FAMILIES IN KOREA
The family is the most important social institution in Korea and blood ties have traditionally been the cornerstone of society. However, modernization has resulted in a slight breakdown of the extended family structure and replaced it with a Western-style nuclear family. The average number of people in households was slightly over 5 in the 1960s and 1970s, but that number had decreased to 4.1 by the mid-1980s. [Source: Choong Soon Kim, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 5: East / Southeast Asia:” edited by Paul Hockings, 1993 |~|]
In the traditional rural Korean household, grandparents, parents, children, uncles, aunts and cousins often lived in the same house or group of houses. These days the nuclear family has taken precedence. Most married households contain parents and usually two children, and sometimes a grandparent. In a traditional Korean family, the father is dominant, the mother is home-centered and devoted to raising her children, and grandparents, aunts and uncles play an important role in a youngster's life.
It is customary for the head of the family, the oldest living first-born son, to oversee all family matters and for the younger generation to follow the teachings of elders. Confucian filial piety has long been considered a measure of character and elders consider it their duty to teach the young their duties and manners. Prior to the 17th century, sons and daughters often inherited wealth equally. Since then the bulk of inheritance has been passed on to the oldest son. Up until the 1980s, it was common for the eldest son to get five percent more than other sons and unmarried daughters, and for married daughter to get a quarter of what her brothers get. Now wealth is divided more equally.
Chunghee Sarah Soh wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: “Two-generation households constituted 73.7 percent of the 11.1 million households in 1995, one-generation and three-generation households constituted 14.7 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively. Traditionally, three-generation stem families were patrilineally composed. That custom continues, but some couples now live with the parents of the wife. In an extended family, the housekeeping tasks usually are performed by the daughter-in-law unless she works outside the home.” [Source: Chunghee Sarah Soh, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]
Household disposable income: 3.4 percent growth rate per year, 2018
Household debt: 191 percent of disposable household income, 2019
Household financial assets: 43 percent of total financial assets, currency and deposits, 2016
Household net worth: 335 percent of net disposable income, 2019
[Source: OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) data.oecd.org ]
Hoju System and Its Abolishment
Hoju is a male-oriented family register system relatively recently abolished in South Korea but still used in North Hoju. Rooted in Confucianism, it means the "head of the family" or "head of the household". It is similar to the Japanese koseki, the Chinese hukou and the Vietnamese H kh u. In addition to the system there is also the family register, or hojeok, itself which still exists in South Korea. South Korea abolished hoju in 2008 after the Constitutional Court found it incompatible with the constitution in 2005. Certain provisions in the Civil Code concerning the "hoju" system that were retained were abolished in 2010. Opponents of the hoju system argued that was innately patriarchal and represented a "violation of the right to gender equality". In South Korea, it was opposed by both feminists and by representatives of other religious traditions including Buddhism and Christianity.South Korea is also looking into ways to replace the family register, or hojeok. [Source: Wikipedia]
The Korean Herald reported: “The hoju system places the man as the legal head of the family. When a husband dies, he is usually succeeded by his first son, not by his widow. When a daughter gets married, she is removed from her father's hojeok and transferred to her husband's. Children are added to the father's hojeok. Even when a couple divorces and the mother retains custody of children, the children keep the father's surname and remain in his hojeok unless he gives permission to transfer. [Source: Korean Herald, April 6, 2010]
“The main criticism of the hoju system is that it is too male dominant, resulting in gender discrimination and cultivating bias in the roles of gender in everyday life. However, proponents of the hoju system, mainly strong conservatives and followers of Confucius, argue that the system is a symbolic means of maintaining the integrity of traditional family values that were instituted during the Koryo dynasty (918-1392) and flourished under the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). They also point out that the system was improved in 1990 by removing Japanese colonial era elements and making it more balanced between traditional values and the modern ideals of the roles of men and women.
