The Coreans—Their faces and heads—Bachelors—Married men—Head-band—Hats—Hat-umbrellas—Clothes—Spectacles.
Being now settled for the time being in Seoul, I must introduce you to the Corean, not as a nation, you must understand, but as an individual. It is a prevalent idea that the Coreans are Chinese, and therefore exactly like them in physique and appearance, and, if not like the Chinese, that they must be like their neighbours on the other side—the Japanese. As a matter of fact, they are like neither. Naturally the continuous incursions of both Chinese and Japanese into this country have left distinct traces of their passage on the general appearance of the people; and, of course, the distinction which I shall endeavour to make is not so marked as that between whites and blacks, for the Coreans, speaking generally, do bear a certain resemblance to the other peoples of Mongolian origin. Though belonging to this family, however, they form a perfectly distinct branch of it. Not only that, but when you notice a crowd of Coreans you will be amazed to see among them people almost as white and with features closely approaching the Aryan, these being the higher classes in the kingdom. The more common type is the yellow-skinned face, with slanting eyes, high cheek-bones, and thick, hanging lips. But, again, you will observe faces much resembling the Thibetans and Hindoos, and if you carry your observations still further you will find all over the kingdom, mostly among the coolie classes, men as black as Africans, or like the people of Asia Minor.
For any one interested in types and crosses, I really do not know of a country more interesting than Cho-sen. It seems as if specimens of almost every race populating Asia had reached and remained in the small peninsula, which fact would to some degree disprove the theory that all migrations have moved from the east towards the west and from north to south, and never vice versâ.
If you take the royal family of Corea, for instance, you will find that the king and queen, and all the royal princes, especially on the queen's side (the Min family), are as white as any Caucasian, and that their eyes are hardly slanting at all, and in some cases are quite as straight as ours. Members of some of the nobler families also might be taken for Europeans. Of course the middle classes are of the Mongolian type, though somewhat more refined and stronger built than the usual specimens of either Chinese or Japanese; they are, however, not quite so wiry and tall as their northern neighbours the Manchus, with whom, nevertheless, they have many points in common. The large invasions, as we have seen, of the Ko-korais and Fuyus may account for this.
Taken altogether, the Corean is a fine-looking fellow; his face is oval-shaped, and generally long when seen full face, but it is slightly concave in profile, the nose being somewhat flat at the bridge between the eyes, and possessing wide nostrils. The chin is generally small, narrow and receding, while the lips, usually the weaker part in the Corean face, are as a rule heavy, the upper lip turned up and showing the teeth, while the lower one hangs pitifully downwards, denoting, therefore, little or no strength of character.
They possess good teeth and these are beautifully white, which is a blessing for people like them who continually show them. The almond-shaped, jet-black eyes, veiled by that curious weird look peculiar to Eastern eyes, is probably the redeeming part of their face, and in them is depicted good-nature, pride and softness of heart. In many cases one sees a shrewd, quick eye, but it is generally an exception among this type, while among the lower classes, the black ones, it is almost a chief characteristic. The cheek-bones are prominent. The hair is scanty on the cheeks, chin, and over and under the lips, but quite luxuriant on the head. There is a very curious custom in Corea as to how you should wear your hair, and a great deal of importance is attached to the custom. If by chance you are a bachelor—and if you are, you must put up with being looked down upon by everybody in Corea—you have to let your hair grow long, part it carefully in the middle of your skull, and have it made up into a thick tress at the back of your head, which arrangement marks you out as a single man and an object of sport, for in the Land of the Morning Calm it seems that you can only be a bachelor under the two very circumstances under which we, in our land of all-day restlessness, generally marry, viz., if you are a fool and if you have not a penny to live upon! When thus unhappily placed you rank, according to Corean ideas, as a child, no matter what your age is, and you dress as a child, being even allowed to wear coloured coats when the country is in mourning, as it was, when I visited it, for the death of the dowager-Queen Regent, and everybody is compelled to wear white, an order that if not quickly obeyed by a married man means probably to him the loss of his head. Thus, though looked down upon as outcasts and wretches, bachelors none the less do enjoy some privileges out there. Here is yet another one. They never wear a hat; another exemption to be taken into consideration when you will see, a little further on, what a Corean hat is like.
