Henri Zuber’s article “An Expedition in Corea” (1873)


This account, published with illustrations from drawings by the author in Le Tour du monde illustré, 1873, T. XXV, p. 401 – 416, is above all notable for all that it does not relate. The military conflicts that ensued between the capture of “Kangoa” and the departure of the French are not mentioned. Instead we find only evocations of the natural landscape


Embarked on board the corvette Primauguet, commanded by Captain Bochet, a worthy, brave and indifatigable officer that the Navy has unfortunately since lost, I had the good fortune, rare today, to land on an unexplored coast and visit an almost unknown people. I propose to tell in what follows what I saw during this expedition.

The reader will forgive me if I begin my tale with a general overview of the country of Korea, which has also played its part in the history of the world and where will be found no doubt, the key to many problems.

 Korea is a large peninsula between the thirty-fourth and forty-second parallels of latitude north, and one hundred and the twenty-third and one hundred and twenty-seventh meridian of longitude east.

It is bordered to the north by the river Hap-nok-Kang, which separates it from the Chinese province of Leao-Tong, and a mountain range called Paik-tu-san (Mount Summit White), east and south by the Sea of Japan, and finally to the west by the Gulf of Pet-chi-li or Yellow Sea.

A high chain of mountains, from which five major rivers and a large number of smaller rivers emerge, generally directed toward the west, runs parallel to and a short distance from the east coast, giving birth to several important ramifications. These mountains, many of which are ancient volcanoes, have a very high elevation and—perhaps—a mantle of snow during the greater part of the year. Here, on this subject, is how an indigenous document describes the mountain Paik-tu-san:


“It is impossible to measure the height of Mount Paik-tu-san. A lake is at the top, the water is black and no one can measure its depth. There is snow and ice until the fourth month (the end of May). Its whiteness can be seen from afar and the top looks like a large white vase. It is jagged and like a vase whose opening is facing the sky. The crater is white on the outside, and red with white veins inside. On the north side, a stream one meter deep emerges as a cascade and forms the source of the river Heuk-yeung (Black Dragon). Some three or four li (one thousand two hundred / six hundred meters) from the top of the mountain, the Heuk-yeung divides into two branches, one of which is the source of the river Hap-nok-kang (Green Duck).”


The area of ​​Korea is about two hundred and sixteen thousand square kilometers and the number of its inhabitants is estimated at eight or nine million. A census from 1793 gives the population of Korea as 7,342,341. The men were then numbering 3,596,860 and 3,745,481 the number of women. The average population is about thirty-six persons per square kilometer, or half of what it is in France. But this population is, as in all mountainous countries, very unevenly distributed. Dense in large valleys, especially near the western coast, it is rare to the east and becomes almost zero in the northern provinces. In these latter, the lack of population is not due to the rigor of the climate, or the ingratitude of the soil which is rather fertile, but to a political act. Indeed, the Korean government in this region suppressed four cities and created a desert border intended to protect it against Tartar invasions. This barrier is neither more effective nor less singular than the Great Wall, the two are equal in absurdity.

Although it lies between the same parallels as Asia Minor, Korea is far from enjoying as mild a climate. As in all the countries surrounding it, the temperatures are extreme. Summer is hot and rainy while winter is cold and dry. It is during this season that the northeast winds, which have passed over the frozen steppes of Mongolia, blow with greater violence. The most beautiful months of the year are those of September, October, November and December.


Korea is today divided into eight provinces, with the following names:

1.      Kieung-kei-to.

2.      Tcheoung-tchieung-to.

3.      Tjieun-lo-to.

4.      Kieung-sang-to.

5.      Kang-ouen-to.

6.      Houng-hai-to.

7.      Ham-kieung-to.

8.      Pieung-an-to.


Each of these provinces, very unequal in importance, is administered by a governor, a kind of prefect, who has under his command a number of mandarins proportionate to the cities of the province.

The Korean government is an absolute hereditary monarchy. The king's council is composed of three higher ministers and of six lower ministers, each responsible for a department corresponding more or less to our own. The king recognizes the suzerainty of the Son of Heaven and pays or should pay him tribute. Each year, two embassies go to Beijing. The first fetches the calendar, it should be observed, does not honor Korean astronomers, and the second, which is supposed to arrive in the capital of China more or less on the first day of the Chinese New Year, brings the Emperor the good wishes and presents from his vassal. Every year, a big market is held on the border in the small village of Foung-pien-men; Koreans bring beautiful furs, the famous root Genseng so desired by the Chinese, and other items that are exchanged against industrial products of the Celeste Empire. Trade of no significance is also exchanged with Japan. These are the only relationships that Korea maintains with its neighbors. It has not always been so, and this state of things has only existed since the seventeenth century or even later. It was only established after constant relationships, sometimes very peaceful, sometimes hostile, with China and Japan.

Thus Korea, thanks to its geographical position, has played the role of intermediary between the Celestial Empire and that of the Rising Sun, yet it does not seem to have profited sufficiently from it, since its current state of civilization is far from being equal to that of its neighbors.

