No. 207.
Mr. Rockhill to Mr. Bayard .

No. 54.]

Sir: Among the many advisers of the King and the Government of Corea, none play so active a part as the Chinese representative here. I have the honor to forward to you herewith a translation of the greater portion of a memorial which he presented to the King in September last, and in which, after drawing His Majesty’s attention to the present disorganized condition of the realm, the result of the policy heretofore followed, he makes suggestions on ten urgent measures of reform. * * * While condemning the erection of a mint, the opening of a hospital, the establishment of a model farm, the purchase of a steamer, etc., he advises the King to develop the resources of the country, but suggests no means to attain that end. He furthermore urges the King to rely solely on the help of China, which alone can protect Corea from the insulting treatment of foreign nations.

Finally, he calls the King’s attention to the necessity of treating with courtesy and good faith the treaty powers, and to the advantage of having all questions of state controlled by the ministers in council.

Since presenting the above memorial Yuan Shih-Kai has made several other suggestions to the Corean Government on measures of reform, the most important of which is, I have been told, the suppression of three of the six battalions of troops stationed in Seoul. * * *

I have, etc.,

W. W. Rockhill.
[Inclosure in No. 54.—Translation.]

Memorial of Yuan Shih-Kai, Chinese minister in Corea, to His Majesty the King .

I, Yuan Shih-Kai, with much respect, beg leave to present a memorial to your royal Majesty.

My official stay in this country has already extended over a period of five years. As early as the autumn or winter of the year 1881. I fully perceived that your Majesty was industrious in the work of ruling your country, sparing no pains to promote the wealth and increase the strength of the people. But I now observe that the country is on the point of disorganization, the people weak and poor, and the whole situation as insecure as that of eggs piled up on each other, Is not the actual condition of the country very far from realizing your Majesty’s wishes! If your Majesty lay the blame on yourself, the nation will feel uneasy; and yet it is not allowable to hold the ministers responsible for it, as any such course would have the effect of punishing the innocent. The true cause lies in this circumstance, that, while the Government is really desirous of promoting the welfare of the nation, a certain class of narrow-minded people (literally little men) prevent the wishes of the Government from being carried out. If it is desired to rule the country properly, then the aimless policy of the past few years must be wiped out. It is unquestionably impossible to establish a system of government if the policy of the past is adhered to, and, moreover, troubles will arise. Look at 1884. Kim Ok-Kiun and others misled your Majesty by submitting to your Majesty various selfish plans and schemes, and when at length they proceeded to slaughter with their own hands the ministers of state, things had gone too far to be stopped before leading to serious consequences.

Consider their words and acts; there is a wide difference between the two. Your Majesty will see that these narrow-minded persons poisoned the mind of their royal master by their pernicious eloquence. In their endeavors to obtain power they professed to strengthen the country by inviting foreign help, while really plotting to plunge Corea into disorder. The baneful influence of such people does not pass away quickly. Had your Majesty looked into the intentions and scrutinized the actions of [Page 257] Kim Ok-Kiun and others before the 17th October, and, suspecting them, taken steps to prevent their plot from being carried out, the affair would not have reached the dimensions it actually did assume. Had their long-meditated scheme of wickedness been successfully carried out, and had the disastrous course of events reached its fatal consummation, your Majesty’s innocence would have remained obscured for hundreds and thousands of years, without hope of being ever cleared. It was extremely fortunate that the traitors were speedily defeated and tranquillity restored. I then thought that the plottings of narrow-minded persons would not break out again, an example having been set for future warning, and that Corea had passed an important turning-point in its organization.

Subsequently I went home on leave, and after spending there a few months I again came here last winter to resume my official duties, when, to my extreme surprise, I discovered disquieting signs in the tendency of affairs. Accordingly I cried to your Majesty’s ministers day and night until my lips were parched and my tongue worn out, hoping that your Majesty would be pleased to maintain forever the safety of the country and the welfare of the nation, but my influence was weak and my natural parts insignificant, so my empty words were of no avail. Then the affair of the seventh month (July, 1886) came on.

