William Elliot Griffis.

Corea, the hermit nation online

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must be omitted out of respect to the august personage to whom

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alone it is applied. At his death, three cups of rice are set out in
the households in memariomu This ceremony must not be imi-
tated for any other person. So also, if the character with which
the name of the ruling emperor of China is written be found in that
of a public person, a gateway, a palace or edifice in Seoul, the
graphic sign must be temporarily changed, though the pronuncia-
tion remains the same. This same system of graduated honors,
of which, in Gorea, the king is the culmination, slopes down to
the common people, and is duly protected by law.

The sovereign's person is hedged round with a diviniiy that has
an antipathy to iron. This metal must never touch his august body,
and rather than have an abscess lanced, the king Cheng-jong, in
1800, died from the effects of the disease. No ordinary mortal
must touch him, and if by accident this is done, the individual
must ever afterward wear a red silk cord. Notwithstanding such
regulated veneration for the Hap-mun's person, the royal harem
numbers several hundred inmates, duly presided over by eunuchs.
None but the king can drink out of a cup made of gold, and a
heavy penalty is visited upon all who presume to do so. When out-
side the palace, the three signs of the sovereign's power of life and
death over his subjects, are the axe, sabre, and trident The huge
violet fan and red umbrella are likewise borne before him. The
Chinese envoy is always escorted by soldiers bearing the three em-
blems, and by a band of musicians. When the Hap-mun, or king, is
in his minority, the queen, who is regent, sits behind a curtain in the
council of ministers, and takes part in the discussions. When she
is pregnant, the slaughter of beeves is prohibited during the space
of three months. This is done in order "to honor heaven by
abstinence," and may also be ordered to procure rain. Once every
year, the queen entertains at her palace some worthy woman in
humble life,, who has reached the advanced age of eighty yeara The
king likewise shows favor to old men in the lower walks of life.
Whenever an auspicious event happens, or good fortune befaUs
the kingdom, all the officials over seventy, and the common people
over eighty years of age, are feasted at the expense of the gov-
ernment When the first male child is bom to the king, criminals
are pardoned, and general festivity is observed. The birthdays of
the royal pair are celebrated every year. The royal princes are
supposed to have nothing whatever to do with politics, and any
activity in matters of government on their part is jealously resented
by the nobles, who form the political parties.

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220 CORBA.

The Eoyal Castle contains oyer three acres (15,202 square yards),
surrounded by a wall twenty feet high, and a moat the width of
which varies from fifty feet to somewhat less. It is crossed by
stone bridges in several place& This castled palace is called the
"Place of Gbvemment," and is divided into two parts called the
" East and West " palace. The East, or Lower Palace, is the resi-
dence of the king and is so called because situated on level land.
The Western palace is used for the reception of the Chinese am-
bassadora The gates of the outer city proper, and inner city, or
palace, are named in high-sounding phrase, such as *< Beneficent
Reception," " Exalted Politeness," "Perfect Change," "Entrance
of Virtue," and the throne-room is styled " The Hall of the Throne
of the Humane Gbvemmeni" The Chinese ambassador of 1866
spent the night in that part of the royal residence called " The
Palace Beserved for the South," — " the south " here evidently re-
ferring to the imperial favor, or the good graces, of the emperor.

A marked difference concerning "the freedom of the city" is
noticed in the relative treatment of the two embassies. While the
entire body of Coreans, dignitaries, servants, merchants, and cart-
men enter Peking, and all circulate freely in the streets among the
people, the Chinese envoy to Seoul, must leave his suite at the
frontier, and proceed to the capital with but a few servants, and
while there dwell in seclusion. After the long and rough journey
through Shin-king and Corea, the Chinese envoy in 1866 stayed leas
than three days in Seoul, and most of the time in-doors. llie Jap-
anese who, in 1646, were feasted in some part of the Eastern palace,
describe it as being handsomely furnished, with the walls gilded
and painted with landscapes, beasts, birds, and flowers, with artis-
tic effects in gold-dust and leaf. The royal family live each in
separate buildings, those above the ninth degree of relationship
reside inside the enclosure, all others live beyond the wall in the
city. When the wife of the king has a chilcC she dwells apart in
a separate building. The queen is selected from among the old
and most loyal families of the nobility. The palace pages» who
attend the king day and night, number thirty. There are also
three hundred court ladies, and eunuchs are among the ref^ularly-
appointed officers of the court The royal archives and library
form an interesting portion of the royal residence. Part of this
library, when removed to Kang-wa in 1866, was captured by the
French. Bishop Ridel wrote of it, "The library is very rich,
consisting of two or three thousand books printed in Chinese,

