Concerning religion, the temples, monks
and religious practices, I think I have to draw
the conclusion that the common civilian has more respect for the government,
then for the many Gods. The well to do even show less religious respect.
They seem to esteem themselves and their equals higher than their
idols. When a Korean dies, regardless he was high or common, the monks
come to say their prayers and bring offerings for the deceased, where
family and acquaintances are present. If some highly placed person
dies, his next of kin sometimes come from 30 to 40 miles away, to
attend these ceremonies.
On official holidays some farmers and civilians come to honor the
Gods. They light a fine smelling stick (incense) in a little
pot with fire, which burns in front of the Idol's statue. They mumble
there for a moment, make a few bows and leave again. They claim that
he who does good, will be rewarded for that later and he who does
evil, will be punished later. Preaching or teaching is not one of
their religious practices. They also never discuss about religious
affairs. They don't know a diversity of religions like we do. Throughout
the whole country one honors the gods in the same way.
The monks pray twice a day in front of the statues, while bringing
fragrant offerings. On official holidays a lot of people come to the
temples and the monks make a lot of noise by beating on drums and
gongs and the monks also make strange music with flutes and primitive
There are many monasteries and temples in the country.
These are almost all in the mountains, often at beautiful spots. In
some of these monasteries there are sometimes 600 monks. But in the
cities there are also small monasteries in which 10, 20, at the utmost
30 monks live. In each monastery the oldest monk is in charge. If
one of the monks misbehaves, he can administer 20 to 30 blows on the
buttocks. But with severe offenses the monk is handed to the governor
of the city.
There's no lack of monks, but their doctrine doesn't represent much.
Everyone who wants, can become a monk in an instance and stop again
when he doesn't like it. Monks therefore are not highly esteemed in
There are however also very highly placed monks, who supervise a big
number of monasteries. These are highly esteemed however. One respects
their knowledge. They are considered to belong to the court of the
king. They use the national stamp and have jurisdiction when they
visit the monasteries. They ride on horseback and where they come
they are welcomed with a lot of ceremony.
Yun Bok: Prominent Koreans in the company of some Kisengs.
Hamel calls these ladies unashamed "whores".
Sex however was only a part of their repertoire that included
also singing, dance and music. Oil on silk (1758?), Chosôn.
All monks are vegetarians; they neither eat eggs. They shave their heads and chins smoothly. They are not allowed to speak with women. Offenders of these regulations get 80 blows on their buttocks and are expelled from the monastery. At their
entrance they receive a brand on their right arm, so one can always see that a Korean has been a monk. Ordinary monks have to make a living with working, trading and begging.
In all monasteries there are a number of small boys who receive education in reading and writing and religious affairs. But they are allowed to leave the monastery as well. These boys consider the monks who have raised them as their fathers. They
are in mourning if one of them dies. There are in Korea also other monks. These don't shave their heads and are allowed to marry.
The monasteries are build with gifts which have been collected
by the people. Anybody from highly placed persons to commoners contributes
to this. On itself this, however, is not enough to live on. Many monks
believe that all people used to speak the same language. But the big
amount of languages originates when the people wanted to build a tower
to climb to heaven.
The well to do often go to a monastery to spend their leisure
time. These are pleasantly situated in the mountains and between the
trees. They often take whores with them to amuse themselves, and drink
often a lot of strong alcoholic drinks, so that many a monastery looks
more like a brothel or a cheap joint then a place where one can repent.
In the capital there were two convents, one for noble women and one
for common women. The women have also shaved their heads and perform
ceremonies in the same way as the monks. They don't work nor beg,
but live from an allowance from the king. Four or five years ago the
present king disbanded these two convents and gave permission to the
nuns to marry.
Concerning public housing it can
be established that the well to do live in very beautiful houses,
but that the common man has to be satisfied with a slum. In general
it is the Koreans not allowed to alter something to their houses.
For a roofing with roof tiles they need permission from the governor.
That's why the most ordinary houses are covered with cork, reed or
straw. The properties are separated by each other by a wall or a fence.
The houses are built on poles. The lower part of the walls is made
of stone. The part above the walls are partly made of timbering with
mud smeared in-between. On the inside the walls are covered with white
Under the floors of the rooms they heat continuously, so that they
are always warm like a baker's oven. The floors are covered with oiled
paper. The houses only have one floor with on top of that a small
loft, where they can store all kind of small things. Noble people
have in front of the actual house an accommodation for guests where
they can receive friends and acquaintances, who will stay there sometimes.
They use this separate living space to relax and rest. This room usually
looks out at an inner courtyard with a fountain and a fishpond, and
a garden full of plants, rocks and some trees.
The women live in the back part of the house, so they can't be stared
at by passersby. Merchants often have besides their house a warehouse,
in which they store goods, have office and receive their relations,
whom they treat most of the time with tobacco and arak (arak is
actually an Indonesian drink, most likely Hamel means Soju) Their
wives often join them too. Sometimes they visit others as well, but
they are always close to each other or to their husbands.
In general their houses are scarcely furnitured; only the most necessary
things are there. In all cities there are many joints and brothels
where men go to see the whores dancing and where music is made and
singing is done.
In summertime when the weather is beautiful, the Koreans
sometimes go to the mountains to relax in the woods. They do not know
inns, where travelers can stay. Fatigued travelers sit down in the
inner courtyard of a private house, where they get food and something
to drink. The guest rooms of the well to do are always open for travelers
passing by as well. Alongside the main roads however there are stopping
places where the ones who are on an official journey can stay overnight
and eat on the expenses of the community.