Now, narrow-minded persons of low aspirations and worthless counsel, judging with their low and worthless minds, generally seek to possess wealth and are envious of power. Of worthless counsel, they arrest your Majesty’s attention with their eloquent words; with low and depraved minds they do not shame to win your Majesty with flattery and adulation. Then, having enjoyed your Majesty’s intimacy and confidence for some time, they begin to present various plans for making the country rich and strong, and thus seek to delude your Majesty with wild projects. Your Majesty ought of course to introduce reforms, so as to strengthen the position of the Government, but it must be remembered that the attempts of these narrow minded men are intended to revolutionize the state and put to death the ministers in order to make themselves opulent and influential, and with no care for the Kingdom’s ruin and the happiness of the people. Kim Ok-Kiun’s attempt is a case in point. But the delusive advice and the artful projects of the narrow-minded man can be easily detected. Your Majesty would do well to cause the preservation of the advice and counsels presented, to your Majesty by Kirn Ok-Kiun and others, and, keeping the documents by you, to read and reflect upon them at leisure. If any narrow-minded person offers to your Majesty counsels coinciding with those contained in those documents, your Majesty Should regard them as Kim Ok-Kiuns. Compare their avowed intentions with their deeds and they will be found at variance. This is a method of demonstration than which your Majesty could have none better. If narrow-minded persons recommend themselves for service, they unquestionably have plans for enriching the country and making it strong. Give them leave to manage affairs, if they do not throw Corea into a turmoil, and the people into confusion, I will ask their forgiveness, and forfeit my eyes and cut out my tongue to help me obtain it. During my five years’ residence here, I have a number of times presented my views, so I can not at the present critical moment remain indifferent to the danger of the situation, and neglect to devise some means of remedy. I sincerely hope that your Majesty will bear in mind that efficacious medicine is bitter to the taste and that I may have the good fortune to be spared tears of regret (for having offered this advice).

I respectfully submit the four following propositions and suggestions on ten reasonable measures of state for your Majesty’s selection.

(The four propositions are of no special interest. Corea is compared to a disabled vessel, and Yuan-Shih-Kai, the carpenter, to a sick man, etc.)

(1) The first measure of reform is the appointment of ministers from hereditary houses. Members of hereditary families are aware that their interests are indissolubly bound up with those of the country at large. Their rank being already distinguished, and their pensions honorable, their thoughts are turned to the promotion and perpetuation of the safety of the country and the dynasty. By promoting the welfare of the country they secure that their rank and pensions will last for ages; and if the dynasty is maintained forever, they know that their fame will be handed down to unknown generations. Moreover, among the members of hereditary families there are not wanting men of experience and righteousness, who, if incapable of striking achievements, will at least keep the Government from corruption. If your Majesty should decide to put confidence in such men, the people will be contented and the country safe, and, once appointed, your Majesty ought not to doubt them. If there is anything doubtful about them, your Majesty had better not appoint them. Proceeding in this way, good administration will be secured.

(2) Treatment of minor officials. Minor officials are intent only on promoting their own self-interest, and do not care about the peace or welfare of the country. * * * They are not fit to be admitted into the Royal presence, or to have a share in determining the national politics. Had (Kim) Ok-Kiun, (Pak) Yiun-hic, (Hong) Yang-sik, and others been excluded from your Majesty’s confidence, and employed simply in the [Page 258] management of the business of departmental offices, the country would have been spared the attempt of 1884.

(3) The winning of the hearts of the people.

(4) The distribution of power.

(5) The removal of suspicion.

(6) Economy. The received rule of economy, in ancient as well as in modern times, has been to expend according to the amount of revenue.

* * * Money has been spent upon works which might as well have been deferred, but which have been undertaken by the small-minded of your Majesty’s servants, whose sole object is to promote their own private interest. Such works, for instance, as the erection of a mint, a hospital, the establishment of a model farm, the purchase of a steamship, etc., are no doubt good in themselves, but in the present state of affairs of this country they are not of any urgent importance. What is now most pressingly needed is to bring the administration of home affairs into order to develop the resources of the country, and to encourage habits of industry and economy. * * *

(7) The selection of advisers.

(8) Rewards and punishments.

(9) Friendship of a friendly country.

The Middle Kingdom and your Majesty’s country have been mutual friends for several centuries, and the people of the two countries have been intimate from remote ages. The two nations are therefore eminently fitted to help each other. If they keep on intimate terms no foreign nations will be able to interfere between them, groundless rumors will cease to be circulated, people will feel secure, and the country will be safe forever. * * * If your Majesty’s people decide not to reject the help of China, no foreign country can subject Corea to insulting treatment. * * *

(10) The foreign relations Of a country are watched by a whole world, and constitute one of the most important branches of its national affairs. When the management of foreign affairs is entrusted to a proper person, and when treaty powers are treated with courtesy and faith, a country will be sure to enjoy forever the friendship of foreign states. * * * If every affair of state, whether small or great, is controlled by the ministers of state in council, no secret plot will be possible. * * * My nature is artless, and I am used to speak frankly and in a straightforward manner; I therefore implore your Majesty’s benevolent indulgence.