Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/May 1897/Korean Interviews





MAY, 1897.


DURING my residence in Japan I sought many interviews with Korean students, attachés of the Korean legation, and others, and in journalistic fashion asked them many questions concerning their country, people, habits, manners, customs, etc. At that time I found no Korean who understood English, but the younger men were studying Japanese, and so through them, by the aid of a Japanese interpreter, I managed to ask many questions of the older men. Since my return a number of opportunities have occurred—meeting Koreans who spoke English, and for several months I had a Korean as house companion. The information thus gained was not originally intended for publication, but for comparison with similar material of a cognate but far more advanced people, the Japanese.[1]

I may say here, though not as an excuse for any errors which may doubtless occur, that my questions could not have been more carefully asked, or the answers more promptly recorded, had I been on Korean soil. It is also proper to state that in every case the information was derived from Koreans of official position, and therefore the statements, so far as their own class is concerned, ought to be reliable. Family Relations.—The relations between the father and son are very strict, as between the king and the subject. If the son enters the room where the father is sitting, he must meekly stand with hands together until invited by his father to be seated; in sitting, he must lean forward in a humble attitude; he can not rise again without permission. He sweeps his father's room, makes his bed, and rises early to perform these menial services; he often gets up at midnight in solicitude for his parent's comfort. Filial love prompts these attentions, for fear the servants may grumble and complain and thus bring disquiet to the parent. In summer the son fans his father and attends minutely to every want; this same attention and respect are shown to his father's friends. Seasonal changes of clothing are not made until the parent's consent is given. It is considered exceedingly improper to cough, sneeze, eructate, or spit before old men. Boyhood continues until the fifteenth year, or until marriage; up to this time the hair hangs behind in a long queue; when manhood is assumed the hair is tied in a knot on top of the head. All the possessions of the children, as well as their earnings, belong to the father, and no matter how much the son may have the father can claim it all. If, however, the son lives in a separate house, he has the use of his earnings as well as his wife's dower; but if the father has no money, he may sell his son's house over his head and take all. Old men will not allow their sons to drink intoxicating liquors. From all that I could learn, the son is in abject enslavement to his father. After the death of the father the property goes to the oldest son. Brothers are very devoted to one another, and aid in supporting the less fortunate among them.

The daughters have a much easier time; they do nothing but eat and dress; they jest with their father and brothers, scold them, and act with great familiarity; indeed, all my inquiries about their behavior brought out the fact that they act like spoiled children.

Virtue is rarely lost among the more favored classes. Male and female servants do not sit down together or work in the same apartment. The wife is absolute mistress of the female servants. The apartments of the female servants are under a separate roof, and male servants never enter these apartments, though their duty is to clean the yard and garden belonging to the female servants. Servants are inherited by successors in the family; they are bought and sold. Loyal servants work and support their masters when they become poor. Masters can and do free their servants.

Education.—The higher classes employ private teachers. Children at the age of five or six begin the study of Chinese characters; they are provided with books for composition. Five rules of conduct are drilled into them; these are: To obey the father, respect the elder brother, be loyal to the king, be respectful to the wife, and be true to friends. These rules are strictly Confucian. After these rules are firmly fixed in the minds of the pupils they are taught to compose letters; next comes the study of history; after these studies Confucius and the Chinese classics are taken up, and finally the art of poetical composition. These studies go on through life. A gentleman will study classics in winter, composition of poetry in spring, and in summer study those subjects which will fit him for official duties. The king appoints judges to examine candidates for office; the number appointed may be three, seven, or twelve. The student for examination is locked up in a room for three days without books. The subjects usually selected for examination are from ancient poetry and classics, as follows: 1. Long-word poetry of seven words. 2. Short-word poetry of six words. 3. Problems in classics. 4. Clearing up doubts in classics. 5. Criticising famous men of olden times. 6. Considering what system of morality is best to correct or modify bad customs. 7. Suggesting what kind of military organization is best to defend and control the country. In these various examinations it is claimed that poetry reveals one's nature, that problems in classics show one's knowledge, that clearing up doubts in classics demonstrate one's powers of decision, that criticising famous men indicates one's knowledge of persons, that judging of the best system of morality and deciding as to the best kind of military organization displays one's mental attributes.[2]

In olden times Korea had public schools; for centuries it has had none. Private schools are kept in private houses; no special school building is known in the land. In many Confucian temples free classes are supported by the priests, but only Confucian doctrines are taught. Buddhists have no schools, but have stated times of teaching and expounding.

