On the tenth of the sixth month, 1839, the Board of Punishments submitted a memorial to the State Council requesting the execution of a Catholic man named Yi Kwangyŏl 李光烈 as well as six women who had “wallowed in the perverse teaching” (
Such references to codified laws abound in Korean administrative literature of the nineteenth century. Every anti-Christian campaign had a legal basis and was officially implemented in the frame of the legal system supported by the
This article is intended to complement existing historiography through a preliminary study of the Chosŏn anti-Christian campaigns and other judicial cases as seen through the angle of legal history. More precisely, I will try to demonstrate to what extent the legal issue can contribute to enlightening our knowledge of the repression of Catholicism in the late Chosŏn period, and I will explore how the legal discourse offers an interesting parallel and complement to the anti-Christian discourse incorporated in both governmental edicts and unofficial literature. This point may also explain, at least partially, why the efforts to destroy the mission presence and force believers to recant were increasingly disproportionate to the actual threat posed by this community.
Understanding which laws were used against Catholics and why these precise laws were used instead of others appears as a necessary first step in this study. Existing literature has generally considered that the crime of confessing Christian faith, and what this crime implied (plotting rebellion against the state and undermining the ethical foundations of the society) was sufficient to explain why Catholic converts and foreign missionaries had been executed. The
Although it is beyond the scope of this article to provide a comprehensive analysis of the legal system implemented against Christianity in the late Chosŏn period, I hope to offer preliminary answers to these aforementioned questions and demonstrate that Christianity faced an extremely severe but never total repression, just as recent research has shown regarding the fate of this religion in Japan and Vietnam in the same period.7
2Sŭngjŏngwŏn ilgi (hereafter SJW) 2368:38a [1839 (Hŏnjong 5).6.10 kapsul]. Johann Yi Kwangyŏl and the six women were all canonized by the papacy in 1984. 3All quotations from the Great Ming Code in this paper are reproduced from the English translation of Jiang Yonglin (The Great Ming Code: Da Ming lü, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005). 4A unique in-depth study regarding this topic has been produced by Wŏn Chaeyŏn in a book entitled Chosŏn wangjo ŭi pŏp kwa kŭrisŭdogyo: Tong-Sŏyang ŭi sangho insik kwa munhwa ch’ungdol (Seoul: Handŭl, 2003). 5I intentionally avoid using the term “persecution” in this article, since I focus on government officials who thought they were repressing (and not persecuting) an evil sect threatening the state. Furthermore, scholars working on Christianity in Ming-Qing China and Edo Japan have recently been more and more cautious with the use of the term “persecution,” due to its strong connotations. For these reasons, I will rather refer to the term “repression,” and will use the term “campaign” when dealing with what existing literature usually presents as the “great persecutions” of 1801, 1839, 1846 and 1866–1871. 6Timothy Brook, Jérôme Bourgon and Gregory Blue, Death by a Thousand Cuts (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 35–36. 7See, for instance, the work of Jacob Ramsay, Mandarins and Martyrs: The Church and the Nguyen Dynasty in Early Nineteenth-Century Vietnam, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008).
During the Chosŏn dynasty, Chinese law and legal concepts played a central role in the implementation of law. The
The body of the
It is needless to say that the fate of Catholicism in Chosŏn Korea became closely linked with this legal apparatus soon after Catholicism appeared on the peninsula in 1784. But curiously, Catholicism was not explicitly mentioned either in the
Catholicism, however, is not missing in other legal documents. For example, it appears in the
8William Shaw, Legal Norms in a Confucian State (Berkeley: University of California, Institute of East Asian studies, 1981, 3–10), 29. 9For a detailed presentation see Brook et al., Death by a Thousand Cuts, 35–67. 10The Great Ming Code Directly Explicated differed only slightly from the final version used in Ming China: although there are many literary differences between the two versions, the major changes appear in not more than four articles.
