An American Perspective on the War of 1812
by Donald Hickey
The War of 1812 is probably our most obscure conflict. Although a great deal has been written about the war, the average American is only vaguely aware of why we fought or who the enemy was. Even those who know something about the contest are likely to remember only a few dramatic moments, such as the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the burning of the nation’s capital, or the Battle of New Orleans.
A British Perspective
by Andrew Lambert
The War of 1812 has been referred to as a victorious “Second War for Independence,” and used to define Canadian identity, but the British only remember 1812 as the year Napoleon marched to Moscow. This is not surprising. In British eyes, the conflict with America was an annoying sideshow. The Americans had stabbed them in the back while they, the British, were busy fighting a total war against the French Empire, directed by their most inveterate enemy. For a nation fighting Napoleon Bonaparte, James Madison was an annoying irrelevance. Consequently the American war would be fought with whatever money, manpower and naval force that could be spared, no more than seven percent of the total British military effort.
A Canadian Perspective on the War of 1812
by Victor Suthren
When the American declaration of war fell upon the disparate colonies of British North America, it produced reactions as different as the character of each colony. But the people of the Canadian colonies were united in the belief that this was an unwanted war, governed more by the distant preoccupations of London or Washington than the needs and wishes of the King’s subjects in North America.
A Native Nations Perspective on the War of 1812
by Donald Fixico
The War of 1812 was an important conflict with broad and lasting consequences, particularly for the native inhabitants of North America. During the pivotal years before the war, the United States wanted to expand its territories, a desire that fueled the invasion of native homelands throughout the interior of the continent. [Miller, p.47] Tribal nations of the lower Great Lakes, including the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Ojibwa, and others saw their lands at risk. The same was true for the Muscogee Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, Cherokee and Chickasaw in the south.
Black Sailors and Soldiers in the War of 1812
In 1813 Charles Ball, an escaped slave and self-declared “free man of color,” had a choice. He could row out to the British fleet, moored in the Chesapeake Bay, and offer his services to the King -- or he could volunteer for the fledgling American navy and defend his country. Ball, whose dramatic bid for freedom is chronicled in The Life of Charles Ball, A Black Man, chose the latter and he was not alone.
Military Medicine in the War of 1812
There is hardly on the face of the earth a less enviable situation than that of an Army Surgeon after a battle – worn out and fatigued in body and mind, surrounded by suffering, pain, and misery, much of which he knows it is not in his power to heal…. I never underwent such fatigue as I did the first week at Butler's Barracks. The weather was intensely hot, the flies in myriads, and lighting on the wounds, deposited their eggs, so that maggots were bred in a few hours.
Tiger Dunlop, British surgeon to the 89th (The Pricess Victoria’s) Regiment of Foot, War of 1812.
Naval Battleships in the War of 1812
When the United States declared war on Great Britain in June 1812, the U.S. Navy was an eighteen-year-old institution with barely a dozen ships to its name. The British Royal Navy, by contrast, had been operating for centuries, and could boast over five hundred active warships. Eighty-five of these ships were sailing American waters at the time war broke out.
Prisoners of War in 1812
Military captives in the War of 1812 posed a particular problem for both sides. Neither the British nor the Americans could maintain large prisons – they lacked the military facilities and the manpower to hold soldiers for long periods of time. And, in a war that stretched along half of North America, prisoners posed a logistical nightmare – prisoners taken in battle were often hundreds of miles away from the nearest military garrison.
The British often paroled captured militiamen and army officers, releasing them after they’d made a pledge to stay out of the war for the duration.
Personal Journals from the War of 1812
For some of the participants in the War of 1812 the conflict was the defining moment of their lives, and they were well aware of it. A number of young soldiers penned brief diaries and journals that show how the war began for them as an adventure, but ended in many cases with injury, imprisonment and grief. For women, too, the war was a trial, a test of their fortitude and resourcefulness, but it was also a window onto a wider world. Their journals in turn have become our window onto a war that took place two centuries ago.
The Treaty of Ghent
James Madison had an opportunity to end the War of 1812 almost as soon as it began. The British had repealed the Orders in Council – rules that curbed American trade with Europe – and thus one of Madison’s major reasons for war was now moot. If the British had foregone the right to impress American sailors, Madison could well have gone back to Congress with the suggestion that hostilities cease immediately. However, the British considered impressment their right by custom, and believed it essential to their naval might. And so James Madison took his country to war.
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Until the 1950s, only a handful of Jesuits ever actually set foot on the Korean peninsula. However, despite the comparative lack of the physical presence of Jesuits in Korea, the Society of Jesus has had an important influence on the history of Korean Catholicism, indeed, on the whole of Korean history. It was members of the Society and their Chinese collaborators who helped introduce Western thought and science onto the peninsula through books written in Classical Chinese, a language Korean scholars knew well. Subsequently, Jesuit books translated by these scholars into Han’gŭl, the Korean vernacular, helped equip Korean Catholics with a deep, intellectually grounded faith that strengthened their community so that they could endure nearly a hundred years of persecution that lasted from the late eighteenth century to the last quarter of the nineteenth. Moreover, a number of Koreans kidnapped and taken to Japan as part of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasion of the country (1592–98) would convert to Catholicism, with some even becoming members of the Society, before their community was swallowed up by persecution. Today, with the Society of Jesus formally established on the peninsula, Jesuits in Korea play an important role in the fields of education and social justice. This rich history of the Society of Jesus in Korea has produced a multitude of diverse historiographic perspectives that this essay will explore.