It was in the first century before Christ that Koreans first established relations with the Japanese; the son of the king of Sin-ra, who reigned over the southern part of the peninsula, visited the Mikado in person. In the following centuries, Korean embassies introduced successively to Nippon books of philosophy and science from China, many industries and some animals, including the horse. War broke out with China. In the year 12 AD, the Koreans were defeated by the Chinese emperor Sin-wang, and their prince was declared deposed from the throne, but twenty years later the kingdom was restored by the Emperor Kuang-wu-ti. Hostilities recommenced and then repeatedly the Koreans ravaged Leao-tong. The third century was full of setbacks for the peninsula. In the year 200, during a civil war due to the rivalry of two brothers of royal race, the Japanese empress Zin-ko landed on the coast of the Kingdom of Sin-ra, defeated the troops sent to stop her, and imposed a tribute. In 246, the Chinese, in turn, defeated the Koreans, who make their submission, and almost at the same time, the Japanese seized the entire southern part of the peninsula. In the following century, a man named Kao, from the country of Fu-yu, located in the northwest of the peninsula, usurps power and probably established the unified kingdom of Cho-sen (Far East), which then took the name of Kao-li, whence probably the name adopted for Korea in Europe.

Possession of the throne was contested by Kao’s descendants, but his grand-son finally gained the upper hand definitively. The fifth century was marked by no event of importance. Throughout it, relations between the Koreans and the Japanese were sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile; they frequently exchanged embassies. In 552, Buddhism was imported to Japan. Ten years later, wars resumed and continued for a long period, both with China and with Japan, with alternating success and failure. In 663, Korea finally freed itself of the Japanese, and after that relations between the two countries lost much of their political importance. Finally in 637 Korea was again invaded and subjected by the Chinese, and since that time, the country has been almost completely isolated from its neighbors and maintains only very limited relations with them, as was mentioned earlier. [* We owe this historical overview to very obliging communications of our learned orientalist M. Leon de Rosny.]

Korea is as yet known to Europeans only through Chinese books, the relationship of a shipwrecked Dutch sailor who underwent a year of captivity in the capital, and some short accounts of missionaries and sailors. It is to say that this country, once it accessible to the maritime powers of the West, will offer a wide field to the scholarly investigations and explorations of travelers. Despite its favorable location from a strategic point of view, despite its salubrious climate, Korea has remained sheltered from European greed and outside political combinations. When part of Europe had their eyes on China and Japan, which had just opened to foreign trade, the name of the peninsula was not pronounced. Nobody, except perhaps the Russians, has considered moving into this mysterious land, still free of all contact with the barbarians. But if diplomacy was not interested in it, the same was not true of Catholic mission, always in search of new countries where it can spread the faith.

The first missionaries came to Korea in the year 1820, and lived quietly until 1839. That year was hard, for the country, which was afflicted with famine, and for the mission, of which three members were killed. The missionary work continued none the less, with such success that in the following years, new persecutions were ordered against it. In 1847, the French government decided to intervene and sent the frigate and corvette La Gloire and La Victorieuse to Korea. Unfortunately, these two ships, equipped with insufficient information, were wrecked. The crews, equipped with arms and provisions, were able to take refuge on an island in the archipelago of Ko-Koun. They waited there for the help that two brave officers were sent to seek in Shang-hai and were soon rescued by ships of the English fleet.

In 1856, Admiral Guérin, commander of La Virginie, was more fortunate: he discovered the Gulf of Prince Jérome and the archipelago of the Prince Imperial, but his search for a route leading to the Korean capital remained without result, and he had leave the coasts of the peninsula without having obtained anything from the natives. I have seen for myself how much energy and skill it must have taken Admiral Guérin to make this expedition with a sailing vessel. Everything was in peace and nobody any longer thought of Korea when, in March 1866, it was learned in China that in the space of a month, nine missionaries had been put to death. This event followed a Russian attempt to establish a settlement on the east coast. The missionaries who survived have said that the Prince Regent, who is the father of the young king, the adopted son of Queen Tso had, at the time of the arrival of the Russians, sent for Bishop Berneux. He wanted to consult him on the measures to be taken to remove the barbarians without causing a war. Then, after the Russians left of their own accord, the regent, completely reassured on that side and no longer needing the advice of the missionaries, had also resolved to get rid of them.

On March 8th, MM. Berneux, de Bretennières, Dorie, Beaulieu were beheaded; on the 11th, it was the turn of MM. Petit-Nicolas and Bourthié and finally on the 30th MM. Daveluy, Huin, Aumaître joined the list of European victims of this persecution, which was also aimed, but with less rigor, at the native converts. Three missionaries, MM. Feron, Calais and Ridel, all escaped.

Mr. Ridel, who managed to reach the Chinese coast in a small boat manned by eleven neophytes, made ​ ​known the sad news that we have just read. As soon as the commander of the naval division of the China Seas was informed of these facts, he decided on a military expedition. But a revolt in Cochin, which required the assistance of the Admiral’s frigate, delayed the expedition until September. It is of this small country, one of the least known of the East, that I propose to instruct the readers. I will pass lightly over the military acts and rather pay particular attention to the geographical and scenic aspects.

