Charles Dallet's 2-volume History of the Korean Church, published in French in 1874, is preceded by a 192-page 'Introduction,' which is in fact a description/ethnography of Old Korea as the French missionaries observed it in the middle decades of the 19th century.
To learn more about the complete work, its place in Korean historiography, and its current unpublished state, please read this previous post:
The translation of the 'Introduction' has thus far been entirely my own. As far as I know, it is the first translation since one that appeared in the 1950s in a now-defunct American scholarly journal that is nowadays impossible to find. In an effort to stimulate interest in this important work of history, and perhaps to attract the interest of a publisher or some Maecenas who might feel moved to fund a proper scholarly edition of it, I have decided to serialize the 'Introduction' on this blog, one section at a time.
Its full title is 'Introduction to the History, Institutions, Language, Morals, and Customs of Korea.' There are fifteen numbered sections, which I'll refer to as 'parts.' Part 9 appears below. The others will follow in due course. I present the text without footnotes, other than the occasional one that Dallet himself used. For a proper scholarly edition of this work, numerous footnotes would evidently have to be added. Interested, benevolent scholars with a fluent reading knowledge of both Korean and Sino-Korean are invited to lend their talents in exchange for a warm pat on the back, and, potentially, the satisfaction of seeing their names on the cover of a publication.
For visual interest, I will insert such relevant images as I can find on WikiCommons, or my own photos.
Translation note: I have not altered Dallet's romanization of Korean names, which is of course based on French phonetics. Non-English words that are not names are italicized.
IX The Status of Women – Marriage
In Korea, as in other Asiatic countries, morals are frightfully corrupted, and as a natural consequence, the ordinary condition of woman is a shocking state of abjection and inferiority. She is not at all a man's companion; she is nothing more than a slave, an instrument of pleasure or work, to whom the law and morality accord no rights and, so to speak, no moral existence. It is a generally avowed principle, upheld by the tribunals, which no one dreams of disputing, that any woman who is not under the power of husband or family, like an animal without a master, is the property of the first comer.
Women do not have names. Most young girls, it is true, receive some name or other by which older relatives or friends of the family call them during their childhood. As soon as they attain the age of puberty, however, the father and mother only can use this name. The other members of the family, as well as strangers, use periphrases, such as the daughter of so-and-so, the sister of such-and-such. After marriage, a woman no longer has a name. Her own relations most often refer to her by the name of the district where she was married, and her husband's relations by the name of the district where she lived before her marriage. Sometimes she is simply called 'the house of (husband's name)'. When she has sons, good manners demand the use of the designation 'mother of so-and-so.' When a woman is forced to appear before a tribunal, the mandarin assigns a name to her for the duration of the trial to facilitate the proceedings.
In the upper classes of society, etiquette requires that the children of both sexes be separated from the age of eight or ten years. At that age, the boys are placed in the outer quarters where the men live. It is there that they must pass their time, studying, and even eating and sleeping. It is incessantly repeated to them that it is shameful for a man to be in the women's quarters, and they soon refuse to set foot there. The young girls, on the other hand, are shut up in the inner rooms, where their education must take place, or where they have to learn to read and write. They are taught that they should never play with their brothers and that it is unbecoming for them to let themselves be seen by men, so that little by little they themselves seek to hide away.
Furniture from the women's quarters of an upper class Joseon household. Exhibited at the Sookmyung Women's University Museum in Seoul, and photographed during an RASKB excursion, 2016.
These customs are observed for life, and the exaggeration of them has completely destroyed family life. A Korean of quality almost never has a meaningful conversation with his own wife, whom he regards as infinitely beneath himself. Above all, he never consults her on any serious matter, and even though they live under the same roof, it can be said that spouses are always apart, the men conversing and relaxing together in the outer rooms, and the women receiving their relations or friends in the quarters that are reserved for them. The same custom, based on the same prejudice, prevents the common people from staying at home when they want to enjoy a moment of recreation or rest. The men seek out their neighbors, and, on their side, the women gather apart.