Establishing the Basic Narrative
Fr. Charles Dallet (1829–78), a member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (Société des missions étrangères de Paris or MEP for short), the order that had been placed in charge of the evangelization of Korea in 1831, wrote the first comprehensive history of the Korean Catholic Church. While Dallet never visited Korea, he had served as a missionary in India until poor health forced him to return to France where he taught at the MEP’s seminary. Dallet began to correspond with MEP missionaries to Korea in 1870, and based on the materials they had collected, particularly those of Bishop Antoine Daveluy (1818–66), who had not only written copiously on Korean Catholicism, but had even translated Chinese-language documents into French, started to write his history of Korean Catholicism in 1872, publishing it in two volumes in 1874 as Histoire de l’Eglise de Corée. Writing in those years and using Daveluy as a main source significantly shaped this history, as waves of persecutions that killed thousands of Catholics in Korea, including Daveluy, had begun in 1866, and would continue into the early 1870s. The basic narrative that underlies Dallet’s history is therefore one of martyrdom, in which the suffering of Korean Catholics and missionaries led to the triumph of the Gospel over the “jealousy of hell” that sought to prevent the growth of the church on the peninsula. At the same time, because of the persecutions and because Dallet had never personally went to Korea, some errors crept into his manuscript, making the annotated Korean translation of An Ŭngryol and Ch’oe Sŏg-u, so valuable, as it corrects these mistakes and adds supplemental information.1
While no Jesuit missionaries were martyred in Korea at this time, the Society of Jesus in Japan played an important role in the conversion of the first Korean Catholics, some of whom would die as martyrs there.2 Thus, after beginning his work with an overview of Korea itself, Dallet described how Jesuit Francis Xavier (1506–52) helped found the Japanese Catholic Church in the mid-sixteenth century, which quickly grew into a flourishing community numbering in the hundreds of thousands. So popular was Catholicism that when Japanese hegemon Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–98) launched his invasion of Korea in 1592 (known by Koreans as the Imjin War), which would last until 1598, there would be many Catholic soldiers in his ranks, including one of his commanders, Augustine Konishi Yukinaga (1555–1600). At the end of 1593, Augustine requested that the Jesuits send him a priest. In response Fr. Gregorio de Céspedes and a Japanese catechist traveled to Korea, arriving there in early 1594.3 According to Dallet, Céspedes worked for the moral uplift of the Japanese army, reformed “evil” customs, baptized Japanese interested in the faith, and provided the sacraments for Japanese Catholics, until “the emperor”4 was informed that Augustine had a priest with him in Korea and was plotting against him. Thus, after being in Korea for a bit less than a year, Augustine sent Céspedes back to Japan and traveled back to defend himself, which he did successfully. According to Dallet, Céspedes was not able to engage in any sustained contact with Koreans on the peninsula that would lead to conversions and the establishment of a continuous Catholic community there.5
After describing Céspedes’s efforts, Dallet shifted to the subject of Koreans who were kidnapped to Japan and subsequently converted to Catholicism. Though noting that they shared with the Japanese the “glory of witnessing to Jesus” on the islands and therefore belong to the history of the Japanese Catholic Church, because they had been born on the peninsula, they also constitute a part of the “harvest” of the church of Korea. While Dallet’s focus was the Korean martyrs of Japan, members of the Society of Jesus appear as important supporting characters throughout this section. For example, Dallet cites verbatim a letter written by Portuguese Jesuit Luís Fróis (1532–97) describing a community of some three hundred Korean slaves who had become extraordinarily devout Catholics “in no way inferior to the Japanese.” Impressed by these Koreans, Fróis expressed his hope that the opportunity provided by the war would allow for work to begin among them on the peninsula, as he was sure that it would lead to the conversion of many.6 Likewise, Dallet described how Korean martyr of Japan Vincent Kwŏn learned about Catholicism at a Jesuit seminary and asked to be admitted to the Society right before he was killed in 1626 with several of its members and how Julia Ota was comforted by a Jesuit priest when she suffered exile instead of the glories of martyrdom for her faith.
Particularly striking of the stories related by Dallet is that of “Caius of Korea” (1571–1624), who, before he was captured by the Japanese, had lived as a hermit in a cave in his homeland as part of his attempt to determine the way to everlasting happiness. One night in his hermitage he met a dignified man who told him to have courage as within a year he would be taken across the sea and after much effort and pain would obtain the “object of his desire.” After being kidnapped to Japan, he again fell sick, and had a vision of a handsome young boy who told him not to be afraid and that he would obtain the happiness he had been searching for soon. After that, he met with a Catholic, who took him to a Jesuit seminary where he learned about Catholic doctrine and requested baptism. Later, when a priest, presumably a Jesuit, was teaching him and showed him a picture “of our Lord Jesus,” he expressed surprise that it looked exactly like the man who had appeared to him in the cave. Caius would subsequently devote himself to helping the missionaries carry out good works until his own martyrdom.7 While there are doubts about the historicity of such stories included in Dallet, for our purposes, it is important to note that they included Jesuits as supporting characters and that they illustrate the fact that, in terms of historical approach, Dallet was writing a “faith history” during a time of severe trial for the Korean Catholic Church. Such stories were likely intended to indicate that despite persecution, God still reigned, and would intervene on behalf of the church and end the persecution when the time was right.
