Voyage en Corée 2. (Voyage in Corea Section 2)
Explorer charged with an ethnographic mission by the minister of Public Instruction
1888-1889 — previously unpublished text and pictures
Le Tour du Monde, LXIII, 1892 Premier Semestre. Paris : Librairie Hachette et Cie.
Ethnographic overview. - The Seoulites. - Their costumes. - At the market. - The furniture and utensils. - Human Portage. - Seoul at night. - Which way forward? - Preparations for departure. - The caravan. - Farewell. - On the road. - Fall of Ni. - Passage of the Han-Kiang. - A Buddhist monk. - Bulls. - A lisic post. - Prisons and torture. - First act of authority. - An inn. - Horses. - Bread.
I heard repeated everywhere in Europe, America, Japan and even China, that Korea is a poor country from an ethnographic point of view. Indeed, there is, at first glance, nothing sadder, poorer, more miserable than a Korean city, even the capital. After long wars and successive invasions of their country, the kings of Korea, to avoid in future the greed of their powerful neighbors, not only forbade entry into their kingdom to all foreigners and exit from it to their own subjects, but even forbade mining and promulgated sumptuary laws which unfortunately stopped domestic production, hitherto so brilliant, and forcing individuals to hide their wealth. This gave rise to an obvious disrepair which has misled many people. But if one takes the trouble to lift the veils, some curious observations are available immediately to you! and what a great ethnographic harvest awaits you outside the magnificent monuments that still bear witness to past splendors! We will try to show readers this by taking them on walks with us through the noisy population of Seoul, whose customs we will study, then taking them to visit merchants and craftsmen to examine the domestic products. The streets are usually crowded; all classes of society mingle there, with their various costumes, dominated by white cotton clothes, whose use is most prevalent.
Nothing is more curious than seeing confused in one crowd mandarins on horseback, noble ladies carried in their palanquins, scholars, merchants and farmers, all busy, female slaves with their breasts exposed, monks, soldiers, sorcerers, blind beggars, children of every sex, every age, swarming in the most commercial districts of the city, particularly around the main streets, beside the cisterns. These are circular, built using blocks of stone, the water is two feet below the ground, and it is drawn at every hour, the women are especially busy at it. It is in the center of Seoul that the agglomeration is densest, especially in the vicinity of the building occupied by the huge bell that tells people the different times at the same time as it recalls their municipal obligations. Not far off is the bazaar of the Court, the wood and livestock market, where foodstuffs and fruits, etc. are also sold. And amidst the noisy crowd men, women, children move freely. However, high class ladies are allowed to go out only if they are in a hermetically sealed palanquin, or if on foot, wrapped in a coat of green silk that covers them from the top of the head to the lower body and crosses over the face, allowing only enough light in for them to see their way. The wide sleeves, raised to the level of the ears, droop ungracefully along the body.
The women of the people, rarely beautiful, walk about not only with faces bared, but often their bare breasts appear between their little camisole and the wide belt of their high petticoat. They go, in this state, to visit the merchants, making purchases of all kinds: rice, fish, chicken, cakes, etc. while their children play noisily in the streets or stop in awe before acrobats or some Korean clowns.
In summer, these poor little kids are barely dressed, I often met some whose only clothing was a small cotton vest that stopped short at the level of the breasts. As for men, the greatest variety prevails in their clothes, different for each of the eight classes in society. I have already described the dress of a prince and of the common people. The middle class is distinguished from the latter in that over the jacket and trousers, men usually wear a kind of coat that crosses the chest, falls very low, and is slit on each side, from the belt down. It is closed by ribbons, that each one ties with the greatest elegant possible, the Korean knowing neither buttons nor hooks: this garment is usually white or very light in color, almost always of cotton, sometimes of silk, never wool. It is padded in winter with cotton. The bourgeois, instead of having bare ankles and straw shoes, have a free-floating tape of cotton, binding the bottom of the trousers to socks stuffed with cotton, which enlarge the feet considerably, the feet being shod in topless shoes of wood, leather, felt, paper, etc.. Finally the band of cloth around the head of the wretched is replaced for the wealthy by a thin tissue that is covered by a horsehair hat with a wide brim, flat and round, topped with a small truncated cone intended only to house the topknot that married Koreans have on the top of their heads. The hat, thus placed on top of the head, is held in place by two long ribbons that are tied under the chin. This kind of head-covering is made of felt, paper, straw, horsehair, palm, etc.., and in the latter case, it is woven in openwork, so as to allow the air, the sun or the rain to enter freely through the open mesh. It sells at very high prices and is of a rare perfection of execution and form. I know many Parisian ladies who will not hesitate to order some once they come to know of them. Korea seems to be the land of hats: they are made in all kinds of shapes, and I have nowhere seen a greater variety, from the crown of gilded cardboard for the provincial governor to modest headband of the peasant. In order to learn more about the production and the main styles, I visit Korean hat-makers, and learn all the processes of their industry. I continue my researches in the same way, visiting successively the maker of fake hair for ladies, the cloth merchant, the dyer, the makers of ribbons, pipes, arrows, shoes, in short, all craftsmen of the city.
