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Title: Quaint Korea
Author: Miln, Louise Jordan
Language: English
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                              QUAINT KOREA

                           LOUISE JORDAN MILN


                        OSGOOD, McILVAINE & CO.
                        45 ALBEMARLE STREET, W.


                        [_All rights reserved_]

                         I DEDICATE THIS VOLUME

                        TO MY DEAR CHUM AND SON


    _A few of the following pages have appeared in “The London
    Times,” “The Pall Mall Gazette,” “The Daily Chronicle,” “The
    Pall Mall Budget,” “The Queen,” “The St. James’ Budget,” “St.
    Paul’s,” “Black and White,” and “The Lady.” The Editors of these
    papers kindly allow me to include those pages in this volume._

    _London, 1895._


                                CHAPTER I.
            A FEW WORDS ABOUT HAMEL                          1

                               CHAPTER II.
            SOME CURIOUS KOREAN CUSTOMS                     20

                               CHAPTER III.
            SÖUL FROM THE CITY WALL                         34

                               CHAPTER IV.
            KOREA’S KING                                    58

                                CHAPTER V.
            KOREAN WOMEN                                    75

                               CHAPTER VI.
            KOREAN WOMEN (_continued_)                     122

                               CHAPTER VII.
            KOREAN ARCHITECTURE                            161

                              CHAPTER VIII.
              KOREANS AMUSE THEMSELVES                     189

                               CHAPTER IX.
            A GLANCE AT KOREAN ART                         209

                                CHAPTER X.
            KOREA’S IRRELIGION                             226

                               CHAPTER XI.
            KOREA’S HISTORY IN A NUTSHELL                  245

                               CHAPTER XII.
            THE SCOURGES OF CHINA                          266

                              CHAPTER XIII.
            JAPAN’S INGRATITUDE                            278

            GLOSSARY                                       305

                 *        *        *        *        *

                             QUAINT KOREA.

                               CHAPTER I.

                        A FEW WORDS ABOUT HAMEL.

A spoiled woman, an extremely cross Englishman, who was her husband, and
a smiling mandarin, who was their host, sat on the prow of a Chinese
junk. They were rather a silent trio. The mandarin knew, or pretended he
knew, no English. The Englishman pretended to know considerable Chinese,
but, as a matter of fact, knew almost none. The two men were about
equally fluent in rather bad French, and were wont to use it as the
medium for a good deal of conversation, when they were alone. But
to-night, with the spoiled woman sitting between them, neither seemed to
have a word to say. Perhaps they both felt embarrassed by what to both
of them must have seemed the ridiculousness of the situation.

The junk had left Shanghai a few days before. It was bound for Korea,
where the mandarin was going on business—on business for the Emperor of
China. The party on the boat, not to mention servants and such, included
the mandarin, the mandarin’s wife, the Englishman, the Englishman’s
wife, and a young man named John Stewart-Leigh.

As I have said, his excellency the mandarin was going to Korea on
business. The spoiled woman was going for pleasure; her husband was
going because he thought he ought to, and the mandarin’s wife was going
because she had to. Stewart-Leigh would probably have found it very hard
to tell even himself just why he was on board. “It’s as good a way of
spending my leave as another, since I am too poor to go home just now,”
he had said to a brother subaltern in Hong Kong, “and it will be a
perfect charity to Q.”

Mr. Q., the spoiled woman’s husband, had been stopped by a friend a few
weeks before as he came down the steps of the Shanghai club.

“I say, Q.,” cried the other, “what is this? I hear that you are going
to Korea, and in his junk, with Ja Hong Ting. I say, it isn’t true, is

“Of course it’s true,” Q. had replied gloomily. “That mad wife of mine
has inveigled the poor old mandarin into inviting her. She insists upon
going, and I am going along to chaperon her.”

The Q.’s had been living in China for almost a year. They had known Ja
Hong Ting when he had been the Chinese minister at one of the European
capitals. Indeed, an uncle of Mrs. Q.’s (she was not unmixedly English)
had been the European secretary of the legation of which Ja Hong Ting
had been the head. The acquaintance that had begun on the continent of
Europe (and which between the then-girl and the Chinaman had been rather
a friendly acquaintance) had developed in Pekin, as friendships between
Chinese and Europeans don’t often develop. Mr. Q., who alternately
laughed and grumbled at his wife’s odd tastes, secretly shared them. He
was a grave, quiet man; as a rule, almost taciturn. He was a deal of a
philosopher, though no one but his wife ever suspected it, and he had
become very much interested in Ja Hong Ting and the glimpses of real
China and of real Chinese life which had been afforded him through his
acquaintance with the mandarin.

When Ja Hong Ting and the Q.’s had first met in the drawing-room of one
of the European Legations at Pekin, Ja Hong Ting had exclaimed, as he
bowed over and over Mrs. Q.’s hand, “I am so glad you are here. Now you
shall know my wife.” (His wife had not been with him in Europe.) “You
shall teach her English, and she shall teach you Chinese. I entreat you
and your husband to come to my yamun to-morrow, and there you and she
shall be made great friends.”

Ja Hong Ting had not spoken in English, of course.

The Q.’s had gone to the yamun the next day, but Ja Hong Ting’s
programme had not been altogether carried out. His wife had been
obedient, as most Chinese wives are, but she had taken a dislike to the
Englishman, and a most violent dislike to the Englishwoman. She was
civil then and afterwards (at least, in the mandarin’s presence), but
she never warmed to her husband’s European friends, most especially not
to the lady. She taught Mrs. Q. no Chinese, at least not voluntarily;
and from Mrs. Q. she learned no English.

Some months after, Ja Hong Ting had called upon the Q.’s in Shanghai. He
stayed to dinner, and as they sat down, said to Mrs. Q., “Do you know
where Korea is?”

“Of course I know where Korea is,” replied his hostess.

“Yes,” interrupted Q., “so do I. It is one of the few places that my
wife has not dragged me to yet.”

“Ah, yes! I forgot,” said the mandarin, turning again to his hostess.
“Yes, I remember, you are a great geographer and a traveller. But I do
not suppose you will ever go to Korea. I should think it the last place
pleasant for you to visit. I have been there a number of times, and I am
going next month. The Emperor is sending me with a message to the King
of Korea.”

Mrs. Q. pushed her plate of untasted soup from her, and cried, “Oh!” Mr.
Q. knitted his brows and sighed. He saw trouble in the distance.

“You pity me,” said the mandarin.

“Pity you!” said the woman. “Ah! don’t you think the Emperor would send
me in your place?”

The Chinaman laughed. “I am sure his Majesty would not care to give you
so much hard work to do.”

“How do you get there, how are you going?” said Q., trying in a blind,
groping way to turn the conversational tide.

“In my junk,” said Ja Hong Ting. “It is one of the biggest junks in
China—a comfortable boat, quite like a floating home, as madame here
would call it, and I always enjoy my sails over to Korea and back very
much more than I enjoy my stay in Korea.”

“Will any of your ladies go with you?” asked Mrs. Q.

The mandarin laughed and shook his head. And then something seemed to
occur to him. He put down the spoon that had been almost to his mouth,
and after a moment’s pause, said, “I could take one or two of them.
There’s room, and there’s comfort in the boat. Would you”—turning to
Q.—“like to come and bring your wife?”

Q. groaned, and said hastily, “Thanks awfully, but I shall have to go to
Calcutta next month.” But as he spoke he knew that he was like a
drowning man catching at a straw. The mandarin’s suggestion was, of all
suggestions in the world, the one to fire Mrs. Q.’s easily fired

And so it came about that a month or more afterwards Ja Hong Ting’s junk
had pushed off from Shanghai with “us five in family,” as Mrs. Q.
delightedly called the mandarin, his wife, and their three guests.

The West has conquered the East. Christianity has triumphed. Heathenism
is mangled, and, let us hope, dying. Across the fair, flower-dimpled
back of Asia we have laid the unpicturesque blessing of railroads, and
thoroughly well-made, thoroughly well-kept paths for the men who
consider life a succession of journeys, and the animals who enable such
men to perpetually journey.

Second-sight seems to be, and to have always been, a genuine possession
with the Asiatic peoples. We in the West have, I think, never possessed
second-sight; but that does not altogether prove that there is no such
thing as second-sight. I remember an Æolian harp that used to hang upon
one of the crumbling, wild-flower-wreathed walls of the old castle at
Heidelberg. I remember the love songs that the wind used to sing to that
harp; the love songs with which the harp accepted the wooing of the
wind. If a nice new organ, a parlour organ, bought on time-payment, were
placed beside that Æolian harp (for I suppose the harp is still where I,
in my girlhood, years ago, saw it), the wind would have nothing to say
to that organ. If the wind had, the organ would not hear. I do not for a
moment rank an Æolian harp above a nice, new parlour organ, but I may,
perhaps, prefer the harp to the organ. We all have our secrets.

The Korean mind is, if I at all understand it, an Æolian harp. Compared
with the Oriental mind, the Occidental mind—in many instances at
least—partakes somewhat of the character of the parlour organ. The
peoples of Asia do less than we, but I think that they foresee more. The
wind of prophecy, the wind that prophesied the unavoidable future, swept
the nerve-strung heart of Asiatic sensibility, swept it very many, many
years ago. And Asia, having ears to hear, and, perhaps, eyes to see into
the future, realized that her only safety lay in seclusion. It seems to
me that the sensitive Asiatic mind, the exquisitely-strung Æolian harp
of Oriental existence, sings one eminently, practicable, sensible song
into the moon-lit, star-gemmed Asiatic midnight, and the refrain of the
song is this: “Asia for the Asians. Mangoes for the Chinese and the
Bengalese. Mogree flowers for the nautch-girls; and the Taj Mahal for
the wife who was loved with a love exceeding the love of European men.”
It has, I think, been an instinct, a second-sight, an inspiration, with
the Asiatic peoples to keep our feet from off the flower-made brilliance
of their native sod. But we have conquered Asia, as surely as the music
pumped by the thick, red fingers of the Board-School-taught girl—pumped
from out the well-manufactured depths of the time-payment-bought parlour
organ—would drown the indefinable, soft, methodless, nameless music of
the Æolian harp. Just so well have we subdued Asia, hushed her music,
quenched her light, torn her flowers petal from petal.

I am speaking from the sentimental standpoint, of course. But, in this
utilitarian age of ours, isn’t it worth while to look at things
sentimentally, once in a way, if only for variety? We have conferred the
greatest practical blessings upon Asia; that I admit and maintain. But
we have blurred the picture a bit, and I can’t help being sorry. Only
one country in Asia has, until lately, entirely escaped the blight and
the blessing of our civilizing touch—Korea! Korea has not seemed worth
our shot and powder. And many of us have not really known that there was
such a place as Korea. But the war that is raging in farther Asia now
has quickened our interest in the quaint kingdom of the morning calm.

The following chapters have been largely written from notes that Mrs. Q.
made during the pleasant months she spent in Korea, and from her
memories of those months. But Chosön is too interesting and, to us, too
new a theme to need the fillip of any petty personality; and so, after
these few pages of introduction and of explanation, we may excuse Mrs.
Q., or at least her personality, from our service, and leave her in her
privacy, to congratulate herself upon her good luck in having had the
unique experience of seeing Korea, and of seeing it in company with one
of the best-informed of Tartars, and one of the most intelligent of

I felt impelled to write this explanation of how the material for the
book was gathered, and the manner of woman who gathered it. Helen Q.
lays as little claim to being profound as do I myself, and this is no
volume for those who gloat on statistics, on accurate tables, and insist
upon having over-exact information or no information at all. It is a
peep at Korea as a very average woman saw it, a woman who enjoyed
herself in Korea, and who there jotted down some of her impressions that
they might serve her and another for ‘sweet discourses in their time to
come’—jotted them down with no dream of future publication. I sometimes
think that the half-gossip of such travellers, the honest, unstudied
report of their observations, gives, to the generality of readers, a
more vivid, concrete picture of a strange land than do the more
elaborate, more careful volumes of more accomplished writers, more
professional makers of books.

These pages have had the advantage of being revised both by Mr. Q. and
Ja Hong Ting, both of whom are acute observers, exact thinkers, and
happen to be in Europe now.

The inclusion here of the chapters on China and Japan needs, I think, no
apology. The histories of the three countries have been so interknit
socially, artistically, and scientifically; the people of Korea are so
like the people of Japan, so like the people of China—though so unlike
both—that we shall only even partially see Korea, by keeping one of our
mental eyes on the rival countries between which she lies.

The island of Quelpaert is barely fifty miles long and only half so
wide; but it is big with history, huge with interest, and great with
special claim upon European attention.

In 1653 a Dutch boat was wrecked on the shore of Quelpaert. To that
shipwreck Europe owed her most vivid, if not her first photograph of
Korea; for on the _Sparrow-hawk_ was not only Min Heer Cornelius Lessen,
the governor-elect of Tai-wan, but also a man of genius, a sailor who
had a great gift for narrative writing. That man’s name was Hendrik
Hamel. It is two hundred years and more since he wrote his simple,
straightforward, convincing record of the years he perforce spent in
Korea. Since then some score of books have been written about Korea and
things Korean. None of them are more readable than Hamel’s “Narrative of
an Unlucky Voyage,” and only one of them compares, at all to its
author’s credit, with the quaint old book, written two centuries ago by
the Dutch seaman.

I should like to quote a great deal of Hamel’s own record of the
thirteen years he spent in Korea, and it has been done very much at
length by several eminent writers. Moreover, it would be an entirely
safe thing to do, for the copyright must have long since run out, if the
book ever had a copyright. But I will content myself with a very few
words about this wonderful man and his stay in Chosön, and a few brief
quotations from one of the most interesting books of travel that has
ever been written; a book as fresh and readable to-day as if it had just
come smoking from the printer’s press.

More than half the souls on board the _Sparrow-hawk_ (that is
thirty-six) reached the shore of Korea. They were taken prisoners, and
were held so for thirteen years and more. The history of their captivity
is the history of varying kindnesses and unkindnesses. But, when we
remember the then conditions of Korean life, and when we remember how
little the hermit people of the hilly peninsula desired colonists, when
we remember how they regarded foreigners, and what cause they had to so
regard foreigners, it is more the history of kindness than of
unkindness. Certainly the Hollanders had more to be thankful for than to
complain of during their first years in Chosön—barring, of course, the
facts that there they were and there they had to stay.

Hamel and his fellows were not the first Europeans, not even the first
Hollanders to land, or rather be thrown, upon Korea. But, for all that,
they were enough of rarities to be regarded by the populace as strangely
interesting wild beasts. They were given rice-water to drink. They were
fed. When the need came they were clad. They were sheltered. They
suffered no indignity, and only comparative hardship; and, little as
they dreamed it, the King of Korea was sending to them an interpreter; a
man whose blood was their blood, whose tongue was their tongue.

“The first known entrance of any number of Europeans into Korea,” writes
Griffis, “was that of Hollanders, belonging to the crew of the Dutch
ship _Hollandra_, which was driven ashore in 1627. . . . A big,
blue-eyed, red-bearded, robust Dutchman, named John Wetteree, whose
native town was Rip, in North Holland, volunteered on board the Dutch
ship _Hollandra_ in 1626, in order to get to Japan.”

Now one fine day, when the _Hollandra_ was coasting along Korea,
Wetteree and two of his mates went ashore for fresh water. The natives
caught them, and, as was the custom of the country, detained them. They
were treated with respect, with honour even, attained to positions of
responsibility and trust, and became great among the great men of Korea.
Two of them died in 1635, died fighting for the country of their
enforced adoption when she was invaded by the Manchius. But Wetteree
lived on, and, twenty-seven years after his own capture, he was sent to
interpret between his shipwrecked countrymen and their captors. Alas!
his tongue had forgot its mother cunning, and refused to utter the
language that he had not used for twenty-seven years. Wetteree
remembered but a few words of Dutch. But the mother-tongue, which more
than a quarter of a century had not served to make him quite absolutely
forget, he regained in a month’s intercourse with his countrymen.

Hamel and his comrades experienced many ups and downs. They were treated
with consideration, they were treated with cruelty. They held many
offices. They were set many tasks—that of begging amongst them. They
plied many trades. They lived in many places. They saw the interior of
Korea, the inside of Korean life, as Europeans never saw it before, and,
I fancy, as Europeans have never seen it since.

Once an enterprising governor set them to making pottery with a probable
view of introducing European improvements into Korea’s own wonderful
ceramic art methods. The experiment was a failure. Whether the Dutch
fingers were ill-adapted to the pursuit of Korea’s favourite
art-industry, or whether, as Griffis remarks, it was “manifestly against
the national policy of making no improvements on anything,” history does
not authoritatively tell us. I incline to the first opinion. But the
bulk of the learned Europeans, who have studied Korea, certainly side
with Mr. Griffis. At all events, Hamel and his fellows were not kept
long at the moulding of Korean clay. The Governor was deposed and
physically punished; and the Dutchmen were put to the pulling of grass
from the door-yard of the palace.

Hamel and his comrades did not remain long in Quelpaert. The king sent
for them and they were taken to Söul.

Two paragraphs in Hamel’s long account of their stay are indicative of a
good deal that is to-day as characteristic of two types of Korean
character as it doubtless was two hundred years ago.

“On the 21st, a few days after the shipwreck” (writes Hamel), “the
commander made us understand by signs that he wished to see all we had
saved from our wreck, and that we were to bring it from our tent and lay
it before him. Then he gave orders that it should be sealed up, and it
was so sealed in our presence. While this was being done, some people
were brought before him who had taken iron, hides, and other things that
had drifted ashore from our boat. They were at once punished, and before
our eyes, which showed us that the Korean officials did not mean us to
be robbed of any of our goods. Each thief had thirty or more blows given
him on the soles of his feet with a cudgel thick as a man’s arm and tall
as a man. The punishment was so severe that the toes dropped off the
feet of more than one thief.”

Hamel and his fellows were under the supervision of more than one
governor. They were highly pleased with some, and as highly displeased
with others. Here is Hamel’s description of one:—“It seemed to us that
he was a very sensible man, and we were afterward sure that we had not
been deceived in our first opinion. He was seventy years old, had been
born in Söul, and was greatly esteemed at the court. When we left his
presence he signed to us that he should write to the king and ask what
was to be done with us. It would be some time before the king’s answer
could come, because the distance was great. We begged him that we might
have flesh sometimes, and other things to eat. This he granted, and he
gave us leave that six of us might go abroad every day, to breathe the
air, and wash our linen. This satisfied us greatly, for it was hard and
weary to be shut up, and to subsist on bread and water. He also sent for
us often, and made us write both in Dutch and in Korean. So did we first
begin to understand some words of Korean; and he speaking with us
sometimes and being pleased to provide a little entertainment or
amusement for us, we began to hope that some day we might escape to
Japan. He also,” adds Hamel, “took such care of us when we were sick,
that we may affirm we were better treated by that idolater than we
should have been among Christians.”

Lest the reader should think that Hamel had become a Buddhist or a
Confucist, or had adopted some other shameful form of heathenism; lest
the reader may think that Hamel was altogether partial to the people
among whom he had been thrown, I will add what he wrote of two other
governors. After complaining of one in detail, he adds, “But, God be
praised, an apopletic fit delivered us from him in September following,
which nobody was sorry for, so little was he liked.”

And of another unsatisfactory governor he writes, “He put many more
hardships upon us, but God gave us our revenge.”

These last two quotations ought, I think, to establish Hamel as a highly
civilized, and by no means gushing, historian.

Hamel’s narrative proves two things most conclusively. It proves that of
all the civilized countries the centuries have wrought the least change
upon Korea. Indeed, the geological changes in the peninsula have
scarcely been slower than the changes in the social customs of the
Koreans. It is even more interesting to me that Hamel’s book proves him
one of the most truthful men who ever put pen to paper. He wrote with a
brilliant, vivid pen, but he dipped it in no false colour. And yet in
his own time Hamel was, to put it mildly, called a liar of liars; and
until comparatively recent days his statements have been doubted, and
“exaggerated” has been the least abusive adjective applied to them. But
travellers of our own time, missionaries and statesmen, men whose word
is beyond impugnment, testify that Hamel wrote well within the mark,
that he created nothing, imagined nothing, distorted nothing. It is much
to be regretted that a man who wrote of Korea so simply, so charmingly,
so truthfully, and from so splendidly inside a point of view, did not
write far more about a country of which the fairly well-informed of us
until yesterday knew almost literally nothing; and yet a country a-teem
with interest for all who feel keen interest in humanity, in art, and in
high civilization, a country which threatens to disappear, if not as a
country, why then, as a country apart, and whose magnificent personality
may soon be lost amid the neutral generality of modern civilization, and
the brotherhood (such brotherhood!) of all nations.

The history of Korea we may have always with us; but Korea—Korea of the
lotus ponds and the red-arrow gates—Korea of the big hats and the
devil-traps—Korea of the geisha girls and the omnipotent, red-clad
king!—that we may not have so long. Civilization and war are on the
march, and if ‘smooth success be strewed before their gentle feet,’ why
then, the twentieth century in her youth may see the matrons of Chosön
walk abroad unveiled, and night on the streets of Söul turned into day
by electric light.

                               CHAPTER II

                      SOME CURIOUS KOREAN CUSTOMS.

It is difficult to decide how to attack the study of a people of whom
one knows practically nothing, and to whom one cannot have personal

There are two classes of travellers—of people who travel for
self-gratification, and not on business or of necessity.

The traveller belonging to the first class diligently studies a whole
library of guide books and other volumes of more or less tabulated, and
more or less reliable information. He learns the country to which he
intends journeying as he might learn his catechism or his “twelve times
twelve.” He buys a ticket for the land of his destination. He knows
where he is going, and he goes there. He sees everything he expected to
see, all he intended to see, which is all he wishes to see, and, on my
word of honour, he sees no more! I know, for I have travelled with him
often, oh, so often! Having worked out his own petty educational
salvation, he goes home again almost as wise as when he started for
abroad: just a little hazed, perhaps (unless he be a globe-trotter of
the ultra rigidly-minded, blind-eyed type), for things as they really
are often give in so pronounced a way the lie to things as we have read
of them, that the difference between fact and fiction must shock all but
the densest of tourists.

The traveller belonging to the second class starts with a not too
definite intention of seeing Venezuela. He arrives there; unless _en
route_ he stumbles upon the borders of some, to him, even more
interesting country, and turns aside like the free man he is. He rambles
from town to village, and with a mind not so crammed with information
that it has room for no more. He learns his new country on the spot. He
sees the people. He eats their food. He drinks their wine. He watches
them at work, and at play. He learns their language, and some of the
thousand secrets which only language can teach. He looks into their
eyes, and perchance he gets some passing glimpse into their souls. He
goes home. Then he begins to read his guide books. Then he begins to
study the history and the ancient literature of the people among whom he
has been. And then, and not till then, is he fit to study that history:
for we can only read a history with full intelligence if we are familiar
with the people of whose ancestors it is written.

I trust that no one will think that I am decrying the study of history
in our school-days, or the life-long study of those places we may not
visit. I am not that mad. The study of history is invaluable as a means
of mental discipline and of personal culture. But we can only get the
utmost of delight, the utmost mental nourishment from history, when we
are more or less (and the more the better) _en rapport_ with the race
whose past it chronicles.

Let us then go into Korea after the method of the second traveller, the
happy-go-lucky, seemingly systemless fellow. Let us look at the Koreans
of to-day. Let us peep into their houses, watch their amusements, ponder
over the most characteristic of their many curious customs, and study
their institutions. Then we may spend an hour or more over Korea’s
history, not as a duty, but a treat. Our appetites will be keen, and we
shall relish what would, I am thinking, seem to us but a boredom of
incomprehensible dumb dates and endless iteration of meaningless facts,
were we to, after the approved style, plunge into it now!

The Koreans are, in all probability, the children of Japanese stock, but
China has been for centuries their wet nurse, and their schoolmistress.
No two Oriental peoples are more essentially unlike than are the Chinese
and the Japanese. And the Koreans, a race of Japanese, or kindred blood,
living under conditions largely Chinese, and deeply imbued with Chinese
ideas, present a picture peculiarly quaint, even in the quaintest part
of the world.

They have Japanese faces, Chinese customs, and a manner of their own.
But into their Chinese-like customs some little Japanese habit has crept
now and again. And the Koreans have even ventured, once in a while, to
invent a custom of their own.

Every Korean house has a cellar; not for the storing of wine, but for
the storing of heat. The cellar is called a khan—its mouth, through
which it is fed, is some distance from the house. On a cold night you
will see one or more seemingly white-clad figures cramming the khan’s
mouth, as fast as they can, with twigs, branches, and other combustible
food. But once well fed, the furnace burns for hours, and keeps the
house warm all night. So the attendants of the fire are not kept out in
the cold over long; and while they are there, their hands are full of
work that suffices to keep their blood at a decided tingle. A Korean
house heated at sunset keeps warm all night, because the fire built is
invariably huge, because the floors through which the heat permeates are
made of oil-paper, and because the furnace itself is largely a mass of
wooden and of stone intestines, pipes, and flues that retain and give
out heat. With almost no exceptions the houses in Korea are one-storied.
So simple a scheme of domestic architecture enables so simple a scheme
of house-heating to be thoroughly efficacious.

Europeans sleeping for the first time in a Korean house, usually
complain that in the middle of the night the heat is too intense, the
atmosphere insupportable, and that toward the chill hours of early
morning, when the fire has died, and the pipes at last grown cold, the
room is most disagreeably cold. But these are minor matters, and far too
trivial to disturb Korean slumber.

Next to the Eskimos, the Koreans are the heartiest eaters in the world.
So, naturally enough, they sleep profoundly. They seem to be always
eating. And nothing short of a royal edict, or a bursting bomb-shell,
will interrupt a Korean feast. I regret to say that the flesh of young
dogs is their favourite viand. Japanese beer is their favourite
beverage. And for this let me commend them. For never in Milwaukee,
never in Vienna, have I drank beer so good as that which is made at the
Imperial brewery in Tokio. Like all other Orientals, they devour
incredible quantities of fish; herrings for a first choice. The herrings
are caught in December, and are not eaten until March. Water-melons are
the fruit most plentiful and most perfect in Korea. They are superb.

Potatoes were in disgrace, under the ban of a royal edict, when Ja Hong
Ting took Helen to Korea. They had been introduced into the country
shortly before the Q’s. themselves. And their general use might have
done much to alleviate the horrible famines which visit Korea with a
horrible regularity. But their use and their culture were forbidden.
Only in the less disciplined outskirts of the peninsula were they to be
had. The mandarin used to send many miles for potatoes, and then they
ate them in safety, only because of the flag that sheltered their house
from the too scorching rays of the Korean sun. And it was so at all the

But about the sign-posts in Korea. They are quaint, if you like! Each
sign-post is shaped like an old-fashioned English coffin, and it is
topped by a face; a very grotesquely painted, a very Korean, a very
grinning, but for all that, a very human face. They used to rather
startle Helen at first when she came round the corner of a country road,
and found them smirking at her in the gruesome moonlight. But she grew
used to them. For they were all alike. They all wore the countenance of
Chang Sun, a great Korean soldier. Chang Sun lived one thousand, more or
less, years ago. His life was devoted to the opening up of his country
to the feet of his countrymen. He intersected the hills of Korea with
pathways, and to-day he beams upon every Korean wayfarer from every
sign-post. Beneath his beaming face you may (if you are learned enough)
read his name. Beneath his name you may read to where the road or roads
lead; how far the next settlement, or the next rest-house is, and one or
two other items that are presumably of general interest to the Korean
travelling public.

There are no inns nor hotels in Korea. But the rest-houses are neither
few nor far between. A Korean rest-house is a species of dâk bungalow.
It does not fill our jaded European ideas of luxury. But it answers the
purpose of the Korean traveller fairly well. He can cook there; he can
eat there; he can sleep there; he can buy Japanese beer there. The
average Korean is a sensible fellow, and wants nothing more. No, I am
wrong; he wants two things more: he wants to compose poetry, and to
paint pictures. The Koreans are a nation of poets, and of painters.
Every fairly educated Korean writes poems and paints pictures. But there
is nothing to prevent him from doing either, or both, inside or outside
the Korean rest-house. The majority of well-to-do Koreans are highly
educated, as Korean education goes; and in many ways it goes very far

In Korea, as in China, a man’s social position depends upon the prestige
he can establish for himself at competitive examinations. In Korea, as
in every other normal quarter of the globe, a woman’s social position
depends upon the social position of her husband.

The results of the Korean competitive examinations are said to be
bribable and corruptible. Very possibly. Most human institutions are
fallible. Even Achilles, you know, had a heel. But certainly Korea has
been for centuries and centuries a country where scholarship took
precedence of everything but kingship; a country where education was
esteemed above common-sense.

All the Korean animals are very strong, but very strange. The peninsula
abounds in tigers, bears, cows, horses, swine, deer, dogs, cats, wild
boars, alligators, crocodiles, snakes, swans, geese, eagles, pheasants,
lapwings, storks, herons, falcons, ducks, pigeons, kites, magpies,
woodcocks, and larks. Hens are plentiful, and the eggs are delicious.
But the natives do not make half the use one would expect of all this
feathered plenty.

Goats may be reared by no one but the king, and are exclusively used for
religious sacrificial purposes.

The Koreans are good to their children, and to all animals. Snakes and
serpents are, perhaps, treated by them with more veneration and
tenderness than any other form of animal life. No Korean ever kills a
snake. He feeds it, and does everything else he can to conduce to its
comfort. The poorest and hungriest Korean will share his evening meal
with the reptiles that sneak and crawl about the rocks that bound his

Ancestral fire is a very important thing in Korea. In every Korean house
burns a perpetual fire, which is sacred to the dead ancestors of the
household. To tend that fire, to see that it never runs the least risk
of going out, is the first, the most important duty of every Korean
housewife. In Korea, as in China, ancestor-worship is the real religion.
Confucianism is the avowed religion of the country. But, like the
Chinese, the Koreans hold dogmatic religions in considerable,
good-natured contempt.

Fortune-tellers and astrologers are as many and as prosperous in Korea
as in China.

Like the Japanese, the Koreans have found a special and profitable
vocation for their blind. In Japan, the needy blind invariably practise
shampooing. In Korea, the blind exorcise devils, and, in analogous ways,
make themselves generally useful. Their dealings with evil spirits are
summary and thorough. The gifted blind man frightens the devil to death
by means of noise more diabolical than any Satan ever heard, or catches
the devil in a bottle, and carries it in triumph to a place of safety,
where devils cease from troubling, and afflicted Koreans are at rest.

The laws of Korea are explicit concerning high treason. They smite it
hip and thigh. They exterminate it root and branch. If a Korean is found
guilty of high treason he dies, and his entire family dies with him. In
this custom the Koreans are again Chinese and not altogether

The constitution of the Korean Home Office is based upon the Japanese
system. The Foreign Office is modelled on the Chinese Foreign Office. At
the head of the War Office is the Pan Sö, or decisive signature, an
official of very great power. Under him are several lesser officials
called Cham Pan, or help to decide. Under these are men called Cham Wi,
or help to discuss, and again under these are a number of secretaries.
But alas! in the present Oriental imbroglio (although Korea is nominally
the _causa belli_), the Korean War Department is playing a part so
insignificant, that we do not even hear of it.

The Korean army, as estimated by the Korean War Office, represents a
goodly number of men, and European writers of note have put down the
militant force of the country at a million and more. But even,
numerically speaking, this statement should be taken with a whole cellar
of salt, and martially speaking, exaggeration could not decently go
farther. The Korean army is but the shadow of an army, the harmless
phantom of a force that once drove the invading Japanese armies from the
shores of Chosön, and made the warriors of an American iron-clad pay
dearly for their intrusion.

But if the prowess of the Korean soldiery is gone, its picturesqueness
remains, and in its very inefficiency it speaks to us of the days—now
probably gone for ever—when weapons at which we smile to-day were
formidable indeed, the days when warfare which would excite the scorn of
our school-boys was warfare grim and earnest. And as we watch that
martial mockery—the army of Korea—we may realize that the yesterday of
Chosön was midway between the copiously equipped to-day of our modern,
European civilization, and that primeval time when there were no
implements, the days when women used thorns for needles, and men used
thorns for fish-hooks.

Korea deals with crime as rigorously as China does, but her methods of
punishment—especially the most cruel ones—have been borrowed from
Japan, or borrowed by Japan from Korea. In China, Japan, and Korea we
constantly find the same ideas, the same methods of life, with only the
slightest local differentiations, but more often than not it is
impossible for the most erudite scholar—not to mention the casual
European wayfarer—to determine in which of the three countries the
common idea or custom was born.

Some of the customary Korean punishments would make, I think, too
painful reading: this, I am sure, they would make too painful writing. I
must refer the reader who is curious to Hamel; for Hamel details them
with considerable gusto, even the most horrible: the punishment that
used to be meted out to Korean murderers. Happily, even in Korea, time
cures some ills, and of later years, particularly under the rule of the
present king, a good, wise, and gentle man, the Korean criminal code, if
it has not assimilated some fraction of that quality which “is an
attribute to God Himself,” has at least ceased to be the thing of horrid
cruelty it was; and if the laws of Chosön are more pitiless than the
laws of Draco, still they disgrace the humanity of Korea far less than
they did two thousand years ago. I know of no other respect in which
Korea has changed more.

Here are two examples of Korean law—two laws that for centuries were so
rigidly carried out that their enforcement became national customs.

“If a woman murder her husband she is to be taken to a highway on which
many people pass, and she shall be buried up to her shoulders. Beside
her an axe shall be laid, and with that axe all who pass by her, unless
they be noble, must strike her on the head, and this none, save the
noble, must fail to do, until she be dead.”

There are no bankruptcy courts in Korea. A Korean who once contracts a
debt can never escape from it. Here is the law:—

“One who owes money, and at the promised time fails to pay it, whether
the debt be to his Majesty the King, or to another person or other
persons, shall be beaten two or three times a month on the shin, and
this punishment shall be continued until the debt is discharged. If a
man die in debt, his relations must pay that debt, or be beaten two or
three times a month on the shin.”

This old law, slightly modified, still holds in Korea, I believe. Of
course it works both ways. It makes it very hard for the debtor to
escape payment; it makes it almost impossible for the creditor to lose
any part of his substance.

                              CHAPTER III.

                        SÖUL FROM THE CITY WALL.

Seen from the wall (a most wonderful wall which describes a circuit of
9975 paces), Söul looks like a bed of thriving mushrooms, mushrooms
planted between the surrounding high hills, but grown in many places up
on to those hills. Yes; they look very much like mushrooms, those low,
one-storied houses, with their sloping, Chinese-like roofs, some tiled,
some turfed, and all neutral tinted. The houses of Söul are as alike as
mushrooms are, and as thickly planted.

The wall defines the city with a strange outline. Now it dips into the
tiny valley, now it pulls itself up on to the top of some high hill.

Korea is a most distressingly hilly country. If you elect to go for a
decent stroll, it is a matter of climbing a hill, and when you reach the
summit of the hill it is a matter of tumbling down the other side, to
scramble up another hill, and your path will be just such a succession
of ups and downs, even though you go north until you reach the “Ever
White Mountain,” and, in reaching it, reach the “River of the Duck’s
Green,” which, flowing towards the south, divides Korea from China;
reach the Tu Man Kang which, flowing towards the north-east, divides
Korea from the territory of the Tsar. Up and down it will be, even
though you push east until you reach the purple “Sea of Japan.” Still up
and down you will find it, although you go as far south, or as far west,
as Korea goes, and find yourself on the shores of China’s “Yellow Sea.”
Korea looks like a stage storm-at-sea. Its hills are so many that they
lose their grandeur, as individuality is lost in multitude.

But we must get back on to the wall, the wall of Söul.

The wall, which is purely Chinese in character, is punctuated by eight
gates. All of them have significant names. Several of them are strictly
reserved for very special purposes. The south gate is called “The Gate
of Everlasting Ceremony.” The west gate is “The Gate of Amiability.” The
east gate is “The Gate of Elevated Humanity.” The south-west gate is
“The Gate of the Criminals.” The majority of Korean criminals, who are
condemned to death, are beheaded. But this may not be within the city
walls. The procession of the man about to die passes through the
“Criminals’ Gate.” And that gate is never opened save on the occasions
of such gruesome functions. The south-east gate is “The Gate of the
Dead.” No corpse is interred within the city walls. And no corpse, save
only the corpse of a king, may pass through any other gate than the
“Gate of the Dead.” Any corpse (but the monarch’s) would defile the
gates through which Söul’s humanity is wont to ebb and flow. The “Gate
of the Dead” has another name. It is often called “The Gate of
Drainage,” for by its side the River Hanyang flows out to the Yellow
Sea. The northern gate stands high upon the summit of a peculiarly
shaped hill, which the French missionaries aptly named “Cock’s Comb.”
This gate is never opened save to facilitate the flight of a Korean

The gates differ greatly in size, which adds to the unusual
picturesqueness of the wall.

The Cock’s Comb, up to whose highest ridge the wall of Söul runs, is at
once the most distinct and the most interesting bit of Söul’s
background. It is, among the mountains of the world, so uniquely shaped
that no one who has ever seen it can ever forget it. And it is the altar
of the most sacred of Korea’s national ceremonies.

Although a large portion of this hill is enclosed within Söul’s wall,
Söul itself, climbing city though it is, has not climbed far up the
hill. The summit of the Cock’s Comb is an uninhabited, high suburb of

When the night has well fallen, when the “white” clad masses in Söul’s
market-place can no longer see the outlines of the hill, four great
lights break out upon that hill’s crest. To all in Söul those lights cry
out, “All’s well. In all Korea, all’s well.” Each light represents two
of the eight provinces into which Korea is divided. If in any Korean
province or county there is war, or threatening of war, a supplementary
light burns near the light that indicates that province. If the
war-light is placed on the left, war or invasion threatens one province,
if the war light is placed on the right, war or worse threatens another

The bonfire signal service of the Korean War Office is complicated and
elaborated. One extra fire means that an enemy has been sighted off some
part of the sandy Korean coast. Two lights mean that the enemy have
landed; three mean the enemy are moving inland; four mean they are
pushing toward the capital; five—! Well, when five such fires flare up,
the citizens of Söul can only pray—or run and drown themselves in the
rapid rushing river that leaves Söul as the condemned leave it—because
those five bonfires mean that the enemy draw near the city’s gate.

Telegraphy—as Edison knows it—is unknown in Korea. But the Koreans
have a weird but vivid telegraphy of their own.

At short intervals upon their rocky, sandy coast huge cranes are built.
Each crane is tended by a trusted official of the Korean king. When dusk
begins to fall, the attendant of the crane lights in it a great bonfire,
if all is well. That bonfire’s light is seen by the attendant of a fire
some miles more inland—some miles nearer Söul—and so from every pace
of Korea’s boundary, the faithful servants of Korea’s king flash to
Korea’s capital the message, “All is well.” A hundred lines of
message-light meet upon that queer hill, the “Cock’s Comb” of Söul.

