Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The more things change...

A few things I've found while researching the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War:
“The situation here is a little more serious today, as the Corean newspaper yesterday came out with a very inflammatory article, calling on the people to murder all the foreigners, and mentioning us first. On account of the street railroad having killed one or two children, they have a special hatred for Americans.

Lieutenant E. T. Witherspoon, U.S. Legation, Seoul, Corea, January 14, 1904
(From this page)

So as you see, having "a special hatred for Americans" due to (or brought to the surface by) running over children isn't really anything new. On the bright side, newspapers don't call for the murder of foreigners anymore, and I, for one, am thankful for that.

In Frederick McKenzie's 1905 book From Tokyo to Tiflis, he describes the corruption of the Korean bureaucracy, of how a person could buy their way into a position such as magistrate, and then to recoup his initial bribe - and pay bribes to those above him - he would squeeze everyone below him, with the peasants getting the worst of it all.
The people can do very little. The clever rich man makes friends in the royal palace, gets the ear of some favorite of the king, and then can live in safety, for none dares touch him. Villagers form local guids and arrive at some understanding with the authorities, an understanding of course always shattered by a new accession of official greed. Then the people murder some yamen runners or a magistrate, or send one of themselves down to Seoul to make extraordinary efforts to bring their grievances before the Emperor. Thus, the winter I was in Seoul a man from Puk-chan went there and lit a great fire on the hills outside to show everyone that he had a grievance.
It appears that hasn't gone out of style:

Now, I haven't a clue if this was rare 100 years ago, and is just a coincidence, or if it happened often enough that there's a precedent for this kind of thing. If there is, then it might point one in the direction of understanding the popularity of self-immolation in Korea.

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