Dallet ended this chapter with a brief description of how Koreans were able to have some access to Catholic works written in Classical Chinese in China, but that despite the “zeal of the priests” they were not able to have much of an immediate impact on them. Little is said of the Jesuits in this section, other than a brief reference to a “companion” of pioneer Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), likely the Jesuit João Rodrigues (1558–1634),8 who met with a Korean official, and to Ricci’s True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, a text that would eventually play a key role in the establishment of the Korean Catholic Church.9
Dallet would begin the next chapter, focusing on the early history of the Korean Catholic Church by stating that “the day for salvation for Korea arrived in 1784” when “Benevolent God planted the Catholic faith once and for all beginning a “glorious time” in which it would expand despite persecution. This chapter is centered on the conversion of Yi Sŭng-hun (1756–1801), who was baptized with the name of Peter in that year in Beijing, and how he came to an interest in Catholicism through the urgings of his cousin Yi Pyŏk (who later took the name John the Baptist, 1754–85), who himself had learned about Catholicism through books written in Classical Chinese, and their early efforts to spread the new religion. Little is said about the Society of Jesus in this section despite the fact that their order was primarily responsible for these texts.10 Particularly striking is the fact that the priest who baptized Peter was in fact Fr. Jean-Joseph Grammont (1736–1812), a former Jesuit, the Society having been suppressed in 1773. Considering how positively Dallet treated members of the Society of Jesus in Japan, such lapses are likely the result of Dallet’s interest in focusing on Korean martyrs, which appeared in Japan but not in China. Moreover, it would seem that Dallet had more ready access to histories of Japan than China, and therefore had more to work with.11 Finally, Dallet emphasized the fact that it was primarily Koreans who took the initiative in bringing the Gospel to themselves rather than waiting for missionaries to do so and therefore it was the Koreans, not the Jesuits, that were his focus. Whatever the reason for this lacunae, later histories would expand upon Ricci and the role the Society of Jesus played in the history of Korean Catholicism.
English-Language Histories of Korea and the Society of Jesus
Americans, driven by missionary zeal and a desire for trade, became increasingly interested in Korea in the second half of the nineteenth century. Some of the first authors who sought to slake this growing thirst for knowledge on Korea were Protestants who hoped to see their churches establish missions in Korea. They found Dallet’s work particularly useful, but were ambiguous in their treatment of Catholicism, with which they had a complex relationship. On one side, they could not deny that Catholics had suffered a great deal to bring Christianity to Korea. On the other, anti-Catholicism had long been a part of Protestant-dominated American culture, with the Catholic Church frequently presented as a foreign, authoritarian institution that would use its control over its flock to enslave free American Protestants and destroy their liberty. Members of the Society of Jesus were often depicted as agents of the Vatican, embodying in themselves the ruthless cunning, immorality, and thirst for domination of the “Roman Church.”12
The earliest American English-language accounts of the Jesuits in Korea were provided by Protestant missionaries and scholars, some of whom were deeply shaped by this tradition. For instance, Reverend Horace Underwood (1859–1916), the first ordained Presbyterian minister to Korea, gave an address to a missionary conference that was highly influenced by an anti-Catholic and anti-Jesuit perspective. In this speech, through which he sought to obtain more support for his mission to Korea, Underwood promised “to testify [to] that which we have seen of Rome and Jesuitism in the foreign field,” a curious statement since the Catholic missionaries assigned to Korea at this time were MEP, not Jesuits, but one that shows Underwood’s tendency to connect what he saw as the worst of Catholicism with the Society of Jesus. In his speech, Underwood presented Catholicism (“Romanism”) as a diabolical creation that mixed truth, in order to appeal to human beings, with falsehoods, so as to lead them astray, with one of its greatest evils being its principle of adapting “her truths to the forms of heathenism that she meets,” which was “carried out more thoroughly by the Jesuits than any other Romish sect,” leading to the continuation of “heathen” errors and the distortion of Christianity. As an example, Underwood (falsely) charged that the Jesuit Matteo Ricci had married a Chinese woman in accordance with these principles. Similarly, Underwood stated that Jesuits sought to gain political power and argued that it was the Catholic pursuit of it led ultimately to their persecution in Korea.13
Underwood’s view on Catholicism in Korea was likely influenced by Corea: The Hermit Nation, by Rev. William Elliot Griffis, a Dutch Reformed minister and scholar who lived in New York, as it contained similar criticism of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state in Korea, Griffis having written of the Catholic missionaries that “according to the code of any nation, their converts were traitors in inviting invasion; but if worthy to be set down as Arnolds and Iscariots, then their teachers (the missionaries) have the greater blame in leading them astray.”14 Having a full book rather than simply a speech, Griffis also included a more expanded doctrinal critique of Catholicism, writing of what Peter Yi Sŭng-hun brought with back with him to Korea when he was baptized in 1784:
