Slavery in Korea

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Slavery in Korea formally existed from antiquity up to the 20th century. Slavery was very important in medieval Korea; it was a major institution. The importance of slavery in Korea fluctuated over time. [1] The Korean " nobi " system of slavery peaked between the 15th and 17th centuries and then declined in the 18th and 19th centuries. [2] Some scholars view the Korean system of slavery as serfdom; the nature of Korean slavery is a source of debate. [1] Korea had the longest unbroken chain of slavery of any society in history, spanning about 1,500 years, because of a long history of peaceful transitions and stable societies.

Contents

Today, the practice of slavery in South Korea is illegal, though surreptitious forms of illicit modern slavery such as human trafficking still exist. In North Korea, slavery is still practiced by the country's regime. [3] [4] [5] [6] An estimated 10.4% of the North Korean population is effectively enslaved as of 2018. [7]

History

Joseon caste system
Class Hangul Hanja Meaning
Yangban 양반兩班aristocrats
Jungin 중인中人middle people
Sangmin 상민常民commoners
Cheonmin 천민賤民vulgar commoners
  Baekjeong 백정白丁 untouchables
  Nobi 노비奴婢 slaves (or "serfs")

Slavery in Korea existed since before the Three Kingdoms of Korea period, approximately 2,000 years ago. [8] Slavery has been described as "very important in medieval Korea, probably more important than in any other East Asian country, but by the 16th century, population growth was making [it] unnecessary". [9] According to Korean Studies scholar Mark A. Peterson of Brigham Young University, Korea has the longest unbroken chain of slavery of any society in history (spanning about 1,500 years), [10] [11] which he attributes to a long history of peaceful transitions and stable societies in Korea. [12] Peterson cites this as "[a] proof that Korean history has been remarkably peaceful and stable until the 20th century". [12]

Slavery fully developed during the Three Kingdoms of Korea period. [8] The institution of slavery likely weakened when Silla unified the Korean Peninsula. [8] Slaves were freed on a large scale in 956 by the Goryeo dynasty. [8] Gwangjong of Goryeo proclaimed the Slave and Land Act, an act that "deprived nobles of much of their manpower in the form of slaves and purged the old nobility, the meritorious subjects and their offspring and military lineages in great numbers". [13] Information about slavery in the middle Goryeo period is nonexistent. [8] Slavery intensified and many slave rebellions occurred at the end of the Goryeo dynasty. [8] Slaves were freed on a large scale at the beginning of the Joseon dynasty. [8]

In the Joseon period, members of the slave class were known as nobi. The nobi were socially indistinct from freemen (i.e., the middle and common classes) other than the ruling yangban class, and some possessed property rights, legal entities and civil rights. Hence, some scholars argue that it is inappropriate to call them "slaves", [14] while some scholars describe them as serfs. [15] [16] The Korean word for a slave in the Western sense is noye, not nobi. [16] Some nobi owned their own nobi. [17] According to Bok Rae Kim: "In summary, on the economic, judicial and socio-cultural levels, it is evident that the nobis of the [Joseon] era were not 'socially dead' and that the nobi system at its zenith between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries may be defined as 'a serfdom developed under slavery'." [2]

Household nobi served as personal retainers and domestic servants, and most received a monthly salary that could be supplemented by earnings gained outside regular working hours. [18] [19] Out-resident nobi resided at a distance and were little different from tenant farmers or commoners. [18] They were registered officially as independent family units and possessed their own houses, families, land, and fortunes. [19] Out-resident nobi were far more numerous than household nobi. [20] In the chakkae system, nobi were assigned two pieces of agricultural land, with the resulting produce from the first land paid to the master, and the produce from the second land kept by the nobi to consume or sell. In order to gain freedom, nobi could purchase it, earn it through military service, or receive it as a favor from the government. [18] The nobi population could fluctuate up to about one-third of the population, but on average the nobi made up about 10% of the total population. [8]

The hierarchical relationship between yangban master and nobi was believed to be equivalent to the Confucian hierarchical relationship between ruler and subject, or father and son. [21] Nobi were considered an extension of the master's own body, and an ideology based on patronage and mutual obligation developed. The Annals of King Taejong stated: "The nobi is also a human being like us; therefore, it is reasonable to treat him generously" and "In our country, we love our nobis like a part of our body." [22]

