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HOME > Hamel Pavilion > Hamel's view of Joseon > Society of Joseon

* Housing

Hamel had a great interest in the society of Joseon at large. The followings are about the residential life of Joseon people.

°‹ While the nobility(Yangban) reside in a very elegant house, common people live in squalid residences. Since no one is allowed to make a tile roof of their houses without securing the permission of local governor, most roofs are covered with the bark of a tree, reeds, or straw.

°‹ Houses are separated from neighbors by common wall or fence.

°‹ Wooden columns are the base of houses. The lower part of the wall is heaped up with stones and the upper part is finished by plastering the mixture of clay and sand with small wood crossed on the top. The inside wall are wallpapered with white.

°‹ Since the floor of a room has a kind of a heater (ondol) and is heated in its fireplace(agungi) in winter, the room is very warm throughout the winter. It is a kind of a heating room rather than a room. The floor of a room is pasted with oiling paper.

°‹ Most houses are single story. A room has a garret to keep miscellaneous things.

°‹ The nobility(Yangban) usually receive guests in front of a main building and reside in an annex. They enjoy their leisure time or spend daily routine in the annex. There are big gardens, a pond, and flower beds with out-of-the-way plants are in front of the annex.

°‹ Since noble women folks are not allowed to be seen, they usually stay in their house.

Some of Hamel's record exaggerated the truth. For example, although there were some differences between common women folks and noble women folks both were active inside and outside their houses.

* Marriage practice

Regarding the marriage custom and man-woman relations of Joseon, Hamel described as follows.

°‹ Cousinship marriage is not allowed. The person concerned never propose. When the parties in a marriage reaches 8, 10, 12 or over age, their parents or relatives arrange marriage.

°‹ In general, unless a woman's parents have no son, women usually live in the men's house. Women have their married life lived in their husbands' house until they become independent.

°‹ When a bridegroom goes to bride's house to bring his bride, he rides a horse with relatives or friends. But at first, they should go around the village. A bride also takes along with her relatives to bridegroom's house. Wedding is held immediately without any other ceremony.

°‹ A man can marry other women after his first wife has already children.

°‹ But a woman cannot marry other men other than his first husband, unless the judge permits it.

°‹ If a man has ability to manage his family, he can have a mistress without any restriction. He can go to Gisaeng's house everytime he wants because it is not considered a crime or sin. The nobility (Yangban) or high officers have two or three mistresses in one house and one of them commonly takes the responsibility of household affairs.

°‹ Their residences are separate and the man goes to any of the residences whenever he wants.

°‹Joseon men treat their wives as a slave and always dismiss them with a minor error.

Here we can find some exaggeration. In fact, at that time, going to Giseang's house even if he is a noble man is a cause to lost one's honor. Although not all of Gisaeng were prostitute.


* Educational system

Hamel mentioned about the education, facilities, and the state examination of Joseon. He observed the people's high enthusiasm for education.
However, he indicated that high enthusiasm became a social problem because of the desire to rise in social status.

°‹ The nobility(Yangban) and the rich provide their children with quality education. They are mainly learn reading and writing from a private teacher Hunjang). This country is greatly concerned about education. At the same time, cultural studies and etiquette are well accounted for.

°‹ Children are earnest in reading night and day. It is very wonderful to see children understand and interpret books they learn.

°‹ Every village has a royal palace to remember and hold memorial services for men of merit or sages(Hyanggyo). It is used by the nobility (Yangban) to improve their learning and the place is maintained by them.

°‹ Two or three towns hold a preliminary state examination(Gwageo) every year. Examinees take either military or the civil service examination.

°‹ The Court holds the final state examination for examinees selected from all over the country once a year. Examiners are selected by the king to perform the examination. Those who pass the examination are awarded a certificate of success from the king.

°‹ Such a kind of promotion system leads some young noble men to beggary because they should give gift or banquet despite their small family property or wealth. Some parents end their days without attaining their aims to have their children pass an examination until they run out of their fortune. To pass an examination is itself a privilege.

* Funeral practice

Hamel described funeral practice as follows.

°‹ If parents die, government employees should resign from their office regardless of high or low position.

°‹ Men should not sleep with a woman during the period of mourning. He wears a traditional long outer coat made of hemp cloth. He does not wash until the end of mourning.

°‹ His waist is rolled with a twisted belt made of hemp cloth like a rope with the thickness of young man's forearm. He wears a bamboo hat, grips a thick stick or a bamboo stick which indicates who dies. The bamboo stick stands for father and a thick stick, for mother.

°‹ People bury the dead in the place indicated by a fortuneteller as they carefully listen to his/her advice. A grave is usually placed on the site that is not leaky or halfway up the mountain. A double coffin with the thickness of two thumbs is used.

°‹ A coffin is filled with new clothes and other things or property of the dead.

°‹ People stay pleasant on the evening before a bier goes out. Bier bearers sing and dance, but the family and relatives of the deceased cry and bewail, following a coffin.

°‹ People hold a memorial service for 3 days after the funeral and have a happy day.

°‹ A grave is covered up with earth at a height of four or six footprints and is well-kept wonderfully and perfectly. Tombstones and stone images stand in front of high officers' grave. The name of the deceased, family history, or rank during their lifetime are carved on the tombstone.

°‹ Joseon people add one month every three years, so this year has 13 months. On the 15th day of August by lunar calendar(Chuseok), people cut the weeds around a grave and observe a worship service for family ancestors with new rice. It is one of the biggest national holiday with New Year(Seolnal).

°‹ In Joseon there are many fortunetellers or exorcists, but no one is harmful. They only tell how comfortable the deceased are, which good place to bury the dead and give advice to solve some problems sought by people.

°‹ After burying parents in a propitious site for a grave and finishing a number of funeral-related steps, the eldest son possesses his parents' house and other attached things. The remaining brothers divide the land or the remaining properties among themselves. I have never heard of a daughter possessing some property left by her parents. Women have no right to own things other than garments and things brought when she gets married.

°‹ When parents age 80, they should hand over their property to their son because the elderly becomes weak in managing their properties. But they continue to win the respect and regard of all without change.

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