The equipment of this first native missionary propagandist of Roman Christianity in Corea, deserves notice, as it brings out in sharp contrast the differing methods of Roman and Reformed Christianity. The convert brought back numerous tracts, didactic and polemic treatises, catechisms and commentaries, prayer-books, lives of the saints, etc., etc. These were for the learned, and those able to master them.15 For the simple, there was a goodly supply of crosses and crucifixes, images, pictures, and various other objects to strike the eye. It is not stated that the Bible, or any part of the Holy Scriptures, was sent for the feeding of hungry souls.16
Griffis thus presents Catholicism as hiding the Bible from believers by providing other works and using material objects to entrance the uneducated. Moreover, Griffis connected Catholic doctrines of celibacy and the struggle against “the world” and “the flesh” to anti-Catholic persecution and blames this flawed version of Christianity as the cause of contemporary Asian hostility towards the faith.17
While his main object of criticism were French MEP missionaries, Griffis also criticized the Jesuits. For example, in describing Japan’s invasion of Korea in the 1590s, Ellis elaborated on the political machinations of Katō Kiyomasa, a “fanatical Buddhist” against Augustine Konishi, a “Christian, an ardent convert to the faith of the Jesuit fathers, by whom he had been baptized in 1584,”18 and other Catholics by claiming that they were seeking to use their religion as a means of seizing power in Japan, and then notes that such “suspicions, as every student of Japan knows, were more than well founded.”19 Moreover, Griffis (incorrectly) stated that a French Jesuit acted as a guide for the Oppert Expedition of 1868, which sought to seize the bones of the paternal grandfather of the king in order to use them to force Korea to open its doors and tolerate Christianity.20 Griffis had a didactic purpose in bringing up such incidents, as his book was first published in 1882 and there were hopes that after the opening of Korea by Japan in 1876 that public missionary work might become a possibility there (the first Protestant missionaries entered the country secretly in 1884). Thus, in the same section where he criticized Catholics as “Iscariots” he stated that “it is to be hoped that the future Christian missionaries in Corea, whether of the Greek, Roman, or Reformed branch, will teach Christianity with more of the moral purity inculcated by its Founder.” Most strikingly, he would go on to write, “The missionary has yet to prove the full power of Christianity upon the people—and before Corean paganism, any form of the religion of Jesus, Roman, Greek or Reformed, should be welcome.21 This view is in part a reflection of Ellis’s belief that acceptance of Christianity would lead to progress and civilization.
This last reference is of particular importance for two reasons. First, though relying on Dallet for a significant amount of his information on Korea, Griffis revealed his interest in notions of progress by connecting Christianity with the development of “civilization,” which was not a significant part of Dallet’s work. Second, Griffis presents a much more nuanced view than Underwood, as the latter saw Christianity and Catholicism in opposition, whereas the former understood Catholicism to be an authentic if imperfect form of Christianity. Thus, Griffis could just as easily praise Jesuits as criticize them. For example, he referred to Céspedes and the Japanese Jesuit brother who accompanied him as “holy men” and described their work among Japanese soldiers as giving them hope in reaching heaven after death, thus affirming a belief that even Catholics could be saved—a stance other Protestants would have been uncomfortable with. Similarly, Griffis would positively portray Vincent Kwŏn as a high-born Korean captured by the Japanese who came into the possession of Konishi’s daughter Maria, eventually joining the Society of Jesus through her influence, seeking vainly to become a missionary to Korea to “plant Christianity among his countrymen,” and ultimately dying a martyr in Japan. And while Griffis noted that attempts by the Jesuits and their cohorts to build a lasting Christian community in Korea failed (“its introduction was postponed by Providence until two centuries later”), he praised “the Corean converts [who] remained steadfast to their new-found faith and suffered martyrdom with fortitude equal to that of their Japanese brethren.”22
Ellis would then explain that it was the Jesuits in China whose books would lead to the introduction of Christianity into Korea, focusing particularly on the 1777 meeting in a Buddhist temple in which Korean scholars read “translations of the writings, or original compositions in Chinese of the Jesuits in the imperial capital. Among these were some tracts on the Christian and Roman Catholic Religion” and these were so persuasive that “surprised and delighted, they (the Korean scholars) resolved to attain, if possible, to a full understanding of the new doctrines.”23 Griffis continued on to praise the Jesuits “to the Jesuits in Peking, who were mostly Frenchmen, belongs the credit of beginning that whole system of modern culture, by which modern science and Christianity are yet to transform the Chinese mind, and recast the ideas of this mighty people concerning nature and Deity.”24 Griffis thus built upon Dallet’s work by giving more explicit recognition to the role of Jesuit books in the establishment of the Catholic Church on the peninsula while also stressing the connection between Christianity and modern civilization.