Many a night of late, unless the wires have lied to us, there must have
been a great confusion among those signal fires, and vast confusion in
poor frightened Söul.

A certain light will mean “China has pounced upon us.” Another light
will mean “Japan has stabbed us.” And a score of other lights will mean
a score of dire facts which only the heads of the Korean War Department
could translate for us, if they would.

Curfew shall not ring to-night. “Ah! how often,” said Helen, when this
Chino-Japanese war was first declared, “I have seen those four placid
bonfires tell the gentle Koreans that no Lion of England nor of India
had roared, that no Eagle of Russia (not to needlessly mention Austria
or America) had swooped, no dragon of China or Japan had belched
destroying fire! To-night, if those fires burn, they flash a message of
dire distress to Söul’s shrinking, blue-robed men, and hidden, unseen
women, unless happily they are unconscious what an excuse for war their
isolated peninsula has become.”

Poor Korea! what has she done? Nothing unwomanly. But womanlike she has
been unfortunately situated.

China has just suffered a plague.

Japan has just suffered an earthquake. For very many years China and
Japan have thought it expedient to soothe national heart-ache (resultant
upon national disaster) with the potent mustard plaster of war.

The Chinese hate the Japanese. The Japanese hate the Chinese. The
Koreans hate the Japanese and the Chinese, and are hated by both. An
Oriental imbroglio is not hard of conception.

The worst of it is that Korea seems doomed. And Korea, with all her
faults, is one of the few remaining widows of the dead (but not
childless) old world. And she, good purdah-woman that she is, is lying
down with considerable wifely dignity upon the funeral pile, which
civilization has lit to cremate the false, old notions of the past.

One who has lived in Korea can but think it rather a pity that Korea
should cease to be, or be too much remodelled, whoever’s in the
wrong—Japan or China.

Nature has found Korea so nearly perfect, that it seems almost profane
for man (or those combinations of men called nations) to find fault with
her. In Korea there are snows that never melt. In Korea there are
flowers that never cease to bloom.

The land of the morning calm! Poor little peninsula (only twice and a
half the size of Scotland), the soft, rosy Oriental haze is going to be
ripped off of you, and in the cold, clear, brilliant light of
Westernized day you are going to fade away into nothing! But before you
quite fade away let us have a peep at you. You are superior in many ways
to our land. For one thing, you begin your year more sensibly. You ring
the new year in with the birth of the year’s first flowers.

The Korean new year is a month later than ours. The snow is still upon
the ground there in February. But even so, the fruitless plum-trees open
their myriad buds, and long before the cold snow has melted from their
feet, their heads are covered with a warm, tinted, perfumed snow of
bloom. A few weeks later, and the cherry trees are white with a
magnificence of blossom that nowhere in this world cherry-trees can
excel, not even in Japan. Before the cherry blossoms fall the wisteria
breaks into ten thousand clusters of purple loveliness. Then the peonies
flaunt in every fertile and half fertile spot, and mock, like the
impudents they are, the splendour of the sun. But their proud heads fall
ere long, and all Korea is lovely with the iris.

Autumn is the most delightful of the Korean seasons. It is matchless.
Not even on the banks of the Hudson does summer die so splendid a death
as she dies in Korea. The Korean summer, superb and perfumed as she is,
is very like that false Cawdor of whom Malcolm said to Duncan:

                     “Nothing in his life
                      Became him like the leaving it.”

Winter in Korea is unqualifiedly cold. The hills are white with snow,
and the rivers are grey with ice. The people huddle into their
over-heated houses. And I believe that the entire nation does not own a
pair of skates. The only sleds, or sleighs, belong to the fishermen who
crack through the ice to catch their finny prey. The fisherman sits upon
the sled as he plies his noiseless industry, and when his day’s work is
done he piles his scaly plunder upon the sled, and so drags it to the

But it was summer when Helen first stood upon the wall of Söul. A
parapet crenulates the outer edge of that old wall. It is broken with
loop-holes, and notched with embrasures. And every few yards its broken
outline is broken again by the overhanging branches of flower-heavy
trees, or by the bright blossoms of some vine that has found root in one
of the old wall’s mossy niches.

And within this picturesque wall huddles superlatively picturesque Söul.

The royal palaces are noticeable for their gardens and their size. Big
as they are, and they are very big, they are none too big for the vast
harem that forms a most important part of their household.

Far from the houses of the king stands “The South set Apart Palace.” The
resident Chinese Commissioner lived there. In front of this building
stands one of Söul’s two remarkable “Red Arrow Gates.” Near is the
United States legation.

One of the most interesting features of Söul is its little Japanese
colony. The following description of it was written a few years ago by a
talented American, who was for some months the guest of the king of

“With its back up against the South Mountain stands the building of the
Japanese legation. From a flagstaff above it floats the Japanese ensign,
the red ball on the white field. Here lives the little Japanese colony,
a true bit of transplanted Japan, all alive in an alien land. Some of
the legation have with them their wives, and many children play about
the courtyard.

“It has its own force of soldiers, kept constantly recruited from home;
its doctors, its policeman—all it can need to be sufficient to itself.
The minister is as much a governor as a representative at a foreign
court. Day and night the soldiers stand before the gateway of the
legation building and change guard as if it were a camp; and whenever
the minister goes abroad a certain number of them accompany him as
escort. The soldiers are needed. Twice the legation has had to fight its
way from Söul to the sea.”

In Korea when one dynasty gives way to another (and that is a fairly
frequent occurrence) the newly-throned dynasty abandons the capital of
the old dynasty and establishes for itself, and its heirs for ever, a
new capital. So was Söul established five hundred years ago by the first
crowned ancestor of Korea’s present king.

The city wall was thrown about a very considerable area. And according
to rigid Korean custom, that wall must for ever mark the city’s limits.
But the actual city, the city of the people, has surged far beyond that

One class of Söul’s inhabitants—a most important class—lives almost in
its entirety outside the city’s gates. The fishermen of Söul live in the
river suburbs. There they ply their trade winter and summer; and, I
might almost add, day and night. They live upon the banks of the river
from which they draw their livelihood. Their quaint low houses fringe
the edge of the land, and their boats fringe the edge of the water.

Fish and rice are the staple foods of the Koreans, save in the north of
the peninsula, where rice will not grow. There fish and millet are the
general food. Fish is the great staple throughout the country. And no
class of men, perhaps, are so important to Söul’s general welfare as the
fishermen who live just beyond the walls, and daily come into her
market-places to sell their slippery spoil. Meat is scarcely eaten in
Korea. Korea is a land of fearful famines. The rice fails. The millet
fails. Everything fails except the fish. Yes; I think that I may
unqualifiedly say, that to Korea no class is so important as the
fishermen—to the very life of the Koreans no class so necessary, so

The women of position are carried through the streets in the closest of
closed palanquins. A woman of the middle class, if obliged to walk
abroad, invariably wraps an ordinary dress about her head and shoulders.
And very far from seductive does she look. The long loose sleeves of the
dress hang from her head like great, ungainly, shapeless ears. And the
folds of the ungraceful garment are held tightly in front of her face by
one determined hand—a hand that never does, and for nothing in the
world would, relax its hold. The women of the very poorest class, the
hewers of wood and drawers of water, are indeed compelled to, with
uncovered heads and unveiled faces, go about the streets. But they move
rapidly. They look neither to the right nor to the left. And they slink
by men with downcast eyes. And men never look at them. Indeed a Korean
gentleman will not, by one single glance, betray that he is aware of the
presence in public of any woman; unless indeed she belong to the geisha,
or “accomplished class.” The geisha girls go about the streets frankly,
and unhiddenly enough. But they are a class aside. In Korean wifehood,
in Korean motherhood, they have no part.

The Koreans take a great deal of medicine—those that can afford it—and
it never seems to do them any harm. For the rich, pills of incredible
size are richly gilded and placed in elaborate boxes. The poor take
smaller pills ungilded, and omit the boxes altogether. Very many Koreans
take medicine at regular intervals without the slightest reference to
their then state of health. These systematic persons do not take
medicine when they are ill, unless the illness has the good taste to
fall upon their duly appointed medicine-day. This is how an old Korean
explained to Helen the philosophy of the medicine-regularly-taken
theory. “On every seventh day you rest whether you are tired or not. And
on all the other days you work, whether you are tired or not. So do we
take our medicine, once in so many weeks, because it is well to observe
system: to be regular.” The old man’s eye twinkled finely as he spoke,
as who should say, “What are you answered now?” And Helen rather felt
that he had her on the hip.

Mr. Percival Lowell says: “In Korea, medicine is an heirloom from hoary
antiquity. An apothecary’s shop there needs not to adorn itself with
external and irrelevant charms, like the beautiful purple jar that so
deceived poor little Rosamond. Upon eminent respectability alone it
bases its claim to custom; and its traditions are certainly convincing.
Painted upon suitable spots along the front of the building runs the
legend, ‘_Sin Nong Yu Öp_,’—that is, ‘the profession left behind by Sin
Nong.’ This eminent person was a ‘spiritual agriculturist,’ the
discoverer of both agriculture and medicine; and the pills sold in the
shops to-day are supposed to be the counterparts of those invented by
him. Worthily to render the legend, we ought to translate it, ‘Jones,
successor to Æsculapius’.”

There are two distinct Koreas, distinct though having much in common:
the Korea of the upper classes, and the Korea of the populace. We have
of late been hearing quite a good deal about the history of Korea, about
the topography of Korea, about the King of Korea, and about the Korea of
the upper classes. But about the lower classes we have heard
comparatively little. The literature at our disposal concerning Korea is
more than meagre. Very little of this literature deals with the
people—the common people of Korea.

The streets of Söul—the streets upon whose edges the people of Söul
live, the streets through which the people of Söul surge—are very wide.
Most of them have, however, the appearance of being very narrow. Wide
streets seem to the Korean mind unnecessary luxuries. The people of Söul
utilize the streets of their city by erecting temporary booths outside
their houses, and beyond the booths they spread their trays and mats of
merchandise. Inch by inch the street disappears beneath the extemporized
shops of the people, until at last just enough room is left for the
interminable procession of humanity to squeeze through. This
encroachment is taken good-naturedly enough by everyone. The people
positively pick their slow way between trays of nuts and mats of grain,
booths of hats and sleds of fish. When the king wishes to take a
promenade or ride through any of the streets of Söul, all the booths are
taken from those streets, and with the trays and mats are tucked out of
sight. The streets are swept and garnished. The next day, or, if it is
not too late, when his Majesty has returned to his palace, the booths
are re-erected, the mats and trays are re-arranged, and the every-day
life of Söul goes placidly on until the sovereign elects to take another

It is a common blunder to speak of the people of Söul as wearing white
garments; a blunder, or rather a laziness to which I must plead guilty.
Korean garments are invariably of a peculiar, delicate blue, unless the
wearer be a person of much importance: then, indeed, may his garments
brighten into deeper blue, flush into soft and lovely pink, or, if they
chance to be the vestments of the King, blush into proudest scarlet.
Seen from a distance an ordinary Korean appears to be clad in white, the
blue of his dress is so pale; and so, many careless writers—I among
them—have made the mistake of saying that white is the hue of the dress
of the Korean populace.

The Koreans have a passion for rugged scenery—but then, indeed, they
have a passion for every manner of scenery. They call the rocks the
earth’s bones. They call the soil the earth’s flesh. The flowers and the
trees they call her hair. There is no more rugged bit of scenery near
Söul than the Valley of Clothes; and in it stands a picturesque little
temple, which was built, so the Koreans say, to commemorate a battle,
that they once won. It is a very beautiful specimen of Korean
architecture. Indeed, I know no lovelier example of what the
architecture of older Korea has become under the influence of Chinese
thought and Chinese art.

Through the Valley of Clothes runs a long, clear stream, on whose banks
are innumerable large, smooth-topped rocks. Altogether it is an
admirable place for Oriental washing. In the winter every Korean garment
is ripped into all its component parts before it is washed. In summer
the garments are washed each in its entirety. This ripping up of the
clothes before washing them is one of the comparatively few customs
which the Koreans have borrowed from the Japanese. In Japan, however,
all clothes about to be washed are taken to pieces, whether it be winter
or summer.

Nothing could well be simpler than the _modus operandi_ of the Korean
washermen and washerwomen. The clothes are well soaked in the stream.
Then they are well beaten with smooth, heavy, edgeless sticks. Then they
are spread upon the ground or on the rocks, as much in the sun as
possible, and left to dry indefinitely. No one ever steals them! Think
of it! And even the gentle winds of the Asiatic heavens scorn to blow
them away. If there seems the slightest chance of such a catastrophe, a
few smooth pebbles are laid upon the garments’ edges.

The qualities which the upper classes of Korea have most in common
are—love of art and literature, reverence for law, kindness of
disposition, and love of nature. The point upon which they most differ
is religion. Korea is really a country without religion. The upper
classes are intellectual to a degree, but their intellectuality is
invariably of the agnostic order. Rationalism and agnosticism are the
only recognized religions in upper Korean circles.

The Korean populace also profess agnosticism, but do not practise it; at
least they do not practise rationalism; for if they believe in no gods,
most of them believe in countless devils.

The sacred devil-trees are supposed to be (after the blind) most
efficacious in ridding the land of the spirits of evil. A writer—one of
the best writers on Korea—thus describes a devil-tree upon which he
came one bleak autumn day:—“An ancient tree, around whose base lies
piled a heap of stones. The tree is sacred; superstition has preserved
it, where most of its fellows have gone to feed the subterranean ovens.
It is not usually very large, nor does it look extremely venerable, so
that it is at least open to suspicion that its sanctity is an honour
which is passed along from oak to acorn or from pine to seed: however,
it is usually a fair specimen of a tree, and, where there are few others
to vie with it, comes out finely by comparison: otherwise there is
nothing distinctive about the tree, except that it exists,—that it is
not cut down and borne off to the city on the back of some bull, there
to vanish in the smoke. On its branches hang, commonly, a few old rags,
evidently once of brilliantly-coloured cloth; they look to be shreds of
the garments of such unwary travellers as approached too close; but a
nearer inspection shows them to be tied on designedly. The heap of small
stones piled around the base of the tree gives one the impression at
first that the road is about to undergo repairs, which it sadly needs,
and that the stones have been collected for the purpose. This, however,
is a fallacy: no Korean road ever is repaired.

“The spot is called Son Wang Don, or ‘The Home of the King of the
Fairies.’ The stones help to form what was once a fairy temple, now a
devil-jail; and the strips of cloth are pieces of garments from those
who believed themselves possessed of devils, or feared lest they might
become so. A man caught by an evil spirit exiles a part of his clothing
to the branches of one of these trees, so as to delude the demon into
attaching there.”

We have tried to peep at Söul—the Söul of the people. But not all Söul
is plebeian. It has a most decided aristocracy, both architectural and

Söul has no temples. None may be built within her walls. Of all
civilized countries, Korea is the one country without a religion.
Religion or its analogous superstitions are there, of course; but that
religion is in Korea, not part of Korea. In Korea, religion is under a
ban of official discountenance, or national discredence. Such temples as
do exist in Korea dwell (like architectural lepers) without the city’s
walls. But Söul has her official buildings, and the dwellings of her
rich. Above all, she has her palaces.

But hold! there is one temple within the walls of Söul; but it is there
on sufferance, there against the law. And it is just inside the walls.
It is on a high, lonely mountain place, and far remote from the actual
city—the throbbing, breathing, human city.

And Söul has also what was once a temple. It is as interesting as
anything in Söul. In the first place it is the only pagoda in
Söul—almost, if not quite, the only pagoda in Korea. In the second
place, it is extremely beautiful. In the third place, it, more than any
building I know, accents the decay of all things human, even of (those
perhaps greatest of all human things) great thought-systems.

Yesterday—the yesterday of five hundred years ago—this, Söul’s one
pagoda, was a Buddhist temple. To-day it is a neglected, unconsidered,
tolerated, rather than admired, ornament, in a middle-class Korean’s
back yard.

The pagoda of Söul owes its solitary, but not honoured, old age to the
fact that unlike most pagodas of its period and kind, it was built of
stone. It has eight stories (representative of eight stages or degrees
of the Buddhist heaven); but it is entirely composed of two pieces of
stone. In idea it is Chinese; but its form is a modification or a local
adaptation of its idea; and it is peculiarly rich in most exquisite
Korean carvings.

After the pagoda—perhaps before the pagoda—there are in Söul three
buildings, more than any others indicative of the difference between
Söul the old and conservative, and Söul the new and iconoclastic—I mean
the Foreign Office, the War Office, and the Home Office. They are all of
recent date, all concessions to a cosmopolitanism, with which Korea, the
old, had no sympathy, and into which (though ever so little) Korea, the
new, has been forced by that most brutal of all forces—the force of
circumstances—forced by the irresistible might of the gigantic
disproportion, to her own, of alien numbers. A few years ago Korea had
never had a Foreign Office, because Korea had never deigned to be
cognizant of the existence of any foreign power. True she has, for many
years, paid a lazy tribute to China, and plied a lazier trade with
Japan; but until a short time ago she has been essentially, and indeed,
a hermit nation. Yes, it was verily the land of the morning calm. No
_réveil_ broke its early morning slumber; no drum woke its night to
alarm. It was a heaven of earthly peace, a heaven in which there was
neither fighting nor dying in battle.

But that is changed. So far as outside turmoil can ripple the placid
waters, upon which the lotus-flower blooms and bends, in a luxury of
perfumed sleep, as it does nowhere else—the lakes and ponds of Korea!

Korea admitted, gracefully, if enforcedly, foreigners to her
shores—admitted them for purposes of commerce and of peace. Alas, she
has had to recognize them as ambassadors of war, introducers of

Korea’s army has for many years been very purely artistic, ornamentally
belligerent—nothing more. It has been found impossible to evolve it
into anything more brutal, nineteenth-centuryish, effective, and

Korea’s War Office is an unhappy, if seemingly necessary, farce. It has
existed for centuries. But only the conjunction, or rather the
juxtaposition, of Korea with other nations has made it ridiculous.

Korea’s Home Office sprang up—as it must have done in any
self-respecting soil—as soon as a Foreign Office became a regrettable
_fait accompli_. Until Korea had a Foreign Office, Korea’s War Office
was by no means the sad burlesque that it is now. Until Korea had a
Foreign Office, she had not the filmiest need of a Home Office. Korea
was all in all to Korea. Every effort of her being was undivertedly
directed to the welfare of herself and her own. She had no need of, no
excuse for, a Home Office, because all was home, everything for home.
But when she was physically forced to admit the existence of other
peoples, she was morally forced to insistently emphasize the existence
of her own people.

Söul is rich in palaces; very rich in their quality, if not in their
quantity. Each palace is, like every considerable Korean dwelling, a
collection of houses. And every Korean palace—like every Korean
dwelling of any distinction—is more remarkable, more admirable because
of its surroundings—its garden—than because of itself.

There are four nations pre-eminent for landscape gardening—pre-eminent
in this order:—the Japanese, the Koreans, the Chinese, the Italians.

Korea is, by her climate, held behind Japan in landscape gardening. Most
of the flowers that in Japan bloom all the year round, can in Korea only
bloom for a few months.

But in one phase of landscape gardening—(the art of bringing Nature
into a garden, and there ornamenting her, without insulting her)—the
Koreans quite equal the Japanese.

Water, in the form of miniature lakes, is the crown—the centre of every
far-eastern garden. Nowhere in the world are artificial lakes or ponds
so perfected, so ablush with bloom, so aquiver with perfume, as they are
in Korea. Sometimes they dot great green swards. Sometimes they softly
ripple against the very foundations of a palace; oftenest they are the
one blessed detail of a middle-class man’s dwelling. But they are almost
always emerald with lotus-leaves, and in season, brilliant with the
bloom, and fragrant with the breath of the lotus-flowers. Marble bridges
span them, if they are in the king’s gardens; a unique island centres
them wherever they are—a wee island that is shaded by its one drooping
tree. There the master of the garden spends the long summer days,
basking in the surrounding beauty, smoking, drinking tea, and fishing.

                              CHAPTER IV.

                             KOREA’S KING.

It has been with genuine indignation that I have recently read that the
King of Korea is weak of mind and weak of character.

Statements could scarcely have less foundation. Journalism is indeed an
exacting profession, and the pressman who would wield an up-to-date pen
must, once in a way, write glibly upon a subject of which he knows
nothing, or less than nothing. But surely, if one chooses for one’s
theme a person whom one has never seen, and of whom one knows nothing
authentically, the least one can, in common decency, do is to speak
good, not evil of that person. If it is necessary to clothe persons of
momentary interest with attributes that are wholly a fabric of
guess-work, it seems to me that the most reckless scribbler is in honour
bound to clothe the involuntary human lay-figure with whole, clean,
garments of praise, and not with grimy rags of fantastic criticism.

As a matter of simple fact, Li-Hsi, the King of Korea, is an admirable
man. He has most of the good qualities, and very few undesirable ones.

He has an exceptionally sweet nature. He has a heart of gold. He is
patient, forgiving, persevering and hard-working. He is a man of decided
mental strength, and of most considerable learning. The welfare of his
people has been his unintermittent aim; and to-day he is staunchly
enthroned in the hearts of those people.

It has been said that his Korean Majesty is a man of contemptible
personal habits. And, worst of all, it has been said that he is entirely
under his wife’s thumb. There is in all Christendom no monarch more
sober, more unselfish than Li-Hsi. As for the last accusation, it is the
one in which there is, I fear, a grain of truth. But what of it? The
same thing was said of Frederick the Good. Was he weak-minded, morally
corrupt? The same thing is said to-day (and not without some show of
truth) of the Emperor of Germany, the King of Italy, and was said of the
late Tsar of Russia. They are rather a wholesome, brainy, manly trio,
aren’t they?

Unquestionably the Queen of Korea has great influence over the King. But
surely even a king might commit a graver crime than that of being fond
of his wife. For instance, he might be fond of someone else’s wife. Now
that strikes me as rather worse form than the other. And certainly it is
the more apt to lead to deeply dire results. On the whole, I think the
King of Korea might almost be forgiven his one weakness—a weakness for
his own wife.

Of civilized sovereigns, the King of Korea is rather uniquely placed. No
monarch could have more absolute power in his own kingdom, no monarch
could well have less influence abroad. Indeed even the King’s power at
home seems rather tottery just now. But it has been shaken by the rough
hands of alien invaders, not by the disloyal hands of his own subjects.
To-day, when in Korea all is confusion and dismay, Li-Hsi is as
absolutely king over the Koreans as he was when he ascended the throne
thirty years ago.

His Majesty is rather under the average of Korean height, and is about
forty years of age. The Queen, contrary to the usual custom in Korea, is
much younger.

He wears a dress somewhat resembling the ordinary Korean court dress;
but his dress is of brilliant scarlet. The dresses of his nobles are of
pale blue or pink. The King wears the usual white Korean collar, and a
plastron, and shoulder pieces (or epaulettes) of gold and jewels.

All Korean hats are wonderful. A Korean court hat is simply marvellous.
It is most noticeable for its wings or ears, which project sharply out
from either side. They typify human ears, and signify that the wearer
has his ears wide spread to catch the most whispered command of his
Majesty. Even Li-Hsi wears a court hat. But his ears (I mean his hat’s
ears) stand erect, or are at the tips caught together at the top of the
hat. This is because the Emperor of China is too far away for his actual
voice to be heard by the Korean King, and no other human being but the
Chinese Emperor may speak to Li-Hsi with anything even approaching
insistent emphasis. To no other voice need the King of Korea listen,
unless he like. So at least it was until a few months ago.

The King of Korea has a gracious but dignified bearing. His face is fine
and beautiful, and his smile is peculiarly sweet and winning.

There are two great palaces in Söul: the Old Palace and the New Palace.
The New Palace is four hundred years old and more. The old palace is as
old as Söul. The present King of Korea lives in the New Palace. His
Majesty deserted the Old Palace, or, to be more exact, upon his
accession to the throne, declined to adopt it as his residence, because
it was full of, to him, painful family reminiscences.

The Old Palace is one of the few Architectural wonders of Söul. It is
deserted now, and in parts decaying. It is surrounded by an admirable
wall. Its principal gate is guarded by two gigantic stone monsters. The
Koreans call them Chinese Lions, and the Japanese call them Korean dogs.
They look as much like one as the other. They are of Chinese descent.
The Koreans copied them from the Chinese. In Korea they caught the quick
Japanese fancy. From that day they have played a conspicuous part in
Japanese art, and have even become familiar to European eyes, because
they grin at us from so many thousands of the cheaper (so called)
Satsuma vases.

The Old Palace is a vast collection of buildings, of court-yards, of
landscape gardens, of parks and of lotus-ponds. In its centre stands the
famous Audience Hall, which I am almost tempted to call one of the
architectural wonders of the world. I may safely call it one of the
architectural and artistic wonders of Korea. Many steps lead up to the
entrance of the Audience Hall. This alone is in Korea a great
distinction. Save the King only, no Korean may build or own a building
outside of which there are more than three steps. Four steps would be
high treason, and would cost their owner a traitor’s death.

In the background of the Old Palace is Nam San, the mountain upon which
signal-fires burn every nightfall, telling the inhabitants of Söul that
all goes well throughout the kingdom. Or if, as now, aught goes ill, the
fires tell that—tell it with considerable detail. It is a curious
signal-code, as complicated as ingenious; but it is beautifully vivid
and altogether effective.

The New Palace is in a collection of palaces. Like Söul its grounds are
surrounded by an elaborate wall. Those grounds cover over a hundred
acres, every rod of which is beautiful. They are carefully laid out, but
not with foolish elaborateness. Nature is accented in those palace
grounds, but never interfered with. Wherever an exceptionally pretty bit
of view is to be seen, there is a quaint Korean summer-house. And as the
pretty bits tread upon each other’s heels, the grounds are rather thick
with odd summer-houses, and still odder pavilions. The Koreans are
intensely fond of Nature; but they are not fond of exercise. They like
to sit, even when they look upon the trees, the flowers, the hills, the
sky, the lotus-ponds that they so love. Therefore the grounds of a
king’s house would be most incomplete, were not rest and shelter
available at every few yards.

A summer-house in the grounds of the New Palace is a favourite haunt of
the present king. On a drowsy summer afternoon his Majesty sits there
for hours, sipping tea and watching the changeless loveliness of the

The Koreans drink tea almost as perpetually as the Siamese do, and, like
the Siamese, they are greatly addicted to drinking it out of doors. But
this must be with them a comparatively new fashion, for Hamel and many
other old historians tell us that tea is seldom drunk in Korea.

To one versed in Korean architecture, it is a simple thing to
distinguish the house of a king from that of a subject. The columns of
the monarchs’ houses are round, and their rafters are square. Only a
king may use the round column or the square rafter. Only a king might,
until recent years, paint his house. Only a king may wear a coat of
brilliant red. Of all men, only the king may look upon the faces of the
Queen’s hundreds of attendant ladies. On occasions of ceremony when the
King is present, only he may face the south.

The Korean soldiers are clad in dark blue relieved with crimson, and
fantastically decorated with ribbons. The Chinese character which
signifies valour is elaborately embroidered over their hearts. They’re
rather fine-looking fellows, but their manners are mild, and they
impress the impartial European observer as staunch lovers of peace. They
wear no helmets, but their head-gear is most distinguished.

There is no other inanimate thing so important to the Korean mind as are
hats. The hat of the King is his crown. The hat of the soldier is his
helmet. And no Korean owns any other chattel so valuable, so indicative
of his station, state, and worth, so indispensable, so cherished as his
hat; no, not even his children, never to mention his wife.

Black is the Korean hat colour. But even Korean rules have their
exceptions. The hats of the Korean army officers are vivid of hue, and
heavy with feathers and ribbons; and the hats of the private soldiers
have at least a band or border of red to show that the wearers are men
of bloodshed and fearless.

In Söul there are military hat stores galore; and naturally enough, for
his hat is the most important item of the Korean soldier’s uniform. As
for his accoutrements, they are so completely overshadowed by the brim
of his mighty hat that they shrink into unconsidered insignificance.

But in years gone by Korea’s army was far less a force of straw and of
plumage. The Korean eagle could shriek once—now she seems to have
become metamorphosed into a military owl; blind at day, timid at night.

The military force of Korea was at an early period divided into three
distinct branches: the navy, the secular army, and the armed or military

The armed monks garrisoned castles and fortresses which were usually
inaccessibly placed, or, as we should say to-day, built on commanding
positions. They, as a rule, hung frowningly on the rough side of some
steep mountain, or punctuated menacingly some narrow and difficult or
treacherous pathway.

These religious warriors did not go far upon the war-path. They defended
the strongholds, which were also their monasteries, and they engaged
valiantly enough in local warfare. These were the most efficient and
most esteemed of old Korea’s soldiers. Each town furnished a required
number of these holy militaries. They were officered by men of their own
order. When they reached the age of sixty they retired from active
service, and their sons filled up their vacant places; for they were not
celibates, these warrior priests of old Chosön.

Each Korean province is under arms one year out of seven. The selected
soldiers of the province (in Korea, warriorship is a matter of the
king’s selection, not of the soldier’s election) are equipped, robed,
drilled, paraded, and made generally presentable upon the picturesque,
flower-dotted, and bloodless battle-fields of Korea’s martial
pageantries. They take their turns in going up to Söul, these impromptu,
but for all that, well-rehearsed fighting men. When they get to Söul
they there invariably act well their parts. The beginning and the end of
their duty are included in ceremonial functions; and the breath of
ceremony is the only air that can fully inflate the lungs of any
self-respecting Asian. “No man is a hero to his own valet,” we say
lightly. But the peoples of the Orient take the great truth of this
adage very seriously, almost grimly. They realize that the only divinity
that can really hedge a king from the degrading familiarity of his
subjects is the divinity of purple and fine linen, the blare of
trumpets. In brief, the people (in Asia or in Europe) love a show, and
the king who would sit staunchly enthroned upon the hearts, not to
mention the intellects, of his people, must be followed by a train of
supers as long, and as splendidly clad, as well-trained—and perhaps as
meaningless—as those who make the pit of a London theatre appreciate
the more clearly the regal glory of Henry the Eighth, of Arthur the
deceived, and of that other Henry with whom Becket quarrelled.

But in Korea’s martial comedy there are actors who are never out of the
bill. Over each province a general presides, who has under him from
three to six colonels; each colonel is the military master of several
captains; each captain is the Mars of a city, a castle, a town, or some
other fortified place. Even the Korean villages are protected (Japan and
China, save the mark!) by a corporal. Under the corporal are petty
officers; under the petty officers are soldiers, so-called.

There is one admirable thing about the Korean army. Its books are well
kept, and the King of Korea can always tell to the moment how many
fighting men are at his disposal. If only they could fight! Or, if only
they had no need to fight!

Bows and arrows are conspicuous among the implements of the Korean army.
They make little or no impression upon the cannon of civilization, but
they serve to remind us of the days when man needed to contend but
against nature, to slaughter only birds and four-footed mammals.

The Korean infantry and the Korean cavalry are very similarly equipped.
They wear brilliant, if vulnerable, breast-plates. They carry swords
nice of shape, if dull of edge, and they used, in battles of great
moment, to replace their crimson-decked hats with head-pieces of
cotton-batting and tinsel.

There is a unique branch of the king’s immediate servitors. We should
bluntly call them spies. The Koreans picturesquely call them “messengers
on the dark path.” The King of Korea does not hang about the doorways,
nor prowl into the back-yards of his subjects, but in every Korean city
he has several, and in every Korean village at least one appointed
listener. European history tells us that more than one European monarch
has disguised himself at night, and held up his thirsty ears to the
nectar or the gall of his subjects’ candid opinions of himself. Whether
eaves-dropping is more admirable when performed in person or when
deputed to the hireling, is a nice question for those who would judge
between East and West. It seems to me that the King of Korea does a
dirty thing with rather more dignity than did Napoleon or Nero. At all
events, the plebeian spies of Korea are an acknowledged branch of Korean
officialism, and every Korean knows that his house, and all it contains,
is very possibly under the _espionnage_ of the million eyes of the king.

Korea is as netted day and night with the spies of the king as she is at
night netted with signal fires. Just such a system of official
_espionnage_ used to exist in Japan. Did Japan copy Korea? Did Korea
copy Japan? Again we ask the question, and again Asia declines to

The spies of Li-Hsi are the father confessors of the Koreans, and the
custom is so old, so authentic, so much a matter of course in Korea,
that the Korean caught in the utterance of treason, or relating some
petty offence, cries “_mea culpa_” rather devoutly.

Not very many years ago there were in Asia three absolute monarchs with
comparatively small kingdoms. Those kingdoms were Burmah, Siam, and
Korea. Theebaw, the master of many wooden cannon, the monarch of
Mandalay, the master of Burmah, has accepted his defeat with a good deal
of dignity, and Burmah the old, Burmah the real, is fast passing off of
the face of our earth.

Siam, when Sir Harry Parkes first went there, was possibly the most
picturesque kingdom in Asia; but the King of Siam is a man so wise in
his generation, that we may almost venture to call him a monarch
up-to-date. ‘Since he cannot die at the head of his elephant-cavalried
army; since he cannot see that army victorious in the land of its birth
and its training, he lays bits of his sword (in the form of goodly
scraps of his kingdom) at the feet of French democracy, I mean

Theebaw is banished, and Chulalongkorn compromises. And what of Li-Hsi?
This, at least, he has made the longest and most hopeless fight of them
all against the inroads of Western civilization.

There is no high office in Korea, civil or military, that can be
bestowed without the king’s sanction, or that cannot be revoked at the
king’s pleasure.

Unfortunately, Li-Hsi has to take the word of the men whom he trusts, as
to the efficiency of the majority of the men whom he appoints to
positions of power. Were Korean officials fewer in number, then might
Li-Hsi know each and all personally; and then might his servants, civil
and military, be less complete nonentities on the one hand, and more
invariably worthy on the other, in the great pageant of Asia’s Western

The Chinese call their Emperor “The Son of Heaven.” The Japanese used to
regard their Mikado with as much veneration, and even now speak of him
with no less reverence. The Koreans seem to have caught, from China or
Japan, the convenient idea of mediation. According to the religious law
of Korea, which is seldom marked, and less often respected, only the
king is fit to worship the gods. The subjects of the king must content
themselves with worshipping him. To venture to pray to the king is as
near heaven as an orthodox Korean may dare to come. And the king, if he
be in gracious mood, will pass the prayer on to the god who is no more
above him than he is above his people.

It seems a Jacob’s ladder sort of religion—the religion to which the
Koreans pretend (for, as a matter of fact, as I shall try to prove
later, they have no religion at all). The peasant throws his paper
prayer at the feet of his king; the king, if to him it so seems fit,
throws that paper prayer at the feet of the god; and perhaps none of the
kingly prerogatives more clearly define the high position of the king
than the fact that of all Koreans, he alone is fit to speak to the
Korean god.

The royal house of Korea emphatically believes that it is descended from
divine and royal spirits. If Li-Hsi cannot prove his descent from the
denizens of the Korean heaven, we certainly cannot disprove it; and he
has the courage of his convictions, for neither he nor any prince of his
blood will wed with a maiden who cannot claim as exceptional, as divine,
and as ethereal an ancestry. This keeps the royal family of Korea almost
as narrowly blooded as the royal family of Siam.

Tinsel has not yet gone off the market even in Europe. Newsboys and Eton
boys jostle each other on the curb-stones of Northumberland Avenue in
their boyish desire to see a modern Lord Mayor’s Show. In the Orient
tinsel is almost as common a commodity, as necessary an adjunct of daily
life as is rice itself. When the King of Korea goes forth from his
palace grounds he is followed by, preceded by, a glittering throng.
Nobles, soldiers, secretaries, and servants arrayed in barbaric
splendour, and carrying a hundred symbols of Asiatic majesty, attend
upon him; and over him is carried a canopy rich with gold and jewels.
Music, unless the king forbid, sounds his approach. But no other sound
is heard. No one may speak. The procession moves slowly, silently. The
very horses step softly, and would sooner think of cantering backwards
than of neighing. The horsemen are followed by footmen. Both carry
banners and insignia.

Immediately before the king walks a secretary of state. He carries an
elaborate box. I have heard Koreans speak of it as “the mercy-box.” The
king’s ear is open to the meanest of his subjects, in theory at least.
When the king goes forth his route is probably strewn with papers,
papers are thrown from over walls, papers hang by strings from windows
and roofs, sticks are placed along the roadside, and in their notched or
forked ends are more papers. All these papers are scrupulously gathered
up and put into the “mercy-box.” Each paper contains a petition or the
story of a wrong for which the sufferer beseeches the king’s redress.
These papers are opened by the king in person, after he has returned to
the palace. He and he alone decides which of the petitions shall be
granted and how; which shall be refused. Often only he ever knows by
whom they have been written.

Such is the outing of a Korean king, or rather such it was until a very
few years ago. Within six or seven years the ceremonial has been
slightly altered. Until then it had remained almost unchanged for
centuries. Whether Li-Hsi will ever again go forth in like state I
question. It’s more likely that, if he lives and reigns, he will be
sending to London or Calcutta for a brougham. But of this I feel sure:
while he continues to sit in power upon Korea’s throne, his ears will be
keen to hear the cries of his people, and his heart hot to serve them.

                               CHAPTER V.

                             KOREAN WOMEN.

It has been very often said that the position of woman is more
deplorable in Korea than in any other civilized or semi-civilized
country. And I have comparatively little to urge against the statement.
Certainly woman’s life seems narrower in Korea than in either China or
Japan, or in Burmah, or Siam, or in India. Socially and politically, in
Korea, woman simply does not exist. She has not even a name. After
marriage she is called by her husband’s name with the prefix of Mrs.
Before marriage she has not even this pretence to a name. There is one
exception, and, I think, one only to this rule. The geisha girls have
names of their own, but then the geisha girls have individuality; live
lives, if not moral, why still, not colourless, and mix with men, if not
on an equality, at least with a good deal of familiarity; and it would
be rather awkward if the men who are dependent upon them for female
society in anything approaching a Western sense, had no name by which to
call them. The “Fragrant Iris” was the name of a geisha girl whose
acquaintance Mr. Lowell tells us he made in Korea, and four of her
companions were called “Peach Blossom,” “Plum Flower,” “Rose,” and

Korean girls, long before they reach a marriageable age, live in the
seclusion of the women’s quarters. After her betrothal a girl belongs
not to her father but to her mother-in-law. Upon marriage she becomes
the property of her husband, and is, in most cases, immediately taken to
his dwelling. As in China, married sons live with their fathers.
Sometimes three or four generations of one family occupy one home. But,
unlike Chinese wives, each Korean wife has a room or rooms of her own.
The only man who (in most families) ever enters them is her husband.
Unlike the wives of China, she may not, as a rule, be visited by her
husband’s father, her husband’s brother, or her husband’s grandfather.
But should his father or his grandfather fall ill, it is not only her
privilege, but her duty, to leave the women’s quarters, and, going to
his bedside, nurse him until he dies or recovers.