Position of Women.—The condition of women in Korea is unhappy and degraded to the last degree. Among the more favored classes the women are kept as prisoners within the house; in rare instances they may visit relatives. This seclusion begins after a girl reaches the age of ten or twelve. Four or five hundred years ago they had greater freedom. The women often refer to these times, and the intelligent classes express sympathy and pity for their present unfortunate condition. The seclusion of the women from the men is so strict that it is customary in the cities for the thatcher, before climbing to the roof, to shout in loud tones, "The thatcher is coming! the thatcher is coming!" so that the women in neighboring compounds may have a chance to run to cover.

Women are confined to domestic labor. Among the lower classes the husband has a right to beat his wife. There is no law for women. If she commits a crime, such as a personal assault or theft, she is not punished, but her husband is. A woman can pass in front of the king's procession, and the king must wait. The women are considered greater than men in trivial things.

Customs.—The chopstick is evidently not so commonly used in Korea as in Japan or China. A spoon is used for soup and all other forms of liquid food; even rice is eaten with a spoon. Dry food, however, is eaten with the chopstick. Guests of high rank sit midway between the two ends of the table. If two guests are present, they sit side by side. When at table the Koreans remain silent and eat very slowly. In passing food both hands must be used in holding the dish, as in Japan. In summer the meals are usually at seven, one, and eight o'clock. Dinner is at midday, though there is very little difference in the character of the meals. Salké is drunk at every meal.

The relation between master and servant is supposed to be the same as that between father and child. The servants help the master through the yard to his house and up the steps, and this attention is given whether the master stands in need of assistance or not. At dinner a servant ties a big napkin about the master's neck.

The Koreans have no music at weddings or funerals. (Contrary to this information, Carles records loud chanting at funerals.) On birthday festivities and times of feasting music is heard. They have battle songs and love songs.

The Koreans never tattoo or wear earrings, though in the western part of the peninsula prostitutes are sometimes seen with earrings. Women use paint for facial decoration. Men and women wear finger rings, but this custom is not very common with men.

An extraordinary feature is seen in the dress of women of the lowest classes, in the fact that the breasts are fully exposed. An abbreviated jacket drops from the neck to the upper part of the breast, while the waist of the skirt portion comes up just under the breast. The exposure of this part of the body seems all the more singular when it is considered that Koreans never go barefooted; even coolies working in the city do not go barearmed or barelegged. Women rarely wear a comb in the hair. Men and women do up their own hair.

Among the middle and higher classes it is considered improper to speak of money, and for this reason mathematics is not taught. All openings in the house must be square. An arched doorway or window is not allowed except in the emperor's palace. There is a prohibitory law against decorating in any way the outside of a house, nor can the people build a house of over one story. Streets are named after trees, famous men, historical events which have happened on the ground, and attributes. Thus there is a Happy Street, Blessing Street, Virtuous Street, etc.

For centuries the fishermen of Korea have been accustomed to pour oil on the water to make the sea calm. The Japanese also follow the same practice.

Marriage.—Koreans never marry cousins or any one descended from the same ancestors, or even any one of the same name. One of the most famous of Korean kings, Seijong Daiwang, four hundred years ago, said that intermarriages would cause the race to become extinct. It was this same king who invented movable type made of iron. Marriages are arranged by the parents. The bridegroom does not see the bride until the wedding. The groom goes to the bride's house and escorts her to his own house; after reaching the house they bow to one another standing. The bride then bows to the groom's father and mother and other relatives. She then offers wine and fruit to the groom's parents, and this represents a form of tribute. The relatives of both parties then have a great feast. When the groom goes to the bride's house he carries a paper from his father to the father of the bride, upon which is written, "I have a son, you have a daughter." He also carries with him two pieces of silk—one red, the other blue—each piece sufficient for a suit or dress. The red silk is wrapped in blue paper and tied with a red cord, while the blue silk is wrapped in a red paper and tied with a blue cord. The cords are tied in a peculiar knot called the "same-mind knot." Blue signifies the male principle, and red the female principle. This silk constitutes the wedding present, and is known as the "first cloth of ceremony silk," meaning the first present of her future husband. Dresses are afterward made of these pieces. When the wife dies the letter from her husband's father, above mentioned, is buried with her.

