In 1653 a Dutch trading ship bound for Nagasaki in Japan encountered a fierce typhoon south of the Korean peninsula and ran aground on the tiny island of Gapado. Just half of its crew of 64 survived the shipwreck, but despite their obvious status as victims rather than aggressors, they had entered the “Hermit Kingdom” and found themselves treated with scant respect – Joseon-era Korea was a highly isolationist land, whose policy (one rarely triggered) was to bar any foreigners who washed ashore from returning to their homeland. Forced into servitude, they made repeated attempts to escape, but it was not until 1666 that a group of eight managed to flee to Japan from Yeosu, a port city in what is now Jeonnam province. Unfortunately, they found Japan little more welcoming, but one year later a second escape took them back to the Netherlands. The accounts of survivor Hendrick Hamel became a bestseller in his homeland, and gave the West its first real portrayal of the Korean peninsula; English-language copies of Hamel’s Journal: A Description of the Kingdom of Korea 1653–1666 have been published, but are hard to track down.

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