Korea & Her Neighbours/Chapter I

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

IT is but fifteen hours' steaming from the harbor of Nagasaki to Fusan in Southern Korea. The Island of Tsushima, where the Higo Maru calls, was, however, my last glimpse of Japan ; and its reddening maples and blossoming plums, its temple-crowned heights, its stately flights of stone stairs lead-ing to Shinto shrines in the woods, the blue-green masses of its pines, and the golden plumage of its bamboos, emphasized the effect produced by the brown, bare hills of Fusan, pleasant enough in summer, but grim and forbidding on a sunless Feb-ruary day. The Island of the Interrupted Shadow, Chol-yong-To, (Deer Island), high and grassy, on which the Jap-anese have established a coaling station and a quarantine hos-pital, shelters Fusan harbor.

It is not Korea but Japan which meets one on anchoring. The lighters are Japanese. An official of the Nippon Yusen Kaisha (Japan Mail Steamship Co.), to which the Higo Maru belongs, comes off with orders. The tide-waiter, however, is English — one of the English employes of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs, lent to Korea, greatly to her advantage, for the management of her customs' revenue. The foreign settle-ment of Fusan is dominated by a steep bluff with a Buddhist temple on the top, concealed by a number of fine cryptomeria, planted during the Japanese occupation in 1592. It is a fairly good-looking Japanese town, somewhat packed between the hills and the sea, with wide streets of Japanese shops and various Anglo-Japanese buildings, among which the Consulate and a Bank are the most important. It has substantial retaining and sea walls, and draining, lighting, and roadmaking have been carried out at the expense of the municipality. Since the war, waterworks have been constructed by a rate of loo cash levied on each house, and it is hoped that the present abundant supply of pure water will make an end of the fre-quent epidemics of cholera. Above the town, the new Jap-anese military cemetery, filling rapidly, is the prominent object.

Considering that the creation of a demand for foreign goods is not thirteen years old, it is amazing to find how the Koreans have taken to them, and that the foreign trade of Fusan has developed so rapidly that, while in 1885 the value of exports and imports combined only amounted to ;£7 7,850, in 1892 it had reached ^^346, 608. Unbleached shirtings, lawns, mus-lins, cambrics, and Turkey reds for children's wear have all captivated Korean fancy; but the conservatism of wadded cot-ton garments in winter does not yield to foreign woollens, of which the importation is literally nil. The most amazing stride is in the importation of American kerosene oil, which has reached 71,000 gallons in a quarter ; and which, by displacing the fish-oil lamp and the dismal rushlight in the paper lantern, is revolutionizing evening life in Korea. Matches, too, have *' caught on" wonderfully, and evidently have *'come to stay." Hides, beans, dried fish, beche de mevy rice, and whale's flesh are among the principal ex-ports. It was not till 1883 that Fusan was officially opened to general foreign trade, and its rise has been most remarkable. In that year its foreign population was 1,500; in 1897 it was 5,564.

In the first half of 1885 the Japan Mail Steamship Co. ran only one steamer, calling at Fusan, to Wladivostok every five weeks, and a small boat to Chemulpo, calling at Fusan, once a month. Now not a day passes without steamers, large or small, arriving at the port, and in addition to the fine vessels of the Nippon Ytisen Kaisha, running frequently between Kobe and Wladivostok, Shanghai and Wladivostok, Kobe and Tientsin, and between Kobe Chefoo, and Newchang, all call-ing at Fusan, three other lines, including one from Osaka di-rect, and a Russian mail line running between Shanghai and Wladivostok, make Fusan a port of call.

It appears that about one-third of the goods imported is car-ried inland on the backs of men and horses. The taxes levied and the delays at the barriers on both the overland and river routes are intolerable to traders, a hateful custom prevailing under which each station is controlled by some petty official, who, for a certain sum paid to the Government in Seoul, ob-tains permission to levy taxes on all goods. ^ The Nak-Tong River, the mouth of which is 7 miles from Fusan, is navigable for steamers drawing 5 feet of water as far as Miriang, 50 miles up, and for junks drawing 4 feet as far as Sa-mun, 100 miles farther, from which point their cargoes, transhipped into light draught boats, can ascend to Sang-chin, 170 miles from the coast. With this available waterway, and a hazy prospect that the much disputed Seoul-Fusan railway may become an accom-plished fact, Fusan bids fair to become an important centre of commerce, as the Kyong-sang Province, said to be the most populous of the eight (now for administrative purposes thirteen), is also said to be the most prosperous and fruitful, with the possible exception of Chul-la.

Barren as the neighboring hills look, they are probably rich in minerals. Gold is found in several places within a radius of 50 miles, copper quite near, and there are coal fields within 100 miles.

