The Life of a Korean

The 4 Ceremonies of a "Yangban" Joseon Dynasty Nobleman

By National Folk Museum of Korea

Occasions of Life Painting on an Eight-panel Folding Screen (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

Birth

During the Joseon Dynasty, people wanted to have sons in order to continue the family name. In the hope of having a son, every household would make a wish to "Samsin," the goddess of birth. After a baby was born, the family would hang a straw rope over their front door to ward off evil spirits. They would then put the umbilical cord in a pot and bury it, or burn the cord to wish for the baby's well-being. The baby's first birthday was called "dol," and was celebrated to bless the baby's life.

Placenta Jar with Lid (Republic of Korea/Goryeo) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This is a pot for storing an umbilical cord. Mothers would keep the cord to wish their baby a long, healthy, and happy life.

Clothing Worn by Newborn Babies Immediately After Birth (Republic of Korea/Since the Liberation of Korea) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

A "baenaetjeogori" is the first set of clothes that a baby wears after they are born. They are therefore mostly made of very soft cotton.

A fortune-telling ritual set for a child's first birthday (2012) by Kim yong-chulNational Folk Museum of Korea

This is how a table is set for a baby's first birthday. In addition to the food on the table, there is a paper scroll, a brush, and a ball of yarn for a baby boy, or a ruler, an ornamental knife in a case, a spool of thread, and a ball of yarn for a baby girl. These are used to predict the fortune and longevity of a baby's life based on the object that they pick up.

Occasions of Life Painting on an Eight-panel Folding Screen (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

Education

Joseon society aimed at setting high moral standards through ethical education based on Confucian teachings about basic human relations. The government distributed illustrated ethical books translated into the vernacular script (Hangeul) and honored those who set outstanding examples as filial sons, loyal subjects and faithful wives. Boys continued their education for character development and preparation for the civil service examinations at local public schools (Hyanggyo) or private Confucian academies (Seowon). They studied Confucian classical texts, history books and astronomical charts.

The Thousand-character Classic Written by Thousand People (Republic of Korea/Japanese colonial rule) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

The "Thousand Character Classic" is a handbook for studying Chinese characters. It is said that 1,000 people each wrote a character for the book, hence its title. Every writer signs his or her name and stamps his or her seal to wish the baby academic success.

Oryunhaengsildo(a painting of the 5 Confucian disciplines and morals of human relationships) (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

The "Oryunhaengsildo" is a book of ethics on the lives of 150 role models for the 5 Confucian morals of human relationships. It was written in Korean and Chinese, and illustrated by Lee Byeongmo, during the reign of King Joengjo of the Joseon Dynasty.

Book-reading Counter (Republic of Korea) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

A "seosan" is used to count how many times a person finishes reading a book by folding down its edges.

Occasions of Life Painting on an Eight-panel Folding Screen (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

Coming of Age Ceremonies

Around the 20th birthday men had a coming-of-age ceremony when they went through elaborate procedures of tying their hair in a topknot putting on a set of formal headgear, including a black hemp het, the Confucian student’s cap and a wide-brimmed black horsehair hat – and receiving the name (Ja) that would be used in their adulthood. Women wore a chignon fixed with long hairpin for the first time for their coming-of-age ceremony held around the age of 15. 

Document of Men’s Coming-of-age Ceremony (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

The "Gwallyeholgi" describes how to conduct the coming-of-age ceremony for men, and the role of the master of ceremonies.

Ceremonial Coat for Boys (Republic of Korea/Since the Liberation of Korea) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This is an item of children’s clothing originally worn at a coming-of-age ceremony, but also on auspicious days. The hem was decorated with gilt letters wishing for the birth of many sons and good luck.

Hairpin (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This dragon-headed hairpin is used to hold up women's hair at their coming-of-age ceremonies and weddings. The dragon represents the authority of the king. Its ears and mouth are painted in red, and its mouth contains wish-fulfilling "cintamani" jewels.

Occasions of Life Painting on an Eight-panel Folding Screen (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

Marriage

In Joseon society, parents used a go-between to arrange marriages. When two families agreed to the marriage of their children, the bridegroom's family sent a letter of betrothal and a box of bridal gifts to the bride's family.The wedding ceremony (Hollye) was usually held at the bride's home. On the wedding day, the groom came to the bride's house carrying a goose carved of wood to offer as a symbol of his everlasting fidelity. The bride and groom then exchanged bows and shared wine from a gourd cup. 

Box with a Copy of a Marriage Letter and Wedding Gifts. (1945/1999) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This is a box containing the "sajudanja" (traditional letter) and gifts that a groom's family gives to that of the bride when they decide to get married. It includes an envelope containing the groom's horoscope, fabric to make a traditional shirt, and 2 golden rings.

Wooden Wild Goose (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This is a pair of wild geese made of wood. The groom presents them when the couple make their wedding vows, as a symbol of love.

Four-person Palanquin (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This is a carriage that a bride takes to the groom's house after the wedding. The sides of the carriage are auspiciously carved with clouds, pine trees, deer, cranes, and mushrooms as symbols of longevity.

Illustrations of Filial Sons on the a Ten-panel Folding Screen (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

Family 

Filial piety among family members (Gajok) was considered a vital moral concept in the Confucian-oriented Joseon society. The faithful observance of ancestral rites and the three-year mourning period epitomized filial duties (Hyodo). The head of the family compiled a genealogical record to define the family pedigree and relations among relatives. His wife managed household affairs and prayed for the peace and well-being of her family by making embroidery decorated with auspicious patterns.

