Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Corea
Sketch Map of Corea.
The eastern coast trends south-west from the confines of Russian Manchuria to the neighbourhood of the 39th parallel of latitude, and then, changing its direction to the south-east, it forms an extensive gulf, named Broughton Bay in honour of a navigator of the 18th century. With this exception it presents no remarkable irregularity of line; but even such superficial surveys as have already been effected show that it affords a considerable number of bays and harbours. Of these the most important are Lazaref, Pingai, and Chosan. The first, called Virginia Bay on the French maps, is situated in 39° 25′ N. lat., has an area of about 36 square miles, is well protected, and furnishes excellent anchoring ground. The second in 36° 36′ is comparatively small, but completely sheltered by a conical island. The third in 35° 2′ is large enough to shelter merchant vessels of all sizes and even ships of war below the rank of frigates. Throughout its whole extent this eastern shore presents mainly a succession of steep but not very lofty cliffs, sinking at intervals into irregular dunes, or into stretches of almost level sand. The south and west coasts, on the other hand, are much more varied with inlet and promontory, estuary and peninsula; and the neighbouring sea is occupied by a multitude of islands and rocks. Of these islands the largest is Quelpart, with a length of 46 miles and a breadth of about 20; but of greater importance to the navigator is the Port Hamilton group, on account of the excellent harbour to which it partly owes its name.
Mountains.—Corea is eminently a mountainous country, and the general appearance of the surface is compared by a French missionary to that of the sea under a strong gale. The principal range winds through the peninsula from north to south. From the northern frontier, till it reaches 37° of north latitude, it keeps pretty close to the eastern coast; but from that point it trends westward, and runs obliquely across the southern extremity of the country, leaving the contour of the coast to be defined by a subordinate range. Of individual summits the highest known to Europeans are Hien-fung and Tao-kwang in the Pepi Shan Mountains, to the north of Broughton Bay; and these attain no greater elevation than 8114 and 6310 feet respectively. Another of special mark, called Sedlovaya, or the Saddle, by the Russian navigators, is situated in 38° 10′ 30″ N. lat. The country to the west of the main ridge is occupied by irregular spurs; and throughout its whole extent there is no district that can properly be described as a plain.
Rivers.—Corea is well furnished with rivers and streams. In the north the boundary line is mainly marked by two of considerable size, the Ya-lu-kiang and the Mi-kiang. The former, known to the Chinese as the Aye-kiang, and to the Coreans as Am-no-kang, or the river of the Green Duck, receives numerous affluents in the early part of its course, flows first north-west and then south-west, and falls into the Yellow Sea by three distinct mouths. Its most important tributary, the Tong-kia-ula, comes from the Shan-alin Mountains in Manchuria, and forms its junction about 40° 50′ N. lat. The Mi-kiang, called by the Coreans Tu-man-kang, has a very much shorter course than the Ya-lu-kiang, but owing to the number of its tributaries, it attains no mean proportions before it reaches the eastern sea in 42° 19′ 5″ N. lat. and 130° 38′ 51″ E. long. At its mouth it is about half a mile wide, and at Hung-chung 300 yards, with a depth of about 20 feet in the middle. Its current is about 1½ knots an hour. Of the numerous streams that find their way to the Sea of Japan none require special mention till we come to the Nak-tong-kang, which rises in the eastern slopes of the main chain, and after flowing almost directly south, reaches the Strait of Corea in 34° 50′ N. lat. Among those of the western coast three at least are of considerable magnitude the Keum-kang, the Hang-kang, on which Seoul, the capital of the kingdom, is situated, and the Tai-tang-kang, which flows past the city of Pieng-iang.
Climate and Agriculture.—The temperature of Corea, though much more equable than that of the neighbouring continent, is higher in winter and lower in summer than under the same latitudes in Europe. Such advantages as it actually has over the climate of Northern China are mainly due to the effects of the south-west monsoon. In the north the rivers remain frozen for several months in the year, and even in the furthest south the snow lies for a considerable period. In latitude 35° the lowest reading of the thermometer observed by the French missionaries was 5° Fahr.; in 37° or 38° they often found it 13° below zero. The principal articles of cultivation are rice, wheat, millet, rye, tobacco, cotton, hemp, and ginseng; and of these several afford a good return. The potato, which was recently introduced, is under a Government interdict, and is only to be found in outlying districts; though its general use might do much to prevent the recurrence of the famines with which the country is ever and anon visited. Almost all the fruits of central Europe are to be obtained; but their quality is greatly deteriorated by the humidity of the climate. Water-melons and the fruit of the Diospyros Lotus (called kam by the natives) are mentioned as the best.
