Monday, March 25, 2013

"Travellers’ Tales, Or How the West Learned about Corea"

Tuesday night Royal Asiatic Society president Brother Anthony will be giving a lecture titled "Travellers’ Tales, Or How the West Learned about Corea":
It is generally known that the Dutchman Hendrick Hamel was the first European to spend a considerable time in Korea then return home and write an account of the country. That account was published and translated into several languages. But what did people know about Korea before his shipwreck in 1653? And how was more discovered after him, both prior to the opening of the country from 1882, or even after that? How did Dutch ships come to be in this part of the world, and who else was interested in Korea?

This evening’s lecture begins with the earliest European mentions of Corea, dating from the Middle Ages. Few people are familiar with the extraordinary adventures of the Portuguese adventurer Fernão Mendes Pinto, probably the first European to reach Japan; his visits led to the arrival in the 1540s of Portuguese and Spanish merchants and missionaries in Japan. From there the Jesuits sent reports mentioning the Japanese invasion of Corea in 1592. Then there is the extraordinary tale of how an Englishman-turned-samurai helped the Dutch to gain a foothold in Japan.
There's more information here. The lecture will be held at 7:30 pm tomorrow night (Tuesday) in the Residents' Lounge on the 2nd floor of the Somerset Palace in Seoul, which is north of Jogyesa Temple, and is 7,000 won for non-members and free for members.

For those interested in the topic, Brother Anthony has written extensively at his site about early Western accounts of Korea, and often includes links to the material in question. There are several pages:
Texts mentioning or describing Korea published in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Texts mentioning or describing Korea published in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Texts of some later 19th- and early 20th-century accounts of Korea.

Brother Anthony related some of Fernão Mendes Pinto's story to me, which made me want to get this translation of his travels (though perhaps from a library) and led me to read about the fascinating history of the Portuguese Empire, some of which I'd known about, but much I didn't.

On this topic, quite some time ago I wrote about the early (mostly British) accounts of Korea from visits in 1797, 1816, 1832, 1848, and 1875.

Alien Visitors upon Chosun's Shores Part I
Alien Visitors upon Chosun's Shores Part II
An Account of the Arrival of the Audacious
Thoughts on the Observations of Conquest-Enabling Explorers
The final post in the series spends some time looking at British observations regarding Korean social behaviour at the time and their attitudes towards foreigners.

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