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The Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1894, p.13:|
KOREA'S CAPITAL.The Wonderful City of Seoul, Which May Possibly
Be Wiped Out by the War That is Now Raging.
Something About Chemulpo and Its Many Gunboats--
A Comparison of the Japanese and Chinese Troops.
The Walls of Seoul and Their Iron-clad Doors--
An Encounter With a Gatekeeper--Something About Korean Women--
A Mad Palace Servant and Other Matters...
[From Our Special Correspondent.]
I want to give you some idea of Seoul, the capital of Korea. It is in the center of the war between China and Japan. A battle may be fought in it any day, and the firing would wipe its thatched huts from the face of the earth.
It lies in a basin in the mountains, and is, perhaps, the most beatifully located capital on the face of the globe. It is only twenty-six miles from the sea, and is connected with the port of Chemulpo [Incheon] by a poor wagon road, which climbs up the hills and over the mountains to get to it. The sluggish Han River flows within three miles of it and it was up this river that I rode in a little steam tug to a landing place not far from the spot on which Kim Ok Kiun's dead body was cut into six pieces a month or so ago.
But first take a look at Korea's seaport.
Chemulpo is the place at which Seoul gets all its provisions. It is now the liveliest little city in Asia. There are something like two-score gunboats in its harbor, and the Japanese have all told twenty-eight gunboats and transports there.
The harbor is large and land-locked by islands. The tide has an enormous rise and fall, often as high as thirty feet, and boats which get close to the town are left on the mud when the tide goes out.
Chemulpo lies right on the edge of the sea, with great hills rising behind it, and it is on one of these that stands the house where Admiral Shufeldt met the Korean commissioners in 1882 and made the treaty which opened Korea to the civilized world.
It has twenty-five hundred Japanese and thirty-five hundred Korean population. There are less than a thousand Chinese, four Americans, sixteen Germans and five Englishmen in it. The only American business firm in Korea is located in Chemulpo, and this is, I think, now closed on account of the war.
It has been decided to regard Chemulpo as neutral ground, and this will prevent its being fired upon by either party. Were it otherwise, a single gunboat could shell it out of existence, as its harbor is open and unprotected.
The fighting has been at Ya San, which is about fifty miles south of Chemulpo. It was at this point that the Chinese troops first landed, and 1700 came here at the instance of the King to aid him in putting down the rebellion. They did nothing to help, however, as has been correctly stated in the papers. They merely remained at Ya San.
In the meantime, the Japanese began sending troops to Korea, and by the 1st of July they had 7500 soldiers in Seoul and 500 in Chemulpo. This caused the Chinese to send more soldiers, but they landed all their troops at Ya San, being for the time apparently paralyzed by the Japanese invasion.
I learn there is a decided difference between the equipment of the two armies. The Japs have landed their men with the best of everything, and have their stores complete in every department. They have 250 cavalry and about forty field guns. They have full stocks of provisions and are supplied with pontoon bridges, telephone lines and all the materials of modern warfare.
On the other hand, the Chinese are said to be calling on the Koreans to supply them with ponies, cattle and rice. Corea is very poor. The country is on the verge of starvation, and the Chinese would not be able to carry on their war long by rations supplied in this way.
The Japanese have demanded of China that she give up all pretense of sovereignty over Korea. If China does this she will lose her reputation throughout the far East, and it may lead to the dismemberment of her government. Her provinces are by no means closely tied together, and the fight that she is making may be for her existence as an empire, as well as for a show of power in the land of Korea.
In the meantime the danger of the other powers being involved in the war is very great. The Baltimore and the Monocacy, our two gunboats, are at Chemulpo. The French man-of-war Inconstant, the German gunboat Iltis, the English warship Archer and the Russian man-of-war Koreatz are also in this same harbor, and the other ports of Korea contain warships.
The British are very much afraid of the Russians. There is said to be a man-of-war at Port Hamilton, which is, you know, some distance below Vladivostck, in Siberia. It is put there to watch the Russian movements. The Russians are said to sympathize with the Japanese, while England, who sells tens upon tens of millions of dollars worth of goods every year to China, favors her.
If the transsiberian railroad was completed there is little doubt but that the Russian troops would already be in Korea. It may be so now, for Russia will not tolerate any coalition between China and England, without coming to the assistance of the Japanese.