To all intents and purposes the settlement of Fusan is Jap-anese. In addition to the Japanese population of 5,508, there is a floating population of 8,000 Japanese fishermen. A Japanese Consul-General lives in a fine European house. Bank-ing facilities are furnished by the Dai Ichi Gingo of Tokio, and the post and telegraph services are also Japanese. Japa-nese too is the cleanliness of the settlement, and the introduc-tion of industries unknown to Korea, such as rice husking and cleaning by machinery, whale-fishing, sake-making, and the preparation of shark's fins, deche de mer, and fish manure, the latter an unsavory fertilizer, of which enormous quantities are exported to Japan.

But the reader asks impatiently, "Where are the Koreans? I don't want to read about the Japanese ! " Nor do I want to write about them, but facts are stubborn, and they are the out-standing Fusan fact.

As seen from the deck of the steamer, a narrow up and down path keeping at some height above the sea skirts the hillside for 3 miles from Fusan, passing by a small Chinese settlement with official buildings, uninhabited when I last saw them, and terminating in the walled town of Fusan proper, with a fort of very great antiquity outside it, modernized by the Japanese after the engineering notions of three centuries ago.

Seated on the rocks along the shore were white objects re-sembling pelicans or penguins, but as white objects with the gait of men moved in endless procession to and fro between old and new Fusan, I assumed that the seated objects were of the same species. The Korean makes upon one the impres-sion of novelty, and while resembling neither the Chinese nor the Japanese, he is much better-looking than either, and his phy-sique is far finer than that of the latter. Though his average height is only 5 feet 4^ inches, his white dress, which is vo-luminous, makes him look taller, and his high-crowned hat, without which he is never seen, taller still. The men were in winter dress — white cotton sleeved robes, huge trousers, and socks; all wadded. On their heads were black silk wadded caps with pendant sides edged with black fur, and on the top of these, rather high-crowned, somewhat broad-brimmed hats of black "crinoline" or horsehair gauze, tied under the chin with crinoline ribbon. The general effect was grotesque. There were a few children on the path, bundles of gay cloth-ing, but no women.

I was accompanied to old Fusan by a charming English «*Una," who, speaking Korean almost like a native, moved serenely through the market-day crowds, welcomed by all. A miserable place I thought it, and later experience showed that it was neither more nor less miserable than the general run of Korean towns. Its narrow dirty streets consist of low hovels built of mud-smeared wattle without windows, straw roofs, and deep eaves, a black smoke hole in every wall 2 feet from the ground, and outside most are irregular ditches containing solid and liquid refuse. Mangy dogs and blear-eyed children, half or wholly naked, and scaly with dirt, roll in the deep dust or slime, or pant and blink in the sun, apparently unaffected by the stenches which abound. But market day hid much that is repulsive. Along the whole length of the narrow, dusty, crooked street, the wares were laid out on mats on the ground, a man or an old woman, bundled up in dirty white cotton, guarding each. And the sound of bargaining rose high, and much breath was spent on beating down prices, which did not amount originally to the tenth part of a farthing. The goods gave an impression of poor buyers and small trade. Short lengths of coarse white cotton, skeins of cotton, straw shoes, wooden combs, tobacco pipes and pouches, dried fish and sea-weed, cord for girdles, paper rough and smooth, and barley-sugar nearly black, were the contents of the mats. I am sure that the most valuable stock-in-trade there was not worth more than three dollars. Each vendor had a small heap of cash beside him, an uncouth bronze coin with a square hole in the centre, of which at that time 3,200 iwviinally went to the dollar, and which greatly trammelled and crippled Korean trade.

A market is held in Fusan and in many other places every fifth day. On these the country people rely for all which they do not produce, as well as for the sale or barter of their pro-ductions. Practically there are no shops in the villages and small towns, their needs being supplied on stated days by travelling pedlars who form a very influential guild.

Turning away from the bustle of the main street into a nar-row, dirty alley, and then into a native compound, I found the three Australian ladies who were the objects of my visit to this decayed and miserable town. Except that the compound was clean, it was in no way distinguishable from any other, being surrounded by mud hovels. In one of these, exposed to the full force of the southern sun, these ladies were living. The mud walls were concealed with paper, and photographs and other European knickknacks conferred a look of refinement. But not only were the rooms so low that one of the ladies could not stand upright in them, but privacy was impossible, invasions of Korean women and children succeeding each other from morning to night, so that even dressing was a spectacle for the curious. Friends urged these ladies not to take this step of living in a Korean town 3 miles from Euro-peans. It was represented that it was not safe, and that their health would suffer from the heat and fetid odors of the crowded neighborhood, etc. In truth it was not a ** conven-tional thing " to do.