There are one or two advantages in being a woman in Korea. There are
very few crimes for which a Korean woman can be punished. Her husband is
answerable for her conduct, and must suffer in her stead if she breaks
any ordinary law.

Korean women are not uneducated, though they never go to schools; and
books and materials for writing and painting are freely at their

The dress of Korean women is very much more like the dress of European
women than is that of the women of almost any other Oriental race. They
wear petticoats made very much in Western fashion, but stiffly starched
into crinoline-like ungracefulness. The women of the poorer classes wear
these skirts above their ankles. The women of wealth or of rank wear
skirts touching the ground. They wear a jacket or belt shaped very much
like, and answering the purpose of, a corset, and a shorter jacket which
is at best but an inadequate neckerchief. And under their petticoat they
wear three pairs of wide trousers. Except among the very poorest class,
respectable Korean women muffle themselves in a garment like a dress or
great-coat whenever they go abroad. Boys and girls are dressed alike
until they are five years old.

Among the poor all the household work is done by women, but among the
rich the women have no domestic duties except those of nursing and
sewing. All the garments of a Korean family are made by the women of the
family. The purchase of a ready-made garment, or to hire it made, would
be considered a disgrace to the family, and a deeper disgrace to its
women. Korean ladies sew as exquisitely as French nuns, and embroider as
deftly as those Japanese men whose profession embroidery is.

Korean girls are usually married between the ages of seventeen and
twenty-two; and if married to a bachelor, he is almost invariably three
or five, and often even eight, years their junior. But when a widower
marries, or a man takes a second, or third, or fourth wife, he
invariably selects a woman younger than himself.

Among the mandarin classes polygamy is a duty, and every mandarin is
expected to keep at least several concubines or second-class wives in
his yamun.

In Söul, and in one other large city, children are commonly betrothed
when the boy is seven or eight, but it is not so in the other parts of
Korea. Korean widows must remain unmarried, or marry men who are the
social inferiors of their dead husbands. And in Korea, as in China, a
widow who re-marries is disgraced, and becomes more or less of a social

The customs preliminary to marriage are in Korea very like those same
customs in China and in Japan. The father of a marriageable daughter or
a marriageable son looks about for a suitable _parti_. If a husband is
desired, then the girl’s father usually interviews a number of eligible
youths, widowers, or married men until he finds what he wants. Then a
middle-man is sent to discover whether an offer of marriage would be
favourably received, and on what terms. If the bridegroom selected is
unmarried he has, unless he is an orphan and the head of his family, no
voice whatever in the matter, the only people really consulted being the
respective fathers. If a father is on the look-out for a
daughter-in-law, he sends his wife to interview and report upon the girl
whom he has been told is suitable in age, dower, etc. Now comes in
another of the few advantages of being a woman in Korea. She has very
largely the selection of her own daughters-in-law, and if the
daughter-in-law proves unsatisfactory she has only herself to blame.
When the middle-man has ascertained that the proposal of marriage will
be acceptable, the father who has negotiated the proceedings writes an
elaborate letter to the other father, and makes a formal proposal for
the hand of his son or daughter. But this letter is not binding upon the
writer until he receives one in return accepting the proposal.

After that there is no drawing back, and should the betrothed man die
before the marriage day the girl is regarded as a widow, and must remain
unmarried all her life, or else marry an inferior and with disgrace. The
man, on the other hand—should she die—is entirely free to marry, and
at once.

When a lucky day has been selected for the wedding, the bridegroom sends
to the bride presents in the Japanese fashion. Female clothing, bits of
stuff, and sweets are the most important items among these presents.
When they have been sent and received, the marriage ceremony has been
half performed. Then the bridegroom is allowed to knot up his hair in
manly fashion, but not until the day of marriage is he allowed to assume
the garb of a man—be dressed as a man. A Korean bachelor of seventy is
regarded as a child, treated as a child, and dressed as a child.

A prospective bridegroom pays visits of respect not to the relations of
his bride, but to the kinsfolk of his own father. The kinsfolk of his
mother do not count; indeed, a Korean wife is supposed to have no
kindred but the kindred of her husband. The bridegroom’s father gives a
great feast upon the night of the day on which the presents are sent.
The feast lasts all night, and the quantity of food eaten, and the
quantity of wine drunk, would sound almost incredible to European ears.

Korea is the country of bachelors. There are two reasons for this. The
majority of the people are very poor and cannot afford the expense of
daughters-in-law. Then, too, polygamy is so extensively practised among
the rich that the supply of girls in the marriage market is never equal
to the demand, and the average Korean would far rather see his daughter
become the second, or the seventh, or the eighth wife, or concubine of a
rich or powerful man, than the one wife of a labourer or low-class man.
Marriage usually takes place three days after the presents are sent.
These three days are very busy ones to the Korean bride, for out of one
of the pieces of stuff sent her by the bridegroom, she must herself, and
without assistance, fashion the elaborate robe which he assumes on the
marriage night, and which is his first garment made after adult fashion.
Thus the three days before marriage are spent by a Korean girl in
performing her first duty as a wife. And the sending of the garment
signifies that she, with the assistance of whatever wives he may
afterwards marry, will, so long as they both live, make all the clothing
required by him, his children, and his women.

When the marriage day arrives the lucky hour is chosen, and the
bridegroom departs for the house of the bride. The bridegroom’s
procession is as long and as splendid as his purse, or the purse of his
father, can possibly permit. Everyone in that procession rides on
horseback, and in single file. First comes a servant-man on a horse
richly caparisoned; this servant carries a life-sized image of a wild
goose. It is covered by a red scarf, and the servant must hold it with
both hands—a circumstance which makes his horseback riding interesting,
if not perilous. After him comes the bridegroom, splendidly arrayed, and
followed by a groom and all his other servants. After them rides the
bridegroom’s father, and he, too, is followed by all the servants he
possesses or has been able to borrow. Relatives and friends in great
quantity of persons and great quality of garments bring up the splendid

In a marriage procession, or at a marriage, the poorest and lowliest man
in Korea is allowed to wear robes and hats as rich as those ordinarily
worn by the highest dignitary in the land, if he can manage to get them,
and of the same distinctive style and shape.

When the girl’s house is reached, the servant who has carried the goose
dismounts, the others remain on horseback. He goes into the house and
lays the goose upon a bowl of rice that is standing in a convenient
place. Then, without speaking, he leaves the house. The bridegroom’s
father dismounts next, then the bridegroom, then all the others. Before
entering the house they take off their boots and their hats, and their
outer robes. The bride’s father now comes out of his house, bids them
welcome, and leads them in. He is immediately followed by the
bridegroom, and then by the bridegroom’s father and the others. They all
sit solemnly down, and then ensues a scene not to be beaten for noise,
no, not even in all Asia, which, I assure you, is saying a good deal.

The bridegroom has been accompanied, as far as practicable, by all the
youths or men who are, or were, his fellow-students, or who belonged to
the same literary degree as himself. These seize upon him with
shrieking, and laughter, and singing, carrying him off to some distant
part of the house or compound, and refuse, under any circumstances, to
give him up, or to allow the marriage to proceed. The girl’s father,
after some time, offers them a present of money to depart, and leave the
chief actor in the proposed function free to play his part. After a good
deal of haggling, and when the bribe has reached as high a point as the
rollickers think it probably will, they accept the money and depart with
it, to spend it in a day and a night of roystering and banqueting.

A feast elaborate, and to European notions tedious, is then offered to
the bridegroom, his father and their attendants. After the feast the
bridegroom’s father and all the servants depart. The bride’s father
leads the bridegroom to the room in which the ancestral tablets of the
family are enshrined; for ancestral worship is as universal and as
sincere in Korea as in China. Before these tablets the prospective
husband must pay homage long and earnest.

Late in the evening the bridegroom is taken into the room of the bride,
whom he has not as yet seen. The room is empty, and he is immediately
left there alone; but the room is fragrant with iris, or sweet with
great bowls and branches of cherry-blossom, and splendid with wisteria
or magnificent bunches of the Korean peony. Two great bowls are there
heaped with rice, and in the centre of each bowl stands a brilliantly
yellow candlestick, holding a taper that is perfumed and lit. After a
time, the bride comes into the room, led by her mother, and surrounded
by all her kinswomen. No one speaks; the mother and the relatives go
out, as soon as they have fairly come in. The door is closed, and the
bride lifts her veil. On the following day, the young wife divides into
two the hair which hitherto hung down her back in one long plait. She
twists one part of it on to the left side of her head, and one on to the
right, and so she wears her hair for the rest of her life, taking it
down only to dress it or have it dressed, or to dishevel it about her
shoulders as a sign of mourning, on the death of her husband, or one of
his relatives. On the third day after the marriage the young couple
repair to the house of the bridegroom or the bridegroom’s father. They
may, however, elect to remain a little longer in the home of the bride’s
people, but unless they leave on the third day they are compelled to
remain where they are for an entire year.

Thirty years before Christ it was customary for a bridegroom to dwell
under the roof of his father-in-law until the first son had been born,
and attained to years of manhood. This is still the custom in some parts
of Korea, and among some Korean families. Whether the husband and wife
go to the home of his family three days, one year, or many years after
marriage, they must, upon entering the door, at once go to the tablets
of his ancestors, bend before them innumerable times, and repeat to them
innumerable prayers and benedictions.

Korean marriage certificates are rather quaint. They are on red paper,
of course, for red is the colour of happiness, and is used throughout
China and Korea for the records of births, marriages, for calling cards,
and all such things. These marriage certificates are inscribed with the
usual Chinese characters, but what makes them peculiarly interesting is
the fact that during the marriage ceremony they are equally divided, one
half is given to the husband, and one to the wife. It is the only
instance I know of a country in which it is thought necessary to provide
the bridegroom with a certificate of the marriage. But in Korea marriage
is even of more importance to men than to women. Marriage makes all the
difference possible in the life of a Korean man—it does not alter so
very much the life of a Korean woman. He passes from boyhood to manhood
in the twinkling of an eye; he takes precedence of all bachelors
whatever their age; can insult them or jostle them in the streets with
perfect impunity. Marriage alters the daily life of the woman very
little. It opens to her all the possibilities of maternity, and secures
her the occasional society of her husband, and, as I have said, it puts
up her hair. But I can think of no other material way in which it
affects her. She passes from one Korean house to another Korean house,
and the two are probably identical in their interior arrangements,
furnishings, and decorations, at least, so far as the women’s premises
are concerned. She eats the same food that she ate with her own mother
and sisters. She reads the same books, does the same needlework. If her
husband be poor, she performs the same drudgery. She hears the same
talk, thinks the same thoughts, and has, or lacks, the same amusements
that she has all her life. To be sure she sees about her the faces of,
for a time, strange women, but their lives and their minds are so
similar to those of the women she has always lived with, that their
companionship cannot possibly make any violent difference in her or in
her existence.

There is one very important reason why his half of the marriage
certificate should be, and is, zealously preserved by the husband:
without it he cannot procure another wife should his first die, or be
divorced, or prove inadequate. Her half of the brilliant paper is no
such talisman to the wife. Divorced, she can never re-marry; widowed,
she can only re-wed with degradation.

The marriage ceremony differs somewhat in different parts of Korea,
among different classes of people, and among different families. Often
the noisy students take no part in the function, and the bride is
present at the marriage feast. The bride in this case remains veiled,
eats nothing and says nothing, until the repast is over. Indeed, in many
parts of Korea the bride must not speak during her wedding day. At the
end of the feast the bride and groom bow to each other three times, and
then the bride throws back her veil, and they are man and wife.

In an antique paper or essay on the moral and domestic condition of
Korea, a paper written by one of the old French missionaries who
penetrated into Korea long before European commerce, or European
politics, had dared to do so, or at least, succeeded in doing so, I
found a description of a wedding ceremony differing somewhat from either
of the above. And yet so the marriage ceremony often is even to-day in
parts of Korea. The translation is very free:—

‘On the nuptial day both bride and groom cease to wear their hair as
children wear it. Her hair is arranged by some maiden of her
kindred—his arranged by some bachelor of his blood. These two amateur
hair-dressers are called “hands of honour,” and after the bride and
groom, and their respective fathers, are the most important personages
at a Korean marriage.

‘The bridegroom, accompanied by all his male relatives and all his male
friends, on the morning of the marriage day, goes to the bride’s house.
There she is given to him, and he carries her off to his house, or to
the house of his father. In the best room of that house a platform or
marriage altar has been arranged. It is very rich with embroidered
cloths, carved pieces, vessels of metal, jewelled ornaments, and as many
of the wonderful Korean flowers as are in season. Platters of rice and
fruits, and of sweetmeats and nuts, are usually there too, and
incense-sticks; and candles must by no means be absent. The bride and
the bridegroom step up on to the platform from opposite sides; both are
elaborately dressed, perfumed, and be-jewelled, and the bride is heavily
painted. She wears a veil and innumerable odd ornaments at her throat,
about her neck, at her girdle, on her breast, and on her back. The
bridegroom wears a marriage hat, for in this strange peninsula, not only
every rank, and every age, and every season, but almost every event
calls for a hat of special shape and material. The couple bow to each
other profoundly a number of times, and then leave the platform—she
going to the home of her new seclusion, the women’s quarters of her
husband’s house, and he going to his own rooms or to those of his
father. All the women present follow her; all the men follow him. For a
week or longer, if the father of the groom or the groom be a man of
wealth, a great feast is held both in the women’s quarters and in the
reception rooms of the men. Often the guests remain throughout this
period, or if they go home occasionally to sleep, they are sure to
return in a very few hours for more to eat, and more to drink. During
the ceremony, and during the week of rejoicing, the bridesmaids are busy
filling “the cup of mutual joy” with nuptial wine. From this cup the
bride and the bridegroom drink together during the ceremony, but
afterwards it is sent from the apartments of the one to the apartments
of the other, and _vice versâ_. At the marriage feast there must be a
goose, a dried pheasant, emblems of braided or twisted straw, arrack,
and gourds, and other fruits tied with tinselled and crimson ribbons:
for these are the Korean symbols of marital felicity.’

Often the girl of eight who is betrothed to a boy of five, or a girl of
twelve who is betrothed to a boy of eight, goes at once to her
father-in-law’s house, and is then and there lost to her own family. So
entirely does a Korean woman become a member of her husband’s family,
that after marriage she wears mourning for him and his relatives only,
and gives no sign of grief at the death of her own relatives, should she
chance to be informed of it. During the period of betrothal the bride
and bridegroom must each mourn for the death of any of their kindred,
and the marriage cannot take place while either of the parties are in
mourning. Korean mourning is as long, or longer than Chinese mourning.
Parents are mourned for three years or more, and other relatives for
shorter, but not short periods. It will be readily seen that a goodly
number of deaths in both families delay a marriage far beyond the limits
of all human patience, save that which characterizes the Far East. It is
not unusual for a marriage to be delayed for ten years in such a way,
and betrothed couples have been kept waiting thirty, and even
thirty-five years, before one or the other, or both of them, could lay
aside the robes of mourning for the brilliant vestments of marriage.
This is the reason, I believe the chief reason, why for hundreds of
years the population of Korea has not increased. Other reasons are the
fearful infant mortality, and the horrible and periodical recurrence of

Next to being a woman, perhaps the most unfortunate thing that can
happen to anyone in Korea is to be poor. But if there are several
advantages in being a woman even there, there is, at least, one in being
poor. Among the poor it is often the custom for the bride and bridegroom
to meet a month or more before the marriage, and if either of them is
dissatisfied they cannot be forced to fulfil the engagement.

Korean wives have one rather desirable prerogative—a prerogative which
the wives of China do not share with them, nor I fancy, do the wives of
Japan. A Korean man cannot house his concubines or second-class wives
under the roof that shelters his true or first wife, without her
permission. Strangely enough, the first wife very rarely objects to
living in rather close companionship with the other women of her
husband’s household. Perhaps the longing for human companionship is
stronger than jealousy in woman’s breast. And perhaps it is because the
companionship of men is forbidden her, that a Korean wife comes to not
only tolerate, but to enjoy the companionship of the women who share
with her, her husband’s affection, attention, and support.

Korean women have not always lived in the strict seclusion in which they
live now. Some of the older historians, Chinese and others, describe the
appearance of the women and their manners without any hint that seeing
them and knowing of them was anything unusual. And Hamel boasts that his
blonde beard and that of his fellows, and their blue eyes, found great
favour with the women of Quelpaert. In the days of Hamel, as now, the
inhabitants of Quelpaert were purely Korean. Almost ever since Korea
obtained Quelpaert from Japan, the island has been used as a sort of
penal settlement; a place of confinement for foreigners who are
unfortunate or unwise enough to land upon the shores of the peninsula,
and for grave Korean miscreants who escape the death penalty. But it has
also had always a goodly number of inhabitants, of the freemen and the
official classes, and all of these, as well as the great bulk of
prisoners, have been unmixedly Korean. And the freedom and publicity
enjoyed by the women of the island, in Hamel’s time, was doubtless also
enjoyed by the women of the peninsula. On the other hand, Hamel may have
written only of the women of the labouring class. But even so his
testimony—and when has Hamel been proved untruthful?—proves that
during the last two hundred years times have greatly changed for Korean
women. To-day no Korean woman, however lowly, would look up at a strange
man long enough to like him; much less “look to like, if looking liking

In every Korean house of any pretension the women’s apartments are in
the most secluded part of the building. They open on to a garden, and
never on to a street. The compound is walled, and no two families ever
live upon the same compound. And no Korean may go upon the roof of his
own house without legal permission, and without giving due notice to all
his neighbours. The roof may leak, and the roof may crack in the middle,
but before the owner of the house or any mechanic in his employ may go
up to see what the matter is, and to remedy it, the occupiers of every
house, the garden of which can be seen from his roof, must be notified,
and ample time given for the ladies of those various establishments to
leave the gardens. So a Korean woman is as hidden from the world, in her
husband’s garden or summer-house, as is a nun in her cell.

The wives and daughters of well-to-do Koreans spend a great deal of time
in their gardens, sharing naturally enough the intense love of their
menkind for nature, and probably finding their peculiar lives more
endurable among the trees and the birds and the lotus ponds, than they
do in their queer little rooms, through the paper windows of which they
cannot look unless they poke a hole with their fingers first—rooms in
which there is little space and less furniture.

After the curfew rings it is illegal for a Korean man to leave his own
house, unless under circumstances which I have stated in a previous
chapter; then it becomes legal for Korean women to slip out and take the
air and gossip freely. But both the law and the privilege have fallen
somewhat into abeyance, especially in Söul. There are now so many
foreigners in Söul, members of legations, and servants connected with
legations, that it has been found impossible to keep the streets of Söul
free from men after curfew, and so the women of Söul have very greatly
lost that which was, a few years ago, one of their few, and one of their
most dearly prized privileges.

If the _dramatis personæ_ in Korean society are all men, not so the
_dramatis personæ_ in Korea’s history. As in China, and as in Japan,
important parts have been played by women in the great historical drama
of Korea—a drama that began centuries and centuries ago, and that is
not ended yet, or only now ending. Korea has had many remarkable women
who have left their as yet indelible stamp upon the customs and the laws
of their country, and upon the thought of their countrymen. Korea has
had at least three great queens. Korea has had her Boadicea. The present
King of Korea owes his kingship, in large part at least, to his
great-grandmother, Dowager Queen Cho, who adopted him, and in 1864 was
largely instrumental in securing for him the throne to which the royal
consul had elected him.

The most powerful women of whom we can read in the history of India,
from the time of the Rock Temples to the time of the Indian Mutiny, were
purdah-women; and the woman who has perhaps had more influence and more
power over her own husband than ever other woman had over other
husband—the woman who was perhaps at her death the most sincerely
mourned, and the woman who was entombed as no other woman has ever yet
been entombed, and probably as no other woman will ever be entombed—the
beautiful Arjamand Banu—lived in the strictest purdah. And until the
breaking out of the Chino-Japanese war, the most powerful person in
Korea was, and for twenty years had been, a woman, the king’s wife.
Queen Min, for even she has no name, and is known only by the name of
the race from which she has sprung, comes of one of the two great
intellectual families of Korea; and the great family of Min has produced
no cleverer woman or man than the wife of Li-Hsi.

A very large proportion of the literature at our disposal, which treats
in any dignified way of Korea, has been written by missionaries. This is
inevitably so of any Asiatic country whose first Western invaders have
been soldiers of the Cross. Fortunately for the interested student of
Korea, the missionaries who have gone to Korea seem almost from the
first to have been mentally, socially, and in culture, equipped above
the missionary average in other parts of heathendom. Whether they have
had a corresponding moral superiority it would be interesting to know,
but I am the last person in the world competent to judge the moral
status of a missionary. This of the European missionaries in Korea—from
the Jesuit fathers old France sent there to the Presbyterian brethren
recently sent from the United States—a surprising number of them had
the gift not of writing (for scribbling seems to come as naturally to
the average missionary as to the average nineteenth-century woman), but
of writing well, and with great discretion. If we would learn the
history of Korea, we must learn it very largely from the writings of
European missionaries, unless, indeed, we are able to read Chinese, and
have access to the fuller, more ably written, and probably more
authentic histories of Korea, written by Chinese _littérateurs_. It is a
matter of course that the Chinese, who are akin to the Koreans, and who
may almost be said to have brought them up, should make fewer blunders
in writing of Chosön than men of utterly dissimilar race and thought
habits. Then, too, the writing of the Chinese histories of Korea has
been largely contemporaneous with the enactment of that history. And no
man can write with entire breadth of a people to whose religion he is
bitterly antagonistic.

One blunder is conspicuous in most of the valuable books written by
Europeans—written on Korea. They state almost to a volume that the
women are uneducated and never pretty.

Educated after European methods they certainly are not. But why should
they be? And that they are not—does that prove that they are not
educated at all? There are more systems of education than one.

Let us take the poor women of Söul, and compare them with the poor women
of Liverpool or of London, and with the women of many tongues, who flock
into New York through the portals of Castle Garden. The Korean women can
read and write, the large majority of them. They cook well, cleanly, and
economically. Out of a few simple ingredients (which her Western sister
would scorn), and with a few simple implements (that that sister would
not understand)—often almost without implements and with little
fire—fire that must be coaxed and humoured, and humoured and coaxed,
the poorest Korean woman will prepare a meal which no hungry European,
prince or peasant, need scorn to eat. It will be savoury, wholesome,
clean to daintiness, and pleasantly served. They can sew, make all that
they, their husbands, and their children wear, can these poor, ignorant,
heathen women. They are expert washerwomen. Most of them can make
pictures with sharp sticks, or with brush, and almost all of them are
more or less skilled in midwifery, in the care of the sick, in sick-room
cookery, and in the care of children. They know how to keep their
tempers, hold their tongues, control their appetites, to make much of
little, and to enjoy to the full and with thanksgiving any small
pleasure that falls to their scantily pleasured lot. Now let us turn to
the Seven Dials, or to the Five Points—No, on second thought let us

As for Korean gentlewomen, they are skilled in Korean music, in Chinese
and Korean literature. They are unsurpassed mistresses of the needle,
more than able with the brush, and thoroughly acquainted with every
detail of the complicated Korean etiquette. They are deft in the nice
ceremonies of the toilet. They know the histories of Korea, of China,
and perhaps of Japan. They are familiar with their own folk-lore, and
can repeat it glibly and picturesquely. They are nurses and mothers and
wives by nature, and wives, mothers, nurses, and accoucheuses by
training. Above all, they are taught (and they learn) to be amiable.
They are instructed in the art of charming, and in the grace of being
gentle, as soon as they are taught to walk. I have known advanced women
in Europe who could scarcely boast of being more highly educated. And
the happiest women I have known have not always been the most learned. I
think that we are apt to underrate the education of women in the East
because it differs so essentially from ours: but then so do their
physique and the country in which they live; its flora, its climate, and
its sociology. A Korean once told me (he was a kinsman of Queen Min, a
traveller, a linguist, and a man of—cosmopolitanly speaking—most
considerable attainments) that his wife was more widely and more
thoroughly versed in Chinese literature, modern and classic, than he.
And Chinese literature is indisputably the greatest literature that Asia
has ever produced.

The Queen of Korea is, with the possible exception of the Dowager
Empress of China, as well educated as any royal lady in Asia.

As to the national lack of beauty among the women of Korea—why, it is
neither more nor less than nonsense, ignorant, and rather stupid
nonsense. I know no race in which the women who earn their individual
slice, and a goodly share of the family loaf, in the sweat of their
brows retain their beauty long. The women seen on the streets of Söul
and in the fields, and on the mountain slopes of Korea, belong—if I may
for the sake of emphasis repeat myself—belong to the hardest-worked,
the most weather-beaten, burden-bent, and ill-fed class in Korea. Their
personal appearance is no indication of the real type of Korean
womanhood. They are painted by the sun and the wind, disfigured with
trouble and back-ache, and their once pretty faces have been profaned by
many tears, and they are hideous. But the women of the Korean leisure
class are, as a rule (a rule with only just enough exceptions to prove
it), undeniably pretty—pretty with a prettiness that is closely akin to
the prettiness of the women of Japan and Burmah. The Queen of Korea is
quaintly pretty, and among the three hundred women who are, nominally at
least, the concubines of the king, and among the very many female
attendants of their two Majesties, there is scarcely a plain face. Of
course many Europeans who have been resident in Korea, and have written
of their residence, have not had access to the court, much less to the
Queen and her ladies. But surely any wide-eyed man who has spent some
time in Korea has seen and seen again the geisha girls. Who that has
lived in Korea denies their beauty? And would it not occur to an
observer of somewhat less than abnormal reasoning power that since the
only female members he had ever seen of the Korean leisure class were
beautiful, that it was fairly presumable that the Korean women who
worked even less, and lived in greater luxury, and under more healthy
conditions, were at least as beautiful?

Korean women (those of them who have not been scarred by over-toil, nor
deformed by privation) have remarkably small, and remarkably pretty
hands and feet, and of nothing are they prouder than of their dimpled
fingers, and their shapely, delicate feet, But the feet of a Korean
woman are small by nature, never by art. They have lovely eyes—these
women—musical voices, and are graceful of motion.

The Queen is pale and delicate-looking. She has a remarkable forehead,
low but strong, and a mouth charming in its colouring, in its outlines,
in its femininity, in the pearls it discloses, and sweet with the music
that slips through it when she speaks. She dresses plainly as a rule,
and in dark but rich materials. In this she resembles the high-born
matrons of Japan. And in cut her garments are more Japanese than those
of other Korean women: she wears her hair parted in the middle, and
drawn softly into a simple knot or coil of braid. She wears diamonds
most often; not many, but of much price. They are her favourite gems. In
this one particular she is almost alone among the women of the East; for
pearls are the beloved jewels of almost every woman and girl-child that
is born in the Orient.

Queen Min has been as assiduous as she has been powerful in advancing
the interests of her family—the family of her birth I mean, for her
marriage—unlike the marriages of other Korean women—has no whit
divorced her from the people of her blood. All the desirable offices in
Korea were held for years by her kinsmen.

Queen Min has not only been the power behind the Korean throne, but she
has been, even more than the King, the all-seeing eye of Korea. Her
spies have been everywhere, seen everything, reported everything.

Two things that are true of the Queen are peculiarly significant of the
grip that Oriental customs have upon the most autocratic of Oriental
minds. She—the most powerful Korean in Korea—is content to be
nameless; a sovereign with almost unlimited power, but without a nominal
individuality; and to be called merely by the family name of her
forefathers, and to be designated only as the daughter of her fathers,
the wife of her husband, and the mother of her son.

It strikes an Occidental as even more strange that a woman so supremely
powerful with her husband and king should be so graciously tolerant of
the women of his harem. She not only tolerates them, she seems to like
them, to take pride in them, and she is on the friendliest terms with
Li-Hsi’s eldest son, who is also the son of a concubine. True her own
son is the crown prince, but it is probable that his elder brother and
not he will be Korea’s next king, if the present dynasty be destined to
have another king. Li Hsia—Queen Min’s son—is not the imbecile he has
been reported, but he has not the greatest mental strength, and less
strength of body.

Queen Min is admirable and affable in her home circle. She is a woman of
no great physical strength. But she has considerable courage, moral and
physical, and both have been well tried.

Queen Min has always advocated the opening of Korea to foreigners, and
the establishing of relations with foreign Powers. Whether this shows
her wisdom or her folly it is too soon to say: but it certainly proves
her—woman of the Far East that she is—to have a mind of her own, even
though she lacks a personal name.

No one man or woman who wishes to have a part in the solving of the
great and complicated woman-question should fail to make an, as far as
possible, exhaustive study of the women of Asia. The women of the East
differ from the women of the West, chiefly in being more secluded from
public places, public duties, and public influence; in being more
confined to, and more absorbed in their own firesides; in being less on
a nominal equality with man, and in being more definitely, if less
happily and less highly placed in the State and in the family. They
differ from the women of the West in the manner of their education, and
in the aims of their education.

Before we consider whether these differences are to the advantage or
disadvantage of Eastern women, it is only fair that we (we Western women
who are interested in working out, not only our own salvation, but the
salvation of mankind) should consider very carefully how the position of
woman in the East has affected man in the East, and the Eastern races in
their entireties. Does the absence of woman from the general daily life
of a race render that daily life less refined, and more brutal? One
might, at first thought, have concluded so. We may assume for a premise
that women are more refined, more gentle of heart, and more graceful of
manner than men, and it is, I believe, commonly thought among the great
mass of people in the West, who are almost altogether uninformed and
altogether ill-informed about the East, that the men of the East are
brawlers, half-savage, and uncouth. No grosser mistake could be made.
Probably the two most brutalizing passions are envy and jealousy. There
have been in the history of the world, I think, no two other causes of
so much bloodshed, so much brutality, so much infinite cruelty, and so
much horrible vulgarity. The wrangling over women, the rivalry for
women, and the suspicions and the enormous heartburns occasioned by
these rivalries have, in the lands where the women mingled freely with
the men, more than counterbalanced the refining effect produced by the
fact that the men of these countries have wished to appear at their best
before the women, and have been on the whole inspired to civility and
gentle behaviour in the presence of women. Because an Oriental’s wife is
his property, unquestionably so, she is the cause of no bloodshed, no
jealousy, and her refining influence is more proved in the breach than
in the observance. The Korean gentleman, the Chinese mandarin, or the
husband of a high-caste Hindoo woman who goes to a dinner-party, has the
soothing consciousness that his wife is safe at home. Under lock and
key, perhaps: certainly debarred, by the strong prejudices of centuries,
from going abroad, or showing her face to men. He can devote himself
with placid heart and undiverted mind to the meat and drink set before
him and the men sitting about him. No torturing wonder as to which of
his wife’s platonic friends has dropped in to have an after-dinner cup
of coffee with her can come to destroy his appreciation of the fine
flavour of his soup. He can glance around that dinner table with eyes
fearless and proud, for they will not encounter his wife flirting, ever
so harmlessly, with someone else’s husband: a sight calculated to make
any man whose heart is not made of dough, and his brain of pulp, choke
over his cutlets, and end his dinner miserably in a fit of ill-humour
and indigestion. True, on the other hand, he is not able to flirt with
his neighbour’s wife. The social arrangements are such, in the East,
that no fairly well-to-do man need lack ample female society both at
home and abroad. But the female society which is open to him outside of
his own house is not the society of wives, mothers, nor of maidens. And
moreover, the majority of men enjoy a good stag-dinner very much more
than they do an equally good feast which is shared with them by a number
of women. When a party of gentlemen dine together, in the East, or in
the West, I very much fear that their table-talk is far more
intellectual, entertaining, and altogether worth while than the
table-talk of women who dine with each other, or of men and women who
dine together. And I am sure that it is quite as refined, free from
undesirable insinuations, coarse witticisms, and imbecile pleasantries.
I am not speaking, of course, of dinners _tête-à-tête_, nor would
anything I have said apply to them. I have been an unseen spectator of
many stag-dinners in the East, and I was once an unseen, but all-seeing,
guest at a stag-dinner in the West. And in my salad days I have often
broken bread with women, women, only women. It is my conclusion that the
European men who dine at their clubs, and the Asiatic men who dine with
their fellows, gain almost as much as they lose, and I can partly
understand man’s preference for the table companionship of men. I
believe that good digestion waits on appetite more often in dinner
parties of the East than in dinner parties of the Occident.

The Eastern man rarely or never commits the sin of coveting his
neighbour’s wife, because he rarely or never sees her, and so, at least,
we cannot say that the unrighteous laws governing the relative positions
of the sexes in the Orient, lead the men of the Orient into the worst of
all temptations. Among the very poorest classes in Korea the men
invariably see more or less of the women; but those men are too poor,
too hard worked, too absorbed, body, brain, and heart, in a struggle for
existence to covet other men’s wives, or, often indeed, to have wives of
their own.

Oriental polygamy seems so delicate a subject, such thin conversational
ice to the average Western mind, that the best informed writers are
rather in the habit of skating about its edges and of speaking loosely
and indefinitely, and with the greatest confusion about the wives and
the concubines of the East. I have spoken of the well-to-do Korean as
having a plurality of wives. This is not so. And that such a
mis-statement has been made by writers of eminence, and ordinarily of
great exactness, is no excuse for me. A Korean can have but one wife,
one true and absolute wife, but (and here comes in the fact which is
hard, very hard, of comprehension even to intelligent Europeans, who
have not lived in the Orient) he may have as many concubines as he can
afford, and their position, though not so high of rank, is as
honourable, and as respectable as that of his wife. The word concubine,
in the sense given it by our English dictionaries, can no more justly be
applied to the women of a Korean’s seraglio than it can be applied to
Hagar. I use the word, because it is the word used by all European
scholars to indicate the women of whom I am writing, and is also the
word used to designate them in the countries of the East. As I have
said, they are not on a social equality with the wife, but they are, to
the best of my belief, on a moral equality with her, both in the eyes of
Oriental law and in the eyes of morality itself. I see no difference
ethically between the woman who consents to marry (as every well-born
Korean woman does consent to marry) a man who she knows has, or will
have, a well filled harem—I see no difference between her and the woman
who consents to make that harem her home.

A Korean’s concubines are almost as absolutely the handmaidens of his
wife as of himself. They must serve her and do her bidding, and can only
escape from this in the rare instance when one rises in the man’s eyes
to higher favour than the wife.

The children of a concubine do not as a rule rank with the children of a
wife, but they are neither despised nor shamed. They are born to a
slightly lower rank, it is true, but that signifies little, for in Korea
every man must carve out his own niche in the social rock, and they, the
children of the handmaidens, have as fair a start in life, and as clean
a name, as the children of the wife. In this, at least, Korean
civilization puts us to the blush.

I am not advocating polygamy. It seems to me an evil only less than the
evil which makes innocent children nameless, and unfortunate women
homeless and hopeless. It is an evil, I am convinced, that can never
work in the West, never be endured by the women of the West. But it does
work in the East—works fairly well. And I think it just possible that
with the Orientals, with their quickly developed bodies, and their
slowly developed minds, it is, under existing circumstances, the lesser
of two evils, one of which would be inevitable. In Utah I have known a
great many Mormons. I knew Brigham Young when I was a child, and I have
since known several of his wives, and many of his children. With the
exception of Brigham Young himself and one woman, who was, in the most
brazen sense of the word, an adventuress, I have never known a Mormon of
even average intellect. Yet, even so, I never knew the wives of a Mormon
man to live in peace together. The men were degraded and brainless; the
women degraded, almost imbecile and discontented. But it is not so in
the Orient; high caste or high class men are refined, gentlemanly, clean
of person, and keen of intellect, and the women in their lesser and
feminine way are very fit mates of those men. The women of a Korean
household are, as an almost invariable rule, happy together. There is
less differentiation between the personalities of an Eastern race than
between those of a Western, and this is especially true of the women, I
think. The wife and all the concubines of a Korean have tastes in
common, habits in common, likes and dislikes and accomplishments in
common. It is a matter of course to them to live under the same roof,
and at the disposal of the same man, and it never occurs to them to
question either its fitness or its desirability. All must yield
unquestioning obedience to the husband, and, in his absence, all the
concubines must yield and do yield as implicit obedience to the wife.
She in return is very apt to make them her playfellows and her bosom
friends. The Sarahs of the East are far more just, far more kind to the
Hagars of the East than Sarah of old was to the mother of Ishmael. Would
that the women of the West, who are secure in their sole
wifehood—secure at least in the sole legality of their position, had
more humanity for the less fortunately placed women of the West.
Whatever the social conditions of the West, the women of the West are,
in part at least, responsible for them; not the outcast women, not the
women who have made a public failure of life, but the women of assured
positions, of intellect, and of moral weight. Whatever the position of
woman is in Korea, however low the standard of morality in Korea, the
women of Korea, to-day at least, are in no way responsible for it, in no
way—in no direct way at least—able to alter it, and I think it greatly
to the credit of Korean wives that they treat with no pharisaical
contempt, with no feminine injustice, and with no inhumanity, the women
who like themselves are, comparatively speaking, moral and social
puppets in the hands of a social system in the regulating of which they
have no direct voice.

I think I have said repeatedly, and I am going to again say in a
succeeding chapter, that Korea has no religion. Whether the facts I
shall be able to give will prove my statement to the majority of
readers, I am not quite prepared to say. At all events, there is
certainly no civilized country, not excepting China, in which religion
counts for so little, and in which the professors of religion are under
so positive a social ban as they are in Korea. Yet, strangely enough, in
Korea there are not only monks and monasteries, but nuns and nunneries.
Both monasteries and nunneries seem to have existed almost as long as
Korea has existed in anything like its present social condition. Hamel
speaks of two nunneries in Söul, and says that the nuns in one were
exclusively women of high birth; that the nuns in the other were maids
born of the common people. Their hair was shorn as was the hair of
monks, and they performed the same duties, obeyed the same rules as did
the monks. There were then, and have been since, a number of other
nunneries scattered throughout Korea. But it is certainly several
hundred years since any body of nuns defended their house from an
invading army, or took any part in Korean warfare, local or otherwise,
and I very much doubt if they ever did so. But it is probable that in
every other way their lives resembled, as indeed they now resemble, the
lives of the religious men. In the days of Hamel the nunneries were
maintained by the bounty of the king and some of his principal subjects.
The king who was reigning in Korea a little over two hundred years ago
(the same of whom Hamel speaks), gave the nuns of Söul permission to
marry. There are now no nunneries in Söul, but there are still several
in Korea. Besides the nun who is shaven and shorn, there is a female
_devotée_ called Po-sal, who does not cut her hair, and whose vows are
less binding than those of other nuns.

I merely mention the fact that there are nuns in Korea, while on the
subject of Korean women, because it is a curious item of what I have
been able to learn about the women of Chosön, and is uniquely in
contrast to almost all the other items that I have been able to gather.