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Tnth nmnerous illustrations upon beautiful paper, all well labeled,
for the most part in many volumes hooped together with copper
bands, the covers being of green or crimson silk. I notice among
other things the ancient history of Corea in sixty volume& What
was most curious of all was a book formed of tablets of marble,
with characters in gold encrusted in the marble, folding upon one
another like the leaves of a screen, upon hinges of gilded copper,
and each tablet protected by a cushion of scarlet silk, the whole
placed in a handsome casket made of copper, which was in its
turn enclosed in a box of wood painted red, with chased orna-
ments in gilt copper. These square tablets formed a volume of a
dozen page& They contain, as some say, the moral laws of the
country, but according to others, whose opinion is more probable,
the honors accorded the kings of Corea by the Emperor of China.
The Coreans set great store by it"

A custom, similar to the old *' curfew ** of England prevails in
the capital A bell in the castle is struck at sunset, after which
male citizens are not allowed to go out of their houses even to
visit their neighbor& If such nocturnal prowlers are caught, they
run the risk of receiving the bastinado on their legs. At eight
o'clock another three strokes are given on the belL At the hours
of midnight, and at two and four a.bc the drum is struck, and the
brass cymbals sounded* At these signals the watchmen or guards
of the palace are relieved. The night-watch consists of ten reliefo
of eighteen each. Twenty stand guard at midnight, thirty at two
A.BC, twenty at four a.ic., and ten at six a.bc There are also extra
reliefs with their officers ready. The sentinels change after giving
the pass-word. The military garrison of the city is divided into
five portions, or four in addition to the household or palace
troops. This is the modem form of the old division of Kokorai,
into five tribes or clan&

There are several noted holidays, on which the curfew law is
suspended, and the people are allowed to be out freely at night
These are the first and the last day of the year, the fourteenth and
fifteenth day of the first month, and the fifteenth of August

Even under a despotism there are means by which the people
win and enjoy a certain measure of liberty. The monarch hears
the complaints of Ids subject& Close communication between the
palace and populace is kept up by means of the pages employed
at the court, or through officers, who are sent out as the king's
spies all over the country. An E-^a, or conunisaioner, who is to

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222 COREA.

be sent to a distant province to ascertain the popular feeling, or
to report the conduct of certain officers, is also called " The Mes-
senger on the Dark Path." He receives sealed orders from the
king, which he miist not open till beyond the city walls. Then,
without even going to his own house, he must set out for his des-
tination, the government providing his expenses. He bears the
seal of his commission, a silver plate having the figu^ of a horse
engraved on it In some cases he has the power of life and death
in his hand& Yet, even the Messenger of the Dark Path is not
free from espionage, for after him forthwith follows his '* double"
— the yashi or Night Messenger, who reports on the conduct of
the ruyal inspector and also on the affedrs of each province
through which he passea The whereabouts of these emissaries
are rarely discoverable by the people, as they travel in strict dis-
guise, and unknown. This system corresponds almost exactly to
that of the om6t8uk6 (eye-appliers), for many centuries in use in
. Japan, but abolished by the mikado's government at the revolu-
c^'^'^e^vo / ^on of 1868. It was by means of these E-aa or/^Mas that many
/ of the Ck>rean Christians of rank were marked for destruction.
The system, though abominable in free countries, is yet an excel-
lent medium between the throne and the subject^ and serves as a
wholesome check on official rapine and cruelty.