Presenting Jesuits as true Christians (if mistaken on some points), it followed that Korean Catholics who died in the persecutions were also Christian martyrs deserving of praise. Thus, Ellis would write about the region of Naepo in Ch’ungch’ŏng province, a key area in the establishment of Catholicism in Korea that “in the history of Corean [sic] Christianity this province will ever be remembered as the nursery of the faith. Its soil has been most richly soaked with the blood of the native believers […]. The first converts and confessors, the most devoted adherents of their French teachers, the most gifted and intelligent martyrs, were from Nai-po (Naepo).”25 Similarly, he would describe the martyrs of Chŏlla as having “exchanged their lives for a good confession,” Fr. James Zhou Wen-mo (1752–1801), the first priest to enter Korea to serve the Korean Catholic community, as a “brave man” who gave himself up voluntarily to protect his friends, and Columba Kang Wan-suk (1760–1801), an important early female Catholic leader, as suffering martyrdom “with the grace of the English Lady Jane Grey.”26
In the late nineteenth century, there thus existed two alternative English-language narratives of the history of the Jesuits in Korea: one that saw them as the opponents of true Christianity and the other, while critical in some areas, recognized them as representing a stream of authentic if flawed Christianity, worthy of both criticism and praise. Moreover, by recognizing the Jesuits, and by extension Catholics, as true Christians, Protestants could count Korean Catholics as true Christian martyrs, and therefore lay claim to them as well. While on one side, more respectful to Catholics, this stance also allowed Protestants to have their cake and eat it too: when Catholics behaved poorly from their perspective, they were Catholics, but when they behaved heroically, they were Christians. In the English-language history of the Society of Jesus in Korea, Underwood’s approach was largely neglected while, though mixed to varying degrees, Griffis’s perspective of recognizing Catholics (and their martyrs) as Christians with mixed praise and criticism (though to varying degrees), became dominant among Protestant scholars, and adopted in such works as Reverend John Ross’s History of Korea (1891), George Paik’s The History of Protestant Missions in Korea, 1832–1910 (1927), Allen Clark’s Old Religions of Korea (published in 1961 but based on lectures given in the 1920s), and even the more recent Christ and Caesar in Korea (1997) by Wi Jo Kang and Early Catholicism in Korea (2005) by Jai-keun Choi.27
Likewise, Griffis’s expansion of Dallet’s work into a historical narrative of the Jesuit connection in Korea, which is essentially that of their heroic, but eventually unsuccessful attempts to establish a mission in Korea by Jesuits based in Japan, and then the role played by Jesuits in China in writing the books that would eventually lead to the conversion of what would become the first members of a continuous Catholic Church in Korea, has also been followed by texts focusing on the religious history of Korea, such as The Catholic Church in Korea (1924), written from a Catholic perspective,28 and James Grayson’s Korea: A Religious History, written from a secular academic perspective.29 Particularly noteworthy is Sebastian and Kirsteen Kim’s A History of Korean Christianity, as it includes Catholicism, and the Jesuits, within a general narrative of Korean Christianity that does not present Catholicism as a deficient form of Christianity that is included primarily as a negative example of what not to do or to claim the martyrs connected to it. Rather, the Kims give attention to its entire history on the peninsula in a generally neutral way, as well as noting that the first Korean Catholic, Peter Yi Sŭng-hun, was actually baptized by the former Jesuit Fr. Grammont.30
Even though authors continue to follow the basic narrative of focusing on the Jesuits in Japan and Korean martyrs before shifting to the important role played by Jesuit missionaries in China and their books in the establishment of the Catholic Church in Korea, some texts have expanded on Griffis or gone in new directions. For example, while following this basic narrative, rather than presenting the Jesuits as being part of a mission of civilization, as Griffis did, Sebastian and Kirsteen Kim emphasize their attempts at presenting Catholic Christianity as the fulfillment of Confucianism while also expanding on the connection between the Jesuits stationed in Japan and Koreans. Likewise, while focusing on Protestant Christianity, Sung-Deuk Oak, in his The Making of Korean Christianity: Protestant Encounters with Korean Religions showed how Protestant Christians carefully considered Jesuit and other Catholic views while seeking to determine how they should respond to the issue of ancestor rites and how they should translate the Christian term for God.31
In general, in the texts we have examined so far, the Jesuits appear as relatively minor characters in a general story about the history of Christianity in Korea. That is not always the case. One representative scholar who has focused on the Jesuit influence on Koreans in particular is Don Baker. His work is especially important in that he includes not only Catholic perspectives, but looks more deeply at scholarly Korean critiques of Jesuit writings. One important publication of his is entitled “Jesuit Science through Korean Eyes.”32 In this work, Baker notes that there has been a focus on the papal condemnation of ancestor rites in China, and an argument that if the rites would have been accepted, China could have become a Christian country. Baker points out that the issue of rites was only part of the Jesuit approach, and that the attempt to use superior Western astronomical knowledge to argue for the existence of the Christian God was another key element. Thus, by examining how Korean scholars, who like their Chinese counterparts thought within a Confucian framework, reacted to the claims of Jesuit natural philosophy and cosmology, which were well known long before they learned of the prohibition against ancestor rites, it can be seen whether or not this other element of the Jesuit strategy to convert Chinese to Catholicism would have worked. Thus, after describing how Jesuits argued that their science showed the need for causes, proving the necessity of an ultimate cause, that is, the Christian God, Baker reveals how Korean scholars were able to accept individual ideas, such as the earth being round, without changing their basic worldview because they did not make the same link between astronomy and cosmology that the Jesuits did. Baker therefore shows that even without the obstacle to conversion represented by the prohibition of ancestor rites, the Christian worldview was still difficult for Confucian scholars to accept. Moreover, Baker’s approach is significant because he pays particular attention to how individual Korean scholars, such as Yi Ik (1681–1763), interacted with ideas they learned about from Jesuit books.