Explicit references to the
With factional struggle as a background, the Chinsan incident transformed the academic controversy against Catholicism into political suppression. It also marked a turning point in the state policy towards Catholicism, especially in terms of legislation. From that moment, two laws (or articles) were regularly mentioned in anti-Christian cases. The most frequent one was Article 279, entitled “Making Magical Inscriptions and Magical Incantations” (
As soon as news of Yun and Kwŏn’s arrest reached Seoul, the anti-Christian party represented by Hong Nagan 洪樂安 (1752–?), a Southerner (
In order to avoid such “light” penalties and precedents, Hong Nagan reported in his memorial to King Chŏngjo that Yun and Kwŏn were
In consequence, Yun and Kwŏn were not the only victims of their crime. Their houses were destroyed and all their properties were confiscated by the government. As for the members of their families, some of them were sent into banishment while others were enslaved into families of officials. Even Chinsan was reduced from the status of great county (
The Chinsan incident was soon added to the
The Edict on the Punishment of Heresy (
Although not clearly mentioned in this edict, laws of the
Recourse to this law was justified for several reasons. In China, it remained the principal legal means of dealing with heresy from the Tang dynasty to the end of the sixteenth century.27 The situation evolved in the seventeenth century toward a more lenient law, the aforementioned Article 181 (“Prohibiting Sorcery and Heretical Arts”), but its application was not followed in the Korean peninsula, due to the Chosŏn court’s antipathy toward the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), newly established by the “barbarian” Manchus. For Chosŏn officials and their kings, it was inappropriate to refer to the new penal code, the
The degree of heterodoxy implied by this law also certainly played a role in its adoption. From a Confucian standpoint, a first degree of deviation from orthodox thinking appeared in the term
The Chosŏn government was also clearly aware that Catholicism had been transmitted through Christian books imported from China. This is the reason why the first anti-Christian measure taken in 1785, and in the following years, consisted of burning Christian books—usually designated as “magical books” (
After Chŏngjo’s death, Christian books remained a central issue since they constituted a significant element in the perpetuation of the “perverse teaching” in the absence of foreign missionaries. As Catholics did not pose a real threat to the state, since they tended to be cautious and to practice their faith secretly, the most valid charge against them was the keeping of heretical books at home and the recitation of “magical” prayers or incantations. Overzealous officials thereby used to frame their judgments in reference to Article 279, thus providing the same political significance and the same punishment as in Chinsan.
Article 279 even tended to become the norm in the late 1830s. In 1836 the Dowager Queen promulgated an edict declaring that all cases associated with heresy or heterodoxy should be henceforth settled according to this article. This edict, as well as subsequent legal and administrative texts in the 1830s, tended to reinforce the idea of fear which already figured prominently in the edicts of 1801. It originated from a proposal made by Hong Sŏkchu 洪奭周 (1774–1842), the Second State Councilor (Chwaŭijŏng 左議政) and one of the central figures of the history of Confucian ideas in the nineteenth century.33 According to Hong, the prohibition of magical incantations had always been rigorously implemented in the kingdom (
Compiled in 1837, the
It would be incorrect, however, to consider this aforementioned law as the only one in use during the nineteenth century. Catholicism had been condemned since the beginning for moral perversion and accused of undermining the ethical foundations of the society. From a Confucian standpoint, such behavior necessarily opened the way to breaking the law and, potentially, to rebellion. In 1801, the intercepted Silk Letter of Hwang Sayŏng 黃嗣永 (1775–1801) provided manifest evidence of such views, since it proved—at least for opponents of Christianity—that the real threat to the state was religious and linked to the potential invasion of the peninsula by foreign powers, with the help of local “traitors”.37 For this reason, Article 278, “Plotting Treason” (
The growing presence of Western powers in East Asia in the middle of the nineteenth century and their apparent link with Christianity tended to reinforce the idea—and the stereotype—that Catholic converts and missionaries were plotting against the state. Acting as leaders of this supposedly dangerous sect, French missionaries were systematically decapitated after short trials in 1839 and 1866. As for the Chosŏn converts who had communicated with the Westerners and introduced them into the peninsula, they were also beheaded in 1839, 1846 and 1866, according to Article 278.39
