The main feature of this day was not so much the coronation itself as the cutting of the Emperor's topknot.
On the abdication of the old Emperor, the Cabinet—who were enthusiastic hair-cutters—saw their opportunity. The new Emperor was informed that his hair must be cut. He did not like it. He thought that the operation would be painful, and he was quite satisfied with his hair as it was. Then his Cabinet showed him a brilliant uniform, covered with gold lace. He was henceforth to wear that on ceremonial occasions, and not his old Korean dress. How could he put on the plumed hat of a Generalissimo with a topknot in the way? The Cabinet were determined. A few hours later a proclamation was spread through the land informing all dutiful subjects that the Emperor's topknot was coming off, and urging them to imitate him.
A new Court servant was appointed—the High Imperial Hair-cutter. He displayed his uniform in the streets around the palace, a sight for the gods. He strutted along in white breeches, voluminous white frock-coat, white shoes, and black silk hat, the centre of attention.
Early in the morning there was a great scene in the palace. The Imperial Hair-cutter was in attendance. A group of old Court officials hung around the Emperor. With blanched faces and shaking voices they implored him not to abandon the old ways. The Emperor paused, fearful. What power would be filched from him by the shearing of his locks? But there could be no hesitating now. Resolute men were behind who knew what they were going to see done. A few minutes later the great step was taken.
The Residency-General arranged the coronation ceremony in such a manner as to include as many Japanese and to exclude as many foreigners as possible. There were nearly a hundred Japanese present, including the Mayor of the Japanese settlement and the Buddhist priest. There were only six white men—five Consuls-General and Bishop Turner, chief of the Anglican Church in Korea. The Japanese came arrayed in splendid uniforms. It was part of the new Japanese policy to attire even the most minor officials in sumptuous Court dress, with much gold lace and many orders. This enabled Japan to make a brilliant show in official ceremonies, a thing not without effect in Oriental Courts.
Shortly before ten o'clock the guests assembled in the throne-room of the palace, a modern apartment with a raised dais at one end. There were Koreans to the left and Japanese to the right of the Emperor, with the Cabinet in the front line on one side and the Residency-General officials on the other. The foreigners faced the raised platform.
The new Emperor appeared, borne to the platform by the Lord Chamberlain and the Master of the Household. He was dressed in the ancient costume of his people, a flowing blue garment reaching to the ankles, with a robe of softer cream colour underneath. On his head was a quaint Korean hat, with a circle of Korean ornaments hanging from its high, outstanding horsehair brim. On his chest was a small decorative breastplate. Tall, clumsily built, awkward, and vacant-looking—such was the Emperor.
In ancient days all would have kow-towed before him, and would have beaten their foreheads on the ground. Now no man did more than bow, save one Court herald, who knelt. Weird Korean music started in the background, the beating of drums and the playing of melancholy wind instruments. The Master of Ceremonies struck up a chant, which hidden choristers continued. Amid silence, the Prime Minister, in smart modern attire, advanced and read a paper of welcome. The Emperor stood still, apparently the least interested man in the room. He did not even look bored—simply vacant.
After this there was a pause in the proceedings. The Emperor retired and the guests went into the anterooms. Soon all were recalled, and the Emperor reappeared. There had been a quick change in the meantime. He was now wearing his new modern uniform, as Generalissimo of the Korean Army. Two high decorations—one, if I mistake not, from the Emperor of Japan—hung on his breast. He looked much more manly in his new attire. In front of him was placed his new headdress, a peaked cap with a fine plume sticking up straight in front. The music now was no longer the ancient Korean, but modern airs from the very fine European-trained band attached to the palace. The Korean players had gone, with the old dress and the old life, into limbo.
The Japanese Acting Resident-General and military commander, General Baron Hasegawa, strong and masterful-looking, stepped to the front with a message of welcome from his Emperor. He was followed by the doyen of the Consular Corps, M. Vincart, with the Consular greetings. This Consular message had been very carefully sub-edited, and all expressions implying that the Governments of the different representatives approved of the proceedings had been eliminated. Then the coronation was over.
Two figures were conspicuous by their absence. The ex-Emperor was not present According to the official explanation, he was unable to attend because "his uniform had not been finished in time," Really, as all men knew, he was sitting resentful and protesting within a few score yards of the spot where his son was crowned.
The second absent figure was the Russian Consul-General, M. de Plancon. It was announced that M. de Plancon was late, and so could not attend. Seeing that M. de Plancon lived not ten minutes' walk from the palace, and that the guests had to wait nearly an hour after the time announced before the ceremony began, he must have overslept very much indeed on that particular morning. Oddly enough, M. de Plancon is usually an early riser.
A JOURNEY TO THE "RIGHTEOUS ARMY"
It was in the autumn of 1906. The Korean Emperor had been deposed and his army disbanded. The people of Seoul, sullen, resentful, yet powerless, victims of the apathy and folly of their sires, and of their own indolence, saw their national existence filched from them, and scarce dared utter a protest. The triumphant Japanese soldiers stood at the city gates and within the palace. Princes must obey their slightest wish, even to the cutting of their hair and the fashioning of their clothes. General Hasegawa's guns commanded every street, and all men dressed in white need walk softly.
But it soon became clear that there were men who had not taken the filching of their national independence lightly. Refugees from distant villages, creeping after nightfall over the city wall, brought with them marvellous tales of the happenings in the provinces. District after district, they said, had risen against the Japanese. A "Righteous Army" had been formed, and was accomplishing amazing things. Detachments of Japanese had been annihilated and others driven back. Sometimes the Japanese, it is true, were victorious, and then they took bitter vengeance, destroying a whole countryside and slaughtering the people in wholesale fashion. So the refugees said.
How far were these stories true? I am bound to say that I, for one, regarded them with much scepticism. Familiar as I was with the offences of individual Japanese in the country, it seemed impossible that outrages could be carried on systematically by the Japanese Army under the direction of its officers. I was with a Japanese army during the war against Russia, and had marked and admired the restraint and discipline of the men of all ranks there. They neither stole nor outraged. Still more recently I had noted the action of the Japanese soldiers when repressing the uprising in Seoul itself. Yet, whether the stories of the refugees were true or false, undeniably some interesting fighting was going on.
By the first week in September it was clear that the area of trouble covered the eastern provinces from near Fusan to the north of Seoul. The rebels were evidently mainly composed of discharged soldiers and of hunters from the hills. We heard in Seoul that trained officers of the old Korean Army were drilling and organizing them into volunteer companies. The Japanese were pouring fresh troops into these centres of trouble, but the rebels, by an elaborate system of mountain-top signalling, were avoiding the troops and making their attacks on undefended spots. Reports showed that they were badly armed and lacked ammunition, and there seemed to be no effective organization for sending them weapons from the outside.
The first rallying-place of the malcontent Koreans was in a mountain district from eighty to ninety miles east of Seoul. Here lived many famous Korean tiger-hunters. These banded themselves together under the title of Eui-pyung (the "Righteous Army"). They had conflicts with small parties of Japanese troops and secured some minor successes. When considerable Japanese reinforcements arrived they retired to some mountain passes further back.
The tiger-hunters, sons of the hills, iron-nerved, and operating in their own country, were naturally awkward antagonists even for the best regular troops. They were probably amongst the boldest sportsmen in the world, and they formed the most picturesque and, romantic section of the rebels. Their only weapon was an old-fashioned percussion gun, with long barrel and a brass trigger seven to eight inches in length. Many of them fired not from the shoulder, but from the hip. They never missed. They could only fire one charge in an attack, owing to the time required to load. They were trained to stalk the tiger, to come quite close to it, and then to kill it at one shot The man who failed once died; the tiger attended to that.
Some of the stories of Korean successes reaching Seoul were at the best improbable. The tale of one fight, however, came to me through so many different and independent sources that there was reason to suspect it had substantial foundation. It recalled the doings of the people of the Tyrol in their struggle against Napoleon. A party of Japanese soldiers, forty-eight in number, were guarding a quantity of supplies from point to point. The Koreans prepared an ambuscade in a mountain valley overshadowed by precipitous hills on either side. When the troops reached the centre of the valley they were overwhelmed by a flight of great boulders rolled on them from the hilltops, and before the survivors could rally a host of Koreans rushed upon them and did them to death.
