(Translation) 御製廣蕩

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The discrimination against secondary sons 庶孼 (Sŏŏl) had been a longstanding issue in Chosŏn up to the reign of King Yŏngjo that had been discussed quite vehemently among nearly every generation of officials and literati. With foundation of the Chosŏn-Dynasty in 1392 Neo-Confucian thought, or Zhu Xis re-interpretation of the Confucian canon that was already circulating for some time among Korean literati, became the foundation for the belief system of the elites. A transformation of the social structure oriented on Zhu Xis Family Rituals (朱子家禮) set in, which has to be viewed as long term process, only completely penetrating the Korean society at the end of the 17th century. In order to follow the stipulation of the Family Rituals for the oldest son to take over family succession in the polygamous relations a main wife (妻) had to be distinguished from other, secondary wives (妾). Main wives came exclusively from yangban families while secondary wives had commoner or slave background, which was conferred to their sons. This was instated in law after 1413.

Therefore secondary sons were heavily discriminated against in joining the government and especially in taking over family succession in legal as well as ritual aspects. This often presented family succession, including the transfer of wealth and reputation, with a dilemma if the main marriage bore no male heir or no children at all. Instead of instating secondary sons however, as their status was considered low, sons of cousins or adopted children were preferred to be put into succession.

Many secondary sons of yangban were well educated in their fathers houses, but had only a few ways to gain access to power or to receive recognition for their talents. Moreover as their status was further inherited to their own offspring they had could have no sense building a future. However as they received an education secondary sons were no voiceless group like slaves, but actually formed a visible group often criticizing or being in opposition to state policy. Famous scholars like Yi I also broke with the existing law and set up secondary sons as successors and questioned the laws or norms on discriminating secondary sons won high levels. Yŏngjos decision to abolish these discriminations is probably fueled by his own background as the son of a secondary wife. King Sukchong already before him had tried to lift the restrictions against the Sŏŏl against heavy backlash from the elites that feared harm of their own status.

This document refers to a decree promulgated by Yŏngjo the day before, in which he actually lifted a lot of discriminations put on secondary sources. However the practical effects of this decree need to be further evaluated as the situation of secondary sons surely improved but was not fully alleviated as later documents and regulations on the issue suggest.

Primary Sources: Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty

上曰: "嫡室無子有妾子, 而以他人子爲後, 渠輩當冤之矣。 文武旣通淸, 何獨不爲承嫡乎? 嫡妾俱無子云者, 是欺君也。"

Original Script

Classical Chinese English


幾百年後 能及古道

其於本事 猶爲欠典

昨日以後 其皆帖然

嗟哉此理 爲子爲弟

嗚呼暮年 吾事畢矣

昔一名者 今何餘憾

得隴尋蜀 人心皆然

其令此輩 咸知予意


Royal writing on Spreading Harmony

After a few hundred years, we may be able to attain the ways of antiquity

Regarding this (the present) matter, yet the king's grace bestowed was lacking

Since yesterday, all matters have come to a peaceful state #1

Ah! This principle is designed for sons and brothers

Alas, in my twilight years, my enterprises have just been concluded

Those who in the past were sons of concubines, today what grievances can they harbor?

Gaining the Land of Long, one pursues the Land of Shu#2, human nature is just like this

With this order these people will know my intent

On the 18th Day of the 4th month in the kabo year (1774).

1. On the day before, the 17th Day of the 4th Month in the kabo year (1774) Yeongjo decreed that secondary sons could take over the family succession if the primary descent line was interrupted, See http://sillok.history.go.kr/id/kua_15004017_001

2. A quotation from the Book of Later Han about Emperor Guangwu of Han who captured Gansu (隴) only to covet Sichuan (蜀). It metaphorically refers to the insatiable greed of human beings.

Secondary Sources

Deuchler, Martina: "Heaven Does Not Discriminate": A Study of Secondary Sons in Chosŏn Korea, in: The Journal of Korean Studies, Vol. 6 (1988-1989), pp. 121-163 https://www.jstor.org/stable/41490199?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Kim Haboush, Jahyun: Filial Emotions and Filial Values: Changing Patterns in The Discourse of Filiality in Late Chosŏn Korea, in: Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Jun., 1995), pp. 129-177 http://www.jstor.org/stable/2719422?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Further Readings