It is beyond the scope of this paper to provide a comprehensive analysis of the great anti-Christian campaign which led to thousands of executions into 1871. As it has been studied by numerous scholars, I will once again focus only on the legal aspect.
Of course, Catholic believers continued to be sentenced according to the
If this law clearly drew on Article 278, it also differed in its commentary, presented in parentheses. While the
Anti-Christian measures reached a peak in 1868, soon after the failure of Father Féron and Oppert to excavate the coffin of the Namyŏn’gun, with the promulgation of an edict authorizing officials to “execute the criminals first and inform the king afterwards” (
It remains difficult to assert the precise number of converts who died during those years. According to French missionary sources, the “public rumor” (
11The only legal analysis of the Chinsan incident has been produced by Wŏn Chaeyŏn, Chosŏn wangjo ŭi pŏp kwa kŭrisŭdogyo, 157–200. I largely draw on his work in the following pages. 12On the “Ten Abominations,” see Jiang Yonglin, The Mandate of Heaven and The Great Ming Code (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011), 58–67. 13SJW 1696:41a–41b [1791 (Chŏngjo 15).11.8 kimyo]. 14Ch’ugwanji, kwŏn 9, Koryulpu 考律部, Chappŏm 雜犯, 24a–b (Shinju chakpyŏn 神主作變). This point precisely underlines the fact that the Chinsan incident should not be considered just an unprecedented cultural clash between Confucianism and Christianity. Destroying ancestral tablets was not a new turn when Catholicism was introduced in the peninsula. Such acts were not only the result of these aforementioned family quarrels but also the consequence of a resistance to rituals in Chosŏn society, a topic already studied by Donald Baker (“Rituals and Resistance in Chosŏn Korea,” Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies vol. 7 No 2 (October 2007): 6–13.). Furthermore, incidents dealing with the destruction of ancestral tablets occurred periodically in the marginalized and less Confucianized provinces of the eastern and northern parts of the peninsula. Although not linked with Christianity, some of these events have been mistakenly taken as supposed evidence of the presence of Christian converts in these areas. For instance, many historians have mentioned in their works the destruction of ancestral tablets in Kangwŏn province in 1758 and ventured the hypothesis that Catholicism may have spread secretly in this area before its so-called “official birth” of 1784. See, for instance, Yi Nŭnghwa, Chosŏn kidokkyo kŭp oegyosa (Keijō: Chosŏn kidokkyo ch’angmunsa, 1928), 52. By way of comparison, the absence or the act of destroying ancestral tablets was not a new turn, either, in China when Catholicism was introduced in the sixteenth century. Such destruction was a very common phenomenon in Chinese popular religious sects. After pirate raids on the coast and the Ming-Qing transition, many families reduced to poverty were also not able to reconstruct their ancestral hall before the mid-eighteenth century. On this topic, see Eugenio Menegon, Ancestors, Virgins, and Friars: Christianity as a Local Religion in Late Imperial China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 192–201. 15SJW 1696:41a–41b [1791 (Chŏngjo 15).11.8 kimyo]; Chŏngjo sillok 33:56b-57b [1791 (Chŏngjo 15).11.8 kimyo]. See also Ch’ugwanji 秋官志, kwŏn 9, Changgŭmbu 掌禁部, Pŏpkŭm 法禁, 26a (Kŭm sahak 禁邪學). There is actually no article entitled Destroying Dead Bodies (Huishi / Hwesi 毁屍) in the Ming Code. According to Wŏn Chaeyŏn, the aforementioned commentary appears in the Great Ming Code with Substatutes (Da Ming lü fuli 大明律附例). However, I have not been able to find any trace of it and confirm Wŏn’s assertion. 16According to the Great Ming Code (Art. 25, erzui jufa yi zhong lun 二罪俱發以重論), when two crimes were simultaneously discovered, the criminals had to be punished on the basis of the punishment for the most serious crime. For this reason, Yun and Kwŏn were decapitated and not strangled, since decapitation was a heavier death penalty from a Confucian standpoint. 17Jiang, The Mandate of Heaven, 59. 18Taejŏn t’ongp’yŏn, kwŏn 5, 5a (Hyŏngjŏn 刑典, Ch’udan 推斷). 19Chŏngjo sillok 33:57a–57b [1791 (Chŏngjo 15).11.8 kimyo]. 20Ch’ugwanji, kwŏn 9, Changgŭmbu 掌禁部, Pŏpkŭm 法禁, 24b–30b (Kŭm sahak 禁邪學). 21Shaw, Legal Norms in a Confucian State, 33. 22See, for instance, the case of Yi Kiyŏn 李箕延 in 1801, presented in SJW 1845:5a [1801 (Sunjo 1).12.17 kimi] and Ilsŏngnok (hereafter ISN) 1801 (Sunjo 1).12.17 kimi. See also the case of Pak Okkwi 朴玉貴 in 1811, in ISN 1811 (Sunjo 11).4.7 kabin; ISN 1811 (Sunjo 11).5.23 kyŏngja; ISN 1811 (Sunjo 11).11.3 muin; ISN 1811 (Sunjo 11).12.15 kimi; ISN 1811 (Sunjo 11).12.20 kapcha. 23Wŏn Chaeyŏn, Chosŏn wangjo ŭi pŏp kwa kŭrisŭdogyo, 203–229. 