WANDERING IN NORTHERN CHINA BY HARRY A. FRANCK Author of “A Vagabond Journey Around the World,” “Roaming Through the West Indies,” “Vagabonding Down the Andes,” “Working North from Patagonia,” etc., etc.ILLUSTRATED WITH 171 UNUSUAL PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE AUTHOR WITH A MAP SHOWING HIS ROUTE
THE CENTURY CO.NEW YORK & LONDONCopyright, 1923, byThe Century Co.Printed in U. S. A.ToKATHARINE LATTA FRANCKWHO CHOSE THIS PARTICULAR WANDER-YEAR TO JOIN OUR FAMILY CIRCLEvii
There is no particular plan to this book. I found my interest turning toward the Far East, and as I am not one of those fortunate persons who can scamper through a country in a few weeks and know all about it, I set out on a leisurely jaunt to wherever new clues to interest led me. It merely happened that this will-o’-the-wisp drew me on through everything that was once China, north of about the thirty-fourth parallel of latitude. The man who spends a year or two in China and then attacks the problem of telling all he saw, heard, felt, or smelled there is like the small boy who was ordered by the teacher to write on two neat pages all about his visit to the museum. It simply can’t be done. Hence I have merely set down in the following pages, in the same leisurely wandering way as I have traveled, the things that most interested me, often things that others seem to have missed, or considered unimportant, in the hope that some of them may also interest others. Impressions are unlike statistics, however, in that they cannot be corrected to a fraction, and I decline to be held responsible for the exact truth of every presumption I have recorded. If I have fallen into the common error of generalizing, I hereby apologize, for I know well that details in local customs differ even between neighboring villages in China. What I say can at most be true of the north, for as yet I know nothing of southern China. On the other hand, there may be much repetition of customs and the like, but that goes to show how unchanging is life among the masses in China even as a republic.
Lafcadio Hearn said that the longer he remained in the East the less he knew of what was going on in the Oriental mind. An “old China hand” has put the same thing in more popular language: “You can easily tell how long a man has been in China by how much he doesn’t know about it. If he knows almost everything, he has just recently arrived; if he is in doubt, he has been here a few years; if he admits that he really knows nothing whatever about the Chinese people or their probable future, you may take it for granted that he has been out a very long time.”
But as I have said before, the “old-timer” will seldom sit down to tell even what he has seen, and in many cases he has long since lost his way through the woods because of the trees. Or he may have other and viiimore important things to do. Hence it is up to those of us who have nothing else on hand to pick up and preserve such crumbs of information as we can; for surely to know as much of the truth about our foreign neighbors as possible is important, above all in this new age. In our own land there are many very false ideas about China; false ideas that in some cases are due to deliberate Chinese propaganda abroad. While I was out in the far interior I received a clipping outlining the remarks of a Chinese lecturing through our Middle West, and his résumé left the impression that bound feet and opium had all but completely disappeared from China, and that in the matter of schools and the like the “republic” is making enormous strides. No sooner did the Lincheng affair attract the world’s attention than American papers began to run yarns, visibly inspired, about the marvelous advances which the Chinese have recently accomplished. Such men as Alfred Sze are often mistaken in the United States as samples of China. Unfortunately they are nothing of the kind; in fact, they are too often hopelessly out of touch with their native land. There has been progress in China, but nothing like the amount of it which we have been coaxed or lulled into believing, and some of it is of a kind that raises serious doubts as to its direction. For all the telephones, airplanes, and foreign clothes in the coast cities, the great mass of the Chinese have been affected barely at all by this urge toward modernity and Westernism—if that is synonymous with progress. As some one has just put it, “the Chinese still wear the pigtail on their minds, though they have largely cut it off their heads.” How great must be the misinformation at home which causes our late President to say that all China really needs is more loans, thereby making himself, and by extension his nation, the laughing-stock of any one with the rudiments of intelligence who has spent an hour studying the situation on the spot. England is a little better informed on the subject than we, because she is less idealistic, more likely to look facts in the face instead of trying to make facts fit preconceived notions of essential human perfection. China may need more credits, but any fool knows that you should stop the hole in the bottom of a tub before you pour more water into it. At times, too, it is laughable to think of us children among nations worrying about this one, thousands of years old, which has so often “come back,” and may still be ambling her own way long after we have again disappeared from the face of the earth.
Though it is impossible to leave out the omnipresent entirely, I have said comparatively little about politics. My own interest in what ixwe lump together under that word reaches only so far as it affects the every-day life of the people, of the mudsill of society, toward which, no doubt by some queer quirk in my make-up, I find my attention habitually focusing. I have tried, therefore, to show in some detail their lives, slowly changing perhaps yet little changed, and to let others conclude whether “politics” has done all that it should for them. Besides, the Far East swarms with writers on politics, men who have been out here for years or decades and have given their attention almost entirely to that popular subject; and even these disagree like doctors. Some of us, I know, are frankly tired of politics, at least for a space, important as they are; moreover, political changes are so rapid, especially in the “never changing” East, that it is impossible to keep abreast of the times in anything less than a daily newspaper.
At home there are numbers of young men, five or ten years out of college, who can tell you just what is the matter with the world, and exactly how to remedy it. I am more or less ready to agree with them that the world is going to the dogs. What of it? You have only to step outdoors on any clear night to see that there are hundreds of other worlds, which may be arranging their lives in a more intelligent manner. The most striking thing about these young political and sociological geniuses sitting in their suburban gardens or their city flats is that while they can toss off a recipe guaranteed to cure our own sick world overnight, if only some one can get it down its throat, they seldom seem to have influence enough in their own cozy little corner of it to drive out one grafting ward-heeler. In other words, if you must know what is to be the future of China, I regret that I have not been vouchsafed the gift of prophecy and cannot tell you.
In the minor matter of Chinese words and names, I have deliberately not tried to follow the usual Romanization, but rather to cause the reader to pronounce them as nearly like what they are on the spot as is possible with our mere twenty-six letters. Of course I could not follow this rule entirely or I must have called the capital of China “Bay-jing,” have spoken of the evacuation of “Shahn-doong,” and so on; so that in the case of names already more or less familiar to the West I have used the most modern and most widely accepted forms, as they have survived on the ground. At that I cannot imagine what ailed the men who Romanized the Chinese language, but that is another story.
Harry A. Franck.Kuling, China,August 16, 1923.xi
CHAPTER PAGE IIn the Land We Call Korea3 IISome Korean Scenes and Customs23 IIIJapanese and Missionaries in Korea36 IVOff the Beaten Track in Cho-sen53 VUp and Down Manchuria71 VIThrough Russianized China82 VIISpeeding across the Gobi108 VIIIIn “Red” Mongolia124 IXHoly Urga135 XEvery One His Own Diplomat160 XIAt Home under the Tartar Wall174 XIIJogging about Peking195 XIIIA Journey to Jehol230 XIVA Jaunt into Peaceful Shansi252 XVRambles in the Province of Confucius265 XVIItinerating in Shantung288 XVIIEastward to Tsingtao308 XVIIIIn Bandit-Ridden Honan330 XIXWestward through Loess Cañons349 XXOn to Sian-fu366 XXIOnward through Shensi387 XXIIChina’s Far West405 XXIIIWhere the Fish Wagged His Tail423 XXIVIn Mohammedan China447 XXVTrailing the Yellow River Homeward468 XXVICompleting the Circle485xiii
The author gratefully acknowledges his indebtedness to Mr. Edwin S. Mills of Peking, China, for the use of the pictures of Urga.
WANDERING INNORTHERN CHINA3
IN THE LAND WE CALL KOREA
The traveler from Japan to the peninsula still known to the Western world as Korea has a sense of being wafted on some magic carpet thousands of miles while he slept, a sensation which the splendid steamers bridging the Straits of Tsushima several times a day do not dispel. It is surprising how different two lands separated only by a few hours on the sea can be. A fortnight on a Nippon Yusen Kaisha liner and six weeks of wandering from end to end of the Island Empire gave us a Japanese background against which many of the problems of the Far East stood out more clearly, but it did very little to prepare us for the physical aspects of the “Cho-sen” over which the banner of the rising sun now waves. Those who have listened to the long and heated controversy over the adding of this large slice of mainland to the mikado’s realm must often have heard the apologists’ assertion that the two peoples, Japanese and Koreans, are so nearly alike as to be virtually the same. Perhaps they are; but if so, all the outward evidences the casual visitor must depend upon to form an opinion are deceiving. Superficially, at least, Japan and Korea are as different as two Oriental lands and races could well be. In landscape, customs, costumes, point of view, general characteristics, even in the details of personal appearance, the two shores of the Sea of Japan strike the new-comer as having very little in common.
Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Korea, to any one newly arrived from Japan, is her treelessness. The lack of forests is, with the possible exception of exclamations of incredulity over her extraordinary costumes, almost certain to be the subject of any Occidental’s first paragraph of Korean notes. In our own case this denuded 4aspect of the peninsula was emphasized by the blazing, cloudless sunshine that beat relentlessly down during all our first day of travel northward to the old capital, and on many another to follow. The bare and sun-scorched landscape suggested some victim of barbarian cruelty, who, stripped of his garments, was being tortured to death by slow roasting. Possibly we should have been prepared for this, but we were not. We had heard much of the doings of Japan in Korea; we knew something of the opera-bouffe hats of the men and the startlingly short waists of the women, but no one had ever told us of the curiously pure and molten sunshine of “Cho-sen,” of the vividness of its shadows and the filtered transparency of its air, nor, for that matter, of the incessant heat we must endure because chance allotted us from June to August in what was once the Hermit Kingdom.
Trees as sparse as the hairs of a Korean beard stood out in lonely isolation across the more or less flat lands of all that first day’s journey; beyond these, usually rather near at hand, rose scarred and repulsive hillsides as unsightly as the faces of those countless inhabitants along the way who had been visited by the “honorable spirit” of smallpox. It was not merely the barrenness of a naturally treeless country, a barrenness as dreary as those upper reaches of the Andes to which real vegetation never attains, but one which, like the denuded plains of Spain, visibly complains of the wanton violence of man. To be sure, many of the rocky hills that sometimes rose to be almost mountains were here and there thinly covered with evergreen shrubs which might some day be trees, and even forests. But these, travelers are informed with what becomes tiresome persistency, were planted by the new Government. The Japanese policy of reforestation, we were eventually to know, has already done excellent things for Korea, and that not merely, as those who resent the rape of the peninsula assert, where it will attract the passing tourist’s eye, and it promises in time to accomplish something worth while; but it is an unfortunate Japanese trait to fear that good deeds will not speak loudly enough for themselves.
The reducing of a once well wooded land to its present nude state is characteristic of the Korean, we were to learn, suggestive of his general point of view. In the olden days the people were often driven to the hills by their savage or demented rulers, and as the rigorous winters that contrast with the tropical summers came on, they not only burned the trees, but as roots make excellent charcoal they dug up even these, leaving nothing that might by any chance sprout again. To replant in better times, to take any serious thought for the morrow, 5would have been un-Korean. The Korean even of to-day who covets the half-dozen cherries or plums on a limb does not usually take the trouble to pick them; he breaks off the branch and goes his way munching the fruit, with never a thought of next year. Translate this improvidence, this almost complete lack of foresight, into all the details of daily life, and the condition and the final fate of Korea become understandable, in fact inevitable.
Woods survive to any great extent in Korea only in two places—about royal tombs and up along the Yalu River which forms the northern frontier. Elsewhere in the peninsula, with minor exceptions, there are only groups of trees planted by foreign missionaries, and rows of pine shrubs set out directly by the Japanese Government, or by local authorities, school children, or private individuals, under Japanese influence. This treelessness is not the unimportant detail many may think; it is the wanton destruction of her forests of long ago that gives the Korea of to-day her mainly mud houses, much of her filth, dust, and swarming flies, and those devastating floods of the rainy season which sweep roads, bridges, fields, and even villages before them.
There were many other things which gave the Korean landscape its strikingly un-Japanese aspect. Fewer people were working in the larger and less garden-like fields; the village roofs thatched with rice-straw had a flatter, smoother look than the homes of Japanese peasants; the towns themselves seemed to huddle together as closely and inconspicuously as possible, as if to escape, or join in resisting, the rapacious tax-gatherers of the olden days that are not forgotten. Koreans in white, their inevitable color, so rare in Japan, were everywhere, though more often in the shade of villages or rare wayside trees or huts than out in the baking sunshine. The suggestion forced itself upon us that perhaps the fields were larger because the people could not coax themselves to work alone. In Japan it had been unusual to see more than a peasant and his wife in the same field; here work seemed to be done almost entirely by gangs. In spite of the general aridness of the landscape, there were many flooded rice-fields, and in nearly all of them waded a soldier-like line of often a dozen laborers, as many women as men among them. Much of the country showed no signs of the languid hand of man, yet even in the drier sections scattered rows of these peasants, their garments still almost snow-white at a distance, gleamed forth in the otherwise mainly reddish landscape.
Similar groups stood in semicircles on earth threshing-floors flailing 6grain in a way that is familiar to the Western world, but which we had never seen in Japan. Nor were there any reminders of the Island Empire in the clusters of women kneeling at the edge of every bit of a stream or mud-hole paddling clothes with a sort of cricket-bat. The ways of life, the very architecture, were strangely reminiscent of lands inhabited by negroes.