Baker revisited the subjects of Jesuit intellectual influence on Korea in another article, “The Seeds of Modernity: Jesuit Natural Philosophy in Confucian Korea.”33 In this article, Baker shifted from why the Jesuit apologetic use of science failed to how Jesuit understandings of natural philosophy and science impacted Korean thought. For example, Baker shows how Jesuit understandings of Thomistic philosophy shaped internal critiques of neo-Confucianism. Moreover, in Korea, the gentry (yangban) focused on natural philosophy, while a class known as the chungin (literally “middle people”) served the government in such technical capacities as astronomers and interpreters. Thus, whereas science (understanding how things work) and technology (applying how things work) were separated in Korea, the two were joined in the persons of the Jesuits and their books, something some Korean gentry would imitate. In concrete terms, just as a Jesuit might write a book about astronomy and cosmology that included a description of how to construct astronomical instruments, a Korean scholar who read that book might be both influenced by Jesuit science and build (or have built) the astronomical tools it described—thus becoming more like the Jesuits themselves. In particular, Baker emphasizes how in rebutting Jesuit attempts to use astronomy to prove the veracity of a Christian cosmology, Korean scholars more clearly differentiated facts from values (is from ought), an important aspect of modern thought.
Even surveys on Korean history that do not focus on religion mention the coming of Catholicism and note the importance of Jesuit influence on Korea through the books they wrote and through their meetings with Koreans visiting China as part of the frequent tribute missions the country sent. One particularly rich English-language treatment can be found in Michael Seth’s A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present. Seth’s books treats Korean history in a generally descriptive and chronological format. He follows the standard formula of first briefly examining the limited influence of Jesuits based in Japan and then describes Korean contacts with the Jesuits in China and their books. Significant to Seth’s work is the nuanced way he deals with the subject matter, recognizing on one side that while the Jesuits did introduce new ideas and techniques that influenced these Koreans, especially in terms of the creation of calendars and Western painting, such influence was limited, with Koreans seeing Westerners more as “clever barbarians” than “bearers of a great tradition.” Seth thus registers the failure, at least for most Korean scholars, of the Jesuit accommodationist approach of presenting Catholicism in Confucian terms as the fulfillment of that tradition.34 Moreover, as Seth’s work is a textbook, he has to place the Jesuits within a general narrative about Korea. Examining the role of the Jesuits in the section “Early Contacts with the West” in his chapter “Korea in the Age of Imperialism, 1876–1910,” Seth presents the Jesuits as part of the background to the story of how Koreans were thrust into an imperialist world order with the signing of the Kanghwa Treaty with Japan in 1876, which “opened” the country to new and powerful global forces, the efforts by the Korean state and individual Koreans to reform their country in response, and the ultimate annexation by Japan in 1910.35
The issue of Korea’s colonization by Japan can shape how the story of Jesuit influence on Korea is told. While Japanese apologists for annexation argued that Korea was a stagnant country that could not reform on its own, Korean nationalist historians developed a counterargument that Koreans were capable of absorbing modern knowledge and reforming their country and would have done so successfully if the Japanese empire had not interrupted the process. This can be seen in the concept of the Sirhak [Practical Learning] movement, which has been presented as an attempt to transcend the philosophical debates of traditional neo-Confucian scholarship by obtaining useful knowledge that would contribute both to national strength and the happiness and welfare of the people. Thus, Kyung Moon Hwang records that “Historians have suggested that […] [the] ‘practical learning’ trend,36 demonstrated the stirrings of Korea’s own drive toward modern ideas and institutions.”37 Such a perspective can be seen in Korea Old and New: A History. This text’s treatment of the Jesuits appears in a chapter entitled “Economic Advances and Intellectual Ferment,” placing them within a narrative challenging the idea of Korean stagnation.38 Historians therefore pay special attention to the study of Jesuit books on science and technology by Chosŏn scholars (Chosŏn is the name of the dynasty that ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910), while recognizing the limits of those texts. The religious doctrine in Catholic books is also understood as influencing Korean intellectuals:
What they [Korean scholars] seem to have sought in Catholicism was a means to grapple with the host of evils that then beset Chosŏn’s social and political order. One can well imagine that those reform-minded Sirhak (practical learning) thinkers took fresh hope for creating a heavenly kingdom on earth through belief in the new religion. Accordingly, the acceptance of Catholicism may be seen as constituting a challenge to the grasping and predatory nature of the Chosŏn state and the intellectual rigidity of Neo-Confucian orthodoxy.39
Thus, the Jesuits are presented in this perspective as helping inspire some Koreans to transcend the neo-Confucian ideology that prevented necessary reform that would have made Korea more modern. The implication then is that had Korea been left alone by the imperialist powers, it would have found its way to modernity without colonization (in part through the help of the books produced by members of the Society of Jesus), thus meaning that the Japanese colonial project in Korea was unnecessary and therefore illegitimate.