Minerals.—Corea has the reputation of being richly furnished with mineral resources; gold, silver, copper, iron, and coal are all said to be common. Gold-mining, however, is strictly prohibited; the permission at one time granted to work the silver ore at Sioun-heng-fu was shortly afterwards withdrawn; the copper mines are neglected, and Japanese copper imported; and the general use of coal is confined to certain districts.
Animals.—Of the wild animals the most remarkable are a small species of tiger, the bear, and the wild boar; and of the domestic kinds the principal are cattle, horses of diminutive proportions but considerable strength, swine, and dogs. The last are a favourite article of food. The king alone has the right of rearing sheep and goats, which are kept for the purpose of being sacrificed in religious ceremonials.
The king of Corea, though a vassal of the Chinese empire, is within his own country an absolute monarch, with power of life and death over the noblest in the land. He is the object of almost divine honours; it is sacrilege to utter the name which he receives from his suzerain, and that by which he is known in history is only bestowed upon him after his death by his successor. To touch his person with a weapon of iron is high treason; and so rigidly is this rule enforced that Tieng-tsong-tai-oang suffered an abscess to put an end to his life in 1800, rather than submit to the contact of the lancet. Every horseman must dismount as he passes the palace, and whoever enters the presence-chamber must fall prostrate before the throne. Should the ignoble body of a subject be touched by the royal hands, the honour thus conferred must be ever after commemorated by a badge. In consequence of such punctilious etiquette, personal access to the king is exceedingly difficult; but, as according to theory, his ear ought always to be open to the complaints of his people, an appeal to his authority is nominally permitted. He is expected to provide for the poor of his realm, and there are always a large number of pensioners on the royal bounty. The princes of the blood are most jealously excluded from power, and their interference in the slightest degree in a matter of politics is regarded as treason. The nobles, however, have within the present century extended their influence, and infringed on the royal prerogatives. The palaces are poor buildings, but an extensive harem and a large body of eunuchs are maintained.
The government is practically in the hands of the three principal ministers of the king, who are called respectively seug-ei-tsieng or admirable councillor, tsoa-ei-tsieng or councillor of the left, and ou-ei-tsieng or councillor of the right. They are nominally assisted by six pan-tso or judges, each of whom has his own tsam-pan or substitute and tsam-ei or adviser. The ni-tso, the first of these judges' departments, has charge of the public offices and employments; the ho-tso takes the census, apportions the taxes, and looks after the mints; the niei-tso supervises religious and official ceremonial; the pieng-tso is the department of war; the hieng-tso administers the criminal courts; and the kong-tso has the oversight of public works, commerce, &c. In the palace there are three sug-tsi, or functionaries charged to put on record day by day all the royal words and actions. The eight provinces of the kingdom are each administered by a governor, dependent on the ministerial council; and each of the 332 districts into which the provinces are sub-divided is under a separate mandarin. Military commanders have the chief authority in the four fortified towns of Kang-hoa, Sou-wen, Koang-tsiou, and Siong-to or Kai-seng. Theoretically every one of these posts is open to any Corean who has acquired the necessary degree in the public examinations; but actually they are almost all appropriated by the nobles. A postal system is maintained along the principal highways,—the horses being kept by the Government, and the grooms and riders holding almost the position of royal serfs. The army nominally includes every individual capable of bearing arms, who does not belong to the nobility; but only a small proportion of the men are brought under discipline. The military mandarins, though chosen from the nobles, are in far less estimation than the civil functionaries of corresponding rank. The salaries of the governors and other high officials are large, but as the term is only two years, and the custom of the country is for a person in office to support all his relatives, it is seldom that the position proves genuinely lucrative. In addition to the various regular officials already mentioned there are a number of e-sa, or anaik-sa, who are despatched by the king, armed with absolute power, to visit the provinces at irregular intervals and secretly observe the condition of affairs. Corruption, however, universally and openly prevails, and the supervision even of these irresponsible emissaries affords little protection against injustice. The mandarin is for ordinary civil cases the absolute judge within his district; but if the matter is very important it may be referred to the provincial governor, or even ultimately to the king himself. Criminal cases are decided by the military mandarin, and the final appeal is to the great court of the capital, which consists of two parts—the po-tseng which collects the evidence, and the ieng-tso which passes the sentence. Public functionaries and culprits accused of treason or rebellion are tried by a special court called the keum-pou, the members of which are named directly by the king. In a case of high treason the whole family of the guilty person is involved in his fate. A large portion of the real administrative power lies in the hands of the subaltern officials of the civil and military mandarins, who are distinguished by M. Dallet as “pretorians” and “satellites.” The former compose a formidable hereditary class, which rarely intermarries with the rest of the community; the latter are recruited from the lower ranks of society. Torture is freely employed in judicial proceedings; and the unhappy victim may either have the bones of his legs dislocated or bent, his calves reduced to rags by blows from a heavy plank, the flesh of his thighs cut through by the continuous friction of a rough cord, or his whole body agonized by a prolonged suspension by the arms. Decapitation is the usual form of execution both in civil and military cases.