The first son derives his name from both parents; thus, if the father's name is Kum Pak and the mother's name is Chul Hei, then the boy's name will be Kum Hei. A boy may marry as young as fifteen years—that is, the ceremony may be performed then but he does not live with his wife until he is eighteen. They may see each other, however.

Adultery is punished by fining both parties. For rape the offender is heavily fined and exiled for three years. Prostitution is recognized by the Government. Adulterers are often forced to be cooks in prisons and otherwise severely treated. Concubines are allowed by law, but the practice is considered bad, as it is liable to break up the family relations, and the finger of scorn is often pointed at the man. Rich men have concubines in secret.

Widows of higher classes never marry, though four hundred years ago they had the privilege of marrying again. This prohibition does not extend to the lower classes. Divorces are not permitted, but separation takes place in case of adultery; the man, however, can not marry again. Marriage with a slave girl is considered a great disgrace, and the friends of one who commits such an offense desert him. Children born of such a union, however, are not regarded with reproach.

Manners, Habits, etc.—The Chinese practice of medicine is in full force; the lower classes rarely employ a doctor, but ask the advice of gypsies. The people believe that all sickness is caused by evil spirits. Blind people find employment as devil expellers.

The liquors drunk are distilled and fermented from rice, corresponding to the Japanese sochiu and saké. An impure wine is made from oats; there is also a malt wine resembling ale. Liquors, cordials, or wines are made from bamboo, honey, peach, and pear mixed with saké. A wine is made out of the new twigs of the pine; there is also a wine called the hundred flower wine.

A Korean gentleman of high rank assured me that it was considered impolite for children to say "Thank you" to their parents. Parents never thank their children, and at table the expression is not heard. The children eat at a separate table from their parents. It is considered impolite to smoke in the presence of another without asking permission and offering tobacco.

As an illustration of the rigid lines of propriety, a young man in the family is chided if he undertakes to make any addition or improvement to the house; he is told that such work is for the carpenter or cabinet-maker. He must attend to his books; he can not even invent or suggest any device.

Five hundred years ago the Koreans had paper money; this was very thick, and varied in size according to the denomination. Until within a hundred years they had gold and silver coins, lenticular in shape, like the checkers used in the game of "go." The coinage was abandoned by the Government on account of the extensive counterfeiting. The nobles now use these coins as checkers for "go."

The iron horseshoe was invented by a Korean general who fought against the Japanese invaders in 1596; before that time straw horseshoes were used, as in Japan.

It is customary to build large bonfires near pine forests, to attract and destroy moths, thus preventing destruction of forests.

Religion and Morals.—The general Government supports Confucian temples. In one temple there are over two hundred Confucian philosophers. Every county has its temple, with twenty or thirty Confucians. The Government stands in fear of these men, for they vigorously protest if rulers err in any way, and more particularly if their allowance is abbreviated. Confucius forbade the study of curious things as disturbing to the mind, and this ridiculous idea has grown into a superstition, and thus a man is prevented from preserving any relic dug from the ground for fear of a ghost following it. Previous to the fourteenth century the country was strongly Buddhist; since that time Confucian doctrines have spread from China, and within four hundred years Buddhists have been expelled from all cities and towns, and their temples have been destroyed. The priests can not even live in the villages, but must live in the mountains away from the villages. A certain Buddhist monument, thirty feet in height, was so beautiful that even Korean bigotry would not destroy it; it was cut halfway down, and the upper half was placed on the ground near the monument's base.

Pupils of Confucius are taught that if struck on one cheek they must turn the other, and if spat upon they must let it dry, for wiping it away would signify anger. Friendship is believed to be more faithful among Koreans, and the people are supposed to be more truthful than the Chinese or Japanese.

Burial.—The body when buried must be clothed in a shroud made of native cloth; this differs but slightly from the usual dress. A burial service is held, but no religious ceremony. Poor people hire a hearse, but a rich man will have a special one constructed. If the deceased cared for any special objects, these are buried with him—books, for example. The grave is dug to the depth of six feet. This depth is fixed for all. Books are published describing the forms of burial. The expenses of a funeral, with the construction of a tomb, a new hearse, etc., are often very great. The body may be kept in the house from three days to three months. Confucian doctrines enjoin a mourning period of three years, during which time no work is done. The king mourns seven days. A prominent feature of the mourner is a hat of large size, which comes down to the shoulders, thus concealing the face. The mourning color is yellow; it was formerly white. The clothing is always made of flax. No one ever accosts or interrupts a mourner on the street, and Jesuit priests often use the mourners' habiliments as a disguise.

