, and a short coat, tight at the shoulders and in the shape of a bell, with short but wide sleeves, is put on to cover the upper part of the body. This coat also, like the trousers, is padded, and reaches almost to the haunches. It overlaps on the right hand side, two long ribbons being tied there into a pretty single-winged knot and the two ends left hanging. In winter time, the forearm, which in summer remains bare, is protected by a separate short muff, or sleeve, through which the hand is passed, and which reaches just over the elbow.

Then come the padded socks, in which the huge trousers are tucked, and which are fastened round the ankle with a ribbon. And, lastly, now we come to the shoes. Those used by the better classes are made of hide, and have either leather soles with nails underneath, or else wooden soles like the Chinese ones with the turned-up toes. The real Corean shoe, however, as used every day for walking and not for show, is truly a peculiar one. The principal peculiarity about it is that it is made of paper; which sounds like a lie, though indeed it is not. Another extraordinary thing is that you can really walk in them. If you do not believe it, all you have to do is to take the first steamer to Corea and you can easily convince yourself of the fact. The greater part of the population wears them, and the _Mapus_ especially walk enormous distances in them. They are scarcely real shoes, however, and one should, perhaps, classify them rather as a cross between a shoe and a sandal, for that is just what they are. The toes are protected by numberless little strings of curled untearable paper, which, when webbed, make the sole, heel, and back of the sandal, and this is joined to the point of the shoe by a stouter cord going right round, which is also made of the same kind of twisted paper. This cord can be fastened tighter or looser to suit the convenience of the wearer of the sandal-shoe.

The Corean is an unfortunate being. He has no pockets. If his hands are cold he must warm them by sticking them down his belt into his trousers, and if he be in company with people, he can generate a certain amount of heat by putting each into the other arm’s sleeve. As for the money, tobacco, &c, that he wants to carry, he is compelled to provide himself with little silk bags, which he attaches to his waist-band or to the ribbon of his coat. These bags are generally of orange colour or blue, and they relieve a little the monotony of the everlasting white dresses.

The clothing, so far as I have described it, is, with the exception of the shoes, that which is worn habitually in the house by the better classes of the people; the officials, however, wear a horse-hair high cap resembling a papal tiara on the head, instead of the other form of hat. Indoors, the shoes are not worn, the custom of Japan being prevalent, namely, to leave them at the door as one mounts the first step into the room. The middle lower classes and peasantry are seldom found parading the streets with anything besides what I have described, with the exception of the long pipe which they, like the _Mapu_ or the coolies, keep down the back of the neck when not using it. Merchants, policemen, and private gentlemen are arrayed, in winter especially, in a long cotton or silk gown similarly padded, an overall which reaches below the knees, and some, especially those in the Government employ, or in some official position, wear either without this or over this an additional sleeveless garment made of four long strips of cotton or silk, two in front and two at the back, according to the grade, almost touching the feet and divided both in front and at the back as far up as the waist, round which a ribbon is tied. This, then, is the everyday wardrobe of a Corean of any class. You may add, if you please, a few miscellaneous articles such as gaiters and extra bags, but never have I seen any man of Cho-sen walk about with more habiliments than these, although I have many times seen people who had a great deal less. The clothes are of cotton or silk according to the grade and riches of the wearer. Buttons are a useless luxury in Cho-sen, for neither men nor women recognise their utility; on the contrary, the natives display much amusement and chaff at the stupid foreign barbarian who goes and cuts any number of buttonholes in the finest clothing, which, in their idea, is an incomprehensible mistake and shows want of appreciation.

Their method of managing things by means of loops and ribbons, has an effect which is not without its picturesqueness, perhaps more so than is our system of “keeping things together” in clothing matters. After all it is only a matter of opinion. The inhabitants of the land of Cho-sen, from my experience, are not much given to washing and still less to bathing. I have seen them wash their hands fairly often, and the face occasionally; only the very select people of Corea wash it daily. One would think that, with such a very scanty and irregular use of water for the purpose of cleanliness, they should look extremely dirty; but not a bit. It was always to me irritating to the last degree to see how clean those dirty people looked!