On September 12, 1866, the naval division of the China seas, commanded by Admiral Roze, was assembled in front of the small island of Kung-Tung, opposite the Chinese port of Che-foo. It was in a state of the highest activity, completing the loading of supplies and making final preparations. On the 18th, three ships of the division, the corvette Primauguet, under Commandant Bochet, with the flag of rear-admiral, the frigate Déroulède under captain Richy, and the gunboat Tardif, under captain Chanoine, set sail and headed for the coast of Korea.

The admiral, before committing all his ships to uncertain dangers of navigation, wanted to obtain a precise notion of the difficulties he would have to overcome. The next day at noon, he recognized the Ferrières Islands, surveyed by Admiral Guerin, and in the evening, after having happily passed all the channels, they anchored in the Gulf of Prince Jérome. A small barren and uninhabited island near the mooring was named after the Empress and served as the starting point for all subsequent maritime operations.

The next day, the Déroulède, having on board Father Ridel and some Koreans who had accompanied the missionary to China, was sent in search of the mouth of the Han-kang River. Thanks to the natives their mission was completed in a few hours. He returned on the evening of the 21st, equipped with the most valuable information. Before going further, it is necessary to take a quick look at the topography of this part of Korea.

The Han-kang River takes its source in the high mountains of the east and flows generally in the direction of the northwest. The capital, Seoul, is located on the right bank, ten leagues from the mouth. Before emptying into the sea, the river is divided into two arms by the island of Kang-hoa, with an area of four hundred square kilometers. One of the arms, inaccessible to European vessels, flows due west, the other, which the natives aptly call "Salt River" as the water is completely brackish, runs from north to south. It ends in a series of archipelagos, covering the twelve miles between the island of Kang-hoa Gulf of Prince Jerome, which contain no less than a hundred and forty-two islands and islets. When you know that the tidal currents in these parts often reach a speed of seven miles an hour, you will easily appreciate the difficulties which navigation encounters. Fortunately, at low tide, a large number of these islands are connected by huge gray mudflats, a very sad sight, but allowing one to identify the channels. Thanks to these deposits from the river, one is less likely to get lost in this terrifying maritime labyrinth, but it is to be feared that access to the Han-kang will become increasingly difficult for ships of a certain size.

On September 22, the three ships, guided by the Déroulède, engaged in the channel, heading north. From all sides Koreans assembled on the hilltops and gazed, probably with a mixture of admiration and fear, at these powerful steamships, a sight so new to them, as they made their way upstream against a current which no junk would have dared to confront. A people that lives in voluntary isolation and draws from it an exaggerated idea of ​​its own value, must make singular reflections when one of the wonders of European science unexpectedly appears.

The view to our right was rather monotonous, as the arid, scorched mountains of the coast loomed against a sky of an admirable purity; to our left, a steady stream of islands rarely allowed a glimpse of the horizon. Occasionally a clump of trees crowned a hill; these small woods, sacred to the Koreans, are, according to legend, inhabited by spirits that protect the country. Hamlets, usually sheltered from the northwest winds, which blow furiously in winter, could be seen lining our route. Shortly after passing the last of these hamlets and already some way into the Salt River, the Primauguet grounded on a shoal of rocks and lost her false keel. This grounding, of no great importance, interrupted the exploration, which was resumed the next day, this time by the two smaller ships only. The corvette remained at anchor near a charming island, wooded from base to summit.

Le Tardif and Le Déroulède arrived on the 25th before the port of Seoul without having been seriously troubled by the population. However we had to overcome great obstacles, and strandings were not lacking. But the reward for all the efforts it took and the energy that was spent was a fine one; for the first time, European ships were anchored before the third capital of the Far East.

Some junks, that had to be dispersed by canonfire, tried to block the passage of our ships just as they were reaching their goal. Following this, a mandarin who was called "the People's Friend" brought aboard the Déroulède a message having no official character. The tone of this document seemed fairly typical, here is the translation:

“Now that you have seen the river and mountains of this small, insignificant kingdom, have the goodness to go. All the people will be happy. However, if as you cast a last look at us, you were to to remove all suspicion and doubt from our hearts, you would make us very happy. We dare a thousand times, ten thousand times, implore you, and we hope you will grant our prayer."

This humble petition suggested a great terror among the population, and probably among the government. We reassured the Mandarin, and the ships only made a short stay there, during which they took bearings and soundings. It was almost impossible to see the city, distant from the shore by about three-quarters of a mile. But with the help of a plan that later fell into our hands, together with the stories of missionaries and the view of the island and the town of Kang-hoa, it was easy for us to imagine the appearance of the capital city.

Seoul is built at the foot of high mountains, which can be seen from far out at sea. A wall with nine gates completely surrounds the city, through which a small stream flows. The neighborhood, rectangular in shape, occupied by the royal palace and government buildings is separated from the rest of the city by a wall and a ditch. There alone can be found a little luxury; the city as such differs from the wretched Korean villages uniquely by its size.