Operative.—Among the various trades and occupations are those coming under the definition of silver-‌ and goldsmiths, iron and bronze workers, builders and architects, wrights of various kinds, masons, decorators, artificers, weavers, saddlers, butchers, curriers, salt makers, a few seal engravers, plowmen, cattle and swine drovers, special thatchers and tilers, no barbers, but hair-dressers, dyers, tanners, carpenters and cabinetmakers, and these latter go by the name of large and small carpenters. Craftsmen are not allowed to sell raw material; the lumber dealer, for example, would prevent a carpenter from selling even a board. There are also stone polishers, paper pasters, and tailors who make clothing by quantity. As in this country, such clothing is not considered as good as custom-made clothing. Women make their own clothing. Boys are not commonly employed, but are sometimes seen on the streets as peddlers. In Japan, on the contrary, boys are everywhere employed, and in all occupations, thus adding to the industrial strength of the nation. Men make shoes, though this is considered a mean occupation. Sandals are made by monks. As with us, there is a localization of industries and trades. A system of apprenticeship exists. In the first year's service the apprentice is fed, in the second year he receives half pay, and in the third year full wages are paid him; in the fourth year, if skillful, he becomes a partner in the work, or goes off by himself, the master helping him. The Government builds long markets in which are shops for special merchandise, such as silk, cotton, shoes, paper, etc. These are hired by merchants on perpetual lease, and the merchant who thus rents a shop receives all the trade in his specialty. Thus every one dealing in cotton must come to the cotton shop. A shop thirty or forty feet long will sell for five thousand dollars. Traders are accustomed to borrow capital from the nobles, upon which they pay interest. There are a great many guilds, which are called Brotherhoods in Trading. Partnerships are common. In the guilds, if one meets with a loss or failure all the others help make up the loss; in partnerships this is not so.

Public work is done by the co-operation of villages. In Séoul public work is done by the general Government, the city, however, collecting taxes for the work. If the people volunteer to do the work, no taxes are imposed. If the municipality does the work, then continuous taxes are collected; if the Government does it, the city is taxed for it. In the country, five days' work on public improvements is considered an equivalent for the tax.

In farm work no distinction is recognized between the sexes. Female domestics are employed in spinning, weaving, sewing, and universally in cooking; women even of high rank may cook with propriety; indeed, such service is considered quite legitimate for women of all ranks. Men never become cooks. In certain districts women make hats and straw mats. In the western part of the country silk is made, in the northern part linen, while in the southern part cotton is made. This kind of work is all done by women.

Regulative.—Co-operations are not hereditary, excepting those connected with the soil, such as mining, brick, tile and pottery kilns, etc. Farm labor is done by freemen and serfs. Serfs are called tributary slaves. The Government pays for its labor. During the times of great depression the Government orders certain work to be done as a relief to the people. Three kinds of public work are done—namely, by the Government, by the city, and by the people. For example, the people living near a river embankment may plant trees upon it (usually the willow, pine, or elm). Serfs in government employ work eight hours a day. In the Department of the Interior, and other departments, the king appoints a secretary or head officer, who in turn employs the subordinates. As an illustration of the shameful waste of time, it is customary for a force of employees to work by installments: thus, if thirty serfs are employed, ten of these work for three days only, then another lot of ten continues the work for three days, and finally the third set of ten takes up the work for the same time; thus, each set of ten have a week's vacation following three days' work. What wonder that the people are among the poorest on earth! There are two kinds of serfs, a higher and a lower kind. The higher serfs take their vacation in precisely the same way. The chiefs of departments have under their control not only various clerks, but also serfs who accompany the chiefs to their houses, and the chiefs may employ them on their own private work. There are no lawyers. Judges there are, and these are appointed by the king.