“Regarding the legal arguments, the Constitutional Court ruled in April 2010 by a six-to-three majority that the hoju system is not a symbolic means for maintaining traditional family values by merely stipulating who leads the family and maintaining the family record in a orderly fashion, but rather it is a legal means of shaping a male-dominant family structure and perpetuating the structure from generation to generation. The opinion stated that under the current system the individual is not treated as a person having his or her own dignity, but rather an instrument serving the paramount value. As the Court stated that the current structure cannot be reconciled with the spirit and provisions of Korea’s constitutional law with respect to individual dignity and equality between genders in family matters.
“One of the key issues of the case was how to interpret family traditional values, not just because the system was formed under the accumulated weight of centuries of tradition, but because constitutional law mandates that national traditions must be respected and developed. The majority opinion noted that traditions have historical characteristics that shall be passed on and also developed pursuant to the spirit of the times, especially contemporary ideals, and thus ruled that traditions should not be interpreted in a way contrary to the legal order expressed in the Constitution.
“On the other hand, the dissenting justices observed that family law inevitably has carried traditional traits and conservative ethical aspects and were concerned that overriding assertions of equality may encourage the dissolution of families. In counterpoint, the majority opinion stated that Korean values such as respect for elders, filial piety and devotion to family unity can be maintained without institutionalizing the hoju system.
Family Life in Korea
▪In the old days, men labored in the fields while women worked around the house. The eldest son became the head of the family upon the death or incapacitation of the father. Monogamy was practiced but early marriage and adoption of child brides and boys to carry on the family tree were common. [Source: China.org china.org |]
In the old days single men wore a long braided pony-tail. After marriage the braid was cut into a topknot which was hidden under a traditional horsehair hat that symbolized married life.When a baby was born, straw was festooned across the door of a house. Red peppers in the straw signified a boy and charcoal represented a girl. The practice was used to scare away evil spirits.
In the old days, newly married couples moved in with the parents of the groom and the mother-in-law had the right to treat the bride like a slave.Husbands often called their wife Yobo, which translated to "Hey You," and no matter how badly a wife was treated by her husband or his family it was shameful for her to leave, and besides she had nowhere to go because her own family was not supposed to take her back. There is a saying in Korea that mothers-in-law are like toilets — the farther away they are the better. Even today, some couples live with the husbands parents and the wife and her mother-in-law have a hostile servant-master kind of relationship.
Emphasis on Education in South Korea
The Korean family is the cornerstone of the Korean school program, and because the father is rarely home, the mother bears most of the responsibility for making sure her children do well in school. She drills her children, reads to them and works hard to supplement what they are taught in school.
School children under great pressure from the family and friends to succeed academically. Parents go to great lengths to provide the best education for their children. In the past this was especially true but now is true for sons and daughters. Not only Koreans but most Asians have traditionally revered scholars, valued learning, and have seen education as a way of gaining success and bringing esteem to one's family. One star Vietnamese student in Los Angeles told Smithsonian magazine, my parents "are really proud of me. So I have to keep improving, even if there is no room for improvement. I also feel their pressure. Just study, they say. I can't wash the dishes, mow the lawn or take a summer job. Their entire goal is to see me succeed."
Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Families put a lot of pressure on Korean students to excel, both for the family's reputation and for the students' own future. This pressure drives students to work long hours in the evening at the cram schools and at home doing homework. Few students have outside jobs or much of a social life outside of school, even on the weekends. Nevertheless, during breaks in their daily routine, Korea's high school students manage to squeeze in a little time for fun. Korea's parents and grandparents used to drive their children to do well in school because they could remember when education by itself was desirable as the guarantee of a successful future. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, London, 2000]
Role of Family and Education-Crazy Mothers in South Korea
Anna Fifield wrote in the Washington Post: “There’s even a phrase to describe the Korean version of a helicopter mother: “chima baram” — literally “skirt wind,” to describe the swish as a mother rushes into the classroom to demand a front-row seat for her child or to question grades. [Source: Anna Fifield, Washington Post, December 30, 2014]
Kim Soo-yeon, 19, who was accepted by Princeton, in the spring of 2008. “Sam Dillon wrote in the New York Times: Ms. Kim’s father is a top official in the Korean Olympic Committee. Ms. Kim developed fierce study habits early, watching her mother scold her older sister for receiving any score less than 100 on tests. Even a 98 or a 99 brought a tongue-lashing.“Most Korean mothers want their children to get 100 on all the tests in all the subjects,” Ms. Kim’s mother said. [Source: Sam Dillon, New York Times, April 27, 2008]
Even parents who oppose the brutal education system find it difficult to escape from it. Even the kids themselves complain that they can’t keep up if they don’t study long hours and go to cram school. One mother told the BBC wrote she worried about her daughter studying all the time but said her family has no choice when it comes to having to compete. "Korea has few natural resources, we don't even have much land, the only resource we have is people. So anyone who wants to be successful really has to stand out. As a mother I don't feel comfortable about this kind of situation, but it's the only thing she can do to achieve her dream." [Source: Reeta Chakrabarti, BBC News, December 2, 2013]
Family emphasis on education in South Korea can have other ramifications beside just pressure on students. Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “The once-widespread practice of giving cash bribes to teachers and the proliferation of smartphones in middle school classrooms today are partly explained by parents’ determination to ensure that their children are not mistreated by teachers or do not feel inferior to their classmates. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, August 24, 2011]
Traditional Family in Korea
Filial piety (hyo in Korean; xiao in Chinese), the second of the Five Relationships, defined by Mencius as affection between father and son, traditionally has been the normative foundation of Korean family life. Though its influence has diminished over time, this relationship remains vitally important in contemporary South Korea and underpins many aspects of life in North Korea. Entailing a large number of reciprocal duties and responsibilities between the generations of a single family, it generally has been viewed as an unequal relationship in which the son owed the father unquestioning obedience. Neo-Confucianists thought that the subordination of son to father was the expression, on the human level, of an immutable law of the Cosmos. This law also imposed a rigidity on family life. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993; Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]
The purpose of marriage was to produce a male heir, not to provide mutual companionship and support for husband and wife, even though this sometimes happened. Marriages were arranged. A go-between or matchmaker, usually a middle-aged woman, carried on the negotiations between the two families involved; because of a very strict law on exogamy, these two families sometimes did not know each other and often lived in different communities. The bride and groom met for the first time at the marriage ceremony, a practice that was gradually abandoned in urban areas before World War II.
According to the “International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family”: “In a Confucian patriarchal family, the family as an entity takes precedence over its individual members, and the family group is inseparably identified with the clan. The most important function of family members is to maintain and preserve the household within the traditional Confucian system (Lee 1960). Society became organized around two principles: that males shall dominate females and that elders shall dominate the young (Kim 1993). Growing old in Korea had advantages for both women and men, for age was respected. According to this perspective, women were often self-assertive and highly valued, as the family finance managers, decisionmakers in family matters, and educators of children (Brandt 1971; Osgood 1951). [Source: International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]
“Traditionally, the ideal family type in Korea was a patrilocal stem family. The stem family typically consists of two families in successive generation, a father and mother living in the same household with married oldest son, his wife, and their children. The eldest son generally inherited the family estates. The other sons were expected to live in separate residences after their marriages (Cho and Shin 1996).The central familial relationship was not that between husband and wife, but rather between parent and child, especially between father and son. At the same time, the relationships among family members were part of a hierarchy. These relationships were characterized by benevolence, authority, and obedience. Authority rested with the (male) head of the household, and differences in status existed among the other family members (Park and Cho 1995a).”