Proclamations by Koreans were smuggled into the capital. Parties of Japanese troops were constantly leaving Chinkokai, the Japanese quarter in Seoul, for the provinces. There came a public notice from General Hasegawa himself, which showed the real gravity of the rural situation. It ran as follows:—
"I, General Baron Yoshimichi Hasegawa, Commander of the Army of Occupation in Korea, make the following announcement to each and every one of the people of Korea throughout all the provinces. Taught by the natural trend of affairs in the world and impelled by the national need of political regeneration, the Government of Korea, in obedience to His Imperial Majesty's wishes, is now engaged in the task of reorganizing the various institutions of State. But those who are ignorant of the march of events in the world and who fail correctly to distinguish loyalty from treason have by wild and baseless rumours instigated people's minds and caused the rowdies in various places to rise in insurrection. These insurgents commit all sorts of horrible crimes, such as murdering peaceful people, both native and foreign, robbing their property, burning official and private buildings, and destroying means of communication. Their offences are such as are not tolerated by Heaven or earth. They affect to be loyal and patriotic and call themselves volunteers. But none the less they are lawbreakers, who oppose their Sovereign's wishes concerning political regeneration and who work the worst possible harm to their country and people.
"Unless they are promptly suppressed the trouble may assume really calamitous proportions. I am charged by His Majesty, the Emperor of Korea, with the task of rescuing you from such disasters by thoroughly stamping out the insurrection. I charge all of you, law-abiding people of Korea, to prosecute your respective peaceful avocations and be troubled with no fears. As for those who have joined the insurgents from mistaken motives, if they honestly repent and promptly surrender they will be pardoned of their offence. Any of you who will seize insurgents or will give information concerning their whereabouts will be handsomely rewarded. In case of those who wilfully join insurgents, or afford them refuge, or conceal weapons, they shall be severely punished. More than that, the villages to which such offenders belong shall be held collectively responsible and punished with rigour. I call upon each and every one of the people of Korea to understand clearly what I have herewith said to you and avoid all reprehensible action."
The Koreans in America circulated a manifesto directed against those of their countrymen who were working with Japan, under the expressive title of "explosive thunder," which breathed fury and vengeance. Groups of Koreans in the provinces issued other statements which, if not quite so picturesque, were quite forcible enough. Here is one:—
"Our numbers are twenty million, and we have over ten million strong men, excluding old, sick, and children. Now, the Japanese soldiers in Korea are not more than eight thousand, and Japanese merchants at various places are not more than some thousands. Though their weapons are sharp, how can one man kill a thousand? We beg you our brothers not to act in a foolish way and not to kill any innocent persons. We will fix the day and the hour for you to strike. Some of us, disguised as beggars and merchants, will go into Seoul. We will destroy the railway, we will kindle flames in every port, we will destroy Chinkokai, kill Ito and all the Japanese, Yi Wan-yong and his underlings, and will not leave a single rebel against our Emperor alive. Then Japan will bring out all her troops to fight us. We have no weapons at our hands, but we will keep our own patriotism. We may not be able to fight against the sharp weapons of the Japanese, but we will ask the Foreign Consuls to help us with their troops, and maybe they will assist the right persons and destroy the wicked; otherwise let us die. Let us strike against Japan, and then, if must be, all die together with our country and with our Emperor, for there is no other course open to us. It is better to lose our lives now than to live miserably a little time longer, for the Emperor and our brothers will all surely be killed by the abominable plans of Ito, Yi Wan-yong, and their associates. It is better to die as a patriot than to live having abandoned one's country. Mr. Yi Chun went to foreign lands to plead for our country, and his plans did not carry well, so he cut his stomach asunder with a sword and poured out his blood among the foreign nations to proclaim his patriotism to the world. These of our twenty million people who do not unite offend against the memory of Mr. Yi Chun. We have to choose between destruction or the maintenance of our country. Whether we live or die is a small thing, the great thing is that we make up our minds at once whether we work for or against our country."
A group of Koreans in the southern provinces petitioned Prince Ito, in the frankest fashion:—
"You spoke much of the kindness and friendship between Japan and Korea, but actually you have drawn away the profits from province after province and district after district until nothing is left wherever the hand of the Japanese falls. The Korean has been brought to ruin, and the Japanese shall be made to follow him downwards. We pity you very much; but you shall not enjoy the profits of the ruin of our land. When Japan and Korea fall together it will be a misfortune indeed for you. If you would secure safety for yourself follow this rule: memorialize our Majesty to impeach the traitors and put them to right punishment. Then every Korean will regard you with favour, and the Europeans will be loud in your praise. Advise the Korean authorities to carry out reforms in various directions, help them to enlarge the schools, and to select capable men for the Government service; then the three countries, Korea, China, and Japan, shall stand in the same line, strongly united and esteemed by foreign nations. If you will not do this, and if you continue to encroach on our rights, then we will be destroyed together, thanks to you.
"You thought there were no men left in Korea; you will see. We country people are resolved to destroy your railways and your settlements and your authorities. On a fixed day we shall send word to our patriots in the north, in the south, in Pyeng-yang and Kyung Sang, to rise and drive away all Japanese from the various ports, and although your soldiers are skillful with their guns it will be very hard for them to stand against our twenty million people. We will first attack the Japanese in Korea, but when we have finished them we will appeal to the Foreign Powers to assure the independence and freedom of our country. Before we send the word to our fellow-countrymen we give you this advice."
I resolved to try to see the fighting. This, I soon found, was easier attempted than done.
The first difficulty came from the Japanese authorities. They refused to grant me a passport, declaring that, owing to the disturbances, they could not guarantee my safety in the interior. An interview followed at the Residency-General, in which I was duly warned that if I travelled without a passport I would be liable, under International treaties, to "arrest at any point on the journey and punishment."
This did not trouble me very much. My real fear had been that the Japanese would consent to my going, but would insist on sending a guard of Japanese soldiers with me. It was more than doubtful if, at that time, the Japanese had any right to stop a foreigner from travelling in Korea, for the passport regulations had long been virtually obsolete. This was a point that I was prepared to argue out at leisure after my arrest and confinement in a Consular jail. So the preparations for my departure were continued.
The traveller in Korea, away from the railroads, must carry everything he wants with him, except food for his horses. He must have at least three horses or ponies: one for himself, one pack-pony, and one for his bedding and his "boy," Each pony needs its own "mafoo," or groom, to cook its food and to attend to it. So, although travelling lightly and in a hurry, I would be obliged to take two horses, one pony, and four attendants with me.
My friends in Seoul, both white and Korean, were of opinion that if I attempted the trip I would probably never return. Korean tiger-hunters and disbanded soldiers were scattered about the hills, waiting for the chance of pot-shots at passing Japanese. They would certainly in the distance take me for a Japanese, since the Japanese soldiers and leaders all wear foreign clothes, and they would make me their target before they found out their mistake. A score of suggestions were proffered as to how I should avoid this. One old servant of mine begged me to travel in a native chair, like a Korean gentleman. This chair is a kind of small box, carried by two or four bearers, in which the traveller sits all the time crouched up on his haunches. Its average speed is less than two miles an hour. I preferred the bullets. A member of the Korean Court urged me to send out messengers each night to the villages where I would be going next day, telling the people that I was "Yong guk ta-in" (Englishman) and so they must not shoot me. And so on and so forth.
This exaggerated idea of the risks of the trip unfortunately spread abroad. The horse merchant demanded specially high terms for the hire of his beasts, because he might never see them again. I needed a "boy," or native servant, and although there are plenty of "boys" in Seoul none at first was to be had.
I engaged one servant, a fine upstanding young Korean, Wo by name, who had been out on many hunting and mining expeditions. I noticed that he was looking uneasy, and I was scarcely surprised when at the end of the third day he came to me with downcast eyes. "Master," he said, "my heart is very much frightened. Please excuse me this time."
"What is there to be frightened about?" I demanded.
"Korean men will shoot you and then will kill me because my hair is cut" The rebels were reported to be killing all men not wearing topknots.
Exit Wo. Some one recommended Han, also with a great hunting record. But when Han heard the destination he promptly withdrew. Sin was a good boy out of place. Sin was sent for, but forwarded apologies for not coming.
One Korean was longing to accompany me—my old servant in the war, Kim Min-gun. But Kim was in permanent employment and could not obtain leave. "Master," he said contemptuously, when he heard of the refusals, "these men plenty much afraid," At last Kim's master very kindly gave him permission to accompany me, and the servant difficulty was surmounted.