Among the nobles, when a young girl arrives at a nubile age, her own relations, except those of the closest degree, are no longer allowed to see or speak to her, and those who are exempt from this law do not address a word to her except with the most ceremonious reserve. After their marriage, noblewomen are unapproachable. Almost always confined to their apartments, they cannot go out or even toss a glance into the street without the permission of their husband; from this, for many Christian ladies, especially in times of persecution, arises the impossibility of participating in the sacraments. This jealous incarceration is carried so far that one sees fathers kill their daughters, husbands their wives, and women themselves because a stranger has touched them with the tip of a finger. Very often, too, this exaggerated reserve or prudery produces ill consequences that a woman is unable to avoid. If some shameless lecher succeeds in secretly penetrating the private apartment of a noblewoman, she dares not utter a sound, nor offer the least resistance that might attract attention because, guilty or not, she will be dishonored forever by the mere fact that a man has entered her room, while if the matter remains secret, her reputation is saved. In any case, if she resists, no one will be grateful to her, not even her husband, because of the shameful scandal that will be occasioned.
Even though women in Korea count for absolutely nothing in society or in their own family, they are nevertheless surrounded by a certain outward respect. Honorific formulae are used in speaking to them, which no one would dare to dispense with, if not perhaps towards one's own slaves. In the street, the right of way is ceded to all respectable women, even the humblest of them. The women's quarters are inviolate. The agents of the law themselves cannot set foot in them, and a nobleman who retreats to that part of the house will never be seized there by force. The only exception is in cases of rebellion because the women are supposed to be complicit with the suspect. In other circumstances, the bailiffs are forced to use a ruse to lure their prey outside to a place where they can legally arrest him. When a buyer comes to visit a house for sale, he gives warning of his arrival so that the doors of the women's quarters can be closed, and he only inspects the outer rooms that are open to all. When a man wants to go up on his roof, he warns his neighbors so that the doors and windows can be closed.
The mandarins' womenfolk have the right to two-horse carriages, and they are not obliged, within the capital precincts, to prevent their grooms from shouting to make way for them, which the highest civil servants, even governors and ministers, must do. Women genuflect to no one, except to their relations, to the required degree and according to fixed rules. Those who have themselves carried in chairs or palanquins are dispensed from getting down when passing before the palace gates. These customs seem to be dictated by the notion of good behavior, but there are others that evidently come from the disdain that men have for the weaker sex, or from licentiousness. In this way, women, whatever class of society they belong to, are almost never called before the tribunals, whatever infraction they may have committed, because it is supposed that they are not responsible for their actions. For the same reason, they have the right to penetrate everywhere in houses, and to circulate in the streets of the capital at all hours, even at night, while from nine o'clock at night, the moment when the clock strikes the hour of withdrawal, until two o'clock in the morning, no man can go out, except in cases of absolute necessity, without risking a stiff fine.
When children attain the age of puberty, their parents betroth them and marry them off without consulting them, without concerning themselves about their inclinations, and often even against their will. On both sides, only one consideration matters: the compatibility of rank and position between the two families. Little importance attaches to the aptitudes of the future spouses, their characters, their physical qualities or defects, or their mutual repugnance. The boy's father opens communication with the girl's father, face to face if they live in the same neighborhood, by letter if they live too far apart. The various conditions of the contract are discussed, everything is settled, a date is chosen that seems the most auspicious according to the calculations of the fortune tellers or astrologists, and the arrangement is fixed.
Longevity symbol folding screen photographed in the Sookmyung Women's University Museum, Seoul, 2016.
One or two days before the day fixed for the wedding, the young lady will invite one of her friends to come and put up her hair; the young man for his part calls one of his relations or acquaintances to render him the same service. Those who are to perform this ceremony are chosen with care; they are called pok-siou, which is to say "hands of good fortune." Here is what this custom is founded upon. In Korea, children of both sexes wear their hair in a single plait that hangs down the back. They always go bareheaded. As long as one is not married, one remains categorized as a child (ahai), and one must keep this hairstyle. One can indulge in all kinds of infantile games and fancies without such behavior drawing drawing any consequence; one is not thought to be capable of thinking or acting seriously, and young men, even if they are twenty-five or thirty years old cannot take their place at any table where important affairs are discussed. Marriage, however, brings civil emancipation at whatever age it is contracted, even twelve or thirteen. From then, one becomes an acknowledged man (euroun), children's games must be given up, the newly-wed wife takes her place among the matrons, and the young husband has the right to speak up in the meetings of men and to wear a hat. After their hair has been put up for the wedding, men wear it knotted on top of their heads, slightly to the front. After the old traditions, they must never cut a single hair of it, but, in the capital especially, young men who want to highlight their personal attractions and do not want to have too large a packet of hair on their pates have the tops of their heads shaved in such a way that the knot of hair is no bigger than an egg. Married women, in contrast, not only keep all their hair, but add false hair to it in order to enlarge as much as possible the two tresses that are considered strictly required for them. Women of all ranks in the capital, and noblewomen in the provinces, make these two tresses into a fat bun which, held in place by a long needle of silver or leather placed crosswise, rests on the back of the neck. Women of the common people in the provinces wind the two tresses around their heads like a turban and knot it them in the front. Young people who refuse to marry, and men who arrive a certain age without having been able to find a wife, secretly and fraudulently put up their hair themselves in order not to be treated eternally as children; this a grave violation of custom, but it is tolerated.