24Sunjo sillok 3:64b–67a [1801 (Sunjo 1).12.22 kapcha]. 25Franklin Rausch, “Wicked Officials and Virtuous Martyrs: An Analysis of the Martyr Biographies in Alexius Hwang Sayŏng’s Silk Letter,” Kyohoesa yŏn’gu, No. 32, June 2009, 9. See also Shaw, Legal Norms in a Confucian State, 117–126. 26Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 155. 27Barend Ter Haar, The White Lotus Teachings in Chinese Religious History (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999), 129. 28Donald Baker, “A Different Thread: Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and Catholicism in a Confucian World,” Culture and State in Late Chosŏn Korea, Cambridge (MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 230; Ter Haar, The White Lotus Teachings, 129–130, 172, 221. 29The first legal text to advocate the imperative necessity of burning Catholic books can be found in the Records of the Board of Punishments. It deals with the first anti-Christian incident, in 1785, involving Kim Pŏmu 金範禹 (?–1786). See Ch’ugwanji, kwŏn 9, Changgŭmbu 掌禁部, Pŏpkŭm 法禁, 24a–b (Kŭm sahak 禁邪學). Numerous references can also be found in the Veritable Records of the dynasty (Sillok 實錄), other administrative sources and recent scholarly works. Forbidding the introduction of Christian books from Beijing was even reiterated during the anti-Christian campaign of 1839. See Hŏnjong sillok 6:14a [1839 (Hŏnjong 5).7.25]. 30This famous text is known as Yuandao 原道 (On the foundation of the Way). The original passage reads: “We must laicize these people (i.e., turn monks into real human beings), burn their books and turn their temples into cottages” (人其人，火其書，廬其居). 31See, for instance, Chŏngjo sillok 26:6a–6b [1788 (Chŏngjo 12).8.3 imjin]; Chŏngjo sillok 33:42a–43b [1791(Chŏngjo 15).10.20 shinyu ]; Chŏngjo sillok 33:46b–48a [1791(Chŏngjo 15).10.24 ŭlch’uk]. 32Jung Tai-sik, “Religion and Politics: Persecution of Catholics in the Late Choson Dynasty Korea” (Ph.D. diss., The Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science of the New School for Social Research (New York), May 2001), 188–191. 33Interestingly, Hong Sŏkchu had close ties with Yi Mansu 李晩秀 (1752–1820), an early and well-known opponent of Christianity. Both men had previously requested the Dowager Queen to repress Catholicism. See, for example, SJW 1833:90a–91a [1801 (Sunjo 1).2.12 muo]. 34SJW ch’aek 2329:54b–55a [1836 (Hŏnjong 2).4.20 imshin]; Hŏnjong sillok 3:5a–5b [1836 (Hŏnjong 20.4.20 imshin]; ISN 1836 (Hŏnjong 2).4.20 imshin. This law is also mentioned in the Chŭngbo munhŏn pigo, kwŏn 85 (Yego 禮考), 14a. 35Yullye yoram, Article 108. The Conspectus is also known under the title Yullye P’yŏllam 律例便覽 , even though minor details differ in these two books. For a presentation of the Conspectus, see Cho Chiman, Chosŏn sidae ŭi hyŏngsabŏp: Tae Myŏngnyul kwa kukchŏn (Seoul: Kyŏngin munhwasa, 2007), 339–347. 36This law is most frequently mentioned in the Sŭngjŏngwŏn ilgi for the years 1839, 1846 and 1866. A useful, but now outdated French translation of these texts is available in Documents relatifs aux martyrs de Corée de 1839 et 1846 and in Documents relatifs aux martyrs de Corée de 1866 (Hong Kong: Imprimerie de Nazareth, 1925). 37The Silk Letter asked the Bishop of Beijing to send several hundred ships and fifty to sixty thousand soldiers to Chosŏn in order to intimidate the government so that it would not prohibit Catholicism. 38Sunjo sillok 3:46b–47a [1801 (Sunjo 1).10.23 pyŏngin]; Sunjo sillok 3:52a–52b [1801 (Sunjo 1).11.5 muin]. On the implementation of this law during the Chosŏn dynasty, see Cho Chiman, Chosŏn sidae ŭi hyŏngsabŏp, 278–289. 39See, for example, the case of the four Christian believers who proposed to the Taewŏn’gun an alliance with France to counter the supposed Russian threat in the northeast part of the peninsula, in SJW 2698:42a–43a [1866 (Kojong 3).1.20 kyŏngjin]. 40Yukchŏn chorye, kwŏn 9 (Hyŏngjŏn), yullyŏng. Although the preface was composed in the twelfth month of 1865, the Regulations of the Six Codes were only printed and promulgated in the fifth month of 1867, a few months after the first stages of the anti-Christian campaign. See Kojong sillok 2:59a [1865 (Kojong 2).12.21 imja]; Kojong sillok 4:25b [1867 (Kojong 4).5.16 mujin]. 41Hŏnjong sillok 6:9b–10a [1839 (Hŏnjong 5).5.25 kimi]. Note that extortion from Catholics was also a common phenomenon in Qing China and Nguyen Vietnam when Catholicism was prohibited. See for instance, Menegon, Ancestors, Virgins and Friars, 143–146, and Ramsay, Mandarins and Martyrs, 69–70, 86–88, 105–106. 42Many documents dealing with these extortions have been conserved and studied by Wŏn Chaeyŏn, Chosŏn wangjo ŭi pŏp kwa kŭrisŭdogyo, 229–278. 43Anders Karlsson, “Central Power, Local Society, and Rural Unrest in Nineteenth-Century Korea,” Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies, Vol. 6 No. 2 (2006): 211–213. 44Wŏn Chaeyŏn, Chosŏn wangjo ŭi pŏp kwa kŭrisŭdogyo, 203–226.