In 1426, Sejong the Great enacted a law that granted government nobi women 100 days of maternity leave after childbirth, which, in 1430, was lengthened by one month before childbirth. In 1434, Sejong also granted the husbands 30 days of paternity leave. [23]

The nobi system declined in the 18th and 19th centuries. [2] Since the outset of the Joseon dynasty and especially beginning in the 17th century, there was harsh criticism among prominent thinkers in Korea about the nobi system. Even within the Joseon government, there were indications of a shift in attitude toward the nobi. [24] King Yeongjo implemented a policy of gradual emancipation in 1775, [9] and he and his successor King Jeongjo made many proposals and developments that lessened the burden on nobi, which led to the emancipation of the vast majority of government nobi in 1801. [24] In addition, population growth, [9] numerous escaped slaves, [8] growing commercialization of agriculture, and the rise of the independent small farmer class contributed to the decline in the number of nobi to about 1.5% of the total population by 1858. [17] The hereditary nobi system was officially abolished around 1886 and 1887, [8] [17] and the rest of the nobi system was abolished with the Gabo Reform of 1894. [8] [25] However, slavery did not completely disappear in Korea until 1930, during Imperial Japanese rule.

During Japanese rule over Korea around World War II, some Koreans were used in forced labor by the Japanese, in conditions which have been compared to slavery. [8] [26] These included women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II, known as "comfort women". [8] [26]

Modern slavery

North Korea

With 1,100,000 people in modern slavery (via forced labor), North Korea is ranked highest in the world in terms of the percentage of population in modern slavery, with 10.4 percent enslaved according to the Walk Free Foundation's 2018 Global Slavery Index. [7] [27] North Korea is the only country in the world that has not explicitly criminalized any form of modern slavery. [28] A United Nations report listed slavery among the crimes against humanity occurring in North Korea. [4] Revenues derived from North Korean slave labor also are diverted to fund and develop the country's nuclear weapons program. [29] [ better source needed ]

South Korea

In media reports from 2015, the abuse and exploitation of people with disabilities on rural island salt farms in Sinan County has been described as slavery. [30] [31]

In terms of people in modern slavery in absolute numbers South Korea ranked 137th in the 2018 Global Slavery Index, with some 99,000 people estimated to be enslaved. [32]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Korea, or the Korean Peninsula, is a region in East Asia. Since 1945 it has been divided into the two parts which soon became the two sovereign states: North Korea and South Korea. Korea consists of the Korean Peninsula, Jeju Island, and several minor islands near the peninsula. It is bordered by China to the northwest and Russia to the northeast. It is separated from Japan to the east by the Korea Strait and the Sea of Japan.

Slavery Treatment of people as property

Slavery and enslavement are both the state and the condition of being a slave, who is someone forbidden to quit their service for another person, while treated as property. Slavery typically involves the enslaved person being made to perform some form of work while also having their location dictated by the slaver. Historically, when people were enslaved, it was often because they were indebted, or broke the law, or suffered a military defeat, and the duration of their enslavement was either for life or for a fixed period of time after which freedom was granted. Individuals, then, usually became slaves involuntarily, due to force or coercion, although there was also voluntary slavery to pay a debt or obtain money for some purpose. In the course of human history, slavery was a typical feature of civilization, and legal in most societies, but it is now outlawed in all countries of the world, except as punishment for crime.

History of Korea Account of past events in the Korean civilisation

The Lower Paleolithic era in the Korean Peninsula and Manchuria began roughly half a million years ago. The earliest known Korean pottery dates to around 8000 BC, and the Neolithic period began after 6000 BC, followed by the Bronze Age by 2000 BC, and the Iron Age around 700 BC.

There are various names of Korea in use today, all derived from ancient kingdoms and dynasties. The modern English name "Korea" is an exonym derived from the name Goryeo, also spelled Koryŏ, and is used by both North Korea and South Korea in international contexts. In the Korean language, the two Koreas use different terms to refer to the nominally unified nation: Chosŏn in North Korea and Hanguk in South Korea. Ethnic Koreans living in China and Japan also use the term Chosŏn to refer to Korea.