And now almost last, a few words more about the dress of Chosön’s
women-folk. As I have said, it is less Oriental-looking than the dress
of the women of any other Eastern race, and this is remarkable, if not
surprising, because the women of Korea to-day dress exactly as the women
of China dressed before the present Chinese dynasty came into power, and
the race from which it sprang conquered China. In dress, at least,
indeed in many other ways, the Koreans have strictly maintained the
habits and the fashions that they adopted from, or that were forced upon
them by old China. This is why the men wear no queues and the women do
not pinch their feet. In dress and in toilet habits the Koreans of
to-day are probably an exact replica of the inhabitants of China, before
China became dominated by the Tartars.

The women of Korea’s poor almost invariably wear the same colour as do
the men of the same class: a blue so pale, so indefinite, and, from a
short distance, so imperceptible, that it has generally been called
white. Even so exact an observer and so careful a chronicler as Mr.
Curzon speaks of “the white-clad Koreans.” Mr. Curzon may, by-the-bye,
have made several mistakes in writing of the East; but, with the best
intentions in the world, I have not been able to discover another of his
making. One may differ occasionally from his opinions; one may not
always share his likes or his dislikes; but I assure the student of
things Eastern that he can depend absolutely upon the truth of Mr.
Curzon’s statements of facts, and their exactness.

Korean women of position wear almost every conceivable colour. In China,
pink and green are set aside for women, and are sacred to their wearing.
I do not think that the women of Korea have the sole right to wear any
colour, but they certainly have the right to wear, and the habit of
wearing, almost every conceivable colour. Purples and greens are their
high favourites, and green is almost invariably the hue—and a bright,
deep green at that—of the generously-sleeved dress which the
middle-class Korean woman (or on rare occasions, a lady) throws about
her head and shoulders when she walks abroad. This green dress, which is
used as a cloak, is almost exclusively the garment of the women of the
middle class—the women who are not so poor that they are obliged to
draw water, or to engage in any other forms of hard labour which would
make the covering of their faces impossible—but who, at the same time,
are occasionally obliged to go abroad on some matter of household
business. Wives and concubines and daughters of mandarins and of men of
wealth do not often leave their own (by courtesy) house and gardens.
When they do, they go in palanquins. They enter the palanquin in their
own court-yard; the blinds or curtains are tightly closed. The chair is
borne away on the shoulders of coolies, and is usually followed by one
or more female servants or waiting women, who run closely behind it,
looking on the ground, and carrying a fan, which indicates the rank of
the palanquined mistress.

In some parts of Korea, among some classes of the poor, the women wear a
very short white jacket which barely covers the upper part of the bosom.
This jacket looks like an exaggerated caricature of the pretty white
jacket worn by the Singalese women.

The dress of a Korean lady is as elaborate as the dress of a Korean
working-woman is plain. The example of simplicity set by Queen Min is
followed by almost none of the Korean women who can afford to do
otherwise. The wardrobe of a Korean lady contains garments of silk,
surprising in quantity, and covetable in quality, but satins are
unknown, and the glimmer and glitter, which is so dear to the eye of
every Oriental, must be made alone by the lustre of silk, and enhanced
by as much tinsel, as many jewels and ornaments as the wearer can
possibly afford.

I have spoken of the brown interspace which is often seen between the
jacket and the skirt of a Korean woman, but it is only seen among the
very poorest, and I believe is a lack of material, and a matter of
indifference, rather than an intentional exposure of person. I have
never seen a Korean lady—I have never seen a gentlewoman of any Eastern
race—_décolleté_, except Japanese ladies in European dress. It seems
strange, at first thought, that races, whose standards of sexual
morality seem to us so far beneath our own, should be so universally
modest in their covering of their persons. I am inclined to think that
it is not modesty at all, but rather a peculiar phase of Oriental
dignity which causes the people of the East to drape themselves as
entirely as possible. Mr. Lowell, whose inimitable book on Korea must be
a source of almost endless enjoyment to anyone who has known and
delighted in the quaint peninsula, says so exactly what I think we ought
to understand about the standpoint from which the Orientals regard
dress, and how they have come to so regard it, that I take the liberty
of borrowing a page from his volume; one of those books which constantly
tempt one to quote them from cover to cover. In discussing the manner in
which dress in Eastern Asia has been influenced by woman, Mr. Lowell

“Her absence has been as potent a force there as her presence has been
elsewhere; for I think we must admit that to her indirectly is due the
following singular feature of Asiatic thought.

“The way in which the far Oriental regards dress is somewhat peculiar. I
can think of no simile so descriptive as the connection we tacitly
assume between spirit and body. We hardly, in ordinary life, think of
the one as devoid of the other, and we regard the latter as at least the
sense-impression to us of the person within. So do they with dress. To
their eyes it forms an essential part of their conception of the man.
Somewhat in like manner we are ourselves impressed by dress, in the
customary take-at-what-we-see estimate of our fellows. They differ from
us in carrying the real into the ideal.

“This is very strikingly seen in the matter of painting. Perhaps one of
the most notable features about far Eastern paintings is its utter
ignoring of the human figure. There is a complete void in that branch
which among Europeans has always claimed attention—the study of the
nude. To them artistically man is nothing but a bundle of habits in the
sartorial sense. The practice is not due to an excess of what we call
modesty. We may, perhaps, define modesty as the veiling from public gaze
of all of ourselves, in person or in mind, except so much as is
sanctioned to exposure by conventionality. Substitute ‘necessity’ for
‘conventionality,’ and you have the far Eastern definition. Convenience,
not convention, is the touchstone of propriety. They have not the
smallest objection to being seen in a state of nature where occasion
demands it; and, on the other hand, nothing would induce them to exhibit
any portion of their persons for the purpose of display. To them to be
clothed or naked is a matter of indifference; it is merely a question of
temporary comfort. The reason why they disregard the body is other than
this. It is simply that they have never been led to regard the body as
beautiful. That this is so, is due to the low position of woman. She has
never risen high enough in their estimation to attain even to that poor
level of admiration—that of being an object of beauty. All that should
be her birthright they heap as a dowry upon Nature.

“The study of drapery has benefited at the expense of what it encases,
and plays a certain part even in the expression of the emotions.”

I must pause right here, much as I admire his work, and much as I owe
him, to quarrel with Mr. Lowell, who says that the people of the East,
of the Far East at least, have never been led to regard the body as

Is it possible that Mr. Lowell is unfamiliar with, or unappreciative of,
the literature of Hindostan, the dramas of China, and the poems of

                              CHAPTER VI.

                      KOREAN WOMEN—(_continued_).

Slight as is the visible part played by woman in Korea, yet there are an
almost endless number of facts concerning her which are either
significant or in themselves interesting. To me at least, woman, and the
conditions of her life, together form the most interesting branch of the
study of Korea. And even to those who take no deep interest in burning
social questions, and whose interest in far-away lands scarcely exceeds
an intelligent curiosity, any facts about Korean women must be
especially interesting, I fancy, because those facts are less generally
known, less easily known than almost any other facts connected with this
wonderful peninsula, and its wonderful people. So I do not hesitate to
devote another of my very limited number of chapters to the women of

Cosmetics are not, it is gratifying to say, a product of our Western
civilization. They are greatly used all over the Orient. But in two
particulars there is less to be said against the face-painting of
Eastern women than there is to be said against the face-painting of the
women of the West. In Asia, hair-oil, rouge, powder, kohl for the eyes
and eyebrows, and brilliant pigments for the lips, are put on frankly,
and are as avowedly, and as sincerely, a seemly and decent adornment,
and as much an item of being “dressed up,” as is a silken petticoat or a
jewelled necklet. Ladies of Asia “make up” more brazenly than the ladies
of Europe, and their ugly, painted imitation is still less like the
loveliness of nature than is the painted ugliness of ourselves when we
do not feel that we have sufficient beauty of face to leave it
unadorned. But the Eastern woman who “makes up” her face has no thought
of deceiving anyone, or of obtaining masculine admiration or feminine
envy under false pretences. Her painting is as much a matter of
convention as is the Chinaman’s wearing of his queue; and she lays on
the thick layers of brilliant red and ghastly white as devoutly and as
dutifully as she says her prayers. The other good word I have to say for
the cosmetics of the Orient is this—they are infinitely less harmful
than the cosmetics we are wont to use in Europe. I know that. For, on
the stage I have tried both very thoroughly.

A well-to-do Korean woman usually has a very interesting collection of
hair-pins. They are long, heavily ornamented, made of silver, of gold,
or of copper; more usually of silver. Some of them are very beautiful,
and some that I have seen reminded me very much of the long silver pins
that are thrust through the braids of Italian peasant women.

The well-to-do women, especially in the capital, now very generally wear
European under-clothing. They invariably wear a pouch which is fastened
by cords to their girdle. This is their pocket, the only pocket they
have, except their sleeves, and in it they carry a tiger’s claw for
luck, a small cushion of sachet, or a bottle of thick, rich perfume,
some of their favourite pieces of jewellery, scissors usually, or a
knife, two or three of their most frequently used toilet implements, and
almost invariably a small Korean chess-board and chess-men. The board
and the pieces are often made of silver or even of gold. Chess is,
perhaps, the most popular of all Korea’s many games, and the Korean
women of the leisure class play it incessantly. The pocket also
contains, more likely than not, the official book of female politeness;
a book which every Korean lady studies assiduously. But whatever this
pocket contains or does not contain, it must by no means be without
several charms, charms for good luck, charms for health, charms for
wealth, and for any or every other good desirable under the Korean sun.
Of its charms the most valuable is the tiger’s claw. Mr. Griffis says,
“Nor can the hardy mountaineer put into the hand of his bride a more
eloquent proof of his valour than one of those weapons of a man-eater.
It means even more than the edelweiss of other mountain lands.” The
tiger is probably the most dreaded foe of the Koreans. They fear it more
than they fear China; hate it more than they hate Japan. The Chinese
have a saying which so vividly pictures the tiger-Korean situation that
I must quote it, though it has, I believe, already been quoted by every
other European and the majority of Orientals who have ever written on
Korea. It is this: “The Korean spends one half of the year hunting the
tiger, and the other half in being hunted by him.”

The hands of a Korean lady are always exquisitely kept, and usually
loaded with rings, often with rings of very great value.

Among some classes of Korean women the dressing of their hair is the
most important item of their toilet, and one skilled in ways Korean, and
in signs of Korean rank, can very readily determine, from a glance at
her coiffure, who and what a Korean woman is. The ladies of the court
wear their hair in different prescribed ways. The geisha girls have an
artistic fashion of their own, and a Korean woman servant, one part of
whose duty is to fetch and to carry, makes out of the braids of her own
hair an enormous cushion upon which she can carry with the greatest
security a huge bundle, or a vast dish of food.

The men of no other race are so amply dowered with hats as are the men
of Korea. Probably the women of no other civilized country are so badly
off for head-gear as are the women of Chosön, and this is not, though we
might easily fancy it to be, because those women are not supposed to
walk or ride abroad. For innumerable years Korea has taken her fashions
from China, changing them with the change of dynasty at Pekin. But for
five hundred years the Koreans have failed to change the fashion of
their hats, and they remain true to the style of head-gear which was in
vogue when the present Korean dynasty came into power. When the present
fashion in hats was imported from Pekin, just about five hundred years
ago, the Koreans neglected to learn, or were unable to learn, what the
women of China were wearing on their heads, or else the women of China
were going bare-headed. The result was that Korean women, having
discarded their previous head coverings, and receiving no authority from
Pekin for the fashion of new ones, became hatless, and have been hatless
ever since. The only hat the Korean women wear now is the folded dress
which I have described before. There is indeed a jaunty, little
embroidered cap not unlike a modified Turkish fez, or the glorious
_capote_ of a French _vivandière_, which is supposed to be at the
disposal of any Korean woman who cares to assume it, but it has been
adopted by the geisha girls, and so, of course, discarded by Korean
ladies. Korean women used to wear a huge hat not unlike a small, flat,
Chinese parasol. It was perched well up on and well to the back of their
heads, and was surrounded by a rather fascinating silk fringe, through
which they could see and be seen—a fringe that was, perhaps, as
becoming to them as our white spotted veils are to us.

A few words here about divorce in Korea, for divorce is always a matter
of more importance to a woman than to her husband. This is so in every
country, because as yet in every country woman is more confined to her
home, more dependent upon her home, and less free to go abroad at all
seasons and under all circumstances than man is, and therefore less able
to escape the daily torment of married unhappiness. In the United
States, and in most European countries whose laws I have at all studied,
the divorce laws are very much more in favour of woman than of man. In
Korea the direct opposite is true. There is little or nothing for which
a Korean woman can obtain a divorce, and there is little or nothing for
which a Korean man cannot. Whether it is more to the credit of Korean
woman or to the credit of Korean man far be it for me to say; but it is
a very rare occurrence for a Korean husband to put aside his wife. The
sanctity of the home circle, the inviolate maintenance of that home
circle is more than a religion, more than an instinct with nine-tenths
of the people of Asia. Their idea of a home circle may be more elastic
than ours, but, as a rule, they abide by it almost with the courage of
martyrs. The women must, and the men do. In one respect the divorce laws
of Korea are more radical than the divorce laws of the West.
Incompatibility of temper justifies divorce in Korea, and is the cause
of most Korean divorces. Truly nothing could be more sensible, more
humane—provided one has no religious scruples—for even children lose
more than they gain by living in an unhappy home. Incompatibility of
temper may not be a sin, but it is the one difficulty in the path of
married happiness, in Asia or in Europe, which can never be smoothed
away. It is insurmountable, nor can you go around it. It seems to me
that the only decent thing to do when you come upon it, again provided
your conscience will let you, is to turn round and go back. A harsh
word, a quick gesture, and many things that are many times worse can be
forgiven readily enough, and almost forgotten, by people who have the
common justice to judge not lest they be judged. But incompatibility of
temper, that strange something which makes it impossible for me to teach
my pet cat to eat or drink with my pet dog, ah! that is the marital
thorn, the marriage plague, “past cure, past help, past hope.” And I
congratulate the law makers of Korea for recognizing it for what it is,
and dealing with it as it should be dealt with. To be sure, if a Korean
man and wife fail to get along, perpetually fail, the woman has no
direct voice in the matter; but if she and her husband agree together to
untie the mistakenly-tied knot, he can very easily do so. And even in
Korea a woman of average wit does not probably find it too difficult a
task to make herself so very disagreeable that the husband may be
brought to propose the separation which she secretly desires.

But where the Korean law seems to me very inconsistent is in not
punishing, when the marriage is a failure, the geomancer who selected
the wedding day. The method of this sage is so simple that it ought to
be infallible. He adds the age of the bride to the age of the groom, and
after determining which star rules the destiny of their united ages, he
decrees that the wedding shall take place upon the day sacred to that
star. How a day so chosen can ever fail to be auspicious, and to be the
beginning of many days of uninterrupted happiness it is hard for a
simple Western mind to understand. To do the geomancer justice, it is
perhaps because of his occult wisdom that divorce plays so minor a part
in Korean life.

One Korean law concerning women seems to me uniquely cruel. A woman may
not die in the arms of a man, nor may a woman hold in her arms a man who
is dying. Husbands and wives love each other sometimes—even in Korea.
Mothers love their sons, the wide world over, and sons their mothers.
Korean fathers yearn over their daughters, and are loved tenderly by
those daughters in return. What a barbarous law! how infamous; how
unworthy of the East or of the West! what a reflection upon humanity;
what a stain upon Korea! That inferiority of sex (sex—that unexplained
accident of our physical existence), inferiority, real or imagined,
should separate man from wife, father from daughter, son from mother,
even by a hair’s breadth, at the moment when Death, the merciless, the
relentless, pronounces the great, and perhaps eternal separation!

Though a Korean woman nominally counts for nothing in the ruling of her
own household, and, as far as the workings of the State go, does not
exist, she is invariably treated with the manner of respect; she is
always addressed in what is called “honorific language;” to her the
phraseology is used which is used to superiors, people of age, or of
literary eminence. A Korean nobleman will step aside to let a Korean
peasant woman pass him on the street. The rooms of a Korean woman are as
sacred to her as a shrine is to its image. Indeed, the rooms of his wife
or of his mother are the sanctuary of any Korean man who breaks the law.
Unless for treason or for one other crime, he cannot be forced to leave
those rooms, and so long as he remains under the protection of his wife,
and his wife’s apartments, he is secure from the officers of the law,
and from the penalties of his own misdemeanours.

It is often said that the men of the East regard women not only as their
inferiors, but as burdens, as superfluous, useless, and despicable. This
is a mistake, as large a mistake in speaking of Koreans as of any other
Oriental race. The potence of sex, the impotence of either sex alone, is
the great underlying thought of all Eastern philosophy, I had almost
said, of all Oriental ethics. Which of the great Eastern religions
ignores it, or passes it by lightly? Study the symbols in the old caves
of India: read Confucius. Every educated Oriental believes that without
women life would not only be impossible but worthless. They regard her
sphere of usefulness as important as their own. An Oriental mother is
almost an Oriental deity. This is as true in Korea as in China, in
Japan, in Persia, in Hindostan, and in Burmah. The thinkers of Asia
differ from us in what they regard as the most appropriate and the most
essential spheres of women’s usefulness, but they never ignore, nor do I
think they underrate, the importance of woman’s work. Mr. Griffis, who
is not over partial to the Koreans (perhaps if he had ever lived among
them he might have liked them better), himself says:—

“With the ethics of the Chinese came their philosophy, which is based on
the dual system of the universe, and of which in Korean, _yum-yang_
(positive and negative, active and passive, or male and female) is the
expression. All things in heaven, earth, and man are the result of the
interaction of the _yum_ (male or active principle), and the _yang_
(female or passive principle). Even the metals and minerals in the earth
are believed to be produced through the _yum-yang_, and to grow like
plants or animals.”

Even so clear, so cool, so sympathetic, so cultured, and best of all, so
unbigoted an observer, a thinker, and a writer as Percival Lowell, seems
to me to have blundered a little in his summing up of the position of
woman in the East. He says:—

“The lower man’s place in the scale of nations, the lower, relatively to
his own, has always been that of woman. Woman, being physically less
strong, naturally suffers where physical strength is made the basis of
esteem. But as men have advanced in civilization, gradually a chivalrous
regard has been paid the weaker, but fairer sex. Now, though the
countries of the Far East have had their age of feudalism, in a general
parallelism to those of the West, loyalty took the place of chivalry as
one of its attendant feelings. At the point where woman elsewhere made
her _début_ upon the social stage, here she failed to appear; and she
has not done so since. The history of these races has been a history of
man apart from any help from woman. To all social intents and purposes,
woman has remained as she was when she followed as a slave in her Lord’s
wanderings. She is better fed now, better clothed, cleaner and more
comfortable than she was; but, relatively to the position of the people,
no higher. She counts for nothing in the life of the race at the present
time, as she has counted for nothing in it from the beginning.”

That the history of the races of the Far East has been a history of man
apart from any help of woman, I cannot understand Mr. Lowell’s saying.
He is evidently a man of very wide education, and he has lived in the
Far East. Undoubtedly he has read the history of the Far East, and I
cannot imagine the author of “Chosön, the Land of the Morning Calm,”
reading anything unintelligently. “That woman counts for nothing in the
life of the race at the present time, as she has counted as nothing in
it from the beginning!” Ah! yes, Mr. Lowell. She counts for a great
deal. The tally of her influence may not be kept in the market-place,
nor her power blazoned on the house-tops, but influence and power are
there. She counts for a hundred things, and will count in every part of
the globe, civilized or uncivilized, until Nature adopts a very
different _modus operandi_ from her present one. And in Korea, in China
and Japan, woman counts above all for motherhood, and for the
perpetuation of the race. And that she so counts must give her really
great power among any race of men whose one eradicable religion is the
worship of their ancestors, whose universal and insatiable ambition is
to beget sons who may in turn worship them, and secure them a prosperous
and a happy eternity.

There is much, very much that I deplore in the condition of woman in
Korea. But once in a while woman gets the whip hand, and once in a very
great while she has the wit to use it—and the nerve—even in Korea.

If it must be a canon of European literary good form to say very little,
and to say it gingerly about Oriental polygamy, it has been a more than
general custom among European writers to say nothing, nothing at least
of any significance about the large class of Oriental women who stand
outside the pale even of polygamy. There are some things that I think
ought to be said about them; said now, when we are so very earnestly
trying to understand the East, and, I hope, honestly striving to help
the East. These things would come with more convention I know from the
pen of a man, but I think they would come more appropriately from the
pen of a woman, and I take upon myself the saying of them, in so far as
I am able. I feel impelled to explain, as well as I can, the exact
social position, and the exact personally mental attitude of the
yoshiwara women of Japan, the flower girls of China, and the geisha
girls of Korea. These three are sisters. They are cousins, more or less
close of kin, to the nautch girls of India, and the posture girls of
Burmah and of Siam. But these three were born of one father, and of one
mother, and are the result of one bringing up. What shall I call them? I
have no wish to use a harsh word that would offend select European ears,
nor will I use a harsh word that would wrong and mis-describe them. I
might almost call them the understudies of the happier women of the
East; for in Asia’s social life they take the parts which ought,
perhaps, to be played by the harem-hidden wives and mothers of the
Orient. Those women, whose profession is publicity, are an important
part of the social structure of every Asiatic race I have known, except
only the Parsi race. To ignore their existence, when travelling through
Asia in person, or with pen, is stupid. To slink by the strong position
that they hold in the East, the big significance of their firm placement
in the East, and the several lessons they will not fail to teach us, if
we do not fear to learn, is prudish. To pass them by with a cry of
horror, and to condemn them as being what they are not, is un-Christian
and unjust.

For the men that mocked His agony and spat upon Him, Jesus claimed
forgiveness, because “they knew not what they did.” And certainly the
professionally unfortunate women of the East have as little
consciousness of degradation and of sin as they have of shame. There are
many reasons why this is so, and I will try to state them. I am only
less sorry for the homeless, nameless women of Asia, than I am for the
homeless, nameless women of Europe. Perhaps this is the best place for
me to say that I am making no plea for the profession of which I am
writing. For the women who through folly, through ignorance, or who
beneath the lash of that hardest of all task-masters, circumstance,
follow this nameless profession, I could easily find it in my heart to
plead, and to plead, and to plead; but not now nor here. What I wish to
do now is to write frankly, freely, and truthfully of the women who make
the seclusion and the sanctity of gentlewomen possible in the Far East.

After all’s said and done, the social scales must balance or break,
weight them as you will. And as the women of the Korean gentry are more
secluded than those of any other Oriental gentry, so are the geisha
girls of Chosön more interesting, more fascinating even than the
yoshiwara women of Japan, and infinitely more so than the flower girls
of China. Men living in the Far East, superior as they find the society
of men to the society of men and women, tire of the perpetual society of
men, and long to let down its intellectual average a bit by the
introduction into it of women. Now the men of the East cannot possibly,
from their point of view, bring their wives and daughters out from the
safe shelter of home seclusion. But still they long for the mental, not
to speak of the moral relaxation of woman’s companionship, and so in the
East a class of women has sprung up which is only very slightly
analogous to the class of Western women from whom respectable Western
women draw their skirts aside as they pass them in the Western streets.

Women seem to be an indispensable element of society after all. Social
enjoyment without them is more or less a failure, at least in any very
prolonged form. And in those countries where wives and mothers must veil
their faces, a class has sprung into existence—a class whose exact
social position is almost, if not quite, outside the pale of modern
European comprehension.

The geisha of Korea, like the yoshiwara women of Japan, are sweetly
pretty, soft-voiced, and charmingly mannered. And, like their sisters of
Japan, they seem almost happy and quite dignified. Perhaps indeed, they
feel that they fulfil a national want—perform a national duty.

Companionship is the first and the chief thing required by an Oriental
man from the women he pays to share some of the hours that he spends
away from home. If the Hindoo, or Chinaman, or the Japanese, or the
Korean man be poor, he has no leisure hours, and certainly cannot afford
the illicit companionship which comes dear, and becomes dearer in the
long run, all the world over. If he be well-to-do, the chances are that
he has a bungalow or yamun running over with wives. Therefore, it is not
for a common bestial satisfaction, but altogether for natural human
companionship, that the men of the Far East so largely employ and so
generously pay those Eastern women who have broken through the closed
curtains and out of the sure safety of Oriental home-life, into the
turmoil and the promiscuousness of society. Here, I must emphatically
say, and it should be most emphatically remembered by anyone who is
trying to understand the East: the nameless women of the East sin, but
sin is neither their sole nor their chief occupation. To please, to
amuse, to understand, and to companion men, mentally and socially, is
their chief duty, their chief occupation, and their most earnest study.
Sin follows, as sin has the grievous habit of following wherever people
are human. But sin is neither the beginning nor the end, and I who can
see no difference between a Korean wife and a Korean concubine, can see
little or none between a Korean concubine and a Korean geisha. I am
speaking of their morals, of course. The geisha girl is, as a rule,
rather better educated than the concubine, better educated, quite
possibly, than the wife; for the geisha must make her way, and hold any
position she gains, solely by personal talent, personal attractiveness,
and personal attainments. Not for her to lay at the man’s feet a son who
may worship him into the most desirable corner of the Korean heaven;
only for her to please him while she is with him, to touch for him odd
instruments and sing to them soft, weird songs, to shake the soft
perfume of her hair across his cheek and the perfume of the flowers she
wears upon the bowl of food, or of fish, or fruit she humbly places
before him; only for her to laugh at his humour, flat howsoever it may
be; only for her to applaud his ambitions, urge on his hopes, charm away
his fears; only for her to please; never for her, save by accident, to
be pleased. And that is the state of their sad fate in Europe, in Asia,
in America, or in Africa: the women who give an everlasting all for a
momentary nothing. Feminine unchastity is less degrading in the East
than in the West, and the unfortunate women of the East are far less
degraded than the unfortunate women of the West. There are three reasons
why this is so. In the Orient no woman is born to immorality. In the
Orient professional unchastity is not considered altogether immoral. And
immorality is not the only accomplishment necessary for the professional
success of an Asiatic unfortunate.

In the Orient no woman is born to immorality. The ranks of the immoral
profession are recruited from homes and from family circles that are
quite up to the Asiatic average, and an immoral method of life is
usually adopted by an Eastern girl not from impulse, not from caprice,
but from a conviction that it is the surest and the most sensible way
for her to earn her living, and assist in earning the living of her
family. Her parents, in all probability, share this conviction with her,
and nine times out of ten she makes her _début_ in the profession of sin
after the elders of her family have consulted earnestly together, and
sifted, as best they can, the probabilities and the possibilities of her
future. So she starts into her sad pilgrimage from a clean home, from
clean associations, and her instincts and herself are clean and normal.
She adopts sin gravely and as a business; nor does it ever occur to her
to regard it as a self-indulgence; rather is it a penance, or an act of
filial self-sacrifice.

In the East the life of a young girl is seldom wrecked by the misfortune
which overtakes so many of our own girls. The social arrangements in the
East prevent that, prevent it very effectually. When an Eastern girl
takes upon herself a long martyrdom of public service she is at least of
normal mind and whole of heart. Her nature, mental and moral, however it
may be debased by her future life, is as yet unvitiated by any
accumulation of ancestral wrong-doing. She may adopt sin for reasons
that seem good and sufficient to herself and her parents, but she has no
appetite for sin, no appetite inherited from her mother at least, so she
has a fairer start than have the majority of unfortunate women in the

In the Orient professional unchastity is not considered altogether
immoral. “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” This
may not be altogether true, but certainly there is a good deal of truth
in it. The unfortunate women of the East have vastly more self-respect
than have the unfortunate women of the West. They are not despised, and
therefore they do not despise themselves; nor are they driven by the
merciless scourges of public opinion to lower and coarser methods of
life than those unavoidably entailed by the profession they follow.
Their profession is not considered an honourable, an elevating, nor an
enviable one; but it is considered, by the people among whom they live,
as a useful and necessary and, within certain loose limits, an honest
one. This makes it possible for them to lead lives of comparative
respectability, and to enjoy frankly, fearlessly, and purely some of the
best things of life. The flowers that grow about their houses, and the
wonderful skies that canopy their countries, convey to them no word of
reproach. They gather the blossoms as innocently, and they smile back at
the smiling heavens as unashamedly as does any maiden in the East.

If one gives a dog a sufficiently bad name it becomes almost righteous
to hang him. The peoples of the Orient spare their unfortunate women
unnecessary contumely. And this is the second reason why those women are
better, less deplorable, individually and collectively, than are such
women in Europe or America. This seems to me another instance of Asiatic
justice and good sense. Why such women, and such women alone, should be
blamed for an existing state of general immorality I cannot imagine.
They are not responsible for it, though, of course, they help to
perpetuate it. They take to life’s sad market-place wares for which they
know there is a demand. They supply the demand; but they do not create

Immorality is not the only accomplishment necessary for the professional
success of an Asiatic unfortunate. As I have said, companionship is the
chief return an Eastern man expects and exacts for the coin that he
throws into the lap of a light woman. The loose women of the East must
be educated, and that they are educated makes it possible for them to
spend many hours of each day in wholesome, refining
occupations—occupations which are closed to the great mass of European

To recapitulate, the women of whom I am writing are of a better grade
than are such women in the West, because in the East those women come
from respectable homes and have memories of innocent and happy
childhoods. Secondly, because they are so regarded in the East that they
need not altogether part with self-respect; and lastly, because
education and refinement are not only possible to them, but necessary to
them, and because the majority of their professional hours are passed in
conversation or with music, and are altogether free from coarseness.

I have spoken of these women as being out of the pale of matrimony. This
is true, I believe, in China and in Korea, and in most other Oriental
countries; but it is not at all true in Japan. It used to be in Japan an
ordinary occurrence, and even now it is not, I think, unusual for a girl
to sell herself for a stated period of time into the horrible slavery of
a tea-house, or become for some definite number of years the mistress of
a well-to-do man. This is often done to earn enough money to pay some
debt of family honour, to redeem the pledged word of a father or of a
brother. The girl who does it is considered anything and everything
rather than a bad woman. She returns to her native village, or to her
father’s house, when the time of her servitude has expired, and she is
received with every possible sign of honourable welcome, and is pointed
out then and thereafter as an example of daughterly perfection, and of
virtuous womanhood. She marries as readily and as well as any of her
girl friends, and her past is not regarded as to her detriment either by
her husband or his family. This practice is more common among the poor
than among the rich. But there are women of very high position in Japan
who have had this terrible experience, and who have survived it,
mentally and morally.

There is, of course, in Japan a large number of women who adopt
immorality when they are very young, and who never put it aside. They
are called yoshiwara women. In the old times they lived apart, not only
in quarters of the town set aside for them, but in quarters that were
enwalled, and through the gateways of which they could not pass without
permission—permission that was not too readily granted. Even now there
are streets set apart in almost every Oriental city—set apart for the
occupancy of unfortunate women. The roads and the byways of Japan are
sprinkled with tea-houses, and in almost every tea-house there are two
or more yoshiwara women. These tea-houses are models of cleanliness, are
usually pretty in situation, and always artistically furnished. The tea,
cakes, and sweets sold in them are almost invariably delicious. The
girls who are supposed to be the chief attraction of the tea-houses are
rather brazen as a rule, far more so than the flower-girls of China, or
the geisha girls of Korea, but it is a very butterfly sort of
brazenness. Their manners are so pretty, their movements so bird-like,
and their voices so tinkling and silvery, that it seems rather unfair to
criticize them for being somewhat over-emphatic in what they say and do,
and in how they say and do it.

I remember one warm afternoon in Kobe, I was in my jinrickshaw and
several miles from home. I was tired, very thirsty, and my four-year-old
boy, who was with me, assured me that he could not live much longer
unless he had something to eat. I stopped at a tea-house—a pretty,
carved, lantern-hung place that was perched on the hillside, not very
far from the marvellous waterfall. I had not been very long in Japan,
and had no idea that I was making a social blunder, but I noticed that
my jinrickshaw coolie looked disturbed and dubious. Two Japanese girls
sat on the verandah; one was smoking a long silver pipe, and the other
was picking whispered music from a diminutive white guitar. One girl
wore a kimono of pale green crêpe, brocaded with pink apple-blossoms;
the other girl’s kimono was of dark, bright blue, but it was almost
covered with huge yellow roses. Both girls wore the ordinary Japanese
sash, had their hair elaborately dressed, and were rather loaded with
jewellery. Through the openings of their kimonos peeped the edges of
sundry other garments, all of crêpe or of silk, and all brilliantly
coloured. They laughed and nodded as I came up the steps, and when I
said that my boy and I were hungry and thirsty, one of them rose and led
me into the house. We passed through a fair-sized room in which half a
dozen European men, one of whom I happened to know, and as many Japanese
girls were feasting rather merrily. The girls looked at me with
considerable good-natured amusement; the European men looked at me in
most considerable surprise. Baby and I were taken into a dainty little
room which really was not big enough for more than two, and there were
given quite a delightful luncheon. The girl who had showed us in waited
upon us gravely and most attentively, and with admirable patience, for
we were both hungry, very hungry, and thirsty, very thirsty. I found out
afterwards that it was the first time she had poured afternoon tea for
one of her own sex, and that I had made a most unfortunate mistake in
going into the tea-house at all. But the girl who served us treated me
and herself with perfect respect.

Respectable Japanese women wear the quietest of colours, in public at
least. Bright flowers, glittering jewellery, and gaudy garments are the
avowed livery of the yoshiwara women. They are pretty as a rule—these
women—prettier even than the run of Japanese women; for in Japan
personal beauty is considered one of the indispensable attributes of
women who would lead a life of remunerative idleness.

The flower-girls of China are in most ways more to be pitied than the
yoshiwara women of Japan. They are not as a rule so well educated, nor
so comfortably housed, and though treated with a good deal of allowance,
and collectively taken, as a matter of course, their position is neither
so assured, nor the circumstances of their lives so endurable as are
those of the Japanese girls. The breaking of the seventh commandment may
be as common in China as it is in Korea or Japan, but it is not so
lightly regarded, and the flower-girls are almost without exception the
children of extreme poverty. And a Chinese woman who has once lived in a
house of ill-fame can never go back to even apparent respectability.
This is not so in the Straits Settlements, where there are very many
Chinamen and very few Chinese women. In Singapore and in Penang Chinese
girls who have been sent from China for immoral purposes very frequently
marry well, and pass the rest of their lives in security and comfort.
But in China I fancy that this never happens.

The Chinaman is the most domesticated of the men of the East, and the
least fond of general society. He does not go to the houses of the
flower-girls for society, for companionship, not at least in any quiet
and unobjectionable sense, nor so commonly as do Korean and Japanese
men. The Chinese flower-girl, except the very lowest type, is taught to
sing, to play on several instruments, to heat wine and to spice it, to
prepare delicacies and table dainties, and to serve a feast. She is
taught to keep herself as good-looking from a Chinese standpoint as
possible. But this is usually the list of her accomplishments, the limit
of her education, and she is vastly ignorant compared to the women who
dwell in the house of the man who patronizes her. Many of these Chinese
women live outside the gates of Chinese cities. Thousands of them live
in little boats that are called “flower-boats” and off of which they
seldom go. The “flower-boats” of Canton are a most distinctive feature
of that most distinctly quaint place. Shortly before the declaration of
war between China and Japan, the following telegram was sent from Hong

“A terrible fire has occurred on the Canton river among the flower-boats
which crowd the surface and form the permanent dwelling of a large
number of the population. Hundreds of the flower-boats were destroyed,
and fully one thousand natives must have perished.

“The boats were moored stem and stern in rows, and the flames spread
with such rapidity that many of the craft were fully alight and their
occupants overcome before they could cut the boats from their moorings
and push them out into the open water.”

As if poor China were not in trouble enough just then, with a terrible
plague still in rather full swing, and with war and with rumours of war,
but must needs go and set herself on fire!

I don’t in the least doubt that there was a terrible fire on the Canton
river, and that over a thousand human creatures perished in the flames.
Such a catastrophe is by no means unprecedented in China, and most
especially in Canton. But I do doubt that the fire broke out among the
flower-boats. In the first place the flower-boats do not crowd the
surface of the Canton river. In the second place they do not form the
permanent dwelling of a large number of the population. I think that the
sender of the dispatch, or one of the operators through whose hands it
passed, must have confused flower-boats, sampans and Chinese

The flower-boats are not in a crowded part of the river. They are moored
quite by themselves at the wide mouth of the river and some little
distance from the city. They are together, but not painfully near. No
families dwell upon them. They are occupied solely by the flower-girls
and their servants, and at night their decks and cabins swarm with rich
and dissipated Chinamen. Then their windows are brilliant with light,
their decks are bright with fanciful lanterns, and they are noisy with
laughter and the tinkling of strange stringed instruments, and they
smell of hot samshu. Not the sort of place in which one would expect
flowers to thrive! Alas! the flowers on those boats are human flowers.
They are painted with brilliant colours, but not by the hand of nature.

The girls who live there are not vendors of buds and blossoms.
“Flower-girl” is the name by which the over chivalrous Chinamen
designate a woman who is professionally unchaste.

On the opposite side of the river’s mouth, but still farther from the
city, are moored the miserable boats of the lepers. The saddest of sins
and the saddest of diseases are within sight of each other. Both are
outside the pale of Chinese society. Both are excluded from Cantonese

Because of their isolation, I doubt that the recent fire occurred among
the flower-boats. But among the small cargo-boats, among the thickly
huddled sampans! Yes; likely enough there.

Surely it is horrible enough to live all one’s life in a Chinese sampan
or in a small junk, without being burnt to death into the bargain.
Drowning, now, is a very common occurrence on a Chinese river. No one
takes much notice of that in Canton. To be sure the mothers put crude,
home-made life preservers on their babies, or tie a long rope about
their little yellow waists, fastening the other end firmly to the boat.
So if a Chinese baby falls overboard (as it usually does two or three
times a day), it has a very fair chance of floating or being hauled
back. But the adults must take their chances, and extraordinary numbers
of them manage to tumble into a watery grave. Hundreds of Chinese are
born in sampans, live in sampans, die in sampans. Yet almost none of
them can swim.

For one thing the canals and rivers are too crowded. There is no room
for them to swim in. For another thing they have no time to learn how to
swim. It’s all work and no play to most of the sampan dwellers.

Think of a family of ten or twelve, or even more, who live in a
one-roomed boat, a boat not many times the size of a big row-boat. Think
what their family life must be. And they are only one of myriad
families. They live in a quarter denser than the densest of the crowded
city streets. Think of the stench! Think of the din! Small wonder that
they take drowning almost tranquilly. But to be burnt to death! That’s
another matter. Even stolid Chinese philosophy may be expected to shrink
from that. Think of being burned to death in a boat, on a river, and yet
not being able to drown one’s death agony in the cooling water, because
every inch of the water’s surface was covered with hundreds of other
burning humans!

Such things happen not infrequently in China, and yet hundreds and
hundreds of thousands of Chinese continue to live in the sampans and in
the cargo-boats. They must live there. There is no place else for them
to live; unless they leave China, and few of them have the wish to do
that: none of them have the means. Their dire poverty drives them into
the wretched boats and imprisons them there, and there they must remain
until they die of old age, of overwork, of starvation, or die by
drowning or fire, as the case may be. And the children born and bred on
those boats! No wonder that when the boys are grown to manhood many of
them are only fit to hide themselves within the leper-boats; that when
the girls are grown to womanhood very many elect to have the comparative
luxury of the flower-boats!

