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

Part 2 out of 4

which arose out of a mere nothing, and nearly resulted in a most serious
case of wilful infanticide. This is how things stood.

I was sketching one day outside the east gate of Seoul, and, as usual,
was surrounded by a large crowd of natives, when a good-natured old man
with a kindly face attracted my attention, as he lifted up in his arms a
pretty little child, on whose head he had placed his horse-hair
transparent hat, and asked me whether I would like to paint the little
one so attired in my picture. I was tempted by the offer, and, having
taken up a fresh panel, proceeded to dash off a sketch of my new model in
his pretty red frock, his tiny padded socks, and his extra large hat, to
the great amusement of the audience, who eagerly watched every stroke of
my brush, and went into ecstasies as they saw the likeness come out more
and more plainly. The Coreans, like the Japanese, are extremely quick at
understanding pictures and drawings, and I was much gratified to notice
the interest displayed by my _auditorium_, for never before had I seen a
crowd so pleased with work of mine. My last experiences in the sketching
line had been among the hairy savages of the Hokkaido, among whom art was
far from being appreciated or even tolerated, and portrait-painting was
somewhat of a risky performance; so that when I found myself lionised,
instead of being under a shower of pelting stones and other missiles, it
was only natural that I felt encouraged, and really turned out a pretty
fair sketch so far as my capabilities went. "Beautiful!" said one; "Very
good!" exclaimed another; "Just life-like!" said they all in a chorus as
I lifted up the finished picture to show it to them, when--there was a
sudden change of scene. A woman with staring eyes, and as pale as death,
appeared on the door-step of a house close by, and holding her forehead
with her hands, as if a great calamity was to befall her, made a step

"Where is my child?" cried she in a voice of anger and despair.

"Here he is," answered one of the crowd. "The foreigner is painting a
picture of him."

There was a piercing yell, and the pale woman looked such daggers at me
that I nearly dropped the sketch, brushes and palette out of my hands.
Oh, it was such a look! Brrr! how I shivered. Then, with another yell,
tenfold more piercing than the first, she made a dash into the crowd, and
tried to snatch the child away. I have heard people say that I am
sensitive, and I believe that I really was on that occasion, for I
involuntarily shuddered as I saw at a glance what was coming. The crowd
had got so interested in the picture that they would not hear of letting
the child go; so the mother, scorned and pushed back, was unsuccessful in
her daring attempt. Boldly, however, making a fresh attack, she dashed
into the midst of them and managed to grasp the child by the head and one
arm; which led to the most unfortunate part of the business, for the
angry mother pulled with all her might in her efforts to drag her sweet
one away, while the people on the other hand pulled him as hard as they
could by the other arm and the legs, so that the poor screaming mite was
nearly torn to pieces, and no remonstrances of mine had the least effect
on this human yet very inhuman tug-of-war.

Fortunately for the child, whose limbs had undergone a good stretching,
the mother let go; but it was certainly not fortunate for the others,
for, following the little ways that women have, even in Corea, she
proceeded to scratch the faces of all within her reach, and I myself came
within an inch of having my eyes scratched out of my head by this
infuriated parent, when to my great relief she was dragged away. As she
re-entered the door of her domicile, she shook her fist and thrust her
tongue out at me, a worthy finish to this tragic-comic scene.

I do not wish you to think, however, that all women are like that in
Corea; for, indeed, they are not. In fact, the majority of them may be
said to be good-mannered and even soft in nature, besides being painfully
laborious. You should see the poor things on the coldest days and nights
of winter, smashing the thick ice in the rivers and canals, and spending
hour after hour with their fingers in the freezing water, washing the
clothes of their lords and masters, who are probably peacefully and
soundly asleep at home. You should see them with their short, wooden
mallets, like small clubs, beating the dirt out of the wet cotton
garments, soap being as yet an unknown luxury in the Corean household.
The poorer women, who have no washing accommodation at home, have to
repair to the streams, and, as the clothes have to be worn in the day,
the work must be done at night. Sometimes, too, three or more join
together and form washing parties, this, to a certain extent, relieving
the monotony of the kneeling down on the cold stone, pounding the clothes
until quite clean, and constantly having to break the ice that is
continually reforming round their very wrists. The women who are somewhat
better off do this at home, and if you were to take a walk through the
streets of Seoul by night you soon get familiar with the quick tick,
tick, tick, the time as regularly marked as that of a clock, heard from
many houses, especially previous to some festivity or public procession,
when everybody likes to turn out in his best. If a woman in our
country were sent out to do the washing under similarly trying
circumstances--and, mind, a suit of clothes takes no less than a couple
of hours to wash properly--I have no doubt that she might be tempted to
ask for a divorce from her husband for cruelty and ill-treatment; but the
woman of Cho-sen thinks nothing of it, and as long as it pleases the man
whom she must obey she does it willingly and without a word of complaint.
In fact, I am almost of opinion that the Corean woman likes to be made a
martyr, for, not unlike women of other more civilised countries, unless
she suffers, she does not consider herself to be quite happy!

It sounds funny and incongruous, but it really is so. While studying the
women of Corea, a former idea got deeply rooted in my head, that there is
nothing which will make a woman happier than the opportunity of showing
with what resignation she is able to bear the weight and drudgery of her
duty. If to that she can add complaint of ill-treatment, then her
happiness is unbounded. The woman of Cho-sen gets, to my mind, less
enjoyment out of life than probably any other woman in Asia. This life
includes misery, silence, and even separation from her children--the male
ones--after a certain age. What things could make a woman more unhappy?
Still, she seems to bear up well under it all, and even to enjoy all this
sadness, I suppose one always enjoys what one is accustomed to do,
otherwise I do not see how the phenomenon is to be explained.

[Illustration: A SINGER]

A few words must be added about that special class of women, the singers,
who, as in Japan, are quite a distinct guild from the other women. A
similar description to that of the _geishas_ of Japan might apply to
these gay and talented young ladies, who are much sought after by high
officials and magistrates to enliven their dinner-parties with chanting
and music. They are generally drawn from the very poorest classes, and
good looks and a certain amount of wit and musical talent is what must be
acquired to be a successful singer. They improvise or sing old national
songs, which never fail to please the self-satisfied and well-fed
official, and if well paid, they will even condescend to pour wine into
their employer's cups and pass sweets to the guests. If beautiful and
accomplished, the "Corean artistes" make a very good living out of their
profession, large sums of money being paid for their services. But if at
all favoured by Nature, they generally end by becoming the unofficial
wives of some rich minister or official. These women chalk their faces
and paint their lips; they wear dresses made of the most expensive silks,
and, like people generally who have sprung from nothing and find
themselves lodged among higher folks than themselves, they give
themselves airs, and cultivate a sickening conceit. Among the Coreans,
however, they command and receive much admiration, and many an intrigue
and scandal has been carried out, sometimes at the cost of many heads,
through the mercenary turn of mind of these feminine musicians.

This music is to the average European ear more than diabolical, this
being to a large extent due to the differences in the tones, semi-tones,
and intervals of the scale, but personally, having got accustomed to
their tunes, I rather like its weirdness and originality. When once it is
understood it can be appreciated; but I must admit that the first time
one hears a Corean concert, an inclination arises to murder the musicians
and destroy their instruments. Of the latter they have many kinds,
including string and brass, and drums, and cymbals, and other sorts of
percussion instruments. The flutes probably are the weirdest of all their
wind category, but the tone is pleasant and the airs played on them
fascinating, although somewhat monotonous in the end, repetitions being
continually effected. Then there is the harp with five strings, if I
remember right, and the more complicated sort of lute with twenty-five
strings, the _kossiul_; a large guitar, and a smaller one; the _kanyako_
being also in frequent use. Most of these instruments are played by
women; the flutes, however, are also played by men.


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

One great feature of Cho-sen life are the children. One might almost say
that in Cho-sen you very seldom see a boy, for boyhood is done away with,
and from childhood you spring at once to the sedate existence of a
married man. Astonishing as this may sound, it is nevertheless true. The
free life of a child comes to an end generally when he is about eight or
nine years of age. At ten he is a married man, but only, as we shall see
later, nominally. For the present, however, we shall limit ourselves to a
consideration of his bachelor days.

[Illustration: COREAN MARRIED MAN, AGE 12]

It must be known that in Corea, just as here, boys are much more
cherished than girls, and the elder of the boys is more cherished than
his younger brothers, should there be more than one in a family,
notwithstanding that the younger are better-looking, cleverer and more
studious. When the father dies, the eldest son assumes the reins of the
family, and his brothers look to him as they had before done to their
father. He it is who inherits the family property and nearly all the
money, though it is an understood rule that he is bound either to divide
the inheritance share and share alike with the rest of the family, or
else keep them as the father had done. Thus it is that Corean families
are, for the most part kept together; one might almost say that the
kingdom is divided into so many clans, each family with the various
relations making, so to speak, one of them. Family ties are much regarded
in the Land of the Morning Calm, and great interest is taken by the
distant relations in anything concerning the happiness and welfare of the
family. What is more, if any member of the clan should find himself in
pecuniary troubles, all the relations are expected to help him out of
them, and what is even more marvellous still, they willingly do it,
without a word of protest. The Corean is hospitable by nature, but with
relations, of course, things go much further. The house belonging to one
practically belongs to the other, and therefore it is not an uncommon
occurrence for a "dear relation" to come to pay a visit of a few years'
duration to some other relation who happens to be better off, without
this latter, however vexed he may be at the expense and trouble caused by
the prolonged stay of his visitor, even daring to politely expel him from
his house; were he to do so, he would commit a breach of the strict rules
of hospitality enjoined by Corean etiquette. Even perfect strangers
occasionally go to settle in houses of rich people, where for months they
are accommodated and fed until it should please them to remove their
quarters to the house of some other rich man where better food and better
accommodation might be expected. There is nothing that a Corean fears so
much as that people should speak ill of him, and especially this is the
bugbear under which the nobleman of Cho-sen is constantly labouring, and
upon which these black-mailers and "spongers" work. High officials, whose
heads rest on their shoulders, "hung by a hair," like Damocles' sword,
suffer very much at the hands of these marauders. Were they to refuse
their hospitality it would bring upon them slander, scandal and libel
from envenomed tongues, which things, in consequence of the scandalous
intriguing which goes on at the Corean court, might eventually lead to
their heads rolling on the ground, separated from the body--certainly not
a pleasant sight. In justice to them, nevertheless, it must be
acknowledged that these human leeches are occasionally possessed with a
conscience, and after kindness has been shown them for many months they
will generally depart in search of a new victim. Whence it would appear
that the people of Cho-sen carry their hospitality to an extreme degree,
and in fact it is so even with foreigners, for when visiting the houses
of the poorest people I have always been offered food or drink, which you
are invariably asked to share with them.

But let us return to the Corean family. The mother, practically from the
beginning, is a nobody in the household, and is looked upon as a piece of
furniture or a beast of burden by the husband, according to his grade,
and as an ornament to the household, but nothing more by her own sons.
Her daughters, if she has any, regard her more as a friend or a
companion, sharing the lonely hours and helping her with her work. The
women never take part in any of the grand dinners and festivities in
which their husbands revel, nor are they allowed to drink wine or
intoxicants. They may, however, smoke.

When the children get to a certain age, the males are parted from the
females, and the first are constantly in the company of their father,
while the latter, as we have seen, share the dull fate of the mother. The
first thing a male child is taught is love, deep respect, and obedience
to his governor, and in this he is, as a general rule, a paragon. If the
father be ill, he will lie by his side day and night, nursing him, and
giving him courage; and if any misfortune befalls him, the duty of a good
son is to share it with his genitor.

I cannot quite make up my mind on the point, whether the Corean child has
a good time of it or not, and whether he is properly cared for, as there
is much to be said on both sides of the question. Taken as a whole, the
children of the noblemen and rich people, though strictly and even
severely brought up, cannot, I think, be said to be ill-used; but the
brats of the poorer people are often beaten in a merciless manner. I
remember seeing a father furiously spanking a son of about five years
old, who was pitifully crying so as to break one's heart, and as if that
were not punishment enough, he shook him violently by his little
pig-tail, and pounded him on the head with his knuckles, a performance
that would have killed, or, at all events, rendered insensible nine
children out of ten of other nationalities; but no, to my utter
astonishment, the moment the father, tired of beating, retired into the
house, the little mite, wiping his streaming tears with the backs of his
hands and pulling himself together, quietly sat down on the ground, and
began playing with the sand, as if nothing had happened!