The most primitive of plows, drawn by bulls, dragged their way to and fro in a field here and there. Along what passed for roads others of these lumbering animals plodded almost hidden under loads of new-cut grain or brushwood, at a pace which seemed to fit the languid temperament of the country. In places a highway, constructed by the new rulers, tried to preserve an unbroken march; but wherever a bridge should have been they almost invariably pitched headlong down into the bed of a stream as waterless as those of summer-time Spain. Even the Japanese, we were to learn before leaving the peninsula, are poor bridge-builders, while the Korean remains true to his natural improvidence in constructing flimsy things of branches and earth, with totally inadequate abutments, which the first dash of the rainy season down the treeless hillsides converts into scattered masses of rubbish.
All the day long the scene varied little from these first few glimpses. There was a certain rough beauty in the tawny hillsides and the broad stretches of sun-flooded rice lands, but of a similarity that grew monotonous, while the ways of the people, until opportunity should come to see them in closer detail, were such as the fleeting tourist is wont to sum up under the outworn word “picturesque” and quickly lose from between the pages of memory. Korea has often been called a land of villages, and in all the two hundred and eighty miles from the southern point of the peninsula to Seoul there was little more than a frequent succession of smooth-thatched, closely snuggled towns varying, outwardly at least, only in size. Not until later on, and by more primitive means of travel, were we to know of the remnants of bygone civilization, the pine-grove tombs of royalty, the ruined palaces of fallen dynasties, and the welter of modern problems with which the peninsula teems.
The Korean wardrobe has so little in common with that of the Occident, and includes so many startling absurdities, that it merits a few words in detail, even though some of its more striking features are fairly familiar to those interested in foreign lands. To begin with the basis of all wardrobes, there is that ingenious contrivance with 7which the Korean gentleman protects his other garments from perspiration during the blazing months of summer. A missionary who carried home a set of these and offered them to any one in his native parish who could identify them recorded forty-two guesses, all equally wide of the mark, which was the simple phrase “summer underwear.” Out of their environment these useful garments look more like primitive bird-cages or light baskets than what they really are. In their entirety they consist of a kind of waistcoat, a high collar of the Elizabethan period, and cuffs so long as to be almost sleeves—all made of small strips of ratan very loosely woven together. That they are effective in allowing the free circulation of air, and at the same time preserve the cloth garments from contact with the perspiring body, one is willing to grant without the evidence of actual personal experience. Now and again one runs across a Japanese petty official who, in an effort to mitigate his midsummer sufferings, has adopted at least the cuffs; but on the whole this ingenious contribution is likely to suffer the common fate of never finding appreciation beyond its native habitat.
Over his ratan skin-protectors the Korean gentleman wears a kind of waistcoat-shirt, trousers (if so commonplace a term may be used for so uncommonplace a garment) which are more than voluminous even in use and, when hung out to dry, suggest the mainsails of a wind-jammer, and finally a turamaggie, an overcoat reaching to the calves and tied together with a bow over the right breast. All these articles are snow-white, and in summer are made of a vegetable fiber so thin as to suggest starched cheese-cloth. The mainsail trousers are fastened tightly about the ankles with a winding of cloth, which also supports the carefully foot-shaped and curiously thick white socks, which are thrust into low slippers cut well away at the instep, slippers formerly of leather richly embroidered or otherwise decorated, but now rapidly giving way to the white or reddish rubber ones made in Japan which are ruining the feet of Korea. The crowning glory and absurdity of this de rigueur costume, however, is the head-dress. About the brow is bound, so tightly as to cause violent headaches when first adopted and to leave lifelong marks, a black band about four inches wide and reaching well up over the curve of the head. On top of this sits a brimless cap shaped like a fez with an L-shaped indentation in its front, and finally over all else reigns an uncollapsible opera-hat. Both the hat and the cap beneath it are made of horsehair, or cheap imitations thereof, and are so loosely woven and screen-like in their transparency that facetious and unkindly foreigners are wont 8to refer to them as “fly-traps.” This term is as unwarranted as it is offensive, for the one place in Korea which is free from flies in season is the hat-protected crown of the adult Korean male. One need not take the word of “old-timers,” but will find ample evidence in photographs of a decade or more ago that the opera-bouffe contraption with which the Korean gentleman tops himself off once had brim enough to do duty almost as a real hat. Such utilitarian days are past, however; perhaps it is that universal bugbear of the human family, the high cost of living, which has reduced the brim to little more than a ledge. The fact remains that a fly must walk with caution now in making a circuit which in the good old days he might safely have accomplished after sipping long and generously at the edge of a bowl of sool. However, let there be no misapprehension, no uncalled for sympathy under the impression that this shrinking has worked hardship upon the wearer. The Korean hat was not designed to be a protection for the head and a shade for the face. Its purpose in life is far more serious and is concentrated on one single object,—to protect from evil spirits the precious topknot which is the badge of full Korean manhood. Hence its duty is not merely an outdoor one; wicked beings of the invisible world have no compunction in taking unfair advantage of their victims, so that to this day it is a common practice for the Korean man to lay him down to sleep—on his bare papered floor, using a hardwood brick as a pillow—with his precious top-hat still in place.
However, we have not yet completely garbed our yang-ban, our gentleman of the Land of Morning Calm. His hat, being light, almost ethereal, in fact, must be held in place, whether in sleep or in the slightest breeze, for which purpose a black ribbon under the chin serves the ordinary man and a string of amber beads his haughtier fellow-citizen. Add to this the unfailing collapsible fan, and a pipe as long and heavy as a cane, with a bowl the size of the end of the thumb, and you may vizualize in his entirety the proud gentleman who sallies forth from his mud hut and picks his way leisurely between the mud-holes and offal-heaps of any town or city street. The fan is rarely inactive, now dispensing a breeze to the copper-tinted face of its owner, now shading it from the direct rays of a burning sun. The pipe, bowl down, swings with the jaunty aggressiveness of an Englishman’s “stick”; above all else the features remain fixed and unalterable in their serenity, for in the code of the genuine Korean gentleman of the old school there is no greater vulgarity than to show in public either mirth, anger, curiosity, or annoyance. Nothing could be more 9specklessly white than this dignified apparition, for do not his servant-wives spend their days, and no small portion of their nights, in preparing his garments for the daily sortie and mingling with his fellows? Behold him, then, as he joins the latter, in a shop-door or on a shaded street-corner, where he squats with them in that fashion which has caused a row of Korean males to be likened to penguins, letting his spotless starched turamaggie spread out on the unswept earth with a carelessness which seems a boast of his ability to command unlimited female labor.
We must come back again, however, to the incredible hat, as the eyes and the attention constantly will as long as one remains in Korea. If the Japanese are commonplace and unoriginal in their head-dress, certainly their newly captured fellow-subjects make up for it. Set usually at a jaunty angle, whether by design, breeze, or cranial malformation, a jauntiness enhanced by its scarcity of brim, the “fly-trap” hat furnishes Korea half its picturesqueness. Graduates of modern mission or Japanese government schools, self-complacent young men who have been abroad, native Christian pastors, may wear the Panama or the felt of the West above their otherwise national white garb, but the “fly-trap” is still the prevailing head-dress throughout the length, breadth, and social strata of the peninsula. Far and wide, in city or village, in crowded marts or on lonely country roads, indoors or out, awake or asleep, the high hat is seldom missing. It persists to the very edge of the frontier, then disappears as suddenly as it had sprung up at the other extremity of the country. After one has weathered the first shock it does not look so greatly out of place on your city gentleman, but I never learned to behold it with proper equanimity on the heads of porters, plasterers, and peasants. Even the workman without it, however, is still conspicuous. Tattered, soiled, and sun-scorched men wandering across the country with a kind of tramp’s pack on their backs wear the horsehair bird-cage on their heads; perhaps the most incongruous sight of all is to behold a battered old man of the rice-fields solemnly squatting on a garbage-heap in his mud hamlet, with his opera hat perched on guard above his gray and scanty topknot.
Once or twice we caught a glimpse of the light-brown hat formerly worn by all men about to be married, or to add a new wife to their collection of servants; once the custom was wide-spread of painting the hat white in sign of mourning, but to-day black is almost universal, and an excellent foil to the otherwise white garb. Bridegrooms no longer feel compelled publicly to announce their happy status, and there 10is another and more effective means of showing grief at bereavement,—a mourner’s hat like a large, finely woven, inverted basket with scalloped edges, which completely hides the afflicted face of the wearer. As he ambles along under this ample protection instead of blistering beneath a horsehair cage, surely a feeling of gratitude toward the departed relative must pervade the thoughts of the bereaved, particularly as the Korean term of mourning lasts for three years. There is a still more enormous, very coarsely woven, sunshade worn by peasants in the midsummer months, while Buddhist priests, otherwise indistinguishable from layman tramps and beggars, wear a smaller hat of similar shape to that of the mourners, but raised on bamboo stilts well above the head. The horsehair hat is costly, by Korean standards, the better ones even by our own, and, being put together with glue, is frail and perishable. Water is particularly fatal to it. Let the first drop of a shower fall, therefore, and from within the garments of every Korean man appears a hat-umbrella, a little cone-shaped cover of oiled paper or silk, like a miniature Japanese parasol, which is quickly opened and slipped over the precious hat. As to the rest of the male garb, no damage is possible which cannot be repaired by the return of sunshine or a few hours’ labor by the women at home. Thus on a rainy day the black heads above white bodies characteristic of all Korea turn to drenched cheese-cloth surmounted by oily yellow clowns’ caps.
It is fitting that the wardrobe of the insignificant sex should be simpler, and more easily described. Except that anything in the way of head-dress is denied them, lest they compete with the decorative male, the garb of the Korean women is in the main a crude replica of that of the men. All reasonably available evidence goes to show that the women are never permitted the luxury of wickerwork undergarments. Trousers, socks, and slippers are similar to those worn by the male; above these is the thinnest and slightest of garments, which barely covers the shoulders, and over the trousers is worn a white skirt fastened well up above the floating ribs. In summer at least that is all, except in a few old-fashioned communities, where a muffling white cloak covering everything except the eyes and the feet is still occasionally seen. That, I repeat, is all, and from our puritanical point of view it is not enough. For the Korean woman insists that the waistline is at the armpits, and makes no provision to have the upper and lower garments contiguous, with the result that she displays to the 11public gaze exactly that portion of the torso which the women of most nations take pains to conceal. Missionaries, who are as prone as the rest of us to lose their native point of view through long contact with other races, assure us that Korean women are extremely modest. In general deportment the statement holds water; but a married lady of Korea, marching down the main thoroughfare of one of our cities in her native garb, would be granted anything but modesty. One might fancy that the costume was prescribed by some lascivious tyrant of olden days; those who have looked deeply into the matter, however, assure us that it is due to the pride of motherhood. The fact remains that, though the precept and example of Western nations have tended to lengthen the upper garment among better-class women of the cities, and particularly among those who have attended modern schools, the great majority of the adult female sex in Korea still wear their breasts outside their clothing. Sun-browned and leather-textured as the face, the plumpness of matrons or the withered rags of age are almost always in plain, not to say insistent, evidence. In fact neither the men nor the women of the masses often succeed in making both garments meet; males below the turamaggie class as habitually display their navels as their wives do their bosoms.
White is as universally the color of Korean garments in winter as in summer; the only difference is that they thicken from cheese-cloth to cotton-padded ones as the cold season advances. The incongruous sight of skaters in what looks like tropical garb, of whole towns of people wading through the snow from which they are barely distinguishable, provokes the wonder of winter visitors. The whiteness of a Korean crowd can be duplicated nowhere on earth. Within the lifetime of any one capable of reading these lines the glimpse of a figure in dark or colored garments anywhere in the peninsula betrayed it at once as that of a foreigner. The first record of any variation from this rule was when, a decade ago, the upper classmen of a mission school in Seoul agreed by resolution to adopt dark European trousers, in order to spare their wives or mothers some of their incessant washing and ironing.
The sounds of these two occupations are never silent in Korea. Stand on an eminence above any town or city of the land, and to the ears will be borne the similar yet easily distinguishable rat-a-tat-rat-a-tat of a hundred housewives busy with one or the other of their two principal duties. How they attain the snowy whiteness required by their unaffectionate masters by paddling their garments at the edge 12of any mud-hole or trickle of sewage is one of the mysteries of the East; yet not a roadside puddle or a hollowed rock but is turned into a wash-tub, and never is the visible result outwardly anything but spotless purity. In contrast to the dull plump-a-plump of washing paddles is this falsetto tone of ironing, prolonged far into every night. Nay, wake up at any hour and it will be strange if you do not catch the sound of some distant housewife putting the finishing touches on the garments in which her lord will strut forth into the world in the morning. For in Korea the hot iron is not in vogue, except a tiny one used along the sewed or pasted seams. Instead, the clothing is folded over a hardwood cylinder and beaten with two miniature baseball-bats, beaten with an endless persistency that suggests an unsuspected durability in the apparently flimsy material, and with a rhythm that has grown almost musical with centuries of practice.
