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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Household register (hojeok)

(Updated, March 9 ; this note has been thoroughly revised since I originally posted it on Tuesday, March 8; Infidel's comments made me do a bit more reading and correct and revise several points below.)

Oranckay used the title "End of Joseon" to note the renewed family which will abolish the household head system (hojuje) and household register (hojôk) by 2008. The question of the origin of the hojôk system was raised in the comments, where I was too vain to write a long reply, and make a note on the issue myself after some small browsing.
Here's my previous entry on the new legislation, summarizing the changes.


Household register from the turn of 20th c (linked from the National Archives & Records Service
It was suggested that the system now to be abolished was established during the Japanese occupation/colonial era, and in fact it seems that the ROK family (or household) register is much a product of that era.

The old status system with the yangban privileges was abolished in the Kabo (1894) reforms, and that brought about many changes. I remember one history professor (Huh Dong-hyun of Kyunghee U) mentioning that at that time some half of Koreans did not have a surname. Cho Eun mentions in her article on the family structure in Seoul at the turn of the 20th century (한말 서울의 가족 구조, in <한국 근현대 가족 재조명>, 文學과 知性社 1993) that after the status system was abolished, the Korean government instituted a new hojôk system in 1896, after which a national census was taken. (Just citing a printed article instead of an online source must make this note much more authoritative, mustn't it?) A household head (hoju 戶主) was designated, and his name, age, occupation, surname origin (pon'gwan) and "four ancestors" (sajo 四祖) registered; along with the hoju, the name, age and relation to the household head of the coresiding family members were recorded, as well as other coresiding persons (Cho's article).

I don't know how much the new system of the 1890s followed the Japanese example, but most likely to some degree, as the Kabo reforms were done at the urging and insistence of the Japanese. The Japanese made several changes on the registering laws during the colonial era, and it seems that the Japanese imprint on the present legislation is strong, especially the designation of a hoju (戶主) or household head and the character of the hojôk as a document of defining the relation of the household members to the household head. Also the change from a residential base of the record to a family unit defined in legal terms stems from the Japanese colonial legislation. (Minjôkpôp 民籍法 was instituted by the Japanese in 1909, and "Korean Family Register Ordinance" [Chosôn hojôngnyông] in 1922.)

The Chosôn/Joseon era household register system was named hojôk as well. It was surely also a method to control the population and keep the status groups separated, and the Chosôn state needed taxes, for which people, those who were taxed, needed to be registered. The modern state of Japan, intending to make Koreans into subjects of the emperor ordered in well-defined families, could extend its control over the population and put people in registers much more effectively than Chosôn Korea... From James Palais' Confucian Statecraft and Korean Institutions one can see that at several periods during Chosôn, there was a shortage of registered adult commoner males because so many had wanted to escape registering due to oppressive taxation and had been successful in it. Was the Japanese system instituted in Korea more oppressive and intended for internal control than the one in Japan itself (except for being put upon Koreans by the colonial power), or was it similar in form and enforcement?


When the "modern" hojeok system was instituted and all the population began to be "surnamed" in Korea was by the way the also the time when surnames began to be used in Finland also in the western part of the country; only the name law of 1921 made it compulsory to have a family name.

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