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Repeatedly, since returning to the United States, people have asked me, “Why don’t you write a book on Korea?” I have invariably replied that it was not necessary, and referred the inquirers to the large work of Dr. Griffis, entitled “Corea, the Hermit Kingdom,” which covers the subject in a charming manner.
My object in writing this book was to correct the erroneous impressions I have found somewhat prevalent—that the Koreans were a semi-savage people. And believing that the object could be accomplished best in displaying the thought, life, and habits of the people as portrayed in their native lore, I have made these translations, which, while they are so chosen as to cover various phases of life, are not to be considered as especially selected.
I also wished to have some means of answering the constant inquiries from all parts of the country concerning Korean life and characteristics.
People in Washington have asked me if Korea was an island in the Mediterranean; others have asked if Korea could be reached by rail from Europe; others have supposed that Korea was somewhere in the South Seas, with a climate that enabled the natives to dispense with clothing. I have therefore included two chapters, introductory and descriptive in character, concerning the subjects of the majority of such questions.
“Globe trotters,” in passing from Japan to North China, usually go by way of the Korean ports, now that a line of excellent Japanese steamships covers that route. These travellers see the somewhat barren coasts of Korea—left so, that outsiders might not be tempted to come to the then hermit country; perhaps they land at Chemulpoo (the port of the capital, thirty miles distant), and stroll through the rows of miserable, temporary huts, occupied by the stevedores, the pack-coolies, chair-bearers, and other transient scum, and then write a long article descriptive of Korea. As well might they describe America as seen among the slab shanties of one of the newest western railroad towns, for when the treaties were formed in 1882 not a house stood where Chemulpoo now stands, with its several thousand regular inhabitants and as many more transients.