"Well!" I remember saying, as I stood perplexed, looking at the little
hero, "if that does not beat all I have seen before, I do not know what

Yes, for hard heads and for insensibility to pain, I cannot recommend to
you better persons than the Coreans. There are times when the Cho-sen
children actually seem to enjoy themselves, as, for instance, during the
month of January, when it is the fashion to have out their whipping- and
spinning-tops. With his huge padded trousers and short coat, just like a
miniature man, except that the colour of his coat is red or green, and
with one or two tresses hanging down his back, tied with long silk
ribbons, every child you come across is at this season furnished with a
big top and a whip, with which he amuses himself and his friends,
slashing away from morn till night, until, tired out by the exertion, he
goes to rest his weary little bones by his father's side, still hanging
on to the toys that have made his day so happy. The Corean child is quiet
by nature. He is really a little man from the moment he is born, so far
as his demeanour is concerned. He is seldom rowdy, even when in the
company of other children, and, if anything, rather shy and reserved. He
amuses himself with his toys in a quiet way, and his chief pleasure is to
do what his father does. In this he is constantly encouraged, and those
who can afford it, provide their boys with toys, representing on a
smaller scale the objects, &c., used in the everyday life of the man. He
has a miniature bow-and-arrow, a wooden sword, and a somewhat realistic
straw puppet, which he delights in beheading whenever he is tired of
playing with it and shooting his arrows into it. He possesses a
fishing-rod, and on windy days relishes a good run with the large paper
pinwheels, a world-wide familiar toy in infantile circles. Naturally,
too, musical instruments, as well as the national means of conveyance,
such as palanquins and wheel-chairs, have not escaped the notice of the
Corean toy-manufacturer, who, it must be said, imitates the different
objects to perfection in every detail, while, of course, considerably
reducing them in size. Other various articles of common use in the
household are also often reproduced in a similar way. The games that the
children seem to enjoy most, however, seem to be the out-of-door ones.
Kite-flying is probably the most important. Indeed, it is almost reduced
to an art in Corea, and not only do small children go in for it
extensively, but even the men take an active part in this infantile
amusement. The Corean kite differs from its Japanese or Chinese relative
in that it is very small, being only about twenty inches long by fourteen
wide. Besides, instead of being flat on the frame, the Cho-senese kite is
arched, which feature is said by the natives to give it a much greater
flying capacity.

The string is wound round a framework of wood attached to a stick, which
latter revolves in the hands or is stopped at the will of the person who
flies the kite. It is generally during the north winds that the kites are
flown, and it is indeed a curious thing during those days to watch
regular competitions, fights, and battles being fought among these paper
air-farers. As soon as the kite is raised from the ground and started in
the orthodox way, the tactics used by the Corean boy in his favourite
amusement become most interesting. He lets it go until it has well caught
the wind, and by sudden jerks given to it in a funny way, knocking and
clapping the thread-wheel on his left knee, he manages to send the kite
up to a very great height. Hundreds and hundreds of yards of string are
often used. When high enough, sailing gaily along among hundreds of other
kites, it is made to begin warlike tactics and attack its nearest
neighbour. Here it is that the Corean shows his greatest skill in
manoeuvring his flying machine, for by pulls, jerks, and twists of the
string he manages to make his kite rise or descend, attack its enemy or
retreat according to his wish. Then as you break your neck watching them,
you see the two small squares of paper, hundreds of yards above you in
mid-air, getting closer to one another, advancing and retreating, as
would two men fighting a duel; when, suddenly, one takes the offensive,
charges the other, and by a clever _coup de main_ makes a rent in it,
thus dooming it to a precipitous fall to the earth. Thus victorious, it
proudly proceeds to attack its next neighbour, which is immediately made
to respond to the challenge; but this time kite number three, whose
leader has profited by the end of kite number two, keeps lower down than
his adversary, gets round him in a clever way, and when the strings meet,
by a hard pull cuts that of kite number one, which, swinging slowly in
the air, and now and then revolving round itself in the air, gently
descends far away from its owner, and is quickly appropriated by some
poor kiteless child, who perhaps has been in company with many fellows,
watching and pining for hours for such a happy moment. Pieces of broken
glass are often tied to the string at intervals, being of great help in
cutting the adversary's cord.

The people of Cho-sen seem to take as much interest in kite-flying as the
Britisher does in racing. The well-grown people bet freely on the
combatants, and it is not an uncommon thing for the excitement to reach
such a pitch that the battle begun in mid-air terminates with sound blows
in less aerial regions.

It is quaint to see rows of children with their little red jackets,
standing on the high walls of the city, spending hours in this favourite
amusement. They have barely room to stand upon, as the wall is hardly
more than a couple of feet wide, and it was always a surprise to me
that, amid the constant jerking and pulling the young folks were never
precipitated from their point of vantage to the foot, which in many
places would be as much as thirty feet in height. I have watched them for
hours in the expectation of seeing one of them have an accident, but
unfortunately for me they never did!

The little girls under ten years of age are exceedingly pretty. With the
hair carefully parted in the middle and tied into two tresses at the
back, a little green jacket and a long red skirt, they do indeed look
quaint. You should see how well-behaved and sedate, too, they are. It is
impossible to make one smile. You may give her sweets, a toy, or anything
you please, but all you will hear is the faintest "Kamapso," and away she
runs to show the gift to her mother. She will seldom go into fits of
merriment in your presence, but, of course, her delight cannot fail to be
at times depicted in her beaming eyes. She is more unfortunate than her
brother in the number of toys she receives, and though her treatment is
not so very severe, she begins from her earliest years a life of drudgery
and work. As soon as her little brain begins to command her tiny fingers,
she is compelled to struggle with a needle and thread. When her fragile
arms get stronger she helps her mother in beating the clothes, and from
the moment she rises to the time she goes to rest, ideas as to her future
servility, humility, and faithfulness to man are duly impressed upon her.

As in Japan, so in Corea, a custom prevails of adopting male children by
parents who have none of their own. The children adopted are generally
those of poorer friends or of relations who chance to have some to spare.
When the adoption is accomplished, with all the rules required by the law
of the country, and with the approval of the king, the adopted son takes
the place of a real son, and has a complete right of succession to his
adoptive father in precedence to the adoptive mother and all the other
relations of the defunct.

The Corean boy begins to study when very young. If the son of a rich man,
he has a private tutor; if not, he goes to school, where he is taught the
letters of the Corean alphabet, and Chinese characters. All official
correspondence in Corea is done with Chinese characters, and a lifetime,
as everybody knows, is hardly enough to master these. The native Corean
alphabet, however, is a most practical and easy way of representing
sounds, and I am not sure but that in many ways it is even more practical
than ours. I will give the reader the opportunity of judging of this for
himself by-and-by (_see_ chapter xiii.). Arithmetic is also pounded into
the little heads of the Cho-sen mites by means of the sliding-bead
addition-board, the "chon-pan," a wonderful contrivance, also much used
in Japan and China, and which is of invaluable help in quick calculation.
The children are made to work very hard, and I was always told by the
natives that they are generally very diligent and studious. A father was
telling me one day that his son was most assiduous, but that he (the
father) every now and then administered to him a good flogging.

"But that is unfair," said I. "Why do you do it?"

"Because I wish my son to be a great man. I am pleased with his work, but
I flog him to encourage(?) him to study better still!"

I felt jolly glad that I was never "encouraged" in this kind of way when
I was at school.

"I have no doubt that if you flog him enough he will one day be so clever
that no one on this earth will be able to appreciate him."

"You are right," said the old man, perceiving at once the sarcasm of my
remark, "you are right. I shall never beat my son again."

The children of labourers generally attend night-schools, where they
receive a sound education for very little money and sometimes even

I am sure you will be interested to learn after what fashion children are
named in the Land of the Morning Calm, as baptism with holy water is not
yet customary. To tell you the truth, however, I am not quite certain how
things are managed, and I rather doubt whether even the Coreans
themselves know it. The only rule I was able to establish is that there
was no rule at all, with the exception that all the males took the family
name, to which followed (not preceded, as with us) one other name, and
then the title or rank. Nicknames are extremely common, and there is
hardly any one who not only has one, but actually goes by it instead of
by his real name. Foreigners also are always called after some
distinguishing mark either in the features or in the clothing. I went by
the name of "disguised Corean," for I was always mistaken for one,
notwithstanding that I dressed in European clothes. I will not say that
I was very proud of my new name.

The Corean noblemen, during their many hours of _dolce far niente_, often
indulge in games of chess, backgammon and checkers, and teach these games
to their sons as part of a gentleman's accomplishments. Cards, besides
being forbidden by order of the king, are considered vulgar and a low
amusement only fit for the lowest people. The soldiers indulge much in
card-playing and gambling with dice-throwing and other ways.

But to return to the children of Cho-sen: do you know what is the system
employed by the yellow-skinned women to send their babies to sleep?

They scrape them gently on the stomach!

The rowdiest baby is sent to sleep in no time by this simple process. I
can speak from experience, for I once tried it on a baby--only a few
months old--that I wanted to paint. He was restless, and anything but a
good sitter. It was impossible to start work until he was quiet, so I
decided to experiment on the juvenile model the "scraping process" that I
had seen have its effect a day or two previously. At first the baby
became ten times more lively than before, and looked at me as if it meant
to say, "What the devil are you doing?" Then, as I went on scraping his
little stomach for the best part of ten minutes, he became drowsy, was
hardly able to keep his eyes open, and finally, thank Heaven, fell

He was, indeed, he was so much so that I thought he was never going to
wake up again.


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


During the time that I was in Seoul--and I was there several months--most
of my time was spent out of doors, for I mixed as much as possible with
the natives, that I might see and study their manners and customs. I was
very fortunate in my quarters: for I first stayed at the house of a
Russian gentleman, and after that in that of the German Consul, and to
these kind friends I felt, and shall always feel, greatly indebted for
the hospitality they showed me during the first few weeks that I was in
the capital; but, above all, do I owe it to the Vice-Minister of Home
Affairs in Corea, Mr. C.R. Greathouse, in whose house I stayed most of
the time, that I saw Corea as I did see it, for he went to much trouble
to make me comfortable, and did his best to enable me to see every phase
of Corean life. For this, I need not say, I cannot be too grateful.

The great difficulty travellers visiting the capital of Corea
experience--I am speaking of four years ago--is to find a place to put up
at, unless he has invitations to go and stay with friends. There are no
hotels, and even no inns of any sort, with the exception of the very
lowest _gargottes_ for soldiers and coolies, the haunts of gamblers and
robbers. If then you are without shelter for the night, you must simply
knock at the door of the first respectable house you see, and on demand
you will heartily be provided with a night's domicile and plentiful rice.
This being so, there is little inducement to go to some filthy inn
entirely lacking in comforts, and, above all, in personal safety.

The Corean inns--and there are but few even of those--are patronised only
by the scum of the worst people of the lowest class, and whenever there
is a robbery, a fight, or a murder, you can be certain that it has taken
place in one of those dens of vice. I have often spent hours in them
myself to study the different types, mostly criminal, of which there are
many specimens in these abodes. There it is that plots are made up to
assassinate; it is within those walls that sinners of all sorts find
refuge, and can keep well out of sight of the searching police.

