Mr. Foote to Mr. Frelinghuysen .
Seoul, Corea , December 17, 1884. (Received January 26, 1885.)
We are in the midst of great excitement and, I may say, danger. It seems that the entire movement is an attempted revolution, concocted by a few ill advised young men, under the leadership of Kim OK Kinn, vice-president of the Corean foreign office; Hong Heng Shik, postmaster-general, and Pak Yong Hio, brother-in-law of the King.
Ostensibly dissatisfied with the non-progressive spirit manifested by the leading officials, they determined to seize the Government, obtain control of the person of the King, and to administer public affairs for their own purposes. The first move in their plot was the attempted assassination of Min Yong Ik, and during the excitement occasioned thereby, they rushed to the palace, informed the King that he was in great danger, and persuaded him to remove to a smaller palace. The King, fearing perhaps that some great public commotion was taking place, sent messengers to the Japanese legation asking the minister to come to the palace with his guard of soldiers. After three messages of this kind, the minister consented, and went to the palace, the Japanese soldiers, two hundred in number, being stationed at the gates. In the mean time five of the leading officials of the Government were called to the palace, ostensibly by direction of the King, and while there were put to death. These things occurred on the night of the 4th and the morning of the 5th instant.
About 12 o’clock on the night of the 4th messengers came to me from the King, asking me to come to the palace with my wife and suite, saying that he feared somewhat for our safety, and felt that we would be more secure with him.
The same messengers with the same messages were sent to Mr. Aston, Her Britannic Majesty’s consul-general, and to Captain Zembsch, His Imperial German Majesty’s commissioner, shortly after. Mr. Aston, his wife and assistant, came to the United States legation with the intention [Page 333] of going to the palace. I told him that upon consideration I had determined not to leave the legation; that I would wait upon His Majesty in the morning to learn his wishes, but that in the uncertainty of affairs I should rely upon the inviolability of the legation, making such preparations for defense as I could. On the morning of the 5th, with Her Britannic Majesty’s consul-general, Mr. Aston, and His Imperial German Majesty’s commissioner, Captain Zembsch, I went to the small palace occupied by the King. We found crowds of excited people in the streets. Corean soldiers were massed around the entrance, outside; within, Japanese soldiers were guarding the gateways. In the palace I saw the leading revolutionists, who had been installed in the positions made vacant by the death of the high officials. I also met the Japanese minister and his secretary of legation. The King had little to say, and seemed to be in a state of great excitement. After some unimportant conversation we retired.
Immediately after this I called a conference of the representatives, endeavoring to secure the attendance of the Japanese minister, but could not reach him. We jointly counseled the Chinese commissioner to do nothing to disturb the peace or to excite the populace, and under all circumstances to avoid a conflict between Japanese and Chinese troops. He seemed to sanction this line of policy.
During the day, by my advice, the two Americans residing with their families in Seoul came to the legation. That night the King, accompanied by the Japanese guard, returned to the palace proper.
From sundown until morning crowds of excited people were surging through the streets, but no actual outbreak occurred. Her Britannia Majesty’s consul-general, Mr. Aston, his wife, one attaché, and servants, came to the legation on the night of the 4th, and remained, by my invitation, for several days.
As before stated, I had arranged, with the assistance of Ensign Bernadon, U. S. N., as complete a system of defense as possible. By the kindness of the Japanese minister, four Japanese soldiers had been sent to the legation. I had also asked for, and obtained, a Corean guard, upon whom I placed but little reliance. Early on the morning of the 6th the populace commenced to commit outrages upon the Japanese subjects residing in different parts of the city. The cry was “Death to the Japanese!” During the day numbers were killed and their property destroyed. Several came to the legation for refuge, and I gave directions that all who came should be admitted. Between 3 and 4 o’clock p.m. we heard firing in the direction of the palace, and shortly thereafter the Japanese guard, one hundred and eighty in number, evacuated the palace grounds and marched to their legation. Along their line of march they were attacked by the people with stones and occasional shots. After they reached their legation great numbers of angry people gathered in the vicinity, making threats, and occasional shots were fired. Between 4 and 5 o’clock p.m. on the 7th the Japanese soldiers and civilians left their legation grounds and marched out of the city, on their way to Chemulpo. Two cannon shots were fired at them as they passed, and an occasional volley of musketry, which they returned.
The wildest excitement now prevailed. As night came on we noticed that the Japanese legation buildings were in flames. These buildings were the finest in Corea, and had just been completed, partly in the European style.
At this time there were congregated in this legation, of American citizens, myself and wife, C. L. Scudder, private secretary 5 Ensign J. B. Bernadon, [Page 334] U. S. N.; Dr. and Mrs. Allen and child, Mr. W. D. Townsend; of British subjects, W. G. Aston, esq., Her Britannic Majesty’s consul-general; Mrs. Aston, Mr. E. S. B. Allen, consul’s assistant; Mr. Hallifax, wife and child. Of Japanese subjects there were twenty-two men, women, and children. Fifteen Chinese and Corean servants, and a guard of twenty Corean soldiers, upon whom I placed no reliance, and only retained in the legation fearing that they might inform the populace that we were protecting Japanese.
