Charles Dallet's 2-volume History of the Korean Church, published in French in 1874, is preceded by a 192-page 'Introduction,' which is in fact a description/ethnography of Old Korea as the French missionaries observed it in the middle decades of the 19th century.
To learn more about the complete work, its place in Korean historiography, and its current unpublished state, please read this previous post:
The translation of the 'Introduction' has thus far been entirely my own. As far as I know, it is the first translation since one that appeared in the 1950s in a now-defunct American scholarly journal that is nowadays impossible to find. In an effort to stimulate interest in this important work of history, and perhaps to attract the interest of a publisher or some Maecenas who might feel moved to fund a proper scholarly edition of it, I have decided to serialize the 'Introduction' on this blog, one section at a time.
Its full title is 'Introduction to the History, Institutions, Language, Morals, and Customs of Korea.' There are fifteen numbered sections, which I'll refer to as 'parts.' Part 15 appears below; this is the final part. I present the text without footnotes, other than the occasional one that Dallet himself used. For a proper scholarly edition of this work, numerous footnotes would evidently have to be added. Interested, benevolent scholars with a fluent reading knowledge of both Korean and Sino-Korean are invited to lend their talents in exchange for a warm pat on the back, and, potentially, the satisfaction of seeing their names on the cover of a publication.
For visual interest, I will insert such relevant images as I can find on WikiCommons, or my own photos.
Translation note: I have not altered Dallet's romanization of Korean names, which is of course based on French phonetics. Non-English words that are not names are italicized.
XV Science -- Industry -- Commerce -- International Relations
Despite the official protection that the study of certain sciences enjoys in Korea, and despite the special schools established by the government to foster progress in them, these studies are almost non-existent. The titular astronomers barely have sufficient understanding to make use of the Chinese calendar that is sent to them every year from Peking; apart from that, they only know a few ridiculous astrological formulae. The knowledge of the principal accountants of the Ministry of Finance hardly goes beyond the ordinary arithmetical operations necessary for book keeping. That of the pupils of the Nioul-hak, or law school, is limited to a more or less mechanical understanding of the official law books and royal decrees. Medicine alone seems to be an exception. While they have adopted Chinese medicine, the Koreans, it seems, have introduced serious improvements to it, to the point that in Peking it was seen fit to compose the galleys for the printing of the most famous Korean book of medicine, the Tieng-oi-po-kan. No other Korean book has ever had this honor.
Really learned doctors are hardly to be found except in the capital. These are nobles who studied out of curiosity, or individuals of the middle class who have worked to to create the position of court doctor for themselves. Otherwise, one can encounter at long intervals a few capable practitioners whom long experience has taught the true use of local remedies, but these men are rare exceptions, and the immense majority of provincial doctors are nothing but charlatans without knowledge or conscience who always prescribe a special drug, and always the same one, for every possible malady, and never take the trouble to see the patients that they treat.
It is claimed in Korea, as in China, that there are certain very effective remedies for various maladies, among others a potion that can dissolve bladder stones and cure that terrible malady without any surgical operation. Mgr Ferréol, the third apostolic vicar of Korea, after long suffering which reduced him to extremity, was cured of the stone in a few hours by a Chinese doctor. However, the formula of this remedy is a secret that is carefully guarded by those who possess it. The general rule is that remedies are given in the form of a potion; exceptions are rare. Up to twenty or thirty species of plants are boiled together, and then various dirty and repulsive ingredients are mixed into the concoction, the name of which no one at all seeks to disguise by giving it the cover of a scientific-sounding name. Comfort remedies are in continual use. The most common is meat broth, which the Koreans are excellent at preparing. There are two others that merit a particular mention: ginseng, which we have discussed above, and deer antler.
Deer antler, it is said, has a more lasting restorative effect than ginseng. Its potency depends on the area where the animal lives. The Koreans have little esteem for that which comes from China or the northern provinces (Ham-kieng and Pieng-an). The best, they say, is that which comes from Kang-ouen; even so, a distinction is made between the different districts of that province. The deer must be killed at the time that the antlers are just emerging, and before they harden, otherwise the efficacy of the remedy will be nil. The head of the animal is cut off and kept upside down for ten or twelve hours in order for all the potency of the blood to pass into the antlers, which are then dried over a low fire as carefully as possible. For use, a bit is scraped off, mixed with the juice of a few plants and administered to the patient. Mgr Daveluy attests that he frequently used this remedy during long years of enervation, and that he felt excellent effects from it. The blood of the deer, taken hot, is also thought to give the limbs extraordinarily vitality and strength. "When one has drunk some of it," said some Christian hunters to a missionary, "the steepest mountains seem like a plain, and one can go from one end of the kingdom to the other without the least fatigue."
