The “King’s procession”—Removing houses—Foolhardy people—Beaten to death—Cavalry soldiers—Infantry—Retainers—Banners—Luxurious saddles—The King and his double—Royal palanquins—The return at night.
[Illustration: THE KING MEETING THE CHINESE ENVOYS]
The official life of the King of Corea is secluded. He rarely goes out of the royal palace, although rumours occasionally fly about that His Majesty has visited such and such a place in disguise. When he does go out officially, the whole town of Seoul gets into a state of the greatest agitation and excitement. Not more than once or twice a year does such a thing happen; and when it does, the thatched shanties erected on the wide royal street are pulled down, causing a good deal of trouble and expense to the small merchants, etc. People fully understand, however, that the construction of these shanties is only allowed on condition that they shall be pulled down and removed whenever necessity should arise; an event which may often occur, at only a few hours’ notice. The penalty for non-compliance is beheading.
The moment they receive the order to do so, the inhabitants hurriedly remove all their household goods; the entire families, and those friends who have been called in to help, carrying away brass bowls, clothes and cooking implements, amid a disorder indescribable. Everybody talks, screams and calls out at the same time; everybody tries to push away everybody else in his attempts to carry away his armful of goods in safety; and, what with the dust produced by the tearing the thatch off the roofs, what with the hammering down of the wooden supports, and the bustle of the crowd, the scene is pandemonium.
I well remember how astonished I was when, passing in the neighbourhood of the royal palace, early one morning, I saw the three narrow, parallel streets which lead to the principal gateway being converted into one enormously wide street. The two middle rows of houses were thus completely removed, and the ground was made beautifully level and smooth. Crowds of natives had assembled all along the royal street, as well as up the main thoroughfare, leading from the West to the East gate; and the greatest excitement prevailed amongst the populace. The men were dressed in newly-washed clothes, and the women and children were arrayed in their smartest garments. Infantry soldiers, with muskets, varying from flint-locks to repeating-rifles, were drawn up in a line on each side to keep the road clear. There were others walking along with long, flat paddles, and some with round heavy sticks, on the look-out for those who dared to attempt to cross the road. As generally happens on such occasions, there were some foolish people who did not know the law, and others who challenged one another to do what was forbidden, well knowing that, if caught, severe blows of the paddle would be