I first heard of Everyday Life in Joseon-Era Korea: Economy and Society
, ed. Michael D. Shin, from a post by thistleingrey
. What's sad about this book is not that it's poorly written or conceived, but that it's priced so damn high; the lowest price I'm seeing on Amazon is over $100 (!). This is a translation of a collection of essays by Korean historians about Joseon-era Korea, particularly emphasizing the viewpoint of the common people rather than the yangban (nobles) and royalty. As such, the topics are ones that, as thistleingrey
notes, are rarely discussed about this period in English
. I found the introductory essay by Michael D. Shin particularly valuable, as it discusses Korean historiography and how it has been affected by, e.g., the Japanese occupation and Korean nationalism; it was really great to have it put the rest of the book in context.
I found this interesting as additional background and research reading for my current novel WIP, DRAGON PEARL, although I am not choosing to base my space opera setting very closely on historical Korea, let alone Joseon. For example, Joseon Korea tended to become more patriarchal as time went on due to the influence of Neo-Confucianism, and I wanted to depict a society more egalitarian in its attitudes toward gender. Earlier periods of Korea were kinder to women, but not only is there less material on earlier periods to begin with, it is damn near impossible to find such material in English
, and unfortunately I am not fluent in either Korean or Classical Chinese.
Also, I was fascinated by Seo Tae-Won's "The Military Life," which mostly amazes me in that I'm not sure how the Joseon military system was even able to function! For example, many commoner households owed military service to the government, but they were not paid or equipped or given uniforms, which was hard on their families, especially if they were needed at home for the farming...yikes.
Meanwhile, the most entertaining of the essays (if you want to judge them that way) are Jung Jin Young's "Did Fake Genealogies Exist?", which drily notes that it can't be possible that EVERY SINGLE KOREAN comes from a yangban lineage, and discusses some more complicating factors in Korean family lines, and the very last one, "The Outhouses of the Royal Palaces" by Hong Soon Min.
Here is the table of contents for the curious:
Part One: Economy
1. Farming in the Joseon Period
2. A Typical Day and Year in the Life of the Peasantry
3. The Tax Burden of the Peasantry
4. Currency and the Value of Money
5. The Merchants of Seoul
6. The Joys and Sorrows of the Itinerant Merchants
7. Foreign Trade and Interpreter Officials
8. Salt: White Gold
9. Seeking Work at Mines
10. When Did Joseon's Population Reach Ten Million?
Part Two: Society
11. Rural Society and Zhu Xi's Community Compact
12. Why Did Peasants Create the Dure
13. Did Fake Genealogies Exist?
14. The Baekjeong Class
15. The Rebellion of Im Ggeokjeong
16. Did People Divorce in the Joseon Period?
17. The Educational System
18. Military Life
19. The Penal System
20. Eating Culture
21. Liquor and Taverns
22. Tea and Tobacco
23. The Outhouses of the Royal Palaces
Thank you to the generous benefactor who donated this book.