The Korean geisha probably gets more enjoyment out of life and is less
conscious of wrong-doing than is the woman of any other race who follows
the same profession. It follows naturally enough that the race whose
standard of sexual morality is lowest, regards women of unchaste lives
more leniently than does any other race. Then, too, the seclusion of
Korean ladies is more rigid than the seclusion of the gentlewomen of any
other Asiatic country. This makes the men of Korea entirely dependent
upon the geisha girls for any outside female companionship, and the
Korean man is very sociable, very fond of good times, and if he can
afford it, apt to make not only a plaything, but rather a friend out of
the girl whose profession it is to be amusing, entertaining and
cheerful, at so much an hour.

The word geisha is a Japanese word, and it signifies “accomplished
person.” The Korean word for the class of women of whom I am writing is
ki-saing; but they are generally called geisha. The Japanese yoshiwara
women are called geisha, as often as anything else.

In proportion to the populations of the two countries there are far
fewer geisha in Korea than in Japan, but this is solely, I think,
because Korea is so much poorer than Japan; for nowhere are women of
their profession more appreciated, more esteemed, and treated by men
more on an equality than they are in Chosön. The Korean geisha is
systematically and carefully trained for her intended profession.
Several years are occupied by her education, and not until she is
proficient in singing, in dancing, in reciting, in the playing of many
instruments, in repartee, in the pouring of wine, in the filling and
lighting of pipes, in making herself generally useful at feasts and
festivals, and above all, in being good-natured, is she allowed to ply
her trade. In or near every large Korean city are picturesque little
buildings called “pleasure-houses.” They are very like the tea-houses of
Japan. They are usually built in some secluded spot, and are surrounded
by the brilliance of flowers, and half hidden beneath the shadow of
trees. They are scantily but artistically furnished, and are running
over with tea and sweetmeats and girls.

The geisha of the King are, of course, the flower of the profession, and
are dressed even more elaborately than the ordinary geisha, which is
quite superfluous. They remind one very much, both in manner and in
habit, of the posture girls of Burmah, and the European who was a
looker-on at a festival in Li Hsi’s palace might easily fancy that when
Thebaw was dethroned, his posture girls, whose occupation was of course
then gone, had fled _en masse_ to the court at Söul. Most Asiatic dances
are slow. Probably the slowest of them all is the dance of the Korean
geisha. Like all the dances of the Far East, with which I am at all
familiar, it is absolutely free from vulgarity, or from suggested
coarseness. The geisha herself is covered and covered from throat to
ankle. It would be imprudent to say how many dresses she usually wears
at once. She dresses in silk and in glimmering tissues. Before dancing
she usually takes off two or three of her gowns, and tucks up the trains
of the robes she still wears, but even so she is very much dressed, and
a thoroughly well-clad person. In winter she wears bands of costly fur
on her jaunty little cap, and an edge of the same fur about her
delightful little jacket of fine cashmere, or of silk. She wears most
brilliant colours, and all her garments are perfumed and exquisitely
clean. Indeed, cleanliness must be her ideal of godliness. At least, it
is the only godliness she knows, and, save the virtue of amiability, the
only virtue she would be ashamed to lack. Her parents are poor, always
very poor, and she is pretty, always very pretty. It is this prettiness
which causes her almost from her babyhood to be destined for the
amusement profession. It makes her suitable for that profession, and
ensures her probable success in it. Her parents gladly set her aside
from the toilers of the family, and she is given every possible
advantage of mind and person. So she is insured a life of ease, and even
of comparative luxury. She is a blooming, gladsome thing, with gleaming
eyes, and laughing lips, and happy dancing feet. She looks like some
marvellous human flower when you meet her in the streets of Söul, and
forms an indescribable contrast to the draggled crowds that draw apart
to let her pass as she goes on her laughing way to her well-paid work.

The geisha girls are greatly in demand for picnics, and in the summer
often spend days in the cool, fragrant woods, playing for, reciting to,
and feasting with some merry party of pleasure-makers. If their services
are required at a Korean feast they usually slip in one by one when the
meal is more than half done. The host and his guests make room for them,
and each girl seats herself near to a man whose attendant she thus
becomes for the entire evening. They pour wine for the men, and see that
all their wants and creature comforts are well looked after. They do not
eat unless the men voluntarily feed them. To feed them is to give them a
great mark of favour, and it would be the worst of bad form for them to
refuse any morsel so offered. After the feast they sing and dance in
turn and together. They recite love stories and ballads, and strum
industriously away upon funny Korean instruments. Their singing is very
plaintive: as sad as any earthly music, but it is not sweet nor pleasing
to European ears. The geisha are often employed to perform before
private families, and not unfrequently before the harems of rich men or
mandarins. To introduce them for an evening into the most respectable
family circle is regarded as the best of good taste. Some of these girls
live together, many of them live, nominally at least, in the homes of
their own childhood. They form strange contrasts to their sisters of
approximately the same age, whose lives have been lives of virtue and
incessant work.

The geisha never by any chance become familiar with, or are treated
familiarly by the women of the harems into which they are occasionally
introduced, and yet some of them are not unchaste in their personal
lives. This, however, is of course very exceptional. Occasionally the
geisha becomes the concubine of a man of position, or the personal
attendant of a man of wealth. When old age, that dread foe of woman the
wide world over, creeps upon them, they become the teachers of the girls
who are ambitious to become geisha.

No geisha girl expects to be entertained. It is her business to
entertain. The moment she enters the presence of her employer or
employers, she takes unobtrusively the thorough charge of the social
side of the function. She makes herself useful and amusing, and
agreeable in every possible way, and apparently has no thought of self.
Often a large party of Korean gentlemen will go for a stay of some days
to one of the monasteries that still dot the Korean hillsides. They
usually take with them an incredible train of servants, and a number of
geisha. Rare times they have on these excursions, and rare welcome do
the monks give them. The monks and the servants and the geisha devote
themselves to the lords of the situation. And the Korean man who goes
picnicking to a Korean monastery probably has as good a time as any
reveller in the East.

Such are the Magdalenes of the far Orient! To be pitied, to be deeply
pitied, but to be less pitied than the Magdalenes of the West, for they
are better housed, better treated, and less conscious of their
misfortune. There is, I think, a good deal worth pondering over in the
way the peoples of Asia deal with the great social sin—a sin from which
our human race can scarcely hope for redemption, unless indeed,—

               “Heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
                         To cry, Hold, hold!”

                              CHAPTER VII.

                          KOREAN ARCHITECTURE.

What her dress is to woman, his dwelling is to man. I am speaking, of
course, of average man and of average woman. What she wears indicates
what she is, and is the most natural, the most unconscious, and the most
common expression of her individuality, and of her character. She, her
very self, peeps from beneath the laces at her neck. The house in which
he lives shelters his women and his young; the buildings which he
erects, or helps to erect, indicate who and what he is, and are the most
natural, the most unconscious, and the most common expression of his
individuality, and of his character; and we may see him as he really is,
in his roof, his door-step, and, in brief, in the exterior and the
interior of his home.

It is this, its revelation of mankind, which makes architecture so
intensely interesting a study, the most interesting, I often think, of
all the studies of the inanimate. Not for their grace of outline, not
for their beauty of colour, not for their artistic consistency, not for
their happy placement, are the great buildings of this world supremely
interesting to us; but for the glimpses they give us into the souls, the
lives of the men who have reared them.

Of more recent years records have been made and preserved of the doings
of most of the civilized peoples, but, beyond a doubt, many such records
made in olden times have been irretrievably lost, and many a page of
history—a page clear and convincing to us to-day—would have been lost
to us for ever were it not for the silent but indisputable testimony of
old buildings: ruined houses, scraps of temples, broken bridges,
crumbling towers, and grotesque caves.

It is impossible to speak of Korean architecture without speaking of
Chinese architecture, and of Japanese architecture. And it is so
impossible to separate the architecture of Korea from either the
architecture of China, or the architecture of Japan, that one has a very
convenient excuse for writing of the architecture of Korea as it visibly
is, and for writing little or nothing of what it means. Korean
architecture, in all its best phases, is purely Tartar. Chinese
architecture is largely Tartar. But China, in architecture, as in
ethics, and as in sociology, is at heart more or less Mongolian. China
has been ridden under, not exterminated, by Tartar supremacy. Japanese
architecture is Tartar, but it is very many other things, and the
charitable mantle of Japanese art is so all-covering, and her artists
have graciously adopted the art-methods of so many different peoples,
that it is quite impossible to say whether Tartar influence is the
parent or the powerful adopted child of Japanese art.

For convenience, I will divide Korean architecture into the architecture
of the poor and the architecture of the rich. Korean hovels are like
most other hovels. Extreme poverty goes rather naked the wide world
over, and the Korean poor live in houses of mud, roofed with leaves; and
if the leaves and the mud give out they have holes in their roofs
instead of chimneys.

Korean hovels, Korean houses, and Korean palaces have many
characteristics in common, characteristics which are climatic and
racial. Let us peep first at the homes of the Korean poor. The home of a
poor Korean, dwell he in a Korean city, dwell he in a Korean village, or
dwell he desperately perched upon the rocky side of a Korean mountain,
is a house of one story—that is, of one story in which people live.
Above is a thin sort of attic in which grains and other provisions are
stored, and beneath is a fairly thick sort of basement in which heat is
bred, from which heat is generated. Like all other Korean houses the
interior of this house is lined with paper. It has a paper roof, paper
floor, or floor-cloth, and paper walls. The walls slide back or lift up,
or are in one of several other ways got rid of, in the summer; but they
are walls for all that, no less walls because they are also windows and
doors. Paper is the chief feature of every ordinary Korean house; and to
say that is to say a great deal for paper: because the cold of a Korean
winter is excessive, is far beyond the cold of the winter in which I
write. In every Korean house, be it the house of prince or of pauper,
there is what seems to be at first sight, to European eyes, a paucity of
furniture. There is nothing more significant of the difference between
the simple artisticness of the East and the elaborate inartisticness of
the West than the way in which Western rooms are crowded with inanimate
unnecessaries, and the way in which Eastern rooms are sparsely
supplemented with inanimate necessaries.

I had afternoon tea yesterday with a friend who loves me so well, and
whom I so well love, that I am sure she will forgive me for drawing, to
her disadvantage, a comparison between her drawing-room and the
drawing-room of a Korean man, or the boudoir of a Korean woman, I never
go into my friend’s drawing-room without feeling a thrill of admiration
for the nice way in which her butler avoids knocking over one of a pair
of priceless vases, which were stolen from Pekin about the time that Sir
Harry Parkes and Sir Henry Loch were rather inconveniently imprisoned
there. I creep in, as gracefully as I can, between the butler and the
two priceless blue things. I cross a bit to the left, to avoid a
malachite table crowded with silver pigs (some of them so little that
they would look lost on a threepenny-bit, some of them a foot or more
long); then I cross to the right, to avoid a wonderful teak-wood cabinet
of no particular style, that looks very staggery beneath a multitude of
tea-pots—tea-pots most of which are not interesting in themselves, and
none of which are interesting in their common conglomeration. Then I
almost trip over the wool of a slaughtered Persian lamb, and I just save
myself from tumbling into a Louis Quinze chair, and so I work my way
through the ages—through the races, until I reach my hostess, who, like
myself and everyone else there, is in nice, new, nineteenth-century,
ugly raiment. There may be space in this London drawing-room for her,
for me, and for all the other ordinary folk which are gathered together,
because we are very much alike, but there is not room for all the
chairs, and the tables, and half the other pieces of furniture, because
no two of them are alike. We humans are used to fashionable crushes, but
I think it is a shame not to give the furniture room to breathe.

Let us peep into a Korean drawing-room. A long cool place. There is a
padded quilt, probably covered with silk, in one corner. The host sits
on that, and any guests that come to him. If the weather be cold, and
the host be rich, a brazier of charcoal usually stands in another
corner. There is a small table, or perhaps there are two, with writing
and painting materials. Unless the house be one of dire poverty there
is, at one end of the room, a chest of drawers or a buffet, or a
sideboard, or something of that sort: a huge piece of furniture made out
of more or less costly woods, fitted with drawers and doors, and
embellished with metal handles. The handles, or the clasps, or the locks
are made in the shape of butterflies, for the butterfly is a very
favourite expression of Korean artistic outline. When it is time to eat,
a table is brought in for the host and one for each of his guests—a
table a foot or two high, and just about as square as high. Upon this,
small dishes of food are placed, and small but often-filled cups of
drink. When the meal is over, the tables and the dishes and the remnants
of meat and of liquor (but there are not often many of either) are taken

In an ordinary Korean house there is little or no other furniture. A
screen perhaps, precious for its decorations, and for the carvings of
its frame, and three or four pictures—pictures distinctly Korean, but I
assure you by no means inartistic. I can think of nothing else that
ordinarily furnishes a Korean room, except the quaintly clad people, and
the sunshine that comes in almost iridescently—it shines through
windows of so many different colours: windows of paper. The colour of
the light depends entirely upon the colour and the texture of the paper
through which it comes. A Korean bed-room is very like a Korean
sitting-room. The quilt upon which a Korean sits through the day is the
same as, or very like, the quilt upon which he sleeps at night. Tiger
skins are also greatly used for floor rugs and bed coverings.

To stray a moment from the exact subject of architecture. The Koreans
wear, I believe, very much the same clothes in day as in night. Indeed,
I believe that the Korean changes his or her garments for five reasons
only: to eat, to put on new clothes when the old ones are worn out, to
have the clothes she or he is wearing washed, to put on his or her best
clothes in celebration of some festival or other ceremonial, and to go
into mourning. Firstly and foremost, a Korean undresses to eat. They are
not civilized enough, the people of Chosön, to array themselves for
feeding time. They do not deny their relationship with other hungry
mammals. When they are hungry they eat. When they are thirsty they
drink, and to be truthful, their hunger and their thirst is usually
enormous, and of long endurance. They are neither ashamed of their
hunger nor of their thirst, for they appease neither before going to a
feast. Indeed, to gorge oneself is considered the acme of Korean
elegance, and it is the one elegance in which all Koreans, rich and
poor, young and old, male and female, prince and peasant, indulge
themselves on every possible or semi-possible occasion. And that they
may eat the utmost possible morsel, they loosen their garments before
they sit down to the feast.

But I was speaking of the houses of the Korean poor. Perhaps it is
rather inappropriate to speak of banquets in connection with them; yet,
except among the most abjectly poverty-stricken, banquets are held
sometimes (at marriages, on birthdays, on feast-days, and on lucky-days,
if possible) in every Korean home.

Only Koreans of certain position are allowed to cover their roofs with
tiles. A peasant’s roof is almost invariably thatched with straw or
grass. Every Korean house contains but one room, or, to state it
differently, every Korean room, excepting for a door opening into
another house or room, is in itself a complete house. It has a roof of
its own, and four walls of its own, and is in every way independent of
any other rooms or houses, which may form other parts of its owner’s
dwelling. When inside a Korean dwelling one may fancy oneself in a suite
of apartments opening into each other, that is, of course, if a certain
number of the paper walls are opened. From the outside of a Korean
dwelling, one seems to be looking at a collection of more or less
closely built, but entirely independent houses. The position of woman
being what it is, even the poorest Korean house has, or ought to have,
more than one room. This peculiarity; this similarity between exteriors
and interiors, makes Korean architecture uniquely picturesque, and
public buildings and the dwellings of the rich supremely so. Indeed, the
better class of houses often have not only a roof to each room, but two
or three roofs to each room. Now a Korean roof, to my mind, is the most
beautiful roof in the world. It is Chinese in general character, and
slopes from the ridge pole in graceful concave curves. Except in the
houses of the poor it is tiled. The tiles overlap each other, are
unevenly curved, and rest upon a foundation of earth. In the course of a
few seasons a Korean roof breaks into bud, and into blossom. Perhaps a
great patch of odd blue flowers covers one-half of the roof, perfuming
the air for many yards. Perhaps quaint crimson tulips lift their happy
heads between every few tiles. Wild pinks, forget-me-nots, and orchids
mingle on one roof, and another roof glitters in the sunshine like gold
because it is the bed of a thousand yellow sun-lilies.

Imagine an old Korean monastery which is backgrounded by hills, some of
them covered with verdure, and some of them naked rocks, rocks that are
broken here and there by patches and cracks of hardy flowers. In the
distance, we hear the melodious drip of some gentle waterfall. Nearer we
hear the full-throated soprano of the larks. And a dozen other birds,
green and blue, and purple, and grey with breasts of yellow, fly from
their nests in the teak-wood trees, to drink the sweet blood of the
blooming iris. The monastery has a score or more of houses, each
rambling from some other. The monastery is low and porticoed, and the
doors, which are also its windows and its walls, are slid back in the
grooves, and our view of each of the many interiors is only obstructed
by the eight square posts which are the only permanent walls of a Korean
building. Inside we catch a glimmer of metallic Buddhas, and hear the
careless Sanskrit sing-song of the monks. In the courtyard stands a
great brass Korean bell or gong, and the stick with which it is struck
lies beside it. A huge glimmering gong is this; to call the brethren to
prayer and to rice. Around the edges of the monastery’s roofs runs a
peculiar shell-like beading, which is a distinction of a sacred or
religious edifice. The roof was a dark brown once, but the tiles, those
that have not been broken away, have grown purple and blue, softened by
time and blighted by weather. Where the tiles have crumbled away, and
over many tiles that have not yet succumbed to decay, honey-suckles,
yellow and buff, and white and rose-coloured, are creeping and tangling
themselves with great, green ropes that are heavy with gourds—gourds
that are little and pale, and gourds that are big and golden and

Or let us look at some one of the king’s many houses. Its round columns
and its square rafters are lacquered and crimson. Its paper walls are as
fine and as polished as silk. Innumerable steps lead up to it, and it is
almost heavy with carvings. Three roofs shelter it, and look like a tent
with an awning above an awning. Each roof is a bed of flowers that are
brilliant and fragrant—flowers among which birds that are splendid of
feather, and sweet of throat, make their nests. But the birds and the
flowers are not the only denizens of the typical Korean roof. Effigies
in mud, in bronze, or in wood squat on the ridges. They look a little
like monkeys, very little like men, and some of them very much like
pigs. They are absurd and impossible to a degree, and yet, for all that,
they are rather life-like, and, on a weird moonlight night, decidedly
startling. These are the protectors of the houses; and what the
scarecrow which the European or American farmer manufactures out of his
oldest trousers, his most ragged coat, and his most disreputable hat, is
to the blackbirds and the crows of the Occident, these grotesque figures
are to the evil spirits of Korea. They frighten away the devils, the
gods of misfortune, and the demons of disease that would fain light upon
the roofs, and curse the dwellers of the houses. Socially they belong
with the demons and the imps and the witches, with the monks and the
nuns, and the hundred other personages of Korea’s queer religious or
irreligious spiritualistic community. But physically they are a striking
and a fascinating detail of Korea’s remarkable architecture.

I have spoken of the khans, which are the furnaces of the Korean houses.
They are not altogether underground, and so every Korean house rests, as
it were, upon a pedestal—a pedestal of stone or of earth. But the house
is almost never built of stone. Wood and paper are its only materials,
and few of the countries in the world are richer in woods, and no
country is so rich in paper as Korea.

The fame of Korea’s paper is more world-wide than the fame of any other
Korean product. But admirable as it is, superior for many purposes as it
is to all other papers, it is really for her woods, and for their
quality, that Korea should be noted more than for any other thing which
she grows or manufactures. Bamboo is there, of course, in abundance, and
abundantly used. Find me the country in Asia where bamboo does not grow,
and I’ll vow to you that that country has been an iceberg and in some
strange way become detached from its anchorage at the North Pole,
drifted down to the southern seas, and after centuries become overgrown
with all sorts of green and gay things, and so come to think itself, and
to be thought, a part of the Orient. When I say that bamboo grows in
Korea I am saying that Korea is in Asia, and I am saying no more. The
temples, the palaces, the shrines, and the lumber-yards of China and
Japan were for many years, and now largely are, dependent for the most
choice of their woods upon the forests of Korea. And many of the most
valued of the tree species in Japan have sprung up from seeds that were
gathered in Chosön. In the palaces, and in the joss-houses of Pekin, and
in the famous temples of Tokio and Kioto, columns and ceilings of
especial beauty and of great value, commercially and artistically, have
been hewn from trees that grew in Korea. Korea is rich in willow, in
fir, in persimmon, in chestnut, and in pine—pine which the Chinese
prefer above all other woods for many of the parts of waggons, boats,
and ships. Korea is rich in ash, in hornbeam, in elm, and in a dozen
other hard, very hard, enduring timbers. The flag that flies above the
yamun of a Chinese mandarin is in all probability attached to a pole of
Korean wood, and, beyond doubt, the white flags that so recently
fluttered upon the ill-fated ships outside the forts of Wei-Hai-Wei, had
not those ships been built in Europe, would have made their signals of
defeat from the top of what once had been trees in Chei-chel-sang or in
Hoang-hai. Korea is splendid with oaks, and with maples, and is well
supplied with larch and with holly. And at one season of the year many
of her hill-slopes are purple with mulberries. The juniper-tree grows
there in vast numbers; the cork-tree and the Korean varnish-tree, from
the sap of which comes the golden-hued lacquer, which is one of the
important materials of Korean art. This sap is poisonous, so poisonous
that the men who work with it are paid above the rates usually received
by Korean art-artisans. There is another tree in Korea which has so
disagreeable a name that I won’t name it, but from it a very fine white
wax is extracted. And there are trees that are pricked for the oil that
gushes from them—oil from which one of the great national drinks—a
hot, peppery drink—is made, and which is almost the only oil used in
the toilet of a Korean woman.

So the Korean architect and the Korean builder have the choice of many
woods in the erecting of Korean edifices. A marvellous species of oak
grows plentifully in Korea—oak whose timbers have been known, and
proved to have been, under water for a century at least, and without
decaying. But perhaps the most famous of the woods of Korea are the
wonderful red and black woods that grow on the island of Quelpaert.

Paper forms a larger part, and is almost as indestructible a part of the
Korean house as is wood. This paper is made from cotton—cotton whose
fibre is exceptionally long, soft, satiny, and fine. Most Korean papers
are beautiful to look at, delightful to touch, and incredibly strong. It
is almost impossible to tear them, especially when they are oiled as
they are for all architectural purposes. The varieties of Korean papers
are almost endless. One kind is an excellent substitute for cloth, and
is used for the making of garments, and for linings, and in many ways it
takes the place of leather, of woods, and of metals, and of all sorts of
woollen things. There is a very thick paper which is made from the bark
of the mulberry-tree. It is soft and pliable, and is as glazed as satin.
It is almost, if not quite, the most easily washed substance I have ever
seen, and is _par excellence_ the Korean choice for table-cloths.

Glass is almost unknown in Korea, and until recent years was quite
unknown there. And as we are all very apt to prize most that with which
we are least familiar, and the use of which we least understand, so
Koreans set great value upon glass. Old bottles, washed ashore from some
European shipwreck, often form the most prized bric-a-brac in a
mandarin’s dwelling, and any Korean who can get a square foot or two of
glass to insert in one of the paper windows of his house is a very proud
householder indeed.

In the house of a noble the front or outer apartment is used as a
reception-room. Here his friends and acquaintances (indeed, all whose
rank entitle them to mingle with him) gather night after night for
gossip, for tobacco, and for drink. These rooms take the place of clubs,
of bar-rooms, and of the smoking-rooms of hotels, all of which are
unknown in Korea.

Background and environments are so studied by every architect in the Far
East that landscape-gardening may almost be said to be a part of Korean
architecture. No Korean building of any importance lacks courtyards,
lotus ponds, groves of trees, and tangles of flowers, through all of
which are scattered elaborate little summer-houses. And what the rich
Korean does for the surroundings of his house and his city, nature
almost invariably does for the surroundings of the house of the poor
Korean, who does not live in one of the crowded cities. The Korean hut
is sometimes half covered with vines, and is altogether cool and
delightful from the shade and the perfume of trees that are heavy with
flowers, with fruits, and with nuts. No Korean need be roofless. If a
house be burned down, or be blown down, the entire community are more
than ready to assist at its re-erection, and the poorest man in the
village, the hardest-worked, will spare some fraction of his time to
help in the re-building. If a new-comer appears in a Korean village, the
inhabitants go to work to help him build, or, if necessary, build for
him a where-to-lay-his-head.

Such are a few of the characteristics, the most vivid characteristics, I
think, of the architecture of Chosön,—an architecture which is even
more significant than architecture usually is. Korean architecture is
significant of Korean artisticness. It is significant of Korean good
sense; for the architecture of Chosön is invariably well-adapted to the
climate of the peninsula. But far beyond this, Korean architecture is
significant of the Korean love of seclusion, and of the Korean faith in
the efficacy of appearances. The Koreans, more perhaps than any other
people, realize that fine feathers make fine birds, and the most
studied, the most elaborated, and architecturally the most important
part of a Korean house is its fence; which of course is not a part of
the house at all. This fence may be a hedge, it may be a wall encircling
the domains of a magistrate, or engirdling the city. It may be a series
of hedges, of moats, of walls, and of gates. The Koreans are exclusive
and seclusive to a degree. This should command for them the sympathy of
English people. All Koreans strive heroically to put their best feet
forward, personally, financially, and architecturally. This should
command them the sympathy of Americans. The Korean farmer screens his
house inside a quadrangle of hedges, hedges as sweet as are the hedges
of North Wales in the month of July. A Korean king hides his palace
behind an externity of many walls that are splendid in height, in
colour, in detail, in outline, and in material. Walls between which a
score of flowers fight each other for the glory of killing every inch of
the grass,—walls between which marble-outlined ponds sleep cosily
beneath their green and pink and white coverlets of lilies, and of
lotus. And the Koreans who are neither princes nor peasants, but who
stand between the two, spend a world of thought, and a good deal of
money upon the fences—floral or stone—thrown about their homes. Only
the poorest of Korean houses—of which there are many—and only the
shops—of which there are few—lack some sort of a wall, some manner of
a barrier between the private family life, and the public life of the
going and coming community.

Korean walls (I mean the walls of masonry which mark the boundaries of a
city or the limits of a gentleman’s grounds, and not the paper walls of
a Korean house) are, without exception, Chinese in character. But even
more important than these walls are the gateways with which they are
broken, and above all, the gateways or gates that stand some distance
outside the walls. In Far Asia gates have a significance which they
never have had, even in our own old Norman days, and never can have, in
Europe. Gates are the architectural ceremonies of the East. They frame
many of the most ceremonial ceremonies of the East, and it necessarily
follows that they are big and gorgeous. For never did a picture justify
more lavish framing than does the picture of Eastern ceremony. There are
three great classes of gates in the Far East: the torii of Japan, the
red-arrow gates of Korea, and the pailow of China. But before I try to
say something of these three gates, there are two or three pleasant
things to be said of the gates that ordinarily pierce the wall of a
Korean city. The gates themselves are heavily built of wood, are
elaborately ornamented with metal, and slowly swing in a rusty sort of
way at sunrise, and at sunset—swing at sunrise to let the people of the
city out, and the people of the country in; swing at sunset to let the
people of the country out, and the people of the city in. Korea not
being a land of machinery, it becomes necessary for a certain number of
officials to tend these gates. They are not called gate-keepers, but are
officers, rather important officers, if I remember, of the Korean army.
Now, an army officer, all the world over, does not mind where he lies,
what he eats, or how he suffers—when he is on active service: but when
debarred from fighting, the soldier, all the world over, and especially
the officer-soldier, wants to be well-housed, well-roomed, well-fed, and
above all, well-amused. This seems to be the one military trait which
Korea has not yet forgotten. Above the gates that open into Söul, and
into every other walled Korean city, are built very cosy little stone
houses. In these the soldiers on guard—the gate keepers—play cards,
eat rice, munch sweetmeats, and sip arrack. Above the gateways that lead
into the houses of Korean magistrates, Korean nobles, and of Korean
millionaires, just such houses are built. They are the concert halls of
Korea. In them the band of the Korean magistrate, the Korean noble, or
the Korean millionaire discourses more or less discordant music, and at
delightfully respectful distance from its employer’s house. They never
play in the cold weather. It has been said that this is so, not because
the Korean in whose service they are cares a whit whether their fingers
freeze to their instruments or not, but because he is unwilling to open
the paper walls of his house wide enough to hear the music that is being
played in the gate-houses of his outer walls. I doubt this. A rich
Korean, who is covered with layers and layers of silk and wadding, and
who sits upon a khan in full fire, and who is surrounded by braziers of
charcoal, and whose house is deplorably lacking in ventilation, does
not, I think, as a rule, shrink from having his front door or his side
wall opened once in a while. Beneath the guard-house building, above the
gate of a Korean wall; there can be no khan, for the guard-house is
above the gate, and many feet from the ground in which the Khan must be
embedded. And so I put it down to the humanity of the average well-to-do
Korean that he never makes his band play, on his walls, save in fairly
warm weather.

These rooms, these little houses built above the gates of a Korean
walled city or the gates of a great man’s domain, have been in years
past the scenes of many a Korean romance, and even now they are often
the favourite retreats or lounging places of Korean poets and
philosophers. They are usually furnished with considerable comfort. They
are cosy in the autumn and in the spring, and delightfully cool in the
summer. They’re well above the city’s sights, and high above any
unpleasant intrusion of the city’s sounds, and so are fit resting-places
for one who wants to meditate or dream or write poetry, or be at rest,
or escape from the hundred nagging vexations of daily life.

Korean walls are adjuncts to Korean gates, and not, as with us, the
gates adjuncts to the walls. The walls are built to emphasize the
importance of the gates, to supplement them, and to attract attention to
them. To the Korean mind the walls are so much less important than the
gates that the gates are often built and the walls omitted altogether.
Such gates are the torii of Japan, the pailow of China, and the
red-arrow gates of Chosön. Every Korean gate has a name, a name that is
meant to be impressive and poetical, symbolical of beauty and of good.
And doubtless these names are so to Korean ears, but they are apt to
strike the European mind of average stolidity as amusing or silly. In
Korea, indeed, every edifice of any pretension has a name. The people of
the Far East personify their buildings to a great extent, and endue them
with individuality, and with human attributes. Royal gateways are often
flanked by two immense Chinese lions, or, as they are more generally
called, Korean dogs. These dogs are but one of the many most universal
expressions of Korean art. They are the one expression of Korean art
with which we, in Europe, are very familiar.

There is nothing else in picturesque Korea so picturesque as the
red-arrow gates. I wish I might devote a chapter to them, and I am
rather appalled at undertaking to at all clearly describe them in a few
paragraphs. A dozen or more of the most eminent European authorities on
Korea unanimously declare the red-arrow gates to have either been copied
from, or to have been the originals of the Japanese torii. Why, in the
bulk of literature that has been written about these strange gates of
the Far East, little or no mention has been made of the Chinese pailow
puzzles me. There can, I think, be no doubt that the three gates are
three generations of one architectural family, or that they have had a
common origin. The pailow of China are memorial arches, erected, as a
rule, to commemorate the virtue and the character of women who have
slaughtered themselves that they might follow their husbands to the
grave. These arches are heavier than the Japanese torii, or the Korean
red-arrow gates, but they are like both in their general outlines and in
situation. And all Chinese architecture is very much heavier than the
architecture of Korea or of Japan. The torii of Japan marks the approach
to a temple, or to some sacred place. It is formed of two upright
columns or pillars which lean slightly toward each other at the top, and
are crossed by two or three graceful bars; the upper of which is
slightly, but very beautifully curved. The word “torii” is most usually
translated “birds’ rest,” from “tori” a “bird,” and “I” “to be” or
“rest.” And the theory has been that they were originally built as
convenient resting-places for birds: as birds, with all other animals,
were sacred in the eyes of the Buddhists. This translation is
unsatisfactory. The etymology of the word itself, like that of so many
other Japanese words, is hidden in a good deal of mystery, and though
to-day we find the torii outside of every Buddhist temple in Japan, we
also find one outside every Shinto temple in Japan, and it is easily
proved that they were first reared outside the Shinto, and not outside
the Buddhist temples. Long before Buddhism was introduced into Japan,
the torii stood outside numerous Shinto temples. The most plausible
translation of the word “torii,” though it is not a translation
altogether convincing, is “a place of passing through.” It is Mr.
Chamberlain, I believe, who gives this translation, but his book is not
at my hand, and I am not positive. Certainly both in Korea and in Japan
the birds make a very general resting-place of the torii, and of the
red-arrow gates. But then so do they in China of the pailow, and so do
they in America and Europe of the telegraph wires. It is very possible
that from this habit of theirs “torii” has come to mean, or has been
thought to mean, “birds’ rest.” The red-arrow gates of Korea are taller
and narrower than the torii of Japan. The red-arrow gate never stands
outside a temple, but outside a palace or some high magistracy, and it
denotes the approach to a house of the king, or to the house of one of
almost kingly authority. So in Söul we find a red-arrow gate standing
outside the yamun of the Chinese Resident, one of the many silent, but
clearly legible proofs that Korea has long regarded herself as a vassal
of China. These gates are painted a most brilliant red, which is the
Korean royal colour. The upright columns of a red-arrow gate are crossed
by two horizontal bars. These bars are quite straight, and unlike the
cross-bars of the torii, the upper one does not extend quite to the top
of the perpendicular column. These gates are called arrow-gates because
of twenty or more speared-shaped bits of wood that are embedded in the
lower of the two horizontal bars, pierce through the upper bar, and
extend a little higher than the shaped ends of the perpendicular
columns. They are simplicity itself, these red-arrow gates, except for
their gorgeous colouring, and altogether lack the elaboration of the
Japanese torii. They are thirty feet high at least, often much higher.
But however simple in themselves they make wonderful frames for
wonderful bits of Korean landscape. On the exact centre of the upper
cross-bar rests a peculiar design which represents the positive and
negative essences—the male and female essences of Chinese philosophy.
This again is surmounted by tongue-shaped or flame-shaped bits of wood,
which are supposed to, in some way, represent the power of the king. The
two symbols together signify Korea’s king as omnipotent, since he is
under the protection of China, and has espoused the religion of
Confucius. It is noticeable that the torii of Japan invariably marks the
vicinity of a temple, or of some building, or some place sacred to one
or more of the Japanese deities; while in Korea the red-arrow gate
invariably signifies the proximity of the dwelling of temporal power. I
am inclined to think that the Koreans borrowed the idea of their
red-arrow gates from the Chinese, and that the Japanese seeing them,
translated them into torii. If this is so, it is presumable that in both
instances the borrowers erected the gates in front of what was to them
the most important places in their own countries. The Emperor of Japan
is the nominal head of the Shinto religion. In the days when the torii
was introduced into Japan, religion was probably a great force in the
three islands, and the temples seemed to the Japanese the most
appropriate places to be honoured by this arched sign of importance. In
Korea, on the other hand, religion is, and for many years has been,
under a social and governmental ban. In Korea the king is all, and the
gods are naught, so—as a matter of course—the red gates reared their
graceful, arrow-crowned heads outside the house of a king, or of a
deputed representative of the Chinese emperor.

The bridges of Korea, the big bell at Söul, and a dozen other
characteristic details of Korea’s rich architecture, all rise up before
me and seem to reproach me for passing them by without a word. To touch
upon them with anything approaching adequacy would require pages and not
words, and the pages at my disposal are growing few. But I can heartily
recommend their study and the study of Korean architecture in general to
all who are interested in the East, and in architecture, and who are
fascinated by the quaint and the symbolical.

                             CHAPTER VIII.


There is nothing else, I think, that so positively proves the intimate
relationship of China, Japan, and Korea, as does the great similarity
between their games and their amusements—a similarity which almost
amounts to identicalness. If it is true that “_in vino veritas_,” it
must be equally true that men are most natural when they are happiest,
freest from care, and have neither business nor duties beyond recreating
themselves. So when we study the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Koreans
at play, and find that they all play very much alike, appreciate the
same or kindred amusements, have the same methods of feasting, of
resting, and of enjoyment, we are justified in concluding that these
three peoples are very near of kin. But if they be children of the same
parents, they are not the children of one birth, and this to me, at
least, is proved by the few but sharp differences between each of their
three ways of amusing themselves.

China, Korea, and Japan! And the greatest of these is China. Let us
watch them, beginning with China, at their recreations, and then let us
note how in those recreations they differ.

Feasts naturally form an important part of the happiness of a people,
the majority of whom commonly go hungry. A Chinese dinner is in more
than one way startling—to the average European mind. But it is a very
good dinner for all that.

I have been at many a Chinese dinner. Sometimes I have sat with the
quaint Chinese women, behind the shelter of the lattice. Sometimes I
have feasted brazenly with the men; and more than once the women of a
Chinese household have, out of courtesy to me, come forth from the
prized seclusion of their lattice-screened coign of vantage, and joined
me in eating with the commoner faction of the family herd; in breaking
bread with men.

Chinese festivals! The subject is so intricate and so interesting that I
have not the impertinence to dismiss it in a sentence. But, in passing,
I may say that no people enjoy festivals more, no people indulge in them
more discreetly, less frequently than do the Chinese.

Chinese ceremonials! Funerals, weddings, and a hundred others! I know,
in all the East, nothing more incomprehensible to the average, well
educated European mind; nothing more philosophically pregnant to minds
that are exceptionally industrious and exceptionally open.

Chinese recreations are almost myriad. They fly kites; they let go
perfumed, brightly-lit balloons of silk and of silk-like paper; they
light their fire-fly-lit land with a hundred thousand lanterns, and in
honour of those lanterns, in indulgence of themselves, they hold a

The dramatic is the chief of all arts. In China dramatic performances
take the precedence of all entertainments. A Chinese theatre, at the
best, is a barn-like place. It is devoid of scenery. Only men take part
in Chinese theatrical performances.

In China, actors are looked down upon as social pariahs, and their sons
may not enter for the competitive examinations which are the birthright
of almost every Chinaman.

But nevertheless the Chinese have a god of play-acting, and they pay him
no small homage. Indeed, all the Chinese deities are supposed to be
great theatre-goers; and for their benefit theatrical performances are
frequently held in the courtyards of the temples. The people (who have a
free _entrée_) flock to these performances and enjoy them as much or
even more than the gods are supposed to do.

To almost no Chinese dramatic performance is admission charged. A number
of people club together, hire the actors, engage the musicians, put up a
shed—on the street, in a field, anywhere, anyhow—invite the entire
community—which needs no urging—and the performance begins. Or a rich
man is the momentary impresario. But even then the people expect to be
admitted, and usually are.

The Emperor of China is a great devotee of the drama. He often commands
a play at eight in the morning. Indeed, the day is the more usual hour
for all theatrical performances in China.