Goryeo Korean dynasty (918–1392)

Goryeo was a Korean kingdom founded in 918, during a time of national division called the Later Three Kingdoms period, that unified and ruled the Korean Peninsula until 1392. Goryeo achieved what has been called a "true national unification" by Korean historians as it not only unified the Later Three Kingdoms but also incorporated much of the ruling class of the northern kingdom of Balhae, who had origins in Goguryeo of the earlier Three Kingdoms of Korea. The name "Korea" is derived from the name of Goryeo, also spelled Koryŏ, which was first used in the early 5th century by Goguryeo.

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Joseon was a Korean dynastic kingdom that lasted for approximately five centuries. It was the last dynastic kingdom of Korea. It was founded by Yi Seong-gye in July 1392 and replaced by the Korean Empire in October 1897. The kingdom was founded following the aftermath of the overthrow of Goryeo in what is today the city of Kaesong. Early on, Korea was retitled and the capital was relocated to modern-day Seoul. The kingdom's northernmost borders were expanded to the natural boundaries at the rivers of Amnok and Tuman through the subjugation of the Jurchens.

Gojoseon Ancient state, based in northern Korean peninsula and Manchuria

Gojoseon, is the first Korean kingdom with written historical record, founded by Dangun, the legendary founder of Korean nation. It was a period in the History of Korea lasting from 2333 BCE (?) to 108 BCE. Gojoseon possessed the most advanced culture in the Korean peninsula at that time and was an important marker in the progression towards the more centralised states of later periods. The addition of Go, meaning "ancient", is used to distinguish it from the much later Joseon dynasty (1392–1897).

<i>Hanbok</i> Traditional Korean clothing

The hanbok or Chosŏn-ot is the traditional Korean clothes. The term "hanbok" literally means "Korean clothing".

Korean painting

Korean painting includes paintings made in Korea or by overseas Koreans on all surfaces. The earliest surviving Korean paintings are murals in the Goguryeo tombs, of which considerable numbers survive, the oldest from some 2,000 years ago, with varied scenes including dancers, hunting and spirits. The Takamatsuzuka Tomb in Japan, from the 7th-century end of the Goguryeo period, has paintings in Goguryeo style that were either done by Korean artists, or Japanese one trained by Koreans. But more often influences came into Korea from China. Until the Joseon dynasty the primary influence was Chinese painting though done with Korean landscapes, facial features, Buddhist topics, and an emphasis on celestial observation in keeping with the rapid development of Korean astronomy.

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Cheonmin, or "vulgar commoners", were the lowest caste of commoners in dynastical Korea. They abounded during the Goryeo (918–1392) and Joseon (1392–1897) periods of Korea's agrarian bureaucracy.

The history of the kisaeng covers the entire second millennium, from the Goryeo dynasty to modern South Korea. The kisaeng system first emerged in the early Goryeo period, and was at its height in the middle Joseon Dynasty. The kisaeng were contribute to entertain others, such as the Yangbans and kings. although some kisaeng also held positions of importance in the court or in literary culture. A strange silence hangs over the official histories of Korea when it comes to the kisaeng. They enter only occasionally into official records such as the Goryeosa or Joseon Wangjo Sillok. Yet references to kisaeng are quite widespread in the "anecdotal histories" of later Joseon, and Silhak thinkers such as Yi Ik and Dasan gave some thought to their role and station in society. Even today, many formal histories of Korea pay little or no heed to the story of the kisaeng. For example, Ki-baek Lee's New History of Korea does not contain a single reference to the kisaeng.

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<i>Baekjeong</i> Untouchable caste in Korea

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Nobi were members of the slave class during the Korean dynasties of Goryeo and Joseon. Legally, they held the lowest rank in medieval Korean society. Like the slaves, serfs, and indentured servants of the Western Hemisphere, nobi were considered property or chattel, and could be bought, sold, or gifted.

History of Sino-Korean relations Aspect of history

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Slavery in Asia

An overview on Asian slavery which has existed throughout. Although slavery has been abolished in every country, some forms of it still exist today.