Here we are in a street where they sell furniture; I find objects from different eras. The oldest are lacquered or painted in contrasting colors of the most brilliant effect, and some are enriched with thin bands of ivory or bone which form a square cloisonné, into which has been poured a thin layer of melted horn, whose golden transparency bestows a special glow to the vivid paints it covers and protects. Others, less ancient, are painted black and beautifully inlaid with mother of pearl, a natural product of the country, giving to such furniture an incomparable richness by the beauty of the designs and the brightness of the light they store up. Finally, today others are made today of polished wood decorated with copper, the forms which are strangely reminiscent of our furniture of the Middle Ages. I brought several samples of the different types just described: they are true specimens of Korean craftsmanship. Unfortunately we only found them in the homes of mandarins and nobles, or very rich people, because in Korea as in Japan the common people have no furniture. Seats are unknown in these two countries: people just sit on the floor, and sleep there, too: the poor on the floor, and those who are more fortunate on mats or between two small thin mattresses.
The pillow of the poor is a small elongated cube of wood, about 30 cm long and 15 high; the rich have a pillow of cloth stuffed with feathers and finished with two discs, about twenty centimeters across, inlaid, painted, sculpted or painted and generally embedded in a copper ring. As for beds, they are almost unknown, and is only sometimes used among the governing classes. But everybody eats from a small hexagonal table 60 cm in diameter by 20 high, and regardless of the number of people dining together, everyone has at least one. Large chests, 60 centimeters high and about one meter wide, serveas storerooms; generally they are manufactured in pairs, placed one on top of the other, so that they appear to form a single cabinet. Finally, each person hangs his clothes on long sticks over a meter in length, often decorated with paintings, silk, copper, etc. To complete our information on Korean home furnishings, we must add all the utensils necessary to household use, either in stone or wood, pottery or metal.
In this regard I would point out to the reader that copper vases are only used in winter because of the smell they emit in the summer, where they are replaced by porcelain, stoneware, earthenware etc.. Ancient ceramics of these kinds enjoy a high reputation among the Chinese and Japanese in particular, who claim to be indebted to the Koreans for this industry, which they have taken to a high degree of art. The oldest pieces I brought back in these various types of production are distinguished by the simplicity of their slightly heavy shape, the unity of their color, often greenish, gray, red and sometimes white, and finally their beautiful glazes. The designs that sometimes decorate them are purely geometric - we will return to them later. As for our samples of modern pottery, they recall in form and decoration our European products. One of our drawings shows how Korean potters work nowadays.
The floors of the houses here are mostly covered with oiled paper to prevent the smoke from the chimneys below from entering the rooms through cracks. Paper is, however, used for all purposes of life, to make clothes, hats, shoes, quivers, fans, parasols and screens, as well as lanterns, vases, boxes, wallets and children's toys of an exquisite taste. The writer, drawer and painter use it directly, or attached to an extremely fine silk fabric. Finally it is used for printing, and the characters and drawings are of outstanding typographical quality. Korean paper far exceeds the best that China and Japan have produced. It is manufactured, for the superior qualities, using mulberry bark, and it emerges, according to the processes that it has been subjected to, under the most diverse aspects regarding color, granulation and delicacy. Its strength is matched by its flexibility: it is the finest paper in the world.
Next we are shown some samples of objects related to lighting: candle-holders in wood, marble, bronze, inlaid, with the most varied forms. As for the lanterns, they are even more bizarre; I brought some interesting specimens. We finally acquired some very curious old weapons and modern musical instruments, embroidered cloths, wood carvings, bronzes and jewelry of high quality, proving that the Korean knows all there is to know about the most delicate arts and knows how to put a personal touch on things.
Now, to end our day, all that remains is to show our readers some new drawings allowing them to be present at the creation of some of these objects, drawings where our Korean artist shows us the weaver, the founder, the turner of copper, etc. in the midst of their work, and complete the series with a few sketches taken from nature, where we will see the different ways of carrying things adopted by his countrymen.