Confucianism, Filial Piety and the Korean Family
Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Fathers and grandfathers are the main authority figures in Korean families. This has been true since the official adoption of neo-Confucianism as the state philosophy at the beginning of the Chosun period, around A.D. 1400, and it reflects the historic pattern of patriarchy in East Asian culture. The famous "five relationships" of Confucianism — ruler/subject, father/son, older/younger, husband/wife, friend/friend — make husbands responsible for wives and fathers responsible for children. Children, in return, are required to practice "filial piety." Filial piety (Korean: hyo) begins with the fact that people are eternally indebted to the parents who give them life, nourish them as helpless infants, protect and provide for them in childhood, and show them how to become good human beings. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]
“During childhood people acquire an appreciation for the family heritage that is being handed down to them from previous generations through their parents. They learn that as adults they will be responsible for maintaining and preserving the family heritage and for passing it along to their own future children. They understand that they are part of a network of relatives, with duties and obligations to everyone else in the family. They also realize that they can call upon their family for support throughout their lives. The obligations are mutual and operate as an important source of identity and emotional security. The idea of filial piety is so pervasive in Korean culture that the language itself is structured to reflect the junior-senior relationship of the parties in any given conversation. A younger person will attach "honorific" elements to sentences to show his or her respect to a parent, teacher, or boss. Throughout every day, people are constantly figuring their relative positions and adjusting the way they speak accordingly. Filial piety is thus the model for almost all social relationships in Korea. Koreans accept filial obligations as part of life. The obligations set the patterns for getting along with other people and make it easier to know how to act in daily situations.
“Everyone agrees that parents have a duty to their own ancestors to be wise and benevolent toward their children. Everyone also agrees that it is the children's duty to obey their parents and to repay them with loyalty and sincere effort. In relationships outside the family, people also understand how to behave toward others who are above or below them on the social scale. The idea of filial piety is a model for all these relationships as well.
“The obligations that are so important to Korean families are expressed in many aspects of daily life. They determine the tasks that are "women's work" in the household, beginning with early rising to cook the morning rice for the family and the plethora of domestic chores and duties that occupy mothers and female relatives throughout the day. They determine the disciplines and duties of children going to school and doing their best to excel at schoolwork and to be helpful and obedient around the house later in the day. They also determine men's duties to represent the family honorably outside the household, to strive for success and productivity in their work, and to be good guides and providers.
Traditional Korean Family, Ancestor Worship and Inheritance
Family and lineage continuity traditionally was, and to a great extent remains, a supremely important principle. This reflects Mencius's view that of all possible unfilial acts, to deprive one's parents of posterity is the worst. Historically, the Korean family has been patrilineal. The most important concern for the family group was producing a male heir to carry on the family line and to perform ancestor rituals in the household and at the family gravesite. The eldest son was responsible for rituals in honor of the ancestors, and his wife was responsible for producing the all-important male heir. The first son customarily assumed leadership of the family after his father's death and inherited his father's house and a greater portion of land than his younger brothers. This inheritance enabled him to carry out the ritually prescribed obligations to his ancestors. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993; Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]
The special reverence shown to ancestors was both a social ethic and a religion. Koreas were taught that deceased family members did not pass into oblivion, to a remote afterlife, or, as Buddhists believed, to rebirth as humans or animals in some remote place; rather, they remained, in spiritual form, securely within the family circle. Even in the early 1990s, the presence of the deceased is intensely real and personal for traditionally minded Koreans. Fear of death is blunted by the consoling thought that even in the grave one will be cared for by one's own people. Succeeding generations are obligated to remember the deceased in a yearly cycle of rituals and ceremonies.
Chunghee Sarah Soh wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: “Traditionally, the oldest son received a larger proportion of an inheritance than did younger sons because of his duty to coreside with aging parents and observe ancestor ceremonies. After the 1989 revision of the Family Law, family inheritance must be divided equally among the sons and daughters. The children may inherit real estate, money from savings accounts, furniture, and other family heirlooms. [Source: Chunghee Sarah Soh, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The rule of inheritance has evolved over a long period of time. Prior to the 1600s, sons and daughters inherited equally, but since the 1800s primogeniture has been the rule, although ultimogeniture occurred in some remote mountain villages. Even after liberation in 1945 and the revision of the civil code in 1977 — and despite an effort to upgrade the position of women in inheritance.” The civil code in the 1980s specified “the rule of primogeniture by giving 5 percent more to the eldest son than to other sons and unmarried daughters. A married daughter's share is a quarter of the allotment given to her brothers. [Source: Choong Soon Kim, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 5: East / Southeast Asia:” edited by Paul Hockings, 1993 |~|]
Chesa is a family ceremony that honors the memory and spirits of departed ancestors usually performed on one of Korea's feast days, such as Lunar New Year's Day. Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “No Confucian family ritual is more significant than the annual chesa or ceremony honoring the spirits of the most recently departed ancestors. “Someone may address the spirit in an attitude like prayer, the act that makes the chesa seem like ancestor worship to Westerners, even though it is more properly understood as a ceremony honoring the memory of an ancestor. The real purpose of the chesa ceremony is to remind everyone of the continuity of the family and of the debt that is still owed by younger generations to those who went before.