Another curative method about which we should say a few words is acupuncture. For Korean doctors, it consists of pushing a lancet into various points of the body in order to re-establish the machine in its natural equilibrium. There are special treatises on this part of the surgical art, the only one that is known to the Koreans; they even know how to make models of the human body out of metal wire in order to show students the places where the lancet must be inserted. In the hands of an skilled practitioner, the instrument, which is extremely thin, penetrates up to a depth of four or five centimeters, drawing scarcely a few drops of blood. The missionaries assure us that they have often seen remarkable and always very prompt effects of this kind of treatment.
The Koreans, little advanced in scientific studies, are hardly any further ahead in their understanding of industry. Among them, the useful arts have made absolutely no progress in centuries. One of the principal causes of this state of inferiority is that in each household almost every trade must be practiced, and even items of the first order of necessity must be made by oneself. The harvest gives the laborer everything he needs, and during the winter he becomes in turn a weaver, a dyer, a carpenter, a tailor, a mason, etc. He makes rice wine, oil, and brandy at home. His wife and daughters spin hemp, cotton, and even silk if he has been able to raise a few silkworms. They make coarse but solid fabric out of them, which suffice for everyday use. Every peasant knows and collects the grains required for dyeing, as well as those that are used to make remedies for ordinary ailments. He himself makes the clothes, straw shoes, sabots, baskets, hampers, brooms, rope, string, mats and tools that he needs. In case of need, he repairs the walls, roof and framework of his house. In other words, he is self-sufficient, but as may easily be understood, he only works at each thing to the measure of present necessity, contents himself with the simplest and most primitive proceedings, and never arrives at any remarkable skill.
There are special tradesmen only for occupations that require particular tools, and an apprenticeship to learn how to use them. However, even in that case, established tradesmen working in a fixed manner out of their own workshops are very rare. Usually, each of them goes where he is employed, carrying his tools on his back, and when he is finished somewhere, he looks for work elsewhere. Even those who need a certain infrastructure do not definitively settle anywhere. Potters, for example, establish themselves today in a place where wood and clay are conveniently available; they build their cabin and their kiln there, and make crude crockery, quite solid earthenware, sometimes of a monstrous capacity, for the people of the neighborhood; then, when the wood is used up, they seek their fortune elsewhere. Blacksmiths act in the same way, and leave when the extraction of the minerals becomes too difficult. Similarly, there are no great factories, no serious investment, no workshops worth the name: badly joined wooden barracks, easily blown down by the wind or sunk by rain, flimsy ovens, and furnaces that may explode at any moment, that is all. Accordingly, the profit is almost nil. Individuals who have money never think of putting it into such enterprises, and of those who want to risk a few hundred francs, half ruin themselves within a few months.
The Koreans claim that they make and export to China large knives, sabers and daggers of the highest quality, but the missionaries have not had occasion to verify sufficiently the accuracy of this assertion. They also make matchlock muskets that seem to be fairly sound. Although they have very beautiful copper in their own country, they get all that they use from Japan. They mix it with zinc to make vases and cooking pots. So combined, it oxydizes only with great difficulty, and despite the continual use of these vessels in well off households, there is no known instance of verdigris poisoning. All jewelry, adornments, and luxury items come from China; in Korea, no one knows how to make them.
There is, nevertheless, one industry in which the Koreans out-do the Chinese, which is paper making. Using mulberry bark, they make paper that is much thicker and more solid than the Chinese kind; it is like linen and one can hardly tear it. Its use is infinitely diverse. Hats, bags, candle wicks, shoelaces, etc., are made from it. When it is prepared with oil, it compares to advantage with our waxed paper, especially with regard to price, and is used to make umbrellas and raincoats. Doors and windows have no other panes than oiled paper glued to the frames. There is, all the same, one exception. "When a Korean," says Mgr Daveluy, "finds a small piece glass of half an inch square, it is great luck. From the moment he inserts it in a chink of his door, he can, by squinting, see what happens outside, and he is more proud of it than an emperor admiring himself in the mirrors of his palace. Lacking such a piece of glass, he would make a hole in the paper with his finger, and so put himself in touch with the exterior world."