But the most well worth seeing of Chinese Thespian entertainments are
those that take place in the temple courtyards. No need of scenery
there! Behind the bamboo stage rise the not unimpressive walls of the
queerly-architectured Chinese temple. Where we are wont to have glaring
footlights there is a soft, rosy glow, for there great rhododendrons
lift their proud and heavy heads. The courtyard is partly surrounded by
a wall so old and broken that it might be the veritable old wall of
China. From its sides lean double-flowering apricots and the sweet
yu-lan, with its thousand blooms of pale peach colour. From the wall’s
top strange Chinese grasses nod and flower-heavy vines hang. Among the
vines and grasses primroses nestle cosily. Beside the wall tulips
flaunt, and great clumps of mignonette grow among the hibiscus flowers.
The actors are very fine with their crowns of tinsel and their robes of
silk. The audience, too, is well worth watching, with their intelligent
yellow faces, and their glittering black eyes. They are tense with
interest, those Mongolian play-goers. And the Chinese orchestra! Ah!
that is droll indeed.

We are apt to think of Chinese music as being noise pure and simple.
Certainly very much Chinese music is superlatively noisy. But even
Chinese music has its softer side, its refined moments. I remember a
little band in Canton that used to make very pleasant lullaby music, and
to handle their odd instruments with most considerable taste.

When Noah was learning something of boat-building, the Chinese were, in
their Chinese way, expert musicians. Their principal instrument was made
of twelve tubes of bamboo. Six tubes were for the sharps, and six for
the flats.

To-day the Chinese have over fifty musical instruments—instruments made
of stone, of metal, and of wood.

Chinese dramatic literature is unusually interesting. To study it is no
mean mental tonic, and it is, I believe, the best way to study the
Chinese people, unless one can live among them with some little

But I must not linger too long by the wayside of my pleasant subject.
Yet I must touch—if only with a sentence—upon four or five of the many
other ways in which the Chinese recuperate their overburdened bodies and
their jaded minds.

They take great joy in Nature. Picnics are a most Chinese institution.
They are invariably planned to be at some spot where there is an
exceptional view. And the picnic party will sit for hours, and watch the
hills, or masses of fruit trees in bloom, or the sunset—sit silently
too; for the Chinese, though the noisiest nation on earth, are apt to be
hushed in the presence of nature, however much they chatter in the
presence of their gods.

The Chinese are intensely fond of gardening. Every Chinaman that can
afford it has a flower garden, and in nothing, save the graves of his
ancestors, does he take more pride. In the garden’s centre there will be
a lake—a very round, funny lake—and on its rippleless bosom great
drowsy lien-hoas will sleep away their perfumed lives.

The lien-hoa is the Chinese water-lily. There are many varieties. They
are single and double. They are red, they are rose, they are white. And
some are of an indescribably lovely pale red, delicately streaked with

In almost every Chinese garden you will find a summer-house, its roof
heavy with festoons of the wisteria. And there will be a pansy bed, a
bosque of bamboo, a grove of camellias, a field of chrysanthemums, a
world of peonies, trees of peaches, of plums, and of apricots,
parallelograms planted with hydrangeas, and clumps of azaleas.

There are two other Chinese pleasures that I must at least
mention—opium-smoking and gambling. Both are ineradicable
characteristics of the Chinese.

The poppy gives the Chinese masses inestimable alleviation, and does
them, I believe, the veriest minimum of harm.

Gambling, I fear, has a more baneful effect upon them. But it is their
most positive and commonest diversion, and it will, I fancy, always be
their national habit.

I have spoken of Chinese amusements, and now my trouble begins. I am at
an entire loss to know how to speak of Korean amusements without
repeating myself almost word for word. I can think of but two Chinese
amusements which are not as general in Chosön as in Cathay—card-playing
and theatre-going. In Korea it is not good form to play cards, and they
are not played openly, except by the soldiers, and the lowest grades of
society. Soldiers are allowed to play cards as much as they like, and
for a very quaint reason. A soldier is often called upon for night duty.
Now after eating, the thing dearest to the average Korean is sleeping,
and the Korean government, which is not, from the Far Asiatic point of
view, so merciless after all, has decreed that, as the playing of games
of chance is more likely than any other thing to keep a man from being
sleepy, the Korean soldiers may indulge in any and every game of chance,
including those that are played with cards.

Korea is not without theatrical performances, no Eastern land is; but
the theatrical performances of Korea are very different from the
theatrical performances of China and of Japan. Indeed, in no branch of
amusements do the three countries so differ as they do in the branch
dramatic. With the possible exception of the Hindoo and the Mohammedan,
the Japanese dramatic school approaches our own more than that of any
other Oriental country. I have seen performances in Yeddo that seemed to
me to quite merit classification with London productions at the Lyceum,
and at the Savoy. Chinese dramatic art is a thing apart, and a law unto
itself. It makes little or no appeal to European intelligence, or to
European imagination. It is for the Chinese, and takes as little concern
as the Chinese themselves voluntarily do of other peoples.

Korean dramatic art, if it is at all akin with the dramatic art of
Europe, approaches most nearly the art methods of the high-class music
halls, and the best French variety theatres. Every Korean actor is a
star, superior to, indifferent to, and independent of scenery.

More often than not, the Korean actor is not only the star, but the
entire company. He plays everything—old men, juveniles, low comedians
and high tragedians, leading ladies, _ingénueux_, and rough
soubrettes—plays them with little or no change of costume, plays them
in quick succession, and wholly without aid of scenery. And very clever,
indeed, he is to do it. Closely allied as all the three great peoples of
the far Orient are in their amusements, the amusements of the Koreans
resemble the amusements of China very much more than they do the
amusements of Japan; and yet Korean acting is very much more like
Japanese than like Chinese acting. This is especially worthy of note, I
think, because in every nation in the world, the theatrical is the
highest form of amusement.

Korean acting would come, perhaps, more properly under the heading of
Korean art than under the head of Korean amusements, or quite as
appropriately, perhaps, under the head of Korean religion. For in Korea,
as in every other country, acting is not only an exquisite, and one of
the highest expressions of a nation’s intellectuality, but is the child,
almost the first-born child, of that country’s religion. It is, perhaps,
because Korea has ceased to have a religion that Korea has no theatre,
at least, no permanent theatre. The Korean actor gives his performance
on the bare paper floor of some rich man’s banqueting hall, or at the
street corner. The actors of Japan are surrounded with every possible
accessory, and with the perfection of accessories. The most faultless
stage setting I ever saw, the utmost nicety of properties that I ever
saw, and the best trained supers I ever saw, I saw on the stage of a
Tokio theatre. The Korean actor has no stage setting, he has no
properties, and he never heard of supernumeraries. His theatre—for,
after all, I am inclined to withdraw what I said, and to maintain that
wherever an artist acts there is a theatre—his theatre consists of a
mat beneath his feet, and a mat over his head, and four perpendicular
poles separating the two mats. And yet the Korean actor shares very
largely the polish, the definiteness of method, and the convincing
artisticness of the Japanese actor. If religion had flourished in Korea
as it has flourished in Japan, it is probable that, under the sheltering
patronage of religion, Korean acting would now equal, if not excel, the
best acting of Japan. As it is, the Korean actor is remarkable for his
versatility, for his mastery of his own voice, his mastery of facial
expression, and his comprehension of, and his reproducing of, every
human emotion. A Korean actor will often give an uninterrupted
performance of some hours length. He will recite page after page of
vivid Korean history; he will chant folk-songs; he will repeat old
legends and romances, and he will give Punch and Judy-like exhibitions
of connubial infelicity and of all the other ills that Korean flesh is
heir to. And he will intersperse this dramatic kaleidoscope with
orchestral music of his own producing. Perhaps he has pitched his
theatre of mats in the full heat of the noon-day sun, but even so, he
only pauses to take big, quick drinks of peppery water, or of a very
light, rice wine, in which good-sized lumps of hot ginger float. If the
actor is performing at a feast of some mandarin or other wealthy Korean,
he is, of course, paid by an individual employer; and the audience which
has, in all probability, been amply dined and amply wined, sit near him,
sit at their ease, and in an irregular semicircle. If the performance is
given in the street, it is purely a speculation on the part of the
actor. The audience sit about on queer little wooden benches, or squat
on mats, or stand. And when the actor knows (and this is something which
an actor always does know, the acting-world over) that he has struck the
high-water mark of his momentary possible histrionic ability, he pauses
abruptly and collects such cash as his audience can or will spare. The
result is usually very gratifying to the actor. The audience want to see
the play out, and the player won’t play on until he is paid. A street
audience appreciates the play highly, appreciates it none the less,
perhaps, because it—the audience—eats and drinks from the first scene
until the last. It is an interesting sight to see in front of the
temporary temple of a Korean actor a concourse of men with eyes a-stark
with pleasure, and faces a-bulge with refreshment, but it is a sight
which is not too open to the criticism of the people in whose own
theatres ices and coffees and sweetmeats are hawked about between the
acts. It always seems to me that we insult art grossly when we tacitly
admit that we cannot sit through a fine dramatic performance without the
stimulant of meat or of drink. The Japanese also eat between the acts,
but then they have the excuse of sitting through performances that are
sometimes twelve hours long. We lack that excuse in Europe. And though
the Koreans munch and sip through the intensest moments of a Korean
theatrical exhibition, no dramatic performance in Korea lasts, unless I
mistake, for more than three, or at the utmost, four hours. A Korean
actor, to attain to any eminence in his profession, must be able to
improvise, and probably in no Eastern country, certainly in no Western
country, is the art of improvising carried to so high a degree of
perfection as it is in Korea. The Korean actor also approaches somewhat
to the Anglo-Saxon clown. He must be quick with cheap witticisms, glib
jests, and jokes that would be coarse if they were not above all stupid.
He must be ready with topical quips, for the Korean crowd will have its
laugh, or it won’t pay. This branch of his trade he is seldom called
upon to ply when he performs at private entertainments.

The Chinese, the Japanese, and the Koreans are all inveterate
picnickers. They are all intensely fond of Nature, and of feasting out
of doors. All three of these peoples take the greatest delight in
tobacco. Opium is smoked in Korea more than in Japan, but far less than
in China. But all the Koreans, whatever their age, whatever their
station, whatever their sex, smoke tobacco almost as perpetually as do
the Burmese. The Koreans use a pipe, of which the bowl is so small that
it only holds a pinch or two of tobacco, and the stem of which is so
long that it is almost impossible to light one’s own pipe. When not in
use, a gentleman’s pipe is carried in his sleeve, or tucked into his
girdle. The labouring man or the coolie usually thrusts his down his
neck between his coat and his back. All three of these peoples are great
patrons of professional story-tellers, and of magicians. The Japanese
excel the others in magic, and the Koreans excel in story-telling.

It is a favourite pastime both in Japan and Korea to watch trained
dancers. There is no dancing in China.

In Korea fights are the occasions of great national joy. In Japan
skilful wrestlers and fencers give really artistic exhibitions, but
never carry them to the point of brutality. But in Korea a fight is a
real fight. Blow follows blow; limbs are bruised, dislocated, and
broken. During the first month of the year it is legal, and is the
height of Korean good form, to indulge in as many fights as possible.
Antagonistic guilds, numbering hundreds of men, face each other at some
convenient and appointed spot, and in the sight of thousands of
enthusiastic spectators, fight out an entire year’s debt of envy and
hatred. Men engage in the roughest of personal combat; men who during
the other eleven months of the year scarcely fight upon the gravest
provocation. A considerable fight between two Korean women of the
poorest class is not unknown, and some of them fight extremely well.
Mothers often devote considerable time training their small sons in the
art of defence, and of fisty attack. Every Korean town, almost every
Korean village, has a champion fighter. Prize-fights are to Korea what
the race-course is to Europe and to Anglo-Asia. The spectators bet until
they have nothing left to bet with, and then very often start an amateur
fight of their own. Korean gentlemen do not as a rule fight, nor are
they apt to attend a public fight. They often, however, go to very great
expense in engaging professionals to give private exhibitions of their
prowess. There is one rather comical side to a Korean fight. Every
Korean wears an abundance of big clothing, and the antagonists never
dream of disrobing in the least. And so two fighting Koreans, from a
little distance, look as much like two fighting feather beds as anything
else. Debt is said to be the cause of nine out of ten of the fights that
are not exhibitions of skill. In Korea, as in China, it is a great
disgrace not to pay all your debts on, or before the New Year; and any
Korean who fails to do so is very apt to find himself involved in a
pugilistic reckoning. Club fights and stone fights are very common. When
a stone fight is proposed the friends or admirers of the combatants
spend some hours in collecting two mounds of small rough stones. Then
the battle begins, and it is a battle. Sometimes it is a duel, and
sometimes fifty or even a hundred take an active part in it, pelting
each other as rapidly and as roughly as possible.

But the most important, and the most popular of all amusements in Korea
is that of eating and drinking. Intemperance, I fear, is very common,
and is so little condemned by public opinion that it is quite as much a
national recreation as a national vice, but it is seldom or never
indulged in by women, and even the geisha girls are sobriety itself. The
Koreans drink everything and anything of an intoxicating kind that they
can get. They are improving, however, in this respect, of late years.
Japanese beer is somewhat displacing the heavier rice liquors, and among
the very wealthiest people both claret and champagne are popular. But
the Koreans eat as much as ever they did, and no other people extract so
much genuine enjoyment from eating. The Koreans season their food more
highly, and use more chillies, more mustard than any other people in
Asia. They are very fond of the taro, a smooth, small, sweet potato.
They devour sea-weed by the pound, and eat lily-bulbs by the bushel.
Here is the _mênu_ of a very elegant Korean dinner:—

                      Boiled pork with rice wine.
                             Macaroni soup.
                       Chicken with millet wine.
                              Boiled eggs.
                       Sesame and honey pudding.
             Dried persimmons and roasted rice with honey.

Both the Koreans and the Chinese, at least those who can afford it, use
very much more meat than do the Japanese.

Sleeping is another great national amusement in Korea. I know no other
people that seem to take so much positive enjoyment in sleep, and who go
at it so deliberately and systematically. They positively regard it as a

The Koreans are fond of music, and have many concerts, but then so, too,
do the Japanese and the Chinese. Fishing is a popular sport in all three

The Koreans have many festivals, at which they indulge themselves in as
much pleasure as possible. As in China, New Year’s day is perhaps the
most important, and certainly the most generally observed of the
festivals. The Korean New Year customs and the Chinese New Year customs
are almost identical. I won’t describe the New Year customs of Korea,
because to do so, I should have to say almost word for word what I
recently wrote about the Chinese New Year. Kite-flying and top-spinning
occupy a good deal of the time of old and young in China, in Korea, and
in Japan. Kite fights and top battles are of very frequent occurrence,
and are really very pretty to watch.

The Koreans are very fond of visiting, and of being visited, but in this
again, they in no way differ from the other peoples of the further

Besides fishing, there are three manly sports in vogue in Korea, and I
believe, three only; all others being considered undignified and
ungentlemanly. The three are archery, falconry, and hunting. Indeed, I
scarcely know if I am right in including hunting in the list. It is so
very generally pursued as a business, and not as a pleasure. I believe
that a few Koreans do sometimes hunt for sport, and very good sport they
usually get. Deer, tigers, leopards, badgers, bears, martens, otters,
sables, wolves, and foxes are abundant, and the peninsula is full of
feathered life. Pheasants are as plentiful, as beautiful, and as
toothsome in Korea as they are in China. And they have wild geese,
plover, snipe, varieties of ducks, teal, water hens, turkeys and
turkey-bustards, herons, eagles, and cranes; and the woods are full of
hares and of foxes.

Archery is considered in Korea the most distinguished of recreations.
Every Korean gentleman, from the king down, is, or tries very hard to
be, expert at archery. They use a tight, short bow, never over three
feet long, and arrows of bamboo. The Koreans are wonderful marksmen, and
professional archers are among the most popular of public entertainers.

Falconry is almost as popular as archery, and every nobleman has at
least one falcon. The falcon is invariably extensively and gaudily
wardrobed, and has usually a personal attendant. Falcon competitions,
both public and private, are frequent, and among the nobility are often
made the occasion of elaborate entertainments.

The Koreans have a quaint little festival, called “Crossing the
Bridges.” Söul abounds in queer little stone bridges. A moonlight night
is chosen for the festival. Usually a man and a woman walk to the centre
of the bridge, and make a wish for the ensuing year, or pray for
good-luck, and search the stars for some augury of prosperity. They have
a number of peculiar, picturesque customs in connection with “Crossing
the Bridges,” but I fancy that with both men and women it is more an
excuse for a night out than anything else.

The Koreans are even more impersonal than the Chinese. The Japanese are
intensely personal. The Korean is impersonal in business, and impersonal
in pleasure. He feasts with other men, and mingles with other men in all
his amusements, but his interest is absorbed by his surroundings, and
not by his companions. Introspection, and the study of other men, are
seldom or never methods of Korean self-entertainment. Nature is after
all the greatest entertainer of the Koreans; and to study Nature, to
watch her, and to fall more and more deeply in love with her, is a
Korean’s greatest amusement.

                              CHAPTER IX.

                        A GLANCE AT KOREAN ART.

    “Far Eastern art draws its inspiration from Nature, not from
    man. It thus stands, in the objects of its endeavour, in
    striking contrast to what has ever been the main admiration and
    study of our own, the human figure. A flower, a face—matter as
    it affects mind, mind as it affects matter—from such opposite
    sources spring the two. Art, or the desire to perpetuate and
    reproduce the emotions, must, of course, depend upon the
    character of those emotions. Now to a Far Oriental Nature is
    more suggestive and man less so than with us.”—PERCIVAL LOWELL.

The subject of Korean art is vast, intricate, and difficult. It could
not possibly be covered, even in the most superficial way, in one
chapter, or in a series of several chapters. But it would be
preposterous to altogether exclude it from any book whose pages are
devoted to Korea generally. For perhaps the most really interesting
thing about Korea, and certainly one of the most interesting things to
be said about Korea is this:—Korea was the birthplace of a great deal
that is finest and highest in the art of that wonderful art

A great deal that is most distinguished in Korean art, past and present,
is undeniably indigenous to Korea, but, on the other hand, the Korean
artists have borrowed or absorbed a good deal from the arts of other
countries. In the early days of its prosperity Korean art seems to have
owed a great deal to China. But, even in its infancy, through the long
years of its magnificent splendour, and in these days of its decay or of
trance, Korean art always has had, and has, a marked individuality, and
bears the indubitable hall-mark of genuine originality.

In the beginning, then, Korean art was probably a mingling of the
national expression of an intensely artistic people, and what was most
striking in the rich, but less graceful art of China. Under the Sung
dynasty, between the years 960 and 1333 A.D., lay the most brilliant
period of China’s literary existence, and perhaps the most brilliant
period of her art life. And it was also between these years that Korean
art reached, and for some time maintained, its highest perfection.

No careful art student who visits both countries, or has access to
typical collections of the art productions of both countries, can fail
to observe that apparently either Persia has distinctly influenced the
art of Korea, or Persia’s art been distinctly influenced by Korea.
Probably both are true. Persian embassies and Korean embassies were wont
to meet in Pekin. Very probably showed each other the presents sent by
their respective masters to the Chinese Emperor. These presents were
always largely made up of works of art. And their inspection probably
led to an interchange of presents between the embassies themselves, and
later on, to reciprocal studies, between Persia and Korea, of the art
methods of the two countries. Korea has excelled in fret-work, in
scroll-work, and in a great variety of arabesque decorations, and in all
of these has very largely followed Persian lines.

The key-note of Korean art, as the key-note of all Far Eastern and,
indeed, of most Oriental art, is the inferior place held in it by the
study of the human figure. Far Eastern art is a study of nature and of
decorations. This is even more true of Korea than of China or Japan,
though the Koreans excel both the Chinese and the Japanese in their
drawing of animals. The chief characteristic of Korean decorative art is
its chastity. One cannot fail to be reminded by it of the severe
simplicity of old Grecian art. A good specimen of Korean pottery or
porcelain is never heavily covered with decoration. A Korean vase, or a
Korean bowl, is simple and elegant of outline, and the surface is finely
finished, but probably three-fourths of that entire surface is
undecorated. The old specimens of Japanese Satsuma (the Koreans taught
the Japanese how to make Satsuma) are usually distinguishable from the
new and cheaper, because the former are touched with decoration, and the
latter are hidden beneath it. The Koreans use colour very lavishly when
they use it at all. But conventional design, conventionalized
decorations, and decorations which are more exact copies of nature,
whether in black and white or in colour, they use very carefully, and
never crowd them together. Their porcelains are not so glazed as those
of Japan, and the usual, or favourite colour is a creamy white. The
dragon, which is so conspicuous a personage in all Far Eastern art, is
perpetually drawn by Korean artists in colour, and by Korean artists in
black and white, but is rather sparingly used on the Korean pottery;
which in this differs from the potteries of China and Japan. The
mythical animals and the symbolical animals, though they all figure
largely in Korean art, are not often found on Korean porcelain. The
Koreans value highly all sorts of crackle ware, and have been excelled,
I fancy, in its manufacture by no other people.

Griffis says: “Decoration is the passion of the Orient, and for this,
rather than for creative or ideal art, must we look from this nation, to
whose language gender is unknown, and in which personification is
unthought of, though all nature is animate with malignant or beneficent
presences. Abstract qualities embodied in human form are unknown to the
Korean, but his refined taste enjoys whatever thought and labour have
made charming to the eye by its suggestion of pleasing images to the
imagination. His art is decorative, not creative or ideal. His choice
pieces of bric-a-brac may be rougher and coarser than those of Japan,
but their individuality is as strongly marked as that of the Chinese,
while the taste displayed is severer than that of the later Japanese.”

Perhaps the design that they most often employ, in their decorative art,
is the well-known “wave-pattern.” We find it on their porcelain, on
their bronzes, in the most conventional of their pictures, and even on
their coins. Some one has suggested that it is perhaps used on the small
copper coins to symbolize their circulation and fluctuation in value.
The wave-pattern symbolizes successive and interminable wave-motion. The
love of the Korean artist for water in nature, and for conventionalized
water effects in decoration, amounts to a passion. Water in some form or
phase is introduced into almost every Korean picture, and on to the
majority of the porcelains, bronzes, the lacquers, and into the
carvings. We find the wave-pattern beautifully executed on curtains and
panels, on armour and on weapons. It often circles the columns of a
building, and is conspicuous in interior architectural decorations. A
strand of twisting, turning, curling waves is commonly the handle of a
fine Korean teapot, and many a Korean dish, or vase, or bowl rests upon
a porcelain or bronze bed of seemingly angry waves. The Japanese have
seized upon the wave-pattern, and have vastly improved it. It is
doubtless through their much exported, and much copied wares that we
have become very familiar with it; and I have not infrequently seen it
mingled with incongruous European patterns, in fancy printing, both in
London, on the Continent, and in America—used for the background of
decorative initial letters, or introduced into fancy tail-pieces.

The chrysanthemum was the favourite, the most favoured, and the most
studied flower in Korea long before it became the imperial flower, the
badge of Japan. The Koreans have always been, and are, wonderfully
skilled in rearing it; and in reproducing it in colour, in black and
white, in relief, and in conventional designs. We find it whenever we
turn our eyes toward Korean objects of art. We find it, or some design
suggestive of it, in Korean brocades, and in Korean carvings, and many
of the most beautiful Korean borders have been designed from ingenious
arrangements of its petals. In several ways the chrysanthemum lends
itself with peculiar facility to Korean art ideals. It is rich,
splendid, and varied in colour, and the Koreans have a passion for
colour. It is interesting and noble in shape, and comes out splendidly
in relief, or in half-relief. It is beautiful, but unique, and sometimes
even grotesque in outline, and all the Eastern peoples admire the
grotesque. Certainly the artists of Korea and of Japan understand the
grotesque’s usefulness in art above all other artists, and employ it to
relieve gentler, simpler forms of beauty, which might grow monotonous if
used perpetually. Clouds and stars and the sun are utilized in a variety
of ways by the Korean decorative artist. And a conventional pattern,
called “the dragon’s tooth,” is extremely striking, and is nicely
adaptable to vases or dishes that are big at the base, and small at the

Lacquer has been for centuries as commonly used in Korea as in Japan,
but it has never reached the perfection, the artisticness in the former
country that it has in the latter.

Korea was once the store-house of innumerable and invaluable works of
art; art treasures of great variety, fine in design, excellent in
execution, and rich in symbolism. To-day there are comparatively few art
treasures in Korea. The nobles and the rich men probably each have a few
hidden away. The king has a number. And some are still to be found in
the ostracized monasteries, in the nunneries, and in other unexpected
places. But Chosön is no longer the great art treasure-house she once
was. In the palaces and the temples of China and Japan are to be seen
many of what were once Korea’s most prized works of art. And these have
been taken as booty from Korea, or sent by Korea as tribute. But the
peninsula has not continued in her old glory of art production. Korean
art has deteriorated in quality, and in many of its branches shrunk to
something nominal in quantity, because great bodies of her best artists
and artisans have been sent to Japan, or have gone there. Keenly alive
to all that is beautiful in nature, and all that is most exquisite in
art, the Japanese readily appreciated the high degree of excellence that
had been attained by the artists of Chosön. Not content with taking to
Japan the most perfect specimens of Korean art, the Japanese offered
every inducement to the best Korean artists to settle in Japan, and
spread throughout Japan their superior knowledge of art, and skill in
art work. To the instructions of the Koreans the Japanese owed their
unrivalled skill in making the beautiful Satsuma faïence, and the almost
as beautiful Imari porcelain. The Koreans taught the Japanese how to
carve wood, and then, apparently, forgot how to do it themselves; though
there are still in Korea some very beautiful specimens of fine carving,
especially in the royal palace at Söul. The majority of Japanese
patterns for brocades and for stuffs, and many of their favourite
designs for embroidery, are purely and indisputably Korean.

A scholar, who seems to me always anxious to do Japan full justice, has

“The existence of any special traits or principles of decoration, or a
peculiar set of symbols in Korean art, has been thus far hardly known.
When fully studied these will greatly modify our ideas of Oriental art,
and especially of the originality of the Japanese designers. Korea was
not only the road by which the art of China reached Japan, but it is the
original home of many of the art-ideas which the world believes to be
purely Japanese.”

The Japanese themselves, to be fair to them, do not claim to have a
largely original art, and my attention was first called to the magnitude
of Japan’s art debt to Korea by a Japanese gentleman in Tokio.

Old Persian writers express the greatest admiration for Korean
porcelains, and for the beautiful decorated saddles that were sent to
Persia from Chosön. The Koreans still excel in the making of gorgeous
and (after once the eyes grow accustomed to their gorgeousness) really
beautiful saddles. They are inlaid with pearls, and are richly
embroidered. Bows and arms and fans are among the many things that the
Koreans used to, and still do, make. They are beautiful with pearls,
with jade, and with gold and silver and iron inlaying. The Koreans once
made splendid and beautiful bells, and were expert in all sorts of metal
work, but they have lost or laid aside these arts to a very great
extent. There are still some very fine bells in the peninsula, and some
beautiful Korean bells in Japan, but their manufacture dates back a long
time. And this is also usually true of many of the best specimens of all
kinds of Korean art-work that we find in Chosön or in Japan. It is true
of most of the beautiful images found in the temples, and many of the
vases, the braziers, the incense-burners, the trenchers, the kettles,
the bowls, the decanters, and the censors, all of which are exceedingly
graceful in form, pure in outline, and decorated with simplicity and

The throne in the palace of Söul is a very beautiful example of
well-controlled art. It is simplicity itself, but it is as majestic as
it is simple; perfect in every detail, royal in its proportions, and in
severe but perfect taste.

Among the minor arts that still flourish in Korea is that of toy-making.
The Korean toy-makers really are artists, and the playthings of the
children of the well-to-do are so carefully designed and so faithfully
executed, that in their little way they have every claim to be
considered works of art. Armour, palanquins—indeed, all the impedimenta
of Korean daily life, and of the daily life of old Korea—are reproduced
with minute exactness, and very wonderful toys are made out of bits of
tiger skins and of the fur of the tiger and other wild beasts.

The battle-flags and the banners of Korea are interesting both to the
student of history and the student of art. The mysticism and the
symbolism that is so characteristic of all Korean art is noticeable on
almost every Korean flag.

The strange animals that we find in Korean art, animals that are like
none that ever lived, are symbolical, and, to the Korean mind, typify a
great deal that the Koreans think it important to remember.

A branch of art which is much thought of in Chinese-Asia, and is there
indeed a fine art, is pen-work or brush-work. In this art the Koreans
are as adept to-day as they ever have been—as adept as the Chinese or
the Japanese. Fine specimens of calligraphy are written with a
brush—written upon scrolls of silk or of soft paper, and are either put
away to be treasured, or are hung upon the walls as ornaments of great
interest. The last time I was in Tokio the wife of a Japanese official,
whose home is very rich in paintings, both European and Japanese, showed
me, with great pride, her collection of such scrolls—scrolls, all of
which were specimens of fine writing. Very much such scrolls form the
principal wall decoration of the study of the Chinese minister in
London, and such scrolls are among the most cherished household goods of
every well-to-do Korean. The Koreans write with the greatest ease and
elegance, and it is almost as natural for them to draw and paint very
fairly well as it is for them to write.

The making of fine pottery is almost, if not quite, a lost art in Korea,
but they still know the secret of, and still make and use, the exquisite
tints and the matchless colours that characterized their glazes in the
days when Korean art was at its greatest height. The Korean potters are
among the nomads of the peninsula. A family, or several families, of
potters choose some spot where wood and clay are convenient, and there
they build their huts, and there they live till the wood or the clay is
exhausted. All Korean pottery is fired in ovens that are heated with
wood. There are no great potteries in Korea or in Japan. Each specimen
of their art is the individual work of an individual, and in this,
perhaps, lays one of the secrets of the fascination of any genuine work
of art from these countries. The most beautiful piece of porcelain that
has ever been made in China, Japan, or in Korea, has probably been made
in some humble little hut and fired by an insignificant-looking little

I have spoken elsewhere of the famous Chinese lion, or Korean dog. It is
more grotesque than beautiful, and is chiefly interesting because it has
so strong a hold upon the affections of three so different peoples. For
a conservative Asian, he is a very great traveller, is this Korean dog.
He has found his way into every fancy bazaar, and every cheap notion
shop in Europe and America; and we really feel quite as if we had met an
old friend when we stumble upon him in Yeddo, in Pekin, or in quaint

It is being constantly urged against Far Eastern art that it is
artificial. Mr. Lowell refutes this so clearly, so distinctly, with so
much discernment, and to my mind, so convincingly, that I feel it would
be a pity to refute it in any other words. He says:—

“Far from being artificial, Far Eastern art is emphatically natural. The
reason that it does not so appear to us at first is due to two causes.
The first is very simple—an absence with us of what the Far Oriental
sees around him at home. A picture of snow-peaks would undoubtedly
appear conventional, in the sense used above, to a man who had dwelt all
his life on the plains, and never heard of such things as white-headed
mountains. The second cause is that certain very salient features of his
landscapes have engrossed the Far Oriental attention, to the partial
neglect of other less striking but, perhaps, even more common scenes.

“Every traveller knows the effect of this in other things beside art.
Narrators insensibly, if not on purpose, pick out the salient points of
any land to give an idea of it to those to whom it is an undiscovered
country. The result is, that on acquaintance no country seems so odd as
imagination, fed on a few startling facts, has pictured it to be; and
yet, for all that, the facts may be perfectly true. Now, what we do to
give others an idea of foreign lands, the Far Oriental does to give
himself an idea of his own. His art, by reason of this strong
simplicity, is all the higher art.”

Landscape gardening holds a prominent place among the arts of Korea, and
is as well understood, and as generally practised to-day as it has ever
been in the history of the peninsula. Water forms the principal, and the
indispensable feature of every Korean garden. Indeed, the pond, which
must be in the centre of the garden, often takes up nine-tenths of the
garden’s entire area. This pond is always called a “lotus pond.” Usually
the lotus is there, but not always, and its absence only emphasizes the
title of the pond. It is interesting to notice how indispensable the
sight of water is to the Koreans, and it speaks a great deal, I think,
for their genuine love of Nature.

Korea is so surrounded by water, so intersected with rivers, and has so
many high hills from which water can be seen for some distance, and down
which rivulets and waterfalls break, that every Korean must be very
familiar with water in all its moods and tenses. But he does not tire of
it. On the contrary, a Korean who has his domain on the very sea-shore,
will dig up the larger part of his garden for the sake of having an
artificial lotus-pond; that he may sit on the artificial island in its
centre and fish and dream and watch the water. Fantastic groups of
strange rock work are put in almost every Korean garden: groups to which
European eyes have to grow very used before they can see any beauty in

Korean music, like almost all Asiatic music, requires a great deal of
study before we can at all understand it or like it. Its scale differs
entirely from our gamut—differs even more than do Korean instruments
from ours. Japanese music is of Korean origin, but has changed greatly
of later years. But all classical Japanese music is still identical with
Korean music, which has changed little or not at all. Korean government
labourers are called to and released from their day’s work by music, and
to music do the gates of a Korean city close or open for the day.

When Korea was in its infancy she was thrown into intimate contact with
China. Korea had not had time to develop a literature, and so she very
_naïvely_ adopted the literature of China. Chinese literature is the
classical literature of Korea still. The great majority of Korean books
(and they are not surprisingly many), are written and printed in
Chinese. The Koreans have neglected their own language and its literary
possibilities for centuries. Still there is considerable poetry written
in the Korean tongue (but in the Chinese character almost always), and
we may consider the writing of this poetry as one of Korea’s national
arts. “Poetry parties” are a popular form of Korean picnics. A number of
friends meet at some unusually beautiful spot. They have been preceded
by servants carrying writing materials and wine. Very gravely the
competitors (for such they are) set to work. They sun and joy themselves
in the beauty of the scene, they sip the cup that cheers, but alas!
intoxicates too! and when they have enough assimilated the beauty of the
scene and the gladness of the wine, then they write verses. The verses
take the form of songs, or are ballads in praise of nature. They write
of the bamboo, of the stars, of the storm, of moonlight and of sunrise,
but never of woman!

                               CHAPTER X.

                          KOREA’S IRRELIGION.

Korea has no religion. This is a sweeping statement, I know, and one
that is susceptible of a great deal of dispute, but I believe that in
the main it is true. The books that have been written during the last
hundred years about Korea teem with thick chapters on Korea’s religion,
but for all that, I believe that Korea is without religion. There are
without doubt Koreans who are deeply and genuinely religious, but they
are so infinitesimal a fraction of the population of the peninsula that
they no more justify us in crediting Korea with a religion than the
handful of Theosophists, who are probably in England to-day, would
justify a Korean in crediting England with an at all large acceptance of
Theosophy. Buddhism, which was once as dominant in Korea as ever it has
been in China or Japan, has been almost destroyed. Confucianism is still
a great power in Korea, as it must be in every country where
ancestor-worship and the sanctity of the family are the backbone of the
nation’s moral existence. But I maintain that Confucianism is not,
properly speaking, a religion. It is a theory of ethics, a code of
morals, admirable, sublime even, but it is not, as I understand the word
religion, a religion. There are superstitions in Korea and to spare. The
common people are as superstitious as the common people of any other
civilized country, which is saying a great deal, and the upper classes
are by no means free from superstition. But who shall venture to call
superstition a religion? Unless we call superstition and religion
synonymous; unless we accept Confucianism as an individual and actual
religion; or unless we say that a few scattered monasteries, that must
by law be built far beyond the walls of a city—monasteries inhabited by
monks, who are looked down upon even by the common people, and are not
allowed within the gates of any city; monasteries that are resorted to
by the leisure classes for revel and for roystering, and never for
prayer or penitence—unless we say that these constitute a national
religion, we must, I think, admit that Korea is distinctly irreligious.

The real difficulty in deciding whether Korea is in any way religious or
altogether irreligious lies in the difficulty of distinguishing clearly
between religion and superstition. The dividing line between the two is
often indistinct—sometimes missing altogether—so perhaps I am wrong in
saying that a country so amply dowered with superstition is devoid of

I base my statement that Korea has no religion not upon the absence of
religion from Korea, not upon the paucity of religion in Korea, but upon
the fact that in Korea religion is neither respected nor respectable. Of
course, if we define religion as broadly as do some of the most eminent
authorities (Rossiter Johnson, W. Smith, Bishop Taylor, Macaulay, and a
host of others), and admit that atheism and superstition are forms of
religion—and I am far from sure that they are not—my statement
totters, if it does not altogether tumble.

Buddhism was until three hundred years ago strong in Korea, and
Confucianism, which, if not a religion, is the most elaborate, and one
of the most perfect systems of morality that the world has ever known,
and has served humanity better than most religions, is strong in Korea
still. A study of these two is, as is the study of all the higher
Oriental doctrines, beliefs, and systems of thought, intensely
interesting, and the temptation to dwell here upon Buddhism and
Confucianism is great. But I fancy that everyone who is interested in
reading about so remote a part of the East as Korea is more or less
familiar with the outlines at least of both Buddhism and Confucianism,
and so I will content myself with trying to tell how the first was
driven out of Chosön, and how the second is still the guardian angel of
such morality as the peninsula possesses.

Buddhism flourished there for centuries, and it was at least tolerated
until the Japanese invasion in 1592. Indeed, up to that time Korea was
not only not without a religion, but she was not without several. The
religions of the Far East are as easy-going as the peoples—they are
modest as a rule, the beliefs of further Asia—and rub along together
very amicably, no one of them seeming over-sure that it is better than
its fellows.

Three hundred years ago, when two great Japanese warriors, Konishi and
Kato, with their respective armies landed in Korea, each was so anxious
to have the glory of reaching and conquering the capital before the
other, that neither dare pause to subdue the towns and the fortresses
(and many of these latter were monasteries) that lay along his route.
Yet neither dare leave behind him a long track of unsubdued and, for
those days, well-armed country. In this dilemma they dressed themselves
and their followers in the garbs of Buddhist priests, and so by strategy
made their entrance into the walled cities, and into the forts, and once
in, put the inhabitants, the unprepared soldiers and monks, to death.
About thirty years afterwards, when Korea had shaken off, for the time
at least, the Japanese yoke, the Korean priests suffered for the
cupidity of the Japanese generals; as the innocent so generally do
suffer for the guilty in this nice world of ours. The royal decree went
throughout Korea that no Buddhist priest might dwell or even pass within
the gates of a walled city. The priests fled to the mountains, and there
erected themselves such dwellings as they could. The monasteries, in
which they had lived within the city’s walls, crumbling away with time,
and decaying with disuse, ceased to be architectural features of any
Korean city. And this is why all Korean cities are so monotonous in
aspect. For religion has been the patron of architecture as of art, of
music, of literature, and of drama the world over, and more especially
so in the Orient. The priests of the temples of Buddha, having incurred
the disfavour of the government, rapidly lost what hold they had had
upon the people. And the nation, which had always considered its king
almost mightier and more divine than its very gods, soon ceased to pay
tribute to, or ask the services of, a body of men who had lost the royal
countenance. Then, too, the Koreans are great dwellers in cities. They
go far into the country to look at Nature, to rest, and to amuse
themselves, but it would never occur to the Korean mind to journey far
for prayer or sacrifice. So the revenues of the monasteries fell off.
Men well-born and well-to-do ceased to join the order. And little by
little Korean Buddhism passed away, until now it is but a wraith of its
old self.