Many scholars have examined the Chosŏn anti-Christian discourse and political context in order to explain why officials expended so much of their energy trying to suppress the foreign religion. Here I will not provide a new analysis of all the causes that led to the repression
Some recent research has gone beyond the traditional idea of a simple cultural incompatibility between the West and Chosŏn by showing that Catholicism served as a perfect scapegoat in the context of factional and descent group struggles during the late Chosŏn dynasty. The execution of Crown Prince Sado by his father, King Yŏngjo (r. 1724–1776), in 1762, spawned a dispute which was to dominate the politics of the following decades. Those officials who resented the prince’s execution and coalesced around his son, the future King Chŏngjo, came to be called the party of expediency (
It thus came as no surprise that the great anti-Christian campaigns of 1801, 1839 and 1866 occurred while a faction or a descent group was expelling (or trying to expel) another and grasping political power. In 1800 the party of principle jumped at the opportunity created by Chŏngjo’s death and Sunjo’s accession to the throne to expel the party of expediency and grasp power with the help of Dowager Queen Kim. This was a typical political revenge since the party of principle had been partially excluded from political power during Chŏngjo’s reign to the benefit of the Southerners among whom were the first Korean Catholic converts. Scapegoating Catholicism as heresy and suppressing its followers thereby was a justifiable cause as well as an ideal pretext to expel the Southerners.46 As for 1839, the campaign arose mainly as a result of struggles between two descent groups. Pushed out of power by the Andong Kim descent group in 1837, the P’ungyang Cho descent group criticized and condemned their opponents’ lenient policy toward Catholicism, and attempted to drive them out by launching an anti-Christian campaign even more severe than in 1801.47 Recent studies have also shown the chief cause of the campaign of 1866 was actually the involvement of French missionaries in political struggles between the same descent groups. Once again in a position of weakness vis-à-vis the Kims, the Chos tried to use Bishop Siméon-François Berneux to bring about an alliance with France and England against Russia. Through this alliance, the Chos hoped to strengthen their own political position. In response, the Kims, formerly favorably disposed towards Catholicism, soon changed in to the chief proponent of the campaign.48
Whatever the case, it was necessary for officials to glorify the dynasty and the state, and, conversely, to present Catholicism as one of the worst forms of heresy, so that eliminating believers would become rational and justify the fact that one faction or descent group stayed in power. Stated differently, they had to maintain that the real threat to Chosŏn was religious: Catholicism undermined the ethical foundations of society and entertained thoughts of rebellion through collusion with foreign powers. Thought control was therefore paramount, a position that became the hallmark of the isolationist policy led by one of the foremost neo-Confucian scholars of the time, Yi Hangno 李恒老 (1792–1868).
The Ming legal order was a normative legal order that laid down Confucian ideals and fundamental moral pillars such as filial piety, loyalty, humaneness and righteousness to which all members of society were supposed to conform. The entire
Beginning in the early seventeenth century, the death penalty, and particularly immediate decapitation, came to play a significant role in this framework. It was primarily the consequence of a destructive series of invasions which created social disorder in the peninsula. During the so-called Imjin war (1592–1598), the unprepared Chosŏn troops were unable to defend their positions against the Japanese invaders, so that the court fled ahead of the enemy advance, abandoning the defense of the capital, and made its way to Ŭiju on the Chinese frontier. As a result, the central government lost control of the situation in many parts of the country. The reward bestowed by the authorities for those who brought the heads of Japanese soldiers led some evil-minded and poor people to murder other Koreans. Many groups of robbers disguised as Japanese soldiers also came to attack and plunder villages. The government thus made recurrent use of the death penalty by decapitation to restore social order after 1598.50
Hardly had Chosŏn recovered from the Japanese invasions when it faced a new threat to the north. The rise of Manchu power in the early seventeenth century temporarily damaged the governmental efforts to improve the control over the situation. It led to growing feelings of insecurity and uncontrolled migrations, especially from the Northern provinces and the capital. Again, the Chosŏn state responded with the implementation of decapitation. This was not the mere result of a growing number of crimes, but rather a government decision to apply decapitation to a large number of crimes that were not originally to receive the death penalty. In doing so, the state hoped that the fear of punishment would prevent social unrest.51
For the next three and a half centuries the Chosŏn state served as a tributary of the Qing dynasty and occasionally sent embassies to Japan. A highly regulated trade was also conducted on the Chinese frontier, in Beijing, and in the Japanese House (
In the second half of the eighteenth century, these 365 capital offenses constituted around 18% of the 2,038 offenses that were punishable under the Chosŏn legal system.55 Mass executions even started in the nineteenth century in order to repress popular unrest, sectarian activity, and (supposed) foreign threats, but they were restricted to particular events that occurred at precise moments and under particular circumstances.56 This was precisely the case during the major anti-Christian campaigns. In 1812, around 2,000 rebels were also decapitated on the same day and in the same place to put an end to the Hong Kyŏngnae 洪景來 rebellion. The Tonghak 東學 believers, for instance, were also harshly repressed in the second half of the century.
It would be inaccurate, however, to conclude that Chosŏn kings and officials became more and more tyrannical, especially in the eighteenth century. The epitome of the Confucian ruler, Yŏngjo attached great importance to immediate decapitation but, at the same time, he decided, as an exemplary king, to abrogate some inhumane tortures, such as kneecap pressure (
The Chosŏn government emphasis on immediate decapitation should also be understood in the light of the circulation of ideas and knowledge in East Asia, and in Koreans’ worldviews during the late Chosŏn dynasty. Chosŏn literati had obviously nothing but an inaccurate and stereotyped view of the events happening in their neighboring countries. However, the way they perceived the development of Christianity in China, as well as the implementation of anti-Christian laws by the Sino-Manchu government, suggests the existence of unexpected regional dynamics or, stated differently, the existence of an unsuspected regional background to the suppression of Catholicism in the Chosŏn.60
Christianity in China became a focus of interest among Chosŏn literati during the eighteenth century, and it is interesting to note that its situation was closely linked with a gradually growing interest toward China in general. The situation of Christianity in the Qing Empire was actually quite unique: it had been officially banned in 1724, but missionaries with scientific or artistic talents remained legally at the service of the Emperor in Beijing where they were confined in four churches and were forbidden, at least theoretically, to have any contact with local people. As a result, the case of Beijing was very uncommon and not representative of the Catholic presence in China, but as the Chinese capital was the only window Chosŏn envoys had on the Qing Empire, it played a significant role in their perceptions of Christianity in China.