The night was one of great anxiety, but the day dawned, and from that moment the excitement seemed to decrease. During the 6th and 7th a number of public and private buildings were burned. On the morning of the 8th I was asked to have an audience with His Majesty, who had temporarily taken up his residence at the Chinese camp. In company with the other representatives, I waited upon His Majesty. At this audience we were asked if we could consistently go to Chemulpo and have an interview with the Japanese minister, conveying to him the earnest desire of His Majesty to maintain friendly relations with Japan. After consultation we decided to accede to His Majesty’s wishes.
After the audience I took occasion to say that I had at the United States legation, and under my protection, a number of Japanese men, women, and children, and that I had determined to send them to Chemulpo under the escort of Ensign J. B. Bernadon, U. S. N., and to ask that a joint Corean and Chinese guard be furnished for their protection. This request was seconded by the other representatives, and was acceded to by both the Corean and Chinese authorities. On the morning of the 9th Ensign Bernadon left the legation with the Japanese refugees, escorted by Corean and Chinese soldiers, and arriving safely at Chemulpo on the morning of the 10th delivered them, as directed by me, to his excellency the Japanese minister. During the night of the 10th messengers came from the King and Queen, saying that they had heard it was the intention of the foreign ladies to retire with their husbands to Chemulpo, and urging that Mrs. Foote should remain, promising her all the protection in their power, saying that her stay would do much to quiet the excitement of the people. We replied that we were the first to come and would be the last to leave. On the morning of the 10th, with His Imperial German Majesty’s commissioner, Captain Zembsch, and Her Britannic Majesty’s consul-general, Mr. Aston, accompanied by his wife, I went to Chemulpo, leaving Mrs. Foote at the legation. Arriving at Chemulpo we sought for and obtained an interview with his excellency the Japanese minister. We informed him of the sentiment of His Majesty, and afterwards engaged in an informal discussion concerning the temper of the Corean Government, as evinced by certain dispatches which had been written to the minister by the president of the Corean foreign office. We were assured by the minister that the messages of the King should be transmitted to his Government. On the following day we had other interviews, discussing certain questions of fact which had been asserted by Corean officials and denied by the Japanese minister.
On the morning of the 12th I returned alone to Seoul, His Imperial German Majesty’s commissioner and Her Britannic Majesty’s consul-general deciding to remain at Chemulpo.
On the 14th I had an audience with His Majesty and reported to him the result of our interview with Mr. Takezoye. His Majesty asked me if I would accompany an envoy whom he was about to send to Japan, invoking thereby the good offices of the United States to bring about [Page 335] an amicable settlement between that country and Corea. I replied to him that I should prefer, first, to consult with my Government, but that the means of communication were difficult and the emergency imminent. I would consider the matter and decide at the earliest possible moment.
Recurring to the events of the 6th instant, I would say that the conflict with the Japanese troops was brought about by an attempt of the Chinese troops to force their way into the palace grounds, ostensibly to protect the King. In this attack the Corean troops joined forces with the Chinese. During the engagement the King determined to seek a place of greater safety. “Learning this fact,” as Mr. Takezoye, the Japanese minister says in a note to me, “I took my leave of His Majesty and withdrew with the Japanese guard.”
I have, &c.,
The nobles of the male line of the King’s family are few, and none hold high offices in the active government.
The mother of the King was a Min, and through her and the powerful influence of her family his Queen was taken from the Mins. The marriage of blood relatives of close connection has from ancient times been a capital offense in Corea, and this marriage of the King, a Min on his mother’s side, to a Min again, gave general dissatisfaction throughout all Corea; but against the powerful influence by which it was brought about there could be no resistance. It is commonly reported that the King long refused association with the Queen, who practiced various superstitious rites to attract him, and was aided in this by members of her family, who are notoriously regarded as the greatest patrons of geomancers, fortune tellers, &c, in Corea. When the present prince royal was about to be born the Queen sacrificed to the various gods to such an extent, most notably for forty-nine days at Kum-gang-son, that the expense attending it, which fell directly on the people, gave rise to national complaint. Again the nation showed its dissatisfaction when the present prince royal was betrothed to a Min, the sister of Min Yong Ik.
The prince royal, as might be expected, is delicate in health, and afflicted with sore eyes; this gives constant employment to the soothsayers, fortune tellers, who are called upon to foretell his future condition, length of life, and drive out the demons of sickness.
In a memorial to the throne in 1883, Min Thai Ho asked that the necrologers and geomancers be called upon to direct the ire of the evil demons against the advances of the Japanese and western foreigners, on whose account the finances of Corea were thrown into disorder.↩