The commercial ways are very low. In some respects the methods are like those of nomadic tribes. Peddlers are called burden merchants, and travel through the country; if they have means they will buy their food; if not, they beg. They have no house or home, but with their families are traveling all the time. These people have very severe laws among themselves. Adultery is punished with death. When this crime is detected a letter is circulated among them. Hundreds assemble, and each one strikes the adulteress with a stick or club. They are very kind and polite among themselves. In many respects they resemble our gypsies, but are true Koreans, and are considered the lowest class. There are the other kinds of merchants who have no shops, but assemble in small towns on every fifth day to buy and sell. This is derived from an old Chinese custom. The higher classes of merchants have shops. Pawnbrokers abound, and auctions are common.

Festivals.—The last day of the old year and the first week of the new year are given up to festivities. The fifteenth day of the first month is called the New Moon holiday. A particular kind of food is made at this time, consisting of dates, chestnuts, honey, and cake rice (a peculiar kind of rice) boiled together. This food is called medicine food, and is supposed to be prophylactic and also to strengthen the brain. In the country, torches are lighted to welcome the moon, and people assemble in great numbers to catch the first glimpse of the moon, as it insures happiness. This day is also observed as All-Fools' Day. A favorite trick is to attach a flower secretly to some one's clothing.

In the second month, usually on the sixteenth, Butterfly holiday occurs. The third day of the third month is observed as the Flower holiday. On this day young men make cake of flowers mixed with wheat and rice, and this is fried; they also cook fish, and other articles of food.

The eighth day of the fourth month is called by the Buddhists the Washing-day of Buddha. Households have a lantern for each person, and these are supplied with oil lamps instead of candles, as candles are made of ox fat or honeycomb, and Buddha forbids the killing of animals. Oil for lamps is always a vegetable oil. The lower classes attend church on this day and sacrifice to Buddha. A cake is made of black beans, and this was formerly decorated with flowers; now this is rarely done, though artificial flowers are sometimes used for this purpose. At this time forms of animals are made of meal or lime and sold to the children.

The fifth day of the fifth month is called Swinging Day, and is derived from China. Swings are suspended from trees and frames, and everybody indulges in the sport. Boys put on their new clothes at this time. The root of the flag is cut with a sloping edge which is colored red, and this is worn in the hair to ward off calamities. (The Japanese have a holiday at this time, but have no idea of its derivation.)

The sixteenth day of the sixth month is observed as Hair-washing Day. Everybody observes the day except the laborer. At this time wheat cake and macaroni are eaten.

The seventh day of the seventh month is observed as a general holiday, and cake and macaroni are eaten. The holiday is based on the following story: Two stars in heaven were married; one was the daughter of God. Before marriage she was very industrious, but after marriage she became negligent and idle, and God, becoming angry, banished her to the eastern part of the Milky Way, while the male star was sent to the western part of the Heavenly River, as the Japanese call it. The woman had to weave, and the man had to attend cows. The female star is called the Weaver, while the male star is called the Patroller. They are allowed to meet once a year on this day. If it rains during the evening of that day it is interpreted as being caused by the tears of separation.

The fifteenth day of the eighth month is the Harvest holiday.

It forms a great festival for the farmers, and is much like a New England Thanksgiving Day. Gentlemen go to the country to see the festival, have food and wine, and generally get hilarious.

The ninth day of the ninth month is observed because the maple trees turn red and yellow flowers are in bloom. Poetry is written about the day and its beauties.

The tenth day of the tenth month is observed by every one making cake in the evening. Each one makes a number of cakes and presents them to all his friends. Friendship is supposed to be bound and strengthened by these gifts. Gentlemen engage in this pastime, and it is also a great day for the farmers.

On the eleventh month, at the winter solstice, a drink is made of red beans, and on this day sacrifice to ancestors is made.

On the twelfth day of the twelfth month people go hunting. Young men also call on the old men, who offer food and give good advice, and will say, "One year older, one year more." On this day the young man can sit down in the old man's presence and will listen respectfully to his advice.

Besides these stated festival days parties are often given, and if ten are invited, for example, provision must be made for three hundred, as each invited guest is accompanied by many servants, high and low. A large table is provided for each guest, and this is heaped with food and fruit, of which little is eaten, as most of it is given to the low servants, special tables being provided for the high servants. An ordinary party of this kind may often cost a thousand dollars.

A certain kind of picnic is called a "one-dish party." This is for men only, and each man brings to such a picnic a dish of some one kind of food sufficient in quantity for all.