The attractions of Seoul, as a city, are few. Beyond the poverty of the
buildings and the filth of the streets, I do not know of much else of any
great interest to the casual globe-trotter, who, it must be said, very
seldom thinks it advisable to venture as far as that. No, there is
nothing beautiful to be seen in Seoul. If, however, you are on the
look-out for quaintness and originality, no town will interest you more.
Let us go for a walk round the town, and if your nose happens to be of a
sensitive nature, do not forget to take a bottle of the strongest salts
with you. We might start on our peregrinations from the West Gate, as we
are already familiar with this point. We are on the principal
thoroughfare of Seoul, which we can easily perceive by the amount of
traffic on it as compared with the other narrower and deserted streets.
The mud-houses on each side, as we descend towards the old royal palace,
are miserable and dirty, the front rooms being used as shops, where
eatables, such as rice, dried fruit, &c, are sold. A small projecting
thatched roof has been put up, sustained by posts, at nearly each of
these, to protect its goods from sun and snow. Before going two hundred
yards we come to a little stone bridge, about five feet wide, and with no
parapet, over a sewer, in front of which is an open space like a small
square. But look! Do you see that man squatting down there on a mat? Is
he not picturesque with his long white flowing robe, his large pointed
straw hat and his black face? As he lies there with outstretched hands,
dried by the sun and snow, calling out for the mercy of the passers-by,
he might almost be mistaken for an Arab. His face is as black as it could
be, and he is blind. He is one of the personalities of Seoul, and rain or
shine you always see him squatting on his little mat at the same spot in
the same attitude.


It is only seldom that beggars are to be seen in Cho-sen, for they are
not allowed to prowl about except on certain special occasions, and
festivities, when the streets are simply crammed with them. It is then
that the most ghastly diseases, misfortunes, accidents, and deformities
are made use of and displayed before you to extract from your pockets the
modest sum of a _cash_. I cannot say that I am easily impressed by such
sights, and far less horrified, for in my lifetime it has been my luck to
see so many that I have got accustomed to them; but I must confess to
being on one occasion really terrified at the sight of a Corean beggar. I
was sketching not very far from this stone miniature bridge on which we
are supposed to be still standing, when I perceived the most ghastly
object coming towards me. It looked like a human being, and it did not;
but it was. As he drew nearer, I could not help shivering. He was a
walking skeleton, minus toes and fingers. He was almost naked, except
that he had a few rags round his loins; and the skin that hardly covered
his bones was a mass of sores. His head was so deformed and his eyes so
sunken that a Peruvian mummy would have been an Adonis if compared with
him. Nose he had none--_et ca passe_--for in Seoul it is a blessing not
to have one; and where his mouth should have been there was a huge gap,
his lower jaw being altogether missing. A few locks of long hair in
patches on his skull, blown by the wind, completed a worthy frame for
this most unprepossessing head.

Oh, what a hideous sight! He hopped along a step or two at a time on his
bony legs and toeless feet, keeping his balance with a long crutch, which
he held under his arm, and he had a sort of wooden cup attached by a
string to his neck, into which people might throw their charities. "He is
a leper," a Corean, who stood by my side and had noticed the
ever-increasing expression of horror on my face, informed me.

The man, or rather the scarecrow, for he hardly had any more the
resemblance to a human being, hearing the noise of the crowd that was
round me, moved in my direction. He staggered and dragged himself till he
got quite close, then bending his trembling head forward, made the utmost
efforts to see, just as a bat does when taken out into the daylight. Poor
fellow! he was also very nearly blind. His efforts to speak were painful
beyond measure. A hoarse sound like the neighing of a pony was all that
came out of his throat, and each time he did this, shrieks of laughter
rose from the crowd, while comical jokes and sarcastic remarks were
freely passed at the thinness of his legs, the condition of his skin, and
the loss of the lower half of his face. Oh! it was shocking and
revolting, though it must be said for them that the same people who
chaffed him were also the first ones to fill his little pot with cash.

Now, you must not think that I have told you this story to make your hair
stand on end, for that is not my intention at all; but simply to prove to
you the anomaly that a Corean is not really cruel when he is cruel, or
rather when he appears to us to be cruel. This sounds, I believe, rather
extraordinary to people who cannot be many-sided when analysing a
question, but what I mean is this: It must not be forgotten that
different people have different customs and different ways of thinking;
therefore, what we put down as dreadful is often thought a great deal of
in the Land of the Morning Calm.

"Why not laugh at illnesses, death, and deformity?" I once heard a Corean

"It does not make people any better if you sympathise with them; on the
contrary, by so doing you simply add pain to their pain, and make them
feel worse than they really are. Besides, illnesses help to make up our
life, and it is our duty to go through them as merrily as through those
other things which you call pleasures. We people of Cho-sen do not look
upon illnesses, accidents, or death as misfortunes, but as natural things
that cannot be helped and must be bravely endured; what better, then, can
we do than laugh at them?"

"So your argument is," I dared put in, "that if one may laugh at one's
own misfortunes, there is all the more title to laugh at those of other

"That is so," retorted the man of Cho-sen, with an air of

I at once agreed with him that I did not find much real harm in laughing
at other people's misfortunes, except that if it did not do anybody any
harm, it neither did them any good; but I acknowledge that it took me
some minutes before I could make up my mind as to one's own misfortunes.
In the end, however, I had to agree with him even about this point. He
proved to me that Coreans are at bottom very good-hearted and unselfish,
and always ready to help relations and neighbours, always ready to be
kind even at their own discomfort. This good-nature, however, lacks in
form from our point of view, though the substance is always the same, and
probably more so than with us. They are a much simpler people, and
hypocrisy among them has not yet reached our civilised stage. In the case
of our poor leper friend, we have seen that the people who laughed at him
were the first to help him; whereas, I have no doubt that among us who
are good Christians, and nothing else but charitable, the majority would
not have laughed; indeed, I am not quite sure but that, on the contrary,
many would have run to the nearest church to pray for the man, meantime
leaving him "cashless," if not to die of starvation.

Now let us continue our walk and leave the blind man and leper behind. On
our left-hand side there is a huge gateway with a red wooden door--in
rather a dilapidated condition--though apparently leading to something
very grand. Since we are here we may as well go in. Good gracious! it is
a tumble-down place. In olden days it used to be the king's palace, and
if you follow me you can see how big the grounds are. For some reason or
other this place, with all its accessories, buildings, &c., has been
abandoned by the Court simply because of rumours getting abroad that
ghosts haunted it. Evil spirits were reported to have been seen prowling
about the grounds, and in the royal apartments, and it would never have
done for a king to have been near such company; so the Court went to
great expense to build a fresh abode for the royal personage, and the old
palace was abandoned and left to decay. The grounds that were laid out as
pretty gardens were, many years later, used for a plantation of
mulberries, a foreign speculation which was to enrich the King and the
country, but which turned out instead a huge _fiasco_. The mulberry trees
are still there, as you may see. Let us, however, proceed a little way up
this hill and go and pay a visit to the two eunuchs who are the sole
inhabitants of this huge place, and who will take us round it. These
eunuchs occupy a little room about ten feet square and of the same height
in the inner enclosure. They are very polite, and joining their hands by
way of salute to you, invite you to go in--to drink tea and smoke a pipe.
Poor wretches! One of them, a fat fellow of an unwholesome kind, as if he
were made of putty, having learnt the European way of greeting people,
insisted on shaking hands with me, but, oh, how repulsive it was! His
cold, squashy sort of boneless hand, gave you the impression that you had
grasped a toad in your hand. And his face! Did you ever see a weaker,
more depraved and inhuman head than that which was screwed on his
shoulders? His cadaverous complexion was marked with the results of
small-pox, which were certainly no improvement to his looks; his eyes had
been set in his head anyhow, and each seemed to move of its own accord;
his mouth seemed simply to hang like a rag, showing his teeth and his

His fellow was somewhat better, for he was of the thin kind of that type,
and though possessing the effeminate, weak characteristics of his friend,
one could at least see that he was built on a skeleton, like the
generality of people! But the features of these eunuchs were as nothing
to their voices. The latter were squeaky like those of girls of five; and
more especially when the fat man spoke, it almost seemed as if the thread
of a voice came from underground, so imperceptible was the sound that he
could produce after he had spoken a few minutes. Having profited by the
notions of my Corean philosopher of a little while ago, I simply went
into screams of merriment at the misfortune of these poor devils, but
really it was difficult to help it.

Preceded by these eunuchs, let us now go over the tumble-down ruins of
the palace. On the top of the small hill stands the main building of red
painted wood and turned up roof _a la Chinoise_, and inside this, in the
audience hall, can yet be seen the remains of the wooden throne raised up
in the centre, with screens on the sides. There is nothing artistic about
it, no richness, and nothing beautiful, and with the exception of the
ceiling, that must have been pretty at one time with native patterns and
yellow, red and green ornaments, there is absolutely nothing else worth
noticing. Outside, the three parallel flights of steps leading up to the
audience hall have a curious feature. It is forbidden to any one but the
King to go up on the middle steps, and he of course is invariably
carried; for which reason, in the middle part of the centre staircase a
carved stone table is laid over the steps in such a way that no one can
tread on them except quite at the sides where the men who carry the King
have to walk.

The houses where the King and royal family used to live with their
household have now been nearly all destroyed by the weather and damp, and
many of the roofs have fallen in. They were very simple, only one story
high, and little better than the habitations of the better classes of
people in Cho-sen. Coming out again of the inner enclosure, one finds
stables and other houses scattered here and there in the _compound_,[3]
and lower down we come to a big drain of masonry. But let me tell you a
funny story.

As you know, the Land of the Morning Calm is often troubled at night by
prowling leopards and huge tigers which make their peregrinations through
the town in search of food. A big leopard was thus seen by the natives
one fine day taking a constitutional in the grounds of this haunted
palace. Perplexed and even terrified, the unarmed natives ran for their
lives, except one who, from a distant point of vantage, watched the
animal and saw him enter the drain just mentioned. There happened to be
staying in Seoul an Englishman, a Mr. S., who possessed a rifle and who
had often astonished the natives by his skill in never missing the bull's
eye; so to him they all went in a deputation, begging him to do away with
the four-legged, unwelcome visitor. Mr. S., who wished for nothing
better, promised that he would go that same night, and, accompanied by
his faithful native servant, went and hid himself in proximity to the
hole whence the leopard was likely to spring. It was a lovely moonlight
night, and several hours had been passed in perfect silence and vain
waiting for the chance of a shot, when a bright idea struck the native
servant. Certain that the leopard was no longer there, and wishing to
retire to his warm room, he addressed his master in poetic terms somewhat
as follows:--

"Sir, I am a brave man, and fear neither man nor beast. I am your
servant, and for you am ready to give my life. I have brought with me two
long bamboos, and with them I shall go and poke in the drain, rouse the
ferocious beast, and as he jumps out you will kill him. If I shall lose
my life, which I am ready to do for you, please think of my wife and

"Very good," said the Englishman, who was getting rather tired of the
discomfort and cold, and who, though he did not say so, also shared the
opinion that the brute had gone.

Thus encouraged, the servant at once proceeded to tie the two bamboos
together, and again reminding his master of the brave act he was going to
accomplish, proceeded with firm step to the drain, about thirty yards
off. When he reached the opening he seemed to hesitate. He stood and
listened. He carefully peeped in and listened again. He heard nothing.
Then, bringing all his courage to bear, he lifted his bamboo and began
poking in the drain. Two or three times, as he thought, he had touched
something soft with the end. He dropped his bamboo as if it had been a
hot iron, and ran full-speed back to his master, imploring his

"Has got--has got--kill--master--kill--kill!" and he lay by his side,
shivering with fright.

"You are frightened, you coward; there is nothing. Go again."

After a few minutes the faithful valet, who had then made quite sure that
there was no leopard in the drain and that he had shown himself a coward,
unwillingly and slowly returned to the charge and picked up his bamboo.

"I am trembling with cold, not with fear," he had said as he was getting
up again. "I shall enter the drain this time and rouse the animal

So he really did. He went in, holding the bamboo in front of him, and
pausing at each step. The farther in he went, the more his
self-confidence failed him. The drain was high enough to allow of his
standing in it with his back and head bent down; wherefore, if an
encounter with the spotted fiend were to take place, the retreat of the
man would not be an easy matter.

"Master must think me very brave," he was soliloquising on his
subterranean march, when he received a sudden shock that nearly stopped
his heart and froze the blood in his veins. He had actually touched
something soft with the end of his bamboo, and not only that, but he
fancied he heard a growl.