“Because of the stress on lineage in Korean culture, chesa has attracted much attention as a key element of family life. The "standard" chesa is a family ceremony that remembers one or two, or sometimes three, generations of ancestors in the father's lineage. Families honor their ancestors in chesa ceremonies on Lunar New Year's Day and Ch'usok, the Harvest Festival. They also honor specific ancestors on the anniversaries of their deaths, particularly if the person being honored has died within the past three years. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]
“The ceremony is simple yet elegant and respectful. The men of the family gather in a hall or main room of the house of the eldest living male descendant, into which has been placed the "ancestral tablet" (shinju) of the deceased. The tablet is the object that symbolizes the spirit of the ancestor and, if the family has the means, is usually stored in a special shrine called a sadang. When it is brought into the house for the chesa, the tablet is treated like an extremely valuable and even holy object. Written on it is the name of the ancestor and his titles, if any, and the dates and hours of his birth and death, essential elements for determining his fortune. It is always kept in a polished lacquer case and the case is kept closed except during the actual ceremony, when it is opened enough to expose the tablet to view.
“Before the ceremony the women of the household — who until recent years never participated in the ancestral ceremony itself — will have arranged dishes containing assorted grains, meats, fruits, nuts, wine, and pastries or confections along with bowls of rice and soup with chopsticks and spoons as if for a feast. The eldest male relative is the master of ceremonies and leads the men in offering the food to the ancestral spirit. He does this by spooning cooked rice into the soup bowl set before the ancestral tablet. The ceremony varies by region and household but normally the other men take turns symbolically feeding the spirit and then together they do a deep ritual bow, the ultimate sign of respect. They get down on their knees, put their hands on the floor, and then touch their foreheads to their hands. The bow is done slowly and repeatedly, with the participant rising to his feet between each bow.
“The complete chesa consists of several rounds of this ritual serving and bowing. It may also involve statements addressed to the spirit that resemble prayers to the dead ancestor. It is this feature of the ceremony that has always caused friction between the Confucian tradition and Christianity in Korea, as elsewhere in East Asia, since Christians are supposed to reject spirits and worship only Jehovah, in keeping with the Ten Commandments. However, Christians, like all Koreans, strongly feel the need to memorialize their ancestors in one way or another. They have therefore found ways to turn the traditional ancestral ceremony into a memorial service instead of a feast that connotes communing with the dead.”
Kin Groups in Korea
Chunghee Sarah Soh wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: “Outside the family, the patrilineal kin group (tongjok ) is organized into tangnae and munjung. Consisting of all the descendants of a fourth-generation common patrilineal ancestor, the members of a tangnae participate in death-day and holiday commemoration rites of the kin group. Munjung as a national-level organization is composed of all the patrilineal descendants of the founding ancestor and owns and manages corporate estates for conducting the annual rites to honor ancestors of the fifth generation and above at their grave sites. [Source: Chunghee Sarah Soh, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]
The main purpose of these lineage organizations and ancestor rites is to assert gentry (yangban) status and reaffirm agnatic ties. Since food offerings and ritual equipment are costly, only a small number of kin groups have formal lineage organizations. The Kimhae Kim, the largest lineage, is said to have more than 3.7 million members. "Kim" as the most common Korean surname is composed of about one hundred fifty groups of that name with different places of origin, accounting for approximately one-fifth of the population. The Hahoe Yu of the Hahoe Iltong village in Kyongsang Province are the best known example of kin groups living in the same village.