The language of Corea belongs to the Turanian family, and agrees with the other Turanian tongues in all the main grammatical features. It is written alphabetically, by means of fourteen consonants corresponding to the European k, I, n, r, t, m (or I), p (or b), s, ng or nasal n, ts, tsh, kh, th, ph (i.e., p aspirated, not f) and k, and eleven vowels, which go to the composition of thirteen diphthongs. The letters appear either in an ordinary or a cursive form. Every line is written from the top to the bottom of the page, syllable by syllable. The vocabulary is greatly mingled with Chinese words; but these undergo the regular Corean declension. The noun has nine cases, including the nominative. Adjectives proper there are none, the nouns and verbs supplying their place. For the names of the numerals above 90, such as 100, 1000, &c., recourse is had to the Chinese. The verb possesses, besides the simple affirmative, a conditional, an interrogative, an honorific, a causative, and several other forms; but it has no distinctive inflections for number or person. The honorific form is employed in speaking of dignitaries; and indeed the verb must slightly vary according to the status of the person addressed.
Education.—As in China, so in Corea, learning is ostensibly in high estimation, and all public officials must pass certain examinations. The student is left perfectly free to follow any system and receive instruction from any teacher whatever,—the examiners, who are appointed by the Government, taking account of nothing but results. The most important examinations are held once a year in the capital, and candidates flock thither from all the provinces. After the examination is over, those who have passed put on the robes of their new title, and proceed on horseback with sound of music to visit the chief dignitaries of the state, the examiners, &c. Then follows a burlesque initiation which, though not enforced by law, is rendered imperative by custom. The novice has his face stained with ink and besprinkled with flour, and is otherwise subjected to whimsical insults. There are three separate degrees, that of the tcho-si, that of the tsin-sa, and that of the keup-tchiei,—the last or highest being obtainable at once without the previous possession of the others. The tsin-sa are destined to fill administrative posts in the province, the keup-tchiei the higher positions about the capital and the palace. The military degree, which is also known as the keup-tchiei, involves but little literary culture, and is sought only by the poorer nobles. The whole system is in a state of great decay, and the purchasing of degrees or of doctoral theses is far from uncommon. Besides the possessors of the above-mentioned degrees there is a special class of scholars, known as the middle class, who devote themselves from father to son to the study of various special branches necessary in public employ:—the interpreters, who are trained either in Chinese, Manchu (Hon-hak), or Mongolian; the koang-sang-kam, or school of sciences, devoted to astronomy, geoscopy, and auspication; the ei-sa, or school of medicine, including a branch for the royal service and another for the public; the sa-tsa-koan, or school of recorders, employed in the preservation of the archives and the drawing up of official reports for Pekin; the to-hoa-si, intrusted with the preparation of maps, and the execution of the portrait of the king, which after his death is added to the royal gallery; the nioul-hak, or school of law, which deals mainly with the penal code; the kiei-sa, from which clerks are obtained for the financial and public works department; and the hem-nou-koan, which is intrusted with the management of the Government hydraulic clock.
