Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Hidden Korea Hidden Korea Hidden Korea Hidden Korea Hidden Korea Hidden Korea

Hidden Korea
Home
Geography
History
Culture
Religion
Ch'usok
Food
Hidden Korea
Hidden Korea
Culture
Order the Video!

Korean Culture:
Three Mrs. Kimms dressed in traditional hanboks
Three Mrs. Kims dressed in traditional hanboks

Like all agricultural societies, Korean life has always centered on tightly knit families. Large families have been prized and over many centuries families intermarried within the regions of Korea to form large clans. Family names reflect this. A dozen family names predominate, especially Kim, Park, Lee, Kang, and Cho. But Kims from the city of Pusan in the south are not the Kims from Seoul and all the Kims know exactly which group they belong to. Custom forbids people marrying within their own clan, no matter how distant the cousin might be. In order to know who is who, families and clan keep detailed genealogical records that might go back many hundreds of years. Even in today's westernized Korea many people can still recite the glorious history of their clans and take pride in them.

.
Couple on their way to Ch'usok ceremony
Couple on their way to Ch'usok ceremony

Confucian Ideas:

Already male centered, Korean society became highly patriarchal when the Confucian system was imported from China and made the official state belief system in about 1390 A.D. Order and authority are the hallmarks of Confucian thought. Fathers are responsible for their families and must be both obeyed and revered by everyone. Even ancestral fathers are honored. The custom is called filiopiety and even today elements of it remain among Koreans. Traditionally, older people are accorded honor. For instance, at dinner the eldest person sits first and eats and drinks before anyone else can begin. Anyone older must always be addressed with honorifics, even among acquaintances. No one would think of calling an older person by their first name, much less a grandfather or grandmother. Bowing to them is the really traditional way of greeting. Hard work, obedience to family, protection of the family, and proper decorum among family members are very much Korean values, even in the modern world.

.
Mrs. Kim teaches her grand-daughter the art of cooking
Mrs. Kim teaches her grand-daughter the art of cooking

Women and Village Life:

Today, women are in every occupation, from government officials to business persons and professors. In traditional Korean society, women had set roles. They were expected to stay at home, to raise their children, keep house and prepare meals. In farming villages they also worked in the fields. When women married they came to live in their husbands' houses, but always kept their own family names. Once in their husbands' homes, they became part of the extended families. Not only were they to obey the eldest males in the family and their husbands, but to take commands from the eldest woman. As in many traditional societies, the oldest women within the household, a grandmother, for instance, had great power over the rest of the women and children. And, more than one son would think twice about disregarding the wishes of a powerful grandmother.

The idea of cooperation based on a system of authority worked in the old villages. Villagers often banded together to help one another in times of need and for important events. If a member might need help in a harvest or perhaps house repairs all the rest would gather to help. When a village needed a new well or a bridge, for example, everyone pitched in to build them. For important occasions such as funerals, weddings, or major birthday party (usually when a man reached the age of 60), villagers often pooled their moneys to make a grand party. That sense of solidarity with one's neighbors and even one's nation still flows through Korean life today.

For more information on this subject:

http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/STUDENTS/Hwang/home.htm
http://www.joins.com/kwin/index.html