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Establishment of the Ruling Order in Early Joseon in Terms of Judgments in Revenge Cases

  • The Review of Korean History
  • 2014, (115), pp.257-296
  • Publisher : The Historical Society Of Korea
  • Research Area : Humanities > History

Son, Kyun Ick 1

1한양대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

The first aim of this paper is to analyze judgments of politicians in early Joseon regarding the personal revenge cases. Secondly, based on the analysis, this paper will reveal solutions of the politicians for the discrepancy between ethical standards and legal requirements in Confucius society. In Confucius society, judgments on personal revenge cases often raised controversial issues among politicians due to the conflict between Confucius scriptures and practical laws; the former allows personal revenge whereas the latter forbids it. Given that Joseon is a Confucius nation, politicians in Joseon were not free from the dilemma as well. Politicians in early Joseon introduced provisions regarding personal revenge cases in the Great Ming Code without any revision. Since only a few types of personal revenge, which are practically impossible to be realized, are permitted. In process of judgments, the politicians characterized the personal revenge as a problematic behavior that not only bears possibility of killing innocents but also threatens the sovereign’s power to life and death. Furthermore, they presumed that an individual’s moral deeds in accordance with Confucius codes could be suppressed once such deeds undermine public welfare. It is worth to note that discussions above do not exhaustively exclude the Confucius approach. The politicians forbids the personal revenge not due to its moral aspect but because of its methodological problem. In order to provide a fundamental solution of the aforementioned discrepancy, the politicians defined the legal action by bereaved family as a form of legal revenge that satisfies not only Confucius codes but also those of lawful. They stressed the moral aspect of the legal action, and even gave a prizes to the accuser and awarded them; in effect, they were trying to make the personal revenge to be realized within the lawful-boundaries by solely allowing the revenge-by-legal-action. In early Joseon, there were conflicts between the obligation of a bereaved family to revenge and the obligation of obedience to a person in the hierarchical social relationship. There have been cases that owners killed slaves and the bereaved families attempted to kill the owners or accused them. The politicians sentenced death to the bereaved family who has killed their owner to revenge and heavily punished one who has accused the owner. This shows that the politicians put priority in the hierarchical social relationship over the blood relationship. On the contrary, the politicians only allowed people’s legal action to a local governor who have murdered, either by personally or by giving a excessive punishment, one’s family. This was a exceptional privilege given that no other form of legal action was allowed. Such a position was reflected in the enactment of the criminal laws of Joseon.

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