In China, human porterage is almost always on the shoulder, at the ends of a pole where burdens are balanced; this method is not used in Korea, but all the other methods are employed. Witness this old beggar, who is holding out her begging-basket, and this charming girl with a broken cup for the china mender. A little further, this poor devil is carrying his pack over the left shoulder by a strap and begs by tapping on a hollow wooden bell. A shopkeeper and his son also use a pack, but passing the strap diagonally across the chest, and it is the same with children who present their wares in the same way. Here are some carriers with differently charged frames on their backs; others carry their burden on the back by two straps passing over the shoulders. Women often put their loads on top of the head; as for their children, they carry them on their backs as in Japan, and, after long walks they sometimes let themselves be carried on the back of a parent, a servant or a lover. The saddest form of porterage is certainly that of the cangue, but the absolute limit comes when someone gets his jailer to wear it for a fee, while he himself quietly smokes his pipe.
If I have written at some length on human porterage, it is because there are few countries where it is as important as in Korea. The fact is that the almost complete absence of roads in this country, which is absolutely bristling with mountains, means that there are, so to speak, no carts, and as the horses are almost exclusively in the service of the government’s posts, all merchandise is carried on men's backs. As if they wanted to show us that day all the means of transport employed here, now we suddenly have to clear the middle of the street to let pass a group of Korean soldiers, half dressed in European style and with their guns slung over their shoulders. They are escorting the minister of war, who is carried on a beautiful palanquin of the kind that bring important people to the Legation. These open chairs are sometimes mounted on one wheel, which bears the weight and so requires less carriers. Closed palanquins are also employed, but these, far from resembling the chairs of China, whose shape recalls those formerly in use among us, are instead simple cubes one meter high. The traveler, who sits with his legs crossed under him, is unable to move; a time in one is therefore especially tiring for Europeans. These palanquins are used not only to carry men and especially women, but also to carry gods in processions. There exist even smaller forms, employed in funeral ceremonies to bring home the mortuary tablets, that is to say, the good spirit of the deceased.
We continue our walk and come across a strange procession, consisting of a number of musicians accompanying a young man whose two attendants are holding his horse. It is a graduate who has just successfully passed the exams. His hat indicates his rank; it is decorated with two curved antennae up to 40 long, all covered with flowers. Our hero makes his official visits in this pompous attire, which he must unfortunately pay for with his own money. A little later, we are joined by a stylish rider that we recognize as a courtier in his suit and hat of hair from which two small wings project horizontally. He is followed by a servant on foot carrying on his shoulder, in a net bag, a round box of copper, 25 cm diameter 12, which sparkles in the rays of the sun with golden reflections. Struck by the ceremonial aspect of this new form of porterage, I ask my companion if this vase is not a tin of provisions. He laughs.
"Ah! I have it, I said: It’s a great box of sweets.
- You're nowhere near, he says, this vase, always made of metal, with a lid and no handle, plays a much more important role in Korean life. It is mandatory for all, as each has his own and never leaves it behind, even during visits and especially when traveling. The poor carry it themselves; the rich have a special servant attached thereto who has to keep it at all times in the most sparkling cleanliness, available for the master. Even the Mandarin himself, in all the pomp of his official visits, treating it as almost equal to his own sealsm employs it as a counterweight on the horse carrying them.
- But what is its use?
- It is used day and night, in solitude, and in meetings, whenever the need arises. Here's how: on a sign, the clerk hands it to you and it is gently slipped under the long coat. Its function once performed, carefully putting the lid on, removing it from the asylum where it was briefly hidden, it is returned to the attentive servant: he knows what he has to do, while we continue peacefully the conversation as if nothing had happened. In addition, this object serves as a spittoon and replaces if necessary a candle-stick once its owner has disposed the cover to this end: finally, precious container! it is often used as a pillow by the poor of this world. Therefore, given its quintuple use in Korea, added my companion, I advise you, when you speak, to call it the "National vase."
- No, I said, all civilized peoples use it, but I find that here it is no longer "chamber", since moves freely everywhere, or "night" because we meet it in sunlight, so it should be called, given its multiple functions, the "indispensable."
While we were conversing, gradually the fog comes on, and everyone hurries back to his home, because it is forbidden to men, for fear of being arrested, to circulate in the streets of the capital from a certain hour of the evening. Only important people and foreigners are allowed out, and they do not abuse the permission, given the absolute lack of lighting in the city, which is so poorly maintained that even with lanterns we risk breaking our bones a hundred times. This leaves only the police outside, the blind or some servants of Mandarins, charged by these with urgent commissions justified by a wooden disc called "for circulation", on which are burned the name of the master and his position. These precautions are taken only against thieves. However, should one meet a lady, one must avoid looking at her, turning one’s face towards a wall. Only women are free to move about the capital after nine o'clock in the evening, and they take the opportunity to walk about and breathe with face uncovered, which is forbidden during the day. We leave them to their happy freedom, and return to the Legation, where we find the night watchman already at his psot. It is a special custom in Seoul that all the important houses have a servant, who walks through the courtyards and gardens as long as darkness. He is armed with a sword and a square iron bar about 2 meters long, to the tip of which are attached sound-producing rings that he must constantly shake to warn thieves that he is on guard.