On the appointed day, a somewhat elevated dais, decked out in all possible luxury, is erected in the young girl's home. Relations and friends are invited, and come in crowds. The future spouses, who have never seen each other or ever exchanged a word, are led onto the dais and seated facing each other. They stay there for a few minutes, bow to each other silently, and then each retires to his or her own side. The young wife returns to the women's quarters, and the young husband remains with the men in the outer rooms, where he celebrates with his friends and shows them as good a time as he can. As considerable as the expense may be, he must bear it with good grace; if not, all imaginable means, including trussing him up and hanging him from the ceiling, will be employed to force his generosity.
It is this reciprocal bow in front of witnesses that signifies the consent of the newlyweds and constitutes the legal marriage. From that point on, unless he has repudiated his wife by the proper forms, he can always and everywhere claim her. If he does repudiate her, he is forbidden to take another legal wife during the lifetime of the first, but he is free to take as many concubines as he can feed. As for the concubines, it is sufficient for a man to prove that he has had intimate relations with a girl or a widow for her to become his legal property. No one can take him from her and her relatives themselves do not have the right to reclaim her. If she flees, he can have her brought back to his domicile force.
The following incident, which happened a few years ago in a village where a missionary was staying, will help us understand the various laws and customs related to marriage better. A nobleman had his own daughter and his deceased brother's to marry off, both the same age. He wanted the most excellent husband he could find for both girls, but especially for his daughter, and in his desire to make the best possible choice, he had already refused several very suitable parties. One day, at last, an offer came to him from a rich and powerful family. After having hesitated for some time over whether he would give his daughter or his niece, he decided in favor of his daughter, and without ever having seen his future son-in-law, gave his word and agreed to a wedding date. However, three days before the ceremony, he learned from some shamans that the young man was a simpleton, very ugly and very stupid. What to do? There was no way to back out. He had given his consent, and in such a case the law is inflexible. In his despair, he thought of a way to soften the blow that he could not dodge altogether. On the day of the wedding, he betook himself to the women's quarters early in the morning and gave the strictest orders that his niece and not his daughter was to be coiffed, dressed and conducted onto the platform to bow to her future husband. His daughter, stunned, had no choice but to obey. The two cousins being more or less the same size, the substitution was easily made and the ceremony took place with the due forms properly observed. The newlywed husband, according to custom, spent the afternoon in the men's quarters, and great was the stupefaction of the old nobleman when he saw that far from being the booby that the shamans had made him out to be, he was handsome, well built, very intelligent, very learned and very lovable! Desolate at having lost such a son-in-law, he came up with a way to make up the loss, and secretly ordered that in the evening his daughter and not his niece was to be introduced into the nuptial chamber. He knew very well that the young man would suspect nothing because during the official ceremony on the dais brides are so made up and loaded with ornaments that it is impossible to make out their faces. Everything took place as he desired. During the following two or three days that they spent together as a family, the old nobleman, delighted by the success of his stratagems, congratulated himself on having such a perfect son-in-law. The newly-wed, for his part, showed himself to be more and more charming, and won the heart of his father-in-law to the extent that the latter, in an excess of affection, finally confessed everything that had happened, the rumors that he had heard about him, and the successive substitutions of niece for the daughter, and the daughter for the niece. The young man was speechless at first, but then, recovering his composure, said, "That's all very well, and very adroit on your part. But it is clear that both of the young ladies belong to me, and I claim both of them, your niece who is my sole legal wife because of the official bows that she made to me, and your daughter because you yourself introduced her into the nuptial chamber, where she became my concubine in law and in fact." There was nothing to more to say; the two young women were conducted to the house of the new husband, and the old man remained alone to be ridiculed for his ineptitude and bad faith.
