A Silk Letter Written in Blood – Martyr’s Country, Part 3

Moving from volume 1 to volume 2 Dowon Park’s Martyr’s Country (박도원의”순교자의 나라”), chapter 2 of part 3 in volume 1 kicks off with a few shady characters among the gamblers at a gambling house.  One is Yi Anjeong, a moneylender at the establishment, and the other of note is Kim Yeosam, who is watching the proceedings in disgust, thinking that the money handling methods are questionable.  Thoughts of Chinese priest Ju Munmo come to Kim’s mind, and it is revealed that Yi Anjeong is a faithful member of the Catholic community.

Some friction, however, had developed between Kim Yeosam and Ju Munmo.  As his temper flares, Kim Yeosam goes to inform the police that he knows where Ju Munmo’s residence is.   When the police bureau chief hears the story, he sends his most capable and clever underling to meet with him.  So Kim Yeosam ends up at a pub talking with Im Seongyeol about the reward involved if he gives them the information on Ju Munmo, which is revealed to be a low-ranking government post.  They promise to meet a few days later when Im is to bring along another officer from the police bureau to discuss this further, but they don’t show up.  Meanwhile, the text reminds the reader that Kang Wansuk’s house has an escape route planned for Ju Munmo should the situation arise that her house is raided.

On the other side of town, Jeong Yakjong is entrusted with a box of important church goods.  Kapnyeong prepares a courier Im Daein to carry the box of church goods secretly at night so he can avoid being noticed by the police, but suddenly they are swarming around Im despite their precautions, accusing him of carrying illegal meat.  They take him to the police bureau and try to open up the locked box over Im’s protests.  When they open the lid, they are puzzled to find holy objects and a crucifix, as well as a letter with strange writing on it that they decide is Western script connected to the Catholics.

In the next chapter, news of the bust reaches the church community, leaving Kang Wansuk feeling very anxious about the situation.  Ju Munmo talks with her about his own concerns, suggesting that after staying with her for six years they should now part.  He is unsettled by events and wants to leave.  The novel relates at this point that when Ju Munmo entered into Joseon 7 years earlier, an informant tipped off the police bureau, and he was nearly caught.  Kang Wansuk stepped in with three young men from the church community who were willing to sacrifice themselves for him.  Now as he announces his departure, the women are all crying.  Ju Munmo leaves in search of Hwang Sayeong to have a talk with him before his departure.

After leaving Hwang Sayeong, Ju Munmo , he goes to Hong Ikman’s house and discusses the political situation with him.  The novel rehashes King Yeongjo’s clash with his son, Crown Prince Sado, whom he had pushed to the edge of insanity and had cruelly executed, and Sado’s other children with Lady Im, the half-brothers of King Jeongjo.  Yeongjo was not well disposed toward the two princes.  This is a rather long and involved section on that whole story of palace intrigue.

The Lunar New Year arrives marking the Sinyu year, which literally refers to the Year of the Rooster.  This is where the persecution cycle gets its name, and it is the 58th year of the 60 year branch cycle, which pairs all twelve of the Chinese zodiac animals with one of the five elements, though I’m not sure which rooster year in the cycle this would be.  The first arrest took place in December if I remember correctly, so this would only be a month or two later.  At Kang Wansuk’s house, a group of people are celebrating the festival, though they are melancholy since their priest has gone.   They are making clothes for Kapnyeong and honey cakes and persimmon punch for the holiday.

Mun Yeongin and Kapnyeong discuss Jeong Yakjong’s household and son Hasang as well as other interactions between Yeongin and various people.   Then the next chapter returns to discussion between Kim Yeosam and the police bureau chief about Kim giving him Ju Munmo’s address so the priest can be apprehended and brought to the police bureau.

