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Wrongful Deaths

Selected Inquest Records from Nineteenth-Century Korea

compiled and translated by Sun Joo Kim and Jungwon Kim

Publication Year: 2004

Published by: University of Washington Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Our venture with inquest records from the late Chosŏn period began about ten years ago in a graduate seminar where we read the cases in the Inquest Records of Chunghwa County (Chunghwa-bu ogan), a rare book in the collection of the Harvard-Yenching Library. Jungwon...

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Translators’ Notes

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pp. xi-1

A full inquest report is a long document. To give the reader the gist of a full report, case 1 is translated in full without omitting a word. As readers will quickly learn, there are many repetitions, particularly in the inquest official’s interrogation. This, however, almost...

Map of Nineteenth-Century Korea

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p. 2

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Introduction - Chosŏn Korea in Its Last Century

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pp. 3-22

Nineteenth-century Chosŏn (1392– 1910) is an area of contention in Korean historiography, as Qing China and Tokugawa Japan are in Chinese and Japanese historical studies. With the sudden demise of King Chŏngjo (r. 1776– 1800), historians agree that nineteenth-century...

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Case 1. An Adulterous Widower Meets a Violent Death - Yang Hang-nyŏn (P’yŏngyang, P’yŏngan Province, 1866)

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pp. 23-46

Adultery, the root cause of murder in this case, is one of the most common sources of violence and misery throughout human history and has been regarded as a crime in many societies in which marriage and patriarchy are the social and moral foundation. During...

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Case 2. A Family Activist Confronts a Local Magnate - Ms. Pak (Yongin, Kyŏnggi Province, Late Eighteenth Century)

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pp. 47-54

Gravesite litigation (sansong) involving illegal burials (t’ujang) was an increasingly common social problem in the late Chosŏn period, with conflicts over gravesites often flaring up as both verbal and physical confrontations that sometimes resulted in death.1 Rural conflicts over gravesites were grounded in at least three aspects— geomantic...

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Case 3. A Defiant Slave Challenges His Master with Death - Yi Pong-dol (Anŭi, Kyŏngsang Province, 1842)

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pp. 55-61

The death of Yi Pong-dol, the son of a slave and thus an uneducable “fool” in the Chosŏn elite’s view, was “in vain.” His disrespectful speech and behavior upset a village yangban. The offended yangban invaded Pong-dol’s home after failing to catch him and broke jars...

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Case 4. Two Widows Fight - Madam Chang and Ms. Ŭn (Yech’ŏn, Kyŏngsang Province, 1842)

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pp. 62-71

In Chosŏn society, widows, along with filial children and royal subjects, were the group most frequently honored by the Confucian state, as long as they remained faithful to their deceased husbands and did not remarry. A number of biographies of chaste widows, mostly written...

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Case 5. A Heartless Wet Nurse Abuses an Infant - Mun Chong-ji (Chunghwa, P’yŏngan Province, 1866)

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pp. 72-98

In the “Song of Sim Ch’ŏng” (Sim Ch’ŏng ka), the impoverished Blindman Sim begs breast milk for his infant daughter whose mother has died because of complications during birth; the baby survives only thanks to the sympathetic village mothers who let her suckle their breasts. It is apparent...

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Case 6. A Widower Seeks Private Settlement - Ms. Chŏng (Yŏngch’ŏn, Kyŏngsang Province, 1889)

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pp. 99-107

During the Chosŏn dynasty, a death incident was supposed to be immediately reported to the local authorities, so that they could carry out a thorough investigation to meet a timely postmortem procedure.1 However, it is not uncommon to find a death case that was not..

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Case 7. Adultery Leads to Murder - Ms. Paek (Anak, Hwanghae Province, 1897)

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pp. 108-128

Tanners (p’ijang or katpach’i) belonged to the social stratum known as ch’ŏnmin (the lowborn), the lowest group in the Chosŏn hierarchy. Although the majority of tanners were engaged in crafting leather goods, particularly shoes, which were worn mostly by the...

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Case 8. An Illegal Burial Begets a Son but Kills a Relative - Kim Kap-san (Hoeyang, Kangwŏn Province, 1899)

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pp. 129-204

As briefly examined in case 2, gravesite litigation had become an increasingly widespread social problem in late Chosŏn Korea and often developed into physical confrontations between the families involved, sometimes resulting in homicide. The death of Kim Kapsan...


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pp. 205-226


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pp. 227-238


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pp. 239-246


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pp. 247-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780295804965
E-ISBN-10: 0295804963
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295993133
Print-ISBN-10: 0295993138

Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 870994479
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Wrongful Deaths

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Law -- Social aspects -- Korea -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Wrongful death -- Korea -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Korea -- Social conditions -- 1392-1910 -- Sources.
  • Korea -- History -- Chosŏn dynasty, 1392-1910 -- Sources.
  • Social classes -- Korea -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Courts -- Korea -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Court records -- Korea.
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