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he Policy of Prohibiting males from abandoning their wives, in the early half period of the Joseon dynasty : Its Influences and Problems

  • The Review of Korean History
  • 2010, (98), pp.197-229
  • Publisher : The Historical Society Of Korea
  • Research Area : Humanities > History

Kyoung Park 1

1이화여자대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

During the Joseon dynasty period, the dissolution of a marital relationship mostly proceeded in the form of a husband abandoning his wife. The Joseon government punished such person who abandoned his own wife for no concrete reason, and it extremely limited the issuing of approvals for divorce as well. Examined in this article are whether such policy was really capable of preventing people from privately dissolving their marital relationships or not, and whether such policies really contributed to the protection of the weak(in this case, the wives who were standing on a more precarious ground) or not. The time period examined here is the 15th century, when the foundation of the Joseon dynasty's marriage policies was established. In this time period, people believed that marital relationships were dissolved the moment the wife was abandoned. There was no administrative procedure that had to be taken after the act of abandoning, such as reporting to the authorities or seeking authorization for such act. This means that there might have been many incidents in which the husband or the husband's family arbitrarily decided to abandon the wife. Yet from records, we can only see incidents in which the act of abandoning one's wife answered punishments, or the king did approve such act of abandoning. The remaining of these case records does not mean that the authorities were actually aware of all such incidents of a husband abandoning his wife. These were only cases in which either the husband or wife reported such abandoning to the authorities like the Saheon-bu office, or the abandoning was revealed by a variety of reasons, and the office was obliged to investigate the legitimacy of the reason that was claimed for abandoning the wife. If the investigation of the Saheon-bu office concluded that the wife was abandoned for no concrete reason, then the perpetrator would be punished. Since the reign of king Sejong, according to the 『Dae'Myeong-ryul(大明律)』 law code's Chulcheo-jo(出妻條) clause, the husband who abandoned his wife for no reason would be sentenced to 80 rounds of flogging, and be forced to reunite with his wife. And in the meantime, the king only rarely authorized such divorce to go forward. He only approved it when the wife was clearly responsible for committing a misconduct such as adultery, and did not approve such divorce even when the situation met with conditions (of "legitimate abandoning") dictated in the above-mentioned clause. We can see that the authorities did urge them to resume their previous marriage, only with the exception of cases associated with certain extraordinary situations. Yet as the authorities were not aware of all wife-abandoning incidents, the government's overall efforts to prevent such abandoning from occurring were 'limited' to say the least. And the authorities were not able to prevent the males from abandoning their wives in the first place, and it was unrealistic to have the husband and wife resume their marriage after such 'abandoning' already took place. As a result, the females had to endure unfair situations of being abandoned and expelled by their husbands and their husbands' houses. Joseon dynasty's policy of preventing people from abandoning their wives was only implemented under the notion of obligation, to establish moral principles for the social ruling class and to protect the relationship between a married couple which was the foundation of human relationships, so it showed limitations in actually protecting the status of the wives.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.