In the last chapter, we see Kapnyeong helping Jeong Yakjong at his house.  The pair makes the rounds, meeting with a number of other colleagues, including Kim Hanbin.  Among the things discover as they meet with various people is that Hwang Ilkwang has been arrested.  This startles them.  The story then goes into a quick flashback of Hwang’s arrest.  The next day, they visit Jeong Yakhyeon, his oldest brother, to whom he expresses worry that he too might be in danger.  They also discuss Yakjong’s son Hasang, who is seven, and his daughters, who are still very young.  He asks his brother to take care of them, but Yakhyeon angrily refuses.  Yakjong gets on his knees to plead with him.  By the end of volume 1, Kapnyeong and Jeong Yakjong encounter the minister of the royal court in charge of interrogating criminals, which seems rather ominous.


Painting of Hwang Ilkwang

Volume 2 part 1 is titled “A Silk Letter Written in Blood” and is 16 chapters long.  It starts out on the first page with Kapnyeong telling Kang Wansuk the news when he arrives at her house that Jeong Yakjong has been arrested.  He relates that they met this court official as they were traveling between Majae and Hanyang.  They debate whether he will get the death penalty since he committed no crime.  They also think of a list of men, including Dasan, who have not heard of the arrest, but Wansuk sends Kapnyeong to visit Hwang Sayeong first.

He runs into Mun Yeongin on the way, and she asks Kapnyeong to take Hwang Sayeong some of her personal ornaments so he can sell them off and relieve his financial troubles.  Then he meets Hwang Sayeong’s mother as he reaches Hwang’s house.  Kapnyeong explains to her that all of the yangban church members are being arrested.  She wonders where they can escape to, but Kapnyeong has no suggestions.  He waits, but Hwang Sayeong doesn’t return until evening.  They spend time with Hwang’s mother and discuss the situation, then go to eat at Kim Kyeowon’s.  They talk about which bureau that Jeong Yakjong was being held at, but Kim Kyewon doesn’t know the details.  Then Hwang Sayeong, Kapnyeong and Kim Hanbin have some extended dealings with the police bureau officers. The next few chapters follow the activities of Hwang Sayeong and Kapnyeong as they travel together through the mountains and meet with Kim Kwitong.  The road trip continues with them drinking with even more colleagues.

In chapter four, the narrative returns to Hong Pilju and Kang Wansuk.  Word arrives from Minister Chu that the police bureau officers are always hovering around her house.  Wansuk wants to adopt emergency measures since the police are planning to arrest the entire community. The situation is very serious.  Minister Chu says they are arresting all of the yangban in the Namin faction, but Wansuk points out that this is the same as eliminating the Catholics.  Jeong Yakyong (Dasan) also risks imprisonment.  Minister Chu and Wansuk discuss the tension between the Noron and Namin factions going back all the way to the incident with Crown Prince Sado, leaving Wansuk in tears.

In the next scene, the story returns to Jeong Yakjong as his trial begins.  The prime minister is involved in the trial, and he is interested in finding out the whereabouts of Chinese priest Chu Munmo and delving deeper into Catholic ideas.  The trial starts with questions about the book box they confiscated and who owned the items within it. They also ask about the foreign script in the letter they found in it and what it said.  When Jeong Yakjong says he thinks Chu Munmo may have returned to his native country, the prime minister tells him not to lie because Kim Yeosam told them Chu Munmo has been staying with Kang Wansuk for years!  The prime minister wonders how the yangban could just hide such a huge criminal as Chu Munmo.  The questions include how they got the Catholic goods, who gave them to the community, and how they use them, primarily focusing on the pictures and cross.  Jeong Yakjong just says he doesn’t remember any of that.  By the end of this scene, I think Jeong Yakjong might be dead since it mentions his spirit leaving his body on its way to heaven, but it isn’t really detailed about what that might mean.  If this was his execution scene, it was very subtle, but maybe he just got hit and blacked out.