My preparations were now almost completed, provisions bought, horses hired, and saddles overhauled. The Japanese authorities had made no sign, but they knew what was going on. It seemed likely that they would stop me when I started out.
Then fortune favoured me. A cablegram arrived for me from London. It was brief and emphatic:—
"Proceed forthwith Siberia."
My expedition was abandoned, the horses sent away, and the saddles thrown into a corner. I cabled home that I would soon be back. I made the hotel ring with my public and private complaints about this interference with my plans. I visited the shipping offices to learn of the next steamer to Vladivostock.
A few hours before I was to start I chanced to meet an old friend, who questioned me confidentially, "I suppose it is really true that you are going away, and that this is not a trick on your part?" I left him thoughtful, for his words had shown me the splendid opportunity in my hands. Early next morning, long before dawn, my ponies came back, the boys assembled, the saddles were quickly fixed and the packs adjusted, and soon we were riding as hard as we could for the mountains. The regrettable part of the affair is that many people are still convinced that the whole business of the cablegram was arranged by me in advance as a blind, and no assurances of mine will convince them to the contrary.
As in duty bound, I sent word to the acting British Consul-General, telling him of my departure. My letter was not delivered to him until after I had left. On my return I found his reply awaiting me at my hotel.
"I consider it my duty to inform you," he wrote, "that I received a communication on the 7th inst. from the Residency-General informing me that, in view of the disturbed conditions in the interior, it is deemed inadvisable that foreign subjects should be allowed to travel in the disturbed districts for the present I would also call your attention to the stipulation in Article V. of the treaty between Great Britain and Korea, under which British subjects travelling in the interior of the country without a passport are liable to arrest and to a penalty."
In Seoul no one could tell where or how the "Righteous Army" might be found. The information doled out by the Japanese authorities was fragmentary, and was obviously and naturally framed in such a manner as to minimize and discredit the disturbances. It was admitted that the Korean volunteers had a day or two earlier destroyed a small railway station on the line to Fusan. We knew that a small party of them had attacked the Japanese guard of a store of rifles, not twenty miles from the capital, and had driven them off and captured the arms and ammunition. Most of the fighting, so far as one could judge, appeared to have been around the town of Chung-ju, four days' journey from Seoul. It was for there I aimed, travelling by an indirect bridle-path in order to avoid the Japanese as far as possible.
The country in which I soon found myself presented a field of industry and of prosperity such as I had seen nowhere else in Korea. Between the somewhat desolate mountain ranges and great stretches of sandy soil we came upon innumerable thriving villages. Every possible bit of land, right up the hillsides, was carefully cultivated. Here were stretches of cotton, with bursting pods all ready for picking, and here great fields of buckwheat white with flower. The two most common crops were rice and barley, and the fields were heavy with their harvest. Near the villages were ornamental lines of chilies and beans and seed plants for oil, with occasional clusters of kowliang, fully twelve and thirteen feet high.
In the centre of the fields was a double-storied summer-house, made of straw, the centre of a system of high ropes, decked with bits of rag, running over the crops in all directions. Two lads would sit on the upper floor of each of these houses, pulling the ropes, flapping the rags, and making all kinds of harsh noises, to frighten away the birds preying on the crops.
The villages themselves were pictures of beauty and of peace. Most of them were surrounded by a high fence of wands and matting. At the entrance there sometimes stood the village "joss," although many villages had destroyed their idols. This "joss" was a thick stake of wood, six or eight feet high, with the upper part roughly carved into the shape of a very ugly human face, and crudely coloured in vermilion and green. It was supposed to frighten away the evil spirits.
The village houses, low, mud-walled, and thatch-roofed, were seen this season at their best. Gay flowers grew around. Melons and pumpkins, weighted with fruit, ran over the walls. Nearly every roof displayed a patch of vivid scarlet, for the chilies had just been gathered, and were spread out on the housetops to dry. In front of the houses were boards covered with sliced pumpkins and gherkins drying in the sun for winter use. Every courtyard had its line of black earthenware jars, four to six feet high, stored with all manner of good things, mostly preserved vegetables of many varieties, for the coming year.
I had heard much of the province of Chung-Chong-Do as the Italy of Korea, but its beauty and prosperity required seeing to be believed. It afforded an amazing contrast to the dirt and apathy of Seoul. Here every one worked. In the fields the young women were toiling in groups, weeding or harvesting. The young men were cutting bushes on the hillsides, the father of the family preparing new ground for the fresh crop, and the very children frightening off the birds. At home the housewife was busy with her children and preparing her simples and stores; and even the old men busied themselves over light tasks, such as mat-making. Every one seemed prosperous, busy, and happy. There were no signs of poverty. The uprising had not touched this district, save in the most incidental fashion.
My inquiries as to where I should find any signs of the fighting always met with the same reply—"The Japanese have been to Ichon, and have burned many villages there." So we pushed on for Ichon as hard as we could.
The chief problem that faced the traveller in Korea who ventured away from the railways in those days was how to hasten the speed of his party. "You cannot travel faster than your pack," is one of those indisputable axioms against which the impatient man fretted in vain. The pack-pony was led by a horseman, who really controlled the situation. If he sulked and determined to go slowly nothing could be done. If he hurried, the whole party must move quickly.
The Korean mafoo regards seventy li (about twenty-one miles) as a fair day's work. He prefers to average sixty li, but if you are very insistent he may go eighty. It was imperative that I should cover from a hundred to a hundred and twenty li a day.
I tried a mixture of harsh words, praise, and liberal tips. I was up at three in the morning, setting the boys to work at cooking the animals' food, and I kept them on the road until dark. Still the record was not satisfactory. It is necessary in Korea to allow at least six hours each day for the cooking of the horses' food and feeding them. This is a time that no wise traveller attempts to cut. Including feeding-times, we were on the go from sixteen to eighteen hours a day. Notwithstanding this, the most we had reached was a hundred and ten li a day.
Then came a series of little hindrances. The pack-pony would not eat its dinner; its load was too heavy. "Hire a boy to carry part of its load," I replied. A hundred reasons would be found for halting, and still more for slow departure.
It was clear that something more must be done. I called the pack-pony leader on one side. He was a fine, broad-framed giant, a man who had in his time gone through many fights and adventures. "You and I understand one another," I said to him. "These others with their moanings and cries are but as children. Now let us make a compact. You hurry all the time and I will give you" (here I whispered a figure into his ear that sent a gratified smile over his face) "at the end of the journey. The others need know nothing. This is between men."
He nodded assent. From that moment the trouble was over. Footsore mafoos, lame horses, grumbling innkeepers—nothing mattered. "Let the fires burn quickly." "Out with the horses," The other horse-keepers, not understanding his changed attitude, toiled wearily after him. At night-time he would look up, as he led his pack-pony in at the end of a record day, and his grim smile would proclaim that he was keeping his end of the bargain.
"It is necessary for us to show these men something of the strong hand of Japan," one of the leading Japanese in Seoul, a close associate of the Prince Ito, told me shortly before I left that city. "The people of the eastern mountain districts have seen few or no Japanese soldiers, and they have no idea of our strength. We must convince them how strong we are."
As I stood on a mountain-pass, looking down on the valley leading to Ichon, I recalled these words of my friend. The "strong hand of Japan" was certainly being shown here. I beheld in front of me village after village reduced to ashes.
I rode down to the nearest heap of ruins. The place had been quite a large village, with probably seventy or eighty houses. Destruction, thorough and complete, had fallen upon it. Not a single house was left, and not a single wall of a house. Every pot with the winter stores was broken. The very earthen fireplaces were wrecked.
The villagers had come back to the ruins again, and were already rebuilding. They had put up temporary refuges of straw. The young men were out on the hills cutting wood, and every one else was toiling at house-making. The crops were ready to harvest, but there was no time to gather them in. First of all, make a shelter.
During the next few days sights like these were to be too common to arouse much emotion. But for the moment I looked around on these people, ruined and homeless, with quick pity. The old men, venerable and dignified, as Korean old men mostly are, the young wives, many with babes at their breasts, the sturdy men, had composed, if I could judge by what I saw, an exceptionally clean and peaceful community.
