Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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COREA. The native name of this peninsular kingdom of eastern Asia is Cho-sen (Morning Calm). It lies between Japan and China, and between parallels 33 and 43 of north latitude. Properly speaking, it is an island, since the Tumen and Yalu rivers are said to flow from one source. The former river divides it from Russia, and the latter from China, while the mainland of Japan is but 150 miles distant from her southern shore. Corea is thus surrounded by China, Russia, and Japan. Three-fourths of Corea's boundary is a coast line, which, on the sea of Japan, has few harbors; while on the west are numerous ports, and an amazing number of islands called "the Corean archipelago." Quelpart, the most southerly and largest island, has been the scene of most of the wrecks which have cast foreign waifs upon her shores.


—The policy of Corea to the outer world has been for centuries that of the hermit. A jealous and rigid system of seclusion, even of Chinese and Japanese, has been practiced from the middle ages, until recently. Vigilantly guarding her coasts, picketing her rivers, and palisading her mountains, she has forbidden all foreigners to touch her shores; the only exception reluctantly allowed, being that of occasional envoys from Peking. When unable to guard her coasts and river borders, she has desolated them to the extent of ten miles or more inland. On the Chinese side, beyond the Yalu river, there has existed, since about 1644, by convention with China, a neutral strip of desolated territory fifty miles wide, on which cultivation or habitation is forbidden. The Chinese, however, are less and less respecting this neutrality; and the pressure of increasing population has recently compelled its partial occupation.


—The reasons for this extraordinary national policy, maintained intact long after its abandonment by China and Japan, may be learned from a brief survey of Corean history. Her unfortunate position, between two such jealous, not to say hostile, nations as Japan and China, has kept her in a chronic state of invasion, vassalage or tribute. For centuries, both nations claimed her as a dependency, their quarrels being often fought on her soil. Her danger has not remotely resembled that of the live infant between the contending mothers, under the sword of Solomon. The act of her former master and conqueror, Japan, in recognizing Corea as a distinct nation, in 1876, may not unfitly be compared to that of the true mother, who wished the child no harm. The Coreans and Japanese, being of the same basic stock, are more truly allied in kin and temperament than are the Coreans and Chinese; their blood being thicker than the water which separates them.


—The Coreans evidently belong to the same hardy race, which, descending from the north, the Amur valley, conquered the peninsula, and then crossed over into the Japan archipelago. Their primal civilization is, in Chinese annals, ascribed to Kishi (Ki Tsze), the ancestor of Confucius, who, being dissatisfied with his royal master, emigrated to the northeast, B. C. 1122, and named his domain, which was part of ancient Corea, but quite beyond its modern boundaries, Cho-sen (Tranquillity of the Morning). From about the opening of the Christian era, three states began their career in and north of the peninsula, Shinra, Korai and Hiaksai, (Chinese, Sinlo, Kaoli, and Petsi. Korai, at first, was Kokorai) In the intervals of peace these states were the pupils of Chinese civilization, which they imparted to Japan. Civil wars, which were frequent, and alternate invasion and succor from China and Japan, fill the pages of Corean history, until Shinra became paramount, during the eighth, and until the tenth century. True political unity to the entire peninsula was not, however, secured until about 960 A. D., when, under Wang, who had risen out of Korai, the entire country was tranquillized under the name of Kori or Korai (whence our Corea), and tributary relations with China were resumed. As the various conquering hordes, Tartar, Mongol or Manchiu, issued out of the north to conquer China, they reduced Corea to submission; and thus, under many dynasties, Corea has paid tribute to China. In 1392 the dynasty of Kori was overthrown by a revolution, and the present one established, under the official name of Chichung. The new king received investiture under the title of Cho-sen O, or King of Cho-sen, the ancient name of the nationality having been restored, though Kori (Corea) is still popularly used; the capital, or seoul, was fixed, and the present system of administration founded. In 1592 Hidéyoshi, the taiko, or mikado's lieutenant, sent a force of 160,000 Japanese to invade Corea, under pretense of collecting arrearages of tribute. Most of the peninsula was overrun and captured, the main body, under Konishi, reaching the capital in about 18 days after landing. The Chinese sent large armies to succor the Coreans; and, after five years of bloody war, the Japanese armies were withdrawn at the death of Hidéyoshi, in 1597. The Japanese held the port of Fusan, and the Coreans sent embassies to Japan. These relations, including trade, continued until the recent revolutions in Japan; when, upon the invitations of the mikado's government, in 1868, to resume their relations of homage and tribute, the Corean regent angrily and insultingly severed all relations with Japan, on account of that nation's adoption of western ideas and customs. Roman Christianity entered Corea in 1777, a number of students having adopted it after studying the books written by the Jesuits in Peking. Gradually the doctrines spread, until, in 1836, when the first French missionary penetrated the country in disguise, there were thousands of believers, who grew stronger as the persecutions broke out from time to time. In 1864 no fewer than nineteen Frenchmen had passed the barriers at the frontiers in disguise, or landed at night on the coast. Four died, but the others vigorously propagated their faith. The period from 1864 to 1868 may be called the turning point in the history of modern Corea, when affairs within and without began to culminate. Before narrating these, we shall notice the political system of the little kingdom.