Children are often dressed in colors, and unmarried maidens may wear garments of a green or bluish tinge; but all soon succumb to the omnipresent white. Huge hats not unlike those of men in mourning were once universally required for young women not yet sentenced to the servitude of a husband, that their faces might not be disclosed to the male sex. Missionaries by no means gray in the service recall how half-acres of these basket-hats used to lie stacked up before native churches on days of service. But the old order passes, even in the once Hermit Kingdom, and one may travel far afield now and still perhaps look in vain for any survival of this long prevalent custom. As in Japan, the head-dress of the women of Korea is now a matter of hair, in this case drawn smoothly and tightly down over the scalp, like a cap of oily black velvet, and tied in a compact little knot behind, decorated perhaps with a red cloth rosette and thrust through with what looks almost like one of our new-fashioned nickel-plated lead-pencils.
The Koreans have never been reduced to any such crude expedient as a bachelor-tax to keep up their marriage-rate. Until very recent years all boys wore their hair in a long braid up to the day they took a wife. Even now this custom survives in some outlying districts, though none yielded more swiftly to the influx of foreign influence. As long as a man wore a braid he was rated a minor; when he approached manhood he became more and more a community butt, and shame and ridicule rarely failed to drive him into an early marriage. Girls, too, had powerful reasons for not long persisting in the dreadful condition of maidenhood, not the least among which was the custom, still widely practised, of burying the body of an unmarried woman in the public highway, to the everlasting shame of her family to its remotest branches. Moreover, a Korean woman is not given a name of her own until she has borne a son, after which she is forever known as “Mother of So-and-So.” Before that her title, even to her husband, is “Yea!” or the slightly more honorable “Yea-bo!” which correspond fairly closely to our affectionate “Heh!” or “Heh, you!”
13When the happy day comes that is to put an end to the ridicule of his fellows and the shame of his parents, the youth transforms his braid into a topknot, a tightly braided, twisted, and doubled mass of hair an inch in diameter and about three inches high, standing bolt upright in the center of his head, and transfixed with a nickeled or silver ornament similar to that worn by the women. Unlike the cue of the Chinese, forced upon them as a sign of alien subjection, the topknot is the Korean’s badge of manhood, his proudest and most precious possession. Thenceforth one of his most serious problems in life is to protect it from the powers of evil. About his brow is placed the painfully tight band that he is seldom again to be seen without this side of the grave, and he sallies forth under his gleaming new horsehair hat with the masterly air that befits a man of family cares and advantages. To its wearers the Korean top-hat must have become, as even the worst eyesores of human costume will with long use, a thing of beauty; for though many are the men, and myriad the youths, who now cut their hair in Western fashion, numbers even of these still cling to the native hat, while shopkeepers with close-cropped heads, or those whom the evil spirits have outwitted and left bald, may be seen squatting among their wares virtually without clothing but with the discredited head-gear precariously perched upon their bare heads.
Once in a dog’s age even now a country youth turns up at a government or a mission school wearing the braid that not long ago was universal among unmarried males, or, since early marriages are still in vogue, with a topknot; but it is seldom that the end of the first week does not find his fashion changed. Pseudo-pathetic stories still come in from the outlying districts of mothers who wept their eyes red at the cutting of a son’s braid, or of conservative old fathers wrathfully driving from home youths who have sacrificed the topknot that stands for manhood. But the shearing goes steadily on, and thus is passing one of Korea’s most conspicuous idiosyncrasies. The bachelor braid down the back yielded swiftly to foreign influence; a generation hence the topknot, perhaps even the stovepipe screen that surmounts it, may 14be as unknown in the peninsula as the pre-Meiji male head-dress is now in Japan.
If one takes heed not to carry the likeness too far, the Korean might be described as a cross between the Japanese and the Chinese. Some of his traits and customs resemble those of one or the other of his immediate neighbors, but a still greater number seem to be peculiar to himself alone. He builds his house, for example, somewhat like those of Japan; he heats it somewhat after the fashion in China, yet in neither case is the similarity more than approximate. Certainly he is content with as few comforts as any race, with the possible exception of the Chinese, that ever reached the degree of civilization to which he once attained. This, of course, is partly due to the centuries of atrocious misrule under which he lived, when it was unsafe for even the wealthiest of men to attract the ravenous tax-gatherers, turned loose upon the kingdom in rival bands by both king and court, by living in anything more than a thatched mud hovel.
Thus it is that even the larger Korean cities are little more than numerous clusters of such hovels, huddled together along haphazard alleyways of dust or mud, except where the hand of the new rulers of the peninsula, or of those Westerners who have been striving for more than three decades to Christianize it, show themselves. The typical Korean house, whether of country or town, is made of adobe bricks or odds and ends of stone completely plastered over, inside and out, with mud. Thus the walls remain, until they crumble or wash away, for neither paint nor whitewash is used to disguise their milk-and-coffee tint. Except in rare cases, or a few special localities, a rice-straw roof covers them, a roof so smooth and almost glossy, so low and nearly flat, that a village suggests a cluster of dead mushrooms. The accepted shape of the dwelling is that of the half of a square, though in its poorer form it may be merely a hut somewhat longer than it is wide, and in the more pretentious cases it sometimes completes the whole square. Whether it does or not, it must be wholly shut off from the outside world, usually by a wall or screen of woven straw as high as the eaves and enclosing a wholly untended dust-bin of a yard between the two ells. The well built and spick and span servants’ houses erected by a missionary community near Seoul were unpopular with the domestics because they looked off across a pretty valley to the mountains, instead of being shut in by the customary mat-fence.
The outside of the half-square has no openings whatever, but 15presents to the world a perfectly blank face. The inside, on the other hand, is little else than openings, across which may be pushed paper walls or doors somewhat similar to those of Japan. Like the Japanese, the Koreans are squatters rather than sitters, so that the three living-rooms of the average dwelling are barely six feet high, and not much more than that in their other dimensions. The floors are raised somewhat above the level of the ground outside, and are made of stone and mud, like the walls, covered with plaster, or sometimes wood, and this in turn by a heavy, yellow-brown native paper of a consistency between cardboard and oil-cloth. None of the thick soft mats of the Japanese, nor of his cushions or padded quilts, soften life by night or day in a Korean home. When sleep suggests itself, the inmates merely stretch out on the floor on which they have been squatting, thrust a convenient oak brick under their heads, and drift into slumber. Rarely do they make any change of clothing at retiring or rising, the men, as I have said before, often wearing their top-hats all night. Shoes, or, more exactly, slippers, are dropped as the wearers come indoors as unfailingly as in Japan on the ledge of polished wood which forms a cross between a porch and a step along the front of the house. To the Western eye the lack both of space and furniture is surprising. In the center of the house, and usually wide open, is a kind of parlor or sitting-room, at most ten or twelve feet long, flanked at either end by two little living-rooms no longer than they are wide, and the house nowhere has a width much greater than the height of the average Western man. Eating, sleeping, the whole domestic life, in fact, is carried on in a constant proximity exceeding that of our most crowded tenements. It looks more like “playing house,” like a building meant for children to amuse their dolls in, than like the actual lifelong residence of human beings. This impression is enhanced by the miniature furniture, usually as scarce as it is small. There are, of course, no chairs, and no tables unless the little tray with six-inch legs on which food is served be counted as one. If there is a student in the family, or the father is engaged in business, there may be a little writing-desk without legs set flat on the floor; probably there is a chang, or legless chest of drawers, and one of the famous Korean chests, both more than generously bound in brass, or even silver if the family is more prosperous than the exterior of the building ever suggests. That is usually about all, except perhaps a little sewing-machine run by hand, and the few trinkets and inconspicuous odds and ends which the women and children gather about them.
16In the ell, flanking one of the little square living-rooms, is the kitchen, with earth floor and the crudest of stone-and-plaster stoves and implements. Next to this, or perhaps across the dusty, sun-baked yard in the other right-angled extension, is a rough store-room, which commonly alternates in location with an indispensable chamber offering much less privacy and convenience than a Westerner could wish. The walls of the floored rooms are usually covered with plain paper, white or cream-colored, though sometimes figured in a way that recalls both Japan and China. In the yard sit half a dozen or more enormous earthenware jars of the color of chocolate. In one or two of these water is kept; others are filled with preserved or pickled food, particularly the Korean’s favorite delicacy, kimshee, a kind of sauer-kraut of cabbage and turnips generously treated with salt and time and rarely missing from the native menu except in the hot months when it is perforce out of season.
When it comes to heating his house the Korean takes complete leave of his island neighbor and turns his face westward. Under the stone floor runs a large flue, the entire length of the house, connected with the kitchen at one end and springing out of the ground in the form of a crude chimney or stovepipe at the other. None of this shivering over a hibachi filled with a few glowing coals for the otherwise comfort-scorning Korean; he will have his dwelling well heated from end to end, not merely his k’ang, or stone bed, after the Chinese fashion, but every nook and corner within doors. While the cooking is going on he may lie on the papered floor and toast himself to his heart’s content; or a bundle of brushwood—almost the only fuel left him in his deforested land—thrust into the business end of the flue in the morning and another at night makes winter a mere laughing matter. It is an ingenious scheme, yet not without its drawbacks. In the blazing summer-time, for instance, there is no way of shutting off the kitchen heat, and the house-warming goes as merrily on as in January. Not that the native seems to mind; he is as immune to a hot bed as to a hard one. But many is the foreign itinerant missionary who, having found lodging on a frosty night with hosts who would outdo themselves in hospitality, has gratefully stretched out on a nicely warmed floor and fallen luxuriously asleep—to awaken half an hour later dripping with perspiration, and toss the night through in a vain effort to shake off the nightmare impression of having brought up in that very section of the after-world which all his earthly efforts had been designed to avoid.
Our first view of Seoul, in which the former Temple of Heaven is now a smoking-room in a Japanese hotel garden
The interior of a Korean house
Close-up of a Korean “jicky-coon,” or street porter
At the first suggestion of rain the Korean pulls out a little oiled-paper umbrella that fits over his precious horsehair hat
17Like his neighbors, the Korean eats with chop-sticks, but he uses a flat metal spoon with his rice. This grain is the basis of the better-class meal, but is not so highly polished as in Japan; and it is too costly for the common people, who replace it with cheaper grains, especially millet. What may seem a hardship is really a blessing. The poverty which denies them some of the refinements of the table imposes upon the people of Korea a more healthful diet than that of their island neighbors; in the mass they are more sturdily built; if all other signs are insufficient one can usually distinguish a Korean from a Japanese by the excellence of his teeth. Besides his beloved kimshee, no Korean meal is complete without a pungent sauce made from beans pressed together into what looks like a grindstone and then soaked in brine, a sauce into which at least every other mouthful is dipped. Meat is more often eaten than in Japan; fish, as generally. But tea is not widely used; in its place the average Korean uses plain water, or the water in which barley or millet has been cooked, or, best of all, sool, cousin of the fiery sake or samshu of the neighboring lands. Then come a dozen little side-dishes,—pickled vegetables, some strange, some familiar to us, cucumbers cut up rind and all, green onions, and some distant member of the celery family, all immersed in vinegar-and-oil baths, slices of hot red peppers, tiny pieces of some hardy tuber, brittle sheets of seaweed cooked in oil until they look as if they had been varnished, a jet-black kind of lettuce, and other odds and ends for which there are no equivalents in our language. Sugar is hardly used at all, and the adaptable traveler who learns to be otherwise satisfied with a native dinner usually rises to his feet with a longing for a bit of chocolate or some similar delicacy.
It is curious how geographical names often persist in our languages of the West long after they have become antiquated and even unknown in the places to which we apply them. The name “Korea,” for instance, means nothing to those who live in the peninsula we call by that term; nor for that matter did the word “Korai” from which we took it ever refer to more than a third of the country, and that long centuries ago. Ever since they absorbed the former kingdom the Japanese have striven to get the world to adopt the native name “Cho-sen” (the “s” is soft), a word already legitimized by several hundred years of use. But the world is notoriously backward in making such changes; perhaps it is suspicious of the motives of Japan, and a bit resentful at her attempt to render whole pages of our geographies out of date. Yet 18there is nothing mysterious or tricky in the wholesale alterations in nomenclature which she has wrought in her new possession, though there is often irksome annoyance. Every province, every city, almost every slightest hamlet has been given a new name; but this has come about as naturally as the Frenchman’s persistent obstinacy in calling a horse a cheval. It is a mere matter of pronunciation. A given Chinese ideograph stands, and has stood for centuries, for a given town or village of Korea. The Korean looks at the character and pronounces it, let us say, “Wonju”; the Japanese knows as well as we know the word “cat” that the proper pronunciation is “Genshu”—and there you are. It is hardly a dispute, but it is at least a new means of harassing the traveler. If he is American or English, or even French or German, for that matter, he will find that nearly all his fellow-countrymen resident in the country, mainly missionaries, have lived there, or been trained by those who have, since before the Japanese took possession, and that they know only the Korean names. If he has a guide-book, which is rather essential, it is almost certainly concocted by the new rulers or under their influence, and insists on using the Japanese names. So do the railway time-tables, all government documents, and the like. Thus he discovers that it is almost impossible to talk with his own people, at least on geographical matters.
“Have you ever been in Heijo?” he begins, with the purpose of pumping a compatriot for information on that second city of the peninsula.
