to Mr. Bayard.
Seôul, Corea, February 20, 1886. (Received April 7.)
Sir: I have the honor to submit the following information relative to Corean affairs.
On the 6th instant a decree was issued by His Majesty abolishing the hereditary transmission of slavery in Corea and the guilds for furnishing labor of slaves to the palaces and Government offices. Corean slavery is of a very mild form, though as an institution it is very ancient. Its origin and existence would seem to be due to poverty, which has driven people—more particularly women—to sell themselves into the households of the rich. Slaves have had very generally the right to buy their freedom, and are treated fairly well, being considered as an actual part of the household to which they belong. In regard to slavery in Corea, there have been few, if any, of the horrors attending slavery in the United States. There has been no trade in slaves, and the system would appear to be rather an expansion of the practice to be observed even in Christian countries, of taking persons into families for life servants. Mild as the form of slavery is, it binds down to a low and contemptible state a large class of people and perpetuates it, while, in addition, there occur instances, but occasional, it is true, of persecution and glaring evil in other forms.
The decree of His Majesty is very happily received, but its effects will only become apparent when there shall have been established new industries, which His Majesty hopes for, to give employment to the slaves and means of raising them out of their state of poverty. The decree is the voluntary act of His Majesty, and is only one of the positive indices of his great and commendable desire to raise his people in the lines of Western civilisation.[Page 214]
The winter has been an unusually severe one, and there has been much suffering in the mountainous districts of the northeast provinces. His Majesty has caused considerable sums of money from his private purse to be distributed among the sufferers, and the revenues of a number of districts have been remitted in whole or in part.
His Majesty is about to issue a decree by which the government of Seôul is to be reorganized. A census is to be taken, houses numbered, police provided, and regulations for the improvement of the streets, conduct of the citizens, &c., made. This work has been commenced.
The measures are of a mild form and bid fair to be carried out. The system is later to be extended to other cities in Corea.
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The Government has supplied the necessary funds, and assistance in other respects, to establish a school of medicine and chemistry in connection with the hospital in charge of Drs. H. N. Allen and J. W. Heron, Americans, of the Presbyterian Mission Board. This school will shortly be opened. At the request of these gentlemen and of the Rev. H. G. Underwood I have secured the full assent and thankful approval of the King and Government of Corea to their opening an orphan’s home and industrial school in Seoul.
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I am, &c.,
Ensign U. S. Navy, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.