There was no house in which I could rest, so I sat down under a tree, and while Min-gun was cooking my dinner the village elders came around with their story. One thing especially struck me. Usually the Korean woman was shy, retiring, and afraid to open her mouth in the presence of a stranger. Here the women spoke up as freely as the men. The great calamity had broken down the barriers of their silence.
"We are glad," they said, "that a European man has come to see what has befallen us. We hope you will tell your people, so that all men may know.
"There had been some fighting on the hills beyond our village," and they pointed to the hills a mile or two further on. "The Eui-pyung" (the volunteers) "had been there, and had torn up some telegraph poles. The Eui-pyung came down from the eastern hills. They were not our men, and had nothing to do with us. The Japanese soldiers came, and there was a fight, and the Eui-pyung fell back.
"Then the Japanese soldiers marched out to our village, and to seven other villages. Look around and you can see the ruins of all. They spoke many harsh words to us. 'The Eui-pyung broke down the telegraph poles and you did not stop them,' they said. 'Therefore you are all the same as Eui-pyung. Why have you eyes if you do not watch, why have you strength if you do not prevent the Eui-pyung from doing-mischief? The Eui-pyung came to your houses and you fed them. They have gone, but we will punish you.'
"And they went from house to house, taking what they wanted and setting all alight. One old man—he had lived in his house since he was a babe suckled by his mother—saw a soldier lighting up his house. He fell on his knees and caught the foot of the soldier. 'Excuse me, excuse me,' he said, with many tears. 'Please do not burn my house. Leave it for me that I may die there. I am an old man, and near my end.'
"The soldier tried to shake him off, but the old man prayed the more. 'Excuse me, excuse me,' he moaned. Then the soldier lifted his gun and shot the old man, and we buried him.
"One who was near to her hour of child-birth was lying in a house. Alas for her! One of our young men was working in the field cutting grass. He was working and had not noticed the soldiers come. He lifted his knife, sharpening it in the sun. 'There is a Eui-pyung,' he said, and he fired and killed him. One man, seeing the fire, noticed that all his family records were burning. He rushed in to try and pull them out, but as he rushed a soldier fired, and he fell."
A man, whose appearance proclaimed him to be of a higher class than most of the villagers, then spoke in bitter tones. "We are rebuilding our houses," he said, "but of what use is it for us to do so? I was a man of family. My fathers and fathers' fathers had their record. Our family papers are destroyed. Henceforth we are a people without a name, disgraced and outcast."
I found, when I went further into the country, that this view was fairly common. The Koreans regard their family existence with peculiar veneration. The family record means everything to them. When it is destroyed, the family is wiped out It no longer exists, even though there are many members of it still living. As the province of Chung-Chong-Do prides itself on the large number of its substantial families, there could be no more effective way of striking at them than this.
I rode out of the village heavy-hearted. What struck me most about this form of punishment, however, was not the suffering of the villagers so much as the futility of the proceedings, from the Japanese point of view. In place of pacifying a people, they were turning hundreds of quiet families into rebels. During the next few days I was to see at least one town and many scores of villages treated as this one. To what end? The villagers were certainly not the people fighting the Japanese. All they wanted to do was to look quietly after their own affairs. Japan professed a desire to conciliate Korea and to win the affection and support of her people. In one province at least the policy of house-burning had reduced a prosperous community to ruin, increased the rebel forces, and sown a crop of bitter hatred which it would take generations to root out.
We rode on through village after village and hamlet after hamlet burned to the ground. The very attitude of the people told me that the hand of Japan had struck hard there. We would come upon a boy carrying a load of wood. He would run quickly to the side of the road when he saw us, expecting he knew not what. We passed a village with a few houses left. The women flew to shelter as I drew near. Some of the stories that I heard later helped me to understand why they should run. Of course they took me for a Japanese.
All along the route I heard tales of the Japanese plundering, where they had not destroyed. At places the village elders would bring me an old man badly beaten by a Japanese soldier because he resisted being robbed. Then came darker stories. In Seoul I had laughed at them. Now, face to face with the victims, I could laugh no more.
That afternoon we rode into Ichon itself. This is quite a large town. I found it practically deserted. Most of the people had fled to the hills, to escape from the Japanese. I slept that night in a schoolhouse, now deserted and unused. There were the cartoons and animal pictures and pious mottoes around, but the children were far away. I passed through the market-place, usually a very busy spot. There was no sign of life there.
I turned to some of the Koreans.
"Where are your women? Where are your children?" I demanded. They pointed to the high and barren hills looming against the distant heavens.
"They are up there," they said. "Better for them to lie on the barren hillsides than to be outraged here."
WITH THE REBELS
Day after day we travelled through a succession of burned-out villages, deserted towns, and forsaken country. The fields were covered with a rich and abundant harvest, ready to be gathered, and impossible for the invaders to destroy. But most of the farmers were hiding on the mountainsides, fearing to come down. The few courageous men who had ventured to come back were busy erecting temporary shelters for themselves before the winter cold came on, and had to let the harvest wait. Great flocks of birds hung over the crops, feasting undisturbed.
Up to Chong-ju nearly one-half of the villages on the direct line of route had been destroyed by the Japanese. At Chong-ju I struck directly across the mountains to Chee-chong, a day's journey. Four-fifths of the villages and hamlets on the main road between these two places were burned to the ground.
The few people who had returned to the ruins always disclaimed any connection with the "Righteous Army." They had taken no part in the fighting, they said. The volunteers had come down from the hills and had attacked the Japanese; the Japanese had then retaliated by punishing the local residents. The fact that the villagers had no arms, and were peaceably working at home-building, seemed at the time to show the truth of their words. Afterwards when I came up with the Korean fighters I found these statements confirmed. The rebels were mostly townsmen from Seoul, and not villagers from that district.
Between 10,000 and 20,000 people had been driven to the hills in this small district alone, either by the destruction of their homes or because of fear excited by the acts of the soldiers.
Soon after leaving Ichon I came on a village where the Red Cross was flying over one of the houses. The place was a native Anglican church. I was later on to see the Red Cross over many houses, for the people had the idea that by thus appealing to the Christians' God they made a claim on the pity and charity of the Christian nations.
In the evening, after I had settled down in the yard of the native inn, the elders of the Church came to see me, two quiet-spoken, grave, middle-aged men. They were somewhat downcast, and said that their village had suffered considerably, the parties of soldiers passing through having taken what they wanted and being guilty of some outrages. A gardener's wife had been violated by a Japanese soldier, another soldier standing guard over the house with rifle and fixed bayonet. A boy, attracted by the woman's screams, ran and fetched the husband. He came up, knife in hand. "But what could he do?" the elders asked. "There was the soldier, with rifle and bayonet, before the door."
Later on I was to hear other stories, very similar to this. These tales were confirmed on the spot, so far as confirmation was possible. In my judgment such outrages were not numerous, and were limited to exceptional parties of troops. But they produced an effect altogether disproportionate to their numbers. The Korean has high ideals about the sanctity of his women, and the fear caused by a comparatively few offences was largely responsible for the flight of multitudes to the hills.
In the burning of villages, a certain number of Korean women and children were undoubtedly killed. The Japanese troops seem in many cases to have rushed a village and to have indulged in miscellaneous wild shooting, on the chance of there being rebels around, before firing the houses. In one hamlet, where I found two houses still standing, the folk told me that these had been left because the Japanese shot the daughter of the owner of one of them, a girl of ten. "When they shot her," the villagers said, "we approached the soldiers, and said, 'Please excuse us, but since you have killed the daughter of this man you should not burn his house.' And the soldiers listened to us."
In towns like Chong-ju and Won-ju practically all the women and children and better-class families had disappeared. The shops were shut and barricaded by their owners before leaving, but many of them had been forced open and looted. The destruction in other towns paled to nothing, however, before the havoc wrought in Chee-chong. Here was a town completely destroyed.
Chee-chong was, up to the late summer of 1907, an important rural centre, containing between 2,000 and 3,000 inhabitants, and beautifully situated in a sheltered plain, surrounded by high mountains. It was a favourite resort of high officials, a Korean Bath or Cheltenham. Many of the houses were large, and some had tiled roofs—a sure evidence of wealth.
When the "Righteous Army" began operations, one portion of it occupied the hills beyond Chee-chong. The Japanese sent a small body of troops into the town. These were attacked one night on three sides, several were killed, and the others were compelled to retire. The Japanese despatched reinforcements, and after some fighting regained lost ground. They then determined to make Chee-chong an example to the countryside. The entire town was put to the torch. The soldiers carefully tended the flames, piling up everything for destruction. Nothing was left, save one image of Buddha and the magistrate's yamen. When the Koreans fled, five men, one woman, and a child, all wounded, were left behind. These disappeared in the flames.