The Déroulède and the Tardif slowly made their way down-river, continuing their operations and collecting hydrographic observations of all kinds. Finally, on September 30, the two ships joined the Primaguet, after having been shot at while passing Kang-Hoa.

During those few days, the corvette, although it remained motionless, had also had her adventures. The evening after it had anchored in front of the wooded island, she found herself stranded on a sandbank. Knowing nothing of the tides, we had dropped anchor with a bottom of fifteen meters at high tide, convinced that we were perfectly safe. At low tide, there remained only four meters. The sea had dropped eleven meters, a huge amount, even at the equinox and with the moon in conjunction, as was the case. The danger was imminent. We immediately took steps to support the sides of the corvette, the yards were quickly installed as supporting legs, despite the darkness that made ​​the operation difficult and dangerous, and lent the scene quite a dramatic character. Thanks to the actions of the crew, already trained by a long campaign, in this emergency, the grounding had no serious consequences. The following high tide allowed the corvette, which looked rather pathetic with her ​​rigging and masts bare, to change anchorage. We promised in future to always anchor wisely.

On the 25th, a large junk, roughly constructed and quite devoid of the elegant originality of Chinese ships, approached the Primauguet. It was occupied by a shaky old mandarin and forty men of the people. As we were not at open war, everyone was allowed to climb aboard, with some precautions. While the natives examined with naive curiosity the guns, ropes, compasses, and raved about the size of the masts, the Mandarin conversed with our commander through a Chinese cook. The son of the Celestial Empire, expert at earning extra money on the side, knew French. He could therefore translate into his own language the words of our Commander and enable the Mandarin to understand them by writing them down. The Chinese ideographic characters are understood by almost all the peoples of the Far East. With this system, five hundred million people, of various races and nationalities, speaking ​​absolutely different languages can understand each other.

To return to the Mandarin, after an initial exchange of compliments, he insisted on knowing why we had come to Korea. The reply was that we had only come to observe an eclipse of the moon which was, in fact, due to occur in a few days. He did not seem satisfied with this answer. We tried in vain to make him relax by taking him on a visit of the ship. The engine, however, did attract his attention, and he asked how many men it took to make it turn; we simply could not, despite commendable efforts, make him understand that compressed steam produces an enormous force, which effectively replaces human arms. Science is not always easy to popularize, even for mandarins.

Every day, the Koreans returned, and, seeing that we did them no harm, they lost all shyness and revealed numerous gaps resulting from a neglected education. Their manners, indeed, are as far from the dignified and exquisite politeness of the Japanese as from Chinese subservience; they are coarse, inquisitive and very dirty. However, they had the good idea of giving us presents, among other things some huge fans worthy of Gargantua, and a bull that we had all the trouble in the world to hoist aboard. We tried to offer money in exchange for these gifts, but it was refused outright. It was during these few days at anchor that I had the best opportunity to examine our future enemies. I saw them every day, sometimes on board, sometimes on land, as they looked curiously and stared with a mixture of fear and greed at the instruments which I used for hydrographic surveys.

Koreans form a particular branch of the Mongolian race. They most strongly resemble the Tartars; like them, they have flattened noses, high cheekbones, slightly slanted eyes, yellow skin and very black hair. They are generally large and very strong. Their extreme agility is due to their habit of running in the mountains, something they are particularly fond of, and they often meet on top of hills. We had several proofs of this agility in the battles that took place later. Their character is gentle and their minds are but slightly cultivated, though almost all can read and write. They live very modestly, feeding mainly on rice, which they grow in large quantities, with salted or dried fish. Their dress is, for the men of the people, uniformly composed of loose trousers tied above the ankle, and a long robe with wide sleeves and tight around the waist. These garments are made of white cotton, produced in the country. The hair of married men is drawn up onto the top of the head and twisted into a top-knot which is held in place by a head-band of very thin strips of bamboo, similar to horsehair. A large hat, also made of bamboo, rests on top of the head, which cannot fit into it, and is fastened with a ribbon under the chin; the young unmarried men have their hair woven in a long pigtail, like the Chinese, but they do not shave their heads. The shoes are sometimes of straw, sometimes of rope, they are finished at the front with a small pointed beak, of a rather graceful design. The mandarins and nobles alone have the right to wear color, and silk is also reserved for them. Women also use silk, especially for the short jackets with narrow sleeves that go over the dresses. The fair sex of Korea has the good sense not to mutilate their feet. The hairstyle they have adopted is not lacking in originality: it consists in separating the hair behind two into two large tresses which are rolled turban-wise around the head. Pins, with heads of gold or enameled silver, hold the hair in place and decorate it.

The condition of the women is happier in Korea than in China: they have a certain freedom, which it is claimed they also readily abuse.

Buddhism is widespread in Korea, but temples are much rarer than in the neighboring countries. Throughout our stay, we saw two pagodas, very simple in appearance, while in China and Japan you cannot take a step without seeing a place of worship.