On the wedding day, the young girl must show the greatest reserve in her speech. On the dais, she does not say a word, and in the nuptial chamber that evening, etiquette, especially among people of the high nobility, commands her to be absolutely silent. The young husband peppers her with questions and compliments; she remains as mute and impassive as a statue. She sits in a corner, wearing as many layers as she can. Her husband undresses her if he wishes, but she does not get involved. If she were to utter a word or make a gesture, she would become the butt of mockery and jokes among her companions, for the female slaves of the house lurk near the doors to listen, peering through every chink, and hastening to report what they can see and hear. A young husband one day made a wager with his friends that he could snatch a few words from his wife at their first interview. The latter had been warned. The young man, after vainly trying various sallies, thought to tell her that the astrologers, in casting the horoscope of his future, had affirmed to him that she had been mute since birth, that he could see that such was the case, and that he was resolved never to take a mute wife. The young woman could have maintained her silence with impunity, for once the legal ceremonies were over, that one of the two spouses might be blind or deaf, or impotent, did not matter, the marriage existed. However, stung by his words, she replied bitterly, "Alas! The horoscope cast for my new family is even more true. The fortune teller told me that I would marry the son of a rat, and he was not mistaken." That is the grossest insult for a Korean, and her barb had struck not only the husband, but also the father. The burst of laughter from the female slaves by the door discountenanced the young man even more. He had won his wager, but the mockery of his friends made him pay dearly and for a long time for his untoward bravado.
This state of reserve and restraint between the newlyweds must be prolonged for a long time according to the laws of etiquette. For months at a time, the young woman hardly opens her mouth for even the most necessary things; there are no sustained conversations with her husband, no confidences, never a shadow of cordiality. Towards her father-in-law, the custom is even more severe. Often whole years pass without her daring to lift her eyes to look at him or to speak to him, except to give him some brief response from a distance. With her mother-in-law, she is slightly more at ease, and sometimes permits herself some little conversations; however, if she is well brought up, these conversations are rare and of short duration. Needless to say, the Christians of Korea have set aside most of these ridiculous observances.
In light of all that we have just said, it will be readily understood how rare happy marriages and well-matched unions must be in Korea. The wife has nothing but duties towards her husband, while he has none towards her. Conjugal fidelity is obligatory only for the wife. As insulted or disdained as she may be, she has no right to show any jealousy; even the idea of it does not occur to her. In any case, mutual love between the spouses is a phenomenon that the prevailing morals render almost impossible. Propriety tolerates a husband who respects his wife and treats her fittingly, but one who gave her a mark of true affection, and loved her as his companion for life would be cruelly mocked. For a man with any self-respect, she is not and must not be anything more than a slave of somewhat more elevated rank, destined to give him children, supervise his inner household, and to satisfy his passions and natural appetites when it pleases him. Among the nobility, a young husband must leave his new wife alone for quite a long time after having spent three or four days with her in order to prove that he does not make too much of her. He leaves in her in a state of anticipatory widowhood, and disports himself with his concubines. To act otherwise would be in bad taste. Examples are cited of noblemen who were obliged to absent themselves for several weeks from their friends' homes, where they were incessantly persecuted with gibes for having shed a few tears at the death of their wives.
Among the women, a certain number accept this state of things with exemplary resignation. They show themselves to be devoted, obedient, and solicitous of the reputation and well-being of their husbands. They do not rebel much against the often tyrannical and unreasonable exigencies of their mothers-in-law. Habituated to the yoke from infancy, and to regarding themselves as an inferior race, it does not even occur to them to protest the established customs, or to challenge the prejudices of which they are the victims. Many other women, however, give themselves over to their defects of character, are violent and insubordinate, sow division and ruin in their households, fight with their mothers-in-law, take revenge on their husbands by making their lives unbearable, and incessantly provoke scenes of anger and scandal. Among the common people, in such cases, the husband asserts himself with blows of the fist or staff; in the upper classes, however, custom forbids the beating of one's wife, so the only recourse is divorce, and if it is not easy for him to arrange one and to take on the expense of another marriage, he must resign himself. If his wife, not content with tormenting him, is unfaithful to him or flees the marital home, he take her before a mandarin, who, having had a bastinado administered to the lady, gives her to one of his bailiffs or menservants as a concubine.
