Widows' Position and Agency in the Late Chosŏn Dynasty

This paper examines what gender norms were constructed while the patriarchal order based upon Neo-Confucianism gained strength in the latter part of Chosŏn period, and to what extent these norms were actualized in people's lives. Through a microscopic analysis of the Tansŏng Hojŏk—the household registers of Tansŏng County, Kyŏngsang Province from 1678 to 1789—this article examines the changes in the ways in which heads of households were recorded, the changed position of widows in the household registers, and the state of residence and remarriage of widows. While it was common that widows were recorded as heads of the household in the seventeenth century, they tended to be recorded as mothers of their sons in the eighteenth century. This change of widows' status in family registers was the product of state policy to reorganize the society according to chongbŏp chilsŏ. The change of household register system began to expand the idea of strict patrilineal succession to the lower strata of the society. However, it is difficult to conclude that chongbŏp chilsŏ became rooted in people's everyday lives. The cases of the state of residence and remarriage of widows make it evident that they crisscrossed the boundary of the gender norms—as much as their social status and circumstances allowed—and made use of various life strategies.