The 1871 War with Korea, part V

It has been a while since I last posted about this story.  Nobody asked me about it and I figured that meant nobody was interested, and this is probably true.  But I was discussing this with a friend recently and she was interested and wanted a written copy to share with another friend who would be interested so I decided to finish it up.  I find it endlessly fascinating.

Previously: In 1871 we had a little war with Korea when we sent a small fleet of ships to map the area and ask for official recognitio and trade relations.  A collosal misunderstanding ensued because neither side could understand the cultural norms of the other- and I do think America was most to blame.  If  you are going to another contry to ask for favours, it behoves you to know their culture. But then, cultural differences were not deeply understood at the time.


So, under the mistaken impression that they had permission…

The fleet continued to travel, to map the channel and surrounding shores and bodies of water for about a week , when a Korean junk approached them and a small body of men on board indicated they wished to board. Rodgers had them conveyed to his ship:
” They were the bearers of a letter which stated that from our former communication it had been learned that we were Americans, and announced that three envoys had been appointed by the Sovereign to confer with us.

These messengers were persons of inferior grade, and came merely to announce the approach of the superior officials.  They were assured of our desire to preserve peaceful relations, and our purpose not to commit any acts of violence unless we are first attacked.  This assurance was received with great apparent satisfaction.

The next afternoon, May 31, the envoys previously announced made their appearance.  The minister, deeming it proper not to receive them in person until their positions and powers were ascertained to be such that he could do so without derogation to the dignity of his own rank as minister plenipotentiary, deputed Mr. Drew, his acting secretary, to conduct the interview.  Mr. Drew conversed with the envoys in the Peking dialect.  The conversation elicited the fact that the Coreans were officials of the third and fifth rank, and that they brought with them no credential letters, and, so far as could be ascertained, that they were not intrusted with any authority to initiate negotiations.      Under these circumstances, Mr. Low determined not to see the envoys, and they were informed that only officials of the first rank, who were empowered to conduct negotiations, could be received; and to such alone could a full announcement of the objects of our coming be made.
This next sentence is tragi-comedy.  Rodgers neatly summarizes Korean manners and diplomacy at the time:“

Their object appeared to be to learn all they could of our purposes and intentions, without committing themselves by the direct expression of assent or dissent to what was said to them; but their manner of non-objection conveyed the impression of actual compliance with our wishes.”


It’s nearly maddening to read this 150 years later.  Rodgers observed clearly and precisely, but his deductions were entirely wrong.  He had not the wit, imagination, experience, background knowledge or cultural understanding to make sense of his observations.  He sees all but knows nothing. He clinically describes observation without ever realizing he has a key here to mutual understanding and friendship if he only knew it. But he does not.  “Their manner of nonobjection” only conveyed the impression of compliance to somebody with no knowledge of eastern culture, to somebody with an inborn expectation that nonobjection is consent. But in Korea, especially then, ‘nonobjection’ was the very opposition of consent or compliance.  It was as firm a refusal as the envoy could politely give, but neither group understood the other at all.
“They were assured of our non-aggressive disposition, and were distinctly told that only to resent assault should we resort to arms.  They were informed that we wished to take soundings of their waters, and to make surveys of the shores.  To this they made no objection.  We expressed the hope that no molestation would be offered to our parties in landing or passing up the river, and requested that word be sent to their people that they might preserve the friendly relations which were desired.  It was further stated that twenty-four hours would be given to make this announcement to people along the river, before any movement was made.  To all this they made no reply which could indicate dissent.  So, believing that we might continue our surveys while further diplomatic negotiations were pending, an expedition was sent to examine and survey the Salee River, which empties into this bay, and leads into the River Seoul, which passes near the city of Seoul, the capital and residence of the Sovereign.”

My very first impression on reading the above was that the Koreans were, in fact, indicating dissent by not giving express permission.  It was as clear as day to me they were saying no in a manner that would have been perfectly clear to representativesfrom any other eastern country- and it was only eastern countries with which they had any official and welcome dealings.  They expected that by not giving express permission, it was understood that no permission had been given. If the Admiral had been Chinese or Korean, he would have known that. .


Later I found this account by somebody who has lived in Korea and made a study of Korea’s military history:


“The simple, but very serious miscommunication was that the Americans took the Koreans’ silence for compliance, while it was actually disagreement.  To Koreans, unless specific permission is given to do something, it is not allowed.  Specifically, in regards to the Kanghwa Straits, even Korean vessels were not allowed to sail it without written permission by Korean authorities.  Also, “the Korean laws prohibited foreigners to pass a barrier of defense” (Paullin 1910, as quoted in W.M. Kim, 445).  Captain McLane Tilton wrote to his wife, “Indeed the people we have communicated with, altho’ they did not say they would not fire upon us, should we continue up the River, let us infer they wouldn’t, and we were obliged to return their fire to maintain a dignified position” (Tyson Amphibious Landing in Korea, 1871 1966).


