CHAPTER X. A Corean marriage - How marriages are arranged - The wedding ceremony - The document - In the nuptial-chamber - Wife's conduct - Concubines - Widows - Seduction - Adultery - Purchasing a husband - Love - Intrigue - Official "squeezing".
Among the several misfortunes, or fortunes, if you prefer the word, with which a Corean man has to put up is an early marriage. He is hardly born, when his father begins to look out for a wife for him, and scarcely has he time to know that he is living in the world at all than he finds himself wedded.... The Coreans marry very young. I have seen boys of ten or twelve years of age who had already discarded the bachelor's long tress hanging down the back, and were wearing the top-knot of the married man. It must not be supposed, however, that these youthful married men are really wedded in the strict sense of the word, for, as a matter of fact, though husband and wife in the eyes of the world, the two do not live together till the age of puberty is reached. In other words, the marriage is for several years only a nominal one, and corresponds rather to our "engagement." There are duties, none the less, which a married man must perform, no matter how youthful he may be. From the moment he is wedded he must be a man, however childlike in years, and henceforth he can associate only with men. His infantile games, romps with other children who are still bachelors, spinning tops and all other amusements, which he so much enjoyed, are suddenly brought to an end and he is now compelled to be as sedate as an old man.
The illustration (p. 79) shows a young married man of the age of twelve, a relation of the queen. As I was taking his portrait, I asked him how he liked his wife and what her appearance was.
"I do not know," he said, "for I have only seen her once, and I have as yet never spoken to her."
"But, then, how can you like her?"
"Because it is my father's wish that I should, and I must obey my father."
"Does your father know the girl well?"
"No, but he knows her father."
"And what does your mother say?"
"She says nothing."
"Because she is dead."
I found this an excellent reason for the silence on the mother's side and I proceeded with the picture, but once again attacked him with the view of, if possible, obtaining further information.
"When will you go and live with your wife?"
"When I shall be nineteen or twenty years old."
The whole arrangement seemed to me so strange that I naturally longed for further details about marital relations in Cho-sen. The facts as told to me are as follows: In Cho-senese weddings the two people least concerned are the bride and bridegroom. Everything, or at least nearly everything, is done for them, either by their relations or through the agency of a middle-man. When both the persons to be wedded possess fathers, a friendly pourparler takes place between the two papas and in the course of repeated libations of wine, the terms are settled, and with the help of a "wise man" a lucky day is named, upon which the wedding shall take place. On the other hand, should the bridegroom have no father, then a middle-man is appointed by the nearest relations to carry on the transaction with the girl's progenitor. It is not uncommon for two persons to be married several years without ever having seen each other. This, for instance, may be the case when the young lady resides in a distant province, and a journey of inspection would be too expensive. Under such circumstances the bridegroom must just patiently wait until, perhaps, years after, the bride undertakes the journey herself and comes to live with him in his house.
After all, on thinking the matter over and bearing in mind that with us a marriage is indeed a lottery, I cannot see why the Corean wedding should not be equivalent to two lotteries! Very often, weddings are arranged by letter, in which case misunderstandings frequently occur. For instance, a father who has two daughters, a sound one and a cripple, may have arranged for the one in good condition to be married to a charming young man of good education and means. When the day of the wedding, however, arrives, judge of the surprise of the bridegroom to see himself on the point of being united in matrimony with a humpback lame creature, with a face and limbs all out of drawing - in place of the ideal beauty whom he had expected to obtain. What is to be done? There is the written agreement, down in black and white, and signed by his incautious father, and there the father of the maid swearing that it was "this" daughter he meant to give him, not the beautiful one! What is to be done under such circumstances so as not to cause grief to his parent, except to go through with the wedding with courage and dignity, and to provide himself with some good-looking concubines at the earliest opportunity?