The social organization of Korea seems to be a mixture of Chinese institutions and Japanese institutions. The hereditary nobility enjoy certain undeserved privileges, it seems, and the administrative and military hierarchy is recruited by examination. We do not know how these two institutions can walk side by side, but it seems, a priori, that this situation should give rise to many conflicts. Wealth does not always accompany nobility; it is possible to find, they say, more than one descendant of ancient and illustrious race who has no other resource than a kind of brigandry, toward which people are very indulgent, since manual labor would absolutely dishonor a nobleman. Two parties which bear the names of Sipai and Piok-pai, and correspond in some very slight way, it goes without saying, to our Liberal and Conservative parties, fight constantly for influence. In recent years, the Piok-pai have had the upper hand.

On October 3 in the morning, the three ships that had been detached from the squadron rejoined it at Che-foo, after a very bold and most successful exploration. Eight days later, the whole squadron, consisting of seven ships, set off, and arrived on the 3rd [sic], without accident, at the small wooded island which was mentioned earlier. The final preparations were made​​. The next day, the four light vessels, pulling smaller boats carrying landing parties, entered the Salt River. For the second time, Koreans in white robes gathered on the hills; a great agitation prevailed among them, and with good reason. We only stopped at the village of Kak-Kodji, the port of Kang-hoa, located close to the place where the Han Kang divides.

The Salt River has an average width of one thousand meters. It is dotted with shoals and rocks, and forms several bends, one of which is sharp enough to present serious difficulties of navigation; the current is generally very strong.

The western bank, which belongs to the island of Kang-hoa, is lined from one end to the other by a crenellated wall flanked by small forts usually built on hillocks. Well defended, this passage would be very difficult to force. Moreover, thereafter, the large number of fortifications, gun-powder magazines and stocks of arms we saw on the island proved that it had played a significant role in the military history of Korea. The country's government has never been stingy when it came to defense. Thus the left bank of the Hap-nok-kang is covered with forts for fifty leagues. The same is true for the south-east coast facing Japan that has been for so long the scene of many bloody battles.

A mandarin tried to ward off the landing by imploring gestures, in vain, and it took place without meeting any resistance from the Koreans. They fled, abandoning their homes, their livestock and the greater part of their wealth. Shortly after the installation of the sailors in the village of Kak-Kodji a palanquin surrounded by a dozen men came to the outposts. They led the whole procession to the admiral. An old chief then emerged from the palanquin and spread himself in recriminations; he almost had to be driven away by force. I could not help laughing at the strange headgear adopted by the men of the escort to protect themselves from the rain that was falling in torrents. On top of their ordinary hat rested a huge cone of oiled paper, under which their head disappeared completely. If I had a moment of gaiety in front of this fashion, so new to me, I do not mean to blame it, because it seems very practical. When the weather is fine, you keep the cone of paper folded in a pocket, then when it rains, you spread it over your hat without more ado. This system is certainly simpler than ours.

The houses, when we took possession of them, were unimaginably dirty; to make them habitable, it took work that recalled to our classical minds Hercules in the Augean stables. But we were not able at first to expel the very many parasites that live at the expense of the Koreans. During the first few nights we spent in the village, those invincible insects undertook to avenge their rightful owners.

The village of Kak-Kodji occupies the base of a small cluster of hills, of which the side facing the river is covered with a very beautiful pine forest. At the very foot of the forest, in a most picturesque situation, rises a pagoda surrounded by warehouses that at the time of our arrival, contained powder and a large quantity of weapons. The pagoda was unremarkable externally and within no different from what we see in China: the same statue of Buddha in gilded wood, the same altar overloaded with ornaments of questionable taste, the same vases filled with huge artificial flowers, in a word, no clues that would suggest essential differences in worship. I found, however, in the temple an interesting object: it was a large painting on silk measuring about two meters fifty centimeters on each side. In the center, a seated Buddha was represented seated in oriental style on a lotus flower, with a nimbus round his head, of a very pure type, a large circle framed the body, which was tastefully draped in a red robe exposing a part of the chest and all the right arm. Around this main figure were grouped symbolically the busts of some forty characters, also adorned with a nimbus and probably famous in the annals of Buddhism. The heads, some of which wore a kind of miter-shaped headdress, were painted with meticulous care and did not lack character. Their expressions were very varied, from extreme ferocity to extreme softness. In sum, this painting was one of the finest I have seen in the Far East. It would have been interesting to have some certain information about its provenance, for the scarcity and the coarseness of paintings and sculptures in Korea leads one to believe that art here is far from having reached the level of relative perfection found in the neighboring countries. Not far from the pagoda, the defensive wall along the shore is interrupted by a masonry gate, surmounted by a wooden pavilion serving as a guard-room. On the mainland opposite rises a similar construction surrounded by a few cottages. The two gates give passage to the road that connects the city of Seoul with Kang-hoa. Apart from its layout, which leaves much to be desired in that it attacks obstacles too frankly, this road is not a bad one. It is good evidence that relations between the two towns are significant, which also reflects the extreme fertility of the island.