And seriously, why on earth would any nation permit a foreign fleet, armed, clearly used at times for war, to come explore its coasts and water bodies, sounding them for depth, all the way up to the seat of its government?


”  Korea certainly didn’t.  Rodgers indignantly reported that:

“ at the forts which defend a short bend in the river, not far from its mouth, the Coreans unmasked batteries, and, without any previous intimation of their objection to our approach, or warning of their intention, opened a heavy fire upon our boats and ships.  treacherous assault was not expected by our people, but they promptly resented it.

They resented it with gunfire, and the rest is TBC.

Series of Posts:

How a cultural misunderstanding started a war, part 1

Korean war of 1871, Part 2

1871, An America War in Korea, part III

1871, American War in Korea, part IV

The 1871 War with Korea, part V

War with Korea in 1871, Part VI

War With Korea, 1871, Part VII

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Books Read in May

  1. Singularity Sunrise 1: Edenet: A Post-Cyberpunk Espionage Thriller
    by Kit Sun Cheah, an author from Singapore, nominated for both Hugo and Dragon awards. This is sci-fi, cyberpunk, martial arts, cyborgs, AI, astral projection, clear head nod to the Lensmen series, space opera within a world of psychic warriors. Not my personal cuppa, but he does it well.
  2. Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga, message fiction, and the message drives the plot, the story,the whole reason the book exists. Sometimes the elements of the plot ddriven by the message feel very forced and contrived. Jude is a muslim immigrant from Syria, a high school girl who misses her brother and father back home and wants to be in the school play in America. Written in the first person in free verse, which is increasingly popular in today’s YA, but I wish it wasn’t.
  3. The Hostage Prince (The Seelie Wars, #1) by Jane Yolen, fantasy series, fun stuff, set in the fairy world where battle is brewing between the Seelies (the world of elves, brownies, trolls, etc, and the Unseelies, with human changlings in between. There are a couple messages- war is hell, class divisions are stupid, court etiquette is silly, stealing human babies is wrong, slavery is bad), but the message doesn’t drive the story, and are not allowed to get in the way of the story.
  4. The Singing Bowls, by Jamila Gavin- written in the sixties or seventies- 16 y.o. Ronnie, the child of a caucasian Brit mum and a dad who is half Indian, goes to India to search for his dad, who disappeared without a word when he was a small boy. I am going to spoil the plot here- he finds his dad, and leaves him again and the r waeader never really gets to meet the man. Dad left to become an guru, an eastern mystic, and it’s cool because that’s his purpose. Dad is joined by a traveling companion Ronnie met on the way, an American who also deserted his family and has been addicted to drugs because he was seeking a shortcut to enlightenment, but he gets off the drugs and becomes a disciple to Ronnie’s dad. I was so disappointed in this book because it was highly recommended to me by somebody whose book recs I won’t be listening to again.
  5. The Nebula Secret (Explorer Academy, #1)
    by Trudi Trueit * Light, fun, if a bit weak since we must check the diversity boxes in order to tell a story. Lead character is half white, half hispanic who has grown up in Hawaii and now has been accepted into a unique science program. Other kids in the program are from around the world and smart as whips. There is a mystery, a pretty serious one, that is solved with riak to life and limb. National Geographic is involved in this series, and the end includes a glossary and some info about which of the science bits in the story are true, which might be in development, and which are pure sciefi. It’s a fun, light way your kids could incorporate some geography and science learning. Good literature it isn’t, but I thought it better written than the Treehouse mystery series.
  6. The Passion of the Holy Martyrs Perpetua and Felicity
    by Tertullian, probably the best thing I read this month besides the New TEstament.
  7. Zet and the Egyptian Amulet Mystery (Zet Series Book 2)
    by Scott Peters, fun for young readers. Lightweight, some of the environment and terrain of ancient Egypt but the characters do not feel historically accurate.
  8. Conrad’s Fate (Chrestomanci, #5)
    by Diana Wynne Jones, fantasy, some of which was hit or miss for me. This was enjoyable.
  9. Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods (Underland Chronicles, #3)
    by Suzanne Collins, I like this series. If you want diversity in your kid fiction, you might like to know that if read closely, it’s clear in the first book that you are supposed to see Gregor as a person of colour, probably black.
  10. The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Vol. 2 (Chrestomanci #3-4)
    by Diana Wynne Jones, fun stuff.
  11. The Lives of Christopher Chant (Chrestomanci, #2)
    by Diana Wynne Jones
  12. Charmed Life (Chrestomanci, #1)
    by Diana Wynne Jones
  13. Race to Witch Mountain: The Junior Novel
    by James Ponti – Meh.
  14. City Spies (City Spies, #1)
    by James Ponti – Okay. Kind of fun. Not riveting. Not living. But light fun.
  15. All the Days Past, All the Days to Come
