Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 4, 1883
to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Séoul , August 21, 1883. (Received October 1.)
Sir: I have the honor to inclose herewith a report upon Corea. The data for obtaining accurate information are extremely meager, and this is rather the hasty result of personal observations, together with such facts as I have been able to glean from private sources.
I am, &c.,
Report on Corea, by Lucius H. Foote, United States minister, August 21, 1883.
It is very difficult to give accurate statistics in regard to the history of Corea. According to tradition the Kingdom had a mythical foundation more than four thousand years ago, when some supernatural being was found in a sacred place and made [Page 246] King. For many centuries subsequent to this nothing is known in regard to the country. It is stated, probably from Chinese sources, that in the year 1136 B. C. Chosun was conquered by China, After this there seems to have been a succession of different dynasties, until about 150 years B. C., when, by internal wars, the country was divided into three independent states known as the “Three Han.” In the year 935 A. D., an usurper named Wan Kan united the three states under one sovereignty and called the country “Kolio.” Thirty-two successive sovereigns continued to reign under this dynasty until, in the year 1391 A. D., an officer named Li Sang Kai usurped the throne and again called the country Chosun.
His Majesty King Li Fui, the reigning sovereign, is the twenty-eighth successor of the present line, and the year 1883 is the four hundred and ninety-second year of this dynasty.
At different times the country has been overrun by China and Japan, and has paid tribute to each. In 1636 a Chinese army invaded Corea, and, entering the capital, made peace by exacting the following yearly tribute: 100 ounces of gold; 1,000 kilograms of silver; 10,000 bags of rice, 200 kilograms each; 2,000 rolls of silk; 300 rolls of mosi; 10,000 rolls of linen; 400 rolls of cotton; 100 rolls of better cotton; l,000rollsof paper; 1,000 rolls of smaller paper; 2,000 knives; 1,000 ox horns; 40 colored mats; 200 pounds dye wood; 1 skepel of pepper; 100 tiger-skins; 100 deer-skins; 400 seal-skins, and 200 blue rat-skins. Since this time the tribute has been greatly modified, but something is still paid. Each year an embassy goes to Peking with certain gifts and brings back the Chinese calendar. To receive this calendar is an evidence of dependence, and if it is not used it is regarded as an act of treason. It is necessary to report to the Chinese Emperor the accession of a new King to the throne, and to obtain his sanction to the same. Envoys going from Corea to China are treated as Chinese subjects, and all official documents from the Corean King to the Emperor of China bear the subscription of “subject.” For two hundred years, however, China has carefully avoided complications with Corea, and has never materially interfered with her internal affairs. On more than one occasion she has disavowed responsibility for the overt acts of the Corean Government.
Since 1636 Corea has enjoyed a profound peace, and it has been her policy not to excite hostilities with her neighbors. To that end she has prohibited the working of gold and silver mines, lest the discovery of these precious metals should attract the lust of other nations. Unfortunately her system of seclusion has impoverished her people, and left the country stagnant.
The population is estimated at 11,000,000, and the number of houses at 1,700,000.
The Government is an absolute monarchy, all power resting in the sovereign. He has three prime ministers or advisers, who hold their offices for life. There are also six heads of departments, and these, with three ministers, constitute the council of state. They are required to report the result of their work each day to the King in person. Of the departments, “I-cho” has cognizance of the appointment, promotion, and dismissal of subordinate officials; “Ho-cho” supervises the financial affairs of the Kingdom, the levying of taxes, and the coining of money; “Pei-cho” looks after the government of schools, the examination of students, and frames the code of ceremonies, &c.; “Piyong-Cho” controls the organization of the army, directs the manufacture of arms, and has jurisdiction over postal affairs; “Pin-Cho” attends to the organization of courts and the administration of justice. In addition to these is the department of public works and foreign affairs.
Important officials are invariably appointed from the higher classes, the common people taking little part in public affairs. The nobility seem to have a family distinction, but their rank depends upon the grade of the highest official position which they have occupied, and attaches to them for life. For this reason officials are frequently changed that rank may be conferred. The result of this system is that the people are divided into parties, and a bitter partisan spirit is engendered, each party seeking to secure the offices, with their titles and emoluments. Certain special privileges attach to officials, such as exemption from arrest. They can only be summoned by a writ from the department of justice. The Chinese method of examination for official promotion prevails. Examination of applicants takes place at stated periods, when diplomas, of which there are three classes, are conferred upon the successful candidates. The holders of these diplomas are eligible to corresponding official positions.
There are numerous private schools, but no general school system. Nearly all the common people can read and write the Corean language. In this language there are many simple books, but the learning of the country is the learning of China, and the better classes are well versed in Chinese literature.
The titles to lands are derived from the Government, and are carefully registered in local offices. The tenure depends upon the payment of taxes, which are levied in kind, and are onerous. * * * The only coin of the country is the copper cash, five hundred and twenty-five of which are equivalent to one Mexican dollar.
The roadways are narrow bridle paths, the only wheeled vehicles being two-wheeled carts, which, in some places, are made to transport merchandise. Bulls and Corean [Page 247] ponies are used as pack animals. Persons of means and distinction travel on horseback or in sedan chairs. Inns are said to be scarce and incommodious, hut the people are said to be kind and hospitable.
Post-offices are established in the principal towns, and at some places on the public highways the Government maintains stations with post-horses, for public use.
According to official accounts, there are 1,300,000 enrolled militia in the country, but they are unaccustomed to drill and are without arms.
