(Translation) 1669年 金命說 分財記

From 장서각위키
Jump to: navigation, search


This document of Property Distribution (Chŏnhumun’gi) is written in 1669 by Kim Myŏngyŏl along with his two brothers, Yong-yŏl and Yu-yŏl. As a form of will this document is unlike most of other documents of will written for property distributions, as it deals with changes of in the manner of family’s ancestral rites and the principle of property distributions.

The purpose of this document is to state the changes regarding ancestral rites which used to be performed by brothers and sisters who took turns. From this point based on the Master Chu’s Family Rituals, this family will have the ancestral rituals to be held only in the head family and therefore the changed rules of inheritance will be applied accordingly.

In fact, during the early and the mid-Chosŏn periods family property was distributed based on equal inheritance regardless of gender. Sons and daughters evenly took turns to give memorial services for their parents. Kim Myŏngyŏl's family followed suit.[1] However, in this document they say that sons-in-law from other families and grandchildren of the maternal side often shift responsibility back and forth to miss their duties out after all. Even if they performed the rituals, they did not prepare the ritual foods properly with sincerity and respect for the ancestors. It was not really worth to perform such insincere rituals and in fact better not have them.

For these reasons, Kim Myŏngyŏl suggests new rules. Thus he suggests that only the sons should take turns to hold memorial services from which absolutely excluding daughters.[2]

As the result, Kim suggests the rule of one-third ratio for property distribution for daughters and sons in accordance with the given responsibilities for ancestral rituals. This document is unlike the previous ones, as it shows gender inequality with regard to inheritance. What this important document shows is the incipiency of the shifting phase of women’s social and economic status, rapidly accelerated by the latter Chosŏn period, as well as the position of women at that time.

Original Script

Classical Chinese English


















(By Kim Young)

A Letter to be Transmitted to Posterity Written on the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month of Giyou Year (1669)

This document concerns the law of upholding sacrificial rites by the leading family of the clan, which is made clear in Zhu Xi's Family Rituals with grave importance. [It is appropriate to] numerously allocate land and slaves for the purpose of sacrificial rites, and let them devote themselves to the rites at the leading family of the clan, and not perform the rites in rotation among various sons' families.

The family rituals of our country have been discarded and collapsed for so long, and to perform the rites in rotation among various sons have become the regular code of conduct for the families of the literati. This I cannot change, but as for the female heirs, after they get married they turn into a person of someone else's family. Because the loyalty of following one's own husband is heavy, therefore the sages of the past, when they made the rites, [as for woman's duty to her native family] they reduced it and eradicated it. [It is because] their attachment and loyalty to their parents are both light. As I watched people's daughters, son-in-laws, and other maternal descendants, many among them postponed, missed, or clumsily performed the rites. Even if they perform the sacrificial rites, if the food is not clean, and the ritual lacks sincerity, then it is worse than not performing the rites at all.

In our family, early on we had the matter decided by our father. As our brothers' habits already formed, they have never performed the sacrificial rites in rotation at son-in-laws' and other maternal descendants' houses. And our family fixed this as a regulation to be respectfully followed.

As for the attachment between parents and children, there is no different between sons and daughters. However, when parents are alive a daughter cannot perform the way of supporting them, and when parents are dead she cannot perform the ritual of sacrificial rites. So how could a daughter get equal division with sons only regarding land and slaves? Making a daughter's share only one-third of a son's share has nothing that goes against common sense of feelings and justice. [If you descendants] read this writing and guess its meaning, you would be able to know that this is the fine resolution. Who could say that just because it is different from the common practices of the literati, it cannot work?

If the descendants of this leading family of the clan fall into poverty and low status, then it is possible to miss the sacrificial rites; but if they do not respect [this admonition] and perform the rites in rotation, then how could I say I have an heir?

Self-scribed by Grand Master for Thorough Instruction and provisional Magistrate of Pyeongsan, Myeongseol 【signature】

Court Gentleman for Instruction, Yongseol 【signature】

Court Gentleman for Thorough Virtue, Yuseol 【signature】

Discussion Questions

  1. How were the sacrificial rites generally practiced in late 17th century Joseon?
  2. What are some other factors than Neo-Confucianism that deteriorated the socio-economic status of women in late Choson?

Further Readings

  • 고문서를 통해서 본 우반동과 우반동 김씨의 역사 | 전경목 | 문예연구사 | 2001.02.25
  • 고문서를 통해서 본 우반동과 우반동 김씨의 역사2 | 전경목 | 글항아리 | 2009.01.19
  • 조선시대 재산상속문서 분재기 | 한국학중앙연구원 | 한국학중앙연구원출판부 | 2014.10.20


  1. The above example is found kangjoosin’s division writ in 1581 and mother-in-law yoon’s Inheritance statement in 1669
  2. According to the law, the ritual could only be performed at the head family. At that time, however, it was a common practice for the children to return the sacrifices of their parents. Because it is difficult to change it immediately, it seems to suggest alternative measures. .-Chon Kyoung-mok, On the Transition of the practice of Sharing Property and Performing a Memorial Service in the Records of Sharing Property, The journal of Korean historical manuscripts 22, 2003, 259p


Student 1 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions:
  1. 10

Are there cases in the Korean tradition of adopting daughters?