Chapter  5 begins with the fate of Yi Kahwan, who is next in line for a trial after Jeong Yakjong.  He is unable to move because he went through a particularly harsh interrogation a few days earlier.  The trial largely focuses on a young man he sent on an errand and gave money to, his study of Western civilization, Western priests, and someone’s names.  His interrogator shows him a list of names, and Yi Kahwan notices the brothers Jeong Yakjeon and Dasan are on it.  The passage mentions that in the early days of the Western Learning movement, members were denounced as heretics.  Yi Kahwan pleads ignorance when they talk further about the list, and he thinks back on Jeongjo’s death when the Norons gained influence.  He knows he can’t deny his faith, thoughts of his son and wife come to mind, and he thinks the old men will get whipped as the situation changes.  I’m unclear who he specifically means here, but I suppose it may be the two Jeong brothers.

The next section returns to Minister Chu and Kang Wansuk.  Minister Chu is looking for a way to bribe some official from the bureau that handles interrogations, so he goes to a bar that that official frequents.  He asks the official how many people he arrested today, and the man answers he caught a good number of Catholics and made a clean sweep of the yangban.  There is only one man they haven’t caught yet who seems to have escaped Hanyang.  Minister Chu asks who that is, and the official replies it is Hwang Sayeong.  I think the official says nearly all of their leaders are dead.  They drink together before Minister Chu leaves.

The next day, Minister Chu goes to Kang Wansuk’s house, and they discuss how the perimeter of her house is under surveillance.  Chu leaves, and she calls for Mun Yeongin and sends her out into the night back to her family home, thinking it will be safer for her there.  As Yeongin leaves, the police bureau officers watching Wansuk’s house follow her home in the shadows but don’t arrest her.  However, police bureau officer Im Seongyeol, whom we met at the beginning of this post with the informant, arrives at Kang Wansuk’s.  The chapter ends dramatically with Kang Wansuk being dragged off to the police bureau.


Painting of Kang Wansuk

I should note that there are still photos from a movie or TV series about Kang Wansuk that show the actress who played Lady Han in “Dae Jang Geum aka Jewel in the Palace” in the title role, so K-Drama fans may want to be on the lookout for that.

Here’s another video I dug around to find that is a bit more pious than the others, but it shows a lot of the Jeong family, such as Yakjong’s wife, son Hasang as an adult and his daughter who were killed in the 1839 massacre. Jeong Yakyong (Dasan) is also shown in paintings and a diorama:


I assume these are all something you can see at Majae, though I’m not entirely sure since I’ve never been there.  Some of the key figures we have been talking about in this series are mentioned in the lists they flash across the screen in places, and it goes through the brothers individually in their birth order with details also flashed across the screen for each, then Jeong Yakjong’s immediate family.  His son Hasang is fairly well-known, but his daughter Jeonghye and his wife Yu Sosa aren’t mentioned in English at all really.  One thing about reading these novels is that it is a tough challenge to my online research skills, and she was one of them I wasn’t sure about.  I finally discovered, too, that Mun Yeongin is also a historical figure, not a fictional character made up in the novel. That took some serious digging around, but I’ll talk more about her next time.  She isn’t in the video here.

Finally, the video gets to Dasan, who wears the thing, tall black minister’s hat instead of the wide-brimmed gat around the 2:40 mark. Hwang Sayeong appears around the 3:15 mark.  The video also references a Dasan Museum and Silla Museum that must be connected to this around the 6:20 mark.  Later in the video around the 7 minute mark they show the grave of Dasan in Majae.  Again, Dasan was a Confucian, not a Catholic, though a lot of his family members were Catholic, and most of them were very important figures of the day.  After that it shows the Jeong brothers’ birthplace, and so forth. It’s a really well done video with lots of educational value, so be sure to take the time to review it.

Source for the pictures of the individual martyrs (Korean only):


Part three of an eight part series




About Lady Xiansa

Lady Xiansa is a writer, linguist, artist, and dancer. She has been a core volunteer for the Silk Screen Asian Arts Organization from 2007 to 2018 and has provided content for Pitt JCS anime events since 2011. She has taught both ESL and Beginning Korean. Her gothic horror novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, won the Bronze Award for Young Adult Fiction E-book in the 2016 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards and earned the 2018 Story Monsters Approved Seal in the Tween Category.
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