It was a hot early autumn when I reached Chee-chong. The brilliant sunshine revealed a Japanese flag waving-over a hillock commanding the town, and glistened against the bayonet of a Japanese sentry. I dismounted and walked down the streets and over the heaps of ashes. Never have I witnessed such complete destruction. Where a month before there had been a busy and prosperous community, there was now nothing but lines of little heaps of black and gray dust and cinders. Not a whole wall, not a beam, and not an unbroken jar remained. Here and there a man might be seen poking among the ashes, seeking for aught of value. The search was vain. Chee-chong had been wiped off the map. "Where are your people?" I asked the few searchers. "They are lying on the hillsides," came the reply.
Up to this time I had not met a single rebel soldier, and very few Japanese. My chief meeting with the Japanese occurred the previous day at Chong-ju. As I approached that town, I noticed that its ancient walls were broken down. The stone arches of the city gates were left, but the gates themselves and most of the walls had gone. A Japanese sentry and a gendarme stood at the gateway, and cross-examined me as I entered. A small body of Japanese troops were stationed here, and operations in the country around were apparently directed from this centre.
I at once called upon the Japanese Colonel in charge. His room, a great apartment in the local governor's yamen, showed on all sides evidences of the thoroughness with which the Japanese were conducting this campaign. Large maps, with red marks, revealed strategic positions now occupied. A little printed pamphlet, with maps, evidently for the use of officers, lay on the table.
The Colonel received me politely, but expressed his regrets that I had come. The men he was fighting were mere robbers, he said, and there was nothing for me to see. He gave me various warnings about dangers ahead. Then he very kindly explained that the Japanese plan was to hem in the volunteers, two sections of troops operating from either side and making a circle around the seat of trouble. These would unite and gradually drive the Koreans towards a centre.
The maps which the Colonel showed me settled my movements. A glance at them made clear that the Japanese had not yet occupied the line of country between Chee-chong and Won-ju. Here, then, was the place where I must go if I would meet the Korean bands. So it was towards Won-ju that I turned our horses' heads on the following day, after gazing on the ruins of Chee-chong.
It soon became evident that I was very near to the Korean forces. At one place, not far from Chee-chong, a party of them had arrived two days before I passed, and had demanded arms. A little further on Koreans and Japanese had narrowly escaped meeting in the village street, not many hours before I stopped there. As I approached one hamlet, the inhabitants fled into the high corn, and on my arrival not a soul was to be found. They mistook me for a Japanese out on a shooting and burning expedition.
It now became more difficult to obtain carriers. Our ponies were showing signs of fatigue, for we were using them very hard over the mountainous country. It was impossible to hire fresh animals, as the Japanese had commandeered all. Up to Won-ju I had to pay double the usual rate for my carriers. From Won-ju onwards carriers absolutely refused to go further, whatever the pay.
"On the road beyond here many bad men are to be found," they told me at Won-ju. "These bad men shoot every one who passes. We will not go to be shot." My own boys were showing some uneasiness. Fortunately, I had in my personal servant Min-gun, and in the leader of the pack-pony two of the staunchest Koreans I have ever known.
The country beyond Won-ju was splendidly suited for an ambuscade, such as the people there promised me. The road was rocky and broken, and largely lay through a narrow, winding valley, with overhanging cliffs. Now we would come on a splendid gorge, evidently of volcanic origin; now we would pause to chip a bit of gold-bearing quartz from the rocks, for-this is a famous gold centre of Korea. An army might have been hidden securely around.
Twilight was just gathering as we stopped at a small village where we intended remaining for the night The people were sullen and unfriendly, a striking contrast to what I had found elsewhere. In other parts they all came and welcomed me, sometimes refusing to take payment for the accommodation they supplied. "We are glad that a white man has come," But in this village the men gruffly informed me that there was not a scrap of horse food or of rice to be had. They advised us to go on to another place, fifteen li ahead.
We started out. When we had ridden a little way from the village I chanced to glance back at some trees skirting a corn-field. A man, half-hidden by a bush, was fumbling with something in his hands, something which he held down as I turned. I took it to be the handle of a small reaping-knife, but it was growing too dark to see clearly. A minute later, however, there came a smart "ping" past my ear, followed by the thud of a bullet striking metal.
I turned, but the man had disappeared. It would have been merely foolish to blaze back with a .380 Colt at a distance of over a hundred yards, and there was no time to go back. So we continued on our way.
Before arriving at Won-ju we had been told that we would certainly find the Righteous Army around there. At Won-ju men said that it was at a place fifteen or twenty miles ahead. When we reached that distance we were directed onwards to Yan-gun. We walked into Yan-gun one afternoon, only to be again disappointed. Here, however, we learned that there had been a fight that same morning at a village fifteen miles nearer Seoul, and that the Koreans had been defeated.
Yan-gun presented a remarkable sight. A dozen red crosses waved over houses at different points. In the main street every shop was closely barricaded, and a cross was pasted on nearly every door. These crosses, roughly painted on paper in red ink, were obtained from the elder of the Roman Catholic church there. A week before some Japanese soldiers had arrived and burned a few houses. They spared one house close to them waving a Christian cross. As soon as the Japanese left nearly every one pasted a cross over his door.
At first Yan-gun seemed deserted. The people were watching me from behind the shelter of their doors. Then men and boys crept out, and gradually approached. We soon made friends. The women had fled. I settled down that afternoon in the garden of a Korean house of the better type. My boy was preparing my supper in the front courtyard, when he suddenly dropped everything to rush to me. "Master," he cried, highly excited, "the Righteous Army has come. Here are the soldiers."
In another moment half a dozen of them entered the garden, formed in line in front of me and saluted. They were all lads, from eighteen to twenty-six. One, a bright-faced, handsome youth, still wore the old uniform of the regular Korean Army. Another had a pair of military trousers. Two of them were in slight, ragged Korean dress. Not one had leather boots. Around their waists were home-made cotton cartridge belts, half full. One wore a kind of tarboosh on his head, and the others had bits of rag twisted round their hair.
I looked at the guns they were carrying. The six men had five different patterns of weapons, and none was any good. One proudly carried an old Korean sporting gun of the oldest type of muzzle-loaders known to man. Around his arm was the long piece of thin rope which he kept smouldering as touch-powder, and hanging in front of him were the powder horn and bullet bag for loading. This sporting gun was, I afterwards found, a common weapon. The ramrod, for pressing down the charge, was home-made and cut from a tree. The barrel was rust-eaten. There was only a strip of cotton as a carrying strap.
The second man had an old Korean army rifle, antiquated, and a very bad specimen of its time. The third had the same. One had a tiny sporting gun, the kind of weapon, warranted harmless, that fathers give to their fond sons at the age of ten. Another had a horse-pistol, taking a rifle cartridge. Three of the guns bore Chinese marks. They were all eaten up with ancient rust.
These were the men—think of it—who for weeks had been bidding defiance to the Japanese Army! Even now a Japanese division of regular soldiers was manoeuvring to corral them and their comrades. Three of the party in front of me were coolies. The smart young soldier who stood at the right plainly acted as sergeant, and had done his best to drill his comrades into soldierly bearing. A seventh man now came in, unarmed, a Korean of the better class, well dressed in the long robes of a gentleman, but thin, sun-stained and wearied like the others.
A pitiful group they seemed—men already doomed to certain death, fighting in an absolutely hopeless cause. But as I looked the sparkling eyes and smiles of the sergeant to the right seemed to rebuke me. Pity! Maybe my pity was misplaced. At least they were showing their countrymen an example of patriotism, however mistaken their method of displaying it might be.
They had a story to tell, for they had been in the fight that morning, and had retired before the Japanese. The Japanese had the better position, and forty Japanese soldiers had attacked two hundred of them and they had given way. But they had killed four Japanese, and the Japanese had only killed two of them and wounded three more. Such was their account.
I did not ask them why, when they had killed twice as many as the enemy, they had yet retreated. The real story of the fight I could learn later. As they talked others came to join them—two old men, one fully eighty, an old tiger-hunter, with bent back, grizzled face, and patriarchal beard. The two newcomers carried the old Korean sporting rifles. Other soldiers of the retreating force were outside. There was a growing tumult in the street. How long would it be before the triumphant Japanese, following up their victory, attacked the town?