Games.—The Koreans have dice, and cards of two kinds, with which several games are played, one being a gambling game, which is forbidden by law. They have chess, and "go," a peculiar game with four sticks, and also many puzzles. Children play ball by patting and bouncing it on the ground, have whipping tops, and fly kites. A portion of the kite string has broken glass stuck to it, and by this device they are enabled to cut the strings of other kites. (In Japan a device holding a sharp cutting edge is employed for the same purpose.) Children also play jackstones, using seven balls and having many ways of picking them up; these ways have their special names, such as "Hatch the chicken," "Laying eggs," "Making the kitchen," "Sawing wood," "Winnowing wheat," "Collecting eggs," "Striking ground," "Wearing the hat," etc. "Pease porridge hot" and "Cat's cradle" are also common; this last is called "Thread dipping."

Superstitions.—It is believed that if a cat approaches a dead person the body will stand upright. In such a case it must be knocked down with a broom from the left. In Japan a similar superstition prevails. In eating rice (which is always eaten with a spoon), if the first spoonful is accidentally spilled it is a sign of bad luck. My informant's father often did this, and purposely challenged other superstitions as well, to show his contempt for them. In parties meeting together it is desirable to have an odd number, as in two, four, six, etc., there is an end, while in three, five, seven, and the like, there is no end; hence thirteen at the table is considered a lucky number. If a bride, in coming to her husband's house, stops on the threshold, it is a sign of bad luck. A horseshoe fastened over the door is to invite good luck. Bad dreams are, as with us, neutralized by saying that dreams go by contraries. If the hat is blown off by the wind it is a sign that something will be lost. In occupying a new house it is customary to have a woman, either the wife or a servant, enter first, carrying a bunch of matches; this insures prosperity, as a flame burning up. To avert infectious diseases, it is believed that a paper obtained from a priest and fastened over the door will be effective. A fierce face carved out of wood and placed over the door will drive away diseases which are supposed to be brought by the devil; also the burning of strong incense will have the same effect. Nothing can be removed from the house structure without vigorous protest from the womenfolks. (The women in Korea, as elsewhere, are the conservers of superstition. Old women, even in the higher classes, are superstitious, though there are some exceptions.) If the removed portion is to be replaced by other structures, then no objection is made, but to take anything away from the house structure without substituting something else is considered a bad omen. If a coal gathers on the lamp wick, it is a sign that one is to receive money, or some lucky windfall; so fixed is this superstition that many will not remove the coal. In Japan also this is considered a good omen. If the ear itches, it is a sign that some one is talking about you. If the chin itches, it is a sign that candy or cake will come as a gift. If one dreams of a Buddhist priest, it is a sign of being poisoned. A certain bird singing in a tree near the house presages the coming of a guest. If an owl hoots near the house, it is a sign that the master will soon die. If a fragment of tea floats vertically in the cup, it is a sign that a guest will come. If a candle is lighted in the middle of supper, it is a sign that the boys will get fierce wives. If money is found, it is considered a sign of bad luck, as it is gained without labor; an unexpected calamity will occur unless the money is spent before entering the house. If one accidentally places his spoon on the table upside down, it is a bad sign. If one's boot is upside down, it is considered bad; one will remain in the house if this happens rather than risk the consequences, which are, that he will lose something or be insulted. If both boots are wrong side up, it means nothing.

When lying down to sleep it is considered best to have the head directed toward the south. The head pointing toward the north is considered very bad. If the head is directed toward the south, it indicates longevity; to the east, happiness; to the west, success; to the north, short life. If one eats during lunar or solar eclipses sickness will follow. In Japan it is considered proper to remain indoors during eclipses. In Korea drums are vigorously beaten, to drive away the assailant of the sun or moon. This is a Chinese idea. An eclipse is observed by its reflection in a vessel of water. In Japan the same thing is done, because it is considered impolite to look directly at the eclipse. Shooting stars are supposed to be the excreta of stars. Farmers have an idea that the moon is trying to catch the sun, and if the moon ever overtakes the sun they will both fall to the earth, pressing the surface below the water, and thus the world will come to an end. A country philosopher told one of my informants that the sun was many hundred times larger than the earth, that the moon was three times larger than the earth, and that all the stars were much larger than the earth. Lightning is supposed to be the result of God looking angry, while thunder is supposed to be God scolding. It is considered rude to lie down when God is scolding. The lower classes believe that if insanity occurs three or four times in a year it is an indication of the devil's work. Gypsies are called in to drive the devil away by incantation. Intelligent doctors look upon insanity as the result of physical disease—namely, that the fire of the heart burns in excess. They also believe that some hearts are chilled, and that other hearts are empty. Cases of insanity are not common, and cases of idiocy had never been seen by my informant, though he had heard of instances. It is believed that when a certain river becomes filled with sand Korea will become powerful, and so it is a custom with many people in passing this river to throw in sand. The true-lover's knot is the same as ours. A ring around the moon is a sign that it will rain; the larger the ring the sooner the rain will come. The accidental breaking of a mirror is a sign that death will occur in the family. After the birth of a child persons can not enter the house for three days, nor can animals be killed for three days.