—The power of the king, which was formerly absolute over all his subjects, even the high nobility, has been in recent years much curtailed. The court etiquette is based on that in vogue in Peking. The king's name must never be mentioned. Horsemen must dismount and walk past the palace. It is not allowed to stamp the coins with the royal effigy. Whoever is admitted to audience must make many prostrations before the throne. No one must touch the king's person. If, by accident, this is done, the fact must be made known by the individual's wearing a thread of red silk. Nominally, the king is father of his people, and must listen to their petitions. The alarm drum and box for requests hangs in front of the palace and magistrates' offices. All may memorialize or seek redress. Gifts are made to the poor, the aged, and the signally virtuous. Princes of the blood have little or no power in government affairs. The real power lies in the nobles, who are steadily increasing in influence, and who practically fill and control the highest offices. A recent native caricature represented the king as the head, the people as the legs and feet, and the nobles and high officials as the breast and belly. The head, legs and feet were shriveled and dried up, while the chest and stomach were bloated and full. From above, these plunderers of the people reduce the royal prerogative to nothing; while below, they suck the blood of the nation. In choosing a successor on the throne, the king nominates one of his own children, if he has issue; if he has none, he chooses an heir from one of the high noble families.


—The real government, as in Japan, is in the hands of the three highest Dai-Jin (Great Ministers). These are the premier, junior prime minister of the left, junior prime minister of the right. The six boards of government are those of civil service, finance, ceremonies, war, justice, and public works. The heads of these departments rank next in order after the three chief dai jin, and each is assisted by a substitute, and a counselor. These four grades, chung, pan-tso, tsam-pan, tsam-ei, including in all twenty-one officials called dai-jin, constitute the supreme council of the government. The real authority, however, is in the council of the three dai-jin of the first rank; the eighteen others of lower rank merely confirming or approving the acts of their superiors. The heads of the six departments and their assistants are expected to make a daily report of all affairs under their cognizance; occupying themselves with routine details, but referring all important questions to the council of three. There are also three chamberlains, with assistants, who daily record the acts and words of the king; and three officers, who may be called the chiefs of the royal police.


—For administrative purposes, the country is divided into eight d?, or circuits, three of which border the sea of Japan, and five the Yellow sea, the dividing wall being the range of mountains that traverses the peninsula, and the area of each province being usually one or more river basins. The royal or capital province (King-ki d?;) is the central one on the west coast. The séoul, or capital (Chinese, king; Japanese, kio), is Han-Yang, on the Han river, about fifty miles from its mouth. It is a walled city of about 200,000 souls. The entire population of Corea is estimated at from 8,000,000 to 15,000,000, its area including about 80,000 square miles. Each province has a kam-sa, or governor. The cities are graded into six classes, yin, mu, fu, kun, ling and hien, and are governed by officers of corresponding rank. There are twelve ranks or dignities in the official class. The towns are given in charge of the petty magistrates. There are few yin (secondary or former national capitals) or mu (city ruled by an hereditary noble). The fu is the prefectural city. The kun and ling correspond to the county seat, or sub-prefecture, (Chinese, chow, or chau; Japanese, ken); and the hien being a district or township. There are, in all, 332 districts. The kam-sa, or governor, resides at the province capital. There are also military magistrates in fortified cities near the capital, and at strategic points on the coast and frontiers. In theory, any male Corean able to pass the government examinations is eligible to office; but the greater number of the best positions are filled by the nobles. The term of office is two years. The salaries seem to be sufficient; but the extravagances required of men in public station tend to grasping, bribery and corruption. Royal inspectors, or "messengers on the dark path," are sent out from the capital to investigate and report upon official abuses. Civil matters are decided by the ordinary magistrate, who is judge and jury at once; criminal cases are tried by the military commandant. Very important questions are referred to the governor of the province; the highest court of appeal being in the capital. Accusations of treason, rebellion and malfeasance in office, are tried by a special court instituted by the king. In case of conviction of treason, the punishment extends to the family of the traitor. In consequence of the indolence and corruption of the magistrates, much of the actual power of administration is held by two classes of men. The first of these, hereditary in power and office, and exclusive in social life and marriage, usually secure the clerical work in the magistrate's office, act as his substitutes and form a local influence of vast power. The other class, recruited from the lowest social grade, act as the police, messengers, prison attendants, torturers, and servants of the magistrate. Torture is freely used to extort confession; beating with paddles, rasping the flesh with ropes, or suspension by the arms, being common. Decapitation is the common method of execution.