What is the practice of adopting children in modern Korea? When a couple can not have children, do they adopt a relative's child as it was in the past?

Student 2 : (Kim Young 김영)

  • Discussion Questions:

Document #9 (Kim Myeongyeol, 1669)

1. What is Kim Myeongyeol's reasoning for prohibiting married daughters' household from organizing sacrificial rites for her ancestors? How compelling is the reasoning? (For example, how compelling is the rhetoric of hair in the food, given that even in the first son's household it was actually the wife who prepared all the food?) How did such family prohibitions against daughters organizing sacrificial rites affect the socio-economic status of women in 17th-century Joseon Korea?

2. In Kim Myeongyeol's document of property distribution, we can find a direct connection between the responsibility of organizing sacrificial rites and the right to claim greater share of inheritance. Does the neo-Confucian classics state that family property should be divided in proportion to each family's contribution to continuing the lineage, or was it a Korean invention during the Joseon dynasty?

3. Kim Myeongyeol emphasizes many times that his way of dividing the property is different from what other elite families commonly did at the time. What is he implying by saying this? By interpreting and following the neo-Confucian regulations and doctrines more strictly, was he trying to make a statement that his family was more cultivated than other elite families?

Document #10 (Kim Beon, 1688)

1. Kim Beon did not bear a son until his first wife died, but instead of taking a concubine he adopted his nephew as the son to carry on the lineage. What could have motivated him to make such a choice? Between taking a concubine and adopting a nephew, which do you think is the better way?

Document #11 (Jeong Misu Myeongmun, 1493)

1. In this document, the concubine Geunbi is described as a demoralized, licentious person. Can we take such words at face-value? If not, why?

Document #12 (Jeong Misu Yuseo, 1509)

1. Jeong Misu atones for his taking of concubine by asserting that she was only to play with, and he never brought her home to live with him and his wife. In the standards of the early Joseon dynasty, was there a significant (legal and moral) difference between affairs happening away from the household and inside household? Do you think there is any fundamental difference between the two?

Student 3 : (Masha)

  • Discussion Questions:

1. Documents 11 and 12. It seems like that concubines, despite their low status, possessed certain power and threat to yangban families in cases of property division and lineage of their children. At the same time, the content of the document did not reflect the concubine's position and reflected negatively on her so it might or might not be true. Is it possible to say what would have happened if documents such as 11 and 12 were not composed? How strong was the voice of concubine, especially vs the representatives of the noble families?
2. Document 9. The idea for unequal property distribution between man and woman was a new predilection that started to appear at that time. The author goes into many details and explanations to support the idea which means it was not a common sense at the time. At the same time it might have been the case that the idea was in the air yet there was no strong justification for it until Zhu Xi's ideas. Are there are any other sources or documents that support the idea of unequal property distribution yet with alternative justification?

Student 4 : (Jong Woo Park)

  • Discussion Questions:

Read Document no. 9. How does a male yangban from a prominent local family rationalize the unequal inheritance? Given his descriptions of other families whose custom is different from his, why do you think that he needs to rationalize his plan for the unequal inheritance?

Read Document no. 10. Why do you think that the institution of adoption is crucial in the maintenance and development of the yangban society of Chosǒn?

Read Document no. 11 and 12. What might be the intention behind this document? Why do you think the author, Mr. Chǒng, wrote these documents? What kind of benefits can his legitimate wife obtain from these documents? How does the legitimate wife think about her husbands concubinage?

Student 5 : (Kanghun Ahn)

10. Seemingly, the custom of adopting children of one's deceased siblings became rather common in late Choson. Then, didn't it bring about any sort of disputes (or lawsuits) between biological children and adopted ones in that period? Are there any sources for that?

11. Are there any documents clearly referring to the social status of concubines (chop) in Choson society? If the dispute between first wives and concubines led to lawsuits, how did Choson's local (or central) governments deal with it?

12. What if the kisaeng's child was his real biological son/daughter? What did the Choson government think of this kind of issue?

9. What are some other factors than Neo-Confucianism that deteriorated the socio-economic status of women in late Choson? Martina Deuchler argued in her book [The Confucian Transformation of Korea] that Zhu Xi's philosophy was the only meaningful variable of shifting Korean society as a whole, and this led to the unified worldview of late Choson. Was it really so?

Student 6 : (Hu Jing)

  • Discussion Questions:

Q-11: As we know, a contract is sort of an agreetment between two individuals. But when Jeong Misu wrote the contract to his wife, we cannot find his wife's name at the end of the document. Was it still valid?

Q-11&12: In the Joseon dynasty, was it a convention to invite witnesses when making the document? What kind of people could be the witness? It seems the witnesses conventionally consist of the person writing the documents himself, close relatives, and local literati with high reputation.

