6. Description of the Kingdom Korea

Geographical situations.

The country, which is called Korea by us and Chosŏn Kuk by the inhabitants themselves, is situated between 33 and 44 degrees latitude and is from north to south around 150 miles long and from east to west around 75 miles wide. Korean cartographers depict the country like an oblong, like a playing card, though it has several extensions which point deep into the sea. 

The country is divided into eight provinces, in which you will find 360 cities and furthermore a big number of fortresses and castles, which are located partly in the mountains and partly alongside the coast. For whom is not known locally, it is very dangerous to approach the country by ship, because everywhere alongside the coast cliffs and shallow places will hinder a safe passing by ship. 

The country is densely populated and can maintain in its own needs in favorable years, because of the surplus of rice, grain and cotton, which is provided by the south of the country. To the southeast the country is closely situated near Japan. The distance between the Korean city Pusan and the Japanese city East Shimonoseki amounts to 25 to 26 miles (Hamel wrote Hacca, "Ha-kwan" is the Korean pronunciation for Shimonoseki in Japan and 25-26 miles with 1 mile being 7.5 = 195-210 the real distance is 205 km!).

In the strait between Korea and Japan lies the island of Tsushima, which the Koreans call Tymatte (The Japanese called it in effect Tsushima and the Koreans Taimato). According to the Koreans this was originally part of their country, but was taken by the Japanese, in exchange for the island of Quelpaert (This is historically not true, look here). To the west side, the kingdom is being separated from China by rough mountains, so it's almost an island. 


To the southeast is a vast sea. Not seldom, one finds whales with Dutch harpoons in their body. In the months of January to April a lot of herring is being caught. In the first two months the herring is the same as the one that is caught in the North Sea; after that they catch a smaller species. Presumably there is a passage from Waaigat.

( The cabin boy Benedictus Clerq saw how the Koreans took harpoons out of the carcasses of the whales which were captured by them, which he recognized with big certainty as being Dutch harpoons. As a boy of twelve years old he had made a trip on a whaling vessel to Greenland. So he knew exactly how these harpoons looked like. From this he drew the conclusion, that there was a passage - at least for fish - between Nova Zembla and Korea and Japan.) 
Waaigat (=Dutch for storm gate; the Russians call that Vaygach, it is close to Novaya Zemlya (Nova Zembla. If you want to see the map of Nova Zembla better, just click on it).


He who wants to travel from Korea to China, almost always goes by ship, because the voyage by land in summertime is dangerous because of the game, which are roaming around in the mountain range in big numbers, and in wintertime impossible due to the severe cold. 
In wintertime the northern part of the bay is frozen, so it is easy to travel on horseback to China. In wintertime an enormous amount of snow often falls in the north. In the year 1662, we were in a monastery in the mountains, where the snow was that high, that one had dug tunnels under the snow to go from one house to the other. In order to be able to walk over it, the Koreans tied small planks around their feet, so they didn't sink into the snow. 

Agricultural products

In those areas the people live from barley and millet, because rice can't grow there. Cotton grows there neither, so it had to be supplied from the south. The ordinary man in these areas is most of the time shabbily dressed in hemp, linen or hides. But in these areas one can also find the ginseng plant. The root of this plant is being used to pay the tribute to the Tartarians. This stuff is furthermore much exported to China and Japan. 

Form of constitution

Though Korea can be considered as a vassal state of the Tartarians, the latter respected the sovereignty of the king so far as it concerned local government. He practices his power unlimitedly. The crown council is just an advisory college. There are no feudal lords in the country, who own cities, villages or islands. The well-to-do take their income from farmlands and slaves. Some of them own not less than 2000 to 3000 slaves. There are some who have islands or domains in loan from the king, but as soon as they die, these fall back to the king.

The word Ginseng comes from the Chinese word Jin Shen, which means "little man", because the roots of this plant look a little bit like a figurine. The best Ginseng comes from the Manchurian Mountain range. The half-wild Korean ginseng is considered to be of less quality. That's why it's strange that the Koreans paid their tribute partly with ginseng. Maybe because the plant grows in Manchuria in inhospitable areas. The root was and is mainly considered as a cure-all; a panacea. In reality it has no medical power, but it can be used as a tonic.

