CHAPTER XXI. Corean physiognomy - Expressions of pleasure - Displeasure - Contempt - Fear - Pluck - Laughter - Astonishment - Admiration - Sulkiness - Jealousy - Intelligence - Affection - Imagination - Dreams - Insanity - Its principal causes - Leprosy.
The physiognomy of the Coreans is an interesting study, for, with the exception of the Chinese, I know of few nations who can control the movements of their features so well as do the Coreans. They are trained from their infancy to show neither pain, nor pleasure, grief nor excitement; so that a wonderful placidity is always depicted on their faces. None the less, however, though slightly, different expressions can be remarked. For instance, an attitude peculiar to them is to be noticed when they happen to ponder deeply on any subject; they then slightly frown, and with a sudden movement incline the head to the left, after previously drawing the head backwards. If in good humour or very pleased, again, though the expression is still grave and sedate, there is always a vivid sparkle to be detected in the generally sleepy eyes; and, curiously enough, while in our case the corners of the mouths generally curl up under such circumstances, theirs, on the contrary, are drawn downwards.
Where the Coreans - and I might have said all Asiatics - excel, is in their capacity to show contempt. They do this in the most gentleman-like manner one can imagine. They raise the head slowly, looking at the person they despise with a half-bored, half "I do not care a bit" look; then, leisurely closing the eyes and opening them again, they turn the head away with a very slight expiration from the nose.
Fear - for those, at least, who cannot control it - is to all appearance a somewhat stronger emotion. The eyes are wide open and become staring, the nostrils are spread wide, and the under lip hangs quivering, while the neck and body contract, and the hands, with fingers stiffly bent, are brought up nearly as high as the head. The yellowish skin on such occasions generally assumes a cadaverous whitish green colour which is pitiful to behold.
On the other hand, when pluck is shown, instead of fear, a man will draw himself up, with his arms down and hands tightly closed, and his mouth will assume a placid yet firm expression, the lips being firmly shut (a thing very unusual with Coreans), and the corners tending downwards, while a frown becomes clearly defined upon his brow.
Laughter is seldom indulged in to any very great extent among the upper classes, who think it undignified to show in a noisy manner the pleasure which they derive from whatever it may be. Among the lower specimens of Corean humanity, however, sudden explosions of merriment are often noticeable. The Corean enjoys sarcasm, probably more than anything else in the world; and caricature delights him. I remember once drawing a caricature of an official and showing it to a friend of his, who, in consequence, so lost the much-coveted air of dignity, and went into such fits, that his servants had to come to his rescue and undo his waist-girdle. This, having occurred after a hearty meal, led to his being seized by a violent cough, and becoming subsequently sick. Were I quite sure of not being murdered by my readers, I would like to call it see-sickness, for it was caused by - seeing a joke!
Astonishment is always expressed by a comical countenance. Let me give you an illustration. When we anchored at Fusan in the Higo-Maru, many Coreans came on board to inspect the ship; and, as I looked towards the shore with the captain's powerful long-sight glasses, several natives collected round me to see what I was doing. I asked one of them to look through, and never did I see a man more amazed, than he did, when he saw some one on the shore, with whom he was acquainted, brought so close to him by the glasses as to make him inclined to enter into a very excited conversation with him. His astonishment was even greater when, removing his eyes from the lens, he saw everything resume its natural position. When he had repeated this experiment several times, he put the glasses down, looked at them curiously with his eyebrows raised, his mouth pinched, and his hands spread apart at about the height of his waist, and then looked at me. Again did he glance at the optical instrument, with his mouth wide open; then, making a comical movement of distrust, he quickly departed whence he had come. When he had got fairly into his row-boat, he entered into a most animated conversation with his fellows, and, judging by his motions as he put his hands up to his eyes, I could see that the whole subject was his experience of what he had seen through the "foreign devil's" pair of glasses.
Admiration is to a great extent, a modification of astonishment, and is by the Coreans expressed more by utterance than by any very marked expression of the face. Still, the eyes are opened more than usual, and the eyebrows are raised, and the lips slightly parted, sifting the breath, though not quite so loudly as in Japan.
Another curious Corean expression is to be seen when the children are sulky. Our little ones generally protrude their lips in a tubular form, and bend the head forward, but the Cho-senese child does exactly the reverse. He generally throws his head back and hangs his lips, keeping the mouth open, and making his frown with the upper part of his face. Jealousy in the case of the women finds expression in a look somewhat similar to the above, with an additional vicious sparkle in the eyes.