7 OCTOBER 1882, Page 8


IT now appears to be certain that the late disturbances in the little-known country of Corea arose from an attempt made by the ex-Regent to oust the reigning King, and to place himself upon the throne. Ambition, and not animosity to the foreigner, was, therefore, the motive-power in the tragedy recently enacted at Seoul, during which a Queen lost her life, and the Ambassador of a friendly State barely escaped from his assailants. The ex-Regent had already taken a most prominent part in the affairs of his country, and although his career, when on the point of attaining the most striking success, has now been summarily cut short by the exercise of the Chinese prerogative, it may be interesting to record the principal achievements of a man whose career constituted in great part the known history of Corea during the last twenty years. Li Hein Ying, although a reputed scion of the reigning House, did not appear prominently on the scene of affairs until the year 1864, when the last direct descendant of the founder of the dynasty died, without leaving an heir, or any near relative whatever. That dynasty had been founded in the sixteenth century by a successful and ambitious Minister, named Li Chungwei, and during its long tenure of power it had never abused the privileges of its position, and had ruled with justice and moderation a docile population. The death of the last lineal representative of this family appeared conse- quently in the light of an irreparable loss to a sorrowing people, and either national gratitude, or a sound perception of what the situation required, prompted the search for some repre- sentative of the Li family to place upon the throne. The opportunity was thus afforded Li Hsia Ying to begin that game of ambition which, often renewed, has only now been finally arrested by the resolution of the Chinese Govern- ment. In conjunction with the Queen Dowager, he caused his second son, a boy of four years of age, to be proclaimed King, and placed upon the throne ; while he enjoyed the prac- tical rights of power, as a Member of the Board of Regency. The full extent of his ambition was not revealed at once, but the new King had not been long proclaimed, when his father openly took over the task of governing the State by himself and in his own name. In order to give eclat to his adminis- tration, he assumed the lofty title of Tai Wang Kun, and by this name, as near as the imperfections of spelling will admit, he has subsequently been known. Although his chief pro- jects were disapproved of by the Queen Dowager, and notwith- standing that he possessed no large or influential following of his own, Tai Wang Kun encountered no effectual opposition in carrying out his plans. His supremacy at Seoul became as evident as for some time previously it had been uncontested. Those who distrusted or disliked him hid their sentiments, and waited for the young ruler to grow up, when they might better be able to take action.in his name. For the time, however, Tai Wang Kun regulated affairs as he felt disposed, and asserted his arbitrary sway over the people.

Tai Wang Kun, although free from any grave cause of in- ternal disquietude, had, early in his tenure of power, reason to apprehend danger from without. The Chinese Government, through its representative, Prince Kung, had in 1861 surren- dered to Russia the vast territory of Maritime Manchuria, extend- ing from the Amour to the Tureen ; and the Russians had turned their acquisition to practical account by constructing the har- bour-fortress of Vladivostock, and by sending squadrons to ex- plore the opposite coasts of Corea. These movements excited alarm at Seoul, and the Regent requested M. Berneux, the French Bishop of Corea, either to induce the Russians to cease their activity, or to buy their departure by means of a deceptive treaty. Great promises were made of future toleration for .himself and his religion, in the event of success ; but M. Berneux's decision was creditable to him as a man, if not in accordance with the fancied precepts of his order. He refused to be a party to a scheme for deluding any Europeans. The consequences of his decision proved fatal to himself, his com- panions, and the prospects of Christianity in Corea. The Regent, enraged at his refusal, gave orders for his immediate arrest ; and M. Berneux, a brother Bishop, and seven missionary clergy were thrown into prison. Three others alone made good their escape, having received timely warning of the approaching persecution, and were fortunate enough to find an European ship

off the coast to carry them to a place of safety. Meantime, M. Berneux and his companions in misfortune had met their fate, the Regent wishing to strike his own subjects with terror by showing how little he feared the foreign Powers. Not content, however, with their execution, he ordered them to be tortured before death, thus increasing, if it were possible, the in- famy of his crime. The murder of the foreign Missionaries seemed to rouse in him a species of insane fury, for no sooner was it consummated than he resolved upon ridding the land of those who had adopted the practice of Christianity. The orders were issued for a general massacre i la St. Bartholomew, and the emissaries of the Regent hounded down the unfor- tunate converts, who fled for safety to the mountains. There is little doubt that religious zeal was used as a cloak to cover the ambitious ends of Tai Wang Kun, and that many persons fell by the sword not because they were Christians, but because they were openly or secretly opposed to his regime. During this persecution, it was computed by competent native observers that more than 10,000 persons were killed. The confidence of this despot was increased by the unfortunate failure of the French expedi- tion, under Admiral de Roze, sent to exact reparation for the murder of the Missionaries. Numerous causes of delay pre- vented the departure of that expedition until the month of September, 1866, when, however, the French flotilla appeared tiff the mouth of the river Hankiang, on which the capital, Seoul, stands. The difficult part of the enterprise had been accomplished, and a successful issue seemed assured, when either the incapacity of the commander, or dread of the un- known dangers to be encountered, resulted in the abrupt departure of the French ships. A detachment of marines had been caught in an ambuscade, and badly cut up, and Admiral Roze accepted this repulse as decisive of the war.

The withdrawal of the French Fleet, when Seoul lay at its mercy, crowned the triumph of the Regent, who from that time was left in undisturbed possession of the power he had violently acquired. Three years ago, whether in deference to popular opinion or in the expectation of advancing some secret plan, Tai Wang Kun resigned the office of Regent, and placed in the hands of the young King the reins of government. The event was duly celebrated, and the marriage of the youthful Sovereign seemed to prove that Corea had escaped from the dangers of a great personal ambition, which thought only of its own ends, and nothing of the national wants. We now know that that hope was delusive, and that nothing was more remote from the ex-Regent's mind than a permanent absence from power. Just as he put himself forward in 1865 as the leader of the anti-foreign faction, so has he now sought to figure in the same character, at a period when it really seems as if " the forbidden land " is about to abandon its exclusive policy for ever. The violence to which he did not hesitate to resort reveals the character of the man, while the success which at first attended his design shows how well he must have arranged his plans. The murder of the young Queen, the temporary confinement of the King, and the bare escape of the Japanese Envoy, Hanabusa, seemed likely to herald the return of Tai Wang Kun to the seat of power. Happily, a different turn has been given to the course of events. A Chinese fleet and army have restored tranquillity to Corea, with- out further bloodshed, and the ambitious schemes of the ex- Regent have been overthrown, by his forcible removal from Seoul. As a prisoner at Paotingfou, he will be absolutely harmless, to either himself or his country ; and the Corean Court will be able to carry on, undisturbed. by his presence, that prudent policy of establishing a friendly intercourse with England and other nations which it was advised to do by the Chinese Minister, Li Hung Chang.