The army

For the defense of the country there are several thousands of soldiers in the capital, both cavalry and infantry. They are maintained by the king. Their duty is to guard the king and protect him if he goes out. Each province is obliged to send all its free men, once every seven years to the capital, to guard the palace of the king during two months; every two months another group and each year another province. Each province has a general who has three to four colonels below him. Below each colonel are a number of captains, who are commanders of a city or a stronghold. Each ward has a sergeant, each village a corporal and at the head of each group of ten men is a soldier first class. All officers and noncommissioned officers have to keep records with the names of all the men who falls under his command. These records have to be handed over to their superiors once a year. In this way, the king always knows how many soldiers he has at his disposal. The horsemen always wear a suit of armor and a helmet. They carry a sword, a bow and arrows and a kind of flail with sharp points. Of the infantry, some wear suits of armor and helmets, made of iron plates, and also from bone. They are armed with muskets, sables and short lances. The officers are armed with bow and arrow. Each soldier has to have gunpowder and bullets for 50 shots at his own expense. When we served in Seoul , we received on a certain day 10 blows on our bare buttocks, because we didn't have enough gunpowder on us. Each city has to appoint a number of monks from the monasteries in its surroundings who have to maintain the fortresses and strongholds in the mountains. In times of great need these monks are being used as soldiers. They are armed with sword, bow and arrow. 

They are considered to be the best soldiers of the country. They are under the command of a captain they have chosen from their own ranks. Who has reached the age of 60 is dismissed from military service. His place is being taken by his children. The free men who haven't been in the army, form, together with the slaves, half of the population. If a free man fathers a child from a slave or a slave from a free woman, is the child which is conceived in this way, a slave. If a male slave who begets children by a female slave, those children become the property of the owner of the female slave. Each city has to maintain a war junk, with the crew, the armament and further accessories. These junks have two decks and 20 to 24 oars. On each oar there are six rowers. The total crew consists of about 300 heads, soldiers and rowers. The junks have some pieces of artillery and provisions for shooting Byzantine fire. 

Byzantine fire is a flammable mixture that catches fire when it is exposed to water or oxygen. It was already used by the Byzantines to put the ships of the enemy on fire.

The war fleet 

Each province has an admiral, who drills the crew of the junks and inspects them yearly. He reports his findings to the admiral general, who sometimes takes a naval review. When one establishes only the smallest failing in the fulfilling of the duty of the admirals or the generals, the culprit is exiled or condemned to death. Such happened in 1666 with our governor. 

Political Organs.

The Crown Council forms the advisory council for the king. It gathers daily at the palace. Its advises are not binding for the king. Members of the Crown Council are the most important people of the country. As long as they don't misbehave, they remain members of the Crown Council until they are 80 years old. This counts for all high functionaries, everybody keeps his function until he is 80 years old, unless he is promoted. 

The term of office of a Stadtholder is three years, of the remaining functionaries one year. A lot of them however are relieved of their function before the term of the office ends because of fraud, corruption or any other offense. Everywhere in the country there are spies of the king, who spot any irregularity immediately. He who has been caught, risks death or lifelong exile. 

Fiscal system

The king derives his income from taxes, which are raised on the profit of agriculture and fisheries. These taxes are often paid in kind, for which the king has warehouses in all cities and villages. What the king receives in silver, he lends to the civilians again at an interest of 10%. Well-to-do live, like previously mentioned, from their own income and as far they're in service of the king, from the allowance they get from him. The local authorities raise taxes on the properties on which houses are build, both in cities and in villages. The height of the tax is determined by the size of the property. The profit is used for the maintenance of all kind of local provisions. 

Who doesn't fulfill military service, has to perform replacing activities, and that during three months per year. Cavalry and infantry in cities and villages have to hand over three pieces of linen, or the equivalent in silver on behalf of the cavalry and infantry that services in the capital. Further taxes and excises do not exist in this country.