He quickly turned round to escape, when a violent push knocked him down,
and he fell almost senseless and bleeding all over.

"Bang!" went the rifle outside just as the screams of: "Master, aahi,
aahi, kill, kill, kill," were echoing in the drain; and the leopard with
a broken hind leg rolled over on the ground groaning fiercely, by-and-by
trying to retrace its steps to its domicile. The poor Corean lay
perplexed, looking at the scene, all lighted up by the beautiful
moonlight; and his heart bounded with joy, when, after the second or
third report of the gun, he saw shot dead the animal that had already
reached the opening of the drain.

As his master appeared, rifle in hand, and touched the dead beast, his
valiant qualities returned to him in full, and he got out of the drain.
He was badly scratched all over, I dare say, by the paws of the beast,
for it had sprung violently out the moment the bamboo tickled it, though
otherwise he was not much the worse for his narrow escape.

Such is the last story connected with that drain. The grounds, as you
see, extend towards the west as far as the city wall. As we go out of the
gate which we entered, you can see a sort of a portico on the left-hand
side as you approach it. Well, under that, as the spring is approaching,
there are often to be heard the most diabolical noises for several days
in succession. If the season has been a very dry one, you will see
several men and numberless children beating on three or four huge drums
and calling out at the top of their voices for rain. From sunrise until
sunset this goes on, unless some stranded cloud happens to appear on the
horizon, when the credit of such a phenomenon is awarded to their
diabolical howls, and _cash_ subtracted from landed proprietors as a
reward for their having called the attention of the weather-clerk. A
spectacled wise-man, a kind of astrologer, on a donkey and followed and
preceded by believers in his extraordinary powers of converting fine
weather into wet, and _vice versa_, rides through the main streets of the
capital, with lanterns and festoons, on the same principle as does our
Salvation Army, namely, to collect a crowd to the spot where his
mysterious rites are to be performed. Here, supported by his servants, he
dismounts from his high saddle, and, still supported under his arms--the
idea being that so great a personage cannot walk by himself--he at last
reaches the spot, apparently with great fatigue. "To carry all his
knowledge," argue the admiring natives, "must indeed entail great

When rain is to be summoned, our astrologer addresses his first
reproaches to the sun, stretching out his hands and using the strongest
of invectives, after which, when he has worked himself into a towering
rage against the orb of day, an execrable beating on the drums begins,
accompanied by the howling of all the people present. The god of rain
gets his share of insults, and is severely reprimanded for the casual way
in which he carries on his business, and so, partly with good, partly
with bad manners, this satanic performance goes on day after day, until,
eventually, it does begin to rain.

The portico in this old haunted palace was a favourite spot for these
rites, and as the house of the Vice-Minister of Home Affairs, where I
stayed as a guest, was close by, I suffered a good deal at the hands of
these fanatics, for the noise they made was of so wild a nature as to
drive one crazy--if not, also, quite sufficient to bring the whole world

We may now continue our peregrination along the main street. There along
the wall squat dozens of coolies, with their carrying arrangement,
sitting on their heels, and basking in the sun. Further on, one of them
is just loading a huge earthenware vase full of the native beverage. The
weight must be something enormous. Yet see how quickly and cleverly he
manages to get up with it, and walk away from his kneeling position by
first raising one leg, then the other, and after that a push up and it is

Here, again, coming along, is another curiosity. It is a blue palanquin,
carried on the back of two men. They walk along quickly, with bare feet,
and trousers turned up over the knees. Instead of wearing a transparent
head-gear, like the rest of the people, these chair-bearers have round
felt hats. In front walks a _Maggiordomo_, and following the palanquin
are a few retainers. Heading the procession are two men, who, with rude
manners, push away the people, and shout out at the top of their voices:

"Era, Era, Era; Picassa, Picassa!" ("Out of the way; get out, get away!")
were the polite words with which these roughs elbowed their way among the
crowd, and flung people on one side or the other, in order to clear the
road for their lord and master. From the hubbub they made, one might have
imagined that it was the King himself coming, instead of a mere

A few hundred yards further on, one finds on one's left a magnificent
street departing at right angles to the main thoroughfare. It is
certainly the widest street in the Corean capital. So wide is it, in
fact, that two rows of thatched houses are built in the middle of the
road itself, so to speak, forming out of one street three parallel
streets. These houses are, however, pulled down and removed altogether
once or twice a year, when His Majesty the King takes it into his head to
come out of his palace and go in his state chair, preceded by a grand
procession, to visit the tombs of his ancestors, some miles out of the
town, or to meet the envoys of the Chinese Emperor, a short way out of
the west gate of the capital, at a place where a peculiar triumphal arch,
half built of masonry and half of lacquered wood, has been erected, close
to an artificial cut in the rocky hill, named the "Pekin Pass" in honour
of the said Chinese messengers.

I witnessed two or three of these king's processions, and I shall
describe them to you presently. In the meantime, however, let us walk up
the royal street.

The two rows of shanties having been pulled down, its tremendous width is
very conspicuous, being apparently about ten times that of our
Piccadilly. The houses on both sides are the mansions in which the
nobles, princes, and generals live, and are built of solid masonry. They
are each one story high, with curled-up roofs, and here and there the
military ensign may be seen flying. Facing us at the end, a pagoda-like
structure, with two roofs, and one half of masonry, the upper part of
lacquered wood, is the main entrance to the royal palace. Two sea-lions,
roughly carved out of stone, stand on pedestals a short distance in front
of the huge closed gate, and there, squatting down, gambling or asleep,
are hundreds of chair-carriers and soldiers, while by the road-side are
palanquins of all colours, and open chairs, with tiger and leopard skins
thrown over them, waiting outside the royal precincts, since they are not
allowed inside, for their masters, who spend hours and days in
expectation of being invited to an audience by, or a confabulation with,
His Majesty. People of different ranks have differently coloured
chairs--the highest of the palanquin form being that covered with green
cloth and carried by four men. Foreign consuls and legal advisers of the
King are allowed the honour of riding in one of these. The privilege of
being carried by four men instead of by two is only accorded to officials
of high rank. The covered palanquins are so made that the people squat in
them cross-legged. A brass receptacle, used for different purposes, is
inside, in one corner of the conveyance. Some of them are a little more
ornamented than others, and lined with silk or precious skins, but
generally they are not so luxurious as the ones in common use in China.


But if you want to see a really strange sight, here at last you have it.
It is a high official going to Court in his state mono-wheeled chair. You
can see that he is a "somebody" by the curious skull-cap he is wearing,
curled up over the top of his head and with wings on each side starting
from the back of his head-gear. His flowing silk gown and the curious
rectangular jewelled stiff belt, projecting far beyond his body, denote
that he is holding a high position at the Corean Court. A coolie marches
in front of him, carrying on his back a box containing the court clothes
which he will have to don when the royal palace is reached, all
carefully packed in the case, covered with white parchment. Numerous
young followers also walk behind his unsteady vehicle. There you see him
perched up in a kind of arm-chair at a height of about five feet--sitting
more or less gracefully on a lovely tiger skin, that has been
artistically thrown upon it, leaving the head hanging down at the back.
Under the legless chair, as it were, there are two supports, at the lower
end of which and between these supports revolves a heavy, nearly round
wheel, with four spokes. Occasionally the wheel is made of one block of
wood only, and is ornamented at the sides with numerous round-headed iron
nails. There may be also two side long poles to rest on the shoulders of
the two carriers--one in front and one at the back--a few extra
strengtheners on each side, and then you have the complete "_attelage_."
So you see, it may be a great honour to be carried about in a similar
chair, though to the eyes of barbarians like ourselves it looks neither
comfortable nor safe. India-rubber tyres and, still less, pneumatic ones,
have not yet been adopted by the Corean chair-maker, and it appeared to
me that a good deal of "holding on" was required, especially when
travelling over stony and rough ground, to avoid being thrown right out
of one's high position. The grandees whom I saw carried in them seemed to
me, judging by the expression on their faces, to be ever looking forward
patiently and hopefully to the time for getting out of these perilous
conveyances. Certainly when going round corners or on uneven ground I
often saw them at an angle that would make the hair of anybody but a
grave and sedate Corean official stand on end. The palace gate reached,
he is let down gently, the front part of the chair being gradually
lowered, and, with a sigh of relief, steps out of it. Immediately he is
supported on each side by his followers, and thus the palace is entered,
the mono-wheeled chair being left outside standing against the wall, and
the tired carriers squatting down to a quiet gamble with the
chair-bearers of other noblemen.

Here let us leave him for the present, since the huge gates are closed
again upon our very noses.

The royal palace is enclosed by a high wall, at the corners of which
there are turrets with sentries and soldiers. In each of the sections of
the wall also there is a gate, the principal one of course being that
which we have already described.

We shall now retrace our steps down the royal avenue, but before leaving
it we must once again look back upon the royal enclosure. It is not a
very grand sight, but it is pretty to see a high hill towering at the
back of the royal palace. Undoubtedly the position where the palace is
now situated is the best in Seoul, both through being in the very centre
of the town and through the prettiness of its situation. The inside of
the royal enclosure we shall presently describe.

Continuing our way, then, towards the east gate, we soon come to another
big thoroughfare on our right-hand side, at one corner of which is a
picturesque ancient pavilion, with a railing round it. This is one of the
sights of Seoul, "the big bell."

It is a huge bronze bell raised from the ground only about a foot. It
possesses a fine rich tone when it is hammered upon by the bell-ringer,
but a good deal of the sonorousness is lost and the sound made dreary and
monotonous by its being so low down. The man rings it by striking heavy
blows at it with a big wooden mallet, and its first note in the early
morning makes the drowsy gate-keepers of the town begin to make
preparations for establishing communication once more between the capital
and the outer world; while at sunset, as its last melancholy notes are
blown away in dying waves by the wind, the heavy gates are closed, and
every man--though not every woman, as we shall see--has to retire to his
home until dawn the next morning, if he wishes to escape a severe
flogging, or even the risk of losing his head. The laws and rules in this
respect have not been very severely enforced of late years; yet one never
sees even now a Corean male walking about the streets after dark. Though
capital punishment might not be inflicted on the offender, a very sound
spanking would very probably be the result of a native being caught
_flagrante delicto_ during a nocturnal peregrination. Wherefore, the
Corean male is, _a raison_, very careful not to be seen out after dark.
On one or two occasions, nevertheless, the male community is allowed a
prowl by night, and seem to enjoy it to their heart's content. The
principal of these great events is the night for "crossing the bridges,"
a festivity in which men and children are allowed to take part, and in
the course of which they spend the whole night in prowling about the
streets, and crossing over the bridges and back again. At such a time the
streets are alive with story-tellers, magicians and comedians, who
delight the nocturnal sight-seers with wonderful fairy-tales, jokes and
fantastic plays.

A moonlight night is always chosen for the "crossing of the bridges"
outing, a rather sensible precaution when one sees what the bridges are
like. There are the stone supports of course, and over these huge flat
broad stones on which one treads. The width of the bridges is generally
about six feet, but no parapet or railing of any kind is provided for the
safety of the wayfarer. Through age and weather, these stones have been
considerably worn out, and are here and there disconnected, besides being
slippery to an extreme degree; so that even in broad daylight, one has to
keep all his wits about him, in this sort of tight-rope performance, not
to find himself landed in the river down below, in which, however, there
is no water running. Altogether, the days in which the men of Cho-sen
enjoy liberty at night are five.

The last day of the year is probably the one when the larger crowds can
be seen hurrying along through the streets, for a custom prevails among
the Coreans to visit during that night and the following one, all one's
relations and best friends, congratulations and good wishes being freely
exchanged and presents of sweets brought and gracefully received. New
Year's night is also a night of independence, but the greater number of
the male community are so "well on" with wine-drinking and excitement,
that staying at home is generally deemed advisable.

There are two free nights, besides, on the fourteenth and fifteenth days
of the first moon, and on one of the days at "half-year" in the sixth
moon. That is all.