A window made of traditional hanji paper. Haein-sa, 2015.
It can easily be concluded from the foregoing that internal commerce is little developed in Korea. There are very few merchants who run shops out of their houses, and nearly all transactions take place at fairs or markets. These fairs take place in different cities or market-towns designated by the government, to the number of five per district. In each of these localities, the fair takes place every five days, today in one, tomorrow in another, and so on, always in the same order, so that each day there is a fair somewhere in the district. Tents are prepared for the merchandise.
The measures that merchants use are: the handful, for grains; a hundred handfuls make a bushel, and twenty bushels make a sack. For liquids, cups are counted. The measure of weight is the Chinese pound, and only Chinese scales are used. The measure of length is the foot, which varies according to the province, one could even say according to the merchant. The foot is divided into ten inches, and the inch into ten lines.
One of the great obstacles to the development of commerce is the imperfection of the monetary system. Gold or silver coins do not exist. The sale of these metals, in ingots, is hindered by a host of meticulous regulations, and it would be gravely compromising, for example, to sell silver in China, even it were smelted into Korean-style bars. This silver would unfailingly be recognized, and the merchant, other than the confiscation of his bars, would risk a stiff fine, and perhaps a bastinado. The only coin that is legal tender is the sapeque. It is a small piece of copper, alloyed with zinc, with a value of two to two and a half cents. It is pierced in the middle with a hole designed to let a string pass through, which allows a number of coins to be tied together, from which the expression ligature or half-ligature is frequently employed in accounts of the Far East to designate the currency. To make a large payment requires a troop of porters, for a hundred nhiangs or ligatures (about two hundred francs), is a load for a man. In the northern provinces, this coinage is not used; everything is done by bartering, subject to certain customary conventions. It seems that in the past, grains served as money, for, even in the current language, one who takes his wheat to market to sell it, says that he will buy it, and he who will buy it says that he will sell.
The interest on silver is enormous in Korea. Someone who lends it at thirty percent is thought to be giving it away. More usually fifty, sixty, sometimes even a hundred percent is demanded. It is fair to say that income from land, which must be the starting point to appreciate the interest rate, is in this country relatively considerable. In good years, a cultivator can get about thirty percent of his fields' value out of them.
Following the ancient traditions of the country, it seems that the kings of the preceding dynasties had paper money, in the shape of an arrowhead, worth about three sheets of paper. After the subjugation of Korea by the Manchu dynasty of Peking, the right to mint money was taken away from the Korean kings. The first who dared to do it anyway, despite the treaty terms, seems to have been Souk-tsong, who died in in 1720 after a reign of forty-two years. Today the right has been acquired by a long set of regulations, which the government uses and abuses. In recent years, the government has minted money continually, but it is more and more diluted. While the old sapeques were of copper with a minimal amount of alloy, the new ones are almost all lead, and are deteriorating rapidly. It is not the government that gains by it, for it provides the desired quantity of copper to the smelters, but they replace the copper with lead and share the profit with either the minister of finance or the functionary specially charged with verifying the coinage.
Another hindrance to commercial transactions is the sad state of the communication routes. Navigable rivers are rare in Korea; only some carry boats, and then only in a very limited part of their course. In addition, the art of making roads in a country of mountains and valleys is almost unknown. Almost all the transportation of goods is done on the backs of oxen, horses or men. Mgr Daveluy writes:
"The roads are divided, at least theoretically, into three classes. The first class ones, which I translate as royal roads, are generally of sufficient width for four men abreast. As there are few vehicles in the provinces, that is all that is needed for pedestrians and riders. They are good or bad according to the season. However, it often happens that they are diminished by three quarters because of some big stone or piece of rock, or because the rain has washed away part of the surface. No one, naturally, thinks of remediating these little inconveniences, and often one needs to climb over these rocky obstacles with one's mount at the risk of breaking one's neck or rolling into the ditch. Still, in the environs of the capital, the roads are a bit better maintained. The principal one is the one that goes from Seoul to the frontier with China. There is another one, quite beautiful it is said, only eight leagues long, that leads from the palace to a royal tomb.