“Never heard of it,” replies the old resident, with a puzzled air, whereupon the new-comer gives him up as a hopeless recluse and goes his way, perhaps to learn a few days later that this very man was for ten years the most influential foreigner in that very city, but that to him it has always been, and still is, “Ping Yang.” Thus it goes, throughout the length and breadth of the peninsula, so that the man who would mingle with both sides must know that “Kaijo” is “Song-do,” that “Chemulpo” is “Jinsen,” that what the guide-book and time-table call “Kanko” has always been “Ham-hung” to the missionaries, that every last handful of huts in Korea is known by two separate and distinct names, though the erratic slashes with a weazel-hair brush which stands for it in the ridiculous calligraphy of the East never varies. Long before his education has reached this fine point the traveler will have completely forgotten his resentment at finding, as he rumbles into it at the end of a long summer day, that the city he has known since has early school-days as “Seoul” is now officially called “Keijo.”
19It doesn’t greatly matter, however, for the chances are that he has always spoken of it as “Sool,” which is the native fire-water, instead of using the proper pronunciation of “Sow-ohl”; and to learn the new name is easier than to change the old. Our own impressions of what was for more than five centuries the capital of Ch’ao-Hsien, the Land of Morning Calm, and is still the seat of the Government-General of Cho-sen, started at delight, sank very near to keen disappointment, then gradually climbed to somewhere in the neighborhood of calm enjoyment. Seen from afar, the jagged rows of mountain peaks that surround it should quicken the pulse even of the jaded wanderer. The promise that here at last he will find that spell of the ancient East which romancers have enticed him to seek, in the face of his cold better judgment, seems to rise in almost palpable waves from among them. Then he descends at a railway station that might be found in any prairie burg of our central West, and is bumped away by Ford into a city that is flat and mean in its superficial aspect, commonplace in form, and swirling with a fine brown dust. But next morning, or within a day or two of random wandering, according to the pace at which his moods are geared, interest reawakens from its lethargy, and something akin to romance and youthful enthusiasm grows up out of the details of the strange life about him.
There are, of course, almost no real streets, in the American sense, in the Far East; hence only those wholly unfamiliar with that region will be greatly surprised to find that the “many broad avenues” of Seoul, emphasized by semi-propagandist scribblers, are rather few in number and, with one or two exceptions, are sun-scorched stretches of dust which the rainy season of July and August will turn to oozing mud. But the eye will soon be caught by the queer little shops crowded tightly together along most of them, particularly by the haphazard byways that lead off from them into the maze of mushroom hovels that make up the native city. From out of these dirty alleys comes jogging now and then a gaudy red and gold palanquin in which squats concealed some lady of quality, though these conveyances now are almost confined to weddings and funerals; the miserable little mud hovels disgorge haughty gentlemen in spotless white who would be incredible did not the falsetto rat-a-tat of ironing and the groups of women kneeling along the banks of every slightest stream explain them. There is constant movement in the streets of Keijo, a movement that might almost be called kaleidoscopic, were it not for the whiteness of Korean dress; but it strikes one as rather an aimless movement, a 20leisurely if constant going to and fro that rarely seems to get anywhere. Dignified yangbans, that still numerous class of Korea, and especially of the capital, which in the olden days was rated just below the nobility, strut past in their amber beads and their huge tortoise-shell goggles as if they were really going somewhere; but if one takes the trouble to follow them he will probably find them doubling back on their tracks without having reached any objective. In the olden days they could at least go to the government offices where they pretended to do something for their salaries; since Japan has taken away their sinecures without removing the pride that forbids them to work, there is little else than this random strolling left for them to do.
In contrast to this numerous gentry, outdistanced by modern changes, there are sweating coolies lugging this or that, bulls hidden under mounds of brown-red brushwood from some far-off hillside, sleek-haired women slinking by with an almost apologetic air, many of them with the uncovered, sun-browned breasts somewhat less general in the capital than elsewhere, here and there a Korean pony, cantankerous with his full malehood, all streaming to and fro between an unbroken gauntlet of languid shopkeepers in their fly-trap “household” caps, of mangy dogs and dirty children. “Old-timers” will tell you that this was not so long ago all there was to Seoul, except inside the several big palace compounds, now so uninhabited; that walking, still much in vogue among the Koreans, was for the overwhelming majority the only means of getting about the city. Then there were no rickshaws, not over-numerous even to-day after twelve years of wholly Japanese rule; then none of the little dust- or mud-floored tram-cars, now so crowded, bumped along the principal avenues; certainly no battered and raucous-voiced automobiles scattered terror among the placid foot-going population. It is not difficult to picture the comparative silence of that bygone Seoul, with slipper-clad footsteps pattering noiselessly through the dust, or the mild clumping of that cross between the Dutch wooden shoe and the Japanese geta still worn in muddy weather, punctuated now and then by the booming of a mammoth bell, the mild hubbub of passing royalty surrounded by shrieking out-runners, and the incessant accompaniment of the falsetto rat-a-tat of ironing.
With the definite coming of the Japanese much of that ancient Seoul has departed. The great wall that enclosed the city has been largely leveled, for the Koreans, according to their new rulers, can only fight behind walls. Only a pair of the imposing city gates remain, and these as mere monuments instead of entrances and exits. The Independence 21Arch built to celebrate the end of paying tribute to Peking stands shabby, cracked, and blistered in a bed of sand in the ragged outskirts. Rubbish and worse litter the dark, wooden-slatted enclosure in which the mighty bell that once transmitted royal commands sits drunkenly and dejected on the ground. Vagabonds build their nests beneath the Oriental roof that shelters the stone-turtle monument of which the city was once so proud; the magnificent Altar of Heaven has become a garden ornament within the grounds of the principal hotel, and is generously furnished with Japanese settees and capacious cuspidors bearing the railway-hotel insignia. Of the three principal palaces one is a mere wilderness of weeds and vacant-eyed edifices; another houses the weak-minded remnant of the once royal family and has bequeathed most of its grounds to museum, botanical, and zoölogical purposes; the third, and most historic, is being completely hidden from the city by a mammoth modern building designed to become the headquarters of the Governor-General.
One might almost assume that a policy of blotting out the visible reminders of the old independent Korea had been adopted by the new rulers. Yet it is hardly that, I fancy, but mainly the utilitarian sense of modern improvement which is showing such small respect for the monuments of bygone Cho-sen. The Japanese are ardent in their efforts to make Seoul a city in the modern sense—the modern Western sense, I could have said, for their new structures are hardly copied from Japan. Imposing buildings that might have been transported from our own large cities are growing up for the housing of banks and important firms and government offices. There is already one genuinely asphalted street; new parks have been laid out where only wilderness or rubbish heaps were before. Besides the big central one there are adequate branch post-offices in every section of the city; police stations at every turn keep a watchful eye out for new candidates to the mammoth new penitentiary, built on the latest approved model, out near the “Peking Pass.” After their lights the new rulers are steadily improving the material aspect of the city, as of the whole peninsula. It would be too much to expect them to improve certain personal habits and domestic customs beyond the point which the Japanese themselves have reached, so that some forms of uncleanliness and undress, for instance, which a new American colony would quickly be forced to eradicate, have been given no attention.
The new rulers once planned even greater changes in the old city. They set about with the apparent intention of virtually moving it, or 22at least the commercial center of it, down nearer the River Han, in a section they called Ryuzan. There they built the railway headquarters and blocks of brick residences for the employees. A stone palace for the mikado’s viceroy was erected, streets laid out, and improvements impossible in the crowded portion of the city were projected. But commerce has a way of choosing its own localities; the Koreans are nothing if not conservative; local gossip has it that when Prince Ito was taken down to see his new residence he remarked to his well meaning subordinates that they might live down there in the swamp if they wished, but that he for one would stay in town. The prince is well known to have been no recluse and hermit who would deny himself the soft pleasures of cities. In the end his choice proved wise, for it is a rare rainy season that does not wipe out scores of native huts down along the Han and encroach upon the unused and isolated palace he rejected. The railway headquarters, residences, and school remain, and trains halt for an exasperatingly long time at Ryuzan station, so near that of Nandaimon to which most travelers are bound, almost as if the officials would vent their pique at having their will thwarted; but even the Japanese residents have preferred the old city. Along its southern edge, under the brow of Nansan Hill, dwell and trade that quarter of the fourth of a million of population which wears kimonos and getas, and the stroller down “Honmachidori” and its adjacent streets, narrow, crowded, busy, and colorful as a thoroughfare of old Japan, could easily imagine himself back in the Island Empire, far from the languid, white-clad throngs of the Land of Morning Calm.
SOME KOREAN SCENES AND CUSTOMS
It was our good fortune to dwell out over the hills beyond Seoul rather than in the hot and often breathless city itself. The half-hour walk led up past the big granite Bible School, along a little stream with its inevitable clothes-paddling women, flanked the grave-mound of a little prince, then climbed steeply over another half-wooded ridge from which stretched a wide-spreading mountainous view, everywhere deep green except for the broad brown streak of the River Han and here and there a mushroom patch of village. An American mission college was building in a big hilly pine-grove that owed its preservation to the tomb of a king’s concubine. Pines as fantastic and sturdy as any in Japan stood out against the sky-line; here and there a group of stinking chestnut-trees kept them company. Before they were granted this semi-sacred site the missionaries from our almost mythological land of “Mi-guk” had to agree not to build anywhere overlooking the grave; they had already been asked to close a path used as a short cut by students and an occasional faculty member, because it ran along the brow of the hill above the tomb. To look down upon a royal burial site is the height of disrespect in Korea, hence they are all arranged after a fixed pattern designed to avoid this sacrilege.
Out beyond the Todaimon, or East Gate, on the opposite side of the city, is the tomb of a more famous queen; but we preferred what we called our own, which is identical in form and size, and in a solitude much less often broken. Besides, “ours” really contained the mortal remains, while even the finger and a few bones which were all that remained after the brutal assassination and burning of Korea’s last queen were now buried elsewhere. Quite like ours are all the royal graves scattered up and down the peninsula of Cho-sen, in the several regions where succeeding dynasties built their capitals, flourished for a while, and fell, so that leisurely to visit it was worth a hasty glimpse of many others.
We could wander up over the pine-clad hill to the grave, for all the 24injunction against it; things are not so strict as all that in Korea, unless something Japanese is involved. But it was more convenient, and not merely more respectful, to approach the sanctuary from the bottom. On a level space in the forest, wholly cleared of trees but thick with grass, there was first of all the caretaker’s residence, a high-walled compound set off in the edge of the woods to the left. In a direct line down the center of the grassy rectangle stood first a torii, a square arch made of three light tree-trunks painted red, the upper crosspiece decorated with crude and fanciful carvings, a gateway without contiguous fence or wall. The Koreans are sensitive about the use of this symbolic entrance to their royal tombs; the caretaker of the little prince’s tomb we passed on our way in or out of Seoul told us one day, when we found that arch newly closed with barbed wire, that we might still pass through the grounds, but not beneath the torii. A hundred feet or more through this isolated entrance to her last resting-place stood the concubine’s prayer-house, so to speak—a large building by Korean standards, with a roof of highly colored tiles and four flaring gable-peaks, along which sat as many rows of porcelain monkeys to guard against evil spirits, as is the Korean custom. Through the many holes that had been torn by time or inquisitive fingers in the oily paper serving as glass between the slats of the many padlocked doors, one could dimly make out a bare wooden floor, scattered with dust and bits of rubbish, and a bare table-like altar on which, no doubt, boiled rice and other foods are at certain intervals offered to the spirit of the dead. It was plain that no such thoughtfulness had been shown recently, for dust and dinginess and faded paint were the most conspicuous features of the edifice, inside and out.
Two smaller but similar chapels flanked this main building, behind which the grass-rug-ed ground rose gradually to the burial mound, another hundred feet back and some ten feet high. In front of this plain grass-covered hillock stood a huge stone lantern, like those in Japanese temple grounds, in the opening of which the reverent or the superstitious sometimes place offerings of rice. Directly behind this graceful receptacle rose what we of the West would call a tombstone, a high upright granite slab standing on a big stone turtle and carved with Chinese ideographs briefly extolling the departed lady’s alleged virtues. More fantastic still were the figures about the mound, duplicated on either side. First came two large stone horses, such as might be chiseled by some aspiring but untalented school-boy. Then a pair of stone men, priests, or gods, recalling similar figures in the ruins 25of Tiahuanaco beyond Lake Titicaca, gazed at each other with a sort of smirking, semi-skeptical benignity. Two lions, two rams, and two mythological beasts, even more crudely fashioned than the rest, completed the menagerie, all these last with their backs turned to the mound, out of respect for the departed. Finally an ancient stone wall with tiled roof threw a protective semicircle close about all this at the rear, beyond which the rather thin pine forest, gnarled and bent with age, climbed the hill-slopes across which only disrespectful mortals ever pass.
About the only Korean thing which moves rapidly is a funeral, and even this may have been a concession to the incessantly sweltering summer. We met one rather frequently in the streets of Seoul,—a barbarously decorated palanquin in blazing reds and yellows, borne by eight or ten coolies in nondescript garb, who jog-trotted as if in haste to be out of reach of the evil spirit that had laid low the inert burden inside. If the latter had been a man of standing and sufficient wealth, there were two palanquins, the second bearing the actual remains, the first a false bier meant to deceive the wicked beings of the invisible world. The rest of the procession was made up of priests in fantastic robes and flaring head-dresses, leaning back at contented ease in their rickshaws, and a varying string of relatives and perhaps friends, most of them in sackcloth and on foot. Just where these incongruously hurrying cortèges finally brought up we never learned to a certainty until we ourselves moved out over the hills.