Sometimes, nonetheless, even in Korea women of tact and energy are able to make themselves respected, and rise above their legal position, as the following example, an extract from a Korean treatise on morality in action for young people of both sexes, proves. Towards the end of the last century, a nobleman of the capital, quite highly placed, lost his wife, who had given him several children. His already advanced age made a second marriage difficult; nevertheless, after a long search, the matchmakers employed in such cases arranged his union with the daughter of a poor noble of the province of Kieng-sang. On the appointed day, he presented himself at his future father-in-law's house, and the betrothed were led onto the dais to make customary obeisances. Our dignitary, seeing his new wife, was speechless for a moment. She was very small, ugly, hunchbacked, and seemed to be as little possessed of gifts of the mind as of the body. However, there was no way out, and he played his part, resolved never to bring her into his house and to have no relations with her. The two or three days customarily spent in the father-in-law's house having crept by, he departed for the capital, and sent no further news of himself. His abandoned wife, who was a person of great intelligence, resigned herself to her isolation, and remained in the paternal home, informing herself from time to time of what was happening to her husband. She learned, after two or three years, that he had become a minister of the second grade, and that he had married off his two sons very honorably, then, several years later, that he was preparing to celebrate his sixtieth birthday with all the requisite pomp.
Folding screen featuring bees, birds, and flowers -- all typical motifs in the decor of the women's quarters of a house in Joseon times. Seen in the Sookmyung Women's University Museum, 2016.
Promptly, without hesitating, despite the opposition and remonstrances of her parents, she set off for the capital, and had herself carried to the minister's house and announced as his wife. She descended from her palanquin in the vestibule, assumed an assured air, passed a tranquil gaze over the ladies of the family gathered for the party, seated herself in the place of honor, called for a light, and with the greatest calm lit up her pipe in front of the stupefied guests. The news was promptly taken to the men's quarters, but out of decorum no one showed any emotion. Soon the lady called the slaves and said in a severe tone, "What sort of household is this? I am your mistress and no one has come to receive me. Where were you raised? I should have you all severely punished, but I will let you off this time. Where is the apartment of the lady of the house?" She was hastily conducted there, and there, amidst all the ladies, she asked, "Where are my daughters-in-law, how is it that they have not come to greet me? They have no doubt forgotten that on my marriage I became their husbands' mother, and that they owe me all the courtesy due to their own mother." The two daughters-in-law, ashamed, promptly presented themselves, excused themselves as best they could on the grounds that such an unexpected visit had taken them by surprise. She reprimanded them gently, exhorted them to be more punctilious in the performance of their duties, and gave various orders as mistress of the house.
Several hours later, seeing that none of the masters of the house had appeared, she summoned a slave and said to him, "My two sons have certainly not gone out on a day like this; go see if they are in the men's quarters, and have them come here." They arrived, very embarrassed, and stammered some excuses. "How is it," she said to them, "that you learned of my arrival several hours ago, and yet you didn't come to greet me! With such a poor upbringing, and such ignorance of the rules, what will you do in the world? I pardoned the slaves and my daughters-in-law for their lack of courtesy, but as for you men, I cannot leave your error unpunished." So saying, she called a slave, and had him give them a few whacks of the rod on the legs. Then she added, "As for your father the minister, I am his servant, and I have no orders to give him, but you, from now on be sure not to forget the proprieties."
In the end, the minister himself, stunned by all that was happening, was obliged to bestir himself and came to greet his wife. Three days later, the celebrations over, he returned to the palace. The king graciously asked him if everything had gone off as successfully as possible; the minister recounted in detail the story of his marriage, the unforeseen arrival of his wife and the manner in which she had skillfully conducted herself. The king, who was a man of sense, replied to him, "You acted very badly towards your wife. She seems to me to be a woman of wit and extraordinary tact; her behavior is admirable, and I cannot praise her enough. I hope that you will make good the injustice you have done her." The minister promised to do so, and a few days later, the sovereign solemnly conferred on the lady one of the highest honors of the court.