The emergence of one extreme “nationalistic” view among literati that placed Chosŏn in the center of civilization, as the sole successor of Confucian civilization (
Shifts in Chosŏn views of China occurred in the early nineteenth century. The death of King Chŏngjo in 1800 resulted in the beginning of the so-called in-law government and in the strengthening of the anti-Christian policy while the Northern Learning School now had a more significant influence on the Chosŏn perceptions of China. Chosŏn emissaries back from Beijing thus began to report the anti-Christian incidents they saw, as well as the campaigns that had occurred in the eighteenth century. This led the Chosŏn government to recognize that the Manchu dynasty also tried to expel Christianity, although without success. When emissaries returning from Beijing in 1812 reported that the Qing rulers had just added a new substatute (
Under these circumstances, Chosŏn literati could not but consider the Chinese anti-Christian policy as being too lenient and inappropriate. This position is clearly reflected, for instance, in the discourse of Yi Kyugyŏng 李圭景 (1788–?) in the late 1840s. For Yi, the number of Catholics in China had never ceased to grow since the seventeenth century, due to the official permission for missionaries to settle in Beijing and Macao. As a grievous consequence of this tolerant attitude, many sectarians of the White Lotus and other prohibited groups had even borrowed the Catholic label to avoid governmental suppression. Yi then continued by praising the highly effective anti-Christian policy led by the Japanese “island barbarians” (
45James B. Palais, Politics and Policy in Traditional Korea (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 48. 46Choi Jai-Keun, The Origin of the Roman Catholic Church in Korea: An Examination of Popular and Governmental Responses to Catholic Missions in the Late Chosôn Dynasty, (Norwalk: The Hermit Kingdom Press, 2006), 118–199; Jung, “Religion and Politics,” 220–263. 47Choi, The Origin of the Roman Catholic Church in Korea, 169–188; Jung, “Religion and Politics,” 286–319. 48Seo Jongtae, “Sŏyang sŏn’gyosa wa pyŏngin pakhae,” Sŏng Tori wa Son’gol (Seoul, Kippŭn soshik), 117–153, 321–352. 49Shaw, Legal Norms in a Confucian State, 9–11. 50Andeshi Kāruson [Anders Karlsson], “Senkin no ko wa ichi ni shisezu: 17–18 seiki Chōsen jidai ni okeru shikei to kyōshu,” Higashi Ajia no shikei, edited by Tomiya Itaru, (Kyoto: Kyōto daigaku gakujutsu shuppankai, 2009), 109–120. 51Kāruson, “Senkin no ko wa ichi ni shisezu,” 109–120. 52Such cases may have served as a kind of precedent for the Catholic issue, since Korean Catholics of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century were regularly accused of having illegal contacts with Western missionaries in Beijing and, later, with French missionaries of the Missions étrangères de Paris working clandestinely in Chosŏn. 53The Sugyo chimnok is a compilation of royal edicts from 1543 to 1698, and the Shinbo sugyo chimnok covers the following fifty years, from 1698 to 1743. 54This table is reproduced from Shim Cheu, Chosŏn hugi kukka kwŏllyŏk kwa pŏmjoe t’ongje, P’aju: T’aehaksa, 2009, 62. A complete list of these offenses can be found in the Chŭngbo munhŏn pigo, kwŏn 139 (Hyŏnggo 刑考), 1a-11b. Traditionally not considered as categories of capital punishments per se, “Simple execution” (illyul) and “Execution with exposure of the decapitated head” (hyoshi) were added to the Amended Great Code. The term illyul actually refers to crimes punishable by strangulation or decapitation that could be reduced to a lower degree in particular cases. 55By way of comparison, in the late nineteenth century, the Qing dynasty had a total of 3,897 offenses that were punishable under the Qing Code, of which 813 (around 21%) were capital offenses. See Brook et al., Death by a Thousand Cuts, 54. 56Kāruson, “Senkin no ko wa ichi ni shisezu,” 110–116. 57Chŭngbo munhŏn pigo, kwŏn 139 (Hyŏnggo 刑考), 26a. See also Kāruson, “Senkin no ko wa ichi ni shisezu,” 117–118. 