Approximately 249 surnames were used by South Koreans in the late 1980s. The most common were Kim (about 22 percent of the population), Li or Yi (15 percent of the population), Pak or Park (8.5 percent), Ch'oe (4.8 percent), and Chong (4.2 percent). There are, however, about 150 surname origin groups bearing the name Kim, 95 with the name Yi, 35 with the name Pak, 40 with the name Ch'oe, and 27 with the name Chong. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993; Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]
In many if not most cases, the real function of the tongjok was to define groups of permissible marriage partners. Because of the strict rule of exogamy, people from the same tongjok were not permitted to marry, even though their closest common ancestors in many cases might have lived centuries ago. This prohibition, which originated during the Chosun Dynasty, had legal sanction in present-day South Korea. An amendment to the marriage law proposed by women's and other groups in early 1990 would have changed this situation by prohibiting marriages only between persons who had a common ancestor five generations or less back. However, the amendment, was strongly opposed by conservative Confucian groups, which viewed the exogamy law as a crystallization of traditional Korean values. Among older South Koreans, it is still commonly thought that only uncivilized people marry within their clan group.
Traditional Korean Kinship System
The traditional Korean kinship system, defined in terms of different obligations in relation to the reverence shown to ancestors, was complex. Anthropologists generally view it in terms of four separate levels, beginning with the household at the lowest level and reaching to the clan, which included many geographically dispersed members. The household, chip or jip, consisted of a husband and wife, their children, and, if the husband was the eldest son, his parents. The eldest son's household, the stem family, was known as the "big house" (k'nchip, or k' njip); that of each of the younger sons, a branch family containing husband, wife, and children only, was known as a "little house" (chag nchip, or chag njip). It was through the stem family of the eldest son that the main line of descent was traced from generation to generation. The eldest son was responsible for rituals in honor of the ancestors, and his wife was responsible for producing the all-important male heir. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993; Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]
The second level of kinship was the "mourning group" (changnye), which consisted of all those descendants of a common patrilineal forebear up to four generations back. Its role was to organize ceremonies at gravesites. These included the reading of a formal message by the eldest male descendant of the changnye progenitor and the offering of elaborate and attractive dishes to the ancestral spirits.
Similar rituals were carried out at the third level of kinship organization, the lineage (p'a). A lineage might comprise only a handful of households, but in some cases included hundreds and even thousands of households. The lineage was responsible for the rites to ancestors of the fifth generation or above, performed at a common grave site. During the Chosun Dynasty, the lineage commonly possessed land, grave sites, and buildings. Croplands were allocated to support the ancestral ceremonies. The lineage also performed other functions: the aid of poor or distressed lineage members, the education of children at schools maintained by the p'a, and the supervision of the behavior of younger lineage members. Because most people living in a single village were members of a common lineage during the Chosun Dynasty, the p'a performed many social services at the local level that, in the 1990s, are provided by state-run schools, public security organs, and the state system of clinics and hospitals.
The fourth and most inclusive kinship organization was the clan or, more accurately, the surname origin group (tongsng). Among ordinary South Koreans, this was commonly known as the pongwan, or "clan seat." Members of the same munjung (extended family) shared both a surname and origins in the generally remote past. Unlike members of smaller kinship groups, however, they often lacked strong feelings of solidarity. In many if not most cases, the real function of the surname origin group was to define groups of permissible marriage partners. The strict rule of exogamy prohibited marriage between people from the same tongsng and tongbon (ancestral origin) even if their closest common ancestors had lived centuries earlier. Confucianists regarded this prohibition, which originated during the Chosun Dynasty, as a sign of Korea's civilized status; they believed that only barbarians married within their own clan or kin group.