A legally married woman, as long as she is not a widow or a slave, shares her husband's social status completely and forever. Even if she is not noble by birth, she becomes so if she marries a noble, and her children will be noble, too. If two brothers marry an aunt and a niece, and the niece falls to the elder brother, she duly becomes the elder sister, and the aunt will be treated as her younger sister, which in this country makes an enormous difference.
In all classes of society, the principal occupation of women is the raising, or rather the suckling, of their children. A mother rarely dispenses with this duty, even more sacred in this country where there is no notion of using animals' milk to suckle infants, and where, consequently, children who lose their mothers in their early years almost all die. The Koreans do not know how to raise animals and never use cow's or goat's milk. The only exception is for the king, who sometimes takes some. In that case, milk is obtained through a rather complicated operation. The cow is laid down on its flank, in the presence of the entire court, then its teats are pressed with planks or staffs, and the milk, which the milkmen extract by the sweat of their brows, is carefully collected for the use of His Majesty.
When there are no younger children, the mother suckles her offspring until the age of seven or eight years, sometimes even until ten or twelve years. This disgusting custom is apparently so natural in this country that the thing is done publicly, and one sees children almost as big as their mothers being given the breast without anyone being scandalized. For the rest, the education of children requires little effort. It usually consists of indulging all the wishes of the child, especially if it is a son, of accommodating all its whims, and laughing at all its faults and vices, without ever correcting it. Outside of caring for their offspring, noblewomen have nothing to do but direct their servants and maintain order in the inner chambers. Their lives play out almost entirely in a state of complete inaction. The women of the common people, however, have a heavy burden. They must prepare the food, weave the linen, make clothes out of it, wash and bleach them, look after everything in the house, and in the summer, additionally, help their husbands in the fields. The men work at sowing-time and harvest-time, but in the winter they rest. Their only occupation then is to cut the necessary firewood on the mountains. The rest of their time is spent playing, smoking, sleeping or visiting their relatives and friends. The women, like veritable slaves, never rest.
The unjust inequality between the sexes continues even after the marriage is finally dissolved by the death of one of the spouses. The husband wears half-mourning after the death of his wife for only a few months, and can remarry as soon as it is over. The wife, in contrast, especially in the upper classes, must bewail her husband and wear mourning for the rest of her life. It would be infamous for a well brought up widow, no matter how young, to remarry. King Sieng-tsong, who reigned from 1469 to 1494, prohibited the taking of the public examinations for the children of noblewomen's second marriages, and prohibited them from being admitted to the civil service. Still to this day, they are considered to be illegitimate children under the law.
Serious disorders necessarily result from this unrighteous prohibition on second marriages among a people as brutishly passionate as the Koreans. Young noble widows never remarry, but nearly all of them are, publicly or secretly, the concubines of those who wish to provide for them. In any case, those who stubbornly persist in living chastely in solitude are very vulnerable. Sometimes they are drugged without their knowledge by narcotics put into their drinks, and they awake dishonored next to a villain who has abused them in their sleep; sometimes they are abducted by force in the night with the help of hired brigands; when, in one way or another, they have been victims of the violence of one who lusted after them, there is no possible remedy: they belong to him by law and custom. One sometimes sees young widows take their lives as soon as their husband's funeral is over, the better to prove their fidelity, and to put their reputation and their honor beyond any doubt. The nobles spare no means to celebrate these model women, and they almost always petition the king to raise a public monument, a column or a temple, dedicated to conserving the memory of their heroism. Twenty years ago, vague rumors of an imminent civil war having spread throughout the country, some Christian widows asked for permission from their missionary to commit suicide if any armed bands approached their homes, and the priest had a great deal of difficulty to make them understand that, even in such a case, suicide is an abominable crime before God.
For the common people, second marriages are not prohibited by law or custom. In rich families, great store is set, out of pride, by imitating the nobility in this as in other things. Among the poor, however, the necessity for the men of having someone to prepare their food, and the necessity for the women to avoid dying of hunger, render this kind of marriage fairly frequent.
This concludes Part 9. Part 10 will appear sometime in the week of 16-22 April, 2017.