58The illegal tortures endured by Columba Kang Wansuk 姜完淑 (1761–1801), a pillar of the early Korean Church, are presented, for instance, in Gari Ledyard, “Kollumba Kang Wansuk, an early Catholic Activist and Martyr,” Christianity in Korea, edited by Robert E. Buswell and Timothy S. Lee (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007), 57. More generally, references to illegal tortures during every anti-Christian campaign can be found in the well-known work of Charles Dallet, Histoire de l’Église de Corée, Paris: Librairie Victor Palmé, 1874. 59The records of the State tribunal (Ch’uan kŭp kugan 推案及鞫案) were compiled in the late nineteenth century in 331 volumes. The cases concerning Catholicism have recently been selected and reproduced in Chosŏn hugi ch’ŏnjugyo shinja chaep’an kirok, edited by Sŏ Chongt’ae and Han Kŏn (Seoul: Kukhak charyowon, 2004). 60An insight into two chapters of my forthcoming dissertation, this section is also developed in a forthcoming article. For this reason, I just provide a brief presentation of my ideas in this article, and I invite the reader to refer to my dissertation for further details. 61In China, Article 279 (usually used in Korea against Catholics) had fallen into disuse since the early seventeenth century while Article 181 was generally taken to be the appropriate legal means for dealing with religious groups. See Ter Haar, The White Lotus Teachings, 129–130, 172, 221. 62ISN 1812 (Sunjo 12).4.8 kyŏngsul; ISN 1813 (Sunjo 13).3.28 ŭlmi; ISN 1830 (Sunjo 30).3.21 kiyu. 63Yi Kyugyŏng, Oju yŏnmun changjŏn san’go, kwŏn 53, Ch’ŏk sagyo pyŏnjŭngsŏl 斥邪敎辨證說 (vol. 2, 701–712).
The government had the responsibility to educate its subjects and to protect them from immoral ideas and the books that disseminated them. Under the influence of factional struggles, this general policy was transformed in the determination to eradicate the roots of Christianity. Officials, however, faced an unprecedented problem when they became aware of Catholics’ willingness to die for their faith, at least since the Chinsan incident. The proscription edicts of 1801 and 1839 (
Since Edo Japan and Qing China faced the same “martyrdom problem”, they constitute an appropriate point of comparison. After having executed numbers of converts in the early seventeenth century, Japanese authorities realized that martyrdom was exactly what Christians expected, and they thus radically changed their policy in the late 1620s. In order to destroy the impression that the Christian religion was insuperable, they now wanted apostates, since apostates better than martyrs attested to the impotence of religion, especially when these apostates have been apostles of the faith and priests. This end the authorities pursued by ruthlessly sophisticated means, and their policy proved to be quite effective, since most of the missionaries sent to Japan in the 1640s apostatized, while the others finally died in prison. This policy brought a quick end to the Japan mission and to missionary activities in Japan in the 1640s. With the exception of Father Giovanni Battista Sidotti in 1708, no missionary stepped on Japanese soil before the midnineteenth century.65
Another interesting parallel could also be made with Qing China. Since the official ban imposed on Catholicism, the Manchu government avoided executing Chinese Christians and Western missionaries precisely because it could mobilize local converts into building a cult of martyrs and encouraging veneration for those local Christians who had suffered with them and were either dead or alive. Beheaded in 1746, Bishop Pedro Sanz was the only exception to this policy. The emperor, albeit with some hesitation, decided on his execution after the zealous governor of Fujian province had sent a strongly worded memorial advocating the threat he represented to the state. In order to avoid the construction of a Christian memory in the provinces, and in order to put an end to the first anti-Christian campaign, Qianlong unsuccessfully ordered the destruction of the remains of Sanz’s body, and he ordered in 1747 the secret execution in jail of four other Spanish Dominican missionaries in Fujian province and, the next year, the secret execution of two Portuguese Jesuits in the Jiangnan area.66 After that, until the early nineteenth century, all Western missionaries arrested in China were only expelled to Macao while Chinese converts were sent into temporary or life-long banishment.