THE "TOP-KNOT" OF THE MARRIED MEN
Married men, on the other hand—and ninety-nine per hundred are married in Cho-sen—wear their hair done up in a most wonderful fashion. It is not as long as that of bachelors, for it is cut. It is combed, with the head down, in the orthodox fashion, as women do, I suppose, when they comb it by themselves, and then passing the left hand under it, along the forehead, it is caught close to the head just about the middle of the skull. This being satisfactorily done, what remains of the hair above the hand is twisted round into the shape and size of a sausage, which then remains sticking up perpendicularly on the top of the head, and which, in the natural order of things, goes by the sensible name of top-knot. Occasionally a little silver or metal bead is attached to the top of the knot, and a small tortoiseshell ornament fastened to the hair just over the forehead. This completes the married man's hair-dressing, with which he is always most careful, and I must say that the black straight hair thus arranged does set off the head very well. The illustration shows the profile of a married man of the coolie class, who, of course, wears the hair dressed just like the others, it being a national custom; only the richer and smarter people, of course, wear it more tidily, and, probably, not quite so artistically. Besides, the better class of people are not content with the process of beautifying themselves which I have just described, but surround the forehead, temples and back of the head with a head-band, a curious arrangement made of woven black horse-hair, which keeps the real hair tight under it, and not only prevents it from being blown about, but forms a more solid basis for the wonderful hats they wear. The nobler classes, upon whom the king has bestowed decorations in the shape of jade, gold or silver buttons, according to the amount of honour he has meant to accord them, wear these decorations, of all places, behind the ears, and fastened tight to the head-band.
Thus much on the subject of the Corean's head. I shall spare you, my dear readers, the description of his body, for it is just like any other body, more or less well made, with the exception that it is invariably unwashed. Instead, I shall proceed to inspect with you his wardrobe and his clothing, which may be to you, I hope, much more interesting. To do this, let us walk along the main street of the town, where the traffic is generally great, and examine the people who go by. Here is a well-to-do man, probably a merchant. Two features at once strike you: his hat, the kat-si, and his shoes; and then, his funny white padded clothes. But let us examine him carefully in detail. It is a little difficult to decide at which end one should begin to describe him, but I imagine that it is the customary thing to begin with the head, and so, coming close to him, let us note how curiously his hat is made. It is just like a Welshwoman's hat in shape, or, in other words, like a flowerpot placed on a flat dish, as seen in the illustration; but the extraordinary thing about the Corean hat is that it is quite transparent, and has none of the virtues that, according to our ideas, a hat ought to possess. It is a wonderful work of art, for it is made of horse-hair, or, more commonly, of split bamboo so finely cut in threads as to resemble white horse-hair, and then woven into a fine net in the shape described. A thin bamboo frame keeps it well together, and gives to it a certain solidity, but though varnished over, it protects one's head from neither sun, wind, nor rain. It is considered a rude thing in Corea to take one's hat off, even in the house, and therefore the kat-si, not requiring instant removal or putting on, is provided with two hooks at the sides of the central cone, to each of which a white ribbon is attached, to be tied under the chin when the hat is worn, the latter resting, not on the hair itself, but on the head-band. This shape of hat is never worn without the head-band.
The hat just described is that most commonly worn in the Land of the Morning Calm, and that which one sees on the generality of people. But there! look at that man passing along leading a bull—he has a hat large enough to protect a whole family. It is like a huge pyramid made of basket-work of split bamboo or plaited reeds or rushes, and it covers him almost half way down to his waist. Well, that poor man is in private mourning for the death of a relation, and he covers his face thus to show his grief.
