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Mr. Heard to Mr. Gresham.
LEGATION OF THE UNITED STATES,
Seoul, Korea, April 4, 1893. (Received May 9.) SIR: We have been witnessing within the past few days a curious phase of Eastern life, which has not been devoid of a personal interest for ourselves. A body, numbering about forty men, have been kneeling before the palace gate, waiting for an officer of the court to come and take from them a petition to be laid before the King. These men were the representatives of a new religious sect which sprang into being in 1859, and whose founder, Ch'e Cheng woo, was put to death as a heretic and a sorcerer by the governor of Cholla Do in 1864. Every effort has been made to stamp it out, but notwithstanding the persecution, or perhaps because of the persecution, the sect has flourished, and, growing rapidly, now numbers many thousands of adherents, chiefly in the southern provinces.
A report reached me some three months ago that they were collecting at a central point with the intention of marching on Seoul, but it died away, to be renewed again a fortnight ago. On the 18th ultimo all the foreign representatives were informed by their chusa, or native interpreter, that the Tong Hâk were coming, many tens of thousands strong, and that an article of their creed was the expulsion of foreigners. Inquiry failed, however, to find any authority for the statement. The chusa, when questioned, had been told the report by friends; they did not know; they had heard it talked about, and in two or three days they began to doubt whether there was anything in the story. The high officials denied that there was any truth in it, and on the 28th the president of the foreign office assured me that it was only a rumor among the people, unworthy of attention.
Unquestionably, however, there was a sense of uneasiness in high places. The English gunboat Peacock and the German gunboat Iltis were at Chemulpo at the time, and both Mr. Hillier and Mr. Krien were approached with the view of inducing them to retain them here. Neither of these gentlemen was able, however, to get any statement that there really was danger to foreigners, and they were unwilling to act on vague rumors. The gunboats went away.
A well-known official of high rank spoke at the first to Mr. Hillier on the subject, and called upon him again on the 30th, when much the same conversation took place. He thought there might possibly be danger, but refused to say that there was danger. The malcontents were, in any event, unarmed, and the soldiers could easily deal with them. Apparently, he would have been pleased to have danger inferred and precaution against it taken by foreigners without in any way committing himself. This was the impression made upon Mr. Hillier. For
the last fortnight the Tong Hâk, or "men of the Eastern religion," have formed the subject of all conversation and interest in Seoul, and on the 29th about forty of them appeared and knelt before the palace gate, where they remained several days. Upon a table covered with a red cloth was placed the petition which they wished to lay before the King. It bore the inscription:
The petition of subjects of different provinces, scholars, of whom the chief is Pak Siung-ho, humbly submits: The religion of the late Ch'e Cheng-woo was condemned as heresy and sorcery, though in reality its teachings were to revere Heaven, to purify the heart, to protect the nation, and to tranquilize the people. Now this is a grievance to be redressed.
Its contents are unknown, but its first object is said to be to procure a reversal of the sentence which condemned the founder, Ch'e Chengwoo to an ignominious death as a heretic and sorcerer, and permission to practice their religion; and it is supposed to contain a protest against foreigners and Christianity, with the request that His Majesty should intervene.
The strength of the organization, or the strength of its backing in Seoul, may be inferred from the fact that not long ago to be suspected of having affiliations with the Tong Hâk was to insure persecution and death; and to-day they declare themselves boldly at the gate of the palace asking, almost demanding, recognition. Only forty appeared there, but it is supposed there are many hundreds, perhaps thousands, in the city, and these forty were renewed from time to time as they became fatigued. The birthday of the crown prince occurred on the 24th of March, and the quagas or examinations that were held in honor of the event have been the pretext under which great numbers from the country have entered the city, a certain proportion of them, no doubt, belonging to this sect.
Their present leader is Pak Siung-ho, and he made the following statement to a Korean Christian who went to him for information a few days ago, without saying who or what he was:
The religion, which is the only true religion and contains all that is good in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, was founded by Ch'e Cheng-woo in 1859. Being inspired by God, he went up into the mountains, and after praying for one thousand days God appeared to him and told him to search under certain rocks. He sought and found four books, which are the sacred books known only to adepts, and containing the doctrines of the faith. They teach the worship of one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and sacrifice to ancestors; mutual respect between father and child; the subjection of the wife to her husband; the submission of nobles to the King, and faithfulness between friends. In sum, reverence for God and love for man. (It might be thought that the faith of the hearer had tinctured what he heard.)
Pak denied that they had any hostility to foreigners, and that they practiced the acrobatic and conjuring feats ascribed to them by the common people. All their disciples are scholars, and all are received who will obey the precepts inculcated.
To these principles no objection can be made; but to the sincere believers must be added many who believe in the success of the movement and who wish to be on the winning side; and by many (it is reported) who are hostile to the Roman Catholics. These are thought, either rightly or wrongly, to be protected by the priests from the exactions of the magistrates, to which all others are liable; and if there is anything to call forth hostility from the mandarin it is to see what he considers as his lawful prey withdrawn from his clutches; and all those who must
pay hate without measure those who are exempt. Many, it is said, of bad character, enroll themselves under the priests to escape the payment of their just debts. I am now only repeating remarks which are not unusual among Koreans, in which, no doubt, there is much exaggeration.
So much for the sect as a sect proper. But we must also look upon it as an organized body, which may be used by a political party for political purposes; and there are many who regard the present movement as only a demonstration of political intrigue.