Nineteenth century officials in Seoul were only partially unaware of these policies implemented in Japan and China, since they just had an inaccurate view of the Chinese and Japanese situations. Their response to the quest for martyrdom, however, showed similar points. What the Chosŏn government resolved to follow was a policy we may call “rationality defense”, with its association of executions and apostasy.67 In order to stay in power, a number of times factions considered it rational to eliminate thousands of people. Their members were able to mount different types of legal arguments to prevent their opponents from gaining influence, thus providing a justification for executions. In terms of legal reasoning, inflicting punishments was also a tool of instruction, providing a moral example to the populace.68 This is why the idea of fear
In practice, the state’s use of fear seems to have met with some success and facilitated the implementation of the law, so that not all converts were decapitated. This corresponds to a key point of the
In the sections above, I have pointed out that the Chosŏn legal system was taken seriously by administrators throughout the dynasty, adhered to scrupulously, and refined carefully when conditions changed. However, the state’s use of fear against converts who refused to apostatize inevitably led to abuse of the legal system, meaning that arbitrary executions and illegal tortures became common features during major anti-Christian campaigns. Such events are reminiscent, to a certain extent, of factional struggles from the fifteenth century onwards. During the Chosŏn period there were several “calamities of the scholars”, executions and exile for “insulters of the sages”, as well as deadly controversies such as the rites controversies. The
To be sure, something similar can be seen in the nineteenth-century anti-Catholic campaigns. Catholicism-related cases too generally followed the general scheme and procedure of judicial cases. Each capital case was tried first at the small county level and then automatically reexamined at successive administrative levels, starting with the great county and continuing upward to the province and the central government. In Seoul the Board of Punishments reviewed the cases and reported them to the State Council for additional review before submitting them for royal decision. The criminals convicted of the gravest crimes were to be executed immediately (
The refusal of converts to apostatize, even after torture had been inflicted, however, complicated the suppression policy and compelled officials to modify and adapt the measures previously enforced. This ambiguity with which the central government had to deal in regard to the Catholic issue is highlighted by the campaign of 1839. On the fifth of the third month, 1839, the Dowager Queen and Yi Chiyŏn 李止淵 (1777–1841), the newly appointed Third State Councilor (
The situation evolved during the summer, soon after the discovery of three French missionaries and other lay leaders who had committed “unforgivable” crimes. The campaign reached its peak between the tenth and the twelfth month, when Cho Inyŏng 趙寅永 (1782–1850) was appointed as Third State Councilor in replacement of Yi Chiyŏn. This resulted in the renewal of executions which were not restricted to legal decapitation in the suburbs of Seoul, especially Sŏsomun, Tanggogae and Saenamt’ŏ, but also took the form of illegal and secret strangulation while in custody. According to some missionary sources, the government was afraid that these too recurrent decapitations may have infuriated the local population in Seoul. But strangulations in jail can hardly have been considered as a simple practical expedient. The combination of legal and illegal executions was rather a return to the “extermination policy” decided early in the third month and a highly ideological expedient to suppress once and for all the roots of Christianity.76 In other words, this would suggest how determined and effective the campaign against Catholicism was.
64SJW 1696:29b–32a [1791 (Chŏngjo 15).11.6 chŏngch’uk]; Hŏnjong sillok 6:16b–19a [1839 (Hŏnjong 5).10.18 kyŏngjin]. See also Rausch, “Wicked Officials and Virtuous Martyrs,” 18–19. 65George Elison, Deus Destroyed: The Image of Christianity in Early Modern Japan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 187. 66Menegon, Ancestors, Virgins and Friars, 134–135, 139. 67I borrow the concept “rationality defense” from the comments of Kenneth Wells on the first version of this paper. 68Shaw, Legal Norms in a Confucian State, 116–118. 69The intercepted Silk Letter of Hwang Sayŏng in 1801 precisely describes that fear led to the apostasy of the first converts, such as Peter Yi Sŭnghun 李承薰. See Rausch, “Wicked Officials and Virtuous Martyrs,” 9–10. 70This precedent was followed by the list of books burnt in 1801. See Sahak Chingŭi, 378–386. 71The Meaning of Punishments does not record all cases of Christians interrogated in 1801. There is, for instance, the case of Chŏng Yagyong 丁若鏞 (1762–1836), who was sent into exile even though he had previously apostatized in 1797 and, once again, in 1799. 72SJW 2365:9b–10a [1839 (Hŏnjong 5).3.5 shinch’uk]. 73SJW 2365:76b [1839 (Hŏnjong 5).3.28 kapcha]. 74But mistreatment during trials also resulted in numerous deaths in custody. See, for instance, the Archives of the Missions étrangères de Paris (hereafter AMEP), vol. 1260, fol. 172–173; Dallet, Histoire de l’Église de Corée, vol. 2, 146; SJW 2369:100a [1839 (Hŏnjong 5).7.28 shinyu]. 75AMEP, vol. 1260, fol. 182; Dallet, Histoire de l’Église de Corée, vol. 2, 131–222. 76Dallet, Histoire de l’Église de Corée, vol. 2, 197–200, 209, 228.
The Chosŏn government was particularly concerned about protection of the fundamentals of its society and civilization. It was indeed one of the central responsibilities of the authorities to protect their subjects from immoral ideas and the books, rituals and incantations that disseminated them. This tendency was reinforced when Catholicism was introduced to Chosŏn in the late eighteenth century. King Chŏngjo first wanted to use the power of persuasion, but it was discovered to be a losing battle. The approach had to be changed: other parts of the orthodox tradition and other legal articles had to be appealed to and extended. The Chosŏn state thus chose for several reasons to stigmatize Catholicism as one of the worst forms of heresy. In doing so, opponents of Christianity relied on the severest laws of the
The death penalty thus became a prominent element in the suppression of Catholicism, particularly during the major campaigns, and served as the basis for a rich hagiographical literature. But the analysis of the anti-Christian legal measures also tends to show that executions were not the unique legal means to deal with Catholicism. Executions served as moral examples, and the state hoped that the fear of punishment would prevent people from becoming Catholic and frighten believers into apostasy. As a result, simple converts were generally sentenced to lighter punishments, such as floggings or banishment. Many of them were also released once they had apostatized, before or after the use of judicial torture.