A Modern Pioneer in Korea/Introductory

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A Modern Pioneer in Korea by William Elliot Griffis
Introductory

I BEGAN to pray for Korea on the morning of March 2, 1871. As an educational pioneer in Japan — the first to live as a guest in the far interior — I had spent the night previous with my escort of fifteen two-sworded knights at Tsuruga, whence one looks across the sea to Korea. As we emerged into the road leading to Fukui, our party stopped before the great Shinto temple, at which the Empress Jingu, who lives in Japanese tradition, as "the conqueror of Korea" and her son, the war-god Hachiman, were worshipped. Three of my guardsmen stopped, bowed reverently, clapped their hands together and worshipped.

"Idolatry" or not, I was touched by this simple act of piety, as they understood it, and looking westward over the water towards Korea, my heart went out to the one living and true God, in the hope that this land lying to the westward, might soon be blessed with the gospel. Studying the Land of Morning Splendour through Japanese and European sources of information, I began on my arrival home in America, in 1874, besides making it a subject of daily prayer, to write and lecture on Korea, the Hermit Nation, and at Washington to urge Congressional committees to secure by treaty the peaceful opening of the country. In 1 88 1, 1882, and 1885, books treating of Korea were published. Yet in those days it was, as a lady said to me, like talking about a "strange seashell," picked up from an unknown strand in the far Orient.

My neighbour and friend in Boston, Phillips Brooks, used to say that foreign missions were "the last of the heroisms" and so he preached. My friend and correspondent Appenzeller illustrated in his life and final hour Bishop Brooks' thesis. I have endeavoured to tell the story of his work among the people whom he loved. It is not panegyric, but reality that I offer. Appenzeller was a hero, but he hated cant and sham. Hence I have shown the country and the people, as well as the worker. I have left out the word "heathen," because this term is neither in the Hebrew, nor the Greek of the original scriptures, nor, strictly speaking, in the Revised Version. In the languages of Europe — itself once a mission field, the word was and is a term of contempt, and such a feeling toward the Koreans was the last in the breast of this man, their friend and lover. Even when in ripest knowledge of the natives — and he was, both as a scholar and a preacher, ever in living contact with the people — Appenzeller, while he hated what marred and ruined both their bodies and souls, was ever affectionate to them as human beings. He felt about the Koreans as he did about his own countrymen. "We should be ashamed of what some Americans do, but never ashamed of being Americans" was a famous saying of his. He loved much and honoured many things in their character and civilisation, while despising and abhorring, with a hatred born of his love of holiness, whatever degraded them or his own countrymen — both common sinners before God, and in need of the same grace. His attitude was never that of the Pharisee, but as one who, knowing and appreciating the undeniable graces and virtues of the Korean, ever felt like taking him by the hand and saying "Come brother, let us both together strive to realise in our lives our ideals of what a Christian ought to be."

I have omitted also both the pious stock phrases and the vulgar slang about the "Oriental" and the "Asiatic" — as if human nature was one whit different there or here! To the eye of the scholar and the Christian, who knows the history and evolution from semi-brutality of our own savage ancestors, there is no Orient and no Occident, except as these phrases are as convenient and about as accurate as our commonplaces, "the sun rises" or "the dew falls." The student of history, with the eyes of science and imagination, sees in the colonial America of a hundred, or the Europe of five hundred years ago, pretty much everything that is, or only lately was, visible in China, Korea, and Japan. Human nature and the race are one.

One will quickly find also that I do not accept the alleged Korean history which is only folk lore, or appraised at its traditional and local value the native chronology, which, like that of Japan and China, is founded on national vanity and mythical zoology. I also avoid, as far as possible, any emphasis on the wonder fill and sensational, as peculiar to the peninsular country or man; for, having lived in the interior of feudal Japan, I find little or nothing in Christless Korea different from that in Christless Japan. In all essential particulars, of custom, social life, indirection of misgovernment, oppression of the people, hoary superstitions and things odd and strange, the fibre of civilisation in the peninsula was identical, or nearly so, with that in the island. Unreformed countries in Asia, before the advent of true Christianity, all bore a common likeness. Their ancient history ends and their modern story begins when the religion of Jesus sways the hearts of men. Yet before the temple of truth can rise, Christianity saps and rends hoary structures, causing at first much ruin, as it reduces to rubbish the long buttressed false- hoods of ages, on which the moss of artistic charm has gathered and over which the vines of sentiment have luxuriantly grown.

Startling changes have taken place within forty years, since prayer first went up for Korea — a hermit nation becoming social, a Sahara of paganism trans- formed into a garden of Christian hope. The outflowering of Japan, the shattering in war of the Chinese dogma of universal severeignty and the extension of American power and influence in the Pacific, were all within the lifetime of our subject. These events were followed by the check given to the notion, long cherished in the Occident, that any one race of men, of whatever color or nation, or of any one form of government was to "dominate the Pacific," or the world; the humbling of military Russia; the logical absorption of Korea, with the official proclamation of its most ancient name of Cho-sen, or Morning Splendour, into the Japanese empire; and the commotion of 1912, that prefaces a new China. All these call for fresh interpretations of the old facts that underlie ancient social systems and an analysis of the new forces that are recreating humanity. What is good in Asia, the mother continent, must be conserved and not lost. We are not to doubt but that with the everlasting righteousness which is fresh every morning, new resultants of power will be gained. "God fainteth not, neither is weary" and from the rising of the sun until the going down of the same, his name shall be, yea is, great among the nations." This is the way of the Holy Spirit and so He taught, who came "not to destroy but to fulfil."

In the divine making of all things new on the earth the consecrated lives of Christ-filled men and women are the greatest forces for good, and the story of such a man we proceed to tell.