Tabooization of Korean Funerary Culture during Japanese Rule – The Case of Yun Ch’i-ho (1865-1945)

Juljan Biontino



With Confucianism as main ideology of the kingship that ruled in the Chosŏn period, Korean funerary culture was stematized and codified to a strong degree. Mourning periods were long, wailing underlay strict rules, and lavishness was prevailing to an extent that it could potentially ruin families financially. Burial was restricted to earth burial that was to be done in auspicious places, which had to be determined by geomancers following feng shui (kor. p'ungsu) principles. With the opening of Korea to the West and Japan from 1876, Western missionaries started to challenge traditional ancestor rites, while Japan, slowly turning Korea into a colony, attempted to align the Korean funerary culture with that of Japan. With public graveyards and cremation, traditional Confucian practices were challenged by Buddhist practices that had been almost extinct in Korea since the 14th century. This paper seeks to outline how, in the wake of all these changes, different actors created taboos that finally clashed to create a pluralism of rituals on the peninsula. Whilst Christians tabooized ancestor rites, Japanese authorities ridiculed Korean folk belief and traditional thought as superstition, all the while introducing Japanese Shintō as a non-religious ritual of state that then again clashed with Christian reasoning. The workings of taboos will be illuminated through the diary of Yun Ch'i-ho (1864-1945), a Korean who had embraced Christianity while studying in the US, but came from a traditional family that was keen to keep old traditions alive. His diary is a useful resource because, written over a period of more than fifty years, it gives insight into how Japanese changes affected the everyday of the Koreans and holds many instances where such influences are contemplated.

Słowa kluczowe

Yun Ch'i-ho; Korean funerary culture; Japanese colonial policy

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