Tribute to Prof. Song June-ho
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 He knew this because he used a jokbo like any other historical document — data therefrom had to be cross-checked and verified.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.