THE HEAD-BAND AND TRANSPARENT HAT
Here, again, comes another individual with a transparent hat like the first, only worn over a big hood open at the top over the head and falling rounded over the shoulders, thus protecting the ears from the severe cold. This is lined with fur, with which it is also trimmed, and looks quite furry and warm, if not exactly becoming. Ah! but here is something even more curious in the shape of head-gear. It is just beginning to snow, and, one after the other, our transparent kat-sis are undergoing a transformation. I daresay, as we stand watching the people go by, it will be noticed that nearly each one who has a transparent hat, also wears in his girdle round his waist a triangular object made of yellow oil-paper which resembles a fan. Well, now, you will see what it is. An oldish man turns up his nose to scrutinise the intentions of the weather-clerk, and, apparently little satisfied at the aspect of the threatening clouds, stops, and unsheathing his fan-like object from his belt, opens it, when it is seen to become like a small umbrella without the stick and handle, about two and a half feet only in diameter, which, by means of a string, he fastens over his brand new hat. When thus used, it takes the shape of a cone, except, of course, that there will be a multitude of folds in it. It is called kat-no. The idea is not at all bad, is it? for here you have an umbrella without the trouble of tiring your arms in carrying it.
One cannot help being considerably puzzled by the differences in the various classes and conditions of the men. To all appearance, the generality of men seem here dressed alike, with this difference, that some are dirtier than others; occasionally one has an extra garment, but that is all. Yes, there is, indeed, difficulty at first in knowing who and what any one is, but with a little trouble and practice the difficulty is soon overcome. In the main the clothes worn by the men are the same, only a great difference is to be found in the way these garments are cut and sewn, just as we can distinguish in a moment the cut of a Bond Street tailor from that of a suburban one. In Corea, the tailor, as a rule, is one's wife, for she is the person entrusted with the cares of cutting, sewing, and padding up her better-half's attire. No wonder, then, that nine-tenths of the top-knotted consorts look regular bags as they walk about. The national costume itself, it must be confessed, does rather tend to deform the appearance of the human body, which it is supposed to adorn. First, there is a huge pair of cotton trousers, through each leg of which one can pass the whole of one's body easily, and these trousers are padded all over with cotton wool, no underclothing being worn. When these are put on, they reach from the chin to the feet, on to which they fall in ample and graceful folds, and you don them by holding them up with your teeth, and fastening them anywhere near and round your waist with a pretty, long silk ribbon with tassels, which is generally let hang down artistically over the right side. When this has been successfully accomplished, the extra length of trousers is rolled up so as to prevent the "unmentionables" from being left behind as you walk away, and a short coat, tight at the shoulders and in the shape of a bell, with short but wide sleeves, is put on to cover the upper part of the body. This coat also, like the trousers, is padded, and reaches almost to the haunches. It overlaps on the right hand side, two long ribbons being tied there into a pretty single-winged knot and the two ends left hanging. In winter time, the forearm, which in summer remains bare, is protected by a separate short muff, or sleeve, through which the hand is passed, and which reaches just over the elbow.
Then come the padded socks, in which the huge trousers are tucked, and which are fastened round the ankle with a ribbon. And, lastly, now we come to the shoes. Those used by the better classes are made of hide, and have either leather soles with nails underneath, or else wooden soles like the Chinese ones with the turned-up toes. The real Corean shoe, however, as used every day for walking and not for show, is truly a peculiar one. The principal peculiarity about it is that it is made of paper; which sounds like a lie, though indeed it is not. Another extraordinary thing is that you can really walk in them. If you do not believe it, all you have to do is to take the first steamer to Corea and you can easily convince yourself of the fact. The greater part of the population wears them, and the Mapus especially walk enormous distances in them. They are scarcely real shoes, however, and one should, perhaps, classify them rather as a cross between a shoe and a sandal, for that is just what they are. The toes are protected by numberless little strings of curled untearable paper, which, when webbed, make the sole, heel, and back of the sandal, and this is joined to the point of the shoe by a stouter cord going right round, which is also made of the same kind of twisted paper. This cord can be fastened tighter or looser to suit the convenience of the wearer of the sandal-shoe.
