Waiting for the New Age: The Wave of Bloody Executions Begins – Martyr’s Country, Part 4

In this post, I’m continuing to look at volume 2 of Dowon Park’s Martyr’s Country (박도원의”순교자의 나라”).  In part 1 chapter 6, the story continues with Kang Wansuk being taken to jail.  Hong Pilju is there to see her, and she tells him to keep his wits about him, that the Lord is always at his side.  She sees the guards watching them and says it louder.  The guard tells them to shut up.  Yoon Jeomhye is also brought to the jail, and so they have a little reunion though Jeomhye finds the cell’s conditions rather disgusting.  They talk about heaven and receiving their reward.  There are other women in the cell, at least three, and Wansuk introduces herself to them by her baptismal name Columba and explains she is the attendant to the community’s priest.  The old woman asks her where the priest is now, and Wansuk says she doesn’t know and hasn’t had any news from him since he left them.

In the next scene, Mun Yeongin arrives at her mother’s house, aware that the police bureau officers are following her.  She approaches cautiously, but she doesn’t see them.  Her mother lives at the house alone now, and she asks her daughter why she has come home.  Yeongin tells her she wanted to see her mother, but also mentions how uneasy she feels about the situation.  Her foster mother Wansuk sent all of them back to their families.

The next morning, Minister Chu stops by the house and tells her not to worry, that she’ll be safe there, but later when her mother goes out to run an errand, the police arrive and question Yeongin when she comes to the door.  They ask her if she’s part of the church community, and she replies that she is.  One officer tells her she’s beautiful and wonders how she ended up a Christian.  She preaches to them a little about receiving Jesus and gaining eternal life, but the officer explains why he doesn’t believe in such things.  They arrest her, though I’m not sure if that’s before or after her mother gets home.

Then Minister Chu returns and hears the details about Yeongin’s arrest.  He’s flabbergasted and rushes over to the police bureau to inquire about her.  He ends up at a nearby pub for a bit but is drawn outside as three carts go past, each carrying two prisoners sentenced to death.  The street is full of spectators who are taunting them, though the prisoners seem aloof.  As he considers going back to the pub to drink, Minister Chu hears Jeong Yakjong shouting and someone beating a drum.  The group is being taken to the execution ground.

The next chapter continues the scene with the death row procession passing through Seosomun.  Minister Chu sees who specifically is riding in each of the three carts: Yi Seunghun and Choi Pilgong are in the first, Choi Changhyeon and Hong Kyoman are in the second, and Hong Nakmin and Jeong Yakjong were in the last one.  The executioners do a sword dance in the middle of the spectators.  The text notes that they don’ t just chop off heads in one stroke, and the first of the prisoners called to the executioner’s spot is Yi Seunghun.  Choi Pilgong comes next, and his execution is described in more detail with his hands being cut and bloodied.  Then Choi Changhyeon is brought forward, his face full of light.

At this point, Jeong Yakjong begins speaking, though there is a lot of speechifying in this chapter anyway.  He talks about Jesus and why death isn’t frightening to believers, then the military guard and executioner end his talk and cut his head off.  This part has a little more detail than the other deaths, though it doesn’t linger in any case.  After he dies, Minister Chu hears the people reacting to his death, including believers who are wondering if he truly was now in heaven and other theological reflections.

Minister Chu immediately thinks of Mun Yeongin and what she may face; somewhere when I was flipping through the rest of this volume to get a feel for the whole story arc and the book’s organization, I ran across a place where Kapnyeong calls Minister Chu Yeongin’s beloved, so there must be some low-grade romance going on there that he’s so interested in her and now agonizing over what may happen to her.

그렇게 사람들이 말하는 소리를 듣던 추 봉교는 심각하게 고민하지 않을 수 없었다.  문영인!  그녀가 아니었으면 이렇듯 절박하게 생각할 필요도 없었으리라.  그것이 모두 문영인을 인연으로 천주교를 알게 된 까닭이었다. ( Martyr’s Country, Volume 2, p. 112)

Hearing what people were saying, Minister Chu couldn’t help but feel despair.  Mun Yeongin!  If it wasn’t for her, he would have nothing to worry about.  Because everyone knew her connection to the Catholics.  (My translation)

He wonders how he can bail her out of the police bureau jail, however, and stops by a pub to meet Capital Officer Kam from the left police bureau there.  He introduces himself to Kam as Chu Samgil of the arts inspection bureau or someplace along those lines in the capital.  After they greet one another, Minister Chu launches into his questions about the Catholic community, which seems to surprise Kam.  Minister Chu explains further his concern is regarding a woman who he can’t forget and whom he wants to make his wife immediately.  Kam asks if he would take her as a concubine, and Chu says no and asks how many more days until he loses his wife to execution!

(I’m not sure about the requirements for someone of Minister Chu’s station or what Yeongin’s exact status is at this point in the story, but perhaps it was considered more appropriate because she is a criminal and a Catholic for her to be taken as a concubine instead of a legal wife in spite of her earlier role as a court lady serving in the bedchamber of King Jeongjo.  Perhaps that is the source of Kam’s strange question.)

Kam seems a bit indignant, but Minister Chu asks how much money he wants to release Yeongin.  He also tries to explain how Yeongin was arrested and her Catholic beliefs.  In this section, Chu uses the “사랑하는 여인” phrase, his beloved woman, which solidifies the idea that they are romantically linked.  Nothing really comes of this conversation, and the chapter turns instead to Yi Junchang in 1791.