    by Mildred D. Taylor, for teens and up, IMO. Mildred Taylor always delivers with her Logan family books. This is Cassie, all grown up. Falling in love, crazy, passionate, oddly in love. Miscarrage. Widowhood. Civil Rights Movement.
  16. Lily Quench and the Treasure of Mote Ely (Lily Quench, #3)
    Lily Quench and the Black Mountains (Lily Quench, #2) I have also read the first one. Good for young readers just working on chapter books, or comfortable but still needing some handholding. Fun stuff. Well written. The church and its preacher are an important, and natural, parts of the community. I liked that.
  17. The Serpent and the Stallion
    by Becky Rodgers Boyette, fantasy, sci-fi, mostly fantasy. I found it draggy in parts and I was dissatisfied by the ending, but I’m not the target audience. Horses who communicate telepathically with their riders, who bond with them from youth. This has been used in other stories, usualy with dragons.
  18. The Unteachables
    by Gordon Korman, I don’t know how Korman is as prolific as he is while also producing solid reads squarely in the good department. He doesn’t really ever rise to living books, but he doesn’t seem to phone it in, either, and that’s a gift.
  19. Mystery of the Egyptian Scroll (Zet and the Egyptian Mystery Cases #1)
    by Scott Peters Kids mystery series set in Ancient Egypt. Not so scientific as Encyclopedia Brown but probably around that level.
  20. A Most Beautiful Thing
    by Arshay Cooper, Memoir about the first all black boys rowing team in a high school in America. Also about how the boys bonded, used rowing and the things it taught them to get out of the dead end story fated for black boys from the hood. Motivational. Rough around some edges, some swearing, some boy/girl stuff. I enjoyed this story. There’s a documentary, too, but I haven’t seen it yet.
  21. 12 Brown Boys
    by Omar Tyree- disappointing. 12 morality tales for middle readers. I don’t love morality tales. These are competently written morality tales of the sort that used to be part of Sunday School take home papers.
  22. Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co. #1)ATilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co. #1)
    by Anna James Fun read. Book references were fun. Some people can travel in books under special circumstances. Tilly is one of them. Her best friend, the neighbourhood baker’s son, might also be able to do this, but he is clearly only in this book for the sake of diversity. He says and does very little of importance except to be Tilly’s black friend (or Indian, it wasn’t clear). Maybe this is better in the later books.
  23. The Midnight Folk (Kay Harker, #1)
    by John Masefield, yes, that Masefield, the longlived poet. He wrote two books about Kay Harker. This is one of them. Fantasy, slightly scary, fun and very erudite Victorian adventure tale. I wish I know Latin.
  24. The Adventures of Obi and Titi: The Hidden Temple of Ogiso (Book1)
    by Oyehmi Begho Early chapter book for grade school readers. Set in Ancient Africa. I found it disappointing.
  25. Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna
    by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, I loved this. Bio/memoir
  26. The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou
    by Kristin Hunter Lattany, written and set in the seventies. Hard stuff about police brutality and one of the hardest things is reading about it as it was back then and knowing how some things have not changed or have only gotten worse. I liked the book a lot, but I would read it with my middle grade or older child to discuss. There is an attempted rape, and the female victim blames herself, efuses to tell anybody, and lets him off, even trying to find other ways to build him up and make him feel better about himself.
  27. Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold (Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology, #1)
    by Stephen Fry, I listened via Audio. This is good, funny, rich, you will learn so much and it’s a great retelling. It’s also gory, at times vulgar, Fry really wants you to know how comfortable the Greeks were with homosexuality (he kind of glides over man-boy love), and the description of Chronos castrating is father nearly made me puke. It was lunch time and I was on my way to pick up some french fries and ketchup, which I decided to forego. But I still love it.
  28. Crown of Thunder, also Beasts of Night, by by Tochi Onyebuchi. A fantasy world set in a place much like ancient Nigeria or some other Caliphate territory. You can expiate your sins by having a mage calle a sin-eater. Your sins take on forms like shadow beasts, which the sin-eater will fight until they dissolve into a kind of inky, liquid shadow which the sin-eater swallows. He thing gets the mark of your sin in the form of a tattoo of the best on his body. Sin=eaters are badly paid, low caste, and they die young, when they can no longer bear the weight of the guilt of other people’s sins. I thought it was interesting, and I was intrigud by the world building. Then in the second book we had a secondary storyline of a lesbian couple and I lost interest. They didn’t feel real, just obligatory.
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I just became a Kwame Brown Fan

Most of his videos are loaded with profanity and also truth.  I am not going to defend 100% of everything he says and he sure 100% doesn’t need me to. I am just saying that because I don’t want to talk about the 5% I don’t agree with.