Scholars in Korea and the Jesuits
Koreans residing on the peninsula have also produced materials examining the history of the Jesuits in their country. One central focus for such scholars are the unique origins of the Korean Catholic Church, which was established primarily by the initiative of lay Koreans, not by missionaries, despite the earlier efforts by the Society of Jesus. An example of this perspective can be seen in the Korean produced English-language Catholic Korea: Yesterday and Today, published in 1964. The preface of this work does not mention the Jesuits, but instead emphasizes how Korean scholars brought Christianity to Korea themselves by focusing on the fact that when Fr. James Zhou Wen-mo arrived on the peninsula in 1795, there were already four thousand Catholics there.40 However, that narrative is later expanded to include the Jesuits. For instance, following the statement that “the Catholic religion was first embraced by our Korean forefathers not in a passive response to the teaching of foreign missionaries but as an active and positive result of their zeal in the search for truth,”41 the author describes the influence of Jesuits based in Japan and China, following the same basic narrative described above. This tendency to emphasize Korean initiative in importing Catholicism paired with a later acknowledgement of the importance of Jesuits, particularly their written works, often appears in Korean materials.42
As with their Western counterparts, Korean scholars traditionally begin the history of their country’s first contact with Jesuit missionaries in 1594 with the arrival of Fr. Gregorio de Céspedes (1552?–1611).43 Even though the Society of Jesus in Korea recognizes Céspedes44 as the first Jesuit to come to Korea, the historical consensus has been there was no significant direct contact between him and Koreans, a position taken by Dallet as noted above,45 and in such works as Yu Hong-ryŏl’s Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa (Korean Catholic Church History, 1963), Ch’oe Sŏg-u’s Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoe ŭi yŏksa (The history of the Korean Catholic Church, 1982), Han’guk kyohoesa ŭi t’amgu (Research on the Korean Catholic Church, 2000), Yun Min-gu’s Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoe ŭi kiwŏn (The origins of the Korean Catholic Church, 2002), Yi Chang-u’s “Chosŏn kwa Ch’ŏnjugyo ŭi mannam” (An encounter between Chosŏn and Catholicism, 2009), and Cho Kwang’s Chosŏn hugisahoe wa Ch’ŏnjugyo (Society and Catholicism in the late Chosŏn, 2010), and most recently Kim Hye-gyŏng’s “Waeran sigi Yesuhoe sŏn’gyosa tŭl ŭi Ilbon kwa Chosŏn insik” (Jesuit missionary understandings of Japan and Chosŏn Korea during the time of the Imjin War).46 This consensus is important, as scholars such as Jesuit Juan Ruiz de Medina (1927–2000) have argued that there was a possibility of contact with Céspedes, or with some other Catholics, mostly Jesuits, that could have led to the formation of a Korean community that pre-existed the current one that traces itself to the baptism of Peter Yi in 1784.47
The focus on the unique origins of Korean Catholicism has not led scholars in Korea to ignore Céspedes. Instead, they have shown an interest in the relationship between early modern Jesuits, particularly their role in the production of knowledge on Korea for Western audiences. For instance, the scholar Pak Ch’ŏl has translated Céspedes’s letters and other Jesuits’ writings on Korea during the Imjin War into Korean. Pak argues in his book Sesŭp’edesŭ: Han’guk pangmun ch’oech’o sŏguin (Céspedes: The first Westerner to visit Korea) that Céspedes did not come to Korea as a military chaplain but as a missionary to spread the Gospel. He also contends that these Jesuits working in Japan were the first Westerners to introduce Korea to the Western world, with maps produced by Western cartographers based on information obtained from members of the Society.48 However, Pak’s primary interest is an analysis of the Jesuits’ letters and writings from a perspective of Spanish literary history. Similarly, Korean scholars also have shown an interest in the Korean Catholic community that was established in Japan during this time. For instance, Yu Hong-ryŏl includes the story of Vincent Kwŏn, but like other Korean scholars, believes stronger evidence is needed to confirm this account.49
Just as in the West, Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) has a special place in Korean scholarship on the Jesuits. For instance, Sister Sŏ Yang-ja presents Ricci as laying the foundation for missionary work in the East, particularly China, Korea, and Japan, which share the use of Chinese ideograms, through their focus on writing and translating books that spread scientific knowledge and Western material culture. Sŏ also examines Francis Xavier, describing him as the missionary who opened the door for the spread of the gospel to the East by coming to Japan and establishing the Japanese Catholic Church in 1549. Sŏ describes Xavier as a founding member of the Jesuits who followed the spirit of the society by implementing St. Paul’s mission methodology of accommodation.50 Like Paul, Xavier respected the customs and culture of the mission field where he worked through such means as publishing books in Japanese. In her book 16-segi Tongyang sŏn’gyo wa Mat’eo Rich’i Sinbu (Mission in the East in the sixteenth century and Fr. Matteo Ricci, 1980), Sŏ continued her work on Ricci, expanding to include others who worked with him and the Jesuits, particularly Chinese Catholics and other missionary orders.
