CHAPTER VI. Corean children - The family - Clans - Spongers - Hospitality - Spinning-tops - Toys - Kite-flying - Games - How babies are sent to sleep.

One great feature of Cho-sen life are the children. One might almost say that in Cho-sen you very seldom see a boy, for boyhood is done away with, and from childhood you spring at once to the sedate existence of a married man. Astonishing as this may sound, it is nevertheless true. The free life of a child comes to an end generally when he is about eight or nine years of age. At ten he is a married man, but only, as we shall see later, nominally. For the present, however, we shall limit ourselves to a consideration of his bachelor days.

It must be known that in Corea, just as here, boys are much more cherished than girls, and the elder of the boys is more cherished than his younger brothers, should there be more than one in a family, notwithstanding that the younger are better-looking, cleverer and more studious. When the father dies, the eldest son assumes the reins of the family, and his brothers look to him as they had before done to their father. He it is who inherits the family property and nearly all the money, though it is an understood rule that he is bound either to divide the inheritance share and share alike with the rest of the family, or else keep them as the father had done. Thus it is that Corean families are, for the most part kept together; one might almost say that the kingdom is divided into so many clans, each family with the various relations making, so to speak, one of them. Family ties are much regarded in the Land of the Morning Calm, and great interest is taken by the distant relations in anything concerning the happiness and welfare of the family. What is more, if any member of the clan should find himself in pecuniary troubles, all the relations are expected to help him out of them, and what is even more marvellous still, they willingly do it, without a word of protest. The Corean is hospitable by nature, but with relations, of course, things go much further. The house belonging to one practically belongs to the other, and therefore it is not an uncommon occurrence for a "dear relation" to come to pay a visit of a few years' duration to some other relation who happens to be better off, without this latter, however vexed he may be at the expense and trouble caused by the prolonged stay of his visitor, even daring to politely expel him from his house; were he to do so, he would commit a breach of the strict rules of hospitality enjoined by Corean etiquette. Even perfect strangers occasionally go to settle in houses of rich people, where for months they are accommodated and fed until it should please them to remove their quarters to the house of some other rich man where better food and better accommodation might be expected. There is nothing that a Corean fears so much as that people should speak ill of him, and especially this is the bugbear under which the nobleman of Cho-sen is constantly labouring, and upon which these black-mailers and "spongers" work. High officials, whose heads rest on their shoulders, "hung by a hair," like Damocles' sword, suffer very much at the hands of these marauders. Were they to refuse their hospitality it would bring upon them slander, scandal and libel from envenomed tongues, which things, in consequence of the scandalous intriguing which goes on at the Corean court, might eventually lead to their heads rolling on the ground, separated from the body - certainly not a pleasant sight. In justice to them, nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that these human leeches are occasionally possessed with a conscience, and after kindness has been shown them for many months they will generally depart in search of a new victim. Whence it would appear that the people of Cho-sen carry their hospitality to an extreme degree, and in fact it is so even with foreigners, for when visiting the houses of the poorest people I have always been offered food or drink, which you are invariably asked to share with them.

But let us return to the Corean family. The mother, practically from the beginning, is a nobody in the household, and is looked upon as a piece of furniture or a beast of burden by the husband, according to his grade, and as an ornament to the household, but nothing more by her own sons. Her daughters, if she has any, regard her more as a friend or a companion, sharing the lonely hours and helping her with her work. The women never take part in any of the grand dinners and festivities in which their husbands revel, nor are they allowed to drink wine or intoxicants. They may, however, smoke.

When the children get to a certain age, the males are parted from the females, and the first are constantly in the company of their father, while the latter, as we have seen, share the dull fate of the mother. The first thing a male child is taught is love, deep respect, and obedience to his governor, and in this he is, as a general rule, a paragon. If the father be ill, he will lie by his side day and night, nursing him, and giving him courage; and if any misfortune befalls him, the duty of a good son is to share it with his genitor.

I cannot quite make up my mind on the point, whether the Corean child has a good time of it or not, and whether he is properly cared for, as there is much to be said on both sides of the question. Taken as a whole, the children of the noblemen and rich people, though strictly and even severely brought up, cannot, I think, be said to be ill-used; but the brats of the poorer people are often beaten in a merciless manner. I remember seeing a father furiously spanking a son of about five years old, who was pitifully crying so as to break one's heart, and as if that were not punishment enough, he shook him violently by his little pig-tail, and pounded him on the head with his knuckles, a performance that would have killed, or, at all events, rendered insensible nine children out of ten of other nationalities; but no, to my utter astonishment, the moment the father, tired of beating, retired into the house, the little mite, wiping his streaming tears with the backs of his hands and pulling himself together, quietly sat down on the ground, and began playing with the sand, as if nothing had happened!

