(Translation) 1522年 朴榮基 土地賣買明文

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Original Script

Classical Chinese English












First Part (Masha) The first year of Jiajing (1522), third month, sixteenth day.[1] The Document to My Lord, Pak Yŏnggi. As to what this documents pertains, the reason [for the transaction] is that I, a slave, became destitute and impoverished. Therefore, I could not save up [enough grain] to return to the government.[2]

Middle Part (by Kim Young) I receive seven and a half bulks of cotton as the price for my maternal inheritance, the two unpolished-rice paddies above and below the Migeum Field that is three-majigi wide.[3]

Discussion Questions

Further Readings


  1. The date according to the Chinese reign system cannot be accurate because it was not up to date in Chosŏn.
  2. Each provincial office distributed grain to poor people every spring, and a new crop in autumn had to be harvested and returned in the same quantity.
  3. One majigi, which originally means the area of land enough to plant one mal of grain, is roughly equivalent to 660 square meters. One mal is around 20 liters.


Student 1 : (Irina)

In Korean texts Chinese characters are used for units of measurement, but often Korean units are different from Chinese. Is there a reliable source for checking Korean units of quantity, length, and so on?

  • Discussion Questions:

Student 2 : (Kim Young)

  • Discussion Questions:

1. This document proves that a slave could own and sell his own property. It seems contradictory at a glance that a slave was a property of the master but at the same time he could own his private property. Does this mean that the master had limited legal rights over his slaves? What does this document tell us about the rights of slaves as economic agents?

2. When they took this contract to the local office for notarization, did the office make a copy of it? Also, did each party make and get a copy of the same contract?

Student 3 : (Masha)

  • Discussion Questions:

- What could be the potential benefits for a private slave to sell land aside from the one he mentioned in the document? What could be his other motivations? What were the benefits to keep the land? Could private slaves purchase land?
- Is it possible that, because of his status, a private slave had no choice but to sell the land to the one of a higher status upon the latter's request?

Student 4 : (Jong Woo Park)

  • Discussion Questions:

Pak Kŭmson had to sell out his land because he could not pay back the grain loan (hwan'gok). Would it be common at that time that commoners or slaves were forced to sell out their means of production to repay their debt while rich yangban families accumulated wealth by taking advantage of this situation? Or would there be any cases that poor yangban had to sell out their properties to repay their debt to rich commoners or slaves?

Student 5 : (Kanghun Ahn)

1) In the second line, Doctor Jung read the term 환상 as 환자. How did it come about? And how can I figure out such "variants" of pronunciation in the Idu system?

2) The person who wrote down this contract was another private slave. And two witnesses of this deal are also slaves. Then, how can we re-appraise the social status of slaves in Choson Korea?

3)In this passage, a private slave is selling his land to his master. Was it a common case in early Choson? Then, were slaves allowed to keep their private property? If so, to what extent?

Student 6 : (Hu Jing)

  • Discussion Questions:

In my impression, the "slaves" should have been in a low status both socially and economically. But how Park Geumson, a private "slave", could own a land? How was the economical statue of the Joseon "slaves"? Were the public "slaves" also allowed to own their land?

Student 7 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions:
  1. As far as I know, the land belong to the master while the private slave acted as a tenant of the land. This transaction suggests that 1) the land was actually owned by the slave or 2) the slave sold the right to farm in the land to a third party. Which was the case?
  2. If it is the former then slave had the economic power to purchase and own land. Was there any law to regulate land-ownership of slave or land-ownership in general?

Student 8 : (Zhijun Ren)

  • Discussion Questions:

Given that in the conventional sense of slavery, the slave himself is a piece of property owned by the master, if a Korean slave could own property and freely transact what he owns, what does this tell us about the nature of Choson slavery from the perspective of property ownership?

Student 9 : Martin

  • Discussion Questions:

1. There are at least two slaves involved in the draft of the document. Are there hints concerning the relation between the selling slave and the buying yangban? (master and slave, distant family members, cases of tax fraud?)

Student 10 : (YoungSuk)

  • Discussion Questions:

This document is one example of numerous cases which show the economic conditions and activities and general conditions of "nobi" class in the Chosŏn period. The nobi Pak is erudite, capable of legal transactions, owning a piece of land, having inheritance, family and relatives, and is an individual managing his own life and future. He obviously has mentality to live the life of a humble but dignified human being. Additionally he may not need status, arrogance, and luxury but instead a virtuous scholar to give his respect to. Notwithstanding the existence of a variety of 'nobi' in the Chosŏn society, Pak represents one aspect of nobi class.

Who is he as self-claimed nobi? What is nobi? How this term, nobi, should be defined? Is there a Western concept or word that matches nobi of the Confucian Chosŏn? Should nobi be defined as "slave" and further the Chosŏn society as "slave society"? In a sense everybody of that society called oneself as the "servant" of some sort, may it be the Heaven, ancestor, master, teacher, or one's senior. Is humbling oneself the same as enslaving oneself? How can we deal with the cultural gaps between Korea and the West, and also between Korea and her neighbors? How about the multitude piles of private law suit documents only seen in Korean archives?

If the term slave was justified for nobi because that they were bought and sold, should we not consider the other numerous cases of both worlds in which parents sold their children as 'servants' or 'governors' or by any other names, as well as Korean yangban who sold and bought status? Is it not too shortsighted view of nobi to jump into the definition 'slave' which therefore defies the complex of nobi class, before making cautious examinations in light of Confucian Chosŏn civilization? It is feared otherwise that the shortcomings of scholarship might remain in the inclination of treating fellow humans as less than humans.

Student 11 : (Jinsook)

  • Discussion Questions:

1. This was written by a slave on behalf of the two parties. It goes against all common sense that slaves write a document which has potential to be legally binding. What does it imply in terms of their status in commercial activities?

2. Assuming English-speaking readership, can we reorganize and translate this document in a typical English sale contract format that comprises of title, nonoperative part, operative part, and signature, etc.

Student 12 : (dohee joeng)

  • Discussion Questions:

how did slaves learn Chinese character

Student 13 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions:

Student 14 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions:

Further Readings