But let us notice one or two more of the people that are passing by. It is now snowing hard, and every one carries his own umbrella on his head. Boys do not wear hats, and are provided with a large umbrella with a bamboo-frame that fits the head, as also are the bachelors. Here comes one of the latter class. His face is a finely cut one, and with his hair parted in the middle, and the big tress hanging down his back, he has indeed more the appearance of a woman than that of a man; hence the mistake often made by hasty travellers in putting down these bachelors as women, is easy to understand. When one is seen for the first time, it is really difficult to say to which sex he belongs, so effeminate does he look.

It is part of the ambition of the male Corean to look wise, no matter whether he is or not as a matter of fact. And to assume the coveted air of wisdom what more is necessary than to put on a huge pair of round spectacles of Chinese origin with smoked glasses enclosed in a frame of gold or tortoiseshell, and with clasps over the ears? Oh how wise he looks! He does indeed! And you should see his pomposity as he rides his humble donkey through the streets of Seoul. There he sits like a statue, supported by his servants, looking neither to one side nor to the other, lest he should lose his dignity.

“Era, Era, Era!” (“Make way, Make way!”) cry out the servants as he passes among the crowd, which is invariably respectful and ready to obey this hero who looks down upon them. The lesser the official, of course the greater the air, and you should see how the people who stand in the way are knocked to one side by his servants, should they not be quick enough to make room for the dignitary and his donkey. His long gown is carefully arranged on the sides and behind, covering the saddle and donkey’s back in large folds; for most things in Corea, as in other parts of the world, are done for the sake of appearance. What a dreadful thing it would be, were he to ride about with his gown crumpled up under his seat! It would be the cause of lifelong unhappiness, remorse and shame, and no doubt cost his servants a sound flogging for their unpardonable carelessness.


The Woman of Cho-sen–Her clothes–Her ways–Her looks–Her privileges–Her duties–Her temper–Difference of classes–Feminine musicians.

It will now be proper, I think, since I have given you a rough sketch of the man of Cho-sen and his clothes, to describe in a general way to you the weaker sex–not an easy task–and what they wear–a much more difficult task still,–for I have not the good fortune to be conversant with the intricacies of feminine habiliments, and therefore hope to be excused if, in dealing with this part of my subject, I do not always use the proper terms applicable to the different parts that compose it. Relying, then, upon my readers’ indulgence in this respect, I shall attempt to give an idea of what a Corean female is like. It has always been a feature in my sceptical nature to think that the more one sees of women the less one knows them; according to which principle, I should know Corean women very well, for one sees but little of them. Be that as it may, however, I shall proceed to give my impressions of them.

As is pretty generally known, the women of Cho-sen, with the exception of the lower classes, are kept in seclusion. They are seldom allowed to go out, and when they do they cover their faces with white or green hoods, very similar in shape to those worn by the women at Malta. They appear, or pretend to be, shy of men, and foreigners in particular, and generally hide when one is approaching, especially if in a solitary street. I remember how astonished I was the first few days I was in Seoul, at the fact that every woman I came across in the streets was just on the point of opening a door and entering a house. It seemed so strange to me that damsel after damsel whom I met should just be reaching home as I was passing, that I began to think that I was either dreaming, or that every house belonged to every woman in the town. The idea suddenly dawned upon me that it was only a trick on their part to evade being seen, and on further inquiry into the matter from a Corean friend, I discovered that a woman has a right to open and enter any door of a Corean house when she sees a foreign man appearing on the horizon, as the reputation of the masculine “foreign devil” is still far from having reached a high standard of morality in the minds of the gentler sex of Cho-sen. In the main street and big thoroughfares, where at all times there are crowds of people, there is more chance of approaching them without this running away, for in Corea, as elsewhere, great reliance is placed on the saying that there is safety in numbers. So it was mainly here that I made my first studies of the retiring ways and quaint costumes of the Corean damsel.