"Well!" I remember saying, as I stood perplexed, looking at the little hero, "if that does not beat all I have seen before, I do not know what can!"

Yes, for hard heads and for insensibility to pain, I cannot recommend to you better persons than the Coreans. There are times when the Cho-sen children actually seem to enjoy themselves, as, for instance, during the month of January, when it is the fashion to have out their whipping-and spinning-tops. With his huge padded trousers and short coat, just like a miniature man, except that the colour of his coat is red or green, and with one or two tresses hanging down his back, tied with long silk ribbons, every child you come across is at this season furnished with a big top and a whip, with which he amuses himself and his friends, slashing away from morn till night, until, tired out by the exertion, he goes to rest his weary little bones by his father's side, still hanging on to the toys that have made his day so happy. The Corean child is quiet by nature. He is really a little man from the moment he is born, so far as his demeanour is concerned. He is seldom rowdy, even when in the company of other children, and, if anything, rather shy and reserved. He amuses himself with his toys in a quiet way, and his chief pleasure is to do what his father does. In this he is constantly encouraged, and those who can afford it, provide their boys with toys, representing on a smaller scale the objects, &c., used in the everyday life of the man. He has a miniature bow-and-arrow, a wooden sword, and a somewhat realistic straw puppet, which he delights in beheading whenever he is tired of playing with it and shooting his arrows into it. He possesses a fishing-rod, and on windy days relishes a good run with the large paper pinwheels, a world-wide familiar toy in infantile circles. Naturally, too, musical instruments, as well as the national means of conveyance, such as palanquins and wheel-chairs, have not escaped the notice of the Corean toy-manufacturer, who, it must be said, imitates the different objects to perfection in every detail, while, of course, considerably reducing them in size. Other various articles of common use in the household are also often reproduced in a similar way. The games that the children seem to enjoy most, however, seem to be the out-of-door ones. Kite-flying is probably the most important. Indeed, it is almost reduced to an art in Corea, and not only do small children go in for it extensively, but even the men take an active part in this infantile amusement. The Corean kite differs from its Japanese or Chinese relative in that it is very small, being only about twenty inches long by fourteen wide. Besides, instead of being flat on the frame, the Cho-senese kite is arched, which feature is said by the natives to give it a much greater flying capacity.

The string is wound round a framework of wood attached to a stick, which latter revolves in the hands or is stopped at the will of the person who flies the kite. It is generally during the north winds that the kites are flown, and it is indeed a curious thing during those days to watch regular competitions, fights, and battles being fought among these paper air-farers. As soon as the kite is raised from the ground and started in the orthodox way, the tactics used by the Corean boy in his favourite amusement become most interesting. He lets it go until it has well caught the wind, and by sudden jerks given to it in a funny way, knocking and clapping the thread-wheel on his left knee, he manages to send the kite up to a very great height. Hundreds and hundreds of yards of string are often used. When high enough, sailing gaily along among hundreds of other kites, it is made to begin warlike tactics and attack its nearest neighbour. Here it is that the Corean shows his greatest skill in manoeuvring his flying machine, for by pulls, jerks, and twists of the string he manages to make his kite rise or descend, attack its enemy or retreat according to his wish. Then as you break your neck watching them, you see the two small squares of paper, hundreds of yards above you in mid-air, getting closer to one another, advancing and retreating, as would two men fighting a duel; when, suddenly, one takes the offensive, charges the other, and by a clevercoup de main makes a rent in it, thus dooming it to a precipitous fall to the earth. Thus victorious, it proudly proceeds to attack its next neighbour, which is immediately made to respond to the challenge; but this time kite number three, whose leader has profited by the end of kite number two, keeps lower down than his adversary, gets round him in a clever way, and when the strings meet, by a hard pull cuts that of kite number one, which, swinging slowly in the air, and now and then revolving round itself in the air, gently descends far away from its owner, and is quickly appropriated by some poor kiteless child, who perhaps has been in company with many fellows, watching and pining for hours for such a happy moment. Pieces of broken glass are often tied to the string at intervals, being of great help in cutting the adversary's cord.

The people of Cho-sen seem to take as much interest in kite-flying as the Britisher does in racing. The well-grown people bet freely on the combatants, and it is not an uncommon thing for the excitement to reach such a pitch that the battle begun in mid-air terminates with sound blows in less aerial regions.

It is quaint to see rows of children with their little red jackets, standing on the high walls of the city, spending hours in this favourite amusement. They have barely room to stand upon, as the wall is hardly more than a couple of feet wide, and it was always a surprise to me that, amid the constant jerking and pulling the young folks were never precipitated from their point of vantage to the foot, which in many places would be as much as thirty feet in height. I have watched them for hours in the expectation of seeing one of them have an accident, but unfortunately for me they never did!