From the top of the hill above Kak-Kodji, which we named the "mountain of the philosopher," because a native braver than the others continued to live there despite our presence, the view was magnificent, especially in the morning. While the camp came alive and blue smoke rose straight into the air, beautiful fields of rice, wheat, corn and turnips, strewn with clumps of trees and hamlets, gradually emerged from the shadows. The divisions between the fields, consisting of small dikes oddly curved and entangled without any order, made the plain look like a children’s puzzle and relieved it of the monotony inspired by straight lines. Beyond the plain, we could see the walls of Kang-hoa, partially hidden by a rise in the ground. Finally, mountains with strongly accented outlines and misty valleys composed the background of the picture with a warm and pleasant tone.

Kak-Kodji is surrounded by tombs; the hillside is almost covered with them. Most are simple unadorned tumuli, but inside small groves of oak and chestnut we often discovered larger tombs, covering the remains of mandarins or nobles. Koreans, like their neighbors of the Celestial Empire, have deep respect for graves. This respect for the repose of the dead, which in the end takes up a lot of ground, is doubly meritorious in a people so given to farming. Work in the fields seems to be in great honor among Koreans. Farms are numerous and well appointed. I saw many and they were almost all well arranged. Four main thatched buildings of adobe are arranged around a courtyard, sometimes surrounded by a veranda sheltering the implements. Beside the gate are the mill, agricultural implements and stables containing cattle, donkeys and pigs of a particular breed. The main building at the back is reserved for the owners. It is divided into two or three rooms by partitions of hard paper stretched over a wooden frame. Windows, small and low, are also covered with paper. The kitchen is located at the end of this building, the hearth, of considerable size, holds large pots of bronze; the smoke, instead of escaping through a vertical chimney, passes through horizontal pipes that pass under the hard earth floor of the rooms and exits through a small chimney rising at the other end of the building. This arrangement, which is also found in the province of Pe-chi-li, is an economical means of heating that is quite efficient. We were glad of it for, once October came, the temperatures dropped as low as three degrees.

The buildings along the sides contain the harvested grain, other supplies and a space for weaving. Often, a second courtyard surrounded by a wall contains very large pots filled with various provisions, among which we mention particularly cabbage and turnips which have begun to ferment. Koreans, who, like most Oriental peoples, mainly eat rice cooked in water, feel the need to season this bland food with fermented foods and condiments with very strong tastes; chili is consumed in great quantities. Rapeseed oil, which is found in abundance in all the houses, serves both for lighting and the preparation of food, which does not help make Korean cuisine very attractive for Europeans.

On October 16 the town of Kang-hoa was taken, despite the many banners with vibrant colors that adorned the walls and were intended to fill us with terror. Some soldiers were killed at their posts, but most of the inhabitants had fled and no woman had remained in the city. Only old men, perhaps rightly counting on the prestige of their white hair or maybe unable to flee, were still in the city that had been terrified by the approach of the barbarians. The first glimpse of Kang-hoa surprised and charmed me with its originality; thatched roofs washed by the rain shone like silver in the sun and contrasted sharply with the reds of the public buildings and the colors of fields and trees. Mountains, arid but very beautifully shaped, stood out against the blue sky with warm, delicate tones while on the other side, appeared the dark blue horizon of the sea

The town counts fifteen or twenty thousand inhabitants. The walls, four to five meters high, extend for over eight kilometers. In the interior of the enclosure is, in addition to the town itself, a fairly large area of cultivated land that would allow people to eat during a long siege. The northern part of the enclosure, which is on a steep slope, is occupied by the yamoun of the governor and the government buildings.

The yamoun dominates the rest; it consists of several buildings separated from one other and separated by really English-style gardens, decorated with small pavilions. The buildings are elegant and of very pleasant appearance; curved roofs of gray, varnished tiles replace the thatch of the poor; wood, decorated and painted in red, takes the place of adobe and the foundations are of beautiful stone, while the interior is decorated with paintings and sculptures; mats of extreme delicacy and exquisite workmanship cover the floors. Furniture is rare and does not correspond to what we would expect to find in a palace; however we noticed an abundance of objects and vases of the finest bronze. Cleanliness was here, if not perfect, at least passable.

Below the yamoun, a series of long buildings, some built of stone and others of wood, served as government stores. It is impossible to enumerate all they contained at the time they were taken. In addition to a huge quantity of weapons, breech-loading guns, matchlocks, spears, axes, bows, armor; in addition to gunpowder and the candles which seem to be a monopoly, irons, etc. etc., we found many books and a huge supply of paper. Most of the books, some of which are adorned with remarkable paintings, are now in the National Library in Paris. They are almost all written in Chinese characters, although the Korean language has a specific notation, which forms a true alphabet, a feature that is not found in any other country in the Far East. As for the mulberry paper, which in Korea as in Japan serves an infinite number of uses, it was of an extraordinarily beautiful and strong quality. One could, by twisting a small strip of it, produce a strong thread. The huge amount of things necessary for life found in these stores suggests that the government is the largest merchant in the country, which certainly does not benefit the people.

