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 ATA > Korean Tradition > The Constancy of Spatial Structure > Socio-Economic Structure

Socio-Economic Structure of the Settlement

A family name usually has several branches according to the native place or the area where the first generation ancestors had settled. Here the term 'clan' refers to the branch of a family name with the same native place. The clan has played an important role in traditional Korean society. One of its important social attributes is to secure and grow its power by the ancestors' social status. It has an organization which worships its ancestors and works for the maintenance of the ancestors' tombs and the welfare and intimacy of its members8.

It is usually called 'the clan village' when a certain village area is predominantly inhabited by one or a few clans. The history of the clan village is generally traced back to the early Choson dynasty (1392~1897 AD)9. In the middle of Choson dynasty, the clan village came to be dominant in the rural area. And more than half of Korean villages were clan villages in the 1930s10. They didn't lose their power and influence until the era when the Korean society pursued so called the Modernization to weaken the bond of the clan. Some clan villages, however, still have a strong character, and they are the targets to be studied in this paper.

The general requirements for the clan village are reviewed here. First it should have the buildings representing the clan, like Jongja, Ancestral Shrine, Ancestor Worship House, Memorial Monument, Family Head's house, and Village School11. Jongja is the pavilion which has a roof, an elevated wooden floor, and sometimes a walled room. And it usually has its own name as '-jong'. It is usually located at the settlement entrance. The Ancestor worship house is for preparing worship services for clan ancestors, for accommodating the clan members who come from a distance for the worship service, and for dining together after the service. It has at least 2 rooms and 1 Maru or wooden floor hall. The Family Head's house is often built by the clan organization though its ownership belongs to the Family Head. However, every clan village does not have to equip all of these symbolic buildings, since a few neighboring villages can use them together if the villages belong to a clan.

Second, the clan members should gather to live together at an area. Based on such homogeneous residents, the clan village could work as a farming labor unit. It has an important meaning in the way of the Korean farming which needs the cooperative labor with in a restricted period of time. And third, the structure and the function of the clan should have dominant influence on most aspects of the village life.

Generally, individuals are connected by the complicated organizations of social relations. And since social relations are closely related to the spatial organization, there cannot be any social relation lying outside of the spatial and temporal framework. That is to say, society is meaningful spatially, and space is meaningful socially12. By and large the social groups in the Korean rural area, like Crop Group, Labor Exchange Group, Mutual Savings Meeting, Ancestor Worship Group, Women's Group, Aged's Group, etc. are established based on the settlement, and are deemed to influence its spatial structure.

In traditional clan villages, most of the land surrounding the settlement, farmland and mountain belongs to the clan organization. The clan farmland is the important source of the funds for worshiping ancestors. It used to be rented to the other families rather than to the clan, but it tends to be cultivated by poor clan members these days. Thus, one of the important aspects of the clan is that it is based on the economic correlation between clan members. That is, the clan functions as a reproduction organization. However, the promulgation of the Law of Farmland Reformation in 1949, after the Liberalization of Korea from Japan in 1945, was a turning point to change this kind of land ownership. Thereafter the private land ownership, especially on house lots, has rapidly grown as the traditional Korean society proceeds to the capitalistic society. Therefore the clan farmland reduced greatly. This is one of the critical reasons to make the clan tie be weakened. Nevertheless, the land occupancy ratio by the clan organization is still fairly high in some villages, and such a land ownership is an index saying whether the village still keeps up the a strong character as a clan village or not.

The clan village has strong identity since it is consolidated by means of land and blood. It is an autonomous residential unit based on the hierarchical Confucian order and the strong sense of community. And it has clear socio-economic and architectural orders enough to be easily recognized. Though the socio-economic order has been weakened, its core like the communal worship of ancestors is sustained. Such socio-economic characters of the clan organization are generally reflected on the spatial structure of the settlement. Thus the clan village may be still regarded as the typical section of the traditional Korean settlement.


8. Lee, Kwanggyu, Korean family and kinship (Seoul: Minum-sa, 1990)*, p.199

9. Kim, Hongsig, The basic structure of the feudal society in Choson dynasty (Seoul: Bakyong-sa, 1981)*, pp.151~152

10. According to the survey of 1930, the number of clan villages was 14,672 out of total 28,336 villages in Korea, which is more than half. Chong, Jinyong, Social function of clan villages in late Choson dynasty, (Seoul: Seminar on Regional history studies, 1990.09)*, p.1

11. Lee, Kwanggyu, op. cit., pp.207-210

12. Lee, Jeongkeun, Space and Society - A Study in Socio-Spatial Dialectics with Particular Reference to Korean Villages, (Edinburgh: Ph. D. Diss., Univ. of Edinburgh, 1984), p.23

* The titles of Korean references have been translated into English by the author.

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