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[Audio Books]Ep. 7 - A Forbidden Land: Voyages to the Corea, Part 7

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A Forbidden Land: Voyages to the Corea

by Ernest Oppert

New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1880

Part 7

The high mountains of Petheu-shan (백두산, Mount Baekdu), forming the north barrier to China, have not as yet been explored by foreigners. The mountainous nature of the country prevents the formation of large streams and rivers, which is why one cannot travel very far by river from its mouth. Without good roads and highways, even communication within the same country becomes difficult. The rivers on the east coast, except Tumen (두만강 Duman River), are of no account whatever, while the approaches to the rivers of the west coast are very dangerous as I mentioned before. Another dangerous nature of Corean rivers is the enormous rise and fall of the water at ebb and flood tides, which varies from twenty four to thirty feet. It doesn’t matter where the river is, near the sea or high up. This makes it very difficult for vessels to travel on the rivers during even a moderate draught. The currents are also very violent and rapid, running nearly seven knots an hour in the rivers and close in shore along the coast. However, the rise and fall is not so great on the south and east coast, where it rarely exceeds ten to twelve feet.

The Coreans are so well aware of the difficulties of navigating their coasts and rivers, that until recently, they have considered themselves almost safe from the dangers of a foreign invasion. The appearance and safe approach of steam-vessels has startled them much, and woke up them up somewhat from their old state of security.


The most noticeable rivers are-

A. On the west coast.

1. The Yalou (압록강, Amrok River) river forms partially a boundary line between Corea and China. It springs from the White Mountains and is very long. About thirty miles wide at its mouth, the river narrows considerably immediately above its entrance into the sea, and becomes only passable for flat-bottomed junks. Foreign ships have never been up the river, and there is no survey related to such subject. There is a small trading place, I-chou, close to the mouth of the river, which is at times visited by Chinese junks smuggling foreign goods into the country.

2. The Pieng’an or Great East River, or, the Tatung-Kiang of the Chinese, form a southern boundary line of the province of the same name. Its mouth was visited by the American stream-frigate “Shenandoah” in 1868, but the vessel did not venture up the river because of many dangerous obstacles considering her size. Her boats were sent up for several miles, but they retreated because they were fired upon from some newly erected forts. However, this visit to the mouth of the river contributed to a good survey. According to native report, the Pieng’an is navigable for vessels of a moderate draught for a considerable distance. However, the sad fate of the American ship “General Sherman” sufficiently proves how dangerous it is for any sailing vessel to navigate on Corean rivers. The “General Sherman” got on shore on a bank a few miles above the entrance of Pieng’an river in 1866. Being left high and dry at ebb-tide, the ship was boarded by the natives, the people of Joseon, and the whole crew was murdered by order of the authorities, and the ship destroyed by fire.

3. The Kang-Kiang, or Han-Kiang in Chinese, is so far the only Corean river that has been navigated by a foreign streamer, and explored for a considerable distance. In the hopes of penetrating right up to the capital of the country, to enter into direct negotiations with the Corean Government, I assumed that the great river, still unknown before our discovery, must lead us to the capital. And, during my voyage in the British streamer “Emperor” with Captain James, we made the discovery of the river.

The steamer proceeded about seventy miles up the main river, within a few miles of Saoul (서울, Seoul). But the river began to be very shallow and it would have put the vessel in great danger if we proceeded any further. (footnote 2) At the final place of anchorage of the “Emperor”, the water fell 26 feet at its lowest 30 feet at its highest. There was only just enough water left in the very narrow mid-channel for the steamer. When we moved the ship only 7 feet to swing without touching the ground, the whole river was nearly dry at low water, about half a mile wide at this point.

The entrance of the Kang-Kiang River lies about two to three miles south of the Tsia-Tong Islands, and it may be traced from east and northeast direction to the north-east point of the island of Kang-wha. There is a small and very narrow branch between this island nad the main land, which runs nearly straight north and south into the Prince Imperial Archipelago.

From the point where this branch joins the river, the latter continues for a few miles due east, and slowly narrowing, it runs south for about fifteen miles more until it reaches Saoul (서울 Seoul), the capital. It becomes so shallow beyond Kang-wha Island, that foreign built ships going into water more than three to four feet would put themselves into great risk by venturing any further, as the river is completely dry here at low water.

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