Having a glimpse of the lives of women in the past
Reformers following the founding of Joseon put utmost efforts to establish customs that are different from those of Goryeo Dynasty. As such, reformers who put forward the banner of neo-Confucianism believed that customs is the energy that can generate healthy society.
Accordingly, they began to focus on the establishment of the 3 basic principles in human relationship, namely, loyalty, filial piety and chastity, and attempted to alter the lifestyles of the general public including ancestral rites, funeral, inheritance and marriage, etc. based on Confucian beliefs. In the process, various policies for women were also established and implemented.
Joseon Dynasty established and defined the role of women in the directions that are demanded by the nation and society while reforming the society on the foundation of neo-Confucian beliefs.
[Gyeonggukdaejeon] is the book containing the legal codes during the Joseon Dynasty with status corresponding to the constitution nowadays. Stipulation under this book to translate [Samganghaengsil (conducts based on loyalty, filial piety and chastity)] into Hangeul and teach them to women signifies that the women were included as the subjects of governance by the state.
During the Joseon Dynasty in which education meant edification, both the government and private sectors markedly highlighted the lives of women who maintained their chastity in the face of severe adversities by publishing various textbooks or lesson booklets for women. At the same time, it was taught why it is important for women to maintain proper behavior and conducts in their daily lives.
Queen during the Joseon Dynasty was at the highest position of leading all the women living in the royal courts including royal concubines as well as the wives of the aristocratic government officials.
The queen, in the absence of the king and crown prince, took over the duties of the king. She would hand down orders through various symbols similar to those used by the king. Moreover, queen was offered celebratory greetings including expression of gratuity by the retainers, and presided over banquets held for the state guests and retainers.
As such, queen was not a simply ‘personal and trivial’ woman in the royal court, but, rather, has the status as an official figure as the partner to the king.
Regardless of how intelligent the women during the Joseon Dynasty were, there cannot hold government offices. No one would look up to them even if they excelled academically and were highly knowledgeable. Nonetheless, there were women who lived a life of a scholar throughout their lives.
In addition, they asserted that women can become holy person while accommodating neo-Confucianism from the perspectives. Since the latter part of the 18th century, which can be deemed the era of expansion of knowledge, writing and reading by women became more active.
What were the motives that drove them to immerse in academic pursuits? What were the significance of academic pursuits in their lives?
2 specialized literatures written by women in the Joseon society in 1800 and 1809 at the very onset of the 19th century were published. These were [Taegyosingi], a specialized book on prenatal education, and [Gyuhapchongseo], a specialized book in household management.
Although it may appear that publishing specialized literature on prenatal education and household management as a woman appears to be quite natural, these were ‘incidents’ that need to be recorded in the chronology of Korea as achievements accomplished under highly adverse environment for the women if you would look into the situations in the society at the time.
There cannot be history if there were no man. If one has no interest in people while valuing each and every incident in the history, it is not possible to view the true nature of history.
norder to investigate the thought of women and how they lead their lives by playing the central role in their households even though they were outsiders in public venues, it is important to have interest in individual woman.
Until the early 20th century, majority of women were illiterate. Therefore, majority of the materials on women that still remain until now are about women in the middle and upper classes. In addition, information restored from historical records with great deal of difficulties is also filled with the roles and images of women painted over by the viewpoints men have on women.
Therefore, in order to examine the history of women in the Korean society, it is necessary to personally listen to the voices of women. The confession of a woman who did not commit suicide after the death of her husband and the frank thoughts and psychology of gisaeng (Korean geisha) revealed through the format of various literary works are extremely interesting.