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Art&CultureHistory
In the footprints of Kublai Khan, part oneAmerican adventurer journeys to “savage” Jeju Island
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승인 2009.10.28  00:38:06
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▲ Japanese sampans were relatively flat-bottomed, small and unstable boats, often used for freight travel. It was one of these that Chaille-long employed in his desire to reach Jeju Island. Photo courtesy Robert Neff collection

Editor’s note: American Charles Chaille(이름)-Long’s journey to Jeju was born from curiosity and the longing for adventure; in time he would come to believe that the Jeju people were heavily influenced by Mongol culture during the reign of the great Kublai Khan. In part one of this new history series, we learn about the beginning of Chaille-Long’s journey of discovery and his venture into the heart of Jeju culture.


There were many reasons Westerners came to Korea in the 1880s. Some came as diplomats representing and protecting their countries’ interests, while others came as advisors to the Korean government. Merchants sought business opportunities, and missionaries to propagate their faith in a relatively unopened market. Others sought adventure and fame. One such man was Charles Chaillé-Long.

Born on a plantation in Maryland in 1842, he joined the Union army as a private during the American Civil War and fought at Gettysburg; eventually being promoted to captain. After being discharged from military service, he worked for a textile firm in New York until 1870, when he joined the Egyptian army as a lieutenant-colonel. He distinguished himself several times while in the Egyptian service and explored previously unknown portions of the Nile River. He was also recognized by the United States government for his heroic efforts as acting Consul in Alexandria, Egypt, during the unrest in 1882.

Chaillé-Long may have been heroic in many ways but he also had his faults. A peer described him as “a frustrated poet and actor prone to embellish his war record, a dandy with a fondness for silken top haps and capes, [and] struck many of his acquaintances as [a] fraud.” He also desired fame and recognition.

While serving as the Secretary to the American legation in Seoul in 1888, he took two months’ leave to explore Korea. At first he wanted to explore Mt. Baekdu but, time being a factor, instead chose to explore “the next most interesting point in Corea– Quelpaert [Jeju Island].” In a letter to the American Secretary of State, Chaillé-Long wrote: “Hostility to strangers and an absolute isolation from the world without are the distinguishing characteristics of islanders, whose name even now is mentioned with bated breath by the ever superstitious Coreans to whom Quelpaert is almost as unknown as to the world without.”

He was convinced that the only “true Koreans” were those who lived on Jeju Island. In a letter to an unidentified friend in New York and later published in a newspaper, Chaillé-Long explained: “My object in visiting Quelpaert was not only to add this neglected and unexplored region to the commerce of the world, but at the same time to find the origin of the original Corean people, whose history is lost in the myths of Chinese traditions. Although, they can lay no claim to great antiquity, for the student knows (despite Griffin and Lowell) that Corea was not a nation 600 years ago, but simply a collection of communes or tribes blown down and off by the hurricane of invasion from the great plateau in the North, which long before had swept over Asia into Europe. It may interest the ethnologist to know that, more isolated than Corea itself, Quelpaert presents a type I should say, more Tartar or Manchuan, than the mainland.”

Chaillé-Long solicited the Korean government for permission to visit Jeju and only through great persistence was he finally granted a special passport. Cho Byung-sik, the Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, who issued the passport, warned: “You will not be able to go, nor should you persist, the people of the island are savages, and His Majesty greatly fears that harm will come of your visit.”

But Chaillé-Long did go. On Sept. 5, accompanied by two Koreans - Kim, his interpreter, and Chung, his cook, Chaillé-Long left Chemulpo (modern Incheon) for Fusan (modern Busan) aboard the small Japanese steamship Hiogo Maru. In Fusan they tried to find a Korean junk to take them to Jeju but had no success. Even Yu Ki-han, the Korean Superintendent of Trade at Fusan, whom instructed the captain of a small Korean junk to take the American to Jeju, failed. “I will not take the foreigner to Chae-Ju,” declared the captain, “kill me if you will now, for if I took him I should be killed. No man can go to Chae-Ju.”

Unable to secure a Korean junk, Chaillé-Long hired a small Japanese sampan (boat) and its 5-man crew to convey him, his two servants and baggage to Soando- a small island off the southwest coast of Korea, where they hoped to hire a Korean junk. Chaillé-Long was very concerned- it was typhoon season and the sampan, only 20ft long and 6ft wide, was dangerously overloaded.

After christening the sampan Bravo Maru, the expedition left Fusan on the afternoon of Sept. 22. For the next three days the Bravo Maru sailed through the myriads of islands off Korea’s southern coast. Chaillé-Long was entranced by the beauty of the coastline and declared that it “defies the brush as well as the pen of the most inspired artist and writer to portray.”

Finally, on Sept. 25, much to the expedition’s relief, the Bravo Maru arrived at Soando, but, as we will see in the next article, their adventure was only beginning.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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