Society in the Joseon Dynasty

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Korean emperors were monarchs in the history of Korea who used the title of emperor or an equivalent.

References

  1. 1 2 Kim 2004, p. 153.
  2. 1 2 3 Kim 2004, p. 157.
  3. "Korea ranks 49th in Global Slavery Index". Korea Herald. 2014-11-20.
  4. 1 2 "UN uncovers torture, rape and slavery in North Korea". The Times. 15 February 2014.
  5. "North Korea has most modern-day slaves in the world, report reveals, as rights abuses laid bare". July 19, 2018. Archived from the original on 2018-07-19.
  6. "North Korea". freedomhouse.org. 29 January 2019.
  7. 1 2 "Maps | Global Slavery Index". www.globalslaveryindex.org.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Junius P. Rodriguez (1 January 1997). The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery . ABC-CLIO. pp.  392–393. ISBN   978-0-87436-885-7.
  9. 1 2 3 Martin A. Klein (4 September 2014). Historical Dictionary of Slavery and Abolition. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 13. ISBN   978-0-8108-7528-9.
  10. Peterson, Mark A.; Margulies, Phillip (2010). A Brief History of Korea. Infobase Publishing. p. 47. ISBN   9781438127385 . Retrieved 22 August 2020. Despite the Mongol invasion in the 13th century and the Japanese in the 16th century, there was never sufficient social upheaval to unseat the slaveholding system. Rather, hereditary slaveholding through several dynasties became part of the longest unbroken chain of slavery of any country on Earth.
  11. "하버드 한국학자가 말하는 한국은 평화로운 역사를 가진 나라?! 소개편 Peaceful Korea - Introduction".
  12. 1 2 Peterson, Mark A. (10 May 2020). "Korean slavery". The Korea Times. South Korea. Archived from the original on 2020-08-22. Retrieved 22 August 2020. And that is the first clue ― although in my list it's number nine ― that Korea had something going on in regard to peaceful transitions, stable societies and that was the case for centuries.
  13. Breuker, Remco E. (2010). Establishing a Pluralist Society in Medieval Korea, 918-1170: History, Ideology and Identity in the Koryŏ Dynasty. BRILL. p. 150. ISBN   978-90-04-18325-4.
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  15. Kim 2004, pp. 153–157.
  16. 1 2 Palais, James B. (1998). Views on Korean social history. Institute for Modern Korean Studies, Yonsei University. p. 50. ISBN   9788971414415 . Retrieved 15 February 2017. Another target of his critique is the insistence that slaves (nobi) in Korea, especially in Choson dynasty, were closer to serfs (nongno) than true slaves (noye) in Europe and America, enjoying more freedom and independence than what a slave would normally be allowed.
  17. 1 2 3 Kim 2004, pp. 162–163.
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  22. Kim 2004, p. 156.
  23. Yi, Pae-yong (2008). Women in Korean History 한국 역사 속의 여성들. Ewha Womans University Press. p. 267. ISBN   9788973007721 . Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  24. 1 2 Kim, Youngmin; Pettid, Michael J. (November 2011). Women and Confucianism in Choson Korea: New Perspectives. SUNY Press. pp. 140–141. ISBN   9781438437774 . Retrieved 14 February 2017.
  25. Korean History: Discovery of Its Characteristics and Developments. Hollym. 1 January 2004. p. 14. ISBN   978-1-56591-177-2.
  26. 1 2 Helen Tierney (1 January 1999). Women's Studies Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 277. ISBN   978-0-313-31071-3.
  27. "North Korea". The Global Slavery Index. Walk Free Foundation. 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  28. "Asia-Pacific". Global Slavery Index 2016. The Minderoo Foundation. 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  29. Kim, Joseph (16 August 2020). "Why the horrors I saw in a N Korean prison camp matter to America". The Dallas Morning News. Texas. Retrieved 17 August 2020. '[R]evenues from slave labor camps fund Kim Jong-un’s nuclear program.'
  30. "Former South Korean Salt Slave Describes 'Living Hell' He Endured Before His Escape". Business Insider. 2 January 2015.
  31. ""A living hell" for slaves on remote South Korean island salt farms". 2 January 2015.
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Further reading