Page images
PDF
EPUB

something startling in the spectacle of Asiatics, whose longdescended habits of thought exclude all idea of zeal in matters of religion, developing on a sudden a constancy in belief, a readiness to endure the utmost sacrifices, in preference to renouncing their professions, and cheerfully exposing themselves to penury and hardship, imprisonment, tortures, and death itself, with a fortitude that earns for them an indefeasible title to the sad distinction of the martyr's crown. It is not, however, among the busy, acute, and materialistic Chinese-with whose beliefs, so long as they have no political tinge, their Government as a rule does not concern itself—that types of this class are to be sought; but precisely where governments are more jealous and the people less stirring and prosperous, the Propaganda has gained its most signal successes and the Church has become rooted the most indelibly. To say nothing of the hosts of native Christians in Japan, who perished wholesale rather than apostatise in the persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, an indisputable constancy on behalf of their religion has been shown by the poor and despoticallygoverned peasants of Tonquin and Annam, despite a series of bloody persecutions; whilst in Corea it is impossible not to recognise a singular degree both of readiness in accepting and of steadfastness in adhering to the doctrines introduced by the Roman Catholic propagandists. The secret of the enigma may perhaps be found in the passion' evinced by all these races for combinations partaking of the nature of secret societies, a similarity with which the force of events has invariably caused the fraternities of converts to assume. A Corean or Annamese of the lower class, accustomed only to unremitting labour under the eye of a callous despotism, and holding his life and fortune entirely subject to the pleasure of merciless officials or nobles, may well find a striking relief from the hard monotony of his cheerless existence in admission to the mysteries, of which, irrespectively of rank or wealth, he finds himself eagerly welcomed as an adept. There is a sense of security in the mere feeling that one is linked to others by a common bond of risk; and, once indoctrinated in the elements of the faith presented for the neophyte's acceptance, he becomes subject to the most impressionable sentiments of the mind. The promise of a blest hereafter which Christianity holds forth, sheds an unaccustomed ray of encouragement and hope into souls for which pagan religions offer no adequate solace of this kind. We are speaking not without authority when we observe that it is this vision of a happy land beyond the grave, and notably of the reunion hereafter with the spirits of loved ones who

have gone before, that furnishes the Christian missionary, Protestant no less than Catholic, with some of his most effectual arguments. The hope of an hereafter, or, in other words, the great Christian doctrine of immortality and the resurrection of the dead, is the true source of the fervour with which Christianity was avowed by multitudes of Coreans within the space of a few years.

Certain it is, notwithstanding the persecutions of 1788, followed by even still more stringent measures in later years, that the Corean Christians continued to increase in number; and a year or two later they despatched an emissary, named Paul Li, to obtain assurances from the Bishop of Peking, respecting certain doubts that had arisen among them upon points of doctrine and practice. According to the missionary relations, the accounts brought back by Paul Li of the delight he had experienced in participating in the sacraments and assisting in the ceremonies of the Church fired to so great an extent the imaginations of his countrymen that they longed for admission to similar privileges, and for the presence among them of duly qualified priests. The messenger was sent back to Peking accordingly, and received from the Bishop what was necessary for the celebration of the mass, together with instructions how to manufacture wine. It was arranged that a priest should be sent to a rendezvous on the frontier, where he was to be met by Corean Christians; and in the beginning of 1791 a missionary was actually sent from Peking; but on arriving at the appointed spot he encountered no one, and was obliged to turn back. cution had broken out in Corea, and for some time all communication with the outer world was cut off. At length, in 1795, after more than one unsuccessful attempt, a young Chinese, who had been ordained as priest, and had received the name of Jacques Velloz, succeeded in crossing the frontier, and was enthusiastically welcomed among the native Christians. From the fragmentary notices that have been handed down with respect to this period it would appear that the reigning sovereign withheld consent from the severe measures of repression urged upon him by a party among his councillors, and refused to sanction an ordinance aimed at the complete extirpation of the new doctrines. Thanks to this hesitation, Christianity, while mercilessly persecuted by individual functionaries, found at least a refuge in certain districts of the kingdom, where more lenient governors bore rule ; and notwithstanding frequent proscriptions and many wholesale executions, the number of Christians' solidement convertis'

A fresh perse

a

was estimated at 10,000 in 1800. At this epoch the death of the King supervened; and during a regency which ensued the hostile party gained a temporary ascendant. The opportunity was embraced to inaugurate a fresh persecution, and active search was made for the missionary Jacques Velloz, who, after many hairbreadth escapes, was finally taken prisoner. He was publicly executed on May 21, 1801, and for more than thirty years after this event the Corean Christians remained without a priest.

