The Search for Hidden Heretics in the Joseon Royal Court – Martyr’s Country, Part 8

I am covering more of volume 3 from the 4 volume series of Dowon Park’s Martyr’s Country (박도원의 ”순교자의 나라”)  this time, and this will be the last installment of the series after all.   Chapter 3 continues with Inspector Kyechang Son, who is 38 years old, and elaborates on the details of how the left and right police bureaus function.   Son himself is characterized as wise and tenacious as an officer, but he is sympathetic to gisaeng and prostitutes, and participates in the drinking and carousing too.  The left and right police bureaus have around 70 men each, and Son is considered an ambitious officer.  He sees this request from Minister Cho to purge Catholics from the royal court as his opportunity to get a promotion.  He has also wild heard stories about how young Catholic women lose their minds over the west.  Some of these concerns in Joseon were rooted in the physical differences the yangban perceived between Joseon and Western men and the supposed emotional effect of Western men on women.

After speaking with Minister Cho, Inspector Son confers with Inspector Jang about throwing the believers into prison.  They plan on acquitting them if the women apostasize and discuss how taking children away from the women will break them more quickly.  They surmise that the Catholic women will apostasize in order to get their children back.  The inspectors don’t think the Catholic men will be as malleable and consider beating them, discussing in grisly detail how their blood will run down their bodies from the whipping.  The inspectors want to shut them up with their incessant talk about God.

Then the story shifts to the Samcheongdong Valley, where a strange scene is happening at Baekryeonsa Temple. Two people are there talking about theological issues such as the soul and heaven.  It’s already dark out.  One of the men is Yu Jingil, who is among the many Catholics executed in this 1839 persecution, and he is thinking about the fleeting nature of wealth and social status and considers the hardships to come. He soberly assesses that there are black clouds on the horizon for the community.

Yu is also thinking about a figure at the royal court, Kim Yugeun, who was more famously known by his pen name Yellow Mountain (Hwangshan). The text then goes into Hwangshan’s history in the royal court, tracing it back to Prince Sado’s death. Hwangshan is close to the current regent, Queen Dowager Sunwon, who is his sister.  He is her confidant that she consulted when she had any serious problem.  For whatever reason, other observers in the royal court make sarcastic remarks about this arrangement.

Hwangshan was the eldest son of Kim Josun, and their branch of the Kim clan was from the Andong Kim family.  When Sunjo ascended to the throne at age 11 and died at 45, he was mostly a puppet.  In reality, all of the political power rested with Kim Josun, his father-in-law after a certain point in his reign.  Queen Dowager Sunwon was Sunjo’s wife, and Kim Josun was her father.  Note that Kim Jeongsun, the Queen Dowager during Sunjo’s reign, was from the Gyeongju Kim clan.  They are not traditionally considered the same family, and when Jeongsun retired from power in 1804, time that Kim Josun most likely stepped into that power vacuum. The rest of this chapter reviews the factional fights in the royal court going back from Yeongjo and Sado to Jeongjo, the death of Catholics during the Sinyu Persecution,  and finally ending with more details about Sunjo’s reign.

Chapter 5 begins with a group of desperate people longing for the coming of a new world. Buddhist amulets are selling like hotcakes, and shamans are doing brisk business.  There is a general feeling that the social situation was very dark and that the Catholics were in danger.  They figure heaven will help them, and they discuss where the Catholic households were in a particular village and where they can eke out a living.  Most Catholics at this time live in poverty.

The characters mention in passing the connection between Catholic troubles and their unwillingness to perform the ancestor rites.  They also point out that Catholics don’t have their dead cremated when they die, as is the Buddhist custom, which makes them conspicuous.  The Catholic community coped with the aftermath of the Sinyu persecution by abandoning their houses and property and taking refuge in the sparsely populated areas of the mountains.  Then the chapter turns to the similarities between the child kings during that Sinyu era and the current one and delves into court politics surrounding Queen Dowager Sunwon again.  I think the Catholic community has some hope that Sunwon has softer views of them than previous monarchs.  However, since Kim Josun’s death, there is more uncertainty about how the Catholics will fare.

The next chapter begins with a description of a flourishing shop selling ramie fabric in the middle of a city.  I’m unclear how many shops this part is discussing, and it may be a second shop in the vicinity that sells needles, exotic cloth, fur items, ointments, and various kinds of sugary candies. The novel goes off on a long but interesting tangent into describing one of the merchant’s residences and his array of animal skins that he sells.   The man in question is Kim Juman, and the conversation focuses primarily on sable furs.   A middle-aged woman wearing a long hooded cape comes by the shop, and taking it off, she enters the shop or the house attached to it.  This house is where the Catholic community’s bishop resides and is considered the main place of worship as well.  In a room nearby, Jeong Hasang is reading aloud in Latin.

The story pauses to review some of the history of French priest Maubant and Bishop Imbert.  Then it notes that Kapnyeong has been entrusted with this shop’s day to day business.  Someone lets Hasang know that Court Lady Park is there to see him; I think this woman announcing her is pretending to be a married couple with Hasang for the sake of the larger village community.  The two go in to chat with Lady Park.  Among the news she brings, Lady Park mentions that Hyoim and Hyosun have taken a boat from Sonae and that Han Ryangmok was seen in the company of a police inspector.  They also discuss Ryangmok’s interest in Hyoim and some details about the Queen Dowager.  Eventually, Lady Park moves on to talk a bit with Kim Juman before leaving, trying to get more sable fur for the palace from him.