In a hollow not far from our suburban residence rose the ugly red brick chimney of what we at first took to be a small factory, but which turned out to be one of the several crematories in the outskirts of Keijo. Across the valley below us, by the little dirt road that wandered through the flooded rice-fields, came several funeral processions a day, announcing themselves by the shrieking auditory distresses which the Koreans regard as music. The unseemly pace may have slackened somewhat by this time for it is nearly five miles around the hills by the route that even man-drawn vehicles must follow; but the clashing of colors was still in full evidence, standing out doubly distinct against the velvety green of newly transplanted rice. Now and again a procession halted entirely for a few moments, while the carriers and pullers stretched themselves out in the road itself or along the scanty roadside above the flooded fields. We drifted down one day to one of them that was making an unusually long halt, and found the 26chief mourner, a lean old lady of viperous tongue, in a noisy altercation with the carriers over the price of their services. But those who halted, or indulged in such recriminations along the way were, no doubt, of the class that could not pay for unchecked speed.
Several times, too, when whim took us to town over the high hill from which an embracing view of Seoul was to be had, we saw processions returning. Then they were quite different. The chief burden, naturally, had been left behind, and the palanquins are collapsible, so that mourners and carriers straggled homeward by the steep direct route as the spirit moved them, the latter at least contentedly smoking their long tiny pipes, and musing perhaps on the probability of soon finding another victim. But the end and consummation of all this gaudy parading to and fro remained to us only an ugly red brick chimney, standing idle against its hilly background or emitting leisurely strands of yellowish-black smoke, according to the demand for its gruesome services.
Then one evening curiosity got the better of our dislike for unpleasant scenes, and we strolled out to the uninviting hollow. In it, a little above the level of the plain, sat a commonplace brick building with half a dozen furnace-chambers not unlike those of a brick-kiln. Several Koreans of low class, stripped to the waist, were languidly working about it, now and then producing discordant noises, which was their manner of humming a tune. Close before the principal building stood a smaller one, from which rose the loud chanting of a single voice that would have won no fame on the Western operatic stage. This, we learned, belonged to the priest whose duty it was to give each client the spiritual send-off to which he was entitled by the price of admission to the furnaces. The cost of cremating a body, explained one of the workmen, was twelve yen (nearly six dollars), but it included an hour-long prayer by the priest. The latter was too steadily engaged in his duties to be interrupted, but the cremators were openly delighted at the attention of foreigners, and at the opportunity of helping us make the most of what they called our “sight-see.” Into the ears of the articulate member of our party, born in Korea, they poured the details of their calling without reserve. That, inside the rude straw-mat screen which stood between the house of prayer and the door to the ovens, had come early in the afternoon, they explained, but he was only a poor man and had to give precedence to his betters. We peered over the top of the screen and saw a corpse completely wrapped in straw and fastened to a board with ropes of similar 27material. Did we care to see what was left of the last job? one of the coolies wished to know. It was time that was finished, anyway. He led the way to the back of the furnaces, opened an iron door, and, catching up a crude, heavy iron rake, hauled out half a peck of charred bones and ashes. This, he explained, unnecessarily, as he turned up one still glowing remnant of bone after another, was a rib, that was a piece of what the man walked on, and so forth. It was a rich man, he chattered on—to be rich in his eyes did not, of course, imply being a millionaire—and he had been sent here all the way from Fusan. The dead man’s relatives, he continued, as he carelessly raked the still smoking débris into a tin pan and set it aside to cool, had paid him to keep some of the ashes for them, instead of dumping them in the common ash-heap. Rich people always did that. But it was time to get that other fellow there out of the way, and go home to supper.
“What did he die of?” we asked, as the straw screen was thrown aside and the planked corpse fully disclosed to view.
“Of a stomachache,” replied one of the two coolies, as they caught up plank, straw wrapping, and all, and thrust the last “job” into the furnace, then salvaged the plank with a dexterous twist and jerk. No flames were visible in the depositing-chamber itself; the heat was applied externally, so to speak, perhaps as a sort of survival of the olden days when Korean dead were wrapped in a mat and left to bake and fester in the sun. We were turning away, satisfied for a lifetime with one “sight-see” of that kind, when a sound, so out of keeping with the matter-of-fact tone of the workmen as to be startling, brought us back again. Out of the semi-darkness had appeared a Korean of the peasant or porter class, past forty, lean and sun-browned; and with a wail that had in it something of an animal in extreme distress, he flung himself at the furnace door as if he would have torn it open and rescued the form it had for ever swallowed up. We had never suspected the rank-and-file Korean capable of showing such poignant grief. Nor was it seemly in one of his standing, evidently, for almost at his second wail the three carriers who had brought the body rushed down upon him and demanded forthwith the price of their services. Their strident bargaining rose high above the dismal, discordant droning of the so-much-a-yard prayers that had never once ceased during our stay. The surly porters made it plain that there was no time for vain mourning while the serious matter of their hire was unsettled.
“He was my older brother,” wept the man, “the last of my family. Have I any one left? Not one. And now....”
28The unsatisfied carriers were still cruelly bullyragging him when we left, and the sound of their quarreling voices, intermingled with the never ending droning of the priest, came to us through the night after we were well on our way home.
It is only the Buddhists who cremate by choice in Korea, and by no means the majority of the people are of that faith. Many are mere ancestor-worshipers, or placaters of evil spirits, or have a mixture of several Oriental faiths and superstitions which they themselves could not unravel. The non-Buddhists bury their dead, and thereby hangs, as in China, a serious problem. For definitely circumscribed public cemeteries will not do. The repose of the departed and the fortune and happiness of his descendants depends upon the proper choice of a burial-place, which is by no means a simple matter. It calls for the services of sorceresses, necromancers, and other expensive professionals; it may take much time; and the final indications may point to a most unlikely and inconvenient spot. Green mounds, wholly unmarked except in the rarest of cases, but each known to the descendants whose most solemn duty it is to tend them, cover hundreds of great hillsides throughout the peninsula, to the detriment of agriculture, Korea’s main occupation. The Japanese took the Western utilitarian point of view and ordered prescribed areas set aside for graveyards; but this was one of the most hated of their reforms, and the right to lay away their dead at least in private cemeteries has once more been granted to the Koreans.
Tucked away in the pine-clad hills about us were several little Buddhist monasteries. The last word is deceiving, however, for there was hardly anything monasterial about these semi-isolated retreats. In theory the Buddhist monks and priests of Korea live in celibacy; in practice few even of their most devout coreligionists pretend to believe that they do so. About the tile-roofed clusters of buildings, varying mainly in pretentiousness from the thatched homes of laymen, there was no dearth of women and children; and the monks were the last in the world to deny themselves the pleasure of wandering to the near-by city or up and down the country as the mood came upon them. The brilliant saffron robe that distinguishes the followers of the Way in central Asia, and adds so vividly to the picturesqueness of lands farther west, is unknown in Korea. A shaven head in place of the precious topknot is almost the monk’s only difference in appearance from the ordinary layman; when whim or a sincere desire to tread 29in the path marked out by Gautama sends him out into the Korean world, the distinguishing hat of woven ratan may be superimposed, but even the symbolic pretense of a begging-bowl hardly marks him out from his more toilsome fellow-countrymen. For a long period in the history of Korea, Buddhist monks were rated lower in the social scale than even the peasants of the fields, and this attitude toward them has survived, perhaps unconsciously, in a marked lack of deference, almost an indifference to them, except in their official capacity, or among an unusually superstitious minority.
In these monasteries the principal living-room—to use the word very loosely—is floored with the thick oily brownish paper universal in private dwellings, and the scant furniture is of a similar type. Perhaps one of the big half-oval drums that call such of the monks as happen to be within hearing to their not very arduous duties swings from the center of the low ceiling; about the walls may sit a few bronze ornaments or figures of some significance which totally escapes the uninformed visitor. Certainly Gautama himself would not recognize the barbarous gaudiness, the crowds of fantastic figures which clutter the adjoining temples, as having been inspired by his simple teachings. Big golden Buddhas in the center, behind a kind of altar and offering-table in one, are flanked on either side clear around the three walls of the room with hybrid manikins of Chinese mythology and demonology, often of human size, which would outdo the phantasmagoric imaginings of any child in terror of the dark. Fourth wall is there none, but only a long series of double doors, which first open and then lift up to the horizontal, where they are supported by quaint Oriental substitutes for hooks. If the discreet rattling of a few small coins succeeds in accomplishing the complete opening of the doors, the more than dim religious light of the musty interior gives way to the glaring radiance of cloudless Korea, and a myriad of details that are otherwise only suspected, if even that, make their appearance. One discovers, for instance, that in addition to the score or more of large figures in the gaudiest of greens, reds, and all possible clashings of colors there are several times as many figurines, knee-high or less, interspersed among them, as if these queer puppets had their human quota of offspring. Like their adult companions, these little effigies wear expressions varying all the way from that of terrorizing demons to a smirking gentleness which suggests a well spent babyhood. Mere words, however, are useless pigments with which to attempt to picture the color-splashed paintings that cover the walls behind the row of stodgy standing 30figures. All the chaos of Oriental mythology seems to have been thrown together here, in battle scenes, in court processions, in helter-skelter throngs of human beings in garbs that were antiquated long before the Christian era, all fleeing in terror from the mammoth central figure of some wrathful monarch, his wildly bearded face painted jet-black to suggest the horror that his countenance sheds upon all beholders. Every feature of these silent temple denizens, be it noted, are Chinese, not Korean; and history tells us that as late as the Boxer Rebellion it was not so much the European troops as their black auxiliaries who put terror into the hearts of the fleeing Celestials.
Gautama, the Buddha, as I have said, would puzzle in vain to find the connection between the strange beings which clutter these Buddhist temples and his own gentle doctrine. The medieval Christian, on the other hand, should find himself perfectly at home in certain corners of them, where are depicted such scenes as sinners fastened between two planks in order to simplify the task of assistant devils nonchalantly sawing them down the middle from crown to hips, in exactly the same way that Oriental workmen turn logs into lumber to this day. Perhaps the most surprising thing about these monasteries, to visitors from Christian lands, is the complete lack of sanctity toward the objects they worship which marks the outward behavior of the inmates. Casual callers of other faiths, or of the absence thereof, are as freely admitted to the most sacred corners as the monks themselves. The elaborate genuflections and throaty chantings of a group of bonzes in full barbaric regalia at the behest of a group of peasants come to lay offerings of rice and copper coins before a favorite figure may be followed a moment later by the tossing of a dirty altar-cloth or a dusty old rag over the head of the same god to whom they have just been appealing so grovelingly. Whatever their faults, there is always something charming about the tolerance of Buddhists. No small number of Christian missionaries in Korea spend their summer furloughs in the monasteries of this gentle rival faith.
We struck out one Sunday afternoon over the high hill directly north of us, to visit the famous White Buddha, carved and painted on a great stream-washed rock cliff in the outskirts of the capital. It needs much less of a climb beneath the blazing sun of midsummer Korea to leave one drenched, but the view from the crest soon made that a half-forgotten detail. Of the hills rolling away into mountains on every hand, or the broad brown Han flecked with its rectangular 31junk-sails, little need be said; such scenes are commonplace in Cho-sen. But the complete panorama of Keijo, erstwhile Seoul, beginning at the very base of the perpendicular rock cliffs below us and stretching from the “Peking Pass” to far beyond Todaimon Gate, from ill sited Ryuzan to the section of old city wall along a mountain ridge which the Japanese have permitted to stand, called for a longer breathing-spell. Ancient Chinese-roofed palaces, efforts at modern buildings which somehow still seem unacclimated, the mainly Japanese city to the south of Shoro-dori—that broad street which distinctly separates Keijo into two nearly equal portions—the acres of yellow-brown thatched Korean huts of the northern half so compact as almost to seem a great hayfield, all stand out with the clearness of an illuminated engraving. Most incongruous, as well as most conspicuous, of all the details of the picture are the homes and other structures of the Christian missionaries, of red brick, and standing forth, if the time-worn comparison is legitimate in such a connection, like sore thumbs. Statistics assert that of the quarter of a million dwelling in Seoul only two hundred are Caucasians, a statement which there is no good reason to question, but which nevertheless seems strange from any such point of vantage above the city, for the big twin-spired Catholic cathedral alone, on the commanding site it has been true to form in choosing, seems to imply far more than that number. It was not merely the sounds of washing and ironing coming up to us in a great muffled chorus from the city below on this brilliant Sunday afternoon, however, which reminded us that for all these obvious edifices we were in no Christian country.
At the foot of the swift jungle-clad descent to the narrow suburb along the northern highway our ears were suddenly assailed by a great jangling hubbub. We crowded into the little courtyard of the square-forming house from which the sounds arose, and found that we had stumbled upon a sorceress performance. Numbers of men and children and many women were jostling one another along the wall-less fronts of two rooms on opposite sides of the yards, inside which the typical native hocus-pocus was at its height. On the papered floor of each room a sorceress was hopping, posturing, grimacing, and from time to time shrieking, with an activity which at least could not leave her open to the charge of physical laziness. I am no custodian of fancy-dress ball costumes, hence I can do little more than appeal to the vivid imaginations of those better fitted for the task to picture to themselves the incredible regalia in which these two middle-aged females, with the worldly wise faces, were swathed, though I can throw in the hint that 32they would not have suffered from cold six months thence, and that head-dresses which seemed to have been built, and then improved upon and built some more, about sections of stovepipe formed the crowning feature of their make-up.