[Illustration: THE MARBLE PAGODA]

At no great distance from the "big bell," down a tortuous little lane, we
come to what is undoubtedly a very ancient work of art. This is a pagoda,
made of solid marble, and adorned with beautiful carvings all the way up
to the top. To me this pagoda seemed to be of Chinese origin, but, though
much speculation has been exercised in Seoul as to how so strange a
monument came to be placed in the Corean capital, no reliable data, or
facts that might be considered of historical value, have as yet been
forthcoming to explain satisfactorily its presence there. Beyond
wondering at its antiquity, therefore, and admiring the skilful
bas-relief upon it, there is little more for us to do; so, moving out of
the courtyard in which this pagoda is situated, we proceed to inspect
another monument, equally curious from an archaeological point of view.

It cannot but seem strange that the Coreans should be ignorant regarding
the little pagoda above mentioned. I call it "little," for I do not
think it stands more than fifteen or twenty feet from the base to the
top. Probably in Seoul itself there is not more than one man out of fifty
who knows of its existence, and those who are acquainted with it, beyond
telling you emphatically that it is not a Corean work, can give you no
information about it. It is not improbable that, in the course of some
friendly or unfriendly intercourse between the Chinese and the Coreans,
this pagoda was brought or sent over from China.

The other curiosity is a huge stone tortoise carrying a tablet on its

As I have already mentioned, the Coreans in many ways resemble, and have
appropriated or carried with them to their place of settlement some ideas
which are common to the Manchus, the Mongols, and the Northern and
Southern Chinese. Among these may be instanced the great respect for, if
not worship of, fetishes and rudely made images of animals, both
imaginary and real, which are supposed to be embodied there with all
their good and evil qualities. The Coreans have an especial veneration
for the tiger, the emblem of supernatural strength, courage and dignity.
Now when veneration comes into play, the extraordinary, as a rule, soon
takes the place of the ordinary, especially in the Eastern mind, which is
rather addicted to letting itself be run away with by its imagination. So
the tiger, as though it were not sufficiently gifted already with evil
qualities of a more mundane order, is often depicted by native geniuses,
as having also the power of flying, producing lightning, and spitting
fire; and not only that, but as able to walk on flames without feeling
the slightest inconvenience, and manipulate blazing fire as one would a
fan in everyday use. On flags, pictures, and embroideries the tiger is
often represented by native artists.

Next to the tiger, the animal most cherished by the Coreans is the
tortoise. To it are applied all the good qualities that the tiger wants;
for example, thoughtfulness, a retiring nature, humility, gentleness,
steadiness, and patience; these being all symbolised by this shelled
amphibious animal, which, in the minds of many Eastern Asiatics, was the
basis upon which, in later times, were built the rudiments of mathematics
and wisdom. In Corea, the principal quality attributed to the tortoise is
long life; wherefore, it has been handed down from early times to the
present day as the emblem of longevity.

This, then, explains the signification of the tortoise in front of which
we are now standing. Those tortoises that are made to carry tablets on
their backs are, as a general rule, erected in honour and remembrance of
some benevolent prince or magnanimous magistrate--the tablets being
placed over these favourite creatures to signify that it was by relying
upon all the good qualities attributed to the tortoise that the person
whose praises are celebrated on them, attained to the virtues which are
deemed so worthy an example to the world.

There are many species of semi-sacred tortoises in Corea, to all
appearance the product of imaginary intermarriages between the slow
amphibious animal in question and the fire-spitting dragon, silver-tailed
phoenix, and other animals; and these mixed breeds of idols, so to
speak, are occasionally to be seen in the houses of rich people and
princes near the entrance gate. In the Royal Palace, too, some may be
seen, among the more important being the old Seal of State, which
consists of a tortoise cleverly carved out of marble with the impression
of the Royal Seal engraved on the under side.

A curious thing which strikes visitors to Corea who notice it is that,
although the tortoise runs a close race with the tiger in the respect of
the natives, nevertheless, the larger and fiercer animal is much more
frequently represented than its smaller and gentler competitor. For
instance, one invariably sees on the roofs of the city gates, fixed on
the corners, five small representations of the tiger, all reclining in a
row one after the other. On many of the larger buildings also the same
thing can be observed; while, on the other hand, it is only rarely that
the tortoise is seen in such a situation. When representations of the
latter are thus attached, they are generally placed at the four lower
corners of the buildings, as if by way of support.

It is curious, again, to note--and, indeed, it almost seems as if the
Cho-sen people are in all their ideas opposed to us--that in Corea the
snake is greatly revered; and, should it enter a household, it receives a
hearty welcome, for this reptile is supposed to bring with it everlasting
happiness and peace, a very different conception to that which we
generally form of it, for, if I mistake not, in our minds it is generally
associated with sneakishness, treachery and perfidy.

With regard to the snake, it is noteworthy that the Coreans have allowed
their fancies to run riot in pretty much the same direction as
imaginative people in our own country have done, and have not only added
wings to their serpents to send them air-faring, but have also invented a
near relation to these in the shape of a travelling sea-serpent, which is
not, however, of such large dimensions as those with which we are
familiar. From this it is only a short step to the well-known half-human,
half-fish being and the sea-lion or tiger; stone representations of which
are to be seen at the entrance of the Royal Palace. The principal
peculiarity of the sea-tiger is its ugliness. It is represented as having
a huge mouth, wide open, showing two rows of pointed teeth, and a mane
and tail curled up into hundreds of conventional little curlets. If the
statues of these sea-tigers are divided in three sections perpendicular
to the base, the head will occupy the whole of one of these sections,
which, in other words, means that the body is made only twice the size of
the head.

The _lin_ is also frequently found figuring in Corean mythology, but this
fanciful creature is undoubtedly an importation from the well-known
_ki-lin_ of China, being half ox, half deer, and having but a single horn
in the centre of the head. It is the symbol of good nature and well-being
Another borrowed individual of this class is the dragon, a monster which
is a great favourite and much cherished all over the East, though
principally by the Emperor of Heaven and his subjects. This popularity of
the dragon in the kingdom of the Morning Calm is due, I suppose, in a
large measure to the frequent Chinese invasions and constant intercourse
of the Chinese with Corea. And yet, upon a less appropriate country, to
my belief, he could hardly have been stranded, for, although he possesses
all the good virtues of the other mythical creatures of which I have made
mention taken together, he certainly is never presented as gifted with
that delightful faculty which goes by the name of tranquillity. Restless
in the extreme, this genius of the East is said to penetrate through
mountains into the ground, skip on the clouds, produce thunder and
lightning, and go through fire and water. It can, moreover, make itself
visible or invisible at pleasure, and, in fact, can to all intents and
purposes do what it pleases, except--remain quiet.

Of dragons there are many kinds, but the most respectable of them all is,
as in China, the yellow one, which is as represented on the Chinese
flags. Next to the yellow one in popularity comes the green one. In
shape, as the natives picture it, the dragon is not unlike a huge lizard,
with long-nailed claws, and a flat long head like the elongated head of a
neighing horse, possessed, however, of horns, and a long mane of fire, or
lightning. The tail is like that of a serpent, with five additional
pointed ends. It is, too, rather interesting to note that the king,
princes, and highest magistrates, when the country is not in mourning,
wear upon their breasts pieces of square embroidery ornamented in the
centre with representations of the dragon, having the jewel on its head
which is supposed to be a certain cure for all evils. The officials of
lesser degree wear, instead of this emblem, the effigy of a flying
phoenix, the symbol of pride, friendship, and kind ruling power.

The phoenix is also occasionally to be seen standing on a tortoise's
back, the combination being emblematic of the combined virtues of these
two mythical creatures.

Returning to the main street, we can walk a long way without finding
anything interesting in the way of architecture, or of a monumental
character until we reach the East Gate, which is probably the largest
gate of all. One of the peculiarities of this gate is that on the outside
it has a semi-circular wall protection, and in this wall a second gate
which renders it, therefore, doubly strong in time of war. The outer wall
is very thick, and a wide space is provided which can be manned with
soldiers, when the town happens to be besieged. If my memory serves me
rightly, yet another gate in Seoul is provided with a similar
contraffort, but of this I am not quite certain, for the part of my diary
in which the wall of Seoul is described has been, I regret to say,
unfortunately mislaid. Near the gate above mentioned, is a large open
space, on the centre of which stands a somewhat dilapidated pavilion
_pour facon de parler_, and, on inquiry, I was told that this place was
the drilling-ground of the king's troops, the pavilion being for the use
of the king and high officials, when on very grand occasions they went to
review the soldiery. Of late years, I believe, a new drilling-ground has
been selected by the foreign military instructors, which explains why the
pavilion has been allowed to rot and tumble down. (See Illustration p.

As already remarked, all the gates of Seoul, as well as those of every
other city in Corea, are closed at sunset; but, like all rules, this
one, too, has its exception. Thus, there is a small gate, called the
"Gate of the Dead," which is opened till a late hour at night. Its name
explains its object fairly well, but for the benefit of those who are
unaccustomed to Corean customs I may as well put the matter a little
clearer. Funerals, in Corea, nearly always take place at night, and the
bodies are invariably carried out of the town to be buried. In lifetime
it is permitted to enter or leave the town through any gate you please,
but this freedom of choice is not accorded to the dead, when their final
exit is to be made, for this is only by way of the smaller gate just

A funeral is in all countries, to me, a curious sight, but in Seoul, a
performance of this description is probably more curious than elsewhere,
and that, because, to a European eye, it appears to be anything but a
funeral. The procession is headed by two individuals, each of whom
carries an enormous yellow umbrella, on the stick of which, about half
way up, there is a very large tri-coloured ball. After these, under a
sort of baldachin held up by four long poles, is the coffin, carried by
two, four, or more men, according to the social position of the deceased;
and by the side of this and following close after it are numberless
people each carrying a paper lantern stuck on a pole, who scuttle along,
singing, after a fashion, and muttering prayers and praises on behalf of
their deceased countryman. Frequently, if the latter is supposed to have
been possessed by evil spirits, and to have been carried off by them, a
man is hired, if no relation is willing to do it, to ring a hand-bell for
several consecutive days, near the house which the late unfortunate had
occupied, the shrill sound being supposed to have the power of showing
the unwelcome guests, that their presence has been noticed, and that they
had better retire and leave the house to its rightful owners. I need
hardly remark that a few hours of this noise is quite enough to turn the
best of good spirits into an evil one.

But to return to our funeral procession; this, when the "Gate of the
Dead" is reached, becomes broken up; the friends who were following the
hearse putting out their lights and ceasing from their singing and
praying. Only two or three of the nearest relations continue to follow
the coffin, still carried by the paid bearers, and when a suitable spot
is reached these proceed to bury the remains. A hilly ground is usually
preferred by the Coreans for the last resting place of the bones of their
dear ones. The coffin having been buried, a small mound of earth is
heaped up over it.

The spot for inhumation is generally chosen on the advice of magicians
who are supposed to know the sites which are likely to be most favourable
to the deceased. Sometimes the body is exhumed at great expense, still on
the advice of the same magicians, who, being in direct communication with
both earthly and unearthly spirits, get to know that the spot which had
been originally selected was not a favourable one. Under such
circumstances, a speedy removal is necessary, which, of course entails
both worry and money-spending and special fees for the reporting of the
ill-faring of the buried.

The relations and friends of a deceased person constantly visit the tomb,
and many a good son has been known to spend months watching his father's
grave, lest his services might be required by the parent underground.

The hills round the towns are simply covered with these little mounds of
earth, and the greatest respect is shown by the natives for all places of
sepulture. In course of time, many disappear by being washed away by the
rain, but never by any chance are they interfered with by the people. The
Coreans are extremely superstitious, and they are much afraid of the
dead. Metempsychosis is not an uncommon trait of their minds, especially
among the better classes; thus, for instance, the soul of the dead man is
sometimes supposed to enter the body of a bird, in which case the
relatives carefully build a semi-circular stone railing round the mound,
so that the winged successor of the deceased may have whereon to perch.