I learn all these details from my gracious hosts who every day, not only help me with their advice, but take from people on all sides the information necessary to facilitate my journey through Korea. Oh! the good, the great friends! they do everything for me and do not even allow me to thank them!
The first cold weather is starting to be felt, but I am assured that it will stop soon and then I'll have almost two months of good weather, which is just enough. I must hasten my departure, although I am delighted that my stay in Seoul, where I was able to study so agreeably the topography, architecture, customs and various productions, while putting together a large ethnographic collection. From all this it appears to us that the Korean by his physical appearance, manners, habits, characteristic products of all kinds, etc.., is absolutely different from his neighbors, to the point that if one of them is placed in a crowd of Chinese or Japanese, he will be immediately recognized. Similarly, a Chinese or Japanese in Seoul is immediately recognizable by his costume, his facial expression, language, etc.. This very clear difference, together with the diversity of types that we encounter here, increases the difficulty of determining to which branch of the human family we should attach the Korean. But we will try to do so by crossing the country and collecting all the documents related to this topic. But which road to take to try to achieve this? In reality nothing is more simple: first we should study the main routes that have been covered so far.
The oldest known route is that which goes by land from Beijing to Seoul: a Chinese ambassador once made a very interesting description of it, recently translated by Mr. M-F. Scherzer, the late diplomat to whom the future seemed to promise a brilliant career.
Here is the route they followed: they went to Beijing to Yong-Ping-fu, Ning-yan-cheng, Cheng-king or Mukden and Feung-Hwang-tchang, from there, passing the palisade marking the frontier of the Empire, they reached Itcheo and there entered Korea over the Ya-lou-kiang (in Korean Ap-Nok-kiang) and from there passed through Ngancho, Hoangtcheo and arrived in Seoul.
The road that Hendrik Hamel from Gorcum followed comes next. He was shipwrecked on Quelpaërt in 1653. He is transported by sea with his companions to Hai Nam and from there over land to near Seoul, through Riong-Om-Na-jiu, Tain-Chon-jiu, and finally Kai-seng. After long years of slavery, the survivors are forced to take an almost parallel route, also touching Kai-seng, Kongjiu, Chon-ju, and then on to Nam-on, where they reach the sea. One night they manage to escape by boat to the island of Goto, and from there reach Nagasaki.
This is a summary of the interesting story, published by Hamel after thirteen years and twenty-eight days of captivity.
Two centuries later, M. Oppert visit the main cities of the Gulf of Prince Jerome and reaches Seoul. Carles then appears, who follows the route followed by the ambassadors from Seoul to Wigu, from where he begins a new journey passing through Wi-Won, Chang-jiu, Hamheung and Won-san, and from there takes the direct route Seoul, used by the Japanese and the Russians and recently traveled by Colonel Chaillé-Long, who also visited Quelpaërt, like Hamel. Three expeditions have been directed at the White Head mountain. In 1886, Messrs. James, Younghusband and Fulford leave Beijing and reach the Paik-tu-san through Manchuria.
In 1890 and 1891, two expeditions to the famous mountain are undertaken by Sir Elliot and Major J. R. Hobday makes known the results in a very interesting topographic map. Finally, Sir Ch.-W. H. Campbell of the Consular Service, China, has recently told of his curious expedition to the far north of Korea. Here is a summary: taking the direct route from Seoul to Keum-seng, he reaches the coast near Koseng and follows it up to Won-san, where he takes the road followed by Carles to Ham-heung, then reaches Pulh-cheng and continues along the coast directly to Kapsan, Un-chong and Po-chon to Peik-tu-san; on his return from this magnificent journey he makes a double detour at the last cities just mentioned to visit Hyei-san and Sam-su, then returns by the road he followed up to Koum, where he takes the road of the ambassadors as far as Pyengyang, then via Hoang-chu finally returns to Seoul.
These travelers having had great success with their journeys, all that remains for me to accomplish as a journey of exploration in Korea is to travel from Seoul to Fousan.
