[KS] Choson annals

Henny Savenije adam&eve at henny-savenije.demon.nl
Thu Sep 24 00:55:48 EDT 1998

Dear list 

Look what I found on the web, very interesting relating to the Dutch and other
foreigners in Korea during the Choson period

Society Open to Foreigners Out of Diplomatic Concern

By Yang Sung-jin

Staff Reporter

The presidential inauguration ceremony on Feb. 25 will be conducted with less
fanfare, largely due to the current economic crisis. The organizers of the
announced last month that it will not invite any foreign guests, at least
officially. Only personal visits and individual attendance are allowed. Yet
even the scaled-down
ceremony will still be a great photo-op, in which numerous guests of different
nationality pose together with the president-elect.

The CD-ROM Annals of the Choson Dynasty gives an intriguing clue as to when
foreign guests started to attend such weighty public ceremonies. An article
describing the enthronement ceremony of King Sejong (1418-1450) states public
officials bowed to the king while ``Songkyunkwan'' (National Confucian
students and a ``hoe-hoe'' man and ``hoe-hoe' monks attending. ``Hoe-hoe'' man
is the old Korean name for an Arab. Thus the passage clearly shows there
were a
certain number of Arabs even in the earlier Choson period.

The article entries related to foreigners do not stop there. In 1419, Arabs
came out to greet and welcome the king on the occasion of the hunt. In 1426,
Japanese and other foreigners are reported to have attended a ceremony
celebrating New Year's Day.

A document dated in 1427 reveals that officials made a petition to the king
that ``hoe-hoe'' man should wear Korean clothes and discontinue the Islam
prayer, a
move designed to encourage Arabs to marry Koreans.

``Especially in the earlier period, the Choson Dynasty maintained a generous
policy for foreigners. By helping foreigners settle down here, the dynasty was
able to
maintain a better relation with neighboring nations in East Asia. As a result,
lots of foreigners including Chinese, Japanese and even Arabs used to live
here,'' said Lee
Nam-hee, senior researcher of the Seoul Systems Co. (SSC), the developer of
CD-ROM version of the Annals.

One of the assimilation policies was ``sa-song,'' a practice in which the king
endows a new surname to the person as a reward. Even before the Choson
getting a surname meant the person in question acquires social status and
public recognition. Therefore, the name-giving to foreigners played a positive
role in helping
the foreigners to settle in Korea.

For instance, today's surname ``Chang,'' whose place of origin is Toksu,
originated from Chang Sun-ryong, a former Muslim, who was naturalized as a
Koryo man
by receiving a new surname from King Chungyol (1274-1308) of the Koryo

Despite the generous and positive policies for the assimilation of foreigners
into the Choson Dynasty, some people still perceive the Choson period as
and hostile toward foreigners.

The perception is not totally untrue, especially for Hendrik Hamel and his
company of Dutch sailors, whose ship ``Sparrow Hawk'' wrecked ashore on Cheju
in 1653 and were forced to remain in the Choson Kingdom for the next 13 years
until eight of them escaped to Nagasaki. When Hamel returned to his country,
Netherlands, he wrote a book recounting the Choson Dynasty _ the first
introduction of the Choson society by a foreigner to the West.

The above facts, however, are relatively well-known history. What's still
unknown is recorded in the Annals in which articles concerning Hamel and his
appear intermittently between 1653 and 1667.

The CD-ROM version, however, instantly shows all the related articles. And
their life was indeed tough. In April, 1655, a delegate from Ching China
visited Seoul,
where the 30 something Dutchmen who survived the shipwreck, were serving in
army. One of them, named ``Nambuksan,'' pleaded with the Chinese diplomat to
send him back home, on the street. He was imprisoned and later died because he
refused to eat, which worried the Choson government a lot.

One article related to Hamel mentions another, rather successful Dutchman _
Janse Weltevree. He was shipwrecked on Korean shores in 1628, and took the
name ``Pak Yon.'' Unlike Hamel and his company, with his skills of casting
cannons, the naturalized Pak contributed to the development of cannons in the
Training Command and lived out his life in Korea, which marks the first
successful case of a naturalized Westerner.

Back to the specific article concerning Pak Yon, it must be noted that Pak
identified Hamel and the other Dutchmen as ``Nam-man-in'' (Southern barbarian
Pak was also called as such.

``Though still uncertain, it is safe to assume that `nam-man-in' here means
foreigners. In the Annals, unidentifiable Westerners are believed to be often
`nam-man-in' because the word frequently appears in the later Choson period
when foreigners began to visit Korea by chance or on purpose,'' SSC researcher

And, by chance, five black men arrived at Cheju Island in 1801. Interestingly,
the first black people were deserted, on purpose, by a large ship, which
after quickly discharging them on Korean soil, according to the Annals.

The original Annals, written in Chinese characters, describe the black men as
``myon-che-ku-bon'' (?éü±?º»), meaning that ``their entire face and body are

Unable to understand their ``barbarous'' language, the Choson officials asked
them to write down anything, which they did. But it was ``entangled pieces of
for the Annals historiographers, reflecting the time's widespread notion that
only the Chinese were valid characters.

Later, more and more Western explorers visited the Choson Dynasty, which
deepened the notion of the Choson people that ``nam-man-in'' was a strange,
thereby uncivilized, sort of people, after all. But Lee warned not to
generalize the Choson Dynasty as isolationist toward foreigners.

``If you look at especially the earlier period of the Choson Dynasty, you will
understand how realistic they were when it comes to dealing with foreigners.
They did
whatever was necessary to defuse the tension along the northern border, one of
which was to attract more foreigners to become Choson people. By offering new
surnames, government jobs, and even servants, the Choson government
attracted a
lot of foreigners in return for military peace around the borders,'' Lee said.

In other words, the Annals demonstrate that foreigners were encouraged to join
the Choson society. The measure of highly diplomatic calculation resulted in a
racially diverse and generous society.

The most striking evidence of the Choson Dynasty as a racially generous
is Dongchungrae, who was a descendant of the northern tribe outside the Choson
territory. According to the Annals' records of the general of ``barbarian''
origin, Dongchungrae naturalized and then applied for a state exam to get a
post in the
military, which he did. Achievement after achievement, Dongchungrae gained
confidence from the king.

During the Yonsankun reign (1494-1506), Dongchungrae was promoted to chief of
the royal guard, the highest post ever for a naturalized foreigner in history.

Unfortunately, that was the limit of the Choson Dynasty's generosity about
foreigners. Dongchungrae joined the coup d'etat overthrowing the tyrant
Yonsankun, yet
was given a lesser reward. Deeply angered, he complained somewhat excessively,
which resulted in charges of treason. As a result, he was put to death in

Even though Dongchungrae's case does not have a happy ending, it still does
have a point. Even now, it is hard to imagine that a foreigner (naturalized or
not) will be
appointed as chief of Chong Wa Dae (presidential office) security guards.


Henny  (Lee Hae Kang)

Feel free to visit 
and you can feel the thrill about the adventures of Hamel in Korea (1653-1666)


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