The grave of one of the richer people is especially noteworthy. First,
there is the mound in the centre as usual, but nearly twice the size of
that which covers a poorer person. Then there is a stone railing a little
way off; and between that and the mound stand in double rows, at the
sides, rough images of human beings and horses carved in stone. The
general rule is, in the case of a rich man, to have two men and two
ponies on either side and a small column at the end; while in the case of
a man not so much distinguished only a single horse and man respectively
are placed on either side. The short column with a slab at the top is
nearly always a feature. The stone images so placed are, as a rule, so
badly carved that, unless one is told what they are meant to represent,
it is really difficult to decide the point. The horses, especially, might
easily be mistaken for sheep, dogs, or any other animal, the small
stature of the native ponies being imitated in these images, to an
exaggerated degree. As for the stone human-shaped images, these are
usually made dressed in a long sort of gown and with the arms folded in
front and the head covered by a curled up skull-cap, of the kind worn by
Corean officials even at the present day, and formerly worn by all the
high officials in China, whence probably the fashion has been imported.

A curious feature which I often noticed about the graves of people who
had not been over well-off, and whose friends could not afford a large
number of statues or figures of men and animals, was this:--If only one
or two monuments were put up by the side of the mound, these invariably
consisted of representations either of two horses or else of a horse and
a ram, that is, if I am right in fixing the latter's identity by the
curled horns on the side of its head. If, on the other hand, the
monuments were more than two in number, the others were, just as
invariably, representations of human figures, the number of these being
the same as that of beasts in the other case.

A ceremony is to be found in the Land of the Morning Calm which
corresponds pretty closely to "_Tutti i morti_" of Italy; I mean, the
merry picnicking of distressed parents and relatives when they go and
pray on the tombs of their dead. In Corea the occasion is usually
celebrated on the first day of the first moon, or, in other words, on
New Year's Day. The family goes soon after sunrise, _en masse_, to the
burial-place, where prayers are offered, and long sticks of incense burnt
filling the air with the perfume so familiar to all who know the East.
Food and drink are also generally brought and consumed by the mourners on
such expeditions, with the result that the day which begins with praying
generally ends with playing. Similar rejoicings are again indulged in
during the third moon, when the tombs are usually cleaned and repaired,
and the stone figures and horses washed and scrubbed, amidst the
hilarious screams of the children and the less active picnickers.

The tombs of the kings do not differ very much from those of the richest
noblemen, except that they have a kind of temple near them. At one time
it was believed that the coffins in which the royal bodies were buried,
consisted of solid gold. People who are well informed, however, maintain
that there is no foundation for this statement about the royal graves,
and that, on the contrary, they are almost as simple as those of the
richer noblemen.

A strange tale was told me, which I shall repeat, as I know it to be
true. It is to this effect: A few months previous to my visit to Seoul, a
foreigner had visited the king soliciting orders for installations of
telephones. The king, being much astounded, and pleased at the wonderful
invention, immediately, at great expense, set about connecting by
telephone the tomb of the queen dowager with the royal palace--a distance
of several miles! Needless to say, though many hours a day were spent by
His Majesty and his suite in listening at their end of the telephone,
and a watchman kept all night in case the queen dowager should wake up
from her eternal sleep, not a message, or a sound, or murmur even, was
heard, which result caused the telephone to be condemned as a fraud by
His Majesty the King of Cho-sen.

I should mention that a very good specimen of a Corean tomb is to be seen
a few _lis_ outside the East Gate, on the hillside, and that another,
somewhat smaller, exists a short distance beyond the Pekin Pass outside
the West Gate. It may also be noted that trees are frequently planted,
and tablets erected, in proximity to Corean graves.


[3] Word used in the East for a conglomeration of houses
enclosed by a wall.


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

[Illustration: MOUNT NANZAM]

The ground in and around Seoul is very hilly. The wall that surrounds the
capital uncoils itself, like a gigantic snake, up and down the slopes of
high bluffs, and seems a very marvellous work of patient masonry when it
is borne in mind that some of the peaks up which it winds its way are so
steep that even climbing on foot is not an easy task. The height is not
uniform, but where it is highest it reaches to over thirty feet. The
North Gate, for instance, is at a much higher level than the town down
below, and it is necessary to go up a steep road to reach it. From it, a
very good idea is obtainable of the exact situation of Seoul. Down in
the valley, a narrow one, lies the town itself, completely surrounded by
hills, and even mountains, covered with thick snow during the winter

The wall, several miles long, goes over the hill ridges far above the
level of the town, except towards the west, where it descends to the
valley, and is on almost level ground, as far as the East Gate. It has a
rampart in which holes have been pierced, for the defence of the town by
archers and gunners; and, to let out the water of the streams, which
intersect the town, low arches have been cut in the wall, provided with
strong iron bars, and a solid grating through which no man can penetrate.
Outside the town, bridges of masonry have been constructed; for instance,
there is one of four arches, a short distance from the North Gate, being
the continuation of a portion of the wall protecting the river valley on
the north of Seoul. Not far from this bridge, is a monastery, and a small
temple with curled-up roof supported by columns, painted red and green.
The latter protects an enormous block of stone upon which has been carved
a large image of Buddha, the surface of which has been painted white.
When I saw it, close by the river side, with the sun shining on it, and
its image reflected in the limpid ice of the frozen river, the sight was
indeed quite a picturesque one.

Towards the south side of Seoul, and within the city wall, rises in a
cone-like fashion a high hill called Mount Nanzam. One cannot help
feeling interested about this hill, and for many reasons. In the first
place, it is most picturesque; secondly, it is a rare thing to find a
mountain rising in the centre of a town, as this one does; thirdly, from
the summit of this particular hill a constant watch is kept on the state
of affairs all over the kingdom.

The mode of accomplishing the last-mentioned object is as ingenious as it
is simple. It is shortly this. On the summit of Mount Nanzam a signal
station is placed--a miserable shed, in which the watchmen live. In front
of this, five piles of stones have been erected, upon which, by means of
the "Pon-wa," or fire-signals, messages are conveyed and transmitted from
one end of the Corean kingdom to the other. Now, it is on these five
piles of stones that the safety of the Land of the Morning Calm depends,
and it is a pretty and weird sight to watch the lights upon them, playing
after dark, in the stillness of the night. Similarly appointed stations
on the tops of all the highest peaks in Corea issue, transmit, and
answer, by means of other lights, messages from the most distant
provinces, by which means, in a very few minutes, the King in his royal
palace is kept informed of what happens hundreds of miles from his
capital. It is from the royal palace itself that fire-messages start in
the first instance, and that too is the place which lastly receives them
from other mountain tops. All along the coast line of Corea, on the
principal headlands, fire-stations have long been in use in order to give
the alarm in the capital, should marauders approach the coast or other
invasions take place.

Until quite lately, the coast villages and towns used to suffer much at
the hands of Chinese pirates, who, though well aware that they would, if
caught, most certainly find themselves in the awkward position of having
their heads cut off, nevertheless used to approach the coast by night in
swift junks, make daring raids, and pillage the villages, and even some
of the smaller towns. So suddenly were these incursions usually made that
by the time the natives had managed to get over their astonishment at the
attack of these unpleasant and greedy visitors, the acute Chinamen, with
their booty, were well out at sea again.


The great drawback to fire-signalling is, that messages can only be
clearly conveyed at night. In the day-time, when necessary,
smoke-signals are transmitted, though never with the same safety as are
the fire-signals. By burning large torches of wet straw, masses of white
smoke are produced, upon which the alarm is raised that the country is
in danger. The code of smoke signalling, however, is almost limited to
that one signal; for, on a windy or rainy day, it would be quite
impossible to distinguish whether there were one or more torches
smoking, unless, of course, they could be set very far apart, which
cannot be done on Nanzam. Prior to sending a message, a bell is rung in
the royal palace to attract the attention of the Mountain Watchmen. The
whole code, for they have a really systematic way of using their
pyrographs, is worked with five burning fires only, and more than that
number of lights are never shown, though, of course, many times there
are less. The five-lights-together signal, I believe, indicates that the
country is in imminent danger; there are other signals to meet the cases
of rebellions, recalling of magistrates from distant provinces, orders
to them to extort money from their subjects, the despatch or recall of
troops, &c. &c.

A few yards from the signal station, though still on Mount Nanzam, there
is a picturesque red joss-house with a shrine in close proximity to it.
The story goes--and the women of Cho-sen find it convenient to believe
it--that a visit to this particular joss-house has the wonderful effect
of making sterile women prolific. A few strings of _cash_ and a night's
rest at the temple--preceded, if I remember rightly, by
prayers--constitute sufficient service to satisfy the family duties, and
I was certainly told that in many cases the oracle worked so well that in
due time the _chin-chins_ got rewarded with the birth of babies. I may
mention incidentally that the caretaker of the joss-house was a strong,
healthy, powerful man.

As we are now on a splendid point of vantage for a bird's-eye view of the
town we may as well take a glance over it.

Very prominent before us, after the large enclosure of the royal Palace,
are the foreign buildings, such as the Japanese Legation on a smaller
hill at the foot of Nanzam, and overlooking the large Japanese
settlement; the abode of the Chinese Minister resident, with its numerous
buildings around it; the British Consulate with its new red brick house
in course of construction; and, by the side of the last mentioned, the
_compounds_ of the American and Russian legations. Farther on, nearer the
royal Palace, the German flag may be seen surmounting the German
Consulate, which is situated in an enclosure containing several Corean
houses which have been reduced _a l' Europeenne_ and made very
comfortable. Then the large house with a glass front is the one now
inhabited by the Vice-Minister for Home Affairs, but the grounds
surrounding this are very restricted. A nunnery and a few houses of
missionaries also stand prominent, mostly in the neighbourhood of the
Japanese settlement.

The Japanese settlement, into which we will now descend, is noteworthy
for the activity and commercial enterprise shown by the subjects of the
Mikado. It is remarkable, also, to notice the curious co-existence of
sense and nonsense in the Jap's adoption of foreign customs. For
instance, you see the generality of them dressed in European clothes, but
nevertheless still sticking to the ancient custom of removing their
boots on entering a house; a delightful practice, I agree, in Japan,
where the climate is mild, but not in a country like Corea, where you
have an average of sixty degrees of frost. Then again, the Japanese
houses, the outer walls of which consist of tissue paper, seem hardly
suited to such a climate as that of Corea. It is really comical to watch
them as they squat in a body round a brass brasier, shivering and blue
with cold, with thin flat faces and curved backs; reminding one very much
of the large family of quadrumans at the Zoo on a cold day. Nevertheless,
they are perfectly happy, though many die of pleurisy, consumption, and
cold in the chest.

The Japanese women dress, of course, in their national _kimonos_, and
just as it is in Japan the fashion to show a little of the chest under
the throat, so in Cho-sen the same custom is adopted; with the result
that many are carried off by bronchitis to the next world.

One cannot but admire the Japanese, however, for the cleanliness of their
houses and for the good-will--sometimes too much of it--which they
display as well in their commercial dealings as in their colonising
schemes. The custom of daily bathing in water of a boiling-point
temperature is carried on by them in Corea as in their own country,
notwithstanding which I venture to say that the Japanese are very dirty
people. This remark seems non-coherent and requires, I am afraid, some

"How can they be dirty if they bathe every day? I call that being very
clean," I fancy I hear you reply.

So they would undoubtedly be, if they bathed in clean water; but,
unfortunately, this is just what they do not do, and, to my uncivilised
mind, bathing in filthy water seems ten times more dirty than not bathing
at all. Just imagine a small tank of water in which dozens, if not
hundreds, of people have been already boiled before you in your turn use
it, and upon which float large "eyes" of greasy matter. Well, this is
what every good Japanese is expected to immerse himself in, right up to
his nose, for at least half an hour at a time! I cannot but admire them
for their courage in doing it, but, certainly, from the point of view of
cleanliness my view is quite different; for, really and truly, I have
always failed to see where the "cleanliness" comes in. Persons belonging
to the wealthier classes have small baths of their own, in the steaming
hot liquid of which bask in turns the family itself, their friends, the
children and servants; and probably the same water is used again and
again for two or three days in succession.