Blood relatives are not allowed to marry until the fourth
degree. There is no engagement time, because marriages are arranged
by the parents when the children are only 10 to twelve years old.
The girl is then going to live in the house of her parents in law,
unless her parents don't have sons. The girl and the young husband
stay to live there until she learned to be a good housewife and he
how to make a living. Then they move to a house of their own. Some
days before the wedding the girl returns to her parental house. In
the morning she will be picked up here by her husband, who is in the
company of friends and relatives. These are given a warm welcome,
after which the whole company goes on horseback in a festive parade
to the new house. There the matrimony is celebrated.
A man can repudiate a wife, even if he begets several
children by her. He then may marry again. A woman doesn't have these
privileges unless a judge has granted her these.
A man may have as many wives as he can maintain and, if he desires,
go to the whores. One woman stays in his house and does the housekeeping.
The other women live somewhere else in separate houses. Noblemen usually
have two to three women in their house, of which one is in charge
of the housekeeping. Each of these women has her own apartment, where
the lord of the house can visit them to his liking.
The Koreans treat their women as slaves, whom they can repudiate for
a futility. If the man doesn't want the children, the repudiated woman
has to take them with her. No wonder this country is so densely populated.
Noblemen and well to do give their children a good education.
They hire teachers to teach them reading and writing. The children
do not receive education with strictness but with gentleness. They
are told about the many wise men in their history and how they received
an honorable position in the country. It is admirable to see how diligently
these young children study the scriptures which are given to them
to read and which form the main part of their learning program.
In each city there is a house in which the ones who
have given their lives for the country are remembered. In these houses
old scriptures are kept. Youngsters study these scriptures. When they
have fulfilled their study, the governor is informed who sends examiners
to examine them. The names of the ones, who are found to be suitable
to hold a administrator function, are passed on to the court of the
king. Yearly meetings have been held, during which the candidates
for government functions are examined. The successful candidates receive
from the king a Letter of Promotion. This is a much wanted document.
Many a young nobleman became a senior beggar before he finally succeeded
to receive the document in the meantime. They have exhausted their
means -which are often very modest - by high costs, donations and
meals they had to give to achieve the intended goal. Many parents
also have to grab deep into their wallet, to pay for the study of
their children. Too many never get the high administrator post for
which it all started in the first place. But the bare fact that their
children succeeded in passing the exam, give the parents so much satisfaction
that the sacrifices they had to do are highly compensated.
The parents love their children very much, as well as the children
do their parents. If one of the parents committed a crime and he succeeded
in avoiding the punishment which stands for it, then the children
will have to take the blame. The reverse is also true.
Between parents and children of slaves is a much looser bond. This
is because the owners take the children from their parents as soon
as they are able to work.
Delivery of corpses.
For a deceased father the sons observe three, and for
a deceased mother two years of mourning. During this time they use
the same food as monks and they are not allowed
to carry out any public duty. Who carries a public duty, has to resign
immediately when his father or mother dies. During the period of mourning
they are not allowed to have intercourse with their wife. Children
fathered during that period, are considered to be illegitimate children.
During the period of mourning the Koreans are not allowed to argue,
fight nor become drunk. They wear long skirts from rough linen, at
the bottom no hem, and around it a belt of hemp,
as thick as a cable of a ship or the arm of a grown up man. Around
their heads they wear a somewhat thinner rope with a bamboo hat. In
their hand they carry a thick stick or a thin bamboo stalk. Thus one
can see if somebody mourns for his father or mother; the stick indicates
that his father, the bamboo stalk that his mother has died. Mourning
people wash themselves also little, so that they sometimes look like
When somebody has died, his friends and relatives behave like madmen;
they cry and shriek and pull their hair from their heads. To bury
the dead, much care is taken. Fortune tellers determine what the most
suitable burial place is. This is most of the time in the mountains,
where no water can reach it. The body is placed in a double coffin.
Each coffin is 2 or 3 thumbs thick. They fill the coffin with new
clothes and other things which the deceased is supposed to need in
the next world. The wealthier the relatives, the more they put into
the coffin. Burials usually take place in spring and in fall when
the harvesting has been done. Who dies in summertime usually is temporarily
interned in a small house made of straw and which stands on high poles.
The bearers do nothing else then dancing and singing, while the relatives
fill the air with their wailing. The third day friends and acquaintances
go to the grave to make their offerings. They make it a gay day. On
the graves one finds normally a small hill of 3, 4 or 6 feet high,
neatly planted with small ornamental bushes. Prominent deceased are
interned in graves which are covered with stones on which some statues
are put. The name of the deceased and the function he fulfilled is
carved in the stones.
On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, the grass on the graves
is mowed and a rice offering is made. This is, except for New Year
the most important holiday in the year. Their calendar is based on
the cycle of the moon: after three years of each twelve months, follows
always a year with thirteen months. There are female fortune tellers
in the country, or witches who won't harm anybody. They examine whether
a deceased died peacefully or not. And if he has been buried on the
right spot. Is this not the case according to them, then the corps
is exhumed and reburied somewhere else. So it happens sometimes that
a corps is replaced three times.
After the death of the parents and after the burial rites have been
performed, the eldest son gets the house and the accessories. The
remaining properties, lands and goods are being divided amongst the
other sons. Daughters never inherit anything, not even if they don't
have brothers. When an old father becomes 80 years old, he is obliged
to hand over all his possessions to his sons, because at that age
he is not considered to be able to take care of these in a proper
way. Such an old man however is highly esteemed by his sons and is
well taken care of.