The territory of Corea is bounded on the north by the Shan-Yan-Alin Mountains and two large rivers which take their rise in these mountains; the one known as the Amno-kan, flowing westward, empties itself into the Yellow Sea and forms the natural boundary between Corea and China; the other, known as the To-Man-Kian, flowing eastward, empties itself into the Japan Sea, and divides Corea from Manchuria and the Russian territory. The Kingdom is divided into eight departments, viz, Ham-keung-to, the northeastern department, at the southern extremity of which is the open port of Wan-San; Peung-An-to; Whang-Hai-to; Kang-Wun-to; Keung-Que-to, in which department is situated Séoul, the capital, and the open port of In-Chun; Choong-Chung-to; Chun-Ra-to; and Keung-Sang-to, which contains the open port of Poosan.
Corea is a land of mountains. The Shan-Yan-Alin range extends from north to south along the eastern coast. From this smaller ranges trend across the country. Everywhere mountain peaks are to be seen. In the central and western portion are several plains or plateaus called Naipo. These plains are extremely fertile, and for this reason Naipo is called the rice warehouse of Séoul. The country is well watered and fairly wooded, and the Government exercises much care in maintaining the forests. Many wild animals abound in the mountains, such as tigers, leopards, bears, wild boars, &c.; and pheasants, water fowl, and other game birds are abundant.
Of the domestic animals, the cattle compare favorably with those of our country. They are well bred and are used as beasts of burden. The horses are extremely small and inferior, swine are poor and ill-favored, and goats and sheep are rarely if ever seen.
During the season I have found in the market of Séoul apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, apples, pears, and several kinds of berries. These fruits, however, perhaps for the want of cultivation and selection, are far inferior to those grown in the United States. The variety of vegetables is limited and the quality poor. Even the potato is unknown.
In spite of the severe restrictions, no inconsiderable amount of gold dust is extracted each year, and mines of gold, silver, copper, lead and iron are said to exist in all parts of the country.
In the northern districts wheat, barley, rye, cattle, ginseng—which is a Government monopoly—medicinal herbs, dried fish, honey, tiger and leopard skins, furs and hides are produced. The products of the central and southern districts are rice, silk, cotton, hemp, tobacco, wheat, corn, barley, beans, millet, dyewoods, fruits, vegetables, cattle and hides. Among the manufactures are silk, cotton and linen cloths, iron and stone ware, pottery, hats, shoes, paper, mats, fans, screens, combs, pipes, brushes, tiles for roofing, certain kinds of furniture, mechanical and agricultural implements, &c. Some articles exhibit a degree of excellence, but the majority are rude and primitive. Cloths are woven in hand-looms, and pottery is made by use of the wheel. Specimens of old bronze and porcelain are occasionally found, showing that in the past a higher degree of skill existed.
The majority of the houses are simple, with mud walls and floors and thatched roofs. The better class of houses have stone foundations, intersected with flues for heating purposes. Upon this foundation is a wooden building with tile roofs, the floors, walls and windows of which are lined with paper.
The clothing of the common people is made invariably of cotton or linen cloth, and in winter is wadded. They wear upon their feet straw or twine sandals with soles of rawhide, and upon their heads conical-shaped hats made of horse-hair. Their breeches are made very full and are divided below the knees and fastened at the ankles. Over this a long loose robe is worn, with flowing sleeves.
The people seem to be a hardy, vigorous, well-formed race, of medium stature; and while the yellow skin, almond-shaped eyes, and black hair of the Mongolian race prevail, men with light hair and beard and blue eyes are sometimes seen. The beard is suffered to grow, and the hair is never shorn, but is tied in a knot on the top of the head.
The wages paid to the laboring classes approximate fifteen cents per day, and to the artisan perhaps twenty-five cents per day. Slavery is said to exist in a modified form, and is even sometimes voluntary, as thus the poor man escapes extortion and oppression. The artisans and many classes of laborers, however, belong to powerful organizations or guilds, by which means they maintain a degree of independence and enforce their rights.[Page 248]
Crime is severely punished, and questions involving civil rights are decided by the courts.
The Corean nobleman, if his means will permit, maintains a degree of state, surrounded by his retainers, and goes forth to make his calls of ceremony in his sedan chair, dressed in silken robes, accompanied by a retinue of servants.
The women, married and unmarried, are kept in great seclusion.
Marriage is a matter of negotiation between the parents and friends of the parties, and is often concluded in childhood.
Unmarried persons of the male sex can be distinguished by the method of wearing their hair hanging down in cues. The women * * * adorn their heads with hands of false hair. Their dress consists of the broad breeches divided below the knees and fastened at the ankles; over this a short skirt and jacket.
Persons in mourning eat no meat and pay no visits. They are dressed in robes of coarse gray cotton cloth and wear immense straw hats, and when they go abroad hide the lower half of the face with a mask.
Smoking is a universal habit to which both sexes are addicted.
In conclusion, I would say that there are many industries here which might, by means of the cheap labor, be successfully promoted. There are mines of gold, silver, copper, lead, iron and coal to be developed. In the north there are said to be large forests of timber, for which there should be a market near at hand. Agriculture and cattle and sheep raising could be stimulated so as to produce a surplus for exportation; but there are difficulties to contend with. The extremes of heat and cold are treat; there are no roads or means of transportation, and the policy of exclusion still as strong adherents. Corea will, however, soon require mining machinery, agricultural implements, hardware, glassware, cotton and woolen goods, coal oil, and many products and other manufactures which we might supply.