I remember well how horrified I was one evening, in the Land of the
Rising Sun, when, on visiting a small village, I was, as a matter of
politeness on their part, requested to join in the bath. Being a novice
at Japanese experiences, and as their request was so pressing, I thanked
them and accepted; whereupon, I was buoyantly led to the bath. Oh what a
sight! Three skinny old women, "disgraces," I may almost call them, for
certainly they could not be classified under the designation of "graces,"
were sitting in a row with steaming water up to their necks, undergoing
the process of being boiled. What! thought I, panic-stricken--am I to
bathe with these three ... old lizards? Oh no, not I! and I made a rush
for the door, greatly to the annoyance of the people, who not only
considered me very dirty, but also very rude in not availing myself of
their polite invitation! The next morning as I took my cold bath as usual
in beautifully clean spring water, I was condemned and pitied as a
lunatic! Such are the different customs of different people.

[Illustration: THE PEKIN PASS]

When visiting Seoul, it is well worth one's while to take a walk to the
Pekin Pass, a _li_ or two outside the West Gate. The pass itself, which
is cut into the rock, is situated on the road leading from Seoul to
Pekin; which, by the way, is the road by which the envoys of the Chinese
Emperor, following an ancient custom, travel overland with a view to
claiming the tribute payable by the King of Corea. As a matter of fact,
this custom of paying tribute had almost fallen into disuse, and China
had not, for some years, I believe, enforced her right of suzerainty over
the Corean peninsula, until the year 1890, when the envoys of the
Celestial Emperor once again proceeded on their wearisome and long
journey from Pekin to the capital of Cho-sen. It was here at the Pekin
Pass, then, that, according to custom, they were received with great
honour by the Coreans, and led into Seoul. It was at a large house,
surrounded by a wall, on the road side, that these envoys were usually
received and welcomed, either by the king in person or by some
representative; and it was here that they were treated with refreshments
and food, previously to being conducted in state into the capital, this
being accomplished amidst the cheers of a Corean crowd, which, like
other crowds, is always ready to cheer the last comer. At the Pekin Pass,
a "triumphal arch"--for want of a better word--could be seen. It was a
lofty structure, composed of two high columns, the lower part of these
being of masonry, and the upper of lacquered wood, which supported a
heavy roof of the orthodox Corean pattern, under which, about one-fourth
down the columns, was a portion decorated with native fretwork of a
somewhat rough type. The illustration represents this monument as it
appeared in winter time, when the ground was covered with snow, beyond it
being the square cut in the rocks, through which the road leads to
Newchuang and Pekin.

There are two types of individuals that are very interesting from a
picturesque point of view; viz., the water-coolie, and the man who
carries the huge locks and keys of the city gates.

The water-coolie is almost as much of a "personality," as the _mapu_, in
his rude independent ways. He displays much patience, and certainly
deserves admiration for the amount of work he daily does, for very little
pay. His work consists in carrying water, from morning until night, to
whoever wants it. This is a simple enough process in summer time, but in
winter matters are rather different, for now nearly all the fountains are
frozen, and the water has to be drawn from a well. The water-coolie
carries a peculiar arrangement on his shoulders, a long pole fastened
cross-wise upon his shoulder-blades, by straps going under and round the
arms; by which means he is enabled to carry two buckets of water at a
time. The arrangement, though more complicated, is not dissimilar to
that used for the same purpose, by women in Holland, or to that for
carrying milk in many parts of Switzerland. In winter time the buckets of
water become buckets of ice the moment they are drawn from the well, and
then it is really pitiable to see these poor beggars with the skin of
their hands all cracked and bleeding with the cold. They run along at a
good pace when loaded, and show great judgment in avoiding collision,
sighing as they go a loud _hess! hess! hess! hess!_ to which they keep
time with their steps. They are considered about the lowest creatures in
the kingdom, and enjoy some of the privileges of children and unmarried
men as regards clothing; for instance, they generally wear a light blue
jacket even when the country is in mourning. When on duty they never wear
hats, and often no head-bands, having, instead, blue kerchiefs wrapt
round the head. The inevitable long pipe is not forgotten, and is
carried, after the fashion of the _mapu_, stuck down the back.

[Illustration: A WATER-COOLIE]

The lock-carrier, again, is by no means the dirtiest individual in the
land of Cho-sen, at least as far as it was my good fortune to see.
Nevertheless, his clothes are invariably in a state of dilapidation, and,
though intended to be white, are usually black with grease and dirt. As
he is employed by the Government he wears the deepest mourning; his face,
and one half of his body being actually hidden under the huge hat
provided for deep mourners. He seldom possesses a pair of padded socks
and sandals, and in the coldest days walks about bare-footed with his
trousers turned up to the knees. He is visible only at sunrise and
sunset, when he goes on his round to all the city gates in order to
inspect the locks and bring or take away the keys. Slung down his back,
he carries a large leather bag, something like a tennis bag, which
contains numberless iron implements of different shapes and weights. He
appears to be friendless and despised by everybody, and I have never seen
him talk to any one. I rather pitied the poor fellow as I saw him go
night after night, with his long unwashed face and hands, along the
rampart of the wall from one gate to another. _Apropos_ of this I once
made a Corean very angry by remarking that "really the safety of the city
could not be in dirtier hands."


The Corean house--Doors and windows--Blinds--Rooms--The "Kan"--Roasting
alive--Furniture--Treasures--The kitchen--Dinner-set--Food--Intoxicants
--Gluttony--Capacity for food--Sleep--Modes of illumination--Autographs

Let us now see what a Corean household is like. But, first, as to the
matter of house architecture. Here there is little difference to be
observed between the house of the noble and that of the peasant, except
that the former is generally cleaner-looking. The houses in Corea may be
divided into two classes--those with thatched roofs of barley-straw, and
those with roofs of tiles, stone and plaster. The latter are the best,
and are inhabited by the well-to-do classes. The outside walls are of mud
and stone, and the roof, when of tiles, is supported by a huge beam that
runs from one end of the house to the other. The corners of the roof are
usually curled up after the Chinese fashion. A stone slab runs along the
whole length of the roof, and is turned up at the two ends, over the
upper angle of the roof itself. The tiles are cemented at the two sides
of this slab, and likewise at the lower borders of the roof. The windows,
again, are rectangular and are placed directly under the roof, being in
consequence well protected from the rain.

Corean houses are never more than one storey high. The houses of
officials and rich people are enclosed by a wall of masonry, the gate of
which is surmounted by a small pagoda-like roof. In the case of the
houses of great swells, like generals and princes, it is customary to
have two and even three gates, which have to be passed through in
succession before the door of the house is reached. The outer wall
surrounding the _compound_ is seldom more than six or eight feet high,
and, curiously enough, all along the top of the wall runs a narrow roof,
the width of two tiles. This, besides being a sort of ornament, is of
practical use in protecting it from the damp.

One cannot call the Coreans great gardeners, for they seem to take
comparatively little interest in the native _flora_. The richer people
do, as a rule, have small gardens, which are nicely laid out with one or
two specimens of the flowers they esteem and care to cultivate; but
really ornamental gardens are few in number in the Land of Cho-sen.
Kitchen gardens naturally are frequently found, even near the houses of
the poorer people.

One peculiarity, which characterises the majority of Corean houses of the
better sort is that they are entered by the windows; these being provided
with sliding latticed frames covered with tissue paper, and running on
grooves to the sides, like the _Shojis_ of Japan. The tissue paper is
often dipped in oil previous to being used on the sliding doors and
windows, as it is then supposed to keep out the cold better than when
left in its natural state. As the doors and windows of Cho-sen, however,
very seldom have the quality of fitting tight, a Corean house is
therefore quite a _rendezvous_ for draughts and currents of air.

In summer time the windows and doors are kept open, or even removed
altogether during the day-time, and then, in order to preserve that
privacy of which every Corean is so proud, recourse is had to a capital
dodge. At the end of the projecting roof, and immediately in front of the
window or entrance, at the distance of a couple of feet, is hung a shade
in the shape of a fine mat, made of numberless long strings of split
bamboo, tied together in a parallel position by several silk strings
which vary in number with the size of the mat. The use of these
curtain-like barriers has several advantages. They protect the house from
those troublesome visitors the flies; they let in the air, though not the
sun, and, while the people who are in the house can plainly see through
them what goes on in the street, no one on the outside can distinguish
either those inside, or what is doing in the house. Good mats are very
expensive, and difficult to obtain; therefore, it is only the better
classes that can use them. Poorer folk are satisfied with very rough mats
of rushes. It is also the custom for good citizens of the provinces to
send the king at the New Year presents of a certain number of these mats,
which, like the Indian shawls of Her Britannic Majesty, are given out
again by him to the royal princes and highest officials. I was fortunate
enough to be presented with two of these blinds by a high official, who
was closely related to the king. They are a marvel of patient and careful
work, as accurately and delicately done as if some machine had been
employed. They are nearly six feet high, by five wide, and are yellow in
colour with black, red, and green stripes painted at the top and bottom.
In the centre is a very pretty, simple frieze, on the inside of which are
some Corean characters.

If a Corean house does not look very inviting when you look at it from
the outside, still less does it when you are indoors. The smallness of
the rooms and their lack of furniture, pictures, or ornaments are
features not very pleasant to the eye. The rooms are like tiny boxes,
between eight and ten feet long, less than this in width and about seven
feet high. They are white all over with the exception of the floor, which
is covered with thick, yellowish oil-paper. The poorest kind of Corean
house consists of only a single room; the abode of the moderately
well-off man, on the other hand, may have two or three, generally three
rooms; though, of course, the houses of very high offices are found with
a still larger number.

The Corean process of heating the houses is somewhat original. It is a
process used in a great part of Eastern Asia--and, to my mind, it is the
only thoroughly barbaric custom which the Corean natives have retained.
The flooring of the rooms consists of slabs of stone, under which is a
large oven of the same extent as the room overhead, which oven, during
the winter, is filled with a burning wood-fire, which is kept up day and
night. What happens is generally this: The coolie whose duty it is to
look after this oven, to avoid trouble fills it with wood and dried
leaves up to the very neck, and sets these on fire and then goes to
sleep; by which means the stone slabs get heated to such an extent that,
sometimes, notwithstanding the thick oil paper which covers them, one
cannot stand on them with bare feet.

The Corean custom is to sleep on the ground in the padded clothes, using
a wooden block as a pillow. The better classes, however, use also small,
thin mattresses, covered with silk, which they spread out at night, and
keep rolled up during the day-time. As the people sleep on the ground, it
often happens that the floor gets so hot as to almost roast them, but the
easy-going inhabitant of Cho-sen, does not seem to object to this
roasting process--on the contrary, he seems almost to revel in it, and
when well broiled on one side, he will turn over to the other, so as to
level matters. While admiring the Coreans much for this proceeding, I
found it extremely inconvenient to imitate them. I recollect well the
first experience which I had of the use of a "Kan," which is the native
name of the oven. On that occasion it was "made so hot" for me, that I
began to think I had made a mistake, and that I had entered a crematory
oven instead of a sleeping-room. Putting my fist through one of the paper
windows to get a little air only made matters ten times worse, for half
my body continued to undergo the roasting process, while the other half
was getting unpleasantly frozen. To this day, it has always been a marvel
to me, and an unexplainable fact that, those who use the "Kan" do not
"wake up--dead" in the morning!

The furniture of a Corean house, as I have hinted above, is neither over
plentiful nor too luxurious. In fact, at the first glance, one is almost
inclined to say that there is, so to speak, no furniture at all there.
Possibly, a tiger or a leopard-skin may be found spread on the ground in
the reception room; there may even be a rough minuscule chest of drawers
in a corner, and a small, low writing-table near it, upon which probably
rests a little jar with a flower or two in it; but rarely will you find
much more. The bedrooms usually contain chests, in which the clothing is
kept, but there is also a custom by which these are hung on pegs in a
recess in the wall. The chests are covered with white parchment studded
all over with brass nails, and further adorned with a brass lock and two
handles of the same metal. When voyaging, the Coreans use these as
trunks. Besides the rooms I have mentioned, the richer Corean has a
special room, generally kept locked up, in which the treasures of the
family are jealously safeguarded. The latter are in the shape of ancient
native pictures, rolled up like the _Kakemonos_ of Japan, painted screens
and vases of the Satsuma ware, the art of making which was taught to the
Japanese by the Coreans, although now those who were formerly masters in
the art cannot produce it. Some Coreans also possess valuable specimens
of lacquer work, both of Chinese and Japanese origin, as well as a
rougher kind of native production. None of these heirlooms are, however,
ever brought to light, and it is only on rare and very grand occasions,
such as marriages, deaths, or national rejoicings, that one or two
articles are brought into the reception-room for the day, to be again
carefully packed up and stored away at night. The idea, which prevails in
Japan, is also current here, namely, that it is bad form to make a great
show of what one possesses, and that the wealthier a man is, the less
should he disclose the fact and the simpler should he live, that he may
not so excite the envy of his fellow countrymen. Self-denial and
self-inflicted discomforts are virtues much appreciated in the Land of
Cho-sen, and when a nobleman sets a good example in this respect it is
invariably thought highly of, and emulated by others. Indeed, the
conversation of the whole town is often concentrated on some small act of
benevolence done by such and such a prince, nobleman or magistrate.