I was not to have much peace that night. In the street outside a hundred noisy disputes were proceeding between volunteers and the townsfolk. The soldiers wanted shelter; the people, fearing the Japanese, did not wish to let them in. A party of them crowded into an empty building adjoining the house where I was, and they made the place ring with their disputes and recriminations.
Very soon the officer who had been in charge of the men during the fight that day called on me. He was a comparatively young man, dressed in the ordinary long white garments of the better-class Koreans. I asked him what precautions he had taken against a night attack, for if the Japanese knew where we were they would certainly come on us. Had he any outposts placed in positions? Was the river-way guarded? "There is no need for outposts," he replied. "Every Korean man around watches for us."
I cross-examined him about the constitution of the rebel army. How were they organized? From what he told me, it was evident that they had practically no organization at all. There were a number of separate bands held together by the loosest ties. A rich man in each place found the money. This he secretly gave to one or two open rebels, and they gathered adherents around them.
He admitted that the men were in anything but a good way. "We may have to die," he said. "Well, so let it be. It is much better to die as a free man than to live as the slave of Japan."
He had not been gone long before still another called on me, a middle-aged Korean gentleman, attended by a staff of officials. Here was a man of rank, and I soon learned that he was the Commander-in-Chief for the entire district. I was in somewhat of a predicament. I had used up all my food, and had not so much as a cigar or a glass of whiskey left to offer him. One or two flickering candles in the covered courtyard of the inn lit up his care-worn face. I apologized for the rough surroundings in which I received him, but he immediately brushed my apologies aside. He complained bitterly of the conduct of his subordinate, who had risked an engagement that morning when he had orders not to. The commander, it appeared, had been called back home for a day on some family affairs, and hurried back to the front as soon as he knew of the trouble. He had come to me for a purpose. "Our men want weapons," he said. "They are as brave as can be, but you know what their guns are like, and we have very little ammunition. We cannot buy, but you can go to and fro freely as you want. Now, you act as our agent. Buy guns for us and bring them to us. Ask what money you like, it does not matter. Five thousand dollars, ten thousand dollars, they are yours if you will have them. Only bring us guns!"
I had, of course, to tell him that I could not do anything of the kind. When he further asked me questions about the positions of the Japanese I was forced to give evasive answers. To my mind, the publicist who visits fighting forces in search of information, as I was doing, is in honour bound not to communicate what he learns to the other side. I could no more tell the rebel leader of the exposed Japanese outposts I knew, and against which I could have sent his troops with the certainty of success, than I could on return tell the Japanese the strength of his forces.
All that night the rebels dribbled in. Several wounded men who had escaped from the fight the previous day were borne along by their comrades, and early on the following morning some soldiers came and asked me to do what I could to heal them. I went out and examined the men. One had no less than five bullet-holes in him and yet seemed remarkably cheerful. Two others had single shots of a rather more dangerous nature. I am no surgeon, and it was manifestly impossible for me to jab into their wounds with my hunting-knife in the hope of extracting the bullets. I found, however, some corrosive sublimate tabloids in my leather medicine case. These I dissolved, and bathed the wounds with the mixture to stop suppuration. I had some Listerine, and I washed their rags in it. I bound the clean rags on the wounds, bade the men lie still and eat little, and left them.
Soon after dawn the rebel regiments paraded in the streets. They reproduced on a larger scale the characteristics I had noted among the few men who came to visit me the evening before, poor weapons and little ammunition. They sent out men in advance before I departed in the morning to warn their outposts that I was an Englishman (really I am a Scots-Canadian, but to them it was all the same) who must not be injured. I left them with mutual good wishes, but I made a close inspection of my party before we marched away to see that all our weapons were in place. Some of my boys begged me to give the rebels our guns so that they might kill the Japanese!
We had not gone very far before we descended into a rocky and sandy plain by the river. Suddenly I heard one of my boys shout at the top of his voice, as he threw up his arms, "Yong guk ta-in." We all stopped, and the others took up the cry. "What does this mean?" I asked. "Some rebel soldiers are surrounding us," said Min-gun, "and they are going to fire. They think you are a Japanese." I stood against the sky-line and pointed vigorously to myself to show that they were mistaken. "Yong guk!" I shouted, with my boys. It was not dignified, but it was very necessary. Now we could see creeping, ragged figures running from rock to rock, closer and closer to us. The rifles of some were covering us while the others advanced. Then a party of a couple of dozen rose from the ground near to hand, with a young man in a European officer's uniform at their head. They ran to us, while we stood and waited. At last they saw who I was, and when they came near they apologized very gracefully for their blunder. "It was fortunate that you shouted when you did," said one ugly-faced young rebel, as he slipped his cartridge back into his pouch; "I had you nicely covered and was just going to shoot." Some of the soldiers in this band were not more than fourteen to sixteen years old. I made them stand and have their photographs taken.
By noon I arrived at the place from which the Korean soldiers had been driven on the day before. The villagers there were regarded in very unfriendly fashion by the rebels, who thought they had betrayed them to the Japanese. The villagers told me what was evidently the true story of the fight. They said that about twenty Japanese soldiers had on the previous morning marched quickly to the place and attacked two hundred rebels there. One Japanese soldier was hurt, receiving a flesh wound in the arm, and five rebels were wounded. Three of these latter got away, and these were the ones I had treated earlier in the morning. Two others were left on the field, one badly shot in the left cheek and the other in the right shoulder. To quote the words of the villagers, "As the Japanese soldiers came up to these wounded men they were too sick to speak, and they could only utter cries like animals—'Hula, hula, hula!' They had no weapons in their hands, and their blood was running on the ground. The Japanese soldiers heard their cries, and went up to them and stabbed them through and through and through again with their bayonets until they died. The men were torn very much with the bayonet stabs, and we had to take them up and bury them." The expressive faces of the villagers were more eloquent than mere description was.
Were this an isolated instance, it would scarcely be necessary to mention it. But what I heard on all sides went to show that in a large number of fights in the country the Japanese systematically killed all the wounded and all who surrendered themselves. This was not so in every case, but it certainly was in very many. The fact was confirmed by the Japanese accounts of many fights, where the figures given of Korean casualties were so many killed, with no mention of wounded or prisoners. In place after place also, the Japanese, besides burning houses, shot numbers of men whom they suspected of assisting the rebels. War is war, and one could scarcely complain at the shooting of rebels. Unfortunately much of the killing was indiscriminate, to create terror.
I returned to Seoul. The Japanese authorities evidently decided that it would not be advisable to arrest me for travelling in the interior without a passport. It was their purpose to avoid as far as possible any publicity being given to the doings of the Righteous Army, and to represent them as mere bands of disorderly characters, preying on the population. They succeeded in creating this opinion throughout the world.
But as a matter of fact the movement grew and grew. It was impossible for the Koreans to obtain arms; they fought without arms. In June, 1908, nearly two years afterwards, a high Japanese official, giving evidence at the trial of Mr. Bethell before a specially convened British court at Seoul, said that about 20,000 troops were then engaged in putting down the disturbances, and that about one-half of the country was in a condition of armed resistance. The Koreans continued their fight until 1915, when, according to Japanese official statements, the rebellion was finally suppressed. One can only faintly imagine the hardships these mountaineers and young men of the plains, tiger hunters, and old soldiers, must have undergone. The taunts about Korean "cowardice" and "apathy" were beginning to lose their force.
THE LAST DAYS OF THE KOREAN EMPIRE
Prince Ito—he was made Prince after the abdication of Yi Hyeung—was Resident-General of Korea from 1906 to 1908, and was followed by Viscount Sone, who carried on his policies until 1910. Ito is still remembered as the best of the Japanese administrators.
He had an exceedingly difficult task. He had to tear up an ancient administration by the roots, and substitute a new. This could not fail to be a painful process. He had the best and the worst instincts of a nation aroused against him, the patriotism and loyalty of the Korean people, and also their obstinacy and apathy. He was hampered by the poor quality of many of the minor officials who had to carry out his orders and still more by the character of the settlers from his own land. The necessities of Japanese Imperial policy compelled the infliction of much injustice on the Korean people. The determination to plant as many Japanese on Korean soil as possible involved the expropriation of Korean interests and the harsh treatment of many small Korean landowners and tenants. The powerful and growing commercial interests of Japan were using every possible pressure to exploit Korea, to obtain concessions and to treat the land as one to be despoiled for their benefit. Ito meant well by Korea, and had vision enough to see that the ill-treatment of her people injured Japan even more than it did them. It was his misfortune to be committed to an impossible policy of Imperial absorption. He did his utmost to minimize its evils and promote reforms.