In the middle of the city opens a large square, beyond which is a sort of covered market. A jumble of narrow streets lined with huts of uniform appearance extends all around the square. What stands out above all is the lack of shops. None of these strongly colored hanging signs that give Chinese streets so lively and pleasant a look, none of these floating fabrics covered with large characters, such as we see in Japan. Here everything is dull; every door resembles the next and a stranger can find no landmark to guide him in the maze. All the houses look sad, which is depressing; as in the countryside, they are built of mud and thatched, but they are dilapidated and dirty. Life, having deserted the streets, has taken refuge inside: there, indeed, there are store-rooms, workshops and apartments pleasing in appearance. The rooms reserved for women are the object of special care, some are real boudoirs: we could see lacquer furniture, fine mats, screens decorated with paintings, pieces of cloth, pots of face-cream and make-up, and finally, shall I say it? false hair. Nothing was lacking to prove that feminine coquetry is flourishing in the peninsula.

A fact that one cannot help but admire throughout the Far East, one which does not flatter our self-esteem, is the presence of books in even the poorest homes. Those who cannot read are very rare, and incur the scorn of their fellow citizens. We would have a lot of people to despise in France if public opinion against the illiterate were as severe here.

Kang-hoa is completely devoid of serious industry. We saw a few looms for weaving cotton, but so few in number, that they must barely be sufficient for the needs of the inhabitants.

South of the town, a mandarin’s house, built on a low hill, attracted my attention by its beautiful location and the luxury of its apartments. Silk, furs, lacquers, bronzes, porcelains, in a word all the objects so desired by Europeans filled this house, the wealth of which contrasted painfully with the uniform poverty of the cottages of the ordinary people. Should we conclude from this contrast that the ordinary Korean mortal has little right, or at least little power to achieve wealth? I am all the more inclined to believe it is so since the stories of missionaries confirm this assumption, and what is happening in the Middle Kingdom is very likely to occur also in Korea. Greed is the dominant fault of mandarins.

An immense number of bronze vessels, of the most charming color and with an incomparable sound, were to be found everywhere in the town, the most miserable huts possessed some. These vases, some of which were very large, almost all in the form of bowls, serve an infinite number of uses. The profusion of such rare material shows that Korea has great mineral wealth. If with the aid of only the very primitive metallurgical processes probably used by the natives it is possible to produce such an amount of metal at a price affordable for everyone, the ore must be wonderfully rich and abundant. Thus it seems certain that in the commercial relationships that are bound to be established one day between the European nations and the people of Korea, the export of metals will hold a high place.

On October 18, a high mandarin of the Seoul court presented the Commander in Chief with a letter from the king. I transcribe the translation of this document, which does not seem completely devoid of common sense, but where the king is rather inclined to flatter himself:


“Whoever denies the divine law must die.

“Whoever denies the law of his country deserves to be beheaded.

“Heaven has created people so that they obey reason.

“The country is separated by borders and protected by law.

“Who should we obey? Justice, without any restriction. The man who violates it does not deserve forgiveness. I conclude that we must remove whoever denies it, decapitate whoever violates it.

“In all ages, relations with neighbors and assistance given to travelers were traditional. In our kingdom, we show even more thoughtfulness and kindness. Often sailors knowing nothing of the situation or name of our country reach our shores. Then the mandarins of our cities receive orders to welcome them with kindness. We ask if they come with peaceful intentions; we give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, and heal the sick. This is the rule that has been followed in our kingdom, without ever suffering any infraction. Therefore Korea is, in the eyes of everyone, a realm of justice and civilization. But if there are men who come to seduce our subjects, enter  the country secretly, change their clothes and study our language, men who demoralize our people and overturn our morals, then the ancient law of the world requires that they be put them to death. Such is the rule for all realms, for all empires. So why do you make such a fuss, since we have always observed it? Is it not enough that we do not ask the reasons which brought you here from distant countries?

“You establish yourselves on our soil as if it were yours, and in so doing you violate reason in a horrible way. When your ships sailed up the imperial river some time ago, there were only two of them, the men on them were not more than a thousand. If we had wanted to destroy them did we not have weapons? But, because of the kindness and respect that we owe to foreigners, we did not allow anyone to do them wrong or show them hostility.

“Thus, crossing our borders, they took or accepted as they wished cattle or chickens, they came and went in boats, they were questioned in polite terms. They were given gifts without being troubled in any way. Therefore, you show yourselves ungrateful toward us, whilst I am not so toward you. As if that were not enough, you were obliged to sail away, and your return is unseemly. This time you loot my cities, you kill my people, you destroy my property and my livestock. We have never seen heaven and its laws violated in a more serious manner. In addition, it is said that you want to spread your religion in my kingdom. This is wrong. Different books have their own various special expressions that present what is true and false. What harm is there if I follow my religion, and you yours? If it is reprehensible to deny one’s ancestors, why have you come to teach us to abandon our own and take foreigner ones? If men who teach such things should not be put to death, we would do better to deny Heaven.

“I treat you as Yu and Tan treated the impious Kopey and you rebel like Nysean-yean toward Tcheou-ouen. Though I dare not compare myself to these famous kings, nonetheless my magnanimity cannot be ignored.

