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The Korean Peninsula seen from Charles Darré's ``The Korean Situation'' The Joseon Dynasty of the Yi Dynasty, when culture was undeveloped.

2022-02-12  Category:The Joseon dynasty

The Korean Peninsula seen from Charles Darré's ``The Korean Situation'' The Joseon Dynasty of the Yi Dynasty, when culture was undeveloped.

Photo by 朝鮮総督府 (licensed under CC0 1.0)

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Charles Darre who wrote about the Joseon Dynasty of the Yi Dynasty

This is an excerpt from Charles Darré's ``Korean Affairs,'' a compilation of the correspondence of French missionaries.


Roads and transportation are severely lacking in this mountainous country, which prevents large-scale cultivation. People only cultivate what is nearby, such as around their homes. Furthermore, there are almost no large villages, and the people in the countryside are scattered in three or four, or at most twelve or three, clusters. The annual harvest barely meets the needs of the population, and famine is common in Korea.

Although the treaty concluded in 1637 did not increase the actual conditions of Korea's servitude to the Qing, it formally made it a more humiliating relationship than before. The king of Korea had to not only recognize the right of investiture to the Emperor of Qing, but also the direct authority of his status, that is, the relationship of master and servant.

Seoul is a populous metropolis surrounded by mountains, along the banks of the Han River, and surrounded by tall, thick walls, but there is nothing of note in its architecture. With the exception of a few fairly wide roads, there are only winding alleys in which there is no airflow and the only thing that gets on your feet is garbage. Houses are usually covered with tiles, but are low and narrow.

Offices are openly bought and sold, and those who buy them naturally seek to recoup their costs, without even bothering to appear in order to do so. From the provincial governor to the lowest petty official, each official uses tax collection, litigation, and all other opportunities to raise money. Even the king's messengers abuse their privileges with extreme shame.

Academics in Korea are not ethnic at all. The books they read are Chinese, the language they learn is Chinese rather than Korean, and when it comes to history, they study Chinese history rather than Korean history, and the philosophical systems espoused by academics are Chinese. Since manuscripts are always inferior to originals, it is a natural consequence that Korean scholars are considerably inferior to Chinese scholars.

Setting aside the past, it is certain that today's public examinations are extremely corrupt. Today, degrees and licenses are not awarded to the most learned and most capable people, but to those with the most money or the most powerful guardians. .

The Korean aristocracy is the most powerful and most arrogant in the world. In other countries, monarchs, judicial officials, and various organizations keep the aristocracy within their proper limits and maintain a balance of power, but in Korea, there is a large population of yangban, and there are internal conflicts between them. Nevertheless, they know how to band together to preserve and extend their class privileges, and no citizen, government official, or even the king can challenge their power.

In Korea, as in other Asian countries, the customs are extremely corrupt, and the inevitable result is that the general status of women is unpleasantly wretched and low. Women are not seen as companions for men, but merely as slaves, playthings, or labor.

Koreans are generally stubborn, difficult, angry, and vindictive. This is due to uncivilization. There is no moral education among pagans, and even among Christians it takes time for education to bear fruit. Children grow up with little punishment, and when they grow up, both men and women are capable of endless outbursts of unparalleled anger.

Strangely enough, however, the armies are generally very weak, and if they see any serious danger, they will only give up their weapons and flee to the four directions. Perhaps it is due to lack of training or organizational deficiencies. The missionaries are convinced that if only they had competent generals, the Koreans would make a great army.

Koreans have an eye for making money. Use any means to make money. They know little about the moral laws that protect property and prevent theft, much less obey them. They are generally greedy and wasteful, and when they have money they spend it to the fullest.

Koreans are gluttons. In this respect, there is no difference between the rich, the poor, the yangban, and the ordinary people. It is an honor to eat a lot, and the value of the food served to the diners is measured not in its quality but in its quantity. Therefore, we hardly talk during meals. For if you say a word or two, you will lose a mouthful or two of food. They are raised with care from an early age to ensure their bellies have firm elasticity. Mothers hold their young children in their laps and feed them rice and other nutrients, occasionally tapping their bellies with the handle of a spoon to see if their bellies have swelled enough. Stop feeding when it becomes physiologically impossible for the baby to expand further.

Clothes are supposed to be white, but it takes a lot of effort to keep them clean, so they are often discolored due to the thick grime. Dirtyness is a major flaw among Koreans, and even the wealthy often wear clothes that are moth-stained and torn.

Koreans have made little progress in the field of scientific research, but they are still far behind in industrial knowledge. No useful technology has advanced in this country for centuries.

One of the major obstacles to the development of commerce is the imperfect monetary system. There are no gold or silver coins. Selling these metals in bulk is prohibited by many detailed regulations. For example, Chinese silver cannot be minted into the same bars as Korean silver and sold. He would definitely be found out, the silver bars would be confiscated, and the merchant would be heavily fined and possibly caned. The only legal currency in circulation is copper coins.

Another obstacle to commercial transactions is the deplorable condition of transportation routes. There are very few navigable rivers, and only a few allow ships to pass through, and even then, navigation is allowed only in very restricted areas. Although this country has many mountains and canyons, there is little known technology for building roads. Therefore, almost all transportation is done on the backs of oxen, horses, or people.

But the Government scrupulously adheres to this isolationism, which it believes to be necessary for its preservation, and is unwilling to abandon it on any interest or humanitarian consideration. In 1871 and 1872, a shocking famine struck Korea, and the country was devastated. It was so bad that some people on the West Coast sold their daughters to Chinese smugglers for one sho of rice each.

Some Koreans who crossed the forests of the northern border and reached Liaodong drew a diagram of the country's brutal state and showed it to the missionaries, complaining that ``bodies were lying on every road.'' But even then, the Korean government chose to let half of its population die rather than allow food purchases from China and Japan.

This hurdle will eventually be overcome by the Russians, who are increasingly invading the northeastern parts of Asia. From 1860 onwards, their territory bordered Russia, and various difficult problems arose between these two countries regarding border and trade issues. These problems will undoubtedly continue to occur, and one day Korea will be annexed to Russia.


One of the books written by a foreigner about the Joseon Dynasty is Isabella Bird's ``Travel to Joseon'', but the content is very similar.