This at least is the most general account of how Korea ceased to be
Buddhist, but its authenticity is disputed by several of the most
reliable historians, and by one, at least, who has written in English.
These historians claim that some centuries ago all the powerful people
in Korea were divided into two factions—one Buddhist, one
Confucist—and great was the rivalry between these two. Social war
ensued, and the Buddhists, who had become corrupt and enervated, were
terribly defeated. Buddhism was forbidden to dwell within the capital or
within the cities. True, the monasteries that had always been important
features of the rural landscape were in no way interfered with, but
“banishment from the cities produced two results. First, desuetude
rendered the mass of the people quite oblivious to religious matters;
and secondly, the withdrawal of religion from the seats of power threw
the profession into disfavour with the aristocracy. . . . Here, then, we
have a community without a religion—for the cities are to a peculiar
degree the life of the land—a community in which the morality of
Confucius for the upper classes, and the remains of old superstitions
for the lower, takes its place.”

How, then, in Korea have the religiously mighty fallen! For Buddhist
monks once formed a fourth portion of the entire male population of
Chosön, and there were tens of thousands of them in Söul alone. At first
thought it seems strange that now any Korean should be found willing to
embrace the monastic life; but the Koreans are not industrious, many of
them are wretchedly poor, and life in the monasteries affords the
greatest opportunity for the indolent, dreamy, and meditative life, and
the proximity to Nature, which is so dear to the Korean heart. No Korean
monk is called upon to do hard manual labour, and it is still almost a
religion with the Koreans, rich and poor, to give something toward the
sustenance, and even toward the creature comforts of the brothers. So
laziness, and poverty, and misery keep the Korean monasteries and the
Korean nunneries from falling into utter disuse. Strangely enough, the
monks of Korea rarely or never have the brutal sinful-looking faces that
characterize so many of their brethren in China.

I should divide the religion, or the irreligion, of Korea into
rationalism: the religion of the patricians; and superstition: the
religion of the plebeians. Both rationalism and superstition are well
controlled by a system of morality which is rooted in Confucianism, and
impregnably enwalled by ancestor-worship.

Rationalism and superstition have their points of touch—points at which
the one is indistinguishable from the other—lost in the other—in Korea
as everywhere else.

I do not mean that reason and unreason ever lose themselves in each
other, though, like other rival powers, the boundary line between them
may be narrower than any fraction of any hair, and quite imperceptible
to human eyes.

Korean rationalism is practically identical with rationalism the world
over. Korean superstitions are unique in form if not in essence. It
merits at least passing notice that Reason expresses herself in one way
everywhere, and that Unreason in different parts of the earth speaks in
tongues as differing as fantastic.

The expression of Korean superstition is picturesque. The more
picturesque a superstition is the more impregnable it is.

Korean demon-worship is positively fascinating. Superstition has not
always been the power in Korea that it is now. In Korea religion and
superstition have played a long game of see-saw. The Koreans outgrew
their early superstitions, discarded them, and embraced a highly
civilized and civilizing form of religion; then they discarded that
religion. Now, the average human mind must believe in something outside
of its own material ken, beyond its own demonstrating. _Quod erat
demonstrandum_ forms no part of the rituals and the creeds of most
religions, so when the time came that Buddha and his coterie of
well-bred and fairly rational deities had practically been banished from
Korea, the Koreans fell back on their old superstitions, and to-day
superstition and its ridiculous rites are more rife in Korea than in any
other civilized country.

There are three classes of supernatural beings in whom the people of
Korea believe—the demons who work all manner of evil, the beneficent
spirits whose practice it is to do good occasionally, and who
semi-occasionally combat the evil spirits, and an intermediate class of
spirits who dwell, as a rule, on the mountains, and neither work good
nor evil, but who, in themselves and in their lives, are the subjects of
much charming folk-lore. The Korean—the Korean of the populace—the
superstitious Korean attributes all his ills to demons. He, being a
Korean, cannot conceive that Nature can be malignant, nor can he
conceive that he is ever punished for breaking laws of whose very
existence he is ignorant. So he peoples the air, the sea, and the rocks
with devils of earthquake, devils of pestilence, devils of lightning,
devils of hurricane, and a thousand other devils of blight and of
sorrow. Having determined that they cause all his troubles, he then sets
about doing the best he can to propitiate the spirits of evil. Korean
demons are supposed to be very small, and I have never heard of one to
whom much physical strength was attributed; and almost always when it
comes to a face-to-face contest between one of them and a powerful man
(and such contests occur very often in Korean myths), the demon has the
worst of it. Still, the majority of the Korean populace live in
unceasing terror and dread of these demons. Korean methods of
circumventing them are delightful, and delightfully simple. I have
already spoken of the beasts that sit on guard on many Korean roofs.
They are supposed to be the most efficacious combatants of the Korean
devils; but the privilege of having them is rather monopolized by
royalty and by the high favourites of the royal family. On lintels of
the houses of well-to-do Koreans are usually hung two oblong pieces of
coloured paper upon which are drawn in black, or two oblong pieces of
white paper on which are drawn in colours, terrible enough portraits of
two famous old generals. One of these warriors was a Chinaman, the other
was a Korean, and both are renowned in the legends of the peninsula as
having waged highly successful warfare against several evil spirits of
Chosön, and their portraits are supposed to protect the houses, outside
of which they hang, from the invasion of the imps of mischief and of
misery. Korean devils, for some unfathomable reason, are supposed to be
far more powerful indoors than out, and so the Koreans are at special
pains to exclude their devilships from Korean interiors. The Korean
householder, who is debarred by poverty or by his own social inferiority
both from using the roof-scarecrows, and from hanging counterfeit
presentments of the two old warriors on his portals, fastens a strip of
cloth and some wisps of rice straw outside his door. He fastens the rice
straw there in the hope that the devil about to enter may be hungry, and
stop to gorge himself and then go away. He fastens the bit of cloth
(which must be torn from some old garment of his own), because the
Koreans have the nice taste to consider their devils extremely stupid,
and so believe that any devil who is confronted with a fragment of a
man’s garment will mistake it for the man himself, and, in view of how
often men have defeated devils, fly and trouble that house no more.

The evil spirits of Korea are also frightened away by noise; noise so
enormous, so metallic, so discordant, so altogether diabolical, that it
is no wonder the devils rush from it, rush on their wings of sulphurous
flame, and the only wonder is that any human person or persons can
endure to make it. This practice of frightening with noise the evil ones
of heaven (for mark you, the peoples of the Far East, unlike the Greeks,
have no belief in Hades) is common to China, to Siam, to Korea, and to
Burmah. The devil-jails and the devil-trees, and the professional
devil-catchers, of which I have spoken before, come in importance next
to the roof-beasts, and then, I think, come the prayer-poles. A
prayer-pole may be a straight, symmetrical, polished piece of wood, or
it may be a carelessly cut branch of a tree. In either case it is stuck
in the earth a few feet from the doorway, and on it are hung prayers to
the good spirits, and bits of rag, and bits of refreshment to allure and
deceive the evil spirits. Sometimes a bell is hung on the top of the
branch to attract the attention of both the cursers and the blessers of
the land.

The good spirits that inhabit the big kingdom of Korean credulity are
unfortunately lazy, and have to be rather urgently supplicated when
their good services are needed. When their good services are not needed
they are left, to do the Koreans justice, beautifully alone. But when
the evil-doers who dwell in the Korean heaven get altogether
unmanageable, the good spirits are called upon with dance and with song,
with counting of rosaries and with ringing of bells, to wage war against
their wicked brethren. Often the Korean angels, being Korean, go to
sleep, forget to wake up, and neglect to send rain. The sending of rain
is one of their few active offices. If it does not rain in Korea the
rice does not grow in Korea, and then, indeed, are the Korean devils to
pay. When drought falls upon Korea all Korea prays. The superstitious
and the rational kneel down together, and if their united invocations
fail to pierce the slumber of their well-meaning deities, then the king
goes beyond the city’s walls, and entering into a temple, or a sort of
rustic palace that is kept in readiness for the purpose, throws himself
upon the ground, and prays that his people may be blessed with rain. The
rain may fall the next day, it may fall the next moon; but whenever it
falls the loyal Koreans attribute it altogether to the intercession of
their king. It is only when drought falls upon the land that the
ordinary Korean is allowed to pray directly to most of the Korean gods.
But every Korean has a household spirit—a good guardian angel of his
own hearthside—to whom he may pray as often as he likes. And best
beloved, most god-like, most fit to be worshipped, most fit to be prayed
to, most fit to be loved of the Korean gods, and of all the Korean
spirits, is one called “the blesser of little children.” He is the
favourite vassal of the great spirit: the phrase “great spirit” is as
often upon the tongue of a Korean as upon the tongue of a North American
Indian. “The blesser of little children” has under his personal charge
every home in Korea. He journeys from house to house scattering
blessings upon the baby heads, and forbidding evil to approach the baby

The Koreans emphatically believe that Korea was originally peopled by
spirits and by fairies, and this belief has developed a folk-lore that
is delightful and interesting in the extreme, and that often reminds us
of the Norwegian folk-lore.

“When a belief rational and pure enough to be called a religion
disappears, the stronger minds among the community turn in self-reliance
to a belief in nothing; the weaker, in despair, to a belief in anything.
This happened here; and the anything to which they turned in this case
was what had never quite died out, the old aboriginal demon-worship.”

And the stronger minds among the Korean community turned to the belief
in nothing, which is so often called rationalism. But in Korea
rationalism is tinged with, almost disguised by, that strange phenomenon
of Asiatic mentality, of Asiatic belief, of Asiatic instinct called

Ancestor-worship in Korea, and ancestor-worship in China, are almost
identical. The most thorough-going, the most uncompromising agnostic I
ever knew was a Korean. The most thorough-going, the most uncompromising
atheist I ever knew was a Chinaman, but both were staunch and
uncorruptible ancestor-worshippers. Korean ancestor-worship is more than
interesting, but it is merely a vassal of Chinese ancestor-worship.
Like, and with Confucianism, it has come from China to Korea, and like
and with Confucianism it is the mainstay of Korean morality. The worship
of ancestors is an almost daily detail of Korean life. The observances
of ancestor-worship are more rigidly carried out by the well-to-do
Korean rationalist than by the poor superstitious Korean peasant. Death
and burial mark the first, the greatest, and the most picturesque of the
functions of ancestor-worship. Logically enough, the death and the
interment of a child or of any unmarried person involves almost no
expense, and demands no ceremonial. The infant (an unmarried man or
woman of eighty is an infant in Korea) is wrapt about with the mats, the
tiger skins, or the rugs upon which he died. These are wrapt about with
rice straw, and the bundle is buried. That is the end of a Korean who
leaves no descendants. When the father of a family dies his eldest son
closes the eyes as the breath leaves the body, and the family (men and
women gather together for once) let loose their hair, and shriek and
sob, and, if possible, weep. So long as the dead remains in the house
his relatives eat the food they like least, and as little of that as
will sustain life. Indeed, the eldest son is supposed to eat nothing.
Four days after the death, the members of the family redress their hair,
and put on their first mourning. In Korea, as in all the Far East,
mourning consists of coarse, unbleached fabrics that are commonly
called, but are not quite, white. On this fourth day the family,
friends, and acquaintances prostrate, prostrate, and prostrate
themselves before the dead, and an exceptionally good dinner is laid
beside him. Huge loaves of especially prepared bread also, and as many
kinds of fruit as the market affords—the rarer, the more expensive, and
the more hard to obtain, the better. A dinner is also prepared for the
friends, but not for the family. About the body, and throughout the
house, candles and incense burn, and wailing is incessant. The mourners
and the professional wailers take turns in sleeping, and relieve each
other in the audible grieving. Paper money, that is, imitation money,
and long paper banners covered with the titles and the good qualities of
the dead, are burned. With the poor, burial takes place five, or at the
most nine days after death. With the rich the body remains unburied for
at least three months. Korean coffins, like Chinese coffins, are, or are
supposed to be, air-tight. But the Korean coffin is much smaller than
the Chinese coffin, and the spaces left between the outlines of the
coffin and the outlines of the body are, in Korea, filled up with the
old clothing of the dead. If the dead had not enough clothing, pieces of
linen or of silk are added to it. The rich Koreans usually employ a
geomancer to indicate the most auspicious day for burial. The coffin is
covered with beautiful brocaded silk, or with beautifully carved pieces
of wood. Prayers are said almost continuously, from the hour of death
until some time after the interment. The coffin is borne on a death-car,
a unique Korean vehicle, or by men who are hired for a small sum and who
do nothing else. Beside the coffin are carried the banners, recording
the rank and the virtues of the dead, and the lanterns which in life he
was entitled to use. His sons follow him, in Korean mourning, and
Chinese-like, leaning heavily upon sticks. Acquaintances and friends
bring up the rear, in sedan chairs and on horseback.

Korean graves are usually on hill sides, and are decorated at the utmost
possible expense. Even the graves of the Korean poor are well tended,
and covered with the gentle green grass, and with the soft flowers of
spring, if no monument or temple is possible. But if it can be managed,
a miniature temple is erected near the grave—a temple which is a
shelter for those who come periodically to mourn the dead—and the grave
is guarded with quaint stone images of men and other animals.

If a Korean family is unlucky they are very apt to think that one or
more of their ancestors has been buried in an uncongenial spot. Then, no
matter what the cost, no matter what the trouble, the grave is, or the
graves are, opened, and the dead moved to some more desirable place.
Korean mourning is as long or longer, as intricate or more intricate,
than Chinese mourning, but so similar to Chinese mourning, which has
been so often and so fully described, that it would be superfluous to
here more than mention Korean mourning.

Such, then, is the religion or the irreligion of Korea. Superstition for
the people; ancestor-worship for the people, the princes, and for those
who are between. Strange that a nation that has driven from its midst
one of the great religions of this earth, and has unrelentingly
persecuted the religion of Christ, should be so devoted in its
ancestor-worship. But which of us that has ever lain awake through the
wordless watches of the lonely night and longed in vain—

                     “For the touch of a vanished hand
                     And the sound of a voice that is still,”

shall blame the Koreans for their incessant, their blind, filial

                              CHAPTER XI.

                     KOREA’S HISTORY IN A NUTSHELL.

In the tenth century Korea assumed its present boundaries, and for nine
hundred years it has remained unchanged in its coast line, and its
northern limits. Except on the north, Korea is surrounded by the sea,
and its northern boundary is marked by the Yalu and the Tiumen rivers,
that almost meet at two of their sources. For convenience in the
recapitulation of Korea’s history—a recapitulation in which everything
else must be sacrificed to brevity—the history of the peninsula may be
divided into three periods: First, the period antecedent to the final
settlement of Korea’s boundaries—a period whose history is in part at
least, conjectural; second, a period reaching from then until modern
times; and third, a period covering Korea’s recent history, and the
comparative opening up of Korea to foreign travellers, and to foreign
influence. We know as much and as little of Korea’s remotest ancestry as
we do of the ancestries of other countries. The Korean family can trace
its pedigree a long way, but at length the pedigree becomes lost in the
mists of remote history and of prehistoric times, and we can form no
conclusive opinion as to who were the first founders of the race.

Korean civilization came chiefly from China, and the Koreans themselves
from the highlands of Manchuria and the Amoor valley.

The kingdom of Korea, and indeed the nation of Korea, was founded by an
ancestor of Confucius. In Latin his name is Kicius, in Japanese it is
Ki-shi, and in Chinese Ki-tsze, which means Viscount of Ki. He was a
faithful vassal of the Chow dynasty of old China, and when the Chows
were overthrown in 1122 B.C. he refused to acknowledge the new power,
and fled with, some say five some say ten thousand followers to the
north-east. Here he founded a kingdom which he called Chosön, and of
which he made himself king. He was welcomed by the people already living
there, and these aborigines and the followers of Ki-tsze are among the
remotest ancestors to which Koreans can prove their claim. Ki-tsze
introduced into his kingdom the study and the practice of medicine,
agriculture, literature, the fine arts, and a dozen other industries in
which China was then most proficient. He founded his kingdom on the
lines of Chinese feudalism, and very much as he founded it the kingdom
endured until the beginning of the Christian era, and the Koreans to-day
call Ki-tsze the father of Chosön, and because of him, and the quality
of his kingdom, claim that their civilization is almost as ancient as
the civilization of China, and older than the civilization of Chaldea.

Just where this first kingdom of Chosön was nobody knows. Some
authorities believe that it lay exactly north-west of the Yalu river,
just beyond the present borders of Korea, and in the present Chinese
province of Shing-king. It seems more probable that the first Chosön was
in the valley of the Sungari river, and some historians, with
considerable show of reason, locate it still further north, in the
valley of the Amoor. Certainly its borders shrank and extended almost
continually, and its entire position seems to have been more or less
changed at several times, and only for a few years was any part of the
Korea we know included within its area. At one time old Chosön certainly
was located north-east of Pekin. It became part of China, politically
and geographically, in the first century.

In the territory taken from the kings of old Chosön, and annexed to
China, lay the kingdom of Kokorai. It lay east; as the old Chinese
historians state, directly east, and slightly north of modern Mukden,
and between the sources of the Yalu and the Sungari rivers. The people
of Kokorai were warlike and able. They seem to have been rather
independent of China as early as 9 A.D.; to have begun in 70 A.D. a
struggle with China, which lasted until the seventh century. During this
long warfare—a warfare in which their country was repeatedly invaded by
the Chinese—these warlike people, instead of being conquered or
exterminated by China, flourished and increased until they had overrun
the peninsula of the present Korea as far as the Han river.

This, then, is the outline of the history of the western and the
northern parts of modern Korea, but before turning to the history of
southern and eastern Korea, it will be interesting to glance a little
more particularly at the history of Kokorai.

Well, north of Kokorai, north of the Sungari river, there existed in
very ancient times (if we may trust Chinese tradition) a little kingdom
called To-li or Ko-rai. While one of the early kings of To-li was out
hunting, a favourite waiting-maid “saw, floating in the atmosphere, a
glistening vapour which entered her bosom. This ray or tiny cloud seemed
to be about as big as an egg. Under its influence she conceived.

“The king, on his return, discovered her condition, and made up his mind
to put her to death. Upon her explanation, however, he agreed to spare
her life, but at once lodged her in prison.

“The child that was born proved to be a boy, which the king promptly
cast among the pigs. But the swine breathed into his nostrils and the
baby lived. He was next put among the horses, but they also nourished
him with their breath, and he lived. Struck by this evident will of
Heaven, that the child should live, the king listened to its mother’s
prayers, and permitted her to nourish and train him in the palace. He
grew up to be a fair youth, full of energy, and skilful in archery. He
was named ‘Light of the East,’ and the king appointed him master of his

“One day, while out hunting, the king permitted him to give an
exhibition of his skill. This he did, drawing bow with such unerring aim
that the royal jealousy was kindled, and he thought of nothing but how
to compass the destruction of the youth. Knowing that he would be killed
if he remained in the royal service, the young archer fled the kingdom.
He directed his course to the south-east, and came to the borders of a
vast and impassable river, most probably the Sungari. Knowing his
pursuers were not far behind him, he cried out, in a great strait,—

“‘Alas! shall I, who am the child of the Sun, and the grandson of the
Yellow River, be stopped here powerless by this stream?’

“So saying, he shot his arrows at the water.

“Immediately all the fishes of the river assembled together in a thick
shoal, making so dense a mass that their bodies became a floating
bridge. On this the young prince (and according to the Japanese version
of the legend, three others with him) crossed the stream and safely
reached the further side. No sooner did he set foot on land than his
pursuers appeared on the opposite shore, when the bridge of fishes at
once dissolved. His three companions stood ready to act as his guides.
One of the three was dressed in a costume made of seaweeds, a second in
hempen garments, and a third in embroidered robes. Arriving at their
city, he became the king of the tribe and kingdom of Fuyu, which lay in
the fertile and well-watered region between the Sungari River and the
Shan Alyn, or Ever-White Mountains. It extended several hundred miles
east and west of a line drawn southward through Kirin, the larger half
lying on the west.”

Certainly as early as 25 B.C. To-li had attained very considerable
civilization. Millet, sorghum, rice, beans, and wheat grew in abundance,
and were carefully cultivated. Spirits were distilled from rice and
grain, as they still are in Korea, Japan, and China. The people ate from
bowls and with chop-sticks, as the people of modern China eat. The men
were strong, well-built, and fearless. They were skilled in the
manufacture and the use of swords, and lances, and bows and arrows. They
were expert horsemen; were fond of dancing and music; decked themselves
with pearls, and with gems of red jade. They had an elaborate system of
etiquette which was rigidly observed. They had granaries, and well-built
houses of wood, and their cities were surrounded by walls or palisades
of stakes. They had a well-developed and a civilized religion, freer
from superstition and from superstitious rites than many of the
religions of modern Asia. They had a king, a well-defined feudal system,
farms and farmers, nobility and serfs. They had prisons, and their
system of justice was rigid. All this is surprising, for at that time
the people by whom they were surrounded were barbarians, without
literature, without form of government, in brief, without civilization.
And yet these people of Fuyu, who were then far beyond the reach of
Chinese influence, were in the full enjoyment of a civilization which
was apparently of some maturity. From this many historians have inferred
that the old kingdom of Fuyu was the exact site of the kingdom of
Ki-tsze. This may have been. At all events, the people of Fuyu or their
descendants peopled the kingdom of Kokorai, whose people in their turn
populated the northern and the western parts of modern Korea.

Undoubtedly, the peoples of old Ko-rai and of Fuyu were the ancestors of
the Koreans of our time. Very probably they were also the ancestors of
the modern Japanese.

We know little or nothing, and we seem unlikely ever to learn much more
about the early settlers of southern and eastern Korea.

Some time before the beginning of the Christian era Chinese authorities
mention three independent kingdoms or nations that lay upon the shores
of the Japan Sea, and south of the Han River. Early in the sixth century
they had become very considerably civilized. Their literature, their
art, their forms of government, and their social customs they had
adopted from the Chinese. They were Buddhists; and Buddhism was then in
its flower, sound in itself, and comparatively pure, and a powerful
force for good and for culture. These three states were Pe-tsi (called
by the Japanese historians Hiaksi), which was in the west; Sin-lo
(called by the Japanese Shin-ra), which was in the south-east; and in
the north, Ko-rai. They banded themselves together to attack or to repel
the attacks of China and Japan. When this was unnecessary they fought
each other. They fought steadily until the tenth century. Their appetite
for warfare seemed insatiable, and when they could not fight among
themselves they sought foes in China and Japan, and when they could not
fight the Chinese or the Japanese they picked quarrelsome wars with each
other. But this period of national and international strife and of
wholesale bloodshed was one of great mental and artistic activity. The
civilization and the culture, and the learning of China, flowed rapidly
and steadily into Korea, and through Korea into Japan.

Sin-lo, Pe-tsi, and Ko-rai appear in their origins to have had nothing
in common. They were alike in being conquered by at least one alien
race. Each of the three nations was greatly enriched by an influx of,
and intermarriage with, Chinese, Tartars, and several other peoples of
Far Asia. Their rivalry and their warfare lasted for hundreds of years;
then they were united under one monarch, and slowly and surely became
one nation.

The ninth and the tenth centuries were centuries of peace in Korea, and
our knowledge of Korea’s history during these two hundred years is most
meagre. Sin-lo was then, and had been for some time, the dominant
province, but the reigning house of Sin-lo had become enervated and
incapable. In 912 A.D. a Buddhist monk initiated a rebellion which
spread with amazing rapidity, and was entirely successful. The monk
proclaimed himself king, but he in his turn was rebelled against,
conquered by, and slaughtered by a descendant of the kings of old
Ko-rai, whose name was Wang-hien, or Wang-Ken. Wang-hien chose Kai-seng,
which was then called Sunto, as his capital. He became absolute monarch
of the whole peninsula, and gave back to it its ancient name of Ko-rai.
Kai-seng is but a short distance north-east of Söul, and so the first
capital of united, and possibly the last capital of united Korea, are
but a stone’s throw from each other. A war which shortly occurred with
the Kitan Tartars, who lived west of the Yalu River, resulted in a
change of frontier, the Kitans taking and holding most of the
north-western territory of Korea. From that day to this the boundaries
of Korea have practically remained unchanged, and this brings us to the
second period of Korea’s history.

Four hundred years of peace now fell upon Korea. These four were the
most brilliant centuries in Korea’s history. Feudalism gave place to
absolute monarchy, and the peninsula was divided into eight provinces,
over each of which the king placed a governor. Buddhism became the
national religion; temples, pagodas, monasteries, nunneries in the best
forms of Chinese architecture, and in Chinese-like, but better than
Chinese forms of architecture, were built everywhere. The naturally rich
resources of the peninsula were developed, augmented, and made the most
of, and a flourishing trade was driven with both of the rival
kingdoms—China and Japan. But China still remained the fountain-head of
Korean learning and culture. The wealthy and the noble Koreans sent
their sons to China to be educated. This was the period of the Sung
dynasty in China—the wonderful period of Chinese literature and art to
which I referred a chapter or two ago. Korea, which was then more
abjectly the vassal of China in culture, in letters, in art, and in
sociology, than she was politically, followed as fast as she could in
the footsteps of China’s literary and artistic progress. It was then
that Korea first became deeply interested in Chinese classics, and from
then until now a thorough knowledge of the Chinese classics has been,
and is, the supreme test of Korean education and culture. Then the
Koreans first learned to print, printing from raised letters cut in
blocks of wood. Toward the close of these memorable four hundred years
it is said that there were more books, more printed books in Korea than
there were inhabitants. It was then that general education became a
matter of course in the peninsula. It was then, as I have said, that
Korean art was at its best and broadest; and it was then that the Korean
alphabet was invented, or at least became generally used. Many scholars
maintain even now that the Korean is the most beautiful, and the most
sensible alphabetical system that the world has, or ever has had.

Early in the fourteenth century the Mongols had begun their run of
unprecedented conquest. Khublai Khan and Genghis Khan, the mightiest
Mongols of their time, determined to conquer the earth. Their ideas of
the extent of the earth were limited, very limited, but within the
narrow limits of those ideas they very approximately carried out their
bold intentions. Korea was completely subdued.

The history of Korea during the period of the Mongolian supremacy in
China is a history of entire subjection. Toward the decadence of the
power of the Mongols Korea was called upon to conquer Japan, but escaped
from the farce of trying to do so. For the Mongol was already tottering
on his throne. The Mongols most in power were quarrelling among
themselves, and plotting against each other, and the people whom they
ruled had grown dissatisfied enough (as the Chinese once in a very great
while do), to not only contemplate but execute a rebellion. During the
last days of the Mongol’s already shattered power Korea was almost free
from Chinese supervision, and altogether free from Chinese control; for
China had more than she could do at home. At last a Chinese monk, a
Buddhist priest, calling himself Ming, or “Bright,” pushed the
insecurely seated Mongol from his throne. This priest proclaimed
himself, and the people acclaimed him, the Emperor and Deliverer of
China. He married that he might found a dynasty. The first Ming was
indeed a man of might, and the period during which he and his
descendants were supreme in China is peculiarly interesting to the
student of Korean history. For it was during this period that the
Koreans copied the Chinese Mings; assumed the dress in all its details
which they have worn ever since, and many of their most characteristic
customs. When the Mongols fell, the king of Korea, who seems to have
been an exceptionally good sort, wished to give his one-time masters
sanctuary in his hermit kingdom, but a greater than the king—a powerful
courtier named Ni Taijo—disallowed the king’s judgment, dethroned the
king, imprisoned him, and usurped, or at least ascended, the Korean
throne, and established the present Korean dynasty. That was five
hundred, or to be exact, five hundred and three years ago. The name of
the peninsula was again changed, and it was re-named Ta Cho-sun. Söul,
which he called, and which in fact we ought to call, Han-yang, was made
the capital. And it was then that the famous wall of Söul was built, and
then that her imposingly wide streets were laid out and made. Ni Taijo
changed the boundaries of Korea’s eight provinces. Those boundaries have
not been changed since. It was during his reign that the pale blue,
which we carelessly and generally call white, became the colour of every
ordinary Korean dress. It was then that the Korean hat in all its glory
was born. It was then that the Korean top-knot was erected upon Korean
heads. It was then that Buddhism made way for Confucianism; and it was
then that the gaining of office or position of trust was determined
solely by the result of competitive literary examinations. And it was
then that the Koreans invented, as they did invent, in their part of the
world at least, the art of printing by movable and cast metal type.

Again Korea had peace, peace for two hundred years. Then like the Romans
of old the Koreans who, like them, had feasted and lounged too much,
became enervated and thriftless. Japan grew bolder, and for more than a
quarter of a century Korea was constantly ravaged by pirates and
piratical armies from the islands of Japan. In 1592 Konishi and Kato
devastated large tracts of Korea, and it was after their final
expulsion, after the final expulsion of the power of which they were
powerful units, that (as I mentioned before) according to many
historians, religion fell in Korea into the disgrace from which it has
never arisen. Ping-yang was the site of many of the most desperate
struggles that took place between the natives and the invaders. All
through Chosön’s history Ping-yang has been the battlefield of a large
proportion of the most desperate conflicts that have taken place on
Korean soil. In 1597 the Japanese made their second invasion of Korea.
It was during this invasion that the Japanese seized upon vast
quantities of Korean treasure and of art works—works of art which,
transplanted to the fertile soil of Japan, quickly took root, and became
the seed-plants of a considerable portion of Japan’s best art.

During this second Japanese invasion China, in answer to Korean prayers,
sent vast reinforcements to the aid of the Chosönese. For seven years
Korea suffered from fire, from pillage, from war, from pestilence, and
from famine, and her already depleted resources were drained with the
necessity of feeding and sheltering, willy-nilly, two great alien
armies. A million Koreans died during these seven years; a million,
beyond the normal death-rate, of men were killed in battle, or died
after battle, or succumbed to starvation, or one of the dire diseases
bred of war, and in war-time. The sun of Korea’s greatness set then, and
never since have the Koreans been able to say, or to approximately

    ‘Now is the sun upon the high-most hill of our national day’s

Korea struggled, struggled bravely enough, to retrieve her fallen
fortunes, but before her old wounds were healed new ones were inflicted.
Beyond the mountains that marked, and still mark, her northern
boundaries a mighty race had risen—a race that became supreme in China
as in Korea, and a race that only now seems in danger of extermination
or degradation. The Manchius dwelt where the people of old Fuyu had
dwelt. They conquered Korea, and then they conquered China. In 1627 the
Manchius practically mastered Chosön; and ten years later they so
completely humbled the King of Korea that he acknowledged as his master
the Manchiu Emperor, who was now supreme in Pekin, and the Korean King
covenanted to send four times a year to the Tartar an enormous tribute,
and the Koreans bound themselves to perform to the Tartar and to his
represervatives the kow-tow which has played so ridiculous a part in our
European difficulties with China, and to sing hymns of praise
commemorative of the Manchius’ generosity and graciousness in not having
wiped Korea from off the face of the Asiatic earth. Let me quote a short
paragraph from an historian who never appears over-partial to China:—

“Aside from the entrance at stated times of the imperial envoy to
collect the tribute, and the annual embassy of Korean nobles to Pekin to
do homage to ‘the Great Khan,’ the internal politics of ‘the little
outpost state’ were not interfered with by the Chinese Government.”

Should Japan become the mistress of Korea; should Japan become the
mistress of China—will she, I wonder, be as magnanimous?

Twenty years brought little or no change to the people of Chosön. In
1653 Hamel was wrecked upon the Korean shores, and what I have quoted
from his memoirs indicates, by no means sufficiently, but as
sufficiently as my space will allow me to indicate, the condition of
Korea from then until 1777. And in 1777 begins the history of modern

That history affords neither pleasant writing nor pleasant reading to
any one of European or Europeanly-American birth. Korea is hardly enough
placed with China on the one hand and Japan on the other, but for all
that she, perhaps because she has been the weakest and the most exposed
of Oriental countries, has suffered most from—no, I do not mean
suffered, but been most at the mercy of Europe. “Courtesy with the East,
respect to the West, tribute to them both, and no foreigners wanted in
the kingdom,” was Korea’s political creed when Korea ceased to be one of
the intrinsically great nations of the past, and become one of the
unjustly unimportant nations. During the last hundred or hundred and
twenty years Korea has changed but little centrifugally, but
centripetally she has changed, well—considering that she is
Asiatic—enormously. Christianity, in an insidious Portuguese sort of
way, had peeped into Korea many years before, but now Christianity is
forcibly injected into Korea, injected in a way of which, however
admirable it may seem to us, Christ would never have approved.
Christianity, the species of Christianity offered to Korea, has not
flourished there, and the nice, new Occidental civilization which was
offered to Korea a year after the patriarchs of Massachusetts perfumed
the Bay of Boston with tea-leaves, seems to have been rather a failure
in the Land of the Morning Calm.

About the Jesuit fathers who sneaked into Korea under the shelter of the
big hats that Korean widowers wear, and about the American and English
missionaries who laid down their lives, and who have amplified and
luxuriated their lives in Korea, I should like to say a good deal, but
when one cannot say all that one might say and wishes to say, it is
perhaps least stupid to say nothing. But to those who would like to
study Christian missions in the East I would first of all recommend Mr.
Curzon’s “Problems of the Far East,” and then, as far as Korea is
concerned, I would recommend the works of the missionaries Griffis and

Korea itself has undergone little change since Hamel escaped from Korea.
Korea has suffered during those years a good deal of change at the hands
of others, a change that is, I think, not altogether to our credit. An
American commodore opened Japan up to the West, and now (so at least
they tell me), Japan is threatening to annihilate the West. Another
American commodore, rather a noisier man, and not blessed with so
fortunate a field of action, opened modern Korea to nineteenth century
Europe and nineteenth century North America. Since then, the history of
Korea has been a history of Korean degeneration, and European and United
States advancement. The King of Korea has become a patron of telephones,
and the hero of innumerable magazine articles—magazines published on
both sides of the Atlantic.

Such is the outline of Korea’s history—hurried, dry, and incomplete; so
incomplete, indeed, that it is not in truth an outline but rather scraps
of outline. But Korea’s history is anything but dry, if we study it in
something like intelligible entirety.

One who reads only English—or even the languages of modern Europe—but
wishes to know Korean history in some detail, will be forced to do
considerable literary browsing. A full and altogether satisfactory
history of Korea has yet to be written in English. Its writing would
involve years of earnest work, and could only be accomplished by one
thoroughly familiar with the Chinese language and Chinese literature. In
the meantime there is much interesting information to be found in
periodicals, in English papers printed in Shanghai, and to be gleaned
from Blue-books.

Both Ross and Griffis have contributed valuably to our literature _re_
Korea. But neither of them are the easiest of reading, and both write
from a sectarian, if not a narrow point of view. No one who is
interested in Korea can afford not to read Curzon’s “Problems of the Far
East,” Lowell’s “Chosön,” Carles’ “Life in Korea,” and almost above all
Dallet’s “_Histoire de l’Église de Corée_.” And don’t forget dear,
quaint old Hamel. There are more to be by-all-means read, but not many,
and in reading one we shall learn the titles of others.

The chapter headed “Korea,” in “The Life of Sir Harry Parkes” is, like
all the other chapters in that admirable work, delightfully written, and
peculiarly interesting. Korea has been rather cruelly used—it seems to
me—but it is pleasant to feel that in connection with Korea, England
has little or no cause to reproach herself.

                              CHAPTER XII.

                         THE SCOURGES OF CHINA.

It is the present war between China and Japan that has brought Korea to
our general notice; has caused us to ask and learn something of where
and what Korea is. It is this war that will largely open up Korea,
directly or indirectly, to Occidental travellers, to Occidental
adventurers, and to Occidental enterprise.

Whatever the ultimate effect of the war upon Japan the effect will be
far greater upon Korea, greater even than it will be upon China. China
is a huge place, and will, I think, change but slowly, no matter how
great her defeat may be, no matter how many and how sweeping the
concessions she may perforce yield to Japan. Korea is small and weak,
and may, if force enough is brought to bear upon her, change swiftly.

Korea has been now almost lost sight of in the present struggle; because
it has ceased to be the theatre of the strife. But the war concerns
Korea no whit less than it concerns China and Japan. This war is an
essential part of Korea’s history—the most recent scene in Korea’s
dramatic life.

With the war in the details of its action we are all very familiar, at
this moment. But I doubt if we are quite _au courant_ of the causes of
the war; and we have yet much to learn of the two interesting peoples
who are waging the war.

There are several reasons why China fell a fighting of Japan—China had
to, for Japan forced the war—China hates Japan—China, an important
part of China, was unnerved by a fearful plague and easily excited into
indulging in the dissipation of war. It was easy and comparatively safe
for Japan to make China fight, because China had for years so neglected
the art of war (if so holy a name may be attached to so often so unholy
a thing), that she was ill prepared to cope with any foe that was more
than a foe of straw; was ill prepared but did not know it. The Chinese
for long have not regarded warfare as the manliest of occupations.
Scholars, not soldiers, are their beau ideals, and the scum of their
populace fills the ranks of their standing army. Their officers know
little of military tactics, and are wont to direct, from behind the
curtains of palanquins, the actions of their troops.

Japan has fallen a fighting of China because she hates China; because
she dearly loves a bit of glory, and saw a splendid chance to gain it;
and because she too felt the need of a national stimulant: the course of
her true politics had not been flowing over smoothly, and she had been
badly unnerved by earthquake.

China is the home of the wild white roses, of supreme philosophy, and of
deadly pestilence. The recent plague in Hong Kong and Canton was merely
an outbreak of an inevitably recurrent pest which is the sure result of
the conditions of Chinese life. We are railing loudly just now against
Chinese dirt. I feel that Chinese dirt is very much less than Chinese
poverty. And it is a significant fact that the dirt and the poverty are
usually found together. The houses and grounds of the rich Chinese that
I have known in Singapore, in Penang, in Shanghai, and in Hong Kong,
have been models of order and neatness, if not (according to European
standards) of beauty.

The poorer quarters of the Chinese cities are undeniably filthy. But it
is the filth bred of overcrowding and of dire penury, and of the
inability of the government to cope with such enormous masses of
humanity, rather than of natural uncleanliness. It is an almost
infallible rule that only lazy people are dirty; sloth and filth are old
bedfellows. The Chinese are the most industrious, thrifty nation on our
globe; and I am convinced that the national dirt, the dirt of the poorer
classes, is their misfortune and not their fault.

But there the dirt is, and, like a thousand maggot-breeding filth-heaps,
it is constantly creating horrid germs of deadly disease.