The king rarely leaves the palace to go abroad in the city or
country. When he does, it is a great occasion which is previously
announced to the public. The roads are swept clean and guarded
to prevent traffic or passage while the royal cortege is moving.
All doors must be shut and the owner of each house is obliged to
kneel before his threshold with a broom and dust-pan in his liand
as emblems of obeisance. All windows, especially the upper ones,
must be sealed with slips of paper, lest some one should look
down upon his majesty. Those who think they have received
unjust punishment enjoy the right of appeal to the sovereign.
They stand by the roadside tapping a small fiat drum of hide
stretched on a hoop like a battledore. The king as he passes
hears the prayer or receives the written petition held in a split
bamboo. Often he investigates the grievance. If the complaint
is groundless the petitioner is apt to lose his head. The proces-
sion for pleasure or a journey, as it leaves the palace, is one of the
grandest spectacles the natives ever witness. His body-guard and
train amount to many thousand persons. There are two sedan
chairs made exactly alike, and in which of them the king is riding

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no one knows except the highest ministera They must never be
turned round, but have a door to open at both ends. The music
used on such occasions is — to a Corean ear — of a quiet kind, and
orders are given along the line by signals made with pennons. In
case of sudden emergencies, when it is neccessary to convey an
order from the rear to the front or far forward of the line, the
message is sent by means of an arrow, which, with the writing at-
tached,* is shot from one end of the line to the other.

Five caparisoned horses with embroidered saddles precede the
royal sedan. The great dragon-flag, which is about fourteen feet
square, mounted in a socket and strapped on the back of a strong
fresh horse — with four guy ropes held by footmen, like banner-
string boys in a parade — forms the most conspicuous object in the
procession. Succession to the throne is at the pleasure of the
sovereign, who may nominate his legitimate son, or any one of his
natural male of^ring, or his cousin, or ande, as he pleasea A
son of the queen takes precedence over other sons, but the male
child of a concubine becomes king when the queen is childless,
which, in Corean eyes, is virtually the case when she has daugh-
ters only. Since tiie founding of the present dynasty in 1392,
there have been twenty-nine successors to the founder, among
whom we find nephews, cousins, or younger sons, in several
instance& Four were kun, princes, or king's son only, and not
successors in the royal line. They are not styled ivang, or
kings, but only kuriy or princes, in the official light One of
these four kun, degraded from the throne, was banished after
eleven years, and another was served in like manner after
fourteen years, reign. The heir to the throne holds the rank
of loang (Japanese 0)> king, while the younger sons are kun,
prince& From 1392 to 1882, the average reign of the twenty
sovereigns of Corea who received investiture is very nearly six-
teen and a half years.

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DuBiNO the past three centuries the nobles have been steadily
gaining political power, or rather we might say have been regain-
ing their ancient prestige at court Thej have compelled the
royal princes to take the position of absolute political neutrality,
and the policy of the central goYemment is dictated exclusiTely
by them. Those who hold no office are often the most powerful
in influence with their own party.

The origin of the political parties^ which have played such an
influential part in the history of modem Ck>rea, is referred to about
the time of the discovery of America. During the reign of Sien-
chong (1469-1494), the eleventh sovereign of the hoiise of Ni, a
dispute broke out between two of the most powerful of the nobles.
The court had bestowed upon one of them a high digniiy, to which
his rival laid equal daim. As usual in feudalism everywhere, the
families, relatives, retainers, and even servants, of either leader
took part in the quarrel The king prudently kept himself neutral
between the contending factions, which soon formed themselves
into organized parties under the names of *' Eastern " and " West- '
em." Later on, from a cause equally trivial to an alien eye, two
other parties formed themselves under the names ''Southern"
and ** Northern." Soon the Easterners joined themselves to the
Southerners, and the Northerners, who were very numerous, split
into two divisions, called the Ghreat North and the Little North.
In one of those tmsuccessful palace intrigues, called conspiracies,
the Qreai North party was mixed up with the plot, and most of its
members were condemned to death. The survivors hastened to
range themselves under the banner of the Little North. The
next reaction which arranged the parties on new lines, occurred
during the reign of Suk-chong (1676-1720), and well illustrates
that fanaticism of pedantry to which the literary classes in time
of peace formerly devoted their energies. The father of a young

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noble named Yun, who belonged to the Western party, having
died, the young man composed an epitaph. His tutor, an influen-
tial man of letters, not liking the production of his pupil, pro-
posed another. Unable to agree upon the proper text, a lively con-
troversy arose, and out of a Uterary acorn sprang up a mighty oak
of politica The Western party spUt into the Sho-ron, and No-ron,
in which were found the adherents of the pupil and master. A
free tSranslation of the correlative terms sho and no, would be
" Old Corea " and ** Yoimg Corea," or Conservative and Progres-
sive, or radical There were now four poUtical parties.