—The basis of education and religion, in Corea, is the Confucian system of ethics. Buddhism was formerly prevalent, but can not now be said to be general. Since the present dynasty came into power, in 1392, the system of ancestral worship, and the doctrines of Confucius, mingled with much Shamanistic superstition, has been the popular and official religion. The government encourages education by nominally making fitness for office depend upon literary qualifications. Yearly examinations are held in the provinces and at the capital, supervising commissioners being chosen by the supreme council. This system of competitive examinations is modeled after that of the Chinese, but is less rigidly adhered to. Three degrees are bestowed, the second fitting the receiver to fill provincial posts; and the third, positions in the court and capital. Special schools of languages, science, and useful arts, required by the government, are established in the capital, and are conducted by salaried scholars, whose profession is hereditary. These are interpreters, astronomers, map makers, physicians, artists, mechanicians, scribes, etc. The annual embassy which visits Peking is usually composed of court officials, and a large train of servants and traders. Besides paying the tribute, which is now merely nominal, they bring back the Chinese calendar, the reception and adoption of which by any nation is an acknowledgment of Chinese supremacy. The almanac is now almost the only burden which China lays upon Corea. That the relation of the little kingdom to her colossal neighbor is now that of ceremonial only, has been amply proved; since the Tsung-li Yamen at Peking has again and again disavowed all responsibility for Corea's behavior, to France, Germany, Japan and the United States.


—The Chi-chong (or Ni) dynasty, founded in 1392, came to an end in 1864, the king Chul Chong dying without issue, and before he had nominated an heir. A desperate intrigue for the control of the throne now began, in which many prominent nobles took part, especially the three widows of the three kings who had reigned in succession since 1831. The eldest of the widows, having seized the royal seal and the emblems, was the acknowledged mistress of the situation. Waiving her preference for her nephew, she nominated a boy, then twelve years old, from one of the princely families. The crafty father of this lad managed to secure possession of the royal seal, made himself the regent, and held the government with almost absolute power until 1873, ruling with great cruelty and rigor. During this regency, the following events took place: By the treaty of Peking, in 1860, the Russian possessions extended to the Tumen river, making Corea's neighbor on the north, Russia, instead of China. Russian vessels now appeared off the coast; and the fear that the Russians might force the long isolation of Corea became a chronic fear. Among the native Christians and the small minority who hoped for intercourse with Europe, there was hearty joy when, in January, 1866, a Russian war vessel came to Wen-san, on the northeast coast, and demanded that Corea be open to commerce, while, at the same time, a body of Russian troops crossed the Tumen to re-enforce the demand. The regent refused the request, but managed, at the same time, under pretense of friendship, to draw from their hiding places the French missionaries. The Russians went away; and shortly after, the nine Frenchmen were tried and publicly decapitated near the river bank, in front of the capital. A fierce persecution of the native Christians, or "foreigner-Coreans," now broke out, in which several thousands were put to death. About 5,000 fled northward, crossed the Tumen river, into Russian territory, and are now living in settlements under Russian officials, priests and schoolmasters. In August, 1866, the American schooner General Sherman entered the Ping Yang river, on the northwest coast, on a trading or semi-piratical expedition. How those on board met their death is not certainly known, but they were slain to the last man, being probably mistaken for Frenchmen. In October, 1866, the French admiral Roze, with seven ships and 1,000 men, made a descent on Kang-hoa island, at the mouth of the river leading to the capital, and captured the city, but, after a week's stay, came away, accomplishing nothing of importance. On the 8th of May, 1867, the steamer China, floating the North German flag, and the tender Greta, with a motley crew of 120 Chinese, led by a German named Oppert, with capital furnished by an American, with a French priest for a guide, arrived in Prince Jerome gulf, about forty miles south of the capital. Landing, the party marched inland, and attempted to break into and rifle the family mausoleum of the regent, in order to seize the bones and relies and hold them to ransom. The attempt failed, and the rascals got off with only the loss of one or two men. This last was Oppert's third attempt to enter and open Corea to trade. The United States government sent the Wachusett and Shenandoah to demand redress, for the General Sherman affair; but, no attention being paid to their request, a small fleet was dispatched in 1871 to Kang-Hoa, having on board our minister to China, Hon. F. F. Low, who was directed, if possible, to make a treaty. After provoking hostilities by an armed survey of the Han river, the forts were captured, 400 Coreans killed, and the expedition came away, accomplishing nothing, but "wiping out the insult to our flag." In 1875 the Japanese envoy Moriyama secured a convention with Corea; but shortly afterward the gunboat Unyo Kuan was fired on by Coreans, the Japanese ship and uniform being like that of foreigners. An assurance from Peking that China had nothing but ceremonial relations with Corea having been secured by Arinori Mori, the Japanese government sent an expedition (modeled in detail after that of commodore M. C. Perry to Japan in 1854) under Kuroda and Inouyé; and, on Feb. 27, 1876, a treaty was made between the two nations, according to principles of international law: and, besides the exchange and renewal of diplomatic intercourse, Gensan and Fusan were opened as ports of trade and residence to Japanese. In 1880 another unsuccessful attempt was made by the United States to open relations with Corea, through commodore R. W. Shufeldt, in the United States steamship Ticonderoga. Since 1873, when the young king reached his majority, the drift of Corean opinion has been steadily tending toward a liberal policy, which must finally bear fruit in bringing Corea within the comity of nations.


—The best works on Corea are in the Japanese language. See Dallet's Histoire de l'Eglise de Corée, 2 vols., Paris, 1874; Oppert's A Forbidden Land; Ross' Corea; and Corea, the Hermit Nation, by W. E. Griffis.


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