“You now show yourself here with a large army, as if you were the instrument of divine justice. Come to the court, let us have an interview, and we will decide if it will be necessary to raise troops or send them home, to attempt victory or defeat. Do not run away: bow down and obey!

“The fifth year of the reign of Tung-tchy, the ninth moon, the eleventh day.”


In writing this letter, the regent had forgotten the shots fired against the Tardif and Déroulède; he had also forgotten a much more serious fact: the massacre of the crew of an innocent American schooner, which had occurred a few months before.

The bearer of the royal message was very well turned out. He was richly dressed in silk; a large felt hat trimmed with peacock feathers and held in place by a sort of rosary of resinous balls alternately black and white, covered his head; his face was quite distinguished. Funnel boots, as worn in the reign of Louis XIII, and a large long-handled sword, completed this costume, which was really very elegant. The too great familiarity with which this person treated a young sailor drew a very sharp correction, and proved at the same time that good education is decidedly not a Korean characteristic, even in the higher classes.

After the departure of the mandarin, who brought his master an unfavorable response, several engagements took place with the Korean troops. They conducted themselves well, giving proof of military skill and some courage. In these battles we could see that bows, spears and clubs, although found in large quantities in the stores of Kang-hoa, are no longer in use and have been completely replaced by the matchlock. This weapon, ending in a butt too small to support on the shoulder, is difficult to handle; the one shooting must have a parapet, an embrasure, or in open country, the shoulder of another man to support his weapon and give it a proper direction. Korean guns are far from being threatening, and if their shots reach the goal, it is quite by accident. Some soldiers were wearing armor. Composed of an iron helmet with a red plume, the arms and thighs protected by chainmail, and finally a large doubled garment made of overlapping pieces of boiled leather joined by large nails, these coats of armor are unable to withstand bullets.

The landing corps occupied Kang-hoa and Kak-Kodji until November 11. The leisure time left to us after our service was generally devoted to hunting. Game is respected by the natives, who do not care much to eat it, and it is, therefore, very abundant. Pheasants, geese, wild ducks, teals, plovers, pigeons, etc., followed one another on our tables, little accustomed to such luxury. Furred game is, it seems quite rare, and I do not think that during our stay a single hare was sighted. In the mountains of the east there are wolves, foxes, bears and tigers whose skins are very famous in China. Skilled hunters, despite the imperfection of their weapons, carry on a successful war with these ferocious animals, whose remains mainly feed the export trade.

I will long remember with pleasure these excursions on the island of Kang-hoa. The weather was always splendid, the air was lightly charged with mist, and a beautiful light flooded across the fields and woods, where the breeze carried away the yellow leaves. Nothing else very new offered itself to my eyes; the houses were all alike, the people too, at least on the outside, and I was not able to penetrate their character, which seems gentle. These poor people, once they had recovered from the first terror inspired by our landing, gradually resumed their agricultural work; when we encountered them, busy cutting rice or piling it in great stacks, they prostrated themselves as we passed; if we entered an inhabited house, we were quickly offered caquis, a fruit very abundant in Japan and Korea, with the taste of figs, and the appearance of a small apple, and excellent fresh water with the same display of deep, over-deep respect. It was easy to see, indeed, that these expressions were due to fear. While telling ourselves that we should take into account a difference of customs and not be surprised by these genuflections that were probably offered to any mandarin, we could not help but be painfully affected by such servility.

On November 22nd, the squadron of China and Japan finally left the coast of Korea and each ship returned to its particular station. The result we had hoped for the expedition had not been achieved, and a renewal of persecution against the Christians coincided with the departure of the squadron, and the Korean government broadcast a declaration rejecting and cursing any attempt to compromise with the European invasion. We could see that we had not been fortunate enough to make ourselves loved during our stay. Too often Europe shows itself for the first time to foreign nations with a character of violence and despotic pretensions. So long as a country has not been blessed with electric telegraphs, and the principles of its civilization differ from ours, we feel authorized to violate at its expense all the rules of human rights. It is especially painful to be brought to shed blood in the name of pure and lofty doctrines which, by their nature, should never require the use of that sad and questionable means of persuasion known as "force."

Come what may, in the present state of affairs Korea cannot long delay opening, voluntarily or under duress, to Western trade. Its position between two countries whose relations extend further every day and that seem to have finally abandoned the system of exclusion, make it almost a necessity. It is difficult for those of delicate feelings with a taste for art and variety, not to experience first and foremost, before any other reflection, a certain regret on seeing European influences of every kind penetrating everywhere. Surely civilization and science have everything to gain, but at the same time the character of the people disappears and their originality is lost. Are not Japanese nobles already dressing up in trousers and coats!

There is, no doubt, still a long way to go before uniformity reigns on earth, and unexplored lands are still numerous enough to fulfill all the desires of travelers. So let us leave aside these vain regrets of men of imagination and express a hope that France, renouncing too disinterested a role, will take a larger share of the European commercial movement which tends every day to spread further over the world.