If a man's eyes have more white than black he will become foolish. Tapering or pointed fingers are looked upon as indicating dexterity. A long arm is considered an indication of wisdom, and its owner will occupy a high official position. In Japan the same peculiarity indicates a thief, which may be regarded as only another name for a Korean official. A large eye is a sign of short life. Physiognomists interpret many features of the face; thus a curved line extending from the lobe of the nose on each side is a sign of starvation.

Palmists also exist in Korea; thus the line of life in the left hand indicates long life, as it does in our palmistry; the same line in the right hand, however, indicates position. A line corresponding to our line of heart in the left hand indicates riches, while the same line in the right hand indicates power. The number of wrinkles at the base of the little finger, on the outside in the left hand indicates the number of brothers one will have, while in the right hand it indicates the number of sons to be expected. Other lines occur in the palm of the hand between the line of life and the line of heart, and these often have a fanciful resemblance to some Chinese character. A combination of these lines resembling the character for water is considered most propitious, because water is unlimited, and man can not do without it. Here the Korean chiromancer is far ahead of his Occidental brother in idiocy, for he can make out many ideograms in the fortuitous wrinkles in the center of the palm.

A familiarity with the language would undoubtedly reveal many peculiarities of expression; thus, for "Excuse me," they say "Do not blame me." "Naked truth" is called "Blood truth." Where we say "Neither hay nor grass," the Korean says "Neither calf nor colt." A house fly is called parri which means slanderer; the connection is obscure till it is explained that a fly leaves a light spot on a dark surface and a dark spot on a light surface. Among the sayings is "Rare as a white-headed crow"; in Japan it is a "horse's horn"; with us it is "hen's teeth." A mean man is one who gets his smoke by asking for a light from another man's pipe. In Japan the same expression occurs; also in Japan a mean man is one who finds his clogs in the dark by rapping his friend's head; the light emitted from such a blow is supposed to illuminate the vicinity. Our expression "The devil is always near when you are talking about him" is rendered in. Korean "Even the tiger comes"; in Japan it is said "his shadow appears." A stupid fellow in Korea is called a "pumpkin face"; in Japan, a "pumpkin fellow"; with us he is a "pumpkin head."

Miscellaneous.—Twins at a birth are not uncommon, but triplets are very rare. When the latter event occurs the Government makes a present of money to the amount of fifty dollars to the parents, besides furnishing rice for two months.

A Korean gentleman told me that when he first saw the Japanese he regarded them as savages, but was much struck with the convenience of their dress. Another informed me that his father sent him into the country to learn farming, at the same time instructing the farmer who was to have the care of him to provide only the ordinary food of the farmhouse. The young man's mother, however, used to send him secretly nice food and delicacies.

Among ignorant people the impression of the hand is signed as an autograph to legal documents, but never to marriage documents.

Human statues are not made at the present time, but in olden times figures of large size were sculptured in wood and stone.

Reddish hair and beard and blue eyes are not unknown; my informant had seen a number of such cases.

The classes of the people in Korea rank much as they do in Japan; they are in the following order: 1. Nobles. 2. A class like the Japanese samurai, which is inherited. 3. Soldiers. In Japan the teachers would come third, but they have no rank in Korea. 4. Farmers. 5. Merchants. 6. Coolies. 7. Butchers, peddlers, and gypsies.