The final chapter of part 2, chapter 7, continues to follow this new character, Court Lady Huisun Park, who also goes by the baptismal name Lucia.  She joined the royal court when she was 13 and has lived there for more than 20 years.  At age 18, she encountered King Sunjo walking around the grounds, and he was commented on her beauty.  Sunjo was 29 at the time, in his prime, but Park Huisun was not as interested in him even though he sought her out among the court ladies.  As he went around the court looking for her, she asked another court lady for help evading him since she didn’t want to be  his concubine.  She got sick over it, and the king asked for medical assistance for her, disappointed that they couldn’t be together.  The story goes into her continuing difficulties evading the king but also highlights how she is now pulled into Queen Sunwon’s circle.  This part leaves the impression that she had quite a struggle against Sunjo’s romantic advances and that he was considered a somewhat ineffective, weak leader generally.

The rest of this chapter shows Lady Park meeting with Jeong Hasang to discuss police surveillance on a particular mountain where the community is hiding.  She’s starting to realize that, should another wave of persecution start, she may not be able to rely on Queen Dowager Sunwon for help as she had hoped.   She also mentions that it was her wish to turn the house where they were meeting for their chat into Joseon’s first convent and had been envious when the Western priests described Western convents to her.  Kim Hyoim enters the conversation here for a bit, too, since she is one of the group of women staying there and reads to the assembly about the ascension of Mary.  At the end of this chapter, Inspector Son is pondering his secret order to hunt down any Catholic ladies in the royal court.

It turns out that my souvenirs from Jeoldusan have a painting of Park Huisun among them that I’ll post here.

Park Huisun Card

She’s the one in the center.  I don’t know anything about the two women on either side of her in the picture.

Volume 3 continues with part 3, “A Wild Night,” which has 9 chapters.  In chapters 1 and 2, Han Ryangmok is still looking for the woman in the white mourning clothes, Hyoim, who has captured his interest so much.  The more dramatic Park Huisun drama picks up again in chapter 3.  This chapter begins with Lady Park and the court ladies finishing their religious services and finding two white porcelain jars and one sable fur left beside the door to the attic where they have been holed up.  Lady Park has left them there for Hyoim and Lady Bae to examine before she gives the items as a gift to Queen Dowager Sunwon, and the women wholeheartedly approves.

The scene changes rather abruptly, and after dawn three court ladies are out walking along the road past the back of the Left Police Bureau.  Inspector Son steps into their path, startling them.  When the court ladies hear his introduction, they all turn pale. They are escorted into the police bureau, and Inspector Baek and Inspector Jin are present to assist Inspector Son.  Inspector Son rips off the hooded cape Lady Bae is wearing over her head and throws it to the floor, while Inspector Jin does the same with the other two court ladies’ capes.  The other two court ladies are named Lady Seong and Lady Heo.  Lady Bae maintains her calm appearance while the other two are trembling in fright at the turn of events.  Inspectors Son and Jin grab Lady Bae roughly by the arms to take her in for questioning separately.

This begins the new wave of persecution of the Gihae year, and the rest of the volume follows the investigation by the Left Police Bureau.  In the next chapter, they raid the fur shop of Kim Juman where Jeong Hasang is staying with Bishop Imbert.  Hasang wakes the bishop as the police arrive so he can get dressed and leave.  Chapter 5 has Inspector Son and a young police bureau official at a house where they are screaming for someone to open the door, and the storyline just intensifies from here.

Martyrs 3

Although I’m skipping volume 4, we know from historical records that Park Huisun, Kim Hyoim, and Jeong Hasang among other characters introduced here are arrested and go to their deaths.  I’ll cover this section with more paintings from the Korean website that profiles the main figures and manga pages to explain the general storyline in lieu of reading the final volume. What I won’t be able to determine at this time is whether fictional character Kapnyeong dies in this wave or whether he survives to witness everything, but he hasn’t played that huge of a part in this section of the novel series to matter as much.  One difficulty with a novel of this scope is that the cast of characters is so large, you can’t focus on all of them, and there were thousands who died during these purges.  At least you get a taste of the little-known history from what I’ve covered here.

Martyrs 8

Turning to the manga version of the martyrs, the pages I picked out to close this series with jump around in the book a bit.  First, I have a page with Hasang as a young man talking with his mother Yu Sosa.


Martyrs Page 4

The next two pages are from a different chapter in the manga which has a summary of the Gihae persecution starting with the police bureau raid of a house and the execution of community members.  Notable here are the two or three Western priests included in the massacre this time.

Martyrs Page 5

This is the last page I’m posting from it. It looks like a former believer has informed on them to instigate the raid.  The police bureau are still looking for the Western priests.

Martyrs Page 6

I’ll end the series here since I need to get back on track with this year’s schedule.

Part eight of an eight part series

Next time:  We will return to China to look at children’s book The Dim Sum Anthology by A Nong!






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 since 2007 and has provided content for Pitt JCS anime events since 2011. She has taught both ESL and Beginning Korean. Her 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.
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