Administration of justice

High treason or other serious crimes aimed at the king of the state, are punished very severely. The whole lineage of the culprit is wiped out. His house is demolished until the ground, On that place it is not allowed to build another house, ever. All his slaves and goods are confiscated. These are being used for either the good of the country or given away to deserving civilians. 
When someone criticizes the verdict that has been passed by the king, or on his behalf, will be punished severely. The king had a sister-in-law who was very skillful in making clothes. The king requested her to make a dress for him. The fact was that this woman nourished a deep hate against the king. That's why she sowed some witches herbs in the lining of the dress. As a consequence he felt very uncomfortable, when he wore the dress, and couldn't find any rest. That's why he had the dress examined. When they had unpicked the dress, they discovered the malicious herbs hidden in it. The king became outrageous and had the woman locked up in a room of which the floor was made of copper plates. Here under a fire was lit, so that the woman slowly stewed and subsequently died. 
An acquaintance of the woman, a high placed civil servant, who was highly esteemed at the court protested against this. He thought that one should not treat a woman, especially a woman in a prominent position, like that. Here upon the high civil servant was caught. He received 120 beatings on the shins and was then beheaded. His goods and slaves were confiscated. Offenses like that, and also the other ones I will mention further on, are considered to be a personal offense. The family of the culprit is not being punished, like in the case of high treason. 

A woman, who kills her husband, is buried alongside a road on which a lot of people pass, in a way that only her head sticks out of the ground. Next to her they put a wooden saw, with which everybody who passes her, except the nobility, has to saw one time on her head, until she dies. The city or the environment in which the murder has taken place, loses during a number of years the right to have its own governor. During this period the city is administrated by the governor of a neighboring city or by a nobleman, on behalf of the king. A man who kills his wife goes freely if he can proof that he had a good reason for that, for instance adultery or having failed in her marital duties. A man, who kills a female slave, has to pay to the owner of the female slave, three times the value. Slaves, who kill their master, are being tortured during a long time until death follows. A master can kill his slave because of a small offense. Commonly killers are killed in the same way as they killed their victims, but first they receive several beatings on the soles of their feet. 
Who is guilty of manslaughter, is punished as follows: the corps of the body is washed with vinegar and dirty water. This mixture is poured into the mouth of the criminal with a funnel. Then his swollen belly is beaten with sticks until it bursts. 

Though also theft and burglary are severely punished, a lot is being stolen. Thieves are generally beaten on the soles of their feet until they pass out. 

Who commits adultery with a married woman, is lead through the city, together with the woman, naked or just dressed in thin underpants. From both the face is smeared with slake lime, they have an arrow through each ear, and on their back a small drum is tied on their back on which a judicial servant beats while he shouts: "Look people!, this man and this woman committed adultery!". After being led through the city like this, they conclusively got 50 to 60 beating on their buttocks in the square in front of the city hall. 

Who doesn't pay his taxes in time, is beaten on the shins twice or three times a month, until he pays his debt. If he dies before this time, his family or friends have to foot the debt. 

The most usual punishment in this country consists of beatings on the calves or buttocks. This is not considered to be disgraceful, because a little offense. can already be a cause. 

The common governors cannot condemn somebody to death without the consent of the Stadtholder. 

The beatings of the shins are done as follows: the condemned is placed on a stool with his legs tied together. On his shins they put two stripes, one a hand width under his knees, and one a hand width above his feet. There ( between the stripes ) he is beaten with sticks of one arm length, round at the top and flat at the bottom, two fingers wide and a two and a half guilder coin thick, made of oak or alder wood. After 30 beatings the condemned gets three to four hours rest. Then the treatment continues, until he had his share. 
The beating of the soles of ones feet, takes place as follows: while the condemned sits on the ground, his feet are tied together with his big toes and placed upon a beam. With round sticks as thick as an arm he is beaten then on the soles of his feet as long as the judge pleases. 
The beating of the buttocks takes place as follows: The condemned has to lower his pants and lie face down. Sometimes he has to lay face down on a bench, at which he is tied. For moral reasons the women can keep up their pants. These are wetted to feel the blows better. For the beating sticks are being used which are five feet long, round at the top and one hand wide at the bottom and of a little finger's thickness. A hundred beatings mean the death of the condemned. Beatings are also done with rods: bundles of twigs which are one finger thick and three feet long. The punished have to stand on a bench and is beaten with these rods on the calves. For children thinner twigs are used. 
Many punished howl from pain, while other show a pitiful moaning. Therefore, these tortures are a true torture for the bystanders as well. 

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