What the Government fears, if it fears anything, is not so much what may take place in Seoul, where they have a body of disciplined troops who are probably free from the contamination, as of an outbreak in the southern provinces, where there is a certain feeling against foreigners, or against Catholics, and where alone apparently it exists. It was in Kiong-sang Do that the attacks were made on Père Robert near Tai-ku, and recently on another priest at Kam-san. Ch'ung-ch'ong Do, Kiongsang Do, and Cholla Do are said to be full of these people, and it is impossible to say how far their tenets may have gained over the officials.
The Government was brought to face this dilemma. If they received the petition and antagonized foreigners they would have an ugly task before them. If they received and disregarded it, they might bring about a revolution; and, curiously enough, the headquarters of the sect is Kong-chin, in Ch'ung-ch'ong Do, the appointed new capital of the Kingdom after the present dynasty has been removed, which you are aware was predicted would take place after its five hundredth year. This is the five hundred and second, and these fanatics may look upon themselves as the appointed agents of heaven to bring it about.
On Friday, the 31st, the King came to a decision. He sent out an officer to order the people to leave their station before his gates on pain of arrest, and they did so. Many of them left the city the next day. The reason given for not receiving the petition was that it had not been forwarded through the proper channel. It should first have been presented to the Chong-wan, a board which enregisters the King's decrees. On the next day a decree appeared in the Gazette, in which His Majesty admonished the Tong Hâk, in a fatherly way, to abandon their false doctrines and study the true Confucian wisdom. If they did not heed his admonitions he would be compelled to chastise them even unto death.
On the night of the 21st a placard, of which I inclose a translation, was affixed to the school of the Presbyterian mission, and another, identical, on the gate of the residence of Mr. Jones, a member of the Methodist mission. No other placards, that I am aware of, were posted on any other property in Seoul. If it were done by the Tong Hâk, it may be that the leader, Pak, knew or suspected who his interlocutor was the day before. Mr. Gifford and Mr. Jones called on me with the placards late Saturday afternoon, the 1st, and I at once had an interview with the president of the foreign office. I told him I did not wish to attach too much importance to them, as being the work of irresponsible persons, but I deemed it proper, in the interests of good order, to bring them to his notice. He remarked that it was singular they should have been attached to the Protestant and not to the Roman Catholic mission. He said the Tong Hâk were now driven away and unless they kept quiet they would be severely dealt with. A petition to this effect to His Majesty was being prepared by the Confucian scholars of the city. He added, "there will be no trouble."
It is very difficult to estimate the importance of a movement of this kind in a country like Korea, where all evidence accessible to foreigners is vague and untrustworthy. In no country more than Korea does what one sees depend so essentially on the point of view; and although it is easy to exaggerate, one must always bear in mind that it is dangerous to despise trifling indications. Early in this affair Mr. Hillier called to consult with me with regard to requesting naval assistance and arranging that a ship of some nationality should always remain at Chemulpo, one relieving another. I told him that under the circumstances I did not feel disposed, for various reasons, to telegraph for a man-of-war, and before we could write there might be further developments to guide us. There is no doubt a good deal of excitement in the city, and I shall inform the admiral of the circumstances by this mail. I do not think they warrant a telegram. I saw by the newspapers that he was at Hongkong on the 8th of March.
I have, etc.,
P. S.-As I was closing this dispatch, Mr. Jones brought me another placard which he found on his gate this morning. It is much more scurrilous than the other, and I doubt whether it came from the same hand. It orders him to leave the country in twenty days. I have sent a copy to the president, and told him that, though I was not inclined to give much importance to the first, the repetition of the offense made it necessary for me to insist on his putting an immediate stop to it. He must discover the culprit and punish him severely.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 1.-Translation.]
Placard of March 31.
Alas, alas! my little children, receive the words of this notice with reverential fear.
Surely our Eastern land has been a Kingdom of propriety and rectitude for several thousand years. The growth of this Kingdom of propriety and rectitude, and the practice thereof, even this, have hardly been achieved; how much less that of other creeds?
An inspection of the books of these creeds, and an examination of the doctrines they inculcate, disclose the fact that, in their so-called teaching, what is styled reverence of heaven is really rebellion against heaven; what is called love toward mankind is a delusive mockery and a stealing of men's hearts.
Heaven and hell! what talk is this? Although our people talk of spirits and genii, who ever saw one? Although these people talk about heaven, who ever saw heaven?
But upon you, you fools and foolish strangers, who delude and bewilder with empty nothings; who believe in chaotic incoherence; who forsake sound and great principles and follow after "universal love;" who cast aside ancestral sacrifice and practice these extravagant teachings. This is what the sages and worthies meant when they said "without father," "without sovereign.”
In ancient days the illustrious ministers and advisers of our glorious and sacred rulers founded seminaries and established schools of thought for the gradual development of the principles of charity and patriotism, and the covering, as it were, with a cloak of civilization the regions of the east and west. There was universal good government brought about. Now, strange doctrines are spread abroad like a network; delusion and falsehood have sprung up like weeds. Thus is misrule and disorder universally prevalent.
You are the descendants of these able ministers and advisers, and you bring dishonor upon your illustrious ancestry. Is it not pitiful? Is it not a detestable state of things?
The greatness of our doctrines proceeds from heavenly brightness-heavenly effulgence. Dare you, then, plunge from these into profligacy and bring shame and dishonor on this teaching?
The principles of universal good government are to be found in the proximity of our ruler who dwells in the midst of perfect refinement. Can you but be afraid of what you are doing? Can you but beware?