Mr. Collin de Plancy approves this project absolutely, but he advises me to go through Taikou, the capital of Kyengsang-to. This almost doubles the length of the journey, because of the difficulties of the road, but offers a much larger ethnographic interest than the direct route. There is no hesitation. I hasten the packing of all that I have bought in Seoul to ship it directly from Tchemoulpo to France, and acquire all that is necessary for my exploration: stove, cooking-ware, wine, preserves of all kinds, flour for my bread, and finally an old oil can, 60 × 30 centimeters, which, surrounded by coal, will serve as an oven. I also order some large cards in red paper, 15 centimeters by 8, with my name in Chinese characters; if I was in mourning, I should, according to the rites in Korea, have used white paper. These cards, contained in a huge portfolio of oiled paper with ornaments and a brass padlock, will be borne ceremoniously by the servant responsible for depositing them with the mandarins of the districts that I have to cross. Finally, respectful of the customs of the country, I offer myself the necessary vase-brass candlestick of which the reader already knows what to expect. That is, with my scientific instruments and my personal belongings, all of my luggage, contained in four wooden boxes that must be joined in pairs on the Korean ponies. Meanwhile, Mr. Collin de Plancy takes care of my internal passport. It is sent to me in a huge envelope of 25 cm × 10, edged with blue, covered with Chinese characters printed in the same color, and bears, in addition to various characters drawn with a brush, three huge seals of mandarins. The passport, double in size, is decorated with identical burdenss.
It remains for us to resolve the important question of money. The only form of money known in Korea is what are called “coppers,” small copper coins pierced at the center by a square hole which serves to string them together; every hundred coins are separated from the next by a straw knot for easier counting. At present 1350 coins are worth one Mexican piastre, about 4 francs. The quantity of cash to be carried therefore increases the number of horses of the caravan and the danger of being stopped by the brigands. I do not know how to calculate exactly the amount needed for my journey, no European having made it before, and besides, along the way I want to buy anything that seems interesting from the point of view of my collection. Mr. Collin de Plancy, with his usual tact, overcomes the difficulty by obtaining a letter of credit on the Treasury. This missive, a magnificent specimen of Korean paper, is written entirely in ink and with two red seals, here is the translation:
"Order of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the mandarins of each locality.
"We have received from Mr. Collin de Plancy, Commissioner of the French government with us, a letter in which he says that his compatriot, Mr. Varat, on the orders of the King of France (!) has come to study our habits, our customs, our manners, and to make at his own expense a collection of all our products, artistic, industrial and agricultural, that he will offer to his country.
"For this purpose he wishes to cross Korea and reach Fousan via Taikou,
"That is why we are sending this letter, to assure him of a good room (?), to provide everything he needs, and to open a credit on our Treasury. Provide him with the sums he may request, against his receipt, which we will then refund here. Bow down and obey.
"Signed: Minister of Foreign Affairs."
Armed with this precious document, all that remains is for me to organize my caravan. Mr. Collin de Plancy is so kind as to give me one interpreter from among the scholars of the Legation, called Ni, who has learned our language in part through the Fathers and then through our eminent representative. To increase my standing as a French Mandarin, he also offers two Korean soldiers responsible for guarding the Legation as an escort. Finally in his goodness, not overlooking any detail, he finds a Chinese cook skilled in our style of cooking, and orders people to find the eight horses and grooms that are necessary. The ponies are brought on the eve of my departure, I at once inspect them. The biggest is destined for me; despite its exceptional size for Korea I can mount it without setting foot in the stirrup. I must, however, avoid showing myself to it because at the sight of my European clothes, it immediately rears up on its hind legs. This is a habit it religiously preserves during the whole trip. Five of the other horses, though very small, seem to have all the necessary qualities to make the trip. But the last two seem unacceptable: one has a sly look presaging unpleasant adventures, and the other seems to me absolutely incapable of doing even two days of walking, holding its poor head sadly between skeleton legs, I gently lift its head to see the eyes and realize that it is blind in one. The first, I am assured, seems to have faults it has not, and the second is hiding all its qualities: in addition, if I do not like them, they can be changed along the way. I agree therefore to keep them in order to avoid delays. As for the men, I worry little: it is up to me to train them. Besides, I could only obtain their support and that of their horses until Taikou, where I will have to reorganize my caravan to go to Fousan. Finally, as nobody has made the trip before, we will have to ask information about directions as we go. My horse is chosen, my interpreter chooses for himself, despite my advice, the little horse that looks unreliable, then it is the turn of the two soldiers, and finally of the cook. Three horses are intended to bear the cash, my scientific, culinary, personal luggage, etc.., I decide the load for each, and in order not to tire my memory with the composite names of my companions, I decide to call each by the position he will occupy in the caravan, which, given the complete absence of roads, will have to walk in single file. Contrary to the demands of ritual, I place at the forefront the fiercest of my two soldiers, to whom I leave their weapons to spare their military pride: this warrior will be named One, and the groom who accompanies him Two, then come the grooms Three, Four, and Five, responsible for guarding the baggage. Six is my cook and Seven a groom. My interpreter and another groom are called Eight and Nine, another groom and my second soldier, responsible for carrying my orders along the small column are Ten and Eleven, Twelve is the owner of my horse and I am the last, tragic Thirteen, a number that is as good as any other.