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A reader asked for a general update on the fam.  I have fifteen grandchildren now, from a one year old up to an 11 y.o.  Four of them are boys, each of the four daughters who have babies has one son.

All are doing well, active, crazy, fun, adorable, and practically perfect in every way.

A couple needed speech therapy, and I have to tell you, Covid restrictions are ridiculous for that.  They can either do it thru a screen, which might work for an adult, but it’s not great for a frustrated child.  One of them, more than once, has heard the therapist praise the child for getting a sound right when it wasn’t right, and vice versa, because of the faulty connection. To meet in person the therapist is required to wear a mask, which defeats the purpose.  These are the rules for the clinic, and finally a private therapist who does not have to mask up for person to person lessons was found and more progress (and happier progress) was made in week one than previously.

I’ve been asked by the oldest grand-daughters to teach them hand sewing and crochet, and I have tried, but I am not a very good teacher of the handicrafts.  I hardly know how and why I do what little I can do, so it’s hard for me to explain this to one of them, or to show them what they are doing wrong when they make mistakes.  And when four or five at once lean over my shoulder clamouring for attention and help, then I get twitchy and  anxiety levels rise.  But we are working on it, slowly, slowly, slowly.

A couple are taking music lessons.  Recitals have been virtual only, but we get to attend a real life recital soon.

One of them cries a lot at music lessons and practices because there’s a lot of perfectionism going on and a very sensitive soul who doesn’t want to stop music lessons. I have had a child similarly easily prone to tears, and I’ve often heard other mothers say that if something makes your child cry, you shouldn’t keep going with that something, be it a school book or a chore or a music lesson.  I hate that advice, to be honest.  Tears don’t mean the same level of pain for every person- we all know some just cry more easily than others.  Tears also can be manipulative, they aren’t in either of these cases, but we know they can be and this advice seems perfectly calculated to bait a child into just that kind of manipulative use of tears.  Resilience is a vital skill, and I think it’s better to hug your child and help them work through the hard stuff than to hug them,  throw up your hands, throw in the towell and give up on things that make them cry.  Obviously, I don’t mean go all abusive Victorian schoolmaster or Spartan trainer and be harsh.  Work with your individual child.  I just don’t like the attitude that basically equates tears with an automatic end to any activity that prompts them.

I loved what the music teacher told that one’s mama about the tears.  “It’s okay to be passionate.  My sibling was the same way, and that sibling is now a professional musician performing before major audiences.”  I paraphrase, but the key word there is passionate- passions are high feelings, high feelings bring on high emotions, which includes tears with passionate kids.  Help them work through the tears.

The little guy who was given a horrible diagnosis of probable death by the age of two is now 10, crazy active, sweet as sugar, thoughtful, creative.  His lego creations are astounding.  He recently dug up clay in the backyard, molded it into several cute and artistic figures, and painted them- all on his own. He still has to take special and quite expensive medication, and he has to endure regular blood draws, and they are still hard and painful, but he has become quite the stoic about it, which kind of hurts to see.  His condition is quite rare but it isn’t the one first diagnosed and that means we are not in dread everytime somebody sneezes.

The ‘little boys’ are not little anymore.  They are  teenagers. The older one sounds like a man on the phone.  They live in another state, and its further than I can drive. They are in school and not loving it much.  One does all his work on the computer at home, the other goes to school.  He was working, too, but found the hours too much. They are hoping to come up for a visit soon, but the plans keep getting pushed back.

They are all full of life and vim and vigour, and as my very southern dad used to say for some reason, “Full of vinegar and applesauce.”

The grandkids are all within a drive of a bit over an hour to about 45 minutes, although one family is moving out of state soon.  I’ve cried over that, but since I went to the Philippines for two years and four of my grandchild were born while I was there, I can’t really fuss about it, can I?

In my ideal life, I’d live in the Philippines for six months of the year and here for six months, but I don’t see how that could happen.


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Grain-free porridge

I buy cans of coconut milk by the case, so this stovetop method works for me:

In a saucepan, combine a can of coconut milk, 1/4 cup of water, 3/4 cup of coconut (unsweetened), 6 T of almond flour or meal, 3 T. of flax seed meal,  1 tsp vanilla and a generous pinch of salt.

Whisk together while heating to simmer. Simmer while stirring to the texture and thickness you prefer. Add water as needed to thin.


Good with:





Maple syrup

Brown sugar

Some toppings more low carb or keto friendly than others.


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