We gave our attention mainly to the older, more agile, and more demoniacal of the pair. In one hand she swung incessantly a curved knife half as long as herself, and in the other a big clumsy iron three-pronged spear not unlike the one attributed to Father Neptune, one of her principal objects evidently being to slash and prod and swing as near the credulous beings who crowded about her as she could without inflicting actual physical injury upon them. In one corner sat half a dozen dejected-looking men picking at native musical instruments as they howled, and seeming to resent that the despised sex occupied the center of the stage. Several ordinarily dressed women stood or squatted along the walls. These, it was explained to us, had sick children and had come to have the malignant devils that had entered their little bodies exorcised and driven out. From time to time the sorceress called upon them to rise and join in the dance, particularly to posture in the center of the room while she made wild lunges at them with her two weapons. At other times they were ordered to kneel and bow their heads to the mats before what seemed to be imaginary gods or devils behind the displays of food set around the edges of the room. Now and again they ate bits of this, and at certain rather regular intervals the sorceress ceased her hopping, lunging, and posturing to partake copiously of some native drink respectfully tendered her by women of the house, or by those who had come to get the benefit of her ministrations. Through it all the dejected male orchestra, squatted on the floor in a corner, screeched incessantly some incredibly discordant Korean conception of music.
Some of the figures, in the gaudiest of colors, surrounding the Golden Buddha in a Korean temple
The famous “White Buddha,” carved and painted in white, on a great boulder in the outskirts of Seoul
One day, descending the hills toward Seoul, we heard a great jangling hubbub, and found two sorceresses in full swing in a native house, where people come to have their children “cured”
The yang-ban, or loafing upper class of Korea, goes in for archery, which is about fitted to their temperament, speed, and initiative
33Half an hour or more after our arrival the sorceresses simultaneously changed their costumes to something quite different but equally fantastic, and after a deep drink and a long breath each they sprang again into the fray. They had already been at it for hours and might continue until dark. For these ceremonies seem to be rather of a wholesale nature, to which come all those who happen that day to have a devil to be exorcised, and the price of that service available. The bystanders made themselves comfortably at home, as is commonly the custom in the easy-going East, unawed by the great feats that were taking place before their eyes. Children played in and out of the throng; men, and some women too, placidly smoked their long tiny pipes; the sturdy fellow who had brought the paraphernalia of the sorceress calling slept babe-like on the box in which it had come, waiting for the word to carry it away again. Apparently there was nothing to be feared, except by the evil spirits which were being cast forth from within their absent or present victims. For some of the women had brought their ailing children in the flesh and were subjecting them to the noisy balderdash in ways that should have increased rather than diminished the demons of illness within them. How many mothers of sick infants came to that day’s ceremony was only suggested by the dozen or more present at one time. How many worldly-wise women of Korea, some of the most famous of them blind or boasting some other infirmity reputed to increase such powers, win their livelihood and even lay up small fortunes as sorceresses, even the statistics-loving Japanese overlords probably could not tell. One runs across them in wayside villages, in little valleys hidden by brush and rocks out among the hills all over the country—and in nearly every case there is a modern hospital run by missionaries or the Government no great distance away, sometimes, as here in Seoul, right on the road to the performance, where ailing infants would be readily admitted, probably at less cost than the fee of a sorceress.
The Japanese are so often accused of having no ideas of their own that perhaps I am mistaken in believing that they did not copy from some other nation their Railway School in Seoul. It is their own impression that the idea originated with the general manager of the Korean part of the South Manchuria Railway, and their opinion ought at least to be worth those of passing strangers. The plan is to recruit young boys after the usual six years of preliminary schooling and gather them together into a kind of railway West Point, where future employees of the railway shall be trained not merely in the immediate and mechanical things of their calling, but in general citizenship, in esprit de corps, in all those things which a body of men charged with so important a job as running a great railway system should have and be. There was already great eagerness to enter the school, though it was only in its third year, since the future for which it prepares is not only moderately bright but is definite and certain. At intervals competitive examinations for admission are given. The latest one had been attended by one thousand and eighty candidates, of whom a hundred and fifty were admitted to the school. The Japanese officials asserted, and seemed sincerely to believe, that, given equal preliminary training, 34Korean youths have equal opportunities for admission to the school and for preferment in what lies beyond. But the bare fact that of the five hundred and thirty-eight students only eighty were Koreans did not make it easy to accept this statement without question. It would scarcely be natural in any nation, let alone one of so tight a national feeling as Japan, to let such prizes get to any extent out of the hands of their own people.
The school is a big red-brick building, or compact cluster of them, down at Ryuzan, where the railroad community lives in an orderly, well built town of its own, and it has everything which even the most exacting peoples of the West expect a school to have. The principal is not a railroad man, but an M.A. and a famous pedagogue from Japan, and the whole curriculum is laid out with the idea of giving the future trainmen as broad a training as could possibly be of use to them in the line of work toward which they are heading. All of them take, for instance, six hours of English a week. They are taught the importance of courtesy in its practical as well as its ethical aspects—a point which seems to have been largely missed by the labor-union brotherhoods of the West. To the strictly utilitarian Occident some of the things taught would seem highly fanciful. We would hardly expect our engine-drivers to take fencing, samurai style, as well as jiu-jitsu, however handy these accomplishments might be in ridding their trains of hoboes. But the Japanese idea is to develop health and physique and a well-rounded personality as well as mere mechanical ability, the spirit of fair-play, character and esprit de corps, as well as mere laborers’ qualities, that there may be a railway morale, as there is in most countries an army and a navy morale. Thereby the founder of the school hopes to avoid what he calls “labor-union madness,” and at the same time to have men properly fitted to come into contact with the public; not merely pullers of throttles and takers of tickets. The school, as I have said, is barely three years of age, so that one could scarcely expect any distinctly visible results of the policy as yet in the railway itself, but the scheme strikes even the layman observer as at least one thing Japanese well worth imitating.
When the Russians and the Japanese grappled with each other a couple of decades ago, the railways of Korea, it will be recalled, were not linked up with those of Manchuria, destined to be the chief battleground. The little islanders pushed them quickly through, first in hastily constructed emergency form for military use, and later in a more finished manner. To this day they are straightening out curves and 35moving higher up from flooding areas that were ill chosen in war-time haste, and here and there along the way lie bits of the old road-bed and the abandoned abutments of a bridge that is gone. Like the railways of Japan, those of Korea are government owned; but they are not government operated. The South Manchuria Railway system, comprising all the Treaty of Portsmouth transferred from the Russians to their victors, has been given, as a private corporation, the complete control of the lines in Cho-sen for a long term of years, so that both comprise virtually one system, and operate as two trunk lines—from Fusan to Mukden and from Dairen and Port Arthur to Changchun, with their various branches. There is nothing of the Japanese model about these railways; they are almost exact copies of those in the United States, with standard gage, American cars with only minor hints of European influence, even the deep-voiced whistle which so instantly carries any wandering one of us back to his home-land. There is no railroad in the world at which the carping traveler cannot now and then find fault, but on few will he be harder put to it to find just cause for grumbling often than on these two systems operated as one from Dairen.
JAPANESE AND MISSIONARIES IN KOREA
In Korea the traveler who has seen them at home gets a somewhat corrected picture of the Japanese. It is as if they had put their best and their worst foot forward there simultaneously, and cause for high praise lies plainly side by side with reasons for strong censure. Everyone in the peninsula seems to admit that materially Korea is much better off for having been taken over, lock, stock, and barrel, by Japan. Intrigues, the selling of offices, brigands, few and virtually worthless police, catch-as-catch-can tax methods to impoverish the people, a government so corrupt that there was not a breath of hope left in the country or the hearts of its inhabitants—there remained in all the peninsula of Cho-sen little but the most primitive agriculture in an almost wholly deforested land when the Japanese at length took upon themselves the task and the pleasure of administering it. But like our involuntary wards of the West Indies and elsewhere, the Koreans object to being forcibly improved, and it is not, one comes to the conclusion, merely disgruntled, because dispossessed, native politicians who are creating the continued growl of dissatisfaction.
For all the admitted improvements they have brought, in spite of a distinct change of policy now under a civil instead of a military government, even the mere passer-by will scarcely fail to hear a long list of Korean grievances against the Japanese, and he is not unlikely to see some of these exemplified before his own eyes. The Japanese make so free with the country, run the complaints; they treat it as something picked up from the discard, with all signs of its former grandeur obliterated, no memory even of a former existence. They always speak of “Japan proper” when they mean their native islands, as if this great peninsula, more than half as large as their Empire “proper” including Formosa, and with seventeen million people who are distinctly not Japanese, were a mere tatter on the garment itself. They change without a by-your-leave not only the form of government but the very names of the provinces; they interfere in the minutest matters of every-day 37life—require people to walk on the left side of the street, for instance. Those who came when the country was first taken over did anything, the complaints continue, took anything, that pleased their fancy or appealed to their appetites, without payment, or at whatever they chose to pay. A new governor chased this riffraff out of the peninsula and a better class is now in evidence; but even these strike the passing observer as “cockier,” more arrogant than the average in Japan—and perhaps somewhat brighter.
One is quickly reminded of Poland under the Germans, from whom it might easily be suspected that the Japanese copied almost verbatim in their annexation of what was once Korea. Japanese get the cream of mines, factories, and other concessions; the advantages given the “Oriental Development Company,” in reality a semi-official, strictly Japanese, concern, amount to a scandal. The monopoly bank does about as it sees fit in rates and exchanges; wherever there is a chance for it a Japanese always seems to get the preference over a Korean. Railwaymen, policemen, even the “red caps” at stations, are nearly all Japanese; at such places the Japanese rickshaw-men are given the best stands, with their Korean competitors in the background. I was returning one night from Gensan on the east coast, whence there had just been put on a night train to Seoul, which for some reason had not been found worthy of carrying a sleeper. About twenty minutes before train-time I started through the platform gate, only to be stopped by the gateman, who almost at the same instant promptly punched the ticket of a little man in kimono and scraping wooden getas and let him pass. My training in taking a back seat having been neglected, I pushed past the gateman and followed the sandal-wearer across to the waiting train. From end to end it was half full of Japanese passengers, most of them stretched out on two double seats; and when, just before the train started, Korean passengers were admitted to the platform, there was little left for them to do but to squat on the floor or the arm of a seat here and there or stand up all night.
I have seen a petty Japanese official keep a public autobus waiting for half an hour while he played with his children or had a last cup of tea with his neighbors. Railway stations are, with few exceptions, miles from the towns they serve, though the line may run almost directly through them. Possibly, as those in authority claim, this is for protection, though I do not know from what; the disinterested visitor finds himself agreeing with the Koreans that it is probably done so that a Japanese town can grow up under more advantageous conditions 38than the old Korean city behind it, as has already happened in many cases, and perhaps to help the Japanese owners of Fords, rickshaws, and hotels. The Japanese hold up and examine mail, whether of Koreans, missionaries, or foreigners in general, at the slightest provocation, often, one suspects, out of mere curiosity. Korean youths who wish to go to school in America or Europe are almost invariably refused passports. Possibly a dozen are granted out of a thousand applications, and it often takes as long as a year to get those. One group of students who applied for permission to study industries abroad were told to study them in Chinnampo instead. To appreciate the joke fully one must have seen Chinnampo. In general the Koreans are virtually prisoners within their own country, and even if they escape from it they are not always safe. Koreans whose land has been taken away from them by force have moved to Manchuria and become Chinese citizens. Even if this prattle of “self-determination” means nothing so far as nations are concerned, certainly the right of an individual to choose his own allegiance should be axiomatic in this day and generation. But the Japanese will not recognize the Chinese citizenship of a Korean. Having taken the country, they claim possession of all its people also, irrespective of their location or personal choice, and send soldiers to round them up on the foreign soil of Manchuria, forcing the Chinese to hold them in their jails, bringing them back to Korea for trial, or shooting them on the spot.
Everywhere the Japanese stick together—another German trait; if they did not know the ropes and have everything in their favor, including the official language, say those who know both races well, the Koreans would outdo them in almost any line. Personally I could not sign so broad a statement, for though I have seen many indications that the Koreans are of quicker and sharper intelligence than the Japanese, they have other weaknesses which largely neutralize this advantage. But the policy in Korea, even in these improved days, seems never to be humanity and justice first, but Japan and the Japanese über alles—and after that whatever may conveniently be added. Koreans of standing say that Japan’s inability to overlook her petty interests for the fulfilment of greater things is her greatest weakness, as her policy of assimilation, of trying to make Koreans over into Japanese, which the experience of Germany in Poland should have taught her not to attempt, is her greatest mistake. The same dominating instinct which insists that even a railway porter shall be Japanese, if one applicant among a hundred is of that race, is manifest in all her political dealings, and this 39over-patriotism may prove her final undoing, where a bit less of it might permit her to continue as an unconquered nation under a single dynasty for another twenty-five hundred years.