I had decided, against all Korean customs, to travel last, in order to be able to keep an eye on all my little troop, to prevent gaps occuring, take care of every need, and avoid any discussion about the place, it being most exposed to attacks by tigers, and I never took the head of the column except during night marches, to hasten the pace, being certain, given the dangers of bandits and others, that I would be followed closely by my people.
When everything is thus settled, I give my men rendezvous for the next day and spend my afternoon paying my last visits to all the people I had the honor of being presented to in Seoul. I meet tem all again in the evening at the Legation, for the farewell dinner that Mr. Collin de Plancy kindly offers in my honor. What terms can I find to express here how grateful I am to our esteemed representative and his amiable Chancellor, Mr. Guerin, for their cordial welcome, for all the services they have rendered me in organizing my trip across Korea, for the care they took after my departure to complete my collection by purchasing many documents that all kinds of impossibilities had prevented me from obtaining? It is a debt that all my friendship and dedication will never allow me to fully repay, no more, alas! than all those others I acquired during my trip around the world, for I found everywhere in the diplomatic agents, sea captains, customs employees, missionaries and all Europeans the most charming welcome. So I am happy to finally be able to thank them all publicly and I hope that the echo of my gratitude will bring back to them over there, the loving memories that I keep of them all.
The hour of our departure has come: it is with a truly heavy heart and moist eyes that I embrace our excellent consul general and his amiable chancellor, who have become my best friends. They accompany me to the door of the Legation, follow me with their eyes. Alas! the caravan soon turns right, I wave my handkerchief one last time and sadly we move on through the city to reach the South Gate. Here we wait for my interpreter, whose home is nearby. Impatient at not seeing him arrive, I am about to go in search of him when he finally appears. He tells me he has escaped with the greatest difficulty the heartbreaking farewell of his mother, his wife and two small children, as these good people are struck by the terrible dangers that we will inevitably encounter on our journey. Finally we are in the saddle, and we enter a little ravine og red earth covered with tall Japanese cedars, whose bushy, dark green branches, stand out against the blue sky. This place is a favorite hiking destination for the inhabitants of the capital; all the suburban countryside with its rice fields, conical rocks, distant mountains dazzles and delights us. The weather is beautiful and relatively warm.
Suddenly I hear a cry; I look and see my unfortunate interpreter has been thrown from his ridiculous mandarin-style saddle, perched so high that his feet touched the head of his horse, which, as I had foreseen, is already beginning to shy wildly. I jump down from my small European saddle and help master Ni up. He looks upset because it is not only his first attempt at riding, but also his first voyage, and this unfortunate beginning leaves a very strong impression, although he admits to having been more afraid than hurt. This time, I want to have the vicious pony carrying luggage, but one of my soldiers ask me to give it to him in exchange for his own, which is very sweet. I reluctantly agree; the saddles are changed, and master Ni climbs back onto his pompous seat, where he looks, half buried in the cushions, like a walking Buddha, blessing the Korean countryside.
We soon reach Narou Kay, where we cross the Yang-kiang; the landscape is beautiful: far off. a range of blue hills blends gently with the horizon, while in the middle of the valley flows the river, a huge body of sleeping water, which reflects the blue of the sky and the green of the hills, with an intensity of luminous transparency which has an inexpressible charm. We cross the river on two small boats which, fortunately, make several trips. Distracted for a moment, I hear loud cries, I turn around and see the last horse still in the sampan jump into the water with all my scientific equipment. The current bears it away, but luckily we are able to catch it and bring it back, but unfortunately some of my instruments are lost due to moisture. I grumble at myself and my people, because I am convinced that if I had followed this last voyage as the other seven, I would not have had to regret the irreparable loss of my barometer, my photographic plates, etc.. To prevent such a disaster recurring, I now require, at river crossings, that each horse be held by two grooms, one in front and one behind, something which was not done on this last crossing. We continue our journey past Sovindo, Na-Ouen, then we cross the first hill, the Sa-pian. We meet a mendicant monk dressed in his yellow robes and armed with a stick, with which he strikes a small wooden instrument in the shape of a large European padlock. He is appealing to public charity, and his purse seems empty, just as most Buddhist temples are deserted in Korea. Buddhism was introduced to China by the fourth century, it soon has so great an influence that Korean monks start to spread the new faith in Japan, where they are so successful that 624 Saganomago, regent after the death of M'mayadono-oci, organizes Buddhism as the official religion and appoints to the dignified rank of So-zio (Supreme Pontiff) and So-dy (Vicar General), Kam-ro and Taku-Seki, Korean monks from Kou-doura (Hiak-sai); they and their successors make the greatest concessions to the Shintoist priests, sacrificing purity of doctrine to personal interests. Later Buddhist monks in Korea as in Japan, took part as armed soldiers in the internal political divisions which agitated the two countries.