Student 7 : King Kwong Wong

  • Discussion Questions:
  1. In general, what is the relationship between the lineage heir (the one who continue the main lineage) and his brothers? How did the responsible of sacrificial rite matter in this regard? What benefits did it bring to the lineage heir?
  2. For Document No.9, what were the reasons for the Choson society to change the inheritance practice in line with that of the Confucian ideal promoted bu Zhu Xi?
  3. In the case of Document No.10, where the lineage heir was an adoptive son, while the biological son became the successor of the deceased younger brother, would it cause confusion and conflict to future generations as to who or which branch should continue the main lineage? Or in other words, did biological relations matter? How effective was the legal document to ensure the maintenance of lineage?

Student 8 : (Zhijun Ren)

  • Discussion Questions:

1. During Choson period, what type of social institutions enforced the distribution of properties described in these compacts?

2. In the case of dispute, what were the higher authority people could appeal to?

3. how does the use of idu in these private compacts minimize misunderstanding of the texts?

Student 9 : 마틴

  • Discussion Questions:

Document 8:

1. Is the author of this document gaining something from monopolizing the sacrificial rites in the primary line of family succession? Consider economic, social and cultural capital

Document 9:

1. What can you tell about Choson customs and attitudes toward the role of sons, considering the author division of wealth between his adopted son and his own sons (with secondary wife)?

2. The names of the slaves are transcribed with hanja chosen by their masters, however could the slaves choose their own names(sounds) in the first place?

Document 10&11:

1. Slave women/Kisaeng at the court were aware of the wealth enjoyed by their patrons, what strategies of elevation their children’s status can you discern from this document? And what strategies were employed to deny rights?

2. The author employs “hearsay” in a legal document, can this be legally binding?

Student 10 : (YoungSuk)

  • Discussion Questions:

Document 9:

1. Kim Myŏng-yŏl claims that daughters are not as closely related to their parents as sons are, thus less important and valued one third as much as sons for the distribution of inheritance. What is the basis of his statement of historical "turning point" in terms of equality? With such new trends of thinking at that time, what did they (Neo-Confucian scholar-officials) expect to gain?

2. Kim describes that women are untidy [as they could drop hair onto the sacrificial food] therefore undeserved for the task of ancestral worship [any longer]. In fact women cared for cleaning, cooking, and preparing good food for their families and ancestors. Kim's renouncement of women sounds barely reasonable. Is he merely seeking for an excuse to enforce gender inequality?

Document 10.

There is no description about Sujong's characteristics. However, the fact that Kim Bŏn rather hurriedly adopted the boy might tell us something about the boy, and Kim's desire for something other than family lineage. Would Kim have adopted Sujong if he was not a clever and charming boy?

Document 11-12.

1. In the triangular relationship each person plays one's own capacity or justice to straighten up the entangled situation. Did the courtesan do anything wrong? Is she really deceitful? Or isn't she rather deceived? [She is in the position to be abused no matter what] Is Mr. Chŏng cheating himself and abandoning his own lovely daughter? How about Madam Lee [Mrs. Chŏng] who had to force her husband to write the documents as the only solution to protect her own children? Is she the winner? Of what?

2. This document of early Chosŏn period likewise reflects the high standard of women's status of the previous dynasty. How can we evaluate the women's status and its influence on the vicissitudes of Korean history?

Student 11 : (Jinsook)

  • Discussion Questions:

9. According to Kim Myeonryoel women have weaker emotional bonds(情義) with their parents when compared to men. Do you think this is a legitimate claim? Or is it just a groundless one designed to justify the unequal property distribution between men and women?

12. Since genetic testing was not available at that time, the biological father of the daughter in question was hard to identify. What other measures could be taken to confirm paternity? For example, according to Sinjumuwonrok (Newly Annotated Record of Eliminating Unfairness), if two persons drop their blood into a bowl of water at the same time and the blood clots together, they are biologically father and son, and vice versa.

Student 12 : (Do-hee Jeong)

  • Discussion Questions:

All these documents #9-12 are related to women's social status. In the middle of Joseon dynasty there occurred tremendous social changes caused by Hideyoshi's invasion, purges of literati and others. Those changes include the shift of political power and social status of the people. How did the ruling class then influence the shift in women's social status?

Student 13 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions:

Student 14 : (Jaeyoon Song)

  • Discussion Questions:

Document #9: 1.How do you think the principle of primogeniture served the interests of the Kim family? 2. Why do you think the Kims accepted Zhu Xi's family rituals? 3. According to the document, how were the sacrificial rites generally practiced in late 17th century Joseon? 4. How are we to understand the grave social changes that took place in 17th century Korea? Was it merely the Confucianization of Korea? Or do we have another term to identify such changes?

Document # 10: 1. Why did Kim Beon adopt the son of his diseased brother in the first place? 2. Given the ways in which the family properties were distributed among the three children of his (one adopted, the other two biological), what do you think was the most important principle of property division at this time of Joseon? 3. What can we make of the sacrificial rites they practiced? What were social, economic, and religious roles of the sacrificial rites at the time?

Document #11 and #12: 1. Why do you think Jeong Misu created this document? 2. How does this document serve Jeong's legitimate wife?

Further Readings