The Shi-seUc, or " the four parties," are still in existence, and
receive illustration better from French than from British politics.
Every noble in the realm is attached to one or the other of the
four parties, though ** trimmers " are not unknown. These TahU-
poki, or "right and left men," are ever on the alert for the main
chance, and on the turn of the political vane promptly desert to
the winning aide.

However trivial the causes which led to their formation, as
Western eyes see, the objects kept in view by the partisans are
much the same as those of parties in European countries and in
the United Statea Nominally the prime purpose of each faction
is to advance the interests of the country. Actual and very power-
ful motives have reference to the spoils of office. Each party en-
deavors to gain for its adherents as many of the high appointments
and dignities as possible. Their rallying-point is around the heirs
apparent, or possible, to the throne. When a strong and healthy
long holds the reins of i)ower, x>olitical activity may be cooL
When the sovereign dies and the succession is uncertain, when a
queen or royal concubine is to be chosen, when high ministera of
state die or resign, the Corean political furnace is at full blast
When king Suk-chong was reigning in 1720, having no son to
succeed him, the four parties coalesced into two, the Opposition
and the Court or royal party. The former supported in this case
one who proved the successful candidate, a brother of the king ;
the latter party urged the claims of an expected heir to the reign-
ing king, which, however, was not bom, as the king died childless.
To secure the throne to their nominee, the brother of the childless
king, the opposition secretly despatched a courier to Peking to
obtain the imperial investiture. The other party sent assassins to
waylay or overtake the courier, who was murdered before he had
crossed the frontier.

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Yeng-chong, the nominee of the Opposition, mounted the
throne after the death of his brother, and reigned from 1724 to
1776. He was an able ruler, wnd signalized his reign by abolish-
ing many of the legal tortures until then practised, especially the
branding of criminals. Yet personally he was cruel and unscrupu-
lous. Public rumor credited him with having found a road to
power by means of a double crime. By the use of various drugs
he made it impossible for his brother to have an heir, after which
' he poisoned him.

Stung by these reports, he began, as soon as he was made sov-
ereign, to send to the block numbers of the opposite party whom
he knew to be his enemies. Some years after, his eldest son hav-
ing died, he nominated his second son, Sato, to be his heir, and
associated him with himself in the government of the kingdonu
This young and accomplished prince endeavored to make his
father forget his bitter hatred against the Si-pai party, to pro-
claim general amnesty, and to follow out a frank policy of recon-
ciliation. The king, irritated by his son's reproaches, and hoimded
on by his partisans, resolved to put the prince out of the way. By
the royal command a huge chest of wood was made, into which
the young prince was ordered to sleep while living. The ponder-
ous lid was put on during one of his slumbers and sealed with
the royal sesJ. They then covered this sarcophagus with leaves
and boughs, so that in a short time the young prince was smoth-
ered. This horrible crime served only to exasperate the party of
the prince, and they demanded that his name should be enrolled
in the list of sovereigns. Their opponents refused, and this ques-
tion is still a burning one. The king's defenders, to this day de-
cline to rehabilitate the character of the smothered prince. The
others demand that historic justice be done. Though other ques-
tions have since arisen, of more immediate moment^ this particu-
lar moot point makes its distinct hue in the opposing colors of
Oorean politica This, however, does not take on the features of
an hereditary feud, for oftentimes in the same family, father and
son, or brothers may hold varying views on this historical dispute,
nor does it affect marriage between holders of diverse viewa The
Corean Bomeo and Juliet may woo and wed without let or dan-
ger. In general, it may be said that the Pi^-pai are radical and
fiery, the Supod are conservative and conciliatory.