As for those of the second class, their beauty, width and convenience varies by the quarter hour. When I see nothing more than a poor track, I ask if it is indeed the main road; one answers in the affirmative; the rest is understood. Stones, rocks, mud, rivulets, nothing is lacking except for the road surface. But what to say about the third class roads: a foot wide, more or less, visible or not according to the sagacity of the guide, often covered by water when they cross rice paddies, and grazing the precipices in the mountains.
About the bridges, I know of two kinds. One kind consists of some big stones thrown down at intervals across streams; these are the most common. The others, made of piles driven into the river and supporting a kind of plank covered with earth, form a useable viaduct, though too often showing daylight. When the water is abundant, which it frequently is in summer, all the bridges are swept away or submerged by the flood, and it is left to the traveler to take a bath on the way over. Great lords can remove this inconvenience by climbing on the backs of their guides. Finally, there is a stone bridge in the capital, no doubt magnificent, and one of the marvels of the country. The more considerable rivers are traversed by boat."
The commercial relations of Korea with the neighboring nations are almost nil. In order to better preserve its independence against its two powerful neighbors, China and Japan, this country enclosed itself in an almost complete isolation. Any communication with foreigners, except in cases provided for by law, is a crime punishable by death. According to international conventions, no Chinese or Japanese can establish himself in Korea, and the same reciprocally for Koreans. The Chinese ambassadors who come to Seoul leave their suite at the frontier, except for one or two body servants, and while they are in the capital do not leave the palace that is assigned to them as their residence. The Korean ambassadors, on the contrary, can enter China with all the people in their suite, and circulate freely in the streets of Peking during their stay. When the ambassador passes through Pien-men (1. Pien-men, which is frequently mentioned in this history, is the last Chinese town on the approach to Korea, near the Yellow Sea. Its name means 'Frontier Gate'.), on the way out and on the way back, there is a fair that lasts for several days. The mandarin of Ei-tsiou, the last Korean town on the Chinese border, alone has the right to keep in touch by letter with the authorities of Pien-men at all times of the year. Every two years, another fair is held in the extreme north of the province of Ham-kieng between the Houng-tchoung, a Tartar village of the part of Manchuria which was recently ceded to the Russians, and Kieng-ouen, the nearest Korean town. This is a considerable fair, but it only lasts for two or three days, and only for a few hours each day from noon to sundown. When the signal is given, everyone hurries to get back over the frontier, and soldiers prod the laggards with their lances. We have already mentioned above the monthly markets between the Koreans and some Japanese soldiers stationed at Fusan-kai. There is the limit of the relations that Korea has, by land, with other nations.
By sea, it has even fewer. Chinese and Japanese ships are permitted to fish for the hai-san (holothuria) along the shoreline of Pieng-an, and the herring along the coast of Hoang-hai, but on two conditions: never to set foot on land, and never to address the people of the country at sea, on pain of confiscation of the ship and the imprisonment of its crew. The first condition is generally observed, but there is a fairly considerable amount of contraband trafficking between the Korean barques and Chinese junks in the shelter of innumerable rocks and islets of the Korean archipelago. The mandarins, for some secret profit, close their eyes to it. If a storm casts a Chinese ship on the Korean coast, or a Korean ship on the Chinese coast, the survivors of the shipwreck are gathered up, taken care of by the government, guarded carefully to prevent any contact between them and the local inhabitants, and taken by land to the first town of their country. Returning by sea is forbidden to them. Between Japan and Korea, repatriation is done by sea, but with similar precautions.
Let us give here some details on the difficulties that the missionaries had to overcome to penetrate Korea; we will, thereby, have an idea of the meticulous severity with which the Korean government maintains its absolute isolation. The land and sea borders are guarded by a cordon of military posts charged with the sole task of preventing the ingress of foreigners and the egress of locals. Police agents, chosen from among the finest and most experienced, reside in the most important of these posts, and they are assisted in the day and night surveillance by specially trained dogs, so that it is almost impossible to cross the frontier unnoticed.