Important tongjok include the Chonju Yi, who originated in Chonju in North Cholla Province and claimed as their progenitor the founder of the Chosun Dynasty, Yi Song-gye; and the Kimhae Kim, who originated in Kimhae in South Kyongsang Province and claimed as their common ancestor either the founder of the ancient kingdom of Kaya or one of the kings of the Silla Dynasty (A.D. 668-935).
History of Families and Kin Groups in Korea
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The rule of descent in Korea was and still is patrilineal in principle, although a bilateral trend has begun to emerge. The origin of patrilineal rule may be prehistoric, but it first gained strength through Chinese influence beginning in the first half of the first century b.c. The patrilineal rule of descent gave rise to a number of elaborate kin groups, lineages, and clans. Most lineages and clans maintain written genealogical records following the patrilineal rule. There are over 1,000 clans in Korea, each of which includes scores of lineages. Some genealogies published recently tend to list female members who were already married to members of other clans. [Source: Choong Soon Kim, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 5: East / Southeast Asia:” edited by Paul Hockings, 1993]
According to the “International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family”: “Families were very different among the three historical periods of the Silla (57 b.c.e.–c.e. 935), Koryo (c.e. 918–1392), and Chosun (c.e. 1392–1910) Dynasties because of their religious orientation. [Source: International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]
“Buddhism was introduced in Korea during the Early Kingdoms (C.E. 372) and was adopted as the state religion for a millennium. With its emphasis on rejecting worldly values and concerns, including the family, Buddhism delivered a message contrary to that of Confucianism. But Buddhism's influence was limited to the sphere of individual self-enlightenment and discipline, and it appealed principally to the ruling class because the majority of people, who lived at a subsistence level, had few material possessions to renounce. As a result, relatively few people were affected by the self-abnegation and antifamilial monasticism that Buddhism taught (Han 1981; Park and Cho 1995a). The religion's influence declined further during the late Koryo Dynasty (918–1392) when Buddhist groups in Korea became corrupt. They constructed extravagant temples, and followers of the religion observed only superficial rituals (Lee 1973; Hong 1980).
“When the Chosun Dynasty succeeded the Koryo in 1392, it adopted Confucianism as the familial and state philosophy, suppressing Buddhism. The term Confucianism is used to refer to the popular value system of China, Korea, and Japan. This system is derived from the synthesis of the traditional cultural values espoused by Confucius and his followers and subsequently influenced by elements of Taoism, Legalism, Mohism, Buddhism, and, in the case of Korea and Japan, Shamanism (Park and Cho 1995a). Confucianism declares the family the fundamental unit of society, responsible for the economic functions of production and consumption, as well as education and socialization, guided by moral and ethical principles (Lee 1990; Park and Cho 1995a). In its teachings, Confucianism has traditionally deified ancestors, institutionalized ancestor worship, and delegated the duties of ritual master to the head of the male lineage, that is, to the father and husband. Confucianism is a familial religion (Lee 1990). As Confucianism took hold, the ideal of male superiority within the patrilineal family became more prominent in the late Chosun dynasty than it had been during the early Chosun dynasty (1392–1650) (Park and Cho 1995a).
Families in the Chosun Period
According to the “International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family”: “Families were very different among the three historical periods of the Silla (57 b.c.e.–c.e. 935), Koryo (c.e. 918–1392), and Chosun (c.e. 1392–1910) Dynasties because of their religious orientation. When the Chosun Dynasty succeeded the Koryo in 1392, it adopted Confucianism as the familial and state philosophy, suppressing Buddhism. The term Confucianism is used to refer to the popular value system of China, Korea, and Japan. This system is derived from the synthesis of the traditional cultural values espoused by Confucius and his followers and subsequently influenced by elements of Taoism, Legalism, Mohism, Buddhism, and, in the case of Korea and Japan, Shamanism (Park and Cho 1995a). Confucianism declares the family the fundamental unit of society, responsible for the economic functions of production and consumption, as well as education and socialization, guided by moral and ethical principles (Lee 1990; Park and Cho 1995a). In its teachings, Confucianism has traditionally deified ancestors, institutionalized ancestor worship, and delegated the duties of ritual master to the head of the male lineage, that is, to the father and husband. Confucianism is a familial religion (Lee 1990). As Confucianism took hold, the ideal of male superiority within the patrilineal family became more prominent in the late Chosun dynasty than it had been during the early Chosun dynasty (1392–1650) (Park and Cho 1995a). [Source: International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]
“Values and functions of the family. The family is the basic component of social life in Korea, and its perpetuation has been of paramount importance under patriarchal Confucianism. In a Confucian patriarchal family, the family as an entity takes precedence over its individual members, and the family group is inseparably identified with the clan. The most important function of family members is to maintain and preserve the household within the traditional Confucian system (Lee 1960). Society became organized around two principles: that males shall dominate females and that elders shall dominate the young (Kim 1993). Growing old in Korea had advantages for both women and men, for age was respected. According to this perspective, women were often self-assertive and highly valued, as the family finance managers, decisionmakers in family matters, and educators of children (Brandt 1971; Osgood 1951).