The next chapter returns to the storyline of Hwang Sayeong and Kim Kapnyeong.  They start off discussing whether they should return to Hanyang and finally decide to leave the next morning.  Three days later they arrive in Hanyang, and when they arrive at the house in Hundong, they discover a group of police bureau officers there!  Now they discover that Kang Wansuk was taken to jail along with her female attendants and that Jeong Yakjong was among six people in the church that were beheaded.    Kapnyeong decides to go to Majae to see Jeong Yakjong’s family, but they are no longer living in their house but are staying elsewhere.  Their original home has been abandoned and is considered the house of a traitor.  Kapnyeong is directed to Sir Cha’s house instead, which turns out to be an ordinary farmhouse.  He immediately runs into Jeong Yakjong’s young son Hasang.

Hearing them talking, Jeong Yakjong’s wife Yoo Sosa appears and begins crying when she sees Kapnyeong.  They had gotten Jeong Yakjong’s corpse but were unable to put it in the ancestral graveyard.  There was some controversy with his older brother Jeong Yakhyeon over burying him there because Yakjong was declared a traitor, so the family turned to Kim Hanbin for help.   When Sosa asks about where Scholar Hwang has been, Kapnyeong explains they were roaming the mountains.

This is another very long chapter, but it goes into more detail briefly about the fate of the rest of the Jeong brothers.  His oldest brother Yakhyeon remains head of the clan, while his other two brothers Yakjeon and Yakyong (Dasan) were sent into exile and confined.  Since volumes 3 and 4 will skip ahead nearly 40 years to the Gihae persecution, characters like Yoo Sosa and Hasang, Hasang’s sister Jeonghye, and even perhaps the uncles in exile should become central characters, but we’ll see.  Kapnyeong probably ties the whole series together, too, but these are just my predictions.  I haven’t flipped through those books yet.

1801 Jail

The next day, Kapnyeong beings traveling again and is reunited with Hwang Sayeong in a pottery workshop.  They realize the church community’s core leaders have been massacred!  Hwang Sayeong is having a hard time dealing with Jeong Yajong’s death since not only did he consider Yakjong a mentor, but he also is an in-law to Yakjong since Hwang Sayeong is married to Jeong Yakjong’s niece.  The rest of this chapter has Hwang Sayeong reminiscing and reflecting on the situation.  More details are given about some of the others executed with Jeong Yakjong.  At the end of the chapter, he sends Kapnyeong back to Hanyang to assess the situation and quietly return with a full report.

In chapter 9, Kapnyeong meets Kim Hanbin along the way back to Hanyang, and Kapnyeong confirms to Kim Hanbin that Hwang Sayeong is hiding out in a remote cave.  They discuss the rumors surrounding Chu Munmo since they don’t really know where he is.  When Kapnyeong arrives in Hanyang again, he seeks out the house of Yi Kyeongdo and asks for the latest news on the situation.  He hears about another woman Yi Suni who was also beheaded from the community as well as a list of people who were taken into custody and subjected to an even more brutal method of dismemberment using animals instead of swords.

Kapnyeong leaves Yi Kyeongdo and heads for the jail where Mun Yeongin is being held.  He plans on talking with her about her situation and trying to confirm rumors that the priest Chu Munmo has turned himself in.  Kapnyeong is told that Minister Chu’s request to have Yeongin released was rejected.   I’m not sure which character Kapnyeong is discussing this with since a few names are flying around, perhaps Yi Kyeongdo here, but they talk about the possibility of the death penalty judgement being dropped against the women.  However, the women have not made a declaration of apostasy but instead have been preaching and singing loudly about their faith.  It’s hopeless to expect the women to be freed, which leaves Kapnyeong depressed.

He goes to the jail to see Yeongin and runs into Minister Chu, so they visit her together.  The conversation doesn’t go well, and Minister Chu is particularly upset since Yeongin can’t be persuaded to do what’s necessary to save herself.  She says they will meet again in heaven and asks about Hwang Sayeong.  Kapnyeong tells her not to worry about Hwang.

The next scene of the chapter occurs on July 3, 1801.  Kapnyeong is waiting at the police bureau office.  Finally, the guards start leading the prisoners out of jail.  There are four women: Yeongin is third in line, and Kang Wansuk is first.  Someone points out that Yeongin was formerly a court lady, and they all admire her unusual beauty with some rude commentary.  Questioning begins as to what crime they had committed that led to the community being wiped out.  The answer of course is Catholicism, though there is some acknowledgement that this is also the Noron faction sweeping away the Namin faction.

As the crowd gets rowdy, Kang Wansuk is suddenly beheaded.  The executioner goes quickly down the line: Kim Yeonyi, Mun Yeongin, and lastly Kang Kyeongbok.  Kapnyeong approaches and looks upon Yeongin’s corpse and her blood all over the ground.  He says a prayer.  The police immediately notice him and demand to know what he thinks he’s doing.  Minister Chu comes forward, and they try to claim her body and prepare it for burial by replacing her bloody clothes.  Kang Wansuk’s remains are also seen to, but the situation for Yeongin was different since her household had no son.

Mun Yeongin

Mun Yeongin

I’m going to stop reading here and wrap up volume 2 next time since this is a good moment in the story to pause.

Part four 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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