It is very much to our national shame that the Chinese quarters of Hong
Kong are almost as filthy as the poorer parts of Canton. We are absolute
in Hong Kong; but we have done disgracefully little for the sanitation
of the native quarters in the island we have conquered.

And yet Hong Kong ought to be the healthiest city in the world, the
freest from pestilence. I know of no other city so admirably situated
for conditions of health. Aside from the beauty of the place, and
regarding it only as adaptable to healthy modes of human life and
residence, it is ideal. And our flag waves over Hong Kong. And yet but
yesterday a plague was raging there; only to think of which must make
the gorge of Christendom rise.

While the plague raged, no doubt everything was done that terror and
wisdom could devise. But the evil is deep-rooted, and it will not be
uprooted in an hour.

Except for their unavoidable proximity to the possibility of dire
disease (in which the Chinese are born, live, and die), the European
inhabitants of Hong Kong are in every way to be envied.

Alas! almost the latest duty of the _doyen_ of that Queen’s house was
the sending of a disinfecting party through the plague-stricken
districts of Hong Kong—a party including British soldiers, some of whom
were attacked by the seemingly invincible plague, and died a death
almost Chinese in its horror.

The conditions of well-to-do Chinese life are very pleasant in Hong

But in the Hong Kong of the poor there is nothing much but a tragic
struggle for human existence, and misery, misery almost unalleviated,
and yet not quite unalleviated. The poorest, hardest pressed of the
Chinese have—more than most peoples—the love of home, the joy in work,
the affection for kith and kin that go far to alleviate any lot, however
hard. And they have other blessings—the poverty-cursed Chinese—they
have their festivals and their temples. The cobbler, who sits by the
wayside and works for a few sen, smokes now and again his tiny pipe of
opium; he burns his incense sticks and his red, paper prayers in the
joss-house, and once in every four years he contributes some mite of
work, of treasure, or of interest to the Söul festival.

Plagues fall upon China almost with a grim regularity; they crush into
terrible graves countless thousands. But China goes on, and the Chinese
go on; and, ignorant as they may often be of the laws of sanitation,
they remain for ever steadfast to themselves and to their country, and
to what they conceive to be for the best advantage of both. What nation
does more?

We have made many conquests in the East. But we have not been altogether
victorious over Asiatic disease. We have carried our flag in triumph
into the Chinaman’s Mecca—into Pekin. And we have knocked open the
doors of the emperor’s palace, knocked them open with the butts of our
rifles. We have made Shamien our own. We have made it bloom like a fair
English garden, and at the very gate of Canton; where it lies a mute but
eloquent reproach to the filth of the Chinese city. We have gained the
probably most beautifully situated city in the world—the city of Hong
Kong—and there we have built for our soldiers an almost ideal barrack.
But we have been powerless—we are powerless to-day against the
relentless outbreak of a Chinese plague. And Shamien—that proud spot of
our, perhaps, supremest Chinese triumph—reeks with the poisonous stench
that comes from Canton.

Alas! alas! We have paid a high price for our occupancy of Asia. We have
often sacrificed to her our children.

The history of China is spotted with plagues. And the sanitary condition
of many of the Chinese cities and the density of their populations are
such that we can scarcely hope for China a future much freer from such
plagues than her past has been.

Go into the native market in Hong Kong; see the burning sun pour down
upon the half putrid fish and a hundred unwholesome looking native
foods; see the dense, sweating, seething human mass that is packed in
among the stalls, and you will wonder that Hong Kong is ever free from
pestilence. But the European residents of Hong Kong are not, as a rule,
over familiar with the details of the native quarter. They live on the
Peak, or on the outskirts of the beautiful public gardens, where no
smells reach them coarser than the indescribable perfume of the

Nothing could be lovelier, happier than Hong Kong the European. It is a
place of charming bungalows, of superb verdure, a place of green hills
and of fanning breezes, a place of shady streets and sweetly fragrant

Nothing could be more picturesque, nothing could be sadder than most of
Hong Kong the Chinese. It is a crowded place of deepest poverty. When I
have said that, I have said it all.

As I have said, the Chinese are not, I believe, greatly responsible for
either the gravity or the frequency of their epidemics. Poverty, extreme
poverty, commits most of the crimes against the Chinese health. People
who are too poor to buy soap cannot wash themselves, and much less their
clothes. People who can afford none of the necessities of health cannot
be blamed for falling ill. And the Chinese government, which is at the
fountain head the most paternal of all governments (but corrupt in many
of its branches), is unable to cope with the unavoidable poverty of
China’s overplus of humanity in those parts of the empire in which the
population is densest and most congested. It is a common mistake to
suppose that there are more people in China than China could support if
those people were equally scattered over her vast territory. But in the
great centres of Chinese life the people are overcrowded to starvation
and to pestilence.

Yes; things seem to be going rather badly in Asia just now—Mahommedan
and Hindoo strife, mysterious and ominous mango smearing, native
regimental insubordination, and buried treasure that refuses to be dug
up, are rife in India and Burmah. Siam is slowly, but I fear surely,
disappearing within the insatiable maw of France. China has been smitten
down by a dire plague. Japan has been torn with earthquake: and now a
black war cloud has broken over the Far East, drenching with its deadly
rain of bullets Korea, China, and Japan.

For centuries Korea has given China and Japan an excuse to exchange
discourtesies, and to vent a spleen, which for many hundreds of years
has sometimes slept, but never slept soundly, and much less died.

The Koreans have never of recent years been skilful in averting calamity
from themselves or from their country. The Japanese are as brave as they
are venturesome. The knight errant spirit that characterized old feudal
Japan has by no means died out of Japan the new, probably never will die
out of Japan. It is “bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh.” The land
which was for so many decades the theatre of that dignified but horrible
butchery called Hari-Kari, is not the land of cowards. Hari-Kari, or
self-disembowelment, was looked upon in old Japan as a ceremonial of
more than religious importance. And, even now, numbers of the Japanese
deplore the abolition of Hari-Kari. It follows that the Japanese are
neither afraid to die, nor reluctant to fight against fearful odds. But
it is China who is fighting against fearful odds now. And yet I venture
to think that in the long run Japan will lose more, gain less than her
adversary. The Chinese are slow to anger. They are slower to forgive.
They are not fond of withdrawing from any position they have taken. They
are not prone to look at things through the eyes of others. They are not
easy to convince. The Chinese in things military are shockingly behind
the times, and the Japanese are splendidly up-to-date. But there are
qualities that are, in the long run, more apt to win an Oriental war
than being up-to-date.

China may cry, “Peccavi,” but she won’t mean it. Unless, indeed, she be
permanently crippled she will bide her time, watch her opportunity, and
fight again and to better purpose. Japan is China’s natural foe. China
has forgiven us, I verily believe, for forcing ourselves into Pekin and
for wresting from her Hong Kong. But she will never forgive Japan. And
why should she? Shame to any nation that forgives a Port Arthur!

In half a day the Japanese can steam from their own coast to Korea: but
also any Power in possession of Korea can steam from there to Japan as
quickly. Korea is certainly more necessary to Japan than to China. But
geographical propinquity does not necessarily constitute territorial
right; and so far as we can judge the merits and demerits of so
perplexed, so involved, so almost prehistoric, so Oriental a question,
China has more right to Korea than Japan has. But international right is
fast becoming (if it has not already become) a matter of national might,
and concerning Korea the question of the moment is not, as it was a few
months ago, “Who will fight the better, China or Japan?” but “How far
shall we let them fight?”

Russia has her eye upon Korea. Even the United States may crave to stick
a finger, a modest little finger, in this political pie.

What right have we to interfere in the quarrels of Eastern Powers? What
right have we? It is too late for us to think of that now. We have
kinsfolk in all those Oriental places, and shall have in the generations
to come. It is our supreme duty to protect them, even though to do that
‘great right we do a little wrong.’ Russia securely, strongly lodged in
Korea would not be an altogether desirable sight for British eyes.

And Korea, where does she come in in the present quarrel? Alas, she bids
fair to go out, unless indeed Europe should be sentimentally chivalrous
and forbid the disnationalization of one of the few remaining unchanged
countries of the old Eastern world, and decree that Korea should remain
yet a little longer a steadfast landmark upon the ever shifting sands of

What rights have the Koreans in the matter? Alas, it is also too late to
ask that question. Their rights seem very apt to be torn into shreds
between the dragons of China and Japan, or else to be (as most Eastern
rights are) crushed into dust beneath the heavy but righteous foot of
advancing civilization.

                             CHAPTER XIII.

                          JAPAN’S INGRATITUDE.

Japan is ungrateful. She always has been, and, I fear, always will be.
She has achieved over an adversary, in most essentials abler than
herself, a brilliant run of, at least temporary, victories, largely
because she has adopted Western methods of warfare; and now she is
celebrating the victory of her European-borrowed arms by slapping Europe
in the face. How very like a woman! How very like Japan!

The Emperor of Japan has politely informed us—cautiously informed us
through the Japanese minister in Washington—that we must please mind
our own business, for “no offer of mediation on the part of a third
Power would be accepted by Japan until her object, which was to crush
the power of China, had been completely attained.”

And it is being more or less openly said (I believe the authority I
quote to be entirely reliable) on the streets of Yokohama: “When we’ve
finished China we must teach one of the big European Powers a lesson.
England, for instance, thinks a great deal too much of herself and not
half enough of us.” If Japan is really ambitious for a war with England,
let us hope that she will soon find an excuse for it. The sooner such
warfare is waged the better—for China—and it will not greatly
inconvenience us.

Japan has drunk of the awful, red wine of war, and the wine has gone to
her pretty little head. Let us hope that she will not have too much of a
headache in the inevitable morning, and that she may, for the near
future at least, have the good sense to drink our health and her own in
the beverages that best suit her: a cup of tea and a wee thimbleful of

There are two reasons why Japan has so far triumphed over China, reasons
which prove Japan our debtor; and yet Japan has, as far as we are
concerned, borne her honours so badly that it deserves at least our
passing attention.

Compare China and Japan on the map; compare their populations and it
certainly seems that by this time the Chinese Goliath should have
crushed and appropriated the Japanese David. But maps don’t tell us
everything, and figures lie, if we ask them to say more than they ought.
Figures are excellent things, if we permit them to mind their own
business. But they are not philosophers; they are not logicians. Then,
too, David always has so many advantages over Goliath. David can get
about so much quicker. He can move his body sooner than the giant can
move one limb. His hand can receive the message sent it by his brain in
a fraction of the time that the same transaction takes Goliath.

Perhaps we have all—those of us who are surprised at China’s at least
momentary defeat—been looking too much upon the surface, taking a too
topographical view of the situation. Bulk is not always a blessing. It
may become an embarrassment. It is, at any rate, often misleading. The
size of China, and its vast population have been misleading to many of
us who have had more interest in the present Chino-Japanese war than
knowledge of China and Japan.

I call the war the Chino-Japanese war, because it is a Chino-Japanese
war. Korea is the excuse for the war, not the cause of the war. Poor,
picturesque, badly-used place, let us pray that she may not be too the
victim, altogether the victim of the war.

China has been, so far at least, quite unable to mobilize her forces.
Japan—who is the art concentration of many nations—has concentrated
her comparatively small, but altogether fine forces, concentrated them
with a nicety and a shrewdness that might well be a lesson to the Europe
from which she has learned her art of war.

The Art of War! Japan seems indeed to be making War a fine art—but,
alas! she is making it, no less than it has always been, a butchery!

There is, however, an underlying fact, which seems to me to account
above everything else—yes, and to account philosophically—for the
humbling of China, and the swift advance of Japan. The Chinese are
creative as a race; the Japanese are imitative. A creative nature is
self-reliant; and an imitative nature is, of necessity, self-doubtful.
China has been inclined to rely upon herself; Japan has doubted herself
and relied upon Europe. China’s strength has been China’s weakness; the
weakness of Japan has proven Japan’s strength. It is true that China has
bought ships and guns from Europe; that she has borrowed officers to
drill her soldiers, and to manage her ships; but all this has been done
in a spirit of disallowance. She has always believed in herself. To her,
all the rest of the world is, as it was to ancient Rome, “barbarian.”

Japan lacking, as a nation, the creative faculty, possesses, more
eminently than any other nation, the imitative faculty. Her art is
borrowed from China and Korea; her methods of government, and her
methods of war from that Western world to which she has so lately, for
the first time, opened her gates. Japan is victorious to-day because of
her self-distrust, and because of her eager and compliant imitation of
Western methods. China is defeated to-day because of her half-hearted
adoption of European ways and means.

Japan jumps at conclusions with the swift intelligence of a bright
woman. China proves, and proves again, the worth of any custom or method
that she adopts. Japan improves everything that she adopts. China is
more like a wise man, she understands everything that she adopts. China
is the slower, but China is the surer.

Japan has so far had the best of the fight, because she has imitated us,
and because she has been able to mobilize her forces.

Whether the present war will suddenly break through the thick crust of
Chinese self-sufficiency, of Chinese bigotry, of Chinese hatred of
change, remains to be seen. If it does, China may swiftly regain her
lost ground. In any event it is not probable that so thoughtful, so
wise, so reasonable a people as the Chinese will fail to sooner or later
learn thoroughly the lesson which this present war preaches to them.
Perhaps in a few months, perhaps in twenty or thirty years, but surely
sometime, China will learn how right Galileo was, how decidedly the
world does move, and how needful it is that we who live on the world,
should move with the world. Then we may all learn how great a people the
Chinese really are; how vastly superior in many ways to their more
fascinating, more artistic, but less stable neighbours—the Japanese.

I am not, I know, taking a popular view of the relative admirableness of
China and Japan; but I believe that I take the true view. It is a view
diametrically opposed to the consensus of European opinion, but it is
not a view altogether original with me. A number of eminent men, who
have spent some of the best years of their lives in China and Japan,
compare the two peoples quite as much to the advantage of China as I
have ventured to do. In 1882 Herr von Brandt, who was then the German
minister to Pekin, who had previously been in office in Tokio, an able
diplomat, and a man greatly valued by Sir Harry Parkes, wrote to Sir
Harry:—“The news you gave me about the treaty revision has interested
me much. For my part I would see no objection to the institution of a
kind of mixed court for all cases in which Japanese were concerned,
provided the judges were elected from a certain number of persons
nominated by the Treaty Powers. The proposal to submit foreigners to the
Japanese police jurisdiction seems inadmissible; conflicts of all kinds
and gravity would, in my opinion, be the immediate consequences of such
a concession. In general it seems to me that the Japanese have done
nothing which could entitle them to the concessions they demand, and
that the experience of the past hardly authorizes any far-going
experiment for the future; the fact that Japanese jurisdiction is at the
present moment as bad as can be can hardly be given as a reason to
extend it over those who are not subjected to it for the present. The
opening of the country to foreign trade can hardly be considered as a
fair equivalent, as the Japanese, if the measure is carried out, are
certain to reap much more benefit from it than the foreigners will ever
do. After all, I am glad that it is not my business to put the Japanese
world right again: with all their faults there is much more steadiness
and logic in the Chinese than in their high flightinesses the sons of
the land of the Rising Sun.”

Yes; the Japanese have a graceful knack of quietly getting the best of
most bargains, and certainly the opening of the Japanese treaty ports to
Europeans has, as regards everything but art, benefited Japan far more
than it has benefited Europe. Herr von Brandt’s prophecy has been more
than fulfilled, and that gives some little weight to his opinion that
there is more steadiness and logic in the Chinese than in the Japanese.

Sir Harry Parkes had as much cause as man well could have to hate the
Chinese; and yet, again and again, he has felt impelled to utter some
testimony in their favour. On the fourteenth of December, 1874, he wrote
to Sir D. Brooke Robertson:—“I think our views resemble very closely on
the China-Japan question, now of the past fortunately. The luck has
fallen to Japan, who certainly did not deserve it. I can’t help feeling
sorry to see the old country opposite give in, when she had right on her
side, to this youngster among nations.”

How history repeats itself! Twenty years ago the war cloud that hung
over China and Japan was fanned away by the temperate winds of European
advice, absorbed in the sunshine of common sense. To-day the storm of
war has burst over Further Asia, burst in splendid, awful fury; and the
Chinese and Japanese are slaying each other by the shoal. We have taught
them how to do it. And the Chinese Goliath lies smitten (smitten almost
to death, at least so his enemy seems to think), by the well directed
pebbles of Japan. Of the effect of the successive and reportedly
crushing blows administered by Japan to her colossal neighbour, it is,
of course, too early to speak with confidence. Success means so much to
China, that should the present run of ill luck continue, the downfall of
the reigning dynasty would not be surprising. A victorious Japanese army
in the streets of Pekin would almost inevitably so result. Let us hope
that China—China the picturesque, China the beautiful—will not be
bowed so low as that. Our own interests in the Orient would suffer
materially through such a radical disturbance of the balance of power.
For our own sake, and for the sake of right, it is to be hoped that
China will be spared the humiliation of opening the gates of her sacred
and capital city to an invading army from Japan. That would be the
saddest misfortune that has ever befallen China: sadder far than the
misfortune that befell her when we took from her the island of Hong
Kong, and flew our flag above the dragon on the imperial palace at
Pekin. But so long as Japan is essentially stronger in army and in navy
than China, China must submit, with what grace she can, to defeat. But
having learned from us how to fight, it really is too bad of Japan to
turn up at us her pretty, little, yellow nose, to shake her
flower-crowned head at us in derision, or to make it uncomfortable for
our countrymen and women within her gates.

This is as true of the Japanese to-day as when Sir Harry Parkes wrote it
twenty years ago:—“The Japanese have committed the error of believing
all that they have been told about themselves and increasing this by
their own imagination, and the result is that their own little island is
too small to hold them.”

At this moment Japan evidently believes that her present victories are
attributable more to her own skill and prowess than to her exact and
servile adoption of European methods and models, and so she is tossing
her head and treating us a little rudely.

Ah, well! we all have to learn some sharp lessons, whether we are
individuals or nations. China is learning such a lesson now. I wonder
whose turn it will be next—Japan’s?

This, at least, when next Japan fights let us hope that she may have
become Europeanized enough not to wage war before she declares it.

Ingratitude seems to me to have been the trait most pronounceably shown
by the Japanese during this present struggle. And the desire of some
Japanese women to join the army as combatants seems to me the most
amusing incident in a war that has had more than one funny side to it.
But there is one other thing to have been noticed about Japan of late: a
thing that seems to have rather escaped notice—Japan is trembling.

In the glowing moment of her supreme victories, in this long hour of her
almost unprecedented run of luck, does it seem more stupid, or more
impertinent to speak of Japan as being a-tremble? The laws of some
countries hold that truth is no libel. The laws of other countries hold
that truth is the greatest libel. I am uttering libel or I am not
uttering libel, according to the country by whose laws I may be judged.
Most emphatically, I am uttering the truth. No other word so truly
adjectives Japan as does the word trembling.

This is the age of earthquakes. Almost daily the papers record the
upheaval of some part or other of the world. And earthquakes are
becoming almost common where they used to be nearly or quite unheard of.
Japan, as far we know, always has been, and probably always will be, the
stronghold of earthquakes. That inscrutable some one whom some of us
call God; that inscrutable something which some of us call Fate; that
inscrutable some one or something of which the bravest of us, the most
phlegmatic of us, the most callous of us, one and all, stand in more
than wholesome dread; for uncountable centuries, has seen fit, and will
see fit, to hold over the flower-crowned head of Japan a Damoclean
sword. The thread by which that sword is held is very much frailer than
the thread that, in the classic days of old Greece, held that sword’s
prototype. It breaks, does the Japanese thread. It breaks very often. It
breaks with a persistent irregularity that is almost regular in its
frequency. And Japan is disembowelled with a Hari-Kari far more
terrible, far more merciless than the Hari-Kari which used to be the
glory of the well-born criminals, or the well-born unfortunates of old

The first time I ever saw a Japanese earthquake (and I have had the
misfortune to see many), it occurred to me that the Japanese, who create
nothing, who imitate and ornament everything, had caught from the brutal
butchery of Nature (Nature who is worshipped in Japan, as she is
worshipped almost nowhere else), the idea of that terrible
self-annihilation which was for centuries the gruesome glory of Japan.
Japan is the pet lamb of Nature, the favourite home of art, the chosen
throne of beauty, and yet the Japanese always have had the greatest
enthusiasm for the horrible in Nature, and the horrible in art.

Nature is, perhaps, the most convenient term by which we, who believe in
God, we who believe in Fate, and we who believe in nothing, can agree to
commonly express our common wish to personify that of which none of us
know too much, but of which we all think, more or less, and of which
most of us wish to speak rather frequently.

I have called Japan the pet child of Nature, and so she is. Not all the
earthquakes that have ever out-canniballed the cannibals; not all the
earthquakes that ever swallowed houses and gulped down humans, could
counterbalance the enormous partiality which Nature shows for Japan.
Never bloomed such flowers, never grew such trees, never did such
moonlight, with such dappled gold and silver, glorify such landscapes.
Verily doth Nature love Japan as she loves no other spot on earth. Out
of the great womb of Nature Japan was born, and truly every star in
heaven danced and shone the brighter. But Nature, like many another
mother, seems to have overtaxed herself in giving to the world so
sublime a child. The umbilical cord has never been cut between Nature
and Japan. The Japanese have never ceased to suck the wonderful milk of
Nature, the milk that has nourished in them their great love for the
beautiful, their great appreciation of the beautiful, and their supreme
gift of reproducing the beautiful. But all this seems to have worn on
Nature. The mother who nurses her child beyond a physically reasonable
period invariably suffers. The child may thrive, but the mother grows
ill: most women who are ill are hysterical. Nature, if there is such a
thing as Nature, is a mother. Nature, if there is such a thing as
Nature, is a woman. Nature is a mother, because from Nature have we, all
parts of our world, and all other worlds, been born. Nature is a woman,
because no manly thing could be so cruel to its offspring as Nature is.
The child is so over-grown, so hungry, so perpetually demanding of,
draining Nature, that Nature, veriest woman that she is, must needs,
once in a way, lose patience with Japan.

But save for her momentary losses of temper, Nature is to Japan the
tenderest of mothers, fashioning for her, as all mothers love to fashion
for their favourite children, the daintiest of garments. And never yet
did pet child wear such fine frocks, such robes of soft but splendid
beauty, as Nature makes, year in year out, season in season out, for
Japan. She weaves them of flowers, she buckles them with brilliant
berries, and she sprays them with a drench of soft, warm, unsoiling, and
altogether incomparable perfume. She sings sweet songs of mother-love to
her pet child. Such lullabies she croons to it! She keeps for it the
most wonderful of orchestras. An orchestra that makes ceaseless, but
everchanging music. Humming birds wing notes of music into that
marvellous concerto, silver rills “that gush out i’ the midst of roses,”
waterfalls that in the moonlight and in the sunlight kiss the
moss-warmed rocks, and leap in passionate ecstasy into the arms of the
flower-dressed earth, drip liquid notes of beauty into that wondrous
symphony. The wings of butterflies add falsetto, but, oh! so sweet,
notes, and the wind, as it wantons between the wanton trees, and kisses
the fragrant flowers, steals from them their honey, and adds perfume
unto perfume, and music unto music, until Japan, Nature’s pet baby,
cuddles down into the warm eider-down of its cradle, an eider-down that
is incomparably soft with flower-petals, and that smells of blossoms
that are sweeter than music.

Nature does ten hundred gracious, gentle, mother-kindnesses to Japan,
and Japan accepts them all, and asks for more, and then Nature, well,
Nature’s nerves give out, and as many another mother, who has an almost
idolatrous love for her child, has done, Nature gives Japan a fearful
shaking. When Nature recovers herself a bit, and sees what she has done,
she is always very sorry, and about the tumbled, broken, paper houses,
through the ruined fields of paddy and of rice, over the heaps of torn
and burned wisteria, well, she does what mothers have done before her,
she stoops and kisses the place that she has made sting, she scatters
violets over her pet child’s bruises, she makes vines, blue with blossom
and purple with perfume, grow over the marks which she has made upon the
dimpled limbs and the pretty features of her favourite, but somewhat
trying child.

But a kiss never yet altogether made up for a blow. Our children forgive
us our cruelties, but they never forget them; and Japan is always in a
state of apprehension. Japan is always afraid that in another moment its
mother Nature may lose her temper, and Nature does not often keep Japan
long waiting.

For centuries the great artifice of the Japanese Government (or should I
say the great art?) has been to divert the minds of the perpetually
frightened Japanese people. The criminal going to the gallows often
conserves his personal dignity, and augments his personal courage with a
glass of brandy. The Japanese Government holds to the lips of its
once-so-often-to-be-by-earthquake-shaken-and-perhaps-destroyed people a
cup of redder wine—Blood. The blood of adversaries, or the blood of
themselves, seems to be the liquor that, from the earliest history of
Japan, has had the greatest power to intoxicate the Japanese people, and
to make them forget the sword that hangs above them, and which in any
moment may fall and cut into the bowels of their country.

Korea has, of course, been for a very long time an excuse for war
between China and Japan. They seem to have an uncontrollable appetite
for wrangling with each other, and poor Korea hangs, like a ready bone,
between the open, snarling mouths of Ah-man and Yamamato.

But, for all that, I verily believe that the immediate causes of the
present war in Asia were the plague in China, and the earthquakes in
Japan. The minds of the Chinese, and the minds of the Japanese, had to
be diverted, else might they both have gone mad. This is true, at least
of Japan, who struck the first blow, and in many ways forced the war.
Korea has been offered up in sacrifice by China and Japan, with a
devotion to their own safeties, and a belief in their own gods, which
would have done credit to Abraham. They poured the vitriol of their
hatred over Korea, and lit her myriad gardens with the torch of war, as
complacently as Moses slew the task-master in the brick-field of

Earthquakes are perhaps as little understood as any of Nature’s
mysterious phenomena. A new science has sprung up almost mushroom-like
amongst us of recent years; a science that is attempting the elucidation
to human understanding of the laws that govern earthquakes. This new
science has not as yet made much positive headway, and seismologists
themselves know comparative little of the phenomena they study.

To-day we are in a Japanese village. In every door-yard great clumps of
gorgeous chrysanthemums echo the glory of the sunset, wonderful tangles
of wisteria throw their plum-coloured shadows upon the clean white paper
windows, and the clean white paper doors of the hundred or more clean
little houses. Upon the spotless-floored, flower-wreathed verandahs the
waning sunshine sketches in crimson, in purple, and in gold the outlines
of the wisteria petals, and the wisteria leaves. Roses, crimson and
white and yellow, spot the grass. Painted bowls of blue and white
porcelain, heaped with silky rice, stand on the verandahs, and on one
verandah, perhaps, stands an old bowl of yellow Satsuma, which holds the
evening meal of rice. Lacquered trays of fish stand beside the bowls of
rice. The families, soft-featured, pleasing of face, graceful of
gesture, gentle of manner, squat artistically upon the spotless floors.
The sun sets, the moon comes up, the rice and the fish have been eaten.
The birds and the butterflies sing. All is peace and contentment. The
beautiful bowls have been tenderly washed, and the villagers have gone
to sleep, resting their elaborately dressed heads upon their queer
little wooden pillows.

To-morrow we are in the same village, but where is the village? It is
torn and crushed. A thrill has passed through the earth at sunrise The
chrysanthemums shake their heavy heads in terror, the wisteria vines are
alive with dismay, every purple head quivering with afright. Every
golden bell upon every crimson, lacquered, carved temple cries out in
alarm so musical, so sweet, that it is incomprehensible that even so
angry, so momentarily relentless a mother as Nature is not moved to
pity, and to stay her hand. But no. The wisterias are roughly wrenched
from off the walls up which they were wont to climb, decking foot after
foot with their lavish beauty. The chrysanthemums are torn into rags so
small and pitiful, that if here and there we find an unmutilated petal
it seems to us quite huge.

There are few sights more pitiful than the sight of a Japanese village
that has been broken by earthquake. Bits of wood, shreds of paper,
wrecks of trees, broken flowers, torn vines are tangled together in
picturesque, but deplorable _débris_. The people are homeless, at the
best, more than probably, they, too, are torn and maimed, most possibly
they are killed. The rice is spilled, and the bowls of blue, and white,
and of yellow Satsuma are broken. Silver pipes, torn kimonos, bits of
pottery, that if whole again were worth a king’s ransom, strew the
scene, and for the moment hide the gashes in the ground. And yet, like
everything else in Japan, even this scene of desolation has its juvenile
aspect; it looks not unlike a toy that a spoiled child has broken in

The trouble, the misery, the agony, physical and mental, that
earthquakes entail year in and year out on the people of Japan is beyond
exaggeration, and quite beyond the pale of light writing. All thinking
travellers must feel that it is no wonder that a people periodically
subjected to such momentous torture, periodically need a big stimulant.
And so, perhaps, it is less shame (than at the first glance it seems) to
the powers that in Japan be, that soon after the recent disembowelment
of Nagasaki, and the upheaval of many other Japanese states and
villages, they, the powerful ones of Japan, have seen fit to go to war
with China.

The plague that so recently devastated China, though more repulsive in
detail, is far less hopeless to contemplate than the Japanese
earthquakes. If China should ever come to the adopting of fairly proper
sanitary laws, if China’s poverty should ever go down once and for all
beneath the iron heel of China’s really vast common sense, and China’s
infinite capacity of contrivance, then would China, always vigorous, be
baptized into new health, and then would China’s plagues be matters of
the past.

I am fain to hope all good things for China. But I fear that earthquakes
will never be matters of the past in Japan. Well, both these
peoples—one very great, the other very charming—have been sorely
afflicted within the last year, and both have fell a-fighting.

We can only hope that right may prove mighty, and that in the near end
peace may crown the Asiatic all.

We always think of Japanese women as the embodiment of everything that
is feminine and gentle. And with the exception of the yoshiwara and the
hardest worked women of the coolie class, we picture the women of Japan
as shrinking from publicity, from unnecessary exertion, and from
anything bordering on self-assertion. Yet in the days gone by Japan has
had a class of women who have been quite opposite to all this, and yet
who have been neither yoshiwara nor coolies. I mean the Japanese
Amazons, who have more than once played active parts in Japanese
warfares. This class has quite died out, but during the present
Chino-Japanese war a number of Japanese women of high birth have
petitioned the Mikado to permit them to join the army—join it as active
soldiers—at least, so a recent despatch says. This is funny; but not in
the least incredible. The Japanese are the funniest people alive. They
are perpetually doing the most unexpected, I might almost say the most
indefensible things, but they do them with such an air of artistic
propriety, that it is a very keen-eyed European indeed who realizes that
anything not altogether _au fait_, mentally or morally, has happened.

The Japanese are so incapable of a _gaucherie_ that we do not appreciate
their very extensive capacity for folly.

A Japanese woman in the thick of the fight! Her kimono well tucked up
from her little dimpled feet. Her obi bulging with cartridges! A
knapsack rubbing corns on the sweet, stooped, brown shoulders! Armed
cap-à-pie! A plumed helmet crushing down the elaborate shape of her
perfumed coiffure! A sword hitting roughly against the warm limb, to
which bright-eyed, brown children have been wont to gently cling! A
great coarse gun chafing the soft arm and softer breast where laughing,
yellow babies have slept and dreamed glad, soft dreams, and as they
learned to love their mother’s milk, learned the three great lessons of
Japanese life: learned to be happy, learned to be courteous, learned to
be beautiful and artistic! It makes me laugh.

And yet I do not discredit the veracity of the telegram. The Japanese
women are very, very drowsy. But when they wake up—and
semi-occasionally they do wake up—they wake up with a start.

Great occasions seem to infuse them with electricity. I quite believe
that to-day there are in Japan thousands of delicate, daintily
accustomed, women who would gladly join the active ranks of war.
Japanese patriotism is as supreme, as gracious, as graceful as Japanese
art; and unlike Japanese art it is often visionary.

That the Japanese women want to fight the Chinese soldiers—is very
amusing, and rather interesting. It proves that they have pluck. It
proves that they have bad taste. That it does prove them guilty of bad
taste makes it remarkable. The Chino-Japanese wrangle over Korea is, I
believe, the first event in all our world’s long history that has
convicted the women of Japan of bad taste.

Whether any Japanese women would prove effective soldiers, I doubt. I
doubt if even the women of the coolie class: the women who sort tea in
Kobe, the women who, in Nagasaki, running up and down the sides of P.
and O. and other steamers, carry upon their muscular brown backs,
murderous loads of coal, would advantageously augment the Japanese army.
I doubt if the women of the Ainos (the Ainos are the fiercest, wildest
people of Japan) would acquit themselves usefully in the field of
battle. That the women of Japan would acquit themselves bravely, nobly,
in the terrible moment of battle, admits of no doubt. But to be brave is
one thing; to be noble is another; to be useful is still another.

Greatly to his credit (he seems to be—take him all in all—a very
worthy, manly sort of fellow), the Emperor of Japan has not, I believe,
allowed the women of Japan to swell the pretty ranks of his victorious

Yes; the Japanese army is a pretty army. I am speaking disrespectfully
of the army of a nation that has beaten the great nation of China! China
is not beaten yet. Japan has trod hard, very hard on one of China’s
toes, and the toe is crushed and bleeding. But China—great big, broad,
yellow China is not beaten; and won’t be for a few days more.

The Manchu dynasty may be unthroned. But China will go on for hundreds
of years very much as she has gone on for hundreds of years. The
Japanese army has proved itself a very industrious, capable,
workman-like army indeed; but for all that, it is a pretty army.

The Japanese soldiers are plucky little heroes, every one of them, but
they look for all the world like toy warriors—toy warriors in nice new

If Japan were engaged in war, not with China, but with one of the
first-class European Powers, Japan would fight as bravely as she is
fighting now, every bit as bravely, but would her success be so swift
and meteor-like? I wonder.

If Japan should ever fall a-fighting of a Western power, then I advise
the Mikado to enlist as many of his lady subjects as he can, and when
the bugle sounds the battle hour, place them in the front ranks. Then
might Japan hope to conquer, not one, but every nation in Europe, and
have at her feet every army in Christendom. No European soldier could
draw sword, or aim gun against the Japanese army, if its front ranks
were filled with almond-eyed, smiling-mouthed, crêpe-clad, Amazons. Then
would the British soldier cease to sing “God Save the Queen” and “Rule
Britannia.” Then would he stand at attention before the ranks of Japan;
and this the battle hymn he’d sing:—

                      “I fear no foe in shining armour
                         Though his lance be swift and keen,
                       But I fear and love the glamour
                         ’Neath thy drooping lashes seen.”

The Chinese soldier is not so sentimental. He is extremely sensible.
“All’s game that comes to my gun,” is his motto in time of war, and he
would argue (not without some show of justice) that if a woman were
foolish enough, unsexed enough, to go into the field of battle as a
combatant, a maker of carnage, the sooner she were exterminated the

Yes; the Emperor of Japan has done well to exclude the dainty women folk
of Japan from active participation in the present fray. Let the women of
Japan wait. When there is a Japanese-European war, then their turn will
have come, and they will have the proud happiness of being Japan’s
invincible defenders, Japan’s strongest soldiers, and the conquerors of
all Europe.

A number of Japanese women have petitioned the Emperor to enrol them as
army nurses, and send them to the seat of war. So wise a man as
Mutsuhito will not, I feel sure, refuse so admirable a suggestion. Cooks
are taught sometimes: statesmen made, poets manufactured as often as
not. Nurses are born.

The knack of nursing is a gift; a gift from God. Japanese women have
this gift to a delightful degree. Physically, they are ideal nurses.
Their voices are sweet, low, and clear. Their motion is gentle and
graceful. Their touch is cool but comfortable, soft, comforting. They
have not a single quality among them that could rasp the sorest nerves.

A Japanese girl (now the wife of a lieutenant in the Japanese navy) used
to make illness a perfect treat to me when we were girls at school
together. It was a big family ours, almost a thousand, if I remember,
but Shige nursed us all, from the Lady Principal to the college cat. We
always thought her inspired with a gentle, loving talent for helping and
soothing the sick. Certainly she was the best nurse I ever knew: but
when I came to live in Japan, I learned that every Japanese woman is an
almost ideal nurse.

The Chinese hospitals are hells of horror. The Japanese hospitals are
heavens of flower-perfumed rest and consolation.

The soldiers of Japan have acquitted themselves well in the field and in
the sea of battle. And they seem to have had all the best of the Korean

The woman of Japan will excel always and everywhere in the holier half
of war: the binding of wounds, the staunching of blood flow, the decent
shrouding of the dead.

And so the strife goes on. The fate of Korea, and perchance the fate of
the Far East, hangs in war’s awful balance. Yet even now Korea is half
asleep amid her lotus-flowers, and far more inclined to dream away a
hermit life, hidden behind the Ever-white Mountains, lulled by the
crooning of the Yellow and the Japan Seas, than to come out into the
tumult, the struggle, and the glare of international day.

                                THE END.


    _Ainos_—A fierce, almost barbarian people, living in the north of

    _Arrack_—A strong liquor distilled from rice.

    _Chulalongkorn_—The present king of Siam.

    _Flower-boats_—The boats upon which the Chinese flower-girls

    _Geisha_—(Literally) An accomplished person.

    _Jinrickshaw_—A two-wheeled vehicle, pulled by a coolie, or by

    _Joss-house_—The temple of a Chinese god.

    _Junks_—A species of Chinese boats.

    _Khan_—A partially underground furnace.

    _Kimono_—The principal or outer robe worn both by Japanese men
      and women.

    _Ki-saing_—A Geisha girl.

    _Kow-tow_—A profound Chinese obeisance.

    _Lien-hoas_—Chinese water-lilies.

    _Mogree flowers_—A peculiarly sweet Indian blossom, worn by the
      Nautch girls when they dance.

    _Mutsuhito_—The present Emperor of Japan.

    _Obi_—A narrow Japanese belt, worn above a broad sash.

    _Paddy_—Young rice.

    _Pailow_—A Chinese memorial arch, usually erected to the honour
      of a woman who, upon her husband’s death, has killed herself.

    _Purdah-women_—Oriental women living in strict family seclusion.

    _Queue_—The long braid of hair worn by Chinese men.

    _Saki_—A strong Japanese liquor.

    _Sampan_—A small, rude, native boat.

    _Samshu_—A Chinese liquor.

    _Satsuma_—A famous Japanese family. A peculiarly beautiful and
      valuable pottery, especially noted for its glaze, its exquisite
      decorations, and for its interesting history.

    _Sen_—A small Chinese coin; a cent; a hundredth part of a Yen, or

    _Son wang-don_—The home of the king of the fairies.


    _Taro_—A Korean sweet potato.

    _Torii_—A Japanese arch, marking the approach to a temple or
      sacred place.

    _Yamun_—The official residence of a Chinese mandarin.

    _Yu-lan_—A beautiful flower of the Far East.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Archaic spellings and hyphenation have been retained. Punctuation and
obvious typesetting errors have been corrected without note.

                 *        *        *        *        *

[End of _Quaint Korea_, by Louise Jordan Miln]

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