Japan is eager to make Shintoists of the Koreans, to teach them that ancient cult of the mikado as a direct descendant of the gods which has been revived and repaired and strengthened during the last half-century in Japan itself, that his “divine right” may survive even in an age that is so completely in disagreement with such fallacies. Korean school-children especially are subjected to this form of propaganda, so similar to the German school- and pulpit-made Kultur of kaiserly days. The requirement that their children in government schools shall not merely salute the banner of the rising sun at frequent intervals, but shall bow down daily in what is virtually worship, however much the Japanese may deny it, before a picture of the mikado, is one of the sorest points with the Koreans. A modicum of intelligence should tell any people that such methods are out of date and much worse than useless. The new Shinto shrines on hilltops all over Korea, with their newly peeled torii before them, look like late and exceedingly weak rivals of the Christian churches which dot the peninsula.
Until very recently all Japanese officials in Korea, including schoolteachers, wore uniforms and carried swords! Picture to yourself how much more handy the latter would be than a ferule. But Japanese influence on the rising generation would be greater if there were not such a discrepancy in the rights of schooling. With seventeen million Koreans and less than three hundred and fifty thousand Japanese in Korea, the 65,654 Korean children who find accommodations in government schools represent something like one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of the Korean population, while the 34,183 Japanese youngsters in school are one tenth of the sons of Nippon in the peninsula. Yet the Government still hampers to a certain extent private, and especially missionary, schools. The Japanese have brought many improvements, say the Koreans, but for whom?
Silk, tobacco, salt, gin-seng, to some extent beans, and in a certain sense prostitution, are government monopolies in Korea. The Japanese seem to bring immorality and “red lights” and disease wherever they take root, and to adopt a callous, cynical attitude toward this matter which marks them as closely related to the French in at least that one point. Thirty years ago, say missionary doctors, before their war with China brought the islanders to the peninsula in any great number, the diseases of prostitution were virtually unknown in Korea; now they 40are widely prevalent. As is their custom, the Japanese have established yoshiwaras in every city of any size, with Korean as well as Japanese inmates—Chinese also in the zone they control in Manchuria—and while these are not exactly government owned, the protection accorded them, the official regulation of them, and the large income in the form of taxes derived from them makes them virtually so.
A Japanese policeman in spotless white summer uniform and sword, relieved by a blood-red cap-band which is said to be symbolical, is to be found in any Korean gathering, even in the utmost corner of the peninsula. The traveler will probably not be in Korea long before he sees one or two such officers driving to prison a Korean with his arms tightly bound with ropes, the loose ends of which serve as reins. This is an old Oriental custom, but one feels that it could, to advantage, yield to something a little more modern and reasonable, a bit less conspicuous. In August, 1919, the police force under an army lieutenant-general virtually independent of civil authority was replaced by a gendarmerie or constabulary directly responsible to the new governor-general, Baron Saito. The latter is widely admitted to be a superior official, with the best of intentions and a high grade of ability. But tales of oppression by subordinates, and cruelties by the police, persist even under his comparatively beneficent rule. The time-honored excuse that “excesses of police and gendarmes do not have the approval of higher authorities” is out of date; if higher officials cannot curb those under them, they are equally to blame. Baron Saito’s Government seems to recognize this and has changed the formula to “It cannot be true that the police still beat prisoners, for there is a law against it.” Definite cases of persecution and torture still turn up from time to time, but the victims are so cowed that they dare not report the matter to higher authorities, and a fluent lie by the police involved settles an investigation, since the word of a Japanese is always accepted over that of a Korean. An American missionary who had reported many cases of persecution to the present governor was asked to bring the next victim in person. But when he suggested to a man who had sneaked in to see him, badly cut up and mottled in black and blue from head to foot, that he go and show himself to the governor-general, the fellow all but fled at the bare suggestion. Word would be sure to get back to the police of his own province, he insisted, and he would be manhandled worse than ever when he went home. True, gendarmes who misbehave are sometimes court-martialed, which sounds to the average civilian like something dreadful, but those of us with a little military experience know how often a court martial is a synonym for a whitewashing, unless it is the sacred army itself which has been wronged.
The Korean method of ironing, the rhythmic rat-a-tat of which may be heard day and night almost anywhere in the peninsula
Winding thread before one of the many little machine-knit stocking factories in Ping Yang
The graves of Korea cover hundreds of her hillsides with their green mounds, usually unmarked, but carefully tended by the superstitious descendants
41It is not, of course, quite the same to a Korean to be beaten by the police as it seems to us. Flogging has been practised in Korea as far back as records go, and it is not unnatural that Japanese gendarmes should consider this the only sure way of really reaching the intellect or getting the truth out of some Koreans. But they failed to see that while men punished in this time-honored way by their fellow-countrymen might not feel particularly humiliated, might take it almost like a son from his father, they would deeply resent being so treated by Japanese aliens, little men whom they have always heartily despised. Certainly some ugly stories are still afloat, and all indications point to the probability that the torturing of prisoners—and of witnesses—still goes on in the secrecy of some police stations, the perhaps real disapproval of higher authorities notwithstanding. To say that the same thing sometimes occurs in New York is not to make the practice any less reprehensible.
Once convicted of a crime, it is another matter; but when a man is suddenly arrested without warning and imprisoned for weeks, months and sometimes more than a year without knowing what charge has been made against him, without being allowed to get a word in or out of prison, even to notify some one to communicate with his family or see a lawyer, or to do anything but sit and await the good pleasure of his jailers, which may include being bambooed for two hours daily, the infliction of the “water cure,” the clamping of the fingers, the hanging up by the thumbs, the forced squat, and many other ingenious tortures which are guaranteed to leave no telltale marks on the body, it is not a sign of civilization but a remnant of the barbarism from which Japan tries hard to prove to the world that she has entirely recovered. Once the police get a confession by such methods there is no going back on it, we were told, no matter how innocent the sufferer really may be. His case is turned over at once to the procurator, and only after he has been twice condemned can he have counsel. The French system of considering the accused guilty until he proves his innocence prevails, and the chief of police has often been known to sit behind the judge and virtually to give him his orders as to what is to be done with the prisoner at the bar. Nine months in prison merely as a witness has been the experience of many a Korean Christian. Interpreters, even in important conspiracy cases, where it may be a matter of life and death, 42are reputed to mistranslate testimony in favor of Japanese or in favor of conviction. There is a classic case of an American missionary arrested during the independence movement on the charge of “harboring prisoners,” simply because he did not drive out of his house convert students whom he knew to be innocent and whom the police were eager to torture. Though he was ill at the time, he was refused permission to have a bed brought from his house to the bedless prison, was not allowed even to send word of his whereabouts to his wife, was kept incommunicado for fifteen days, during which he was grilled by a haughty Japanese official who spoke to him only in “low talk,” such as one uses to coolies, and after four trials his punishment was reduced from one year’s imprisonment to a fine of a hundred yen.
Perhaps the most repulsive custom of the Japanese police in Korea, from our Western point of view, is their indifference to domestic privacy. They march even into school-girls’ dormitories or women’s apartments with or without provocation; American missionary women traveling in the interior have often been compelled to admit policemen to their quarters at inns or in the homes of converts not only after they have prepared for bed, but several times during the night, merely to answer over and over again their silly “Who-are-you? How-old-you? Where-you-come-from? Where-you-go?” questions.
The many reforms that have recently been introduced into Korea, say its residents, would have been of far more credit to the Japanese if they had thought of them before rather than after the independence movement of March, 1919. The handling of that, by the way, was a typical example of Japanese stupidity. The independence agitation which broke out simultaneously all over the peninsula was merely a demonstration to prove to the outside world that the Koreans had not been so completely and successfully “Japalacked” (as the missionaries, with no unbounded love for the little brown Prussians of the East, put it) as the Japanese at the peace conference led the world to suppose. Their city walls had been torn down; they had no weapons; the native Christians, who were foremost among the agitators, had refused to have anything to do with the demonstration until it was agreed that there should be no violence. If the Japanese had acted with the jovial moderation which their power over the peninsula made quite possible, the movement would very likely have been nothing more serious than a kind of lantern procession on a national scale. There is an anecdote floating about the Far East to the effect that half a dozen British “Tommies,” strolling down the street of a city in India, were met by a 43mob shouting the Hindu version of “Long live Gandhi!” They neither raced back to the barracks for their rifles nor fell upon the crowd with such weapons as they could snatch up; they merely began shouting with the natives, “Long live Gandhi!” Within five minutes the demonstration had broken up in peals of laughter at the antics of the soldiers and their ludicrous Hindustani accent. Whether it is true or not, the story illustrates a great weakness of the Japanese. Almost no nation is so devoid of a sense of humor, as we use the phrase; that is, they are wholly incapable of permitting anything but the greatest solemnity of word or deed concerning their persons, their country, or their “sacred” institutions.
Instead of treating the “Mansei” movement as more or less of a joke, therefore, they acted with incredible childishness, as well as quite unnecessary brutality. Groups of unarmed Koreans gathered on hills overlooking the towns, shouted “Mansei!”—which is merely the Korean form of the Japanese “Banzai!” or “Ten Thousand Years!” and means something like “Long live Korea!”—then scattered. The silly police ran hither and thither, distracted. The honor of their nation, the luster of their military caste, the glory of their god-descended ruler might have been at stake. They arrested sixty school-boys eight years of age because some one among them had shouted the dreadful word, and they kept them at the police station until ten o’clock at night. A high official quizzed a roomful of little girls with such questions as how they could expect liberty, and where they would get money to run the Government, if they had it. When they answered, woman-like, “Oh, we’d get it,” the Japanese on the platform foamed at the mouth and devised ingenious ways of punishing the tots for their temerity. Brutalities like ours in Haiti, and worse, were perpetrated on the population. Students were beaten if they admitted they attended mission schools. They were asked at ferry stations and other points of concentration whether they were Christians, and if they replied in the affirmative they were cut with swords and otherwise mishandled by soldiers and police. If they denied the allegation, even though they were known to be converts, they were not abused, the idea seeming to be to get them to apostatize. Prisoners were tied together and driven on forced marches of sometimes a hundred miles, sleeping on plank floors full of cracks, with no food whatever on examination-day (otherwise known as “torture-day”). Great gangs were marched into Ping Yang from the country roundabout, many of them virtually unable to walk, and with carts of dead ones behind. Women who had shouted “Mansei!” were 44taken to police stations, stripped, and marched around while the police amused themselves by burning them with cigarettes. Whether or not they were violated, they were subjected to every other form of indignity. The Japanese claim that “not a few policemen and their families in isolated stations were ruthlessly massacred,” and that they were therefore provoked to harsh measures. But they neglect to give the exact chronology of the affair, which indicates that they were the first to adopt harsh measures, and that Korean violence was in retaliation for their unnecessarily stern suppression of what probably would have remained a bloodless demonstration. Thus all the complaints, dissatisfactions, and grievances that had been repressed within the breasts of the people of Cho-sen for ten long years broke out at last like the cataract through a broken dike.
Those not friendly to them say that the Japanese police are cowardly as well as bullies, citing such examples as a group of Americans being mobbed only a few yards from one of the innumerable police stations in Seoul during our stay there, without a single white uniform appearing on the scene. Since the establishment of civil government some Koreans have been made gendarmes and otherwise given positions of authority, but as so often happens in such cases, many of them are more cruel to their fellow-nationals, and more itching with curiosity as to the doings of foreigners, than the Japanese themselves. Up to the time of the “Mansei” movement the Japanese scorned to study Korean and tried to force the Koreans to learn Japanese instead, again aping the Germans in Poland. But they have learned the disadvantages of using Korean interpreters and depending on native stool-pigeons for information, so that now they offer five yen a month in addition to the regular salary of those who have a workable knowledge of the native tongue.
The Japanese learned considerable from the uprising of 1919, but they still have something to learn. There are officials yet who advocate fines and flogging for Koreans who refuse to hoist the flag of Japan on national holidays. A modicum of common sense should teach any people that a national flag is a symbol of patriotism the display of which should be only an expression of free will, that patriotism can never be forced into the hearts of a people, and that any false show of it is much worse than worthless. Even shops which close as a sign of protest against certain Japanese doings are compelled by the police to open their doors. When the warship Mutsu anchored in the harbor of Chemulpo, the port for Seoul, every visitor who went on board was 45compelled to salute the common sailor on sentry duty at the gang-plank, who barked like an enraged bulldog at any one who did not perform the ceremony with the deepest solemnity. Until they cure themselves, or are cured, of this ridiculously Prussian point of view on matters pertaining to their national life naturally the Japanese will not be able to see that it is silly to speak of the “wickedness” of trying to change, or even of talking of changing, a given form of government, that as a matter of fact any form of government is no more sacred than an old pair of shoes that has served the wearer moderately well.
We of the West should not forget, however, that the “white peril” has been a much more actual thing to the Japanese than the “yellow peril” ever was to us. Korea was not only a convenient spring-board for Russia and the whole white world behind her, but it was a greater source of danger to Japanese health than Cuba in its most yellow-feverish days ever was to us. Old residents paint a distressing picture of pre-Japanese Seoul—narrow streets plowed up into bullock-cart ruts, no general means of transportation except one’s own feet, however deep the mud, corpses of those dying of cholera left before any “rich” man’s house, forcing him to bury them. The Korean royal family was “liberally provided for” and left in possession of their palaces and their titles in perpetuity on condition that they would not interfere in any way with the new Government or the people of the peninsula. The sop of titles of nobility was thrown to influential Koreans who were likely to make trouble, and seventy-six new peers stepped forth from their mud huts. The Japanese claim that they spend ten million dollars a year on the occupation of Korea, that with its need of schools, roads, trees, sanitation, and many other things the peninsula is a great burden to them. “Though it is treason to say so now,” a high-placed Japanese in Seoul assured me, “Korea will eventually get her independence, as soon as she can stand on her own feet and protect herself—and us—from the north.” Possibly this was mere prattle meant to throw me off the scent, but I have met some Japanese intelligent enough sincerely to believe in this eventual solution.
