Trib­ute to Prof. Song June-ho

The Korea Times - - Opinion - Mark Peter­son Mark Peter­son (markpeter­[email protected]) is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Korean, Asian and Near Eastern lan­guages at Brigham Young Univer­sity in Utah.

Last week I wrote a trib­ute to the mem­ory of pro­fes­sor Ed Wag­ner and I wrote of his con­tri­bu­tion to Korean Stud­ies and par­tic­u­larly his use of jokbo (ge­nealo­gies) in his re­search. To­day, I must write a trib­ute to his col­league and col­lab­o­ra­tor in Korean his­tor­i­cal re­search, Song June-ho.

Song was a pro­fes­sor at at Jeon­buk Na­tional Univer­sity in Jeonju and for a while af­ter he re­tired, he had an honorary po­si­tion at Wonkwang Univer­sity in Ik­san. Like Wag­ner, Song was a spe­cial­ist in the so­cial his­tory of the 13921910 Joseon King­dom, and in jokbo, and he worked with Wag­ner on cre­at­ing a master in­dex of the 14,607 men who passed the high­est civil ser­vice exam, the munkwa. And like Wag­ner, Song knew the his­tor­i­cal value of the doc­u­ments known as jokbo.

Both knew that the pop­u­lar views of jokbo as “com­pro­mised,” “in­ac­cu­rate” “fal­si­fied” were not a cor­rect in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the doc­u­ments. He knew this be­cause he used a jokbo like any other his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment — data there­from had to be cross-checked and ver­i­fied. He used the jokbo re­ally not as a pri­mary re­source, but as a sec­ondary re­source to sup­ple­ment the study of the munkwa — the pri­mary fo­cus of the two pro­fes­sors.

There are sev­eral kinds of doc­u­ments a his­to­rian of Joseon will use. There is the sil­lok (the Royal An­nals of the Dy­nasty — the Joseon Wangjo Sil­lok), munjip (col­lec­tions of writ­ings of prom­i­nent scholar-of­fi­cials), pangmok (ros­ters of those who passed ex­ams in any given year), jokbo (pub­lished lin­eage ge­nealo­gies) and an ar­ray of other govern­ment- and pri­vately pro­duced doc­u­ments.

There are two main fac­tors that counter those who say jokbo are in­ac­cu­rate and not to be used: 1) The fal­si­fi­ca­tions, mainly pur­chas­ing en­trance into a ge­neal­ogy, are a prod­uct of the 20th cen­tury. If there were false en­tries in a jokbo, they were only al­leged to have hap­pened with mod­ern­iza­tion in the 20th cen­tury. There­fore, doc­u­ments pro­duced in the 19th cen­tury and ear­lier are prima fa­cia free from fal­si­fi­ca­tion. And 2) Facts drawn from a jokbo can be ver­i­fied and cross-checked in other doc­u­ments.

The ma­jor­ity of schol­ars be­fore Song’s time ig­nored jokbo as a re­source — cit­ing the ex­ag­ger­ated claims of “buy-ins” and other fraud­u­lent ac­tion.

And thus the ma­jor­ity of his­to­ri­ans missed a great op­por­tu­nity to en­rich their writ­ings by ex­am­in­ing the kinds of mar­riage ties and kin­ship ties that bind peo­ple to­gether. Song’s dili­gence in cross-check­ing data from jokbo with other his­tor­i­cal sources proved the va­lid­ity of us­ing jokbo as a his­tor­i­cal source doc­u­ment.

The kinds of in­ac­cu­ra­cies that Song found, and ev­ery doc­u­ment will con­tain in­ac­cu­ra­cies — that doesn’t mean you throw out the whole cat­e­gory of doc­u­ment, which is what most his­to­ri­ans did be­fore Song and Wag­ner proved the doc­u­ments were valu­able and re­li­able — were of the na­ture of slight ex­ag­ger­a­tion. For ex­am­ple, a jokbo might say a man passed the munkwa exam. Well, that can be ver­i­fied, and at times they found that a man had not passed the exam. But they found he had passed the sama exam, or the saeng­won or jinsa exam. He had passed one of the lesser ex­ams, and the jokbo sim­ply said he passed the exam!

One of the most valu­able in­sights into Korea his­tory from the jokbo is that the jokbo serves as a kind of snap­shot of so­ci­ety at that time, at the time of the per­son be­ing recorded. And as such we see that early Joseon was very dif­fer­ent from mid­dle Joseon which was very dif­fer­ent from late Joseon. Early Joseon was typ­i­cally “bi­lat­eral,” mean­ing kin­ship on the mother’s and fa­ther’s sides was equally im­por­tant.

In mid­dle Joseon, things are in flux. And in late Joseon, 18th and 19th cen­tury, Korea saw the de­vel­op­ment of a thor­oughly com­pre­hen­sive pa­tri­lin­eal (male-dom­i­nated) sys­tem, called in Korean the “bu­gye” sys­tem. “Bu” means “fa­ther” and “gye” means “line” — reck­on­ing of fam­ily and re­la­tion­ships from the per­spec­tive of the male line. Thus jokbo of the late Joseon and 20th cen­tury were doc­u­ments of “men, re­lated to men, through men” — the def­i­ni­tion of a pa­tri­lin­eal sys­tem. In early Joseon, rel­a­tives from both sides of the fam­ily were rec­og­nized: some­times called a cog­natic sys­tem, and some­times called a bi­lat­eral sys­tem, where de­scen­dants of daugh­ters would also be recorded and chil­dren were recorded in birth or­der — not sons first and daugh­ters last. Jokbo of each time pe­riod are snap­shots of that pe­riod of time.

Thanks be to Song and Wag­ner and their in­no­va­tive use of doc­u­ments to re­veal the true na­ture of Korean his­tory. And that jokbo can play a valu­able role in his­tor­i­cal re­search and writ­ing.

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