Law in Contemporary Society

The Overdue Abolishment of Hojuje

  • Shouldn't that be "abolition"?
Abolishment