But at the end of the fourteenth century, the new dynasty installed in Korea, after some persecutions, gradually leaves Buddhism completely aside. With that, its influence diminishes rapidly. Now most of the pagodas are almost abandoned and monasteries are often used for joyous gatherings of galants, whose activities there are far from religious matters. Finally, the alms that a few monks still collect are given less from devotion than from human kindness. Such is, while Confucianism grows, the unfortunate state to which Buddhism, once so prosperous, has been reduced in almost all the provinces, with the exception of Kyeng-yang, where its has retained some influence, contrasting with the poverty that monks are reduced to almost everywhere else. Everyone here, even the buddhists themselves, admit that in a few generations there will be nothing left but a memory of this cult.
We continue our journey through a beautiful valley, full of rich harvests, scattered trees, with rice fields beautifully arranged. Harvesting is in progress, and as there are no carts or wagons, given the state of the roads, the transport of fodder is done on the back of magnificent bulls. They carry a strange arrangement, consisting of four poles two meters high, connected together by four cross sticks that are placed on the animal’s back, to keep them in balance together with all the rice straw they enclose. The animal thus charged seems to be carrying on its back a whole cartload of straw. These ruminants, despite their powerful stature, are extraordinary gentle, so they are never castrated. They obey the slightest sign, thanks to a very simple device which consists of a wooden ring passed through the nose and attached to the top of the head by a rope whose action is so violent that in all circumstances it prefers to do immediately what it is told. Could we not apply this system in France and so avoid the many accidents, often fatal, suffered by our hardworking farmers? If the experiences made at home are successful, which I am convinced they will be, I shall be amply rewarded for my expedition to Korea. Only bulls perform farming work here; horses cannot, because of their small size, be used for this purpose.
We cross the Kum-Koutan, behind which we find in the plain the same crops of millet, beans and peppers, etc.. Where the paths serving as roads cross, we often encounter a huge square post more than 2 meters high. Roughly carved, it represents a Korean general, rolling fierce eyes and gnashing his teeth; his chest is decorated with various inscriptions indicating the names of roads, distances, etc.. It might be called a ‘lisic’ post (from li, the distance of measurement used here). At some junctions four or five of these poles can be seen together, that from far off have the appearance of mandarins standing chatting together. A strange legend is told about them, and I entrusted it to the professional secrecy of a journalist who has somewhat abused it; however, as it seems curious in form and idea, I cannot resist telling it again.
In very ancient times, the Minister of State Tsang led his daughter, who was young, very beautiful and not yet married, to a secluded room and said: "My child, if someone has a good harvest must he keep it for himself, or give it to one of his neighbors and friends? – How can my august father ask me such a question? Of course he must keep his harvest for himself and his family. – Very well, you have yourself pronounced your sentence: you are my flower, my fruit, and you shall be mine alone." And he made her his wife. In desperation, she committed suicide. Soon came a great drought in Korea, and despite all the sacrifices offered to the gods by the king and all the mandarins, the skies remained tightly shut, and a host of people died of starvation. The king then invited all the officials to join him to consider the matter, and great was the astonishment when Minister Tsang presented himself at the meeting with his hat covered in dew, although the sun was shining most ardently. The king immediately had the general arrested and he confessed his crime in the midst of tortures. He was accordingly condemned to be cut into pieces, and therefore his effigy was placed on the posts along the roads to remind everyone that the punishment of the offense of one often affects the whole country.
Suddenly, by a strange coincidence, just in front of us we see an unfortunate prisoner, his head held in a cangue, walking along painfully with a guard on his way to prison. This corresponds in horror to the interrogation with various tortures of which we show two terrifying drawings. All these atrocities are justified in Korea by the idea that any misconduct undermines the family, the basis of humanity, and thus deserves the highest punishment.