On my first visit I found them well and happy. Small chil-dren were clinging to their skirts, and a certain number of women had been induced to become cleanly in their persons and habits. All the neighbors were friendly, and rude re-marks in the streets had altogether ceased. Many of the women resorted to them for medical help, and the simple aid they gave brought them much good-will. This friendly and civilizing influence was the result of a year of living under very detestable circumstances. If they had dwelt in grand houses 2^ miles off upon the hill, it is safe to say that the result would have been nil. Without any fuss or blowing of trumpets, they quietly helped to solve one of the great prob-lems as to " Missionary Methods," though why it should be a *' problem " I fail to see. In the East at least, every religious teacher who has led the people has lived among them, know-ing if not sharing their daily lives, and has been easily acces-sible at all times. It is not easy to imagine a Buddha or One greater than Buddha only reached by favor of, and possibly by feeing, a gate-keeper or servant.

On visiting them a year later I found them still well and happy. The excitement among the Koreans consequent on the Tong-hak rebellion and the war had left them unmolested. A Japanese regiment had encamped close to them, and, by permission, had drawn water from the well in their compound, and had shown them nothing but courtesy. Having in two years gained general confidence and good-will, they built a small bungalow just above the old native house, which has been turned into a very primitive orphanage.

The people were friendly and kind from the first. Those who were the earliest friends of the ladies are their staunchest friends now, and they knew them and their aims so well when they moved into their new house that it made no difference at all. Some go there to see the ladies, others to see the furni-ture or hear the organ, and a few to inquire about the '* Jesus doctrine." The "mission work" now consists of daily meet-ings for worship, classes for applicants for baptism, classes at night for those women who may not come out in the daytime, a Sunday school with an attendance of eighty, visiting among the people, and giving instruction in the country and surround-ing villages. About forty adults have professed Christianity, and regularly attend Christian worship.

I mention these facts not for the purpose of glorifying these ladies, who are simply doing their duty, but because they fall in with a theory of my own as to methods of mission work.

There is a very small Roman Catholic mission-house, seldom tenanted, between the two Fusans. In the province of Kyong-sang in which they are, there are Roman missions which claim 2,000 converts, and to promulgate Christianity in thirty towns and villages. There are two foreign priests, who spend most of the year in teaching in the provincial villages, living in Korean huts, in Korean fashion, on Korean food.

A coarse ocean with a distinct line of demarcation between the blue water of the Sea of Japan and the discoloration of the Yellow Sea, harsh, grim, rocky, brown islands, mostly unin-habited — two monotonously disagreeable days, more islands, muddier water, an estuary and junks, and on the third after-noon from Fusan the Higo Maru anchored in the roadstead of Chemulpo, the seaport of Seoul. This cannot pretend to be a harbor, indeed most of the roadstead, such as it is, is a slimy mud flat for much of the day, the tide rising and falling 36 feet. The anchorage, a narrow channel in the shallows, can accommodate five vessels of moderate size. Yet though the mud was eji evidence^ and the low hill behind the town was dull brown, and a drizzling rain was falling, I liked the look of Chemulpo better than I expected, and after becoming ac-quainted with it in various seasons and circumstances, I came to regard it with very friendly feelings. As seen from the roadstead, it is a collection of mean houses, mostly of wood, painted white, built along the edge of the sea and straggling up a verdureless hill, the whole extending for more than a mile from a low point on which are a few trees, crowned by the English Vice-Consulate, a comfortless and unworthy build-ing, to a hill on which are a large decorative Japanese tea-house, a garden, and a Shinto shrine. Salient features there are none, unless the house of a German merchant, an English church, the humble buildings of Bishop Corfe's mission on the hill, the large Japanese Consulate, and some new municipal buildings on a slope, may be considered such. As at Fusan, an English tide-waiter boarded the ship, and a foreign harbormaster berthed her, while a Japanese clerk gave the captain his orders.

Mr. Wilkinson, the acting British Vice-Consul, came off for me, and entertained me then and on two subsequent occasions with great hospitality, but as the Vice-Consailate had at that time no guest-room, I slept at a Chinese inn, known as ** Steward's," kept by Itai, an honest and helpful man who does all he can to make his guests comfortable, and partially succeeds. This inn is at the corner of the main street of the Chinese quarter, in a very lively position, as it also looks down the main street of the Japanese settlement. The Chinese set-tlement is solid, with a hsuidsome y amen and guild hall, and rows of thriving and substantial shops. Busy and noisy with the continual letting off of crackers and beating of drums and gongs, the Chinese were obviously far ahead of the Japanese in trade. They had nearly a monopoly of the foreign '* cus-tom " ; their large "houses" in Chemulpo had branches in Seoul, and if there were any foreign requirement which they could not meet, they procured the article from Shanghai with-out loss of time. The haulage of freight to Seoul was in their hands, and the market gardening, and much besides. Late into the night they were at work, and they used the roadway for drying hides and storing kerosene tins and packing cases. Scarcely did the noise of night cease when the din of morning began. To these hard-working and money-making people rest seemed a superfluity.

