Friday, October 21, 2011

Fact's about Korea

An American missionary, George Heber Jones, once described Korea as a land of demons and ghosts.

He wrote: “They haunt every umbrageous tree, shady ravine, spring and mountain crest. On green hill slopes, in peaceful agricultural valleys, in grassy dells, on wooded uplands, by lake and stream, by road and river, in north, south, east and west they abound, making malignant sport out of human destinies.”

The Seoul metropolis was equally susceptible. In early 1883, the first Western advisor to the Korean government, Paul Georg von Mollendorff, stayed in the home of Min Gyeon-ho — a Korean official slain during the unrest the previous year.

Rumors circulated that a ghost haunted the residence and King Gojong was actually concerned that Mollendorff would take offense at being housed in a haunted home but Mollendorff scoffed at such metaphysical ideas and merely complained that the house’s low ceiling made it uncomfortable for his Western guests.

But Mollendorff was not the only one to live in a haunted house. According to Horace Allen, an American missionary who arrived in the summer of 1884, most of the Westerners in Seoul dwelt in homes with evil pasts.

Most of these abodes were said to be haunted by the spirits of their murdered owners — victims of Korea’s political instability. Many of the Westerners rebuked the rumors and took advantage of the homes’ undesirability among the Koreans and purchased them for relatively low prices.

The American legation was also said to be haunted by the “valiant decapitated Mins, who even now in unquestionable shape, periodically stalked about the premises.” Amongst the Korean servants “there were gloomy recitals that skulls and headless skeletons which had missed honorable burial, had been turned up in the gardens.”

The first Western hospital, established by Horace Allen, was located in the former home of Hong Yong-sik who was a Korean official slain during the Gapshin Revolt in December 1884. His family was not spared and like him, they were brutally murdered. Allen reported several months later that the floor of one of the rooms of the house was “gory and thick with blood.”

Allen thought it somewhat ironic that the name of the hospital translated to mean the House of Civilized Virtue. He later learned that his translation was wrong and the name actually meant Royal Hospital.

Even the palaces were not exempt from the haunting horrors of the past.

In 1885, Horace Allen reported that Queen Min complained that the palace was filled with the spirits of the dead Chinese, Japanese and Koreans killed during the previous year’s upheavals.

According to him, the queen could hear their voices asking why they had been murdered.

Some 10 years later, Isabella Bird Bishop, a spry elderly British explorer, wrote that the ghosts “taking possession of the fine Audience Hall of the Mulberry Palace, rendered the buildings untenable, frightful tales being told and believed of nocturnal daemon orgies amidst those doleful splendors.”

Not only confined to buildings, these ghosts were also said to prowl the streets. Jongno was an especially haunted area because the execution site was located there.

Women were said to be afraid of the district as the numerous headless ghosts continually accosted them.

Men on the other hand, avoided Independence Gate because malevolent spirits would cut the top-knots from the heads of the unwary.

To be fair, moreover, not all ghosts were Korean.

Japanese ghosts haunted the streets molesting Korean women. In defense, the women needed to carry packets of round red pepper to protect themselves — apparently the Japanese ghosts had an aversion to the spice. Another foreign ghost with a white face, yellow hair and blue eyes, haunted one of the city’s gates in hopes of snatching Korean children for its nefarious delight.

Is it any wonder that Jones concluded that the belief of ghosts plagued the Joseon Koreans “with indefinite terrors” and left them in a “perpetual state of nervous apprehension?”

Source: The Korea Times

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