By land, there are but two roads: the one from Tartary via Houng-tchoung and Rieng-ouen, and the one from China via Pien-men and Ei-tsion. Elsewhere, the frontier that separates the Korean peninsula from the continent is made up of mountainous deserts and impassable forests. Now one cannot attempt to cross at one of those two points but on the days of the legally constituted fairs; at all other times, it would be folly even for the locals, and even more so for foreigners. It is therefore necessary to join one of the caravans that go to the fair at Houng-tchoung, or to join the Korean embassy that is returning from China. The great difficulty, in both cases, is the manner of arranging one's hair. The Chinese shave the head, keeping only a tuft of hair on top that is plaited and hangs down the back in a queue; the Koreans keep all their hair. If one shaves oneself in the Chinese manner, one will be recognized and arrested on entering Korea; if one follows the European fashion, one will be recognized in China before even reaching the frontier. During the fair at Kieng-ouen, it is forbidden to the Chinese to enter Korean houses, and numerous bailiffs are distributed at the gates of the town and in the streets to enforce this prohibition. A missionary who wanted to take this route, even supposing that he would not have been discovered by his travel companions, whether on the road or during the days of waiting that precede the fair, would have to speak with the Korean couriers and change clothes in the open air, in the middle of thousands of people, without being seen by anyone, which is manifestly impossible. In any case, once inside, he would have to walk for a month before reaching any Christian villages in little-traveled country, where, consequently, travelers are rare and easily recognized. The couriers that would serve as his guides would have to re-pass through the inns along the way with one person more than on the way out; that alone would immediately raise suspicion, which the difference of appearance and pronunciation would soon change into certainty.
The difficulties are hardly less via Pien-men. Every one of the Koreans in the suite of the embassy, in whatever capacity, is interviewed and thoroughly searched at the border gate. If his person and his baggage raise no suspicion, he receives a passport in which everything is detailed minutely. Let us suppose that the couriers have obtained their passports. They are bringing a missionary back with them, and have got through the Chinese customs; however, from there to the Korean customs is another fifteen leagues of desert. On the left and right of the only road stretch impenetrable forests. If during the journey one thinks of making a fire to prepare some food, the other travelers will hurry over to cook their rice, which one could not refuse them, and the danger for the missionary is great, given the insolent curiosity of Koreans. One arrives on the banks of the river, where guards are stationed, and one gets into a Korean barque which conducts the travelers to the customs post situated on the other bank. There, everyone must present his passport, submit to a search and be meticulously questioned. The missionary can obviously not risk this customs procedure, and will also have taken care to remain hidden on the other bank. He must wait for night in order to attempt a crossing on the ice, for it is always winter when the embassy comes back from Peking. On the Korean bank, however, guard units are stationed at intervals, each one with a picket of soldiers and a pack of dogs. The only chance of success is to creep through the darkness between two body guards, and to scale the snowy mountains of the area in order to rejoin the road towards the interior from there. The first missionaries entered the country by this route, but soon, following the persecutions, all the Christians' ruses were known, not only to the mandarins, but also to the customs officers, the innkeepers, and all the pagan inhabitants, and this route had to be abandoned as it was henceforward impossible.
There remains the sea route. We have seen the maritime conventions in force between China and Korea, the result of which is that no ship of either country can legally approach the coast of the other. This prohibition is violated by neither the Koreans, nor the Chinese. The thousands of Chinese junks that leave Liao-tong, Kiang-nan and Chantong, and go to fish on the Korean coast, always anchor far from shore. If they approach too near, they are subjected to the most severe searches, and no consideration, not offer of money would persuade their crew to make landfall. As for the Koreans, it would be difficult to find among them a pilot capable of steering a barque, in open water, to a given point. They know the compass, which they call the iron that marks the south, and a certain number of Chinese manufacture are to be found, but they do not use it except in the superstitious search for the most favorable location for tombs. The use of this instrument for navigation is unknown to them, for their barques never leave sight of land. In any case, the Korean ships are very badly constructed. Destined solely for coastal fishing, they are flat-bottomed in order to conveniently rest on the sea bed at low tide. A strong wave would break the rudder; a stiff breeze would topple the masts, which are always very high. To build one otherwise would attract attention, provoke special surveillance and expose one to the risk of prison for violation of custom. Even if one triumphed over these obstacles, the success of a return trip from China would be highly doubtful. A ship that arrives from the open sea is for that reason alone placed under suspicion; the sailors of other vessels hasten to come aboard, the authorities do not tarry to visit, and if some object of suspicious origin is found, the barque is burned and the crew is put to death.