But the kitchen must not be forgotten. Its most striking contents are the
large earthenware vases, similar in shape and size to the _orcis_ of
Italy, in which the top-knotted native keeps his wine, water, barley and
rice. Then there are numberless shining brass cups, saucers, and bowls of
various sizes. The latter forms the Corean dinner-service. Every piece of
this is made of brass. The largest bowls are used, one for soup, and the
other for rice; the next in size, for wine and water respectively; while
the smaller ones are for bits of vegetables and sauces--which latter are
used by the natives in profusion. Curiously enough, in the Land of the
Morning Calm they manufacture a sauce which is, so far as I could judge,
identical in taste and colour with our well-known Worcester sauce.

The Coreans eat their food with chopsticks, but contrary to the habits of
their neighbours, the Chinese and the Japanese, spoons also are used. The
chopsticks are of very cheap wood, and fresh ones are used at nearly
every meal. The diet also is much more varied than in either of the
neighbouring countries, and game, venison, raw fish, beef, pork, fowls,
eggs, and sea-weed are much appreciated. As for fruits, the Coreans get
simply mad over them, the most favourite being the persimmons, of which
they eat large quantities both fresh and dried. Apples, pears and plums
are also plentifully used.

The Cho-sen people have three meals a day. The first is partaken of early
in the morning, and is only a light one; then comes lunch in the middle
of the day, a good square meal; and finally the Tai-sek, a great meal, in
the evening, at which Corean voracity is exhibited to the best advantage.
The climate being so much colder than that of Japan, it is only natural
that the Cho-senese should use more animal food and fat than do the
landsman of the Mikado. Pork and beef, barely roasted and copiously
condimented with pepper and vinegar, are devoured in large quantities.
The Coreans also have a dish much resembling the Italian maccaroni or
vermicelli. Of this large bowls may be seen at all the eating-shops in
Seoul, and it is as a food apparently more cherished by members of the
lower than by those of the upper classes. Previous to being eaten, it is
dipped in a very flavoury sauce, and, although they are not quite so
graceful in the art of eating as are the Neapolitan _Lazzaroni_, still
with the help of a spoon and as many fingers as are available, the Corean
natives seem to manage to swallow large quantities of this in a very
short time.

Among the lower classes in Corea tea is almost unknown as a beverage. In
its stead they delight in drinking the whitish stuff produced by the rice
when it has been boiled in water, or as an alternative, infusions of
ginsang. They also brew at home two or three different kinds of liquor of
different strengths and tastes, by fermenting barley, rice and millet.
The beer of fermented rice is not at all disagreeable, and their light
wine also is, so far as wines go, even palatable. However, I may as well
state once for all that I am no judge of these matters, and, as my time
is chiefly employed in the art of oil-painting, and not in that of
drinking, I hope to be excused if I think myself better up in "oils" than
in wines!!

Presuming that my reader has survived this pun, I will now go on to state
that it is a common thing in Corea to begin a dinner with sweets, and
that another curious custom is for all present to drink out of the same
bowl of wine passed round and of course re-filled when empty. The dinner
is served on tiny tables rising only a few inches above the ground, and
similar to those of Japan. Fish, as is the case with most Easterners, are
eaten raw; first, however, being dipped in the liquid which resembles
Worcestershire sauce. To cook a fish is simply looked upon as a shameful
way of, spoiling it, unless it has gone bad, when, of course, cooking
becomes necessary. Fish are, however, most prized by the Coreans when
just taken out of the water.

Hard-boiled eggs form another favourite dish in the land of Cho-sen, and
turnips, potatoes, and a large radish similar to the _daikon_ of Japan,
are also partaken of at Corean dinners. The poorer classes seem to relish
highly a dreadful-looking salad, of a small fish much resembling
whitebait, highly flavoured with quantities of pepper, black sauce and
vinegar, with bits of pork-meat frequently thrown in. The whole thing
has an unpleasant brownish colour, and the smell of it reminded me much
of a photographer's dark room when collodion is in use, except that the
smell of the fish-salad is considerably stronger.

The Coreans excel and even surpass themselves in cooking rice. This is
almost an art with them, and the laurels for high achievements in it
belong to the women, for it is to them that work of this kind is
entrusted. Sometimes the Cho-senese make a kind of pastry, but they have
nothing at all resembling our bread. Rice takes the place of the last
mentioned, and though, so far as I could see, the fair ladies of Cho-sen
were somewhat casual in the exercise of the culinary art, they really
took enormous trouble to boil the rice properly. It is first well washed
in a large pail, and properly cleaned; then it undergoes a process of
slow boiling in plenty of water in such a way that, while quite soft and
delicious to the taste, each grain retains its shape and remains
separate, instead of making the kind of paste produced by our method of
boiling it. The whitish water left behind after the rice has been removed
is, as we have seen, used as a cooling beverage. In some respects the
Corean diet approaches the Chinese and the Indian, rather than the
Japanese; for many a time have I seen men in Corea eat their rice mixed
with meat and fish, well covered with strong sauce, in the shape of a
_curry_; whereas in Japan the boiled rice is always in a bowl apart and
eaten separately.

The Corean mind seems to lay great stress upon the quantity of food that
the digestive organs will bear. Nothing gives more satisfaction to a
Corean than to be able to pat his tightly-stretched stomach, and, with a
deep sigh of relief, say: "Oh, how much I have eaten!" Life, according to
them, would not be worth living if it were not for eating. Brought up
under a regime of this kind, it is not astonishing that their capacity
for food is really amazing. I have seen a Corean devour a luncheon of a
size that would satisfy three average Europeans, and yet after that, when
I was anxiously expecting to see him burst, fall upon a large dish of
dried persimmons, the heaviest and most indigestible things in existence.
"They look very good," said he, as he quickly swallowed one, and with his
supple fingers undid the beautiful bow of his girdle and loosened it,
thus apparently providing for more space inside. "I shall eat one or
two," he murmured, as he was in the act of swallowing the second; and, in
less than no time the whole of the fruit had passed from the dish into
his digestive organs, and he was intently gathering up, with the tips of
his licked fingers, the few grains of sugar left at the bottom of the

"I was unwell and had no appetite to-day," he then innocently remarked,
as he lifted up his head.

"Oh, I hope you will come again when you are quite well," said I, "but
you must promise not to eat the table, because it does not belong to me."

A good deal of the native voracity is due, however, not to this
insatiable appetite and gluttony alone, but also to Corean etiquette,
according to which it shows a want of respect to the host and is a mark
of great rudeness not to eat all that is placed before one. If all is not
eaten they argue that you do not like it and consider it to be badly
cooked or inferior to what you have at home. The notion of a normal
capacity is strange to them, and never even enters their mind. They are
trained from childhood to eat huge quantities of food, and to take
heartily all that they can get. I have seen children with thin little
bellies so extended after a meal, in the course of which they had been
stuffed with rice and barley, that they could hardly walk or even
breathe. I recollect on one occasion remarking to a mother, who was
beamingly showing me her child in a similar condition: "Are you not
afraid that his skin will give way?" "Oh no! Look!" Upon which she
stuffed down his little throat three or four more spoonfuls of rice. I
have been thankful ever since that I was not born a Corean child.

When the Coreans eat in their own houses, the men of the family take
their meals first, being waited on by their wives and servants; after
which the females have their repast in a separate room. The women seldom
drink intoxicants, and have to be satisfied with water and rice-wash.

It is the duty of the wife to look after the welfare of her husband, and
when she has fed him, and he has drowsily laid himself down on the
ground, or on his little mattress, as the case may be, she retires, and
after having had her food either goes to see her friends or to wash her
master's clothes, or else goes to sleep.

The people of Cho-sen are fond of keeping late hours; and yet I believe
there are no people in the world who are more fond of sleep. So far as my
observations go, the richer people spend their lives entirely in eating
and sleeping. Whenever I went to call on a Corean gentleman, I
invariably found him either gorging or in the arms of Morpheus. Naturally
a life of this sort makes the upper classes soft, and somewhat
effeminate. They are much given to sensual pleasures, and many a man of
Cho-sen is reduced to a perfect wreck when he ought to be in his prime.
The habit of drinking more than is proper is really a national
institution, and what with over feeding, drunkenness, and other vices it
is not astounding that the upper ten do not show to great advantage. The
Coreans are most irregular in their habits, for, slumbering as they do at
all hours of the day, they often feel sleepless at night, and are
compelled in consequence to sit up. On these occasions songs are roused,
and dominoes (san-pi-yen), chess (chan-kin), or occasionally card games
are started until another _siesta_ is felt to be required. Cards,
however, are seldom played by the upper classes; for they are considered
a low amusement, only fit for coolies and soldiers. On grand occasions it
is not unusual for the _bon-vivant_ of Cho-sen to sit up all night, with
his friends, feasting to such an extent that he and his guests are ill
for months afterwards.

The Corean nobleman, as may well be imagined, suffers from chronic
indigestion, and whenever one happens to inquire after his health the
answer invariably is: "I have eaten something that has disagreed with me,
I have a pain here." And the hand is placed on the chest, in a mournful
but expressive enough attitude.

The modes of illumination adopted in the Corean household are few and
simple. The most common illuminant consists of grease candles, supported
on high candlesticks, of wood or brass, but sometimes oil cup-lamps are
found, like those we use for night-lights. The latter, however, do not
give out much light, and so candles, which are marvellously cheap, are
preferred, although unfortunately they melt quickly, and smoke and smell
in a dreadful fashion.

Besides the various articles of domestic furniture which I have
mentioned, I don't think I saw any others worth noticing, except perhaps
the "autograph" of some great man, to which the Coreans attach much
importance. The paper, on which the "character" is written, is stretched
on a wooden frame and hung in a prominent place, generally over the
entrance, and whenever a new visitor enters the house, the first thing
shown him is the "autograph," and it is his duty then to compliment his
host on his good fortune of possessing it.

We have now examined all the various striking features characteristic of
the Corean household. Let us, then, now go outside again. The streets of
the town could not be more tortuous and irregular. With the exception of
the main thoroughfares, most of the streets are hardly wide enough to let
four people walk abreast. The drainage is carried away in uncovered
channels alongside the house, in the street itself; and, the windows
being directly over these drains, the good people of Cho-sen, when inside
their homes, cannot breathe without inhaling the fumes exhaled from the
fetid matter stagnant underneath. When rain falls, matters get somewhat
better; for then the running water cleans these canals to a considerable
extent. During the winter months, also, things are passable enough, for
then everything is frozen; but, in the beginning of spring, when frozen
nature undergoes the process of thawing, then it is that one wishes to be
deprived of his nose. At the entrance of each house a stone slab is
thrown across to the doorway so as to cover the ditch. Only the
foundations of the town houses are made of solid stone, well cemented,
but in the case of country dwellings these are extended upwards so as to
make up one-half of the whole height, the upper part being of mud, stuck
on to a rough matting of bamboos and split canes.


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

Among the several misfortunes, or fortunes, if you prefer the word, with
which a Corean man has to put up is an early marriage. He is hardly born,
when his father begins to look out for a wife for him, and scarcely has
he time to know that he is living in the world at all than he finds


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