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.
Peking, December 18, 1882. (Received February 23, 1883.)
Sir: I inclose for the information of the Department a copy of a proclamation attributed to the King of Corea. This document first appeared in a Japanese native journal, and afterwards in an English Shanghai paper. The Department may have received it from the legation at Tokio with such information, not attainable here, as will enable you to judge of its authority, and if authentic, of its value as an impression of Corean sentiment towards foreigners.
I have, &c.,
The King of Corea on missionaries and foreign relations.
(A royal proclamation.)
Our country is situated far away to the east in a nook of the sea, and hitherto we have had no relations or dealings with foreigners; for which reason we have neither seen nor heard very much. We have pursued this policy of jealous seclusion now for five hundred years, during which time we have never swerved from the customs of the days of old. Now, the countries of the West, say, England, France, America and Russia, have invented appliances of the most ingenious and beneficial description, by virtue of which they have attained to great wealth and political power. Their railways and their steamboats pervade the whole face of the land, and all the countries of the world are connected with others by treaty; their balance of power is preserved by standing armies, and their relations are maintained intact by adherence to the principles of international law, just as was the case among the states in the time of the “Chun Tsin.” For this reason China, although she stands alone and pre-eminent among the nations of the world, still makes treaties with them on equal terms, while Japan, which repelled all the advances of foreigners with such austerity, has now formed compacts of friendship with them all. Thus have they both done that which was directly opposed to their own original ideas; in truth, not even their strength was sufficient to withstand the pressure of the times. Well, then, our country, in the spring of 1876, ratified the friendly agreement come to between ourselves and Japan, and promised her to open three ports to trade, and now we have established new treaties with America, England and Germany. This is an innovation, certainly, and there is nothing to be astonished at in the dissatisfaction expressed by our people. But international relations are now of general prevalence; so there is no difficulty in bringing about friendly associations by the employment of right principles and good faith. [Page 171]The object of a resident minister in any country is primarily to watch over the interests of the merchants who may be settled there: there is no cause for suspicion of any ulterior motives on his part. There is no law or principle in the matter of international relationship, and this is found written in the classics and their commentaries. But there exist certain doltish and stupid scholars, who bear in mind how, in olden days, a feudal state would be ruined by making a compact with another, recklessly setting up this as an illustration, and then urging that Japan should be kept at a distance. Why do not such persons consider that if other people come to our shores in all friendliness, and we receive them as enemies and light them, all the-world would cry, What sort of a nation can that be? If one country stands isolated and alone, it will be bereft of all assistance, and give rise to enmity on the part of all other countries. It will become the object of general attack, and then it will be defeated, and at last ruined, and then its repentance will be great indeed. And what virtue will there be in it?
Those who reason about these matters condemn treaty-making on the ground that foreign nations will contaminate us with their depraved religions. This is because they have pondered so long and so deeply upon the religion of their ancestors. But as regards entering into treaty relations, of course we shall enter into them, and as regards prohibiting the foreign religion, of course we can prohibit it, and in establishing treaties of amity and commerce, we shall do so in accordance with the principles of international law. According to the rules of propriety, it cannot be permitted that religion shall be promulgated in the interior; besides, how can you, who have for so long practiced the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, and bathed yourself in decorum and rectitude all your lives, suddenly abandon the true and embrace the false and bad? Supposing, for instance, there were to be some stupid fellow, some uneducated lout, secretly attempting to diffuse his teachings [in our country]; then we have the law of our state, by which all such shall be exterminated and destroyed without mercy; what reason, then, is there for sorrow on account of our (alleged) inability to deal with such abuses? Moreover, when [these malcontents] see even so little adoption of foreign methods in the direction of mechanism and machinery, they immediately regard that as contamination with foreign heresies. This, indeed, is the ne plus ultra of obtuseness! If the [foreign] doctrine is to be regarded as a doctrine of lechery and sensuality, then it can be kept at a distance; if foreign mechanism is advantageous, then we can reap advantage from it and use it to increase our wealth. Why fear, instead of having recourse to, such things as agriculture, sericulture, medical science, medicines, military weapons, ships, and carriages? Let us repel their doctrines, but learn to use or imitate their machinery; both these courses of policy can be carried out, and thus no outrage will be done to propriety. Besides, the strength of foreign nations and the weakness of our own are as far removed asunder as heaven from earth. If we do not learn to use their machinery, how can we withstand the contempt they feel for us, or prevent their covetousness [being directed against our land]? Most certainly are we able to cultivate their principles of government in regard to our domestic legislation, and enter into friendly relations with our neighbors; maintain the integrity and decorum of our own nation while emulating the strength and riches of those outside, so that all, from the highest to the lowest, may enjoy prosperity and peace. How can we delay about it any longer? At present, it is difficult to change those institutions which have existed from time immemorial. The popular will is not fixed. The rising which took place in the sixth moon caused the neighboring country [Japan] to lose faith in us, and has bequeathed a legacy of ridicule of us to the entire world. The prestige of our country has declined from day to day. The indemnity we owe to Japan amounts to myriads of taels. Does not this reflection make you shudder [literally, give you a cold heart]? Was the entrance of the Japanese into our country attended with any results or breach of friendly relations towards ourselves? Yet our soldiers, prompted by unworthy suspicions, sought to oppose them; and their breasts becoming fuller and fuller [of such thoughts], their anger at last burst forth. Thus, without any reason, they themselves were the first to rebel. Think, then, all of you, on whose side was the fault? Now, happily, our arrangements are very nearly finished, and our former good relations stand on a better footing than ever; America, England, and other countries are following on each other’s heels [in resorting to our shores], and making treaties of amity and commerce with us, a custom which is prevalent among all the nations of the world, and by no means an innovation of our own. There is, indeed, no ground whatever for any apprehension on this score, and you may, all of you, rest perfectly tranquil and undisturbed.
Let scholars attend diligently to their studies, and the people to their agricultural pursuits; let there be no more talk about “European” and “Japanese” or any further stirring up of sedition and trouble. Although there be foreigners moving about in the open ports, let everybody continue just as quiet as usual, and see to it that you are not the first to make a disturbance. If they begin to insult or annoy you in any way, they will be dealt with in strict accordance with the provisions of the treaty, [Page 172]so that our own people will not be unfairly treated, and foreigners too will be protected. Alas! the use of a stupid person of his own stupidity is deprecated by the Holy Man; scoffing at high authorities by those under them is a punishable offense according to the laws of the land. To punish without instructing the people is to do them wrong; for which reason I now make this distinct and public declaration. Moreover, now that friendly relationships are being cultivated with Western nations, [I order that] all roadside obelisks, outside the capital, notifying that foreigners are not allowed to pass, be forthwith taken up and removed, as being unsuitable to the new order of things. You, scholars and people, now understand this perfectly. This order is now promulgated under authority of the Government, and is to be placarded in prominent places over the length and breadth of the entire country.