On the occasion of the four-hundredth anniversary of Ricci’s death, the Graduate School of Theology of Sogang University, a Jesuit institution, organized an international conference with the theme “Cultural Encounters of East and West: Challenges and Opportunities,” on September 16 and 17, 2010. During the conference, fourteen papers were presented commemorating Ricci’s achievements, his radical hermeneutics reflected in The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, and the Jesuits’ accommodation policy. While preparing for the conference, one presenter, Kim Hye-gyŏng found very rare materials on Ricci in the university’s Loyola Library: Italian collections of his writings and letters from the 1910s and 1940s.51 Kim utilized these newly discovered materials in her own study on the Jesuits, which developed into the book Yesuhoe ŭi chŏkŭngjuŭi sŏn’gyo: Yŏksa wa ŭimi (The Society of Jesus’s accommodation mission: Its history and meaning, 2012). In this work, Kim argues that about four hundred different books were published by the missionaries from 1601, when Matteo Ricci began to reside in Beijing to 1773, when the society was dissolved, thereby revealing how these books were both continuously published by Chinese scholars and spread to other countries, including Japan and Korea.52 Kim consequently asserts that these works laid the foundations to produce enlightened thinkers and scientists who could contribute to modernization, which was made possible by the pragmatic accommodation policy and the general flexibility of the Jesuits, the most valuable assets of the Society of Jesus that, according to Kim, were modeled after Jesus and St. Paul and their respect for and understanding of the people they were trying to reach. Kim contends that this accommodationist policy brought changes to mission paradigms in terms of relationships to the local people, lifestyle of the missionaries, importance of local languages, cultivation of local priests and community leaders, and missionary literature. According to Kim, one significant achievement of this mission policy was establishing communication between East and West. Even though her arguments do not advance any radical changes in our understanding of the mission policy of the Society of Jesus, they deepen our knowledge of the Catholic Church during and after the Reformation, the birth of the Society of Jesus, and the criticism and achievement of the policy of accommodation. Regarding this last point, Sŏ and Kim’s focus on the accommodation policy reflect the desire of many Korean Catholics for developing a Catholic Church that is both Korean and Catholic, and reveals the continued importance of the models of mission developed by the Jesuits.
The Significance of the Jesuits in Korean History
As with the other histories this chapter has examined, Korean scholars studying the first contact between Korea and Catholicism focus on the Chinese Jesuits, describing how Korean envoys to Beijing often visited the Hŭmch’ŏn’gam (The Imperial Board of Astronomy), at which served many Jesuits who used their astronomical skills to help create and maintain the imperial calendar,53 and the Catholic churches in Beijing to obtain knowledge on Western culture when they travelled to China as members of tribute missions. The Jesuit missionaries often provided their Korean visitors with scientific and technical knowledge and samples of Western technology, such as telescopes, clocks, and maps, as well as books in Chinese on theology, astronomy, and world geography. Korean scholars focus on how these encounters between “Western Learning” (Sŏhak, a broad term that includes Western knowledge and culture, both sacred and secular) and Confucianism served as an opportunity to introduce Western ideas into Chosŏn Korea and contributed to the Sirhak movement described above. Thus, works such as Yi Wŏn-sun’s Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa yŏn’gu (Study on Korean Catholic Church history, 1986), Yi Chang-u’s chapters appearing in Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa (The History of the Korean Catholic Church, 2009), and Myŏngdong pondangsa, 1882–2006 (History of Myŏngdong cathedral, 1882–2006, 2007) present the introduction of Catholicism in terms of cultural interaction. In particular, Myŏngdong pondangsa argues that these cultural exchanges transformed the perceptions of the universe and the international world of Chosŏn Korean intellectuals and helped them to understand the advanced nature of Western science and technology.54
An illustrative example of this approach can be found in Yi Chang-u’s contributions to the first volume of Han’guk Ch’ŏnjugyohoesa (The History of the Korean Catholic Church, 2009) a chronological series on Catholic history published by the Han’guk Kyohoesa Yŏn’guso (Korean Church History Research Institute). This work is like many we have examined in that it follows the same basic narrative of beginning with Jesuits based in Japan before shifting to the more significant influence of those based in China.55 As Yi is writing for a Catholic institution, he pays more attention to religion, for instance, describing in great detail the activities of Korean Catholics in Japan, carefully noting the number of Korean martyrs there (including those connected with the Society of Jesus), and detailing at length the contact Crown Prince Sohyŏn (1612–45) had with Jesuit Adam Schall (1592–1666), and the gifts the missionary gave him before he returned from being a hostage of the Qing Empire to Korea. Likewise, Yi describes in encyclopedic breadth the particular books, many of which were written by Jesuits, that Koreans obtained while in China. Like other studies, Yi focuses on the meeting of Catholicism and Western civilization with Confucianism and Eastern civilization. He pays particular attention to the role of the former in introducing new forms of scientific and technical knowledge to Korean Confucian scholars, showing that not only were Koreans capable of adopting modern ideas, but that Catholicism played a positive and significant role in the process, thus showing the benefits the religion had for the nation. Moreover, Yi pays greater attention to Jesuit books on Catholic doctrine, noting that while they sought to accommodate Confucianism, they were very critical of Buddhism and Daoism.