[Illustration: A COREAN BEAUTY]

Yes, the costume really is quaint, and well it deserves to be described. They wear huge padded trousers, similar to those of the men, their socks also being padded with cotton wool. The latter are fastened tightly round the ankles to the trousers by means of a ribbon. You must not think, however, that the dame of Cho-sen walks about the streets attired in this manly garment, for over these trousers she wears a shortish skirt tied very high over the waist. Both trousers and skirt are generally white, and of silk or cotton according to the grade, position in life, and extravagance of those who wear them. A tiny jacket, usually white, red, or green, completes the wardrobe of most Corean women; one peculiarity of which is that it is so short that both breasts are left uncovered, which is a curious and most unpractical fashion, the climate of Corea, as we have already seen, being exceedingly cold–much colder than Russia or even Canada. The hair, of which the women have no very great abundance, is very simply made up, plastered down flat with some sort of stenching oil, parted in the middle, and tied into a knot at the back of the head, pretty much in the same way as clergymen’s wives ordinarily wear it. A heavy-looking silver or metal pin, or sometimes two, may also be found inserted in this knot as an ornament. I have often seen young girls and old women wear a curious fur cap, especially in winter, but this cannot be said to be in general use. It is in the shape of the section of a cone, the upper part of which is covered with silk, while the lower half is ornamented with fur and two long silk ribbons which hang at the back and nearly reach the ground when the cap is worn. The upper part of this cap, curiously enough, is open, and on either side of the hole thus formed there are two silk tassels, generally red or black in colour. When smartly worn, this cap is quite becoming, but unfortunately, whether this be worn or not, the modest maiden of Cho-sen covers her head and face with a long green sort of an overall coat which she uses as a _mantilla_ or hood, throwing it over the head and keeping it closed over the face with the left hand.

It must not on this account be imagined that there are not in Cho-sen women as coquettish as anywhere else, for, indeed, the prettier ones, either pretending that the wind blows back the hood, or that the hand that holds it over the face has slipped, or using some other excuse of the kind with which a woman is always so well provided, take every opportunity of showing you how pretty they are and of admiring them, particularly when they get to know who you are, where you hail from, and who your Corean friends are. The ugly ones, of course, are always those who make the most fuss, and should you see a woman in the street hide her face so that you cannot see it at all, you may be very sure that her countenance is not worth looking at, and that she herself is perfectly conscious of Nature’s unkindness to her.

As for several months I was seen day after day sketching in the streets, the people got to know me well, and since the Coreans themselves are very fond of art, although they are not very artistic themselves, I made numerous friends among them, and even, I might say, became popular.

Vanity is a ruling characteristic of all people, and acting on this little weakness I was able to see more of the Corean damsel than most casual travellers.

[Illustration: A LADY AT HOME]

We find, it is true, _pros_ and _cons_ when we come to analyse her charms, but taking the average maid, she cannot be said to be worse in Corea than she is in other countries. She can be pretty and she can be ugly. When she is pretty, she is as pretty as they make them, and when she is the other way she is as ugly as sin, if not even worse. But let us take a good-looking one. Look at her sad little oval face, with arched eyebrows and with jet black, almond-shaped eyes, softened by the long eyelashes. Her nose is straight, though it might to advantage be a little less flat, and she possesses a sweet little mouth, just showing two pretty teeth as white as snow. There seems to be so much dignity and repose about her movements when you first see her, that you almost take her for a small statue. Hardly will she condescend to turn her face round or raise it up to look at you and even less inclined does she seem to smile, such is her modesty; once her shyness has worn off, however, she improves wonderfully. Her face brightens, and the soft, affectionate, distant look in her eyes is enough to mash into pulp the strongest of mankind. She is simple and natural, and in this chiefly lies her charm. She would not compare in beauty with a European woman, for she is neither so tall nor so well developed, but among women of far-Eastern nationality she, to my mind, takes the cake for actual beauty and refinement. The Japanese women of whom one hears so much, though more artistically clad, are not a patch on the Venuses of Cho-sen, and both in respect of lightness of complexion and the other above-named qualities they seemed to me to approach nearest to the standard of European feminine beauty. Their dress, as you may have judged by my rough description, is more quaint than graceful, and cannot be said to be at all becoming; nevertheless, when one’s eyes have got accustomed to it, I have seen girls look quite pretty in it. I remember one in particular, a concubine of one of the king’s ministers, whom I was fortunate enough to get to sit for me. She did not look at all bad in her long blue veil gown, much longer than the white one usually worn, which it covered, the white silk trousers just showing over the ankles, and a pretty pair of blue and white shoes fitting her tiny feet. She wore a little red jacket, of which she seemed very proud, and she smoked cigarettes and a pipe, though her age, I believe, was only seventeen.

