Korea, Corea, or Chosen (morning calm) occupies the peninsula hanging down from Man-ebooria and Russian Siberia between China and Japan, and extending from the 33d to the 43d parallels of north latitude.
The area, including the outlying islands, is about one hundred thousand square miles. The population, according to the most reliable estimate, is a little more than sixteen millions. Yet. as the people live in cities, towns, and hamlets, the country does not seem to be thickly settled.
The climate varies much at the extremities of the peninsula, owing to the fact that the southern portion is somewhat affected by the warm southern currents that give Japan its tropical climate, but which are warded off from Korea proper by the Japanese islands. The climate of the central and northern provinces is much the same as that of the northern central United States, with fewer changes. The large river at the capital is not uncommonly frozen over for weeks at a time during the winter, so that heavy carts pass over on the ice. Ice is always preserved for general use in summer.
The country is decidedly mountainous, and well watered. Heavy timber abounds in the northeast. The valleys are very fertile and are well tilled, as the people are mainly devoted to agriculture.
The mineral resources have only been developed in a crude way, yet sufficiently to demonstrate the great wealth of the ore deposits. Especially is this true in reference to the gold mines.
The most pessimistic visitors to Korea are unstinted in their praise of the beautiful scenery, which is fully appreciated by the natives as well. From ancient times they have had guidebooks setting forth the natural charms of particular localities; and excursions to distant places for the sole purpose of enjoying the views are a common occurrence.
The King rules as absolute monarch. He is assisted by the Prime-Minister and his two associates - the ministers of the Left and Eight. Next to these come the heads of the six departments of Etiquette and Ceremonies, Finance, War, Public Works, Justice, and Registration, with the heads of the two new departments that have been added as the result of the opening up of foreign intercourse - the Foreign (or outside) Office, and the Home (or interior) Office. This body of officials forms the grand council of the King.
Each of the eight provinces is ruled by a governor, who has under him prefects, local magistrates, supervisors of hamlets, and petty officials, so that the whole scale makes a very complete system and affords no lack of officials.
There are several special officers appointed by the King, one of whom is the government inspector, whose duty it is to go about in disguise, learn the condition of the people, and ascertain if any magistrate abuses his office and oppresses the people unjustly. Any such he may bring to speedy justice.
The present Dynasty has existed 498 years. Being founded by a revolting general named Ye, it is known as the Ye Dynasty. The King's name, however, is never used. He is almost sacred to his people. Those officials of sufficiently high rank to go in before him bow to the ground in his presence, and only speak when spoken to ; then they use a highly hono-riffic language only understood at court.
The revenues are paid in kind, hence the annual income of an official may consist of a certain quantity of rice, and other products, in addition to his money compensation. The King, also, has the whole revenue resulting from the sale of the ginseng, for which the country is noted. This forms his private purse.
The currency is the common copper cash, worth some twelve hundred to the Mexican dollar; though now that the new mint is in operation, copper, silver, and gold coins are being made. The old perforated cash will, however, be hard to supplant, owing to its convenience in small transactions.
Banks proper do not exist; though the government does a kind of banking business in granting orders on various provincial offices, so that a travelling official need not be burdened with much ready money. A number of large brokers at the capital assist in the government financial transactions.
All unoccupied land belongs to the King, but any man may take up a homestead, and, after tilling it and paying taxes on it for a period of three years, it becomes his own, and must be purchased should the government need it.
Deeds are given in the form of receipts and quit-claims by the seller. These may be registered with the local magistrate. Wills, as understood in western countries, are not executed; though a father wishing to provide especially for the children of his concubines may make a will, or statement, the proper execution of which devolves upon the eldest son.
Records of the births of males are kept, as are also records of deaths, but these are not always reliable. All males of fifteen years of age are registered at the Hang Sung Poo, or Department of Registration, which issues to them tablets bearing their name and address. Children are also generally provided with these tablets, to prevent their getting lost.
The people are well built and strong, as a rule. They are a loyal, contented race, not grasping, and rather too easy in disposition. They axe intelligent and learn with great ease. Possessed of many characteristics in common with their neighbors, the Chinese and Japanese, they yet seem to have a personality indicative of a different parentage, which continually calls forth inquiry as to their origin. In some slight degree they resemble the aborigines of America, and it is believed that their ancestors came from the north; - the question opens up a fertile field for study. Their written records are said to date back three thousand years. Their traditional first king descended from heaven five thousand years ago. With a civilization of such age they might well be excused for so long barring their doors against the new civilization of the young nations of the West. While, as a matter of fact, the difference existing between the two is more one of degree than essence, perhaps more vices may be found in the civilization of the West than are known to this people. And, with a few exceptions, the virtues taught by the modern civilization have been practised for centuries behind the bars of isolation that shut in this self-satisfied people.