A fourth ascent leads us up onto the plain of Ma-chu-kori, which means "Food of the king's horses." Here I finally notice that one of our steeds is dragging its poor legs in the most pitiful way. I approach the unfortunate beast, and observe that its load of copper cash has been doubled and it is none the better for that. At once I give the order to unload the poor animal, which then, suddenly relieved of the weight it had been supporting with great difficulty, balanced on stiffened limbs, falls to the ground, but then immediately rises courageously. I caress it with my hand, and realizing that this, the anemic pony I had at first refused, has been absolutely sacrificed, I order an exchange of saddles with the most outstanding of the horses, which is only lightly loaded. A great clamor from the horse owners. "I do not accept any comments, because it is just, I say, that the strong bear the heaviest burden, and whether you like it or not, it will be so throughout our journey, because I want to arrive safe and sound without losing either man or beast." We then resume our march, the men very unhappy and I delighted by this incident, which will earn me in the future, thanks to the results that I expect, the absolute confidence of my escort. Two hours later, we are at Ta-ri-net, where a bloody battle took place between Koreans and Chinese, then we gain Han-ko-oune. Since night is falling, we stop at the inn. My horse steps over the cross-bar at the bottom of the outer gate, while I bend in half to avoid hitting my forehead on the beam above. We enter a large courtyard, in the center of which stands a huge tree trunk, one meter high, topped by a stone on which scraps of pine wood are burning whose brilliant light illuminates the entire inn. To the right of the gate lies the kitchen, to the left the commons where bulls, cows, calves, pigs, roosters and chickens are lodged. Along the far side are the rooms for travelers, built up on small masonry vaults for heating by the Korean method. Finally, on the left, is the open hangar where our horses that are now being unloaded will find shelter. They are installed one by one, the rump toward the wall and the head turned towards the courtyard, facing the fire. Before them, a beam placed transversely and supported on poles 60 centimeters high prevents them from escaping; at the same time it serves as their manger, small square troughs having been carved into it. While the ponies are eating a first course of rice straw, in the kitchen a great soup of various kinds of beans is cooked which is served piping hot, then the meal ends with a third course identical to the first. While I am inspecting my horses, I notice that they all have a large incision in the nostrils so that, during hot weather, they can breathe more easily and avoid heat-stroke. While the animals are eating, the grooms weave huge straw covers for them, doubling the thickness of the part designed to cover the necks and chests of the ponies, so as to protect them completely from the cold, to which they are very sensitive. One starts to act as a bad neighbor to the rest with a few kicks: at once a wide belt of plaited straw is passed under its belly, the ends of which are attached to two beams in the roof. When it tries to kick again, the rope automatically tightens and the animal, suddenly suspended in the air, calms down immediately. I should also draw the reader's attention to their strange way of shoeing horses, laying them on their back and tying the four feet together with a rope. The Koreans, having noticed that horse-shoes are frequently worn down more on one side than the other in this country of mountains, often cut the shoe in two, so that only half has to be replaced.
While I am taking care of my caravan, my dinner has been prepared; I find it served on a small Korean table. I sit down on a suitcase which, with the rest of my luggage, a mat to sleep on and a wooden pillow make up all the furniture of my little room. It is bare, with white walls, the ceiling beamed, and the floor covered with oiled paper, to prevent smoke from entering. This inspection done, I began to eat. My soup once eaten, I ask my Chinese cook for bread. He looks at me bewildered. He does not know French, but he must know English, from what I'm told, so I try: "Give me some bread", he remains stunned, " Geben Sie mir Brod," his dismay increases, "Datemi pane", he flees in panic. Has he finally understood? He soon returns, not with bread but with my interpreter. "Ah, I say to Ni, this fellow, who claims to know all the European languages, knows decidedly none. I just asked him for bread in French, English, German, Italian, and he did not understand, tell him in Korean. – But he does not know our language. – Say it in Chinese then. – Sir, I pronounce it too badly. – I am starting to be angry. – I'll give you some bread, replies Ni, and gives me a piece, saying: “This is all that is left. "Heavens, I thought, how am I going to teach my cook to make bread and cook it in the oil can?” I was quite puzzled, then suddenly an idea came to me: Since you are a scholar, I say to Ni, if you do not speak Chinese you should at least be able to write the characters? – Yes, he replies. – So call Six (the number of my cook), and ask him in writing if he knows how to read and write. The latter, having read, replies that he understands perfectly. This then is how I communicate with him. I tell my interpreter, he writes, the cook reads, and I am served. My dinner finished, I close my window of wood and paper, fasten my door with a rope wrapped around a nail prepared for this purpose, and spend a good night in my camp-bed, which is prepared by the two soldiers, now become my orderlies.