The little girls under ten years of age are exceedingly pretty. With the hair carefully parted in the middle and tied into two tresses at the back, a little green jacket and a long red skirt, they do indeed look quaint. You should see how well-behaved and sedate, too, they are. It is impossible to make one smile. You may give her sweets, a toy, or anything you please, but all you will hear is the faintest "Kamapso," and away she runs to show the gift to her mother. She will seldom go into fits of merriment in your presence, but, of course, her delight cannot fail to be at times depicted in her beaming eyes. She is more unfortunate than her brother in the number of toys she receives, and though her treatment is not so very severe, she begins from her earliest years a life of drudgery and work. As soon as her little brain begins to command her tiny fingers, she is compelled to struggle with a needle and thread. When her fragile arms get stronger she helps her mother in beating the clothes, and from the moment she rises to the time she goes to rest, ideas as to her future servility, humility, and faithfulness to man are duly impressed upon her.

As in Japan, so in Corea, a custom prevails of adopting male children by parents who have none of their own. The children adopted are generally those of poorer friends or of relations who chance to have some to spare. When the adoption is accomplished, with all the rules required by the law of the country, and with the approval of the king, the adopted son takes the place of a real son, and has a complete right of succession to his adoptive father in precedence to the adoptive mother and all the other relations of the defunct.

The Corean boy begins to study when very young. If the son of a rich man, he has a private tutor; if not, he goes to school, where he is taught the letters of the Corean alphabet, and Chinese characters. All official correspondence in Corea is done with Chinese characters, and a lifetime, as everybody knows, is hardly enough to master these. The native Corean alphabet, however, is a most practical and easy way of representing sounds, and I am not sure but that in many ways it is even more practical than ours. I will give the reader the opportunity of judging of this for himself by-and-by (see chapter xiii.). Arithmetic is also pounded into the little heads of the Cho-sen mites by means of the sliding-bead addition-board, the "chon-pan," a wonderful contrivance, also much used in Japan and China, and which is of invaluable help in quick calculation. The children are made to work very hard, and I was always told by the natives that they are generally very diligent and studious. A father was telling me one day that his son was most assiduous, but that he (the father) every now and then administered to him a good flogging.

"But that is unfair," said I. "Why do you do it?"

"Because I wish my son to be a great man. I am pleased with his work, but I flog him to encourage(?) him to study better still!"

I felt jolly glad that I was never "encouraged" in this kind of way when I was at school.

"I have no doubt that if you flog him enough he will one day be so clever that no one on this earth will be able to appreciate him."

"You are right," said the old man, perceiving at once the sarcasm of my remark, "you are right. I shall never beat my son again."

The children of labourers generally attend night-schools, where they receive a sound education for very little money and sometimes even gratis.

I am sure you will be interested to learn after what fashion children are named in the Land of the Morning Calm, as baptism with holy water is not yet customary. To tell you the truth, however, I am not quite certain how things are managed, and I rather doubt whether even the Coreans themselves know it. The only rule I was able to establish is that there was no rule at all, with the exception that all the males took the family name, to which followed (not preceded, as with us) one other name, and then the title or rank. Nicknames are extremely common, and there is hardly any one who not only has one, but actually goes by it instead of by his real name. Foreigners also are always called after some distinguishing mark either in the features or in the clothing. I went by the name of "disguised Corean," for I was always mistaken for one, notwithstanding that I dressed in European clothes. I will not say that I was very proud of my new name.

The Corean noblemen, during their many hours of dolce far niente, often indulge in games of chess, backgammon and checkers, and teach these games to their sons as part of a gentleman's accomplishments. Cards, besides being forbidden by order of the king, are considered vulgar and a low amusement only fit for the lowest people. The soldiers indulge much in card-playing and gambling with dice-throwing and other ways.

But to return to the children of Cho-sen: do you know what is the system employed by the yellow-skinned women to send their babies to sleep?

They scrape them gently on the stomach!

The rowdiest baby is sent to sleep in no time by this simple process. I can speak from experience, for I once tried it on a baby - only a few months old - that I wanted to paint. He was restless, and anything but a good sitter. It was impossible to start work until he was quiet, so I decided to experiment on the juvenile model the "scraping process" that I had seen have its effect a day or two previously. At first the baby became ten times more lively than before, and looked at me as if it meant to say, "What the devil are you doing?" Then, as I went on scraping his little stomach for the best part of ten minutes, he became drowsy, was hardly able to keep his eyes open, and finally, thank Heaven, fell asleep!

He was, indeed, he was so much so that I thought he was never going to wake up again.