Suicide is uncommon. When it occurs it is among the country people. Forms of suicide are usually hanging, the taking of poison, inhaling fumes of charcoal, and cutting the throat; the most usual form is that of hanging. My informant had never heard of more than four or five instances of suicide. Infanticide is not known. People in the western part of Korea often kill each other in fights. A curious story was told me by a Korean, who vouched for its truth. Two men, strangers to each other, were stopping at a hotel; one of them went away forgetting to pay his bill; the other paid his bill, and, on leaving, the landlord demanded pay for the one who had defaulted, supposing him to be his friend. This he refused to do, and a dispute over the matter led to a fight, in which the landlord was accidentally killed. The man who had forgotten to pay heard of the row and murder, and hastened back and inquired of the other why he killed the landlord. Explanations followed, and the forgetful man, in remorse at having been the cause of such a tragedy, killed himself; whereupon the survivor, in horror at having caused the death of two, immediately committed suicide.

A brutal sport is not uncommon wherein men engage in stone-throwing, and a number are often killed outright. It is considered a great feat if one can catch a stone and return it. They also fight with sticks and clubs. Boys imitate the men in these kinds of fights.

The Koreans regard their country as possessing eight remarkable objects: 1. An artificial pond thirty miles in length. 2. A mountain known as Kumgansan, having twelve thousand peaks of white stone. This may be the mountain known as Pak-tu, or White Head, which is likened to a piece of porcelain with a scalloped rim. The flora is said to be white, and the mammals white-haired. (If true, a case of protective coloration.) 3. A hole in the mountain from which the wind constantly blows. 4. A building in the southern part of Korea which has one room having the dimensions of one thousand squares; one square has the dimension of seven feet each way; the floor equals an acre in extent. 5. A beach composed of water-worn stones assuming the shapes of wild beasts, cattle, mountains, and other forms. (Objects of this kind are often seen mounted on little teakwood stands in Japan and China.) 6. A river called by a Korean name which means "against sand"—in other words, it is believed that the water flows in one direction while the sand runs in an opposite direction. 7. A flute one thousand years old, and only one man has been known who could play on it. 8. A stone Buddha.

An examination of Korean objects of manufacture, as exhibited in the United States National Museum, and in the Museum of the Peabody Academy of Science in Salem, will convince one of the degraded condition of the people. The rude musical instruments, rude pottery, rough work generally, and the almost complete absence of all industrial art handwork, testify to the alarming decay of the nation. Flanked as Korea is by China on the one hand and Japan on the other, with their advanced industries and skillful art handwork, and possessing, as Korea does, the records of a great past, the degradation and decay that have come upon the nation must have come about through their own fault. Repeated demands for an explanation of these conditions only brought out the answer that a noble could ruthlessly claim from the artisan any work he might do, and this without recompense. As a result, all ambition is crushed, and the workman dares not attract the attention of these official sharks by fabricating anything of special excellence. From hand to mouth they live; the masses are in abject poverty, and the only comforts they appear to command are heat and tobacco. The corruption of the official class makes Tammany officials seem like white-robed angels.

Conclusion.—If my various questions have been correctly answered, one may glance at the preceding statements and realize in how many ways the habits and customs of the people prevent work, discourage industry, and in a surprising number of instances encourage the survival of the unfittest. The appalling waste of time, the degrading habits of life, and the avarice and oppression of the official class illustrate in a forcible manner the result of unnatural selection. When one learns, for example, that custom, following Confucian doctrines, commands an industrious brother to waste his energies in supporting a number of idle, dissolute brothers, thus permitting them to survive to transmit their lazy and vagabond tendencies, one can easily understand the present degradation of the people.

Despite these lamentable conditions, there is a leaven in the nation which may work for regeneration if the accursed and sterilizing effects of Chinese influence and dominion can be rooted out of the land. I have met Koreans of the highest character, noble, unselfish, possessing every lovable trait and animated by the highest patriotism, and these men may yet be heard from in the councils of the nation.


  1. It is an extraordinary fact that in the late war with China the Japanese, single-handed, overawed the Koreans, a hostile nation of at least eight million people, drove every Chinese soldier out of the country, and, had it not been for the interference of three powerful European nations, would have held the Regent's Sword, and would have supported the young Korean party in its patriotic efforts to regenerate that poor country. That the Koreans could not make the faintest stand against the Japanese, though aided by Chinese armies, leads one to wonder what manner of people are the Koreans, and this is my reason for publishing the following memoranda, disjointed and fragmentary as they are.
  2. The swindling and thieving character of Korean officials, their torturing and murdering subjects without trial, and the degradation and helplessness of Korean to-day, stand in curious contrast to this ennobling list of studies and examinations, and indicate a depth of hollow pretense and hypocrisy which is simply appalling.