Korean Marital Relationships: A Confucian past and Present

During entertainment shows or talk shows in Korea, most male entertainers who are married pretend to be unsatisfied as they talk about their wives and married lives. When female entertainers who are married talk about traditional family celebrations on TV shows, they are stressed out because they argue with their husbands about traditional family celebrations. The family system, as defined by ancient Confucius philosophy, has two noticeable impacts on current Korean marital relationships: a patriarchal hierarchy and traditional family celebrations.

On a TV show, one chef had gotten married a few days prior and the other married men advised him that his happiness would not last long. In this way, married men pretend to be unsatisfied when they talk about their married lives. This originated from the Joseon Dynasty, about 500 years ago. Confucianism, Chinese philosophy, was the ruling principle in the Joseon Dynasty, so the period was influenced heavily by Confucianism.

In Confucianism, there were the five constant virtues: righteousness, benevolence, propriety, wisdom, and sincerity. At that time, propriety meant modesty. People were not allowed to show off or talk about themselves and this view has lasted until this century. Today most Koreans do not like showing off.

On family traditional celebrations, especially Korean Thanksgiving and New Year’s, a man and wife argue with each other over whether they should go to the husband’s house first or the wife’s. If they go to the husband’s house, the woman should prepare food for ancestral rites. While wives make traditional food, the only thing that husbands do is to watch TV or sleep which causes more argument.

Also, in Confucianism, there were three basic principles in human relations. There were relationships between ruler and minister, father and son, and husband and wife. The minister should serve the ruler, the son should serve the father, and the wife should serve the husband. After a woman got married she was no longer a member of her own family but rather considered a member of the husband’s house. Married women could not go to their family’s house and they were expected to help with the memorial service for ancestors in the in-law’s home.

These days, young people have been taught in school that all people are equal and that men and women should be treated equally. The Joseon Dynasty disappeared and the traditional patriarchal system weakened with the urbanization process, but Confucianism is still deep-rooted in the society. It is revealed by the entertainers and the situation where a husband and wife argue with each other on traditional family celebrations.

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