The Korean House - 4.2 Villages and Houses
|Understanding Korea Series No.5|
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|DIFFERENCES IN KOREAN, CHINESE, AND JAPANESE HOUSES||2) Villages and Houses||HAHOE VILLAGE AND YANGDONG VILLAGE – UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES|
A group of houses form a village. In particular, collaborative work was emphasized during the Joseon Dynasty since rice farming was the peninsula’s key industry during this time. In order to maintain this collaboration, a reasonably sized village needed to be maintained. Located in the plains, the farming villages of the Joseon Dynasty were typically composed of 50 to 150 families. This size of the village would be adjusted according to the distance between the village and the working field, with the maximum distance being four to five kilometers. If the farm was too far from the houses of some of the workers, the efficiency of farm work would become too low. As a result, village sizes were controlled by transferring families to newly developed villages whenever the size of the village became too large for all workers to access the field in a reasonable amount of time.
Rice farming requires lots of water, thus the lowland was intensively exploited. The first priority of the land use plan during the Joseon Dynasty was to seek out suitable land to build rice paddies. Next was to pick a location for settlement while developing the surrounding land as arable fields. The rest of the land in the region, such as mountain slopes, was used to build cemeteries and both educational and recreational facilities. Most of the residential areas were developed on the foothills of mountains due to the mountainous geography of the Korean peninsula. The preference was to build on the south side of the slope because the Korean peninsula is located in the middle latitudes and therefore experiences a highly varied climate. The fields around the house were usually developed on the sloped land to cultivate crops used for various Korean side dishes.
Though people preferred to have their houses on the south side of the mountain and facing south, the most important factor for determining house placement was the slope of the land, with houses typically built so that the front side was on the lower part of the slope and the back side on the higher ground. Thus, the anchae was situated on higher ground than the sarangchae, which allowed the anchae to get plenty of sunlight. There is an intimate connection between this house layout and traditional Korean geomancy, known as pungsu (feng shui in Chinese). According to the theory of pungsu, dynamic energies flow along the mountain ridges. Mt. Baekdusan, located at the north end of the Korean peninsula, is referred to as the origin of the entire Korean peninsula’s energy, which has since spread throughout the peninsula, including to individual houses and graves. The elevated land on which the back of the house was built was thought of as the place where energy was received from the land. This belief influenced the positioning of the sadang, or where the ancestral tablets were enshrined. The sadang was supposed to be the first place to receive the energy of the land.
The same logic was applied to villages consisting of several houses. Every summit—including those of small mountains—was considered to hold the energy of the land. Therefore, summits were left untouched. The houses of higher-class citizens, however, would be built nearest to the summits, followed by those of others in descending order of social class and family tree. Every village had its own rules to determine their building hierarchies and how strictly they were to be adhered to.
The distinctive social composition of villages during the Joseon Dynasty is a lineage-village that has been developed by descendants of a common ancestor. This type of village was formed after the order of Neo-Confucianism was delivered to country villages. During the Joseon Dynasty, the inheritance system and the institution of marriage had changed greatly due to the effects of Confucian ritualism. For example, during the Goryeo Dynasty and early Joseon Dynasty, every child was legally eligible to inherit an even amount from their father, but under Confucianism this was changed so that the legal inheritance was exclusively limited to the eldest son of the household’s legal wife. In the case of marriage customs during the Goryeo Dynasty and early Joseon Dynasty, it was not awkward to live in the woman’s house after marriage, but this was also changed so that the women were expected to move into the man’s house after marriage.
Therefore, women always moved into the men’s houses after marriage, and only the firstborn was allowed to live with the father when he became an adult; all others had to live outside the house. Children inherited only their father’s family name, so these changes in the marriage and inheritance system resulted in villages in which all residents shared the same family name. These types of villages are called a lineage-village. Even though most of the families had the same family name, there were still servants with different family names and some circumstances under which a man might live in his wife’s house. Therefore, in most lineage-villages, more than half of the residents had the same family name. There were some unusual cases in which the village would be presided over by people from two different family names, though these were also considered lineage-villages.
It became obvious, then, that the family with the highest standing in the lineage-village was the family whose direct ancestor had settled in the area first, and that leadership was continuously passed down to the first sons. This house or family is called a jongga, which refers to both the head family or this head family’s house. A village’s jongga has a strong influence on all village-related decisions and is positioned at the most prominent location in the village. Generally, the jongga is located on the highest ground of the village or at the village’s geographical center.
The development of lineage-villages during the Joseon Dynasty as the universal style of village formation was closely related to the logistics of rice farming. Rice farming requires a particular style of collaborative work for both the rice planting, weeding and harvesting. These types of work were thought to be more effective when done by groups with the same family name. The process of developing a lineage-village is as follows. Until the early Joseon Dynasty, most villages had residents with diverse family names, but because of the changes in the inheritance and marriage system, people tended to stay in their father’s hometowns. Under such circumstances, conflicts arose among families with different family names as they tried to possess more land in the village. In these cases, the family with the greatest political or economic power ruled over the village. As a result, other families with different family names would leave the village and develop their own villages in different regions. The most famous lineage-villages of Korea, inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are the Hahoe and Yangdong Villages. In these villages, the family who first settled the area left to find more arable land or to live with the family of the patriarch’s wife. Afterward, the progeny of another family gradually moved in and ruled over the entire village.
Villages formed in such way show the similarities between the spatial layout of a village and the spatial layout of an individual house. In other words, if the individual house’s ondol room, maru, and kitchen respectively represent the characteristics of the living space, recreational space, and production space, then the village has the group of houses acting as living spaces, arable land and fields for such purposes as rice farming acting as production spaces, and pavilions and graveyards acting as recreational spaces. Therefore, the domain of the village was not limited to the group of houses but instead included the arable fields, green space, and mountains as well.
It is through this process that a village would finally become a complete living space for people of the Joseon Dynasty, and one can better understand the composition of each village. Most of the residents lived in their hometowns or in the villages they emigrated to after marriage for their entire lives. There were, however, some exceptions: government officials who passed the state exam and would work and reside in the capital or their appointed regions and some upper-class men who used the public facilities located at the regional center outside the village, including hyanggyo (local Confucian schools) and seowon (private Confucian academies). The village acted as their whole world; thus, every necessity was contained within the village.