Before entering upon a review of the circunstances which in more recent years have given marked prominence to the existence of the Christian element in Corea, it will be well to devote a brief space to such a survey of the kingdom itself as is rendered possible by the scanty materials in existence, eked out by personal observation. As has already been mentioned above, the country is divided into eight tao or provinces, the limits and designations of which were settled some four centuries ago under the auspices of the Chinese Government. A Japanese map now lying before us gives a fair delineation of these geographical divisions, and of the river system by which they are permeated. Commencing with the mountainous and glacial North, we find as it were the hinge that binds the Corean peninsula to the mainland of Asia in the vast and desert mountain-tract of the Ch'ang Peh Shan, throwing out the lofty peak called Peh T’ow Shan (or Whitehead Mountain), to form the northern mark of delimitation between Corea and the land of the Manchus; whilst from its western and eastern slopes respectively the rivers Ya-lu and Tu-mên take their rise. The latter, flowing eastward, constitutes at present the frontier between Corea and its dreaded Russian neighbours, in their valuable possessions acquired from the Chinese eleven years ago by a brilliant diplomatic coup; whilst the Ya-lu, after winding through a vast tract of desolate, forest-covered country, the haunt of tigers and fur-bearing animals of many kinds, discharges itself into a gulf at the head of the so-called Yellow Sea, on the borders of the great promontory of Liaotung, or Southern Manchuria. The two most northerly tao or provinces lying to the south of the above-named rivers are Hien King (on the east coast), and P'ing-an (on the west). Below these, on the east coast and consequently facing towards Japan, come the provinces of Kiang-yian and K’ing-shan, the latter of which is succeeded by Ts'üan-lo, occupying the southern face of the peninsula. Ío this succeed (ascending northward) the provinces of Chung-tsing, King-ki, and Hwanghai, which latter has as its northern boundary the river P'ing

*

jang, dividing it from P'ing-an Tao, already named above. In addition to the P'ing-jang, a very considerable river discharging itself into the Yellow Sea in latitude 39° N., Corea has also (besides a number of less noticeable streams) the river Han, which traverses the province of King-ki from east to west, and forms an extensive delta, guarded at its mouth by the numberless rocky and wooded islets known as the Prince Impérial Archipelago, at a short distance inland from which the capital, Séoul, or Sául,* is situated. All accounts of the country concur in representing it as mountainous throughout, though with frequent valleys following the river-courses; and Japanese writers as well as the Roman Catholic missionaries uniformly lay stress on the poverty of the land, the backward state of agriculture and commerce, and the simple habits of the people. The population has been variously estimated at from five to twenty millions, but no data exist to enable a trustworthy conclusion to be formed on this point. The climate, which partakes in the north of the glacial severity prevailing in the adjacent regions of Manchuria, approximates elsewhere, as might naturally be surmised, rather to that of Japan; but the winters are always attended with snow and ice, even in the most southern provinces. The exposure of the peninsula on three sides to marine influences gives it so humid a climate as to produce a rainfall no less excessive than the droughts which, owing similarly to well-understood topographical causes, exercise a baneful effect upon the opposite mainland of China ; and its shores are clothed with luxuriant verdure, adding a superlative grace to the scenery presented by its fringe of mountains and rocky islands.

There are reasons for connecting the Corean people with the Tungusic stock which has peopled the whole of Northern Asia, and Klaproth † considers them as the descendants of a branch of the Sien-p'i, long extinct as a separate nation, whose ancient home lay in north-eastern Mongolia. In

In appearance the Coreans resemble the Japanese rather than the Chinese, but their features are more pronouncedly Mongolian in type. The cheek-bones are strikingly prominent, but rounded, the nose depressed at the bridge and terminating in broad, unshapely nostrils; the eyes invariably black, and betraying the inward slant which is, by an error common among Euro

even

* This term is the equivalent in Corean for the Chinese words Wang King (lit. royal capital), by which the city is usually designated. It appears

to have no other distinctive name. † Asia Polyglotta, p. 334.

also

peans, attributed peculiarly to the Chinese physiognomy. In stature they are a tall race, exceeding, probably, the average of both the neighbouring peoples. The staples of food are an inferior kind of rice, with wheat, barley, millet, and Indian corn or maize, which latter is very largely cultivated. Among the principal articles of diet are also the Chinese cabbage and the turnip, which, preserved in brine, are universally consumed. Fish, as in China, is an important article of diet along the coast, and with the wealthier classes beef and pork are occasionally eaten, as are also dog and horseflesh. Tobacco is cultivated, though the best qualities can only be obtained by importation from China; and fruits of various kinds, such as apples, pears, apricots, cherries, nuts, the pomegranate, persimmon, &c., are

grown, but with very indifferent results. Cotton is cultivated to some extent; but a more important product is the hemp-plant, furnishing, in different varieties, the staple whence the coarse but durable fabrics principally employed as clothing are manufactured. A small quantity of silk is also produced, and is employed in fabricating the finer stuffs which are worn by the aristocracy and official class. The two staples of exportation which make it worth the while of Chinese traders to visit the Corean coast in a semi-clandestine manner, or to deal with the annual embassy at Peking and at the frontier fair, are paper and ginseng, for which European and Chinese merchandise is usually bartered. The ginseng (panax ginseng, an araleaceous plant) is grown from seed, under long low sheds constructed of pine-bark, with an under covering of matting. The plant requires some five years before it reaches maturity, when its roots are gathered and dried in the sun for exportation. Although deemed by the Chinese immeasurably inferior in its tonic and curative qualities to the famous root produced in the wild forests of the Usuri and the Amoor, Corean ginseng nevertheless commands a considerable value (from 31. to 41. per lb.) at the Chinese entrep The paper manufactured in Corea, both from cotton and from the bark of a species of mulberry, is celebrated, like that of the Japanese, for its strength, and is applied to a multitude of purposes.

Mineral treasures are known to abound throughout the country, and gold, silver, iron, copper, and lead are obtained in small quantities, but mining is jealously restricted by the government to its own requirements. Specimens of the metalwork produced by native artisans shows them, nevertheless, to partake of the skill displayed by their Japanese neighbours in the art of forging and combining metals; and more than one

« PreviousContinue »