At any rate a great part of the war has to be fought on Korean soil, and Seoul will be ground between the upper and the nether millstones. It may be wiped out of existence. If so, the most curious city on the face of the globe will pass away.
I visited it six years ago, and my visit of the present year included more than a month of hard work. I have spent days in wandering through its streets. I have been inside of its prisons, and have walked through its palaces. I have talked with all classes...
There are no guide books of Asia... The tourist who comes here without introduction could not find a lodging-place. There are no hotels, and I am indebted to my friends among the missionaries, among the diplomats, and with some of the high Koreans for my entertainment through these many days.
I despair of giving you an accurate idea of the Korean capital... It lies in a great basin surrounded by mountains, which, in some places, are as rugged as the wildest peaks of the Rockies, and which in others have all the beautiful verdure of the Alleghenies or the Catskills...
The basin below is just about large enough to contain the town, and a great gray wall from thirty to forty feet high runs along the sides of these hills, bounding the basin and mounting here and there almost to the tops of the lower mountains. It scales one hill at least one thousand feet in height, and this wall incloses the whole city.
It was built in nine months by an army of 200,000 workmen, about five hundred years ago, and it is a piece of solid masonry, consisting of two thick walls of granite packed down in the middle with earth and stones. Its top is so wide that two carriages could easily be driven about it, and it has, on the side facing the country, a crennellated battlement, with holes large enough for its defenders to shoot through with arrows.
There are no cannon upon it, and it will be no means of defense against the batteries of the Chinese or the Japs in the present struggle. Its only use in late years has been to keep out the tigers and leopards.
This wall is more than six miles in length. It is pierced by eight gates, the arches of which are as beautifully laid and cut as those of any stonework you will find in the United States. Each of these great arches has a curved roof of black tiles. This rests upon carved wooden pillars which rise above the tops of the walls and which form watch-towers for the soldiers.
Over the great south gate, the main entrance to the capital, there are two such roofs, one above the other, which are guarded at the corners by miniature demons of porcelain, who seem to be crawling along the edges of the structure.
It would not take much more than a Gatling gun to batter down the heavy doors by which these arches are closed. These doors are bigger than those of any barn in our country. They are swung up on pivots made by pins fitting into the masonry at the top and the bottom. They are sheathed with plates of iron riveted on with big bolts, and up until now the common Koreans have believed them a defense against the enemy. They have as much ceremony connected with them as other nations have with their forts, and there are officers in charge of them who would lose their heads if they failed in their duty. Every night just at sundown these gates are closed, and they are not opened again until about 4 o'clock in the morning.
The signal of their closing and opening is the ringing of a massive bell in the exact center of the city. After this those who are in cannot get out, and those who are outside cannot get in...
Inside this great wall, with this setting of mountains, lies the city of Seoul. It is a town bigger than Cincinnati, Cleveland, Louisville, Washington, Buffalo, or Detroit. It contains more than three hundred thousand people, and it has scarcely a house that is more than one story high. It is a city of wide streets and narrow, winding alleys. It is a city of thatched huts and tiled one-story buildings. On one side of it are the palaces of the kings. They cover an area as large as that of a thousand-acre farm, and they are massive, one-story buildings, surrounded by great walls and laid out with all the regularity of a city.
As you stand on the walls of Seoul and look over this medley of buildings, your first impression is that you are in the midst of a vast hay field, interspersed here and there with tiled barns, and the three biggest streets that cut through these myriad haystacks look like a road through the fields.
You note the shape of the thatched houses. They are all formed like horseshoes with the heel fo the shoe resting on the street. The roofs are tied on with strings, and the thatch has grown old, and under the soft light of the setting sun it assumes the rich color of brown plush.
As you look closer, you see the city is divided up into streets, and that these narrow and widen and twist and turn, without regularity or order. One part of the city is made almost entirely of tiled buildings. These are the homes of the swells, and over there, not far from the gates, above one such building you see on the top of a staff the American flag. That is the establishment of our Legation to Korea, and the cozy little compounds about it are the residences of the missionaries and of the other foreigners who reside in Seoul.
Come down now, and take a walk with me through the city. There are no pavements on the streets, and you look in vain for gas lamps or the signs of an electric light. This city of 300,000 people is entirely without sanitary arrangements. There is not a water closet in it, and the sewage flows along in open drains through the streets, and you have to be careful of your steps.