Unfortunately, all of his subordinates did not see eye to eye with him. His military chief, Hasegawa, believed in the policy of the strong hand, and practiced it. A large majority of the Japanese immigrants acted in a way fatal to the creation of a policy of good-will. The average Japanese regarded the Korean as another Ainu, a barbarian, and himself as one of the Chosen Race, who had the right to despoil and roughly treat his inferiors, as occasion served.
Some Koreans stooped to the favourite Oriental weapon of assassination.
In 1907 Mr. W.D. Stevens, Foreign Adviser to the Korean Government, was murdered by a Korean when passing through San Francisco. In October, 1909, Prince Ito, when making a journey northwards, was killed by another Korean at Harbin. Both of the murderers were nominal Christians, the first a Protestant and the second a Catholic. A deadly blow was struck at the Korean cause by the men who thus sought to serve her.
This book will probably be read by many Koreans, young men and women with hearts aflame at the sufferings of their people. I can well understand the intense anger that must fill their souls. If my people had been treated as theirs have, I would feel the same.
I hope that every man guilty of torturing, outraging or murder will eventually be brought to justice and dealt with as justice directs. But for individuals, or groups of individuals to take such punishment into their own hands is to inflict the greatest damage in their power, not on the person they attack, but on the cause they seek to serve.
In the first case, they destroy sympathy for their cause. The conscience of the world revolts at the idea of the individual or the irresponsible group of individuals taking to themselves the right of inflicting death at their will.
Next, they strengthen the cause they attack. They place themselves on or below the level of the men they seek to punish.
A third reason is that the assassins in many cases reach the wrong man. They do not know, and cannot know, because they have had no full opportunity of learning, what the other has had to say for himself. Too often, in trying to slay their victim, they injure others who have nothing to do with the business.
To attack one's victim without giving him an opportunity for defence is essentially a cowardly thing. Assassination—I prefer to give it its simpler name, murder—is wrong, whatever the supposed excuse, fundamentally wrong, wrong in principle, fatal in its outcome for those who adopt it. Have nothing to do with it.
The murder of Prince Ito was a cruel blow for Korea. It was followed by an attempt to assassinate the Korean Premier, the man who had handed his country over to Japan. For some time the military party in Japan had been clamouring for a more severe policy in the Peninsula. Now it was to have its way. General Count Terauchi was appointed Resident-General.
Count Terauchi was leader of the military party in Korea, and an avowed exponent of the policy of "thorough." A soldier from his youth up, he had risen to the General Staff, and in 1904 was Minister of War in the fight against Russia, earning his Viscountcy for brilliant services. Strong, relentless, able, he could only see one thing—Japan and the glory of Japan. He regarded the Koreans as a people to be absorbed or to be eliminated. He was generally regarded as unsympathetic to Christianity, and many of the Koreans were now Christians.
Terauchi came to Seoul in the summer of 1910, to reverse the policy of his predecessors. He was going to stamp the last traces of nationality out of existence. Where Ito had been soft, he would be hard as chilled steel. Where Ito had beaten men with whips, he would beat them with scorpions.
Every one knew ahead what was coming. The usual plan was followed. First, the official and semi-official plan was followed. The Seoul Press, now the lickspittle of the great man, gave good value for the subsidy it receives. It came out with an article hard to surpass for brutality and hypocrisy:—
"The present requires the wielding of an iron hand rather than a gloved one in order to secure lasting peace and order in this country. There is no lack of evidence to show an intense dissatisfaction against the new state of things is fermenting at present among a section of the Koreans. It is possible that if left unchecked, it may culminate in some shocking crime. Now after carefully studying the cause and nature of the dissatisfaction just referred to, we find that it is both foolish and unreasonable....
"Japan is in this country with the object of promoting the happiness of the masses. She has not come to Korea to please a few hundred silly youngsters or to feed a few hundred titled loafers. It is no fault of hers that these men are dissatisfied because of their failure to satisfy them.... She must be prepared to sacrifice anybody who offers obstacles to her work. Japan has hitherto dealt with Korean malcontents in a lenient way. She has learned from experience gained during the past five years that there are some persons who cannot be converted by conciliatory methods. There is but one way to deal with these people, and that is by stern and relentless methods."
The Japan Mail, as usual, echoed the same sentiments from Yokohama. "The policy of conciliation is all very well in the hands of such a statesman as the late Prince Ito," it declared. "But failing a successor to Prince Ito, more ordinary methods will be found safer as well as more efficacious."
Viscount Terauchi settled in the capital, and it was as though a chill had passed over the city. He said little, in public. Callers, high and low, found him stern and distant. "He has other things to think of than pleasant words," awed Secretaries repeated. Things suddenly began to happen. Four Japanese papers were suspended in a night. An item in their columns was objectionable. Let others be very careful. The police system was reversed. The gendarmerie were to be brought back again in full force. Every day brought its tale of arrests. Fifteen students were arrested this morning; the old Korean President of the Railway Board had been hurried to prison; the office of a paper in Pyeng-yang had been raided. It was as though the new Governor-General had deliberately set himself to spread a feeling of terror.
The Korean must not so much as look awry now. Police and gendarmes were everywhere. Spies seemed to catch men's thoughts. More troops were coming in. Surely something was about to happen.
Yet there were some smiling. They were called to the Residency-General to hear good news. This man was to be made a peer; he had served Japan well. This man, if he and his kin were good, was to be suitably rewarded. Bribes for the complaisant, prison for the obstinate.
Men guessed what was coming. There were mutterings, especially among the students. But the student who spoke bravely, even behind closed doors to-day, found himself in jail by evening. The very walls seemed to have ears.
Then it was remarked that the Ministers of State had not been seen for some days. They had shut themselves in, refusing to see all callers. They feared assassination, for they had sold their country. Policemen and troops were waiting within easy calls from their homes, lest mobs should try to burn them out, like rats out of their holes.
And then the news came. Korea had ceased to exist as an even nominally independent or separate country. Japan had swallowed it up. The Emperor—poor fool—was to step off his throne. After four thousand years, there was to be no more a throne of Korea. The Resident-General would now be Governor-General. The name of the nation was to be wiped out—henceforth it was to be Chosen, a province of Japan. Its people were to be remade into a lesser kind of Japanese, and the more adept they were in making the change, the less they would suffer. They were to have certain benefits. To mark the auspicious occasion there would be an amnesty—but a man who had tried to kill the traitor Premier would not be in it. Five per cent of taxes and all unpaid fiscal dues would be remitted. Let the people rejoice!
The Japanese expected an uprising, and were all ready for one. "Every man should be ready to fight and die in the cause of his nation's independence," they said tauntingly to the Koreans. But the people's leaders kept them in. Up on the hills, the Righteous Army was still struggling. The people must wait for better times.
One man stuck a proclamation on the West Gate, threatening death to the traitors. Man after man, scholars, old soldiers, men who loved Korea, committed suicide, after telling of their grief. "Why should we live when our land is dead?" they asked.
The Japanese sneered because the people did nothing. "We may assume, indeed, that all fear of a national uprising is now past," declared a semi-Government organ. "The nation obviously has no leaders competent to execute and direct a crusade in the cause of independence. Whether that lack is due to adroit management on the part of the Japanese or to unpatriotic apathy on the part of the Koreans we cannot pretend to judge."
The Japanese decree announcing the annexation of the country was in itself an acknowledgment that the Japanese administration so far had been a failure. Here is the opening paragraph:—
"Notwithstanding the earnest and laborious work of reforms in the administration of Korea in which the Governments of Japan and Korea have been engaged for more than four years since the conclusion of the Agreement of 1905, the existing system of government of that country has not proved entirely equal to the work of preserving public order and tranquillity, and in addition a spirit of suspicion and misgiving pervades the whole peninsula.
"In order to maintain peace and prosperity and the welfare of the Koreans and at the same time to ensure the safety and repose of foreign residents, it has been made abundantly clear that fundamental changes in the actual regime of government are actually essential."