Religion.—Buddhism, according to native tradition, was introduced into Corea in the 4th century of our era, and under the dynasty of Korio it became the official religion. On the establishment, however, of the Tsi-tsien in the 14th century it gave place to the doctrine of Confucius, which continues to the present day as the established creed. In its main features the Confucianism of Corea is identical with the Chinese system; but it is accompanied and intermingled with various popular superstitions. Worship is offered not only to the Sia-tsik, or patron of the kingdom, but also to the Siang-tiei, whom some regard as a supreme divinity, and others identify with the sky. To the latter public sacrifices, consisting of pigs, sheep, and goats, are offered for the purpose of preventing or obtaining rain, removing epidemic diseases, or otherwise interfering with the course of natural events. The Sia-tsik is hardly known in the provinces; but in the capital his temple is the most sacred of all. Among the educated classes the only form of religion in real force is the worship of their ancestors, and consequently the greatest importance is attached to all the ceremonial details of funerals, mourning, and tombs. In every district there is a temple of Confucius called kiang-kio, with an extensive domain attached; and if the revenue is not sufficient to maintain the necessary expenses, the treasury of the district must supply the deficit. There still exist several of the large pagodas erected during the period of the official status of Buddhism; they are built in the Chinese style, and are frequently remarkable for the beauty of their situation. Except in the province of Kieng-sang the Buddhism monks, or bonzes, retain no influence; they have but little learning, and their numbers are diminishing. The belief in evil spirits is common among the Coreans; their action is frequently controlled by the propitious or unpropitious character of times and seasons, and almost every event is the sign of fortune or mishap. The serpent is the object of superstitious respect; and, instead of killing it, the Corean feeds it as regularly as his domestic animals. Of first importance for the happiness of a family is the preservation of the ancestral fire, and every housewife has all the anxiety and responsibility of a Vestal Virgin. The number of astrologers and fortune tellers throughout the country is extraordinary. The blind are reputed to be endowed with special prophetic aptitude, and, as a natural consequence, a large proportion of those who are deprived of sight make gain of their affliction. In the capital these blind seers are formed into a regular corporation legally recognized, and their services are in great request for the discovery of secrets, the foretelling of the future, and the exorcizing of devils. In this latter operation they trust principally to noise as a means of frightening the spirits, whom they ultimately catch in a bottle and carry off in triumph.
Industry and Trade.—The industrial arts are but slightly developed, the peasant himself in most cases supplying by his own labour the greater part of his needs. The one manufacture in which the Corean ranks really high is that of paper, a material employed as in Japan in a great variety of ways. Trade is mainly carried on by means of markets or fairs, but transactions are hampered by the deficiency of the currency. Only one kind of coin, a small piece of copper known as a “sapeke,” is recognized, and even this is not in use in the northern provinces, where barter alone is in vogue. The roads of the country offer but few facilities for traffic; wheeled vehicles are unknown, and much of the transport of goods is effected by porterage. Except at the capital there is hardly, over any of the numerous streams, a structure worthy to be called a bridge. Foreign commerce there is none, unless the fair which is held annually for several days at Pien-men on the occasion of the passage of the ambassadors, or that which takes place every two years at Hung-chung, is to be counted an exception. The Chinese or Japanese ships are allowed to fish for trepang along the coast of Pieng-an and for herring on that of Hoang-hai; but they are prohibited, not only from landing, but from holding any communication with the Coreans at sea.
Dwellings and Dress.—The houses of the Coreans are of one story, flimsily constructed of wood, clay, and rice-straw, visually covered with thatch and badly provided with windows. Lamentable accounts are given of the general poverty of the common people. Their houses are only about ten or twelve feet square; the floor is the bare earth, covered in rare instances with mats of poor quality; no chairs are in use, people squatting on the floor; and there is nothing worthy of the name of a bed. The ordinary shoe or sandal is formed of straw, and leaves the great toe exposed; but stockings are worn by all. Wide pantaloons and a long vest are the principal articles of attire,—the well-to-do wearing also a large overcoat, which the peasant uses on gala occasions only. The national hat is composed of a framework of bamboos covered with an open kind of haircloth; it protects neither from rain, cold, nor sun, and is altogether very inconvenient. The principal material of the wearing apparel is cotton cloth, rough in texture, and of its natural colour; but a rude kind of silk fabric is not uncommon among the wealthier classes.
(h. a. w.)
- These mountains, although extensively mentioned in 19th century sources, do not exist and are apparently the result of miscalculations by the Russian frigate Pallada and the French frigate Virginie during their surveys of the East Korean coast in the 1850s. "Hien-fung" was supposedly located 20–24 miles WNW of the southern entrance of Riwŏn Bay. This is actually a river valley surrounded by elevations below 3000 feet. The nearer summit Taedŏk San (4797 ft) may have been intended, but modern mariners reckon by Chudŏk San (3284 ft), due north of Riwŏn. "Tao-kwang" was supposedly the eastern summit of the Pujonryong Range, which has no summit of its name or elevation. The highest summits in the area usually ascribed to "Tao-kwang" are Mantap (8547 ft) and Turyu San (7575 ft).—ed.