The only feasible method of penetrating Korea by sea is the one that the missionaries had adopted in recent times: leave China on a Chinese junk after having agreed in advance with some Korean fisherman on the place and time of a rendez-vous, spend the night a fair distance from the coast in the shelter of one of the islands of the Korean archipelago, transfer to the fishing boat in haste, and reach the shore before dawn. However, this way, employed without unfortunate accidents up to 1866, is now closed. MM Ridel and Blanc tried it in vain in 1869; the surveillance is so severe that they only escaped death through the special protection of Providence.
A few of the thousands of islands around Korea's coastline.
Effectively, since the expedition of Rear-Admiral Roze, Korea is more sequestered than ever from the rest of the world. In 1867, the annual fairs that used to take place in Pien-men on the passing through of the ambassadors has been suppressed; the Chinese junks that came, as per usual, to fish off the coast, were boarded and searched down to the bilge, and sent back without permission to stay. The following year, 1868, more than seventy of these junks were burned, and three hundred men of their crews massacred, on no one knows what pretext. One or two American ships having suffered the same sort of experience, the United States in its turn, in 1871, mounted an expedition as fruitless as the French one in 1866. Since then, herring fishing on the Korean coasts has been forbidden to Chinese ships, which hardy dare to venture there anymore.
Yet the Korean people nevertheless are not at all by nature inimical to foreigners. Perhaps they are even better disposed towards them than the Chinese are. They are less arrogant, less inimical to every kind of amelioration and progress, and less fanatical about their supposed superiority over the barbarians who populate the rest of the world. However, the government preserves with exacting care that isolation that it believes to be necessary to its security, and no consideration of interest or humanity will make it abandon it. During the years 1871 and 1872, a terrible famine desolated Korea. The misery was so great that the inhabitants of the west coast sold their young girls to Chinese smugglers for a bushel of rice per head. A few Koreans, having arrived in Liao-tong across the forests of the northern frontier, painted a horrifying picture for the missionaries of the state of the country, affirming that cadavers were to be encountered on all the roads. However, the Seoul government let half the people die rather than buy provisions from China or Japan. Only force will be able to impose a change on the system. The various expeditions, or rather demonstrations, mounted in the last thirty years, badly coordinated, without follow through, without any serious policy behind them, have had no effect up to the present other than to irritate and exasperate the country's pride without conquering it. If they had been seen through, they would have been, from all points of view, in the interest of free trade as well as freedom of religion, much more detrimental than useful.
It is evident that such a state of things cannot last, and that an excess of evil will bring on a remedy. The civilized nations, forced to protect their shipping and their commerce, will not tolerate indefinitely that a miserable little kingdom, without a navy, and without a serious army, burns ships that touch its shores, massacres foreigners because they are foreigners, and keeps itself by force apart from humanity. Very likely, the affair will be settled by the Russians, whose conquests in northeast Asia take on a more developed character every day. Since 1860, their possessions have bordered Korea. There have already been several difficulties between the two countries over questions of the frontier and trade; these questions cannot fail to renew themselves, and one day or another, they will end in the annexation of Korea to Russian territory. Perhaps even the English or the Americans, pushed to the limit by some new insult, will impose commercial liberty by force.
Even better would certainly be for France herself to take up the responsibility of intervening in order to efface the humiliation of the failure of 1866. This expedition should have been intended by the government to punish the murder of the French missionaries, and to render the repetition of such barbaric acts impossible. In fact, it completed the ruin of the Korean church, and caused the massacre of thousands of Christians. What other way to make up for this disaster than to assure for the brothers and children of these martyrs complete liberty of conscience, and to force Korea to conclude treaties with the civilized peoples, and, these treaties once concluded, to respect them scrupulously? Without doubt, in the present circumstances, an expedition of this kind seems almost impossible, but France is not dead, the future has not had its last word, and the future is God's.
This is the end of the 'Introduction to the History, Institutions, Language, Morals, and Customs of Korea.'