“Traditionally, the ideal family type in Korea was a patrilocal stem family. The stem family typically consists of two families in successive generation, a father and mother living in the same household with married oldest son, his wife, and their children. The eldest son generally inherited the family estates. The other sons were expected to live in separate residences after their marriages (Cho and Shin 1996). The central familial relationship was not that between husband and wife, but rather between parent and child, especially between father and son. At the same time, the relationships among family members were part of a hierarchy. These relationships were characterized by benevolence, authority, and obedience. Authority rested with the (male) head of the household, and differences in status existed among the other family members (Park and Cho 1995a).
Women and Marriage in the Chosun Period
In a traditional Korean wedding, the groom rode to the home of his bride, accompanied by his father or grandfather and an entourage for gift bearers, servants, relatives and friends. The men wore two kinds of hats one that looked a black fez with Mickey Mouse ears and another that resembled a tall stovepipe hats. [see weddings]
According to the “International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family”: “During the Silla and Koryo period, among commoners, couples entered freely into marriage with their Chosun partners (Choi 1971). This changed, however, during the Chosun dynasty; strict rules were imposed on the selection of partners, and all marriages were arranged. Naehun (Instruction for Women), compiled by the mother of King Seongjong in 1475, was the most important and influential textbook used to teach proper Confucian roles to girls and married women. The book emphasized the basics of womanly behavior such as chastity, and it prepared girls for their future functions as moral guardians of the domestic sphere and providers for the physical needs of their families. The book also elaborated on a married woman's role, including being a self-sacrificing daughter-in-law, an obedient and dutiful wife, and a wise and caring mother (Kim 1993; Deuchler 1983). [Source: International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]
“Based on Confucian values, families observed strict gender differentiation in married life. Traditional Korean women's responsibility was restricted to the domestic sphere. As an inside master, the woman established her own authority and became a financial manager, symbolized by the right to carry the family keys to the storage areas for rice and other foods (Kim 1992; Lee 1990). Also, husbands and wives strictly observed a hierarchical relationship. A wife would sacrifice herself completely to serve her husband and family in an exemplary manner. In accordance with the rule of three obediences, a woman was required to obey her father, husband, and son, in that order. Under this system of severe discrimination, women of the Chosun Dynasty were confined to the home. Nevertheless, the position of women, at least those with children, was not hopeless. Just as women occupied a subordinate position in relation to men, children were subordinate to their parents and were required to revere their mothers as well as their fathers (Choi 1982a; Park and Cho 1995a).
“But what constituted filial behavior changed from the Silla to the Chosun Dynasty. In Samganghangsil, the most important expression of filial piety during the Silla Dynasty was supporting the material needs of elderly parents. In contrast, in the Koryo and Chosun periods, filial piety was best demonstrated in formal and ritual services, such as funeral services and worship in the Koryo and nursing in the Chosun period (see Table 2). In particular, nothing was as important as worshiping of the spirits of one's ancestors as well as one's parents in the period of Chosun (Chung and Yoo 2000).
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.
Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2021