Women of the commoner classes can always be detected, not only by the coarser clothes they wear, but also by the way their hair is made up. Two long tresses are rolled up on the back of the head into a sort of turban, and though to my eye, innocent of the feminine tricks of hair-dressing, it looked all real and genuine, and a curious contrast to the infinitely less luxuriant growth of the better classes of women, I was told that a good deal of braids and “stuffing” was employed to swell their coiffures into the much-coveted fashionable size.

One very strange custom in Corea is the privilege accorded to women to walk about the streets of the town at night after dark, while the men are confined to the house from about an hour after sunset and, until lately, were severely punished both with imprisonment and flogging, if found walking about the streets during “women’s hours.” The gentler sex was and is therefore allowed to parade the streets, and go and pay calls on their parents and lady friends, until a very late hour of the night, without fear of being disturbed by the male portion of the community. Few, however, avail themselves of the privilege, for unfortunately in Corea there are many tigers and leopards, which, disregarding the early closing of the city gates, climb with great ease over the high wall and take nightly peregrinations over the town, eating up all the dogs which they find on their way and occasionally even human beings. Tigers have actually been known to rudely run their paws through the invulnerable paper windows of a mud house, drag out a struggling body roughly awoke from slumber, and devour the same peacefully in the middle of the street.

Since then a _rencontre_ with a hungry individual of this nature during a moonlight walk is sure to be somewhat unpleasant, it is not astonishing that it is but very, very rarely that at any hour of the night the Cho-sen damsel avails herself of the privilege accorded her. The woman, as I have already mentioned, is considered nothing in Corea. The only privilege she has, as we have just seen, is the chance of being torn to pieces and eaten up by a wild beast when she is out for a constitutional, and that we may safely say is not a privilege to be envied. The poor thing has no name, and when she is born she goes by the vague denomination of “So-and-so’s” daughter. When there are several girls in the family, to avoid confusion, surnames are found convenient enough, but they are again lost the moment she marries, which, as we shall see in another chapter, often happens at a very early age. She then becomes “So-and-so’s” wife. The woman in Corea has somewhat of a sad and dull life, for from the age of four or five she is separated even from her brothers and brought up in a separate portion of the house, and from that time ideas are pounded into her poor little head as to the disgrace of talking, or even being looked at by humans of a different gender. The higher classes, of course, suffer most from the enforcement of this strict etiquette, for in the very lowest grades of society the woman enjoys comparative freedom. She can talk to men as much as she pleases, and even goes out unveiled, being much too low a being to be taken any notice of; the upper classes, however, are very punctilious as to the observance of their severe rules. The Corean woman is a slave. She is used for pleasure and work. She can neither speak nor make any observations, and never is she allowed to see any man other than her husband. She has the right of the road in the streets, and the men are courteous to her. Not only do the men make room for her to pass, but even turn their faces aside so as not to gaze at her. There are numberless stories of a tragic character in Corean literature, of lovely maidens that have committed suicide, or have been murdered by their husbands, brothers, or fathers, only for having been seen by men, and even to the present day a husband would be considered quite justified in the eye of the law if he were to kill his wife for the great sin of having spoken to another man but himself! A widow of the upper class is not allowed to re-marry, and if she claims any pretence of having loved her late husband, she ought to try to follow him to the other world at the earliest convenience by committing the _jamun_, a simple performance by which the devoted wife is only expected to cut her throat or rip her body open with a sharp sword. They say that it is a mere nothing, when you know how to do it, but it always struck me, that practising a little game of that sort would not be an easy matter. For the sake of truth, I must confess that it was a husband who depreciated the worthy act. The lower people are infinitely more sensible. Though a woman of this class were to lose twenty husbands, she would never for a moment think of doing away with herself, but would soon enter into her twenty-first matrimonial alliance.

