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'Heaven Does Not Discriminate": A Study of Secondary Sons in Choson Korea Martina Deuchler J. he status of secondary sons developed as a consequence of social policies created by the Confucian legislators at the beginning of the Chosön dynasty (1392-1910). The problem surrounding their status plagued social consciousness and stirred controversy throughout the dynasty because of the domestic and political implications. A study of secondary sons throws light on the inner workings of Chosön society and points up a social phenomenon that was uniquely Korean. The first two centuries of the dynasty were a period of experimentation . The Confucian-trained officials found new social values and models in China's classical literature, most notably a clearly structured patrilineal social system that the Chinese Sung Neo-Confucians in the twelfth century had made the paradigm of their social thinking. But while the Chinese Neo-Confucians did not succeed in implanting their concepts of an ideal Confucian society in their own environment , at the beginning of Chosön the Korean Neo-Confucians were in a unique position to reform Koryö society—in their eyes a corrupt society—on the basis of societal models that they thought had guarThe research upon which this work is based was made possible by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation. I am grateful to Edward W. Wagner and James Ii. Palais who read and commented upon an earlier version of this paper. I should like to dedicate this study to Prof. Songjune-ho, formerly of Chönbuk University, Chönju, whose scholarly guidance and friendship I have enjoyed for many years. 121 122Journal ofKorean Studies anteed the longevity of the dynasties of Chinese antiquity. Their endeavors were guided by a literal interpretation of the societal features described in the Chinese classics and elucidated by the commentaries of the Sung Neo-Confucians. From the outset the Koreans were conscious that their reform efforts were unmatched in China, and that Korea's version of a Confucian society critically differed from contemporary Ming society. The mechanism of change thus set in motion at the beginning of the dynasty gradually transformed the loosely organized kin groups of Koryö into the highly structured patrilineal descent groups of Chosön. It was this fundamental patrilineal transformation of Korean society that created the phenomenon of secondary sons in Korea. Because the Korean patrilinee came to have a much more rigid structure than their Chinese counterparts, the problem of secondary sons assumed a far greater importance in Korea than in contemporary China. Moreover, in Korea social innovation combined with some distinct indigenous features—most notably the keen sense of status consciousness and social prestige. The combination of custom and innovation grew into a formidable handicap for secondary sons.1 Until now, the secondary son problem has been neglected in Western literature on Korea. This study is not intended as an exhaustive treatment of the subject—biographical and statistical materials await evaluation. Rather, it explores the secondary sons' position within the Confucian polarity of domestic and public realms (nae'oe) and the measures taken in the course of the Chosön dynasty to ameliorate their standing in state and society.2 THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT One of the most incisive measures taken in the early fifteenth century that contributed to the eventual patrilineal transformation of Korean society was the law of 1413. It restricted a member of the 1 . For a reconstruction of Koryö society and a discussion of Confucian legislation and social developments in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, see Martina Deuchler, "The Confucian Transformation of Korea" (forthcoming). 2.Major studies on secondary sons in Korean are: Yi Sang-baek, "Sööl kümgo simal," Tongbang hakchi 1 (1954): 159-329 and "Sööl ch'adae üi yönwön e taehan il munje," Han'guk munhwasa yön'gu non go, pp. 171-204. While the first article is a documentary treatment covering the whole Chosön period, the second concentrates on Yi T'aejo's secondary sons. Also see Yi T'ae-jin, "Sööl ch'adae ko. Sönch'o ch'öpcha hanp 'um söyong-je üi söngnip kwajöng ül chungsim uro," Yöksa hakpo...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1665
Print ISSN
0731-1613
Pages
pp. 121-163
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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