The Corean is an unfortunate being. He has no pockets. If his hands are cold he must warm them by sticking them down his belt into his trousers, and if he be in company with people, he can generate a certain amount of heat by putting each into the other arm's sleeve. As for the money, tobacco, &c, that he wants to carry, he is compelled to provide himself with little silk bags, which he attaches to his waist-band or to the ribbon of his coat. These bags are generally of orange colour or blue, and they relieve a little the monotony of the everlasting white dresses.
The clothing, so far as I have described it, is, with the exception of the shoes, that which is worn habitually in the house by the better classes of the people; the officials, however, wear a horse-hair high cap resembling a papal tiara on the head, instead of the other form of hat. Indoors, the shoes are not worn, the custom of Japan being prevalent, namely, to leave them at the door as one mounts the first step into the room. The middle lower classes and peasantry are seldom found parading the streets with anything besides what I have described, with the exception of the long pipe which they, like the Mapu or the coolies, keep down the back of the neck when not using it. Merchants, policemen, and private gentlemen are arrayed, in winter especially, in a long cotton or silk gown similarly padded, an overall which reaches below the knees, and some, especially those in the Government employ, or in some official position, wear either without this or over this an additional sleeveless garment made of four long strips of cotton or silk, two in front and two at the back, according to the grade, almost touching the feet and divided both in front and at the back as far up as the waist, round which a ribbon is tied. This, then, is the everyday wardrobe of a Corean of any class. You may add, if you please, a few miscellaneous articles such as gaiters and extra bags, but never have I seen any man of Cho-sen walk about with more habiliments than these, although I have many times seen people who had a great deal less. The clothes are of cotton or silk according to the grade and riches of the wearer. Buttons are a useless luxury in Cho-sen, for neither men nor women recognise their utility; on the contrary, the natives display much amusement and chaff at the stupid foreign barbarian who goes and cuts any number of buttonholes in the finest clothing, which, in their idea, is an incomprehensible mistake and shows want of appreciation.
Their method of managing things by means of loops and ribbons, has an effect which is not without its picturesqueness, perhaps more so than is our system of "keeping things together" in clothing matters. After all it is only a matter of opinion. The inhabitants of the land of Cho-sen, from my experience, are not much given to washing and still less to bathing. I have seen them wash their hands fairly often, and the face occasionally; only the very select people of Corea wash it daily. One would think that, with such a very scanty and irregular use of water for the purpose of cleanliness, they should look extremely dirty; but not a bit. It was always to me irritating to the last degree to see how clean those dirty people looked!
But let us notice one or two more of the people that are passing by. It is now snowing hard, and every one carries his own umbrella on his head. Boys do not wear hats, and are provided with a large umbrella with a bamboo-frame that fits the head, as also are the bachelors. Here comes one of the latter class. His face is a finely cut one, and with his hair parted in the middle, and the big tress hanging down his back, he has indeed more the appearance of a woman than that of a man; hence the mistake often made by hasty travellers in putting down these bachelors as women, is easy to understand. When one is seen for the first time, it is really difficult to say to which sex he belongs, so effeminate does he look.
It is part of the ambition of the male Corean to look wise, no matter whether he is or not as a matter of fact. And to assume the coveted air of wisdom what more is necessary than to put on a huge pair of round spectacles of Chinese origin with smoked glasses enclosed in a frame of gold or tortoiseshell, and with clasps over the ears? Oh how wise he looks! He does indeed! And you should see his pomposity as he rides his humble donkey through the streets of Seoul. There he sits like a statue, supported by his servants, looking neither to one side nor to the other, lest he should lose his dignity.
"Era, Era, Era!" ("Make way, Make way!") cry out the servants as he passes among the crowd, which is invariably respectful and ready to obey this hero who looks down upon them. The lesser the official, of course the greater the air, and you should see how the people who stand in the way are knocked to one side by his servants, should they not be quick enough to make room for the dignitary and his donkey. His long gown is carefully arranged on the sides and behind, covering the saddle and donkey's back in large folds; for most things in Corea, as in other parts of the world, are done for the sake of appearance. What a dreadful thing it would be, were he to ride about with his gown crumpled up under his seat! It would be the cause of lifelong unhappiness, remorse and shame, and no doubt cost his servants a sound flogging for their unpardonable carelessness.