The Japanese settlement is far more populous, extensive, and pretentious. Their Consulate is imposing enough for a legation. They have several streets of small shops, which supply the needs chiefly of people of their own nationality, for foreigners patronize Ah Wong and Itai, and the Koreans, who hate the Japanese with a hatred three centuries old, also deal chiefly with the Chinese. But though the Japanese were out-stripped in trade by the Chinese, their position in Korea, even before the war, was an influential one. They gave " postal facilities" between the treaty ports and Seoul and carried the foreign mails, and they established branches of the First Na-tional Bank ' in the capital and treaty ports, with which the resident foreigners have for years transacted their business, and in which they have full confidence. I lost no time in opening an account with this Bank in Chemulpo, receiving an English check-book and pass-book, and on all occasions courtesy and all needed help. Partly owing to the fact that English cot-tons for Korea are made in bales too big for the Lilliputian Korean pony, involving reduction to more manageable dimen-sions on being landed, and partly to causes which obtain else-where, the Japanese are so successfully pushing their cottons in Korea, that while they constituted only 3 per cent, of the imports in 1887, they had risen to something like 40 per cent, in 1894.^ There is a rapidly growing demand for yarn to be woven on native looms. The Japanese are well to the front with steam and sailing tonnage. Of 198 steamers entered in-wards in 1893, 132 were Japanese; and out of 325 sailing vessels, 232 were Japanese. It is on record that an English merchantman was once seen in Chemulpo roads, but actually the British mercantile flag, unless on a chartered steamer, is not known in Korean waters. Nor was there in 1894 an English merchant in the Korean treaty ports, or an English house of business, large or small, in Korea.

Just then rice was in the ascendant. Japan by means of pressure had induced the Korean Government to consent to suspend the decree forbidding its export, and on a certain date the sluices were to be opened. Stacks of rice bags covered the beach, rice in bulk being measured into bags was piled on mats in the roadways, ponies and coolies rice-laden filed in strings down the streets, while in the roadstead a num-ber of Japanese steamers and junks awaited the taking off the embargo at midnight on 6th March. A regular rice babel prevailed in the town and on the beach, and much disaffection prevailed among the Koreans at the rise in the price of their staple article of diet. Japanese agents scoured the whole country for rice, and every cattie of it which could be spared from consumption was bought in preparation for the war of wdiich no one in Korea dreamed at that time. The rice bustle gave Chemulpo an appearance of a thriving trade which it is not wont to have except in the Chinese settlement. Its foreign population in 1897 was 4,357.

The reader may wonder where the Koreans are at Che-mulpo, and in truth 1 had almost forgotten them, for they are of little account. The increasing native town lies outside the Japanese settlement on the Seoul road, clustering round the base of the hill on which the English church stands, and scrambling up it, mud hovels planting themselves on every ledge, attained by filthy alleys, swarming with quiet dirty children, who look on the high-road to emulate the do-less Jiess of their fathers. Korean, too, is the official yamen at the top of the hill, and Korean its methods of punishment, its brutal flagellations by yameii runners, its beating of criminals to death, their howls of anguish penetrating the rooms of the ad-jacent English mission, and Korean too are the bribery and corruption which make it and nearly every yame?i sinks of in-iquity. The gate with its double curved roofs and drum chamber over the gateway remind the stranger that though the capital and energy of Chemulpo are foreign, the government is native. Not Korean is the abode of mercy on the other side of the road from the yamen, the hospital connected with Bishop Corfe's mission, where in a small Korean building the sick are received, tended, and generally cured by Dr. Landis, who himself lives as a Korean in rooms 8 feet by 6, studying, writing, eating, without chair or table, and accessible at all times to all comers. The 6,700 inhabitants of the Korean town, or rather the male half of them, are always on the move. The narrow roads are always full of them, sauntering along in their dress bats, not apparently doing anything. It is old Fusan over again, except that there are permanent shops, with stocks-in-trade worth from one to twenty dollars; and as an hour is easily spent over a transaction involving a few cash, there is an appearance of business kept up. In the settlement the Koreans work as porters and carry preposterous weights on their wooden packsaddles.