The American and European merchants in Korea think that the Japanese did on the whole better than any one else could have done in handling the situation, and that the Koreans cannot possibly govern themselves. So, for that matter, do most of the missionaries. Russia would have forced the Greek church upon the people, they say, but would have left the lowest form of inefficient and unsanitary burlesque 46on government. They would virtually have encouraged the persistence of ignorance and filth that made the Hermit Kingdom in every sense a stench to the nostrils of the world and a land of but two classes of people, the robbers and the robbed. “If Japan were to say to us to-morrow, ‘Here’s your country; run it yourselves,’” said a man who was trained to become prime minister under the old régime, “there are not bright men enough in it to form a cabinet.” The people have sometimes been made to suffer, the merchants go on, in such matters, for instance, as the taking of their land to build roads—for in old Korea as in China to-day highways were mere trespassers on private domain; but on the whole Japan has been no rougher than the United States or England in the countries they have taken over.
The agitation of Koreans for independence, the foreign laymen in the peninsula claim, emanates from self-seekers in foreign lands, and from the young students of mission schools, “especially American mission schools”; and the two “provisional governments,” one in the United States, and one, which has been in existence since the annexation, in Shanghai, do not at all represent the wishes of the Korean people as a whole. As it is, they are ground between the two millstones of the Japanese on the spot and these exiled governments, which send agents to make life miserable for those who fear one or both of them may some day come into power. Even the old politicians and office-holders are content, if we are to believe the men of commerce, now that even the Japanese have discovered that few military chiefs are of a type to make successful colonial governors, and that their subordinates, especially of the lower ranks, are almost always tactless, to say the least. But business men have a tendency the world over to praise anything that tends to keep “business as usual,” and one will probably come nearest the truth by striking a balance between their impressions and those of the missionaries, crediting the latter with somewhat more sincere, because less self-seeking, motives.
Whatever his personal opinion on the usefulness of foreign missions, no one with his eyes half open can set foot in Cho-sen without being impressed by the Christian influence, or at least by the number of missionaries, converts, and churches. He may be highly amused at the many subdivisions of that faith, by reason not merely of minor matters of creed and national lines but of such political cleavages as that caused by our Civil War, so nearly obliterated at home, which bewilder the natives like a countryman in a department-store with the wide choices of salvation offered them by—to mention only some of the47American varieties—the “Northern” Presbyterians and the “Southern” Presbyterians, the “Northern” and the “Southern” Methodists, the Kansas Baptists and the Oklahoma High Rollers, for all I know, all guaranteed to give equal satisfaction. But the very intensity with which native converts regard these arbitrary lines of division, much slighter among the missionaries themselves, and the care which “Bible women” and country pastors take to keep their charges from wandering into any adjoining heretical sheepfold, is an evidence of the genuineness of their new beliefs.
Whether or not Christianity is the one and only true faith, it seems to be an established fact that it thrives under persecution. Protestant mission work began in China in 1808, in Japan in 1859, but not until about 1888 in Korea; yet there is to-day only a scattering of native Christians in the two former countries as compared with the hordes of them in Korea. Many towns, even Ping Yang, second city of the peninsula, are almost more Christian than “pagan”; and the missionary boast that Korea will be a Christian land within a generation or two does not sound so wild as many another statement that drifts to the ear of the naturally skeptical wanderer. There is some evidence to show that this rapid progress is considerably due to those very Japanese who are least eager for the Christian faith to spread. The law of Japan and Korea grants absolute freedom of religious belief and practice, but even the passing layman can plainly detect something very close to persecution of Christians by some of the Japanese authorities in the peninsula, though it be only unconscious and unintentional, which it probably is not. While the Catholics have been there much longer, and have often carried things with a high hand, it is the Protestants in particular, and especially the American missionaries, who seem to have won most of the Japanese ill will. This I believe to be almost more because of the fact that they are Americans than because they are missionaries. As Americans they just naturally resent the lack of human liberty, of “self-determination,” to use the catchword of the hour, which Japanese rule in Korea means. The opposite point of view is bred in their bones. Though they never opened their lips on the subject, their mere unconscious attitude, their negative lack of approval of the existing state of things politically, cannot but seem to the Koreans an approval of their own opposition to the Japanese. Obviously, the study of American history, even of American literature, in the mission schools adds to the discontent of young Koreans with the present status of what was once their own country, even though the teachers lean over backward 48in the effort not to mix academic and political matters. In fact, while the missionaries might deny it, it may be that the Koreans are rallying in increasing numbers about the American sponsored churches as much under the mistaken impression that the Americans are secretly sympathetic to the throwing off of the alien yoke, even by violence if necessary, as from the conviction that the American brands of salvation are the only sure passwords at the celestial gates.
At any rate, the Japanese seem to have concluded that American missionaries were behind the independence movement of 1919, and that they are still not to be entirely trusted. Now, I am as certain as I am of anything in this uncertain world that not a single American missionary was in the conspiracy of the “Mansei” demonstration. A very few may have known something about it, at least have felt in the air that something was coming; but it was no business of theirs to turn tattletales and run to warn a Government which had usurped since most of them came to Korea and had not treated them with any notable kindness, besides having what should have been an ample supply of its own spies to pick up such information. But the Japanese have not our way of thinking. They are ready enough to have the missionaries render unto Cæsar what belongs to him by keeping out of politics, but at the same time they seem to expect them to lend a hand to the extent of passing on to the authorities any hints or rumors that may be of use to them.
However, the independence demonstration and the unwise acts it brought in its train have trailed off into history. The more intelligent Japanese officials seem to have seen the light and acquitted the American missionaries of any active and conscious part in it, and the new governor-general and his immediate aids even sometimes call them into conference to get their point of view on subjects in which they are involved. But there is still an undercurrent of something akin to persecution of the American churches. As in the case of the persistent rumors of police floggings in spite of the new law forbidding them, it is impossible to make certain whether this is due to deliberate disobedience of orders by recalcitrant subordinates, to secret instructions at variance with those made public, or to pure stupidity, of which the Japanese have their liberal quota. In every mission town there is a detective in charge of matters pertaining to missionaries. He attends all services, comes hotfooting it whenever a foreigner stops even for lunch at a mission, demanding information concerning him back to the nth degree of absurdity, asks the future plans of the church almost daily, and other stupid and impertinent questions. In some districts the police still literally hound the church—demand lists of all contributors, send spies to stand at the church door and take note of every Korean who enters, burst noisily in during prayer, order new women converts not to attend services. Even the missionaries strike one as being rather afraid of the police, though this may merely be due to their strenuous efforts to avoid giving further offense and to come more than half-way toward established friendship with the political authorities; it can easily be imagined how native pastors and the simple converts are affected by a brutal attitude.
A chicken peddler in Seoul
A full load
The plowman homeward wends his weary way—in Korean fashion, always carrying the plow and driving his unburdened ox or bull before him; one of the most common sights of Korea
The biblical “watch-tower in a cucumber patch” is in evidence all over Korea in the summer, when crops begin to ripen. Whole families often sleep in them during this season, when they spring up all over the country, and often afford the only cool breeze
49Christian students in government schools often report that they have secretly been ordered to quit the church. There seems to be little doubt that the Japanese foster the student strikes which are increasingly becoming the bane of mission schools, now with demands for a Korean principal in place of an American who has grown gray in that position, now that no teacher be hired who has not been educated in Japan or Korea, or that there shall be no studying of the Bible in school—almost prima facie evidence of Japanese influence. All this cuts both ways in separating the Koreans and the foreigners. When the strikes reach the point of demanding that laboratory or library equipment be improved, notwithstanding that every tack in the school wall is due to American charity toward the strikers, the ordinary human being finds himself wishing that the missionaries would forget their unnatural patience and boot the strikers down the front steps. Permits are required for everything under the sun—to be pastor, to build a new church, even to solicit contributions to mission hospitals. The Japanese meddle with hospitals, schools, and churches in ways which even they could not possibly believe are excusable. The missionaries have to submit to their dictation as to curriculum; they even have to make their school year conform to the Japanese custom and teach in July. Perhaps the greatest hardship the missionaries have to endure is the constant dread that their sick children will be carried off to Japanese isolation wards, on the pretext that contagious diseases cannot be properly isolated in mission hospitals, and there virtually killed by being given only Japanese food, lack of beds, and treatment, while the parents may not even be allowed to see them.
All books by foreigners must be fully printed before being submitted to the police censor, who will not look at manuscript. Three days before publication two copies of the finished book must be in his 50hands, and if any of the contents is considered objectionable the whole edition is confiscated. Christian schools are often called out to meet officials on Sunday, or teacher’s examinations are given on that day with a frequency that could scarcely be coincidence. The requirement that all children in government schools shall bow down before a picture of the mikado in an attitude of worship is of course a constant thorn in the side of the Christians. The authorities claim that American mission students have no discipline, which is probably true from the Japanese point of view, in that they are not told just what they should think and do on every possible subject and occasion. In their published maps of Korean towns the Japanese rarely give any signs of the existence of Christian establishments, though these are often many years old and the most prominent institutions in the place. On the other hand, when their travels take them out of their own orbit the missionaries almost always go to Korean hotels instead of patronizing the foreign ones under Japanese management, but old custom and the high prices of the latter could easily account for this without including a suggestion of pique.
Personally I came to the conclusion that, while both are in evidence, it is the thick-headedness of the rank-and-file Japanese more than deliberate persecution which causes the continued friction between the two peoples who are doing the most for the regeneration of Korea. I might cite a typical case in point. Over near Gensan on the east coast the missionaries have a private summer resort, half a hundred houses and a beach, all enclosed within purchased grounds. But as the Japanese are very insistent in matters which they conceive to involve the equality of their race to the rest of the world, they refuse to let the missionaries keep the townspeople off their beach. Now, the bathing demeanor of the Japanese, innocent and proper though it may be to those who like it, is decidedly not suited to a place where American women and children come to spend their summers. So by dint of coaxing and explaining their own peculiar point of view, the Americans got the authorities at Gensan to post a notice that no one should bathe on the missionary beach unless arrayed in proper swimming costume. The Japanese of course are notoriously law-abiding. One afternoon when I found time to join my family on that beach a big limousine stood at the edge of the sand, and several dignified middle-aged men who might have been bankers or lawyers from the city were disporting themselves in perfectly respectable bathing-suits. But when I chanced to glance about a little later, one of them stood within ten feet of us, 51stripped stark naked as he calmly and leisurely changed from swimming to street costume, and two others were in the act of disrobing for the same purpose. I feel sure that they had no intention whatever of being offensive toward the dozen or more American women about them; probably their limited minds really thought that they were complying with both the letter and the spirit of the posted order and the desires of those who inspired it by wearing bathing costumes while in the water, and getting into and out of them on the open beach. When I addressed them with an unmissionary vehemence that might have landed me in a police station if they had chosen to make the most of it, they apologized hastily for the unwitting offense and hurried off to the privacy of the limousine. The Japanese in Korea are spending large sums in the effort to make certain of the beaches of the peninsula popular with foreigners, and quite likely some of these bankerly-looking gentlemen were involved in the scheme; but none of them still have any clear conception, probably, of why no beach can ever be popular with foreigners as long as Japanese also have the right of admission to it.
Missionaries after all are only human beings, as they themselves are the first to admit, and we do not expect the supernatural of them even in such a matter as meekly accepting the abuse of what they more or less regard as a usurping and alien political power over a people the benefiting of whom they consider their life-work. Many of the Americans in the mission field have been in Korea far longer than the Japanese. Some have lived there so long, according to those foreigners of another class who see them as dangers to their precious “business as usual,” that “they think they own the country and can countenance no changes in it, not even improvements. They used to do exactly as they liked, and they hate the least suggestion of coercion.” We should remember that the missionaries had the advantages of extraterritoriality in Korea before the Japanese came, and they cannot but resent the loss of it, the submitting to alien rulers whose ideas of everything, from housing to justice, are so widely different from their own. Moreover, though they readily admit that the Japanese are doing many things for the good of the peninsula, they see them primarily as men with an ax to grind.
It would be strange, if it were not long since commonplace, to see how sharp national lines remain even among men who think they are working above nationalities, how completely even men of strong ideals succumb to their environment. The American missionaries in Japan say that there is some reason for the Japanese to be suspicious of the 52American missionaries in Korea. They agree with the officials there, who contend that those destined for mission work in the Korean field should first have a year in Japan, that they may judge more fairly the Japanese national point of view. Even those in Korea, after ten to forty years’ residence there, cannot agree on many of the points involved, so how can a mere passer-by be expected to get at the exact truth of the matter? He can merely decide that there is some reason on both sides, with perhaps a private opinion as to which one is most inclined to tamper with the scales, and let it go at that. Friction is gradually decreasing, as the Japanese and Americans become more able to talk together—generally in Korean; and as there is no doubt that Japan has the good of Cho-sen and its people at heart—as an integral part of the Japanese Empire—constant improvement may confidently be expected.