There are no water-works, except the Korean water-carrier, who, with a pole across his back, takes up the whole sidewalk as he carries two buckets of water along with him through the streets. The clouds are left to do the sprinkling of the highways, save where here and there a householder takes a dipper and ladles out the sewer fluid to lay the dust. All the slops of each house run into the ditches along the sidewalk, and the smell comes up in solid chunks so thick that it could be almost cut into slices, and packed away for use as a patent fertilizer.
Mixed with the smell is the smoke. This comes out of chimneys about two feet above the ground, which jut out from the walls of the houses into the streets. Fit a stovepipe into your house at right angles with the floor of the porch, and you have the average Korean chimney. At certain hours of the morning and evening, each of these chimneys vomits forth the smoke of the straw which the people use for the fires of their cooking, and the air becomes blue.
The doors to the houses along the street are more like those of a stable or barn than the entrances to residences. They are very crude, and in the bottom of each is cut a hole for the dog. Such doors as are open give no insight to the homes of the people, and I was in Seoul for some time before I knew that these doors facing the street were merely the entrance gates to large compounds, or yards, in which were very comfortable buildings. I thought that the nobles lived in these thatched huts. They are in reality only the quarters of the servants, and the homes of the better classes contain many rooms and are in some cases almost as well fitted for comfort as those of our own.
These houses along the street have no windows to speak of. There are under the roof little openings about a foot square. These are filled with lattice and backed with paper. They permit the light to come in, but you cannot see through them. Here and there I noted a little eyehole of glass as big around as a red cent, pasted into the paper, and as I go through the streets I find now and then a liquid black ball, surrounded by the cream-colored buttonhole, which forms the eyelids of a Korean maiden, looking out.
I am human enough to want to study the women of every country I visit. I found this very hard in Seoul. The girls on the streets wear shawls wrapped around their heads, and only an eye peeps out through the folds. In India and Egypt the women are secluded, but when they go on the streets, if their faces are covered, they think they are modest enough. The fair girls of Cairo care not that their dresses are open at the neck, if the black veil hangs o'er their cheeks, and the maidens of Hindoostan trot along with bare legs, while they pull thin cotton gowns around their eyes, priding themselves upon their bracelet-covered arms and the anklets which reach halfway to their knees.
These Korean girls are mere bundles of clothes. Their feet in their wadded stockings look as fat as those of an elephant, and their skirts and their drawers hang in great folds...
FRANK G. CARPENTER
See also: China News - Japan News|
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Top World & Korea News in Korean
South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, Asia, occupies the southern end of the Korean peninsula, bordered by North Korea in the north, and the Sea of Japan, East China Sea, and the Yellow Sea on its coasts. The capital is Seoul. The area of South Korea is 38,328 square miles (99,268 square kilometers). The estimated population of South Korea for July, 2008 is 48,379,392.
An independent Korean state or collection of states has existed almost continuously for several millennia. Between its initial unification in the 7th century - from three predecessor Korean states - until the 20th century, Korea existed as a single independent country.
Following its victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japan occupied Korea; five years later it formally annexed the entire peninsula. After World War II, a republic was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula while a Communist-style government was installed in the north. During the Korean War (1950-1953), US and other UN forces intervened to defend South Korea from North Korean attacks supported by the Chinese. An armistice was signed in 1953, splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel.
Thereafter, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth with per capita income rising to roughly 18 times the level of North Korea. South Korea has maintained its commitment to democratize its political processes. In June 2000, a historic first North-South summit took place between the South's President KIM Dae-jung and the North's leader KIM Chong-il. In October 2007, a second North-South summit took place between the South's President ROH Moo-hyun and the North Korean leader.
The CIA World Factbook: South Korea
Free Books on Korea (.pdfs)
The Case of Korea Chung 1921
The Renaissance of Korea Graves 1920
The Rebirth of Korea Heung-wo Cynn 1920
Korea: Its History, People, Commerce Hamilton 1910
Things Korean Allen 1908
Corea: The Hermit Nation Griffis 1907
Korean Sketches Gale 1898
Every-Day Life in Korea Gifford 1898
History of Corea Ross 1891
Korean Tales Allen 1889
Life in Corea Carles 1888
Chosön, Land of the Morning Calm Percival Lowell 1886
Voyage to Corea & Loo-Choo Hall 1820
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