Cheng-chong, who ruled from 1776 to 1800, a wise, moderate,
and prudent prince, and a friend of learning, favored the men of

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merit among the Southern Si-pai, and is also noted for having
revised the code of laws.

Among the more radical of the partisans, the object in view is
not only to gain for their adherents the public offices, but also to
smite their rivals hip and thigh, and prevent their getting appoint-
ments. Hence the continual quarrels and the plots, which often
result in the death of one or other of the leaders. Assassination
and mturderous attacks are among the means employed, while
to supplant their enemies the king is besought to order them to
death or exile. Concessions are made by the dominant party to
the other only to avoid violent outbreaks, and to keep the peace.
With such a rich soil for feuds, it is not wonderful that Corea is
cursed with elements of permanent disturbance like those in
mediaeval Scotland or Italy. As each of the noble families have
many retainers, and as the feuds are hereditary, the passions of
human nature have fall sway. All manner of envy and malice,
with all uncharitableness flourish, as in a thicket of interlacing
thom& The Southern and No-ron parties have always been the
most numerous, powerful, and obstinate. Between them mar-
riages do not take place, and the noble who in an intrigue with
one of his enemies loses caste, his honors, or his life, hands down
to his son or his nearest relative his demand for vengeance. Often
this sacred duty is associated with an exterior and visible pledge.
He may give to his son, for instance, a coat which he is never to
take off imtil revenge is had. The kinsman, thus clad with ven-
geance as with a garment, must wear it^ it may be until he dies,
and then put it upon his child with the same vow. It is not rare
to see noblemen clad in rags and tatters during two or three gen-
eration& Night and day these clothes call aloud to the wearer,
reminding him of the debt of blood which he must pay to appease
the spirits of his ancestors.

In Corea, not to avenge one's father is to be disowned, to
prove that one is illegitimate and has no right to bear the family
name, it is to violate, in its fundamental point, the national reli-
gion, which is the worship of ancestora If the father has been
put to death imder the forms of law, it behooves that his enemy
or his enemy's son should die the same death. If the father has
been exiled, his enemy's exile must be secured. If the parent has
been assassinated, in like manner must his enemy falL In these
cases, public sentiment applauds the avenger, as fulGlling the holy
dictates of piety and religion.

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228 COREA.

The pretext of accusation most often employed by the rival
factions is that of conspiracy against the life of the king. Peti-
tions and false evidence are multiplied and bribery of the court
ministers is attempted. If, as is often the case, the first petition-
ers are thrown in jail, beaten, or condemned to mulct or exile,
the pai*tisans assess the fine among themselves and pay it, or
manage by new methods, by the favor or venality of the court
ministers, or the weakness of the king, at last to compass their ends,
when those of the vanquished party are ousted from office, while
the victors use and abuse their positions to enrich themselves and
ruin their enemies, until they in their turn are supplanted.

It is no wonder that a Corean liberal visiting in Tdkid, in
1882, declared to a Japanese officer his conviction that Corea's
dfficulties in the way of national progress were greater than those
of which Japan had rid herself, mighty as these had been. By
the revolutions of 1868, and later, the ripened fruits of a century
of agitation and the presence of foreigners, Japan had purged
from her body politic feudalism and caste, emancipating herself
at once from the thrall of the priest and the soldier ; but Corea,
with her feudalism, her court intrigues, her Confucian bigotry,
and the effete products of ages of seclusion and superstition has
even a more hopeless task to attempt The bearing of these
phases of home politics vrill be further displayed when the new
disturbing force of Christianity enters to furnish a h)ver to am-
bition and revenge, as well as to affection and philanthropy.

A native caricature, which was published about a generation
ago, gives even a foreigner a fair idea of the relative position of
each party at that epoch. At a table gorgeously furnished, a No-
ron is seated at his ease, disposing of the bountiful fare. A Sho-
ron seated beside him, yet in the rear, graciously performs the

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisCorea, the hermit nation → online text (page 22 of 46)