Friday, November 8, 2013

Penal System in the Joseon Period

In the Joseon period, the family network with its guilt by blood and association along with punishment were the norms for controlling any socially unacceptable deviation within society. Family, the network of the extended family and its relationship ties and how a social offense would affect those relationship ties were the largest social controls of criminal acts in the period. However, as society was very heirarchical from the king, his ministers, the yangban class and all the necessary titled people on downward to the peasant class and the outcasts, the Joseon dynasty established many rulings for controlling the tight heirarchy, for maintaining its inflexible social structure, and also for punishing any errant drift from established social expectations.
Punishment wasn't always ethically administered. In fact, the two purposes of punishment were to get retribution (usually of an angered higher classed individual against someone under his or her power) or for administering punishment itself, albeit rather harsh punishments were often sentenced, e.g., for the theft of a bit of food to assuage the hunger of an overworked, starving peasant.

Flogging was a typical form of punishment and was, at least in part, included in all of the five levels of punishment:
  • Tae-hyung / Flogging A: Tae-hyung was the punishment for a minor offense. This kind of flogging was done with a short branch which was stuck on the bare buttocks from 10-50 times, depending on the gravity of the crime.
  • Jang-hyung / Flogging B: Jang-hyung was for a slight graver offense, and was also a flogging. However, the branch used was slightly larger and the flogging itself consisted of 60-100 strokes on the bare buttocks.

  • Do-hyung / Imprisonment: Do-hyung was a combination of being flogged 60-100 times on the bare buttocks and then being imprisoned for 1-3 years, a harsh sentence in a society that shamed not only the offender but also the family by its blood relationship. Families were wrung with shame if there was even a whisper that a member, no matter how distant, was in or had served a prison sentence.
  • Yu-hyung / Banishment: Yu-hyung was a punishment that was more typically given to the yangban or ruling classes than the peasant classes. It was a combination of being flogged the typical and shameful 60-100 times on the bared buttocks and then being banned far from one's hometown in a very remote area. This banishment method was used to prevent families with position, wealth, or land from conspiring revenge or recovering power as being removed from one's hometown in a country that had poor transportation systems and disconnected from one's families was a rather efficient method for controlling the offender as well as  the family without inflicting prison on an honored, but brooding, threat.
  • Sa-hyung / Death Penalty: Sa-hyung was punishment for the most serious crimes, e.g. killing one's parent, and only the king had the authority to give this sentence. As a result, floggings were heavily administered to control society. The lower classes were much more likely to be imprisoned while the upper or ruling classes were more likely to be sequestered far from any family ties and away from the environment to plot and get revenge. 
This information is a sketch from a presentation on "crime"
given by Kang Minseok and Lee Yeong Ji. Thank you, guys, for letting me borrow your info.
It is quite insightful on the past era.


  1. This was something I had been looking for. Trying to look up how society worked during the Joseon Period is a bit challenging. Have you made any posts about the social hierarchy during that time period in Korea? Just wondering.

    1. Unfortunately I haven't posted more info about the Joseon penal system. Would be interesting, so if you post, please share!