Women, somehow or other, are scarce in Corea, and always in great demand. The coolies, and people of a similar or lower standing, cannot do without a female companion, for it is she who prepares the food, washes the clothes, and sews them up. She is beaten constantly, and very often she beats the man, for the Corean woman can have a temper at times. Jealousy _en plus_ is one of her chief virtues. I have seen women in Seoul nearly tearing one another to pieces, and, O Lord! how masterly they are in the art of scratching. The men on such occasions stand round them, encouraging them to fight, the husbands enjoying the fun more than the other less interested spectators. The women of the lower classes seem to be in a constant state of excitement and anger. They are always insulting one another, calling each other names, or scolding and even ill-treating their own children. What is more extraordinary still to European ears, is that I once actually saw a wife stand up for her husband, and she did it in a way that I am not likely soon to forget.

A soldier was peacefully walking along a narrow street, half of which was a sort of drain canal, the water of which was frozen over, when a man came out of a house and stopped him. The conversation became hot at once, and with my usual curiosity, the only virtue I have ever possessed, I stopped to see the result.

“You must pay me back the money I lent you,” said the civilian in a very angry tone of voice.

“I have not got it,” answered the military man, trying to get away.

“Ah! you have not got it?” screamed a third personage, a woman emerging from the doorway, and without further notice hit the soldier on the head with the heavy wooden mallet commonly used for beating clothes.

The husband, encouraged by this unexpected reinforcement, boldly attacked the soldier, and, whilst they were occupied in wrestling and trying to knock each other down, the infuriated woman kept up a constant administration of blows, half at least of which, in her aimless hurry, were received by the companion of her life for whom she was fighting. Once she hit the poor man so hard–by mistake–that he fell down in a dead faint, upon which the soldier ran for his life, while she, jumping like a tiger at him, caught him by the throat, spinned him round like a top, and floored him, knocking him down on the ice. Then she pounced on him, with her eyes out of her head with anger, and giving way to her towering passion, pounded him on the head with her heels while she was hitting him on the back with her mallet.

“You have killed my husband, too, you scoundrel!” she cried, while the defeated warrior was struggling hard, though in vain, to escape.

As she was about to administer him a blow on the head that would have been enough to kill a bull, she fortunately slipped on the ice and went sprawling over her victim. The soldier, more dead than alive, had raised himself on his knees, when that demon in female attire rose again and embracing him most tenderly, bit his cheek so hard as to draw a regular stream of blood. I could stand it no longer, and proceeded on to the slippery ice to try to separate them, but hardly was I within reach than I was presented with a sound blow on my left knee from the mallet which she was still manipulating with alarming dexterity, by which I was at once placed _hors de combat_ before I had time even to offer my services as a peace-maker. Not only that, but besides the numberless “stars” which she made me see, the pain which she caused me was so intense that, hopping along as best I could on to the street again, I deemed it prudent to let them fight out their own quarrel and go about my own business.

“Never again as long as I live,” I swore, when I was well out of sight, as I rubbed my poor knee, swollen up to the size of an egg, “never shall I interfere in other people’s quarrels. Who would have foreseen this? and from a woman, too!”

It is, indeed, easy to be a philosopher after the event, but it is strange how very often one gets into fearful rows and trouble without having had the slightest intention either to offend or to annoy the natives. Here is another little anecdote which I narrated some months ago in the _Fortnightly Review_, and which is a further proof of the violent temper of the women-folk, of the lower classes in Cho-sen. The Coreans in general, and the women in particular, are at times extremely superstitious, which partly accounts for the violent scene in question,