The Hoesan Hwang clan's family record book (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

A "jokbo" is a family record book, and this one contains the genealogy of the Changwon Hwang clan.

Song Si-yeol's "Lesson to his Daughter" (a father's letter to his daughter) (Republic of Korea/Japanese colonial rule) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This is a copy of the letter that the statesman Uam Song Si-yeol (1607–1689) wrote to his daughter before her wedding, asking her to act morally in her domestic life.

Hwang Ha-sin's letter (a father's letter to his son) (1720) by Hwang HwashinNational Folk Museum of Korea

This is Hwang Ha-sin's letter to his son, Hwang Sang-ro. The letter was sent on July 3, 1720, and reveals that Hwang Ha-sin was worried about his son's well-being while performing memorial services during the hottest season. The letter uses the Korean alphabet.

Occasions of Life Painting on an Eight-panel Folding Screen (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

Success in the World

Another popular wish was to pass the state exams and become a government official. Only after passing many levels of examinations would they be given the opportunity to take the civil or military service examinations. Once they had passed all of these, they wore a "eosahwa" hat decorated with flowers given to them by the king, and greeted the exam supervisors in a 3-day celebration with music and family members, called the "samillyuga."

Red Certificate (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This red sheet of paper with a name, grade, and date is a certificate for the civil service examination during the Joseon Dynasty.

Paper Flowers (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

The king presented paper flowers to candidates who passed the state examination. These flowers were attached to the back of official hats so that they would bend forward over the wearer's head.

Genre Painting of Farming and Weaving on an Twelve-panel Folding Screen (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

Artistic Tastes 

Joseon aristocrats placed great value on enjoying a peaceful break in nature away from their everyday routines. Amid the beauty of nature, they enjoyed drinking and listening to music played on the popular zither, Geomungo, or Pansori narrative folk songs. They also composed poems that rhymed after one another or looked at paintings. These were all regarded as important activities for cultivating the elegant artistic tastes (Pungnyu) suited to the educated elite. 

Korean Chess Pieces (1910/1945) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This is a Chinese chessboard and chess pieces. Chinese chess or "Janggi" is a 2-player game in which the opponents move the pieces until one of them wins.

Horn Bow (1392/1897) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

Archery is a traditional sport in Korea. A player shoots an arrow at a target that is positioned at a set distance. Korean noblemen considered archery to be a good exercise for training the mind and body, as well as increasing their virtue.

Geomungo(a 6-stringed Korean zither) (Republic of Korea) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

"Geomungo" is a Korean zither consisting of 6 strings attached to a wooden resonating chamber. It produces a deep, solemn sound when the strings are plucked with a long bamboo plectrum, and was popular among noblemen of the past.

Wooden Block for Printing Motifs on Writing Paper (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

A "sijeonji" is a small piece of paper that noblemen would use for writing poems and letters. This is a plate used to print patterns on "sijeonji" paper.

Donguibogam(Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine) (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by Heo JunNational Folk Museum of Korea

Healing Disease

When people became ill or weak during the Joseon
Dynasty, they went to a "yakbang" (drugstore and clinic) for
treatment. In these traditional clinics, the "Donguibogam"
(Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine), written by the physician Heo Jun,
was used to treat patients with acupuncture or "moxa" (burning dried
leaves), and to prepare medicines. However, people also relied on the
shamanistic supernatural power of exorcism, as well as amulets, to treat their
illnesses when Eastern medicine did not work.

The "Donguibogam" (Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine) is an encyclopedia of Eastern medicine written by the physician Heo Jun in 1610, during the Joseon Dynasty.

Portrait of Shamanic Deity – Deceased Royalty God (Republic of Korea/Since the Liberation of Korea) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This painting of a shamanistic spirit was used in exorcisms to prevent smallpox. People would invite a shaman to conduct exorcisms to prevent or treat infectious diseases, and towns held public exorcisms in the hope of a successful recovery from smallpox.

Paining of an Ancestral Shrine and Tablet (1392/1897) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

Mourning

During the Joseon Dynasty, people mourned the dead for 3 years in accordance with the Confucian ethic of filial duty. The children would prepare a beautiful funeral bier for their late parents and bury miniatures of everyday objects in their tombs for them to use in the afterlife. A "jesa" is a memorial service held for ancestors on the day of their death or on traditional holidays. These memorial services were usually held in shrines, and if these were not available then people would use paintings of shrines instead.

Geomantic Compass (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This compass would have been used by a feng shui expert or geomancer to find suitable places for tombs or houses.

Map of Propitious Site for a Grave (1726) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This 1726 painting of the Park family tomb in Seo-myeon, Mujang-hyeon (Jeollabuk-do Province) includes an image of the landscape that also acts as a compass, with Janggunsan Mountain as North.

A funeral bier for the head family of the Jeonju Choi clan in Sancheong (1856) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This is a bier built in 1856 for the funeral of Choi Pilju of the Jeonju Choi clan in Sancheong (Gyeongsangnam-do Province). Built as a carriage to transport the body to the tomb, this bier resembles a 4-story building and is decorated with carved wooden figures and statues of the 12 zodiac animals.

Cabinet for an Ancestral Tablet (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This is a cabinet placed in shrines to hold the memorial tablet representing the ancestors. The tablet is brought out for memorial services and returned to the shrine afterward.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Korean Heritage
Explore stories that have shaped the lives of the people of Korea
View theme
Google apps