The declaration announced various changes. It abrogated all Korean foreign treaties, and brought the subjects of foreign nations living in Korea under Japanese law. In other words, extra-territoriality was abolished. The Government agreed to maintain the old Korean tariff for ten years both for goods coming in from Japan and abroad. This was a concession to foreign importers whose trade otherwise would have been swamped. It also allowed ships under foreign registers to engage in the Korean coasting trade for ten years more.
The annexation was put in the form of a treaty between the Emperors of Japan and Korea, as though the surrender of their land had been the act of the Koreans themselves, or their ruler.
His Majesty the Emperor of Japan and His Majesty the Emperor of Korea having in view the special and close relations between their respective countries and to ensure peace in the Extreme East, and being convinced that these objects can best be attained by the annexation of Korea to the Empire of Japan have resolved to conclude a Treaty of such annexation and have for that purpose appointed as their Plenipotentiaries, that is to say, His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, Viscount Maskata Terauchi, His Resident General. And His Majesty the Emperor of Korea, Ye Wan Yong, His Minister President of State, Who, upon mutual conference and deliberation, have agreed to the following articles.
Article 1. His Majesty the Emperor of Korea makes complete and permanent cession to His Majesty the Emperor of Japan of all rights of sovereignty over the whole of Korea.
Article 2. His Majesty the Emperor of Japan accepts the cession mentioned in the preceding Article, and consents to the complete annexation of Korea to the Empire of Japan.
Article 3. His Majesty the Emperor of Japan will accord to their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Korea and His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Korea, and Their Consorts and Heirs such titles, dignity and honour as are appropriate to their respective rank and sufficient annual grants will be made for the maintenance of such titles, dignity and honour.
Article 4. His Majesty the Emperor of Japan will also accord appropriate honour and treatment to the members of the Imperial House of Korea and their heirs, other than those mentioned in the preceding Article and the funds necessary for the maintenance of such honour and treatment will be granted.
Article 5. His Majesty the Emperor of Japan will confer peerages and monetary grants upon those Koreans who, on account of meritorious services, are regarded as deserving of such special treatment.
Article 6. In consequence of the aforesaid annexation, the Government of Japan assumes the entire government and administration of Korea, and undertakes to afford full protection for the property and person of Koreans, obeying the laws then in force, and to promote the welfare of all such Koreans.
Article 7. The Government of Japan will, so far as circumstances permit, employ in the public service of Japan in Korea those Koreans who accept the new regime of Japan loyally and in good faith, and who are duly qualified for such service.
Article 8. This Treaty, having been approved by His Majesty the Emperor of Japan and His Majesty the Emperor of Korea shall take effect from the day of its promulgation.
Some defenders of Japan have wasted much effort in attempting to show that in destroying the Korean Empire Japan did not break her word, although she had repeatedly pledged herself to maintain and preserve the nation and the Royal House. Such arguments, under the circumstances, are merely nauseating. Japan wanted Korea; so soon as she was able, Japan took it. The only justification was
"The good old rule ... the simple plan, That he shall take who has the power, That he shall KEEP, who can."
"I WILL WHIP YOU WITH SCORPIONS"
The Japanese administration of Korea from 1910 to 1919, first under Count Terauchi and then under General Hasegawa, revealed the harshest and most relentless form of Imperial administration. When formal annexation was completed in 1910 all the hindrances which had hitherto stood in the way of the complete execution of Japanese methods were apparently swept on one side. The Governor-General had absolute power to pass what ordinances he pleased, and even to make those ordinances retroactive. Extra-territoriality was abolished, and foreign subjects in Korea were placed entirely under the Japanese laws.
Japanese statesmen were ambitious to show the world as admirable an example of efficiency in peace as Japan had already shown in war. Much thought had been given to the matter for a long time ahead. The colonial systems of other countries had been carefully studied. Service in Korea was to be a mark of distinction, reserved for the best and most highly paid. National pride and national interest were pledged to make good. Money was spent freely and some of the greatest statesmen and soldiers of Japan were placed at the head of affairs. Ito, by becoming Resident-General, had set an example for the best of the nation to follow.
Between the annexation in 1910 and the uprising of the people in 1919, much material progress was made. The old, effete administration was cleared away, sound currency maintained, railways were greatly extended, roads improved, afforestation pushed forward on a great scale, agriculture developed, sanitation improved and fresh industries begun.
And yet this period of the Japanese administration in Korea ranks among the greatest failures of history, a failure greater than that of Russia in Finland or Poland or Austria-Hungary in Bosnia. America in Cuba and Japan in Korea stand out as the best and the worst examples in governing new subject peoples that the twentieth century has to show. The Japanese entered on their great task in a wrong spirit, they were hampered by fundamentally mistaken ideas, and they proved that they are not yet big enough for the job.
They began with a spirit of contempt for the Korean. Good administration is impossible without sympathy on the part of the administrators; with a blind and foolish contempt, sympathy is impossible. They started out to assimilate the Koreans, to destroy their national ideals, to root out their ancient ways, to make them over again as Japanese, but Japanese of an inferior brand, subject to disabilities from which their overlords were free. Assimilation with equality is difficult, save in the case of small, weak peoples, lacking tradition and national ideals. But assimilation with inferiority, attempted on a nation with a historic existence going back four thousand years is an absolutely impossible task. Or, to be more exact, it would only be possible by assimilating a few, the weaklings of the nation, and destroying the strong majority by persecution, direct killing and a steady course of active corruption, with drugs and vice.
The Japanese overestimated their own capacity and underestimated the Korean. They had carefully organized their claque in Europe and America, especially in America. They engaged the services of a group of paid agents—some of them holding highly responsible positions—to sing their praises and advocate their cause. They enlisted others by more subtle means, delicate flattery and social ambition. They taught diplomats and consular officials, especially of Great Britain and America, that it was a bad thing to become a persona non grata to Tokyo. They were backed by a number of people, who were sincerely won over by the finer sides of the Japanese character. In diplomatic and social intrigue, the Japanese make the rest of the world look as children. They used their forces not merely to laud themselves, but to promote the belief that the Koreans were an exhausted and good-for-nothing race.
In the end, they made the fatal mistake of believing what their sycophants and flatterers told them. Japanese civilization was the highest in the world; Japan was to be the future leader, not alone of Asia, but of all nations. The Korean was fit for nothing but to act as hewer of wood and drawer of water for his overlord.
Had Japan been wise and long-sighted enough to treat the Koreans as America treated the Cubans or England the people of the Straits Settlements, there would have been a real amalgamation—although not an assimilation—of the two peoples. The Koreans were wearied of the extravagances, abuses and follies of their old administration. But Japan in place of putting Korean interests first ruled the land for the benefit of Japan. The Japanese exploiter, the Japanese settler were the main men to be studied.
Then Japan sought to make the land a show place. Elaborate public buildings were erected, railroads opened, state maintained, far in excess of the economic strength of the nation. To pay for extravagant improvements, taxation and personal service were made to bear heavily on the people. Many of the improvements were of no possible service to the Koreans themselves. They were made to benefit Japanese or to impress strangers. And the officials forgot that even subject peoples have ideals and souls. They sought to force loyalty, to beat it into children with the stick and drill it into men by gruelling experiences in prison cells. Then they were amazed that they had bred rebels. They sought to wipe out Korean culture, and then were aggrieved because Koreans would not take kindly to Japanese learning. They treated the Koreans with open contempt, and then wondered that they did not love them.
Let us examine the administration more closely in detail.
Its outstanding feature for most of the people is (I use the present tense because as I write it still continues) the gendarmerie and police. These are established all over the country, and they have in effect, although not in name, power of life or death. They can enter into any house, without warrant, and search it. They destroy whatever they please, on the spot. Thus if a policeman searches the room of a student, and sees a book which does not please him, he can—and does—often burn it on the spot. Sometimes he takes it into the street and burns it there, to impress the neighbours.
One of the police visits most feared by many villagers is the periodical examinations to see if the houses are clean. If the policemen are not satisfied, they do not trouble to take the people to the station, but give them a flogging then and there. This house examination is frequently used by police in districts where they wish to punish the Christians, or to prevent their neighbours from becoming Christians. The Christian houses are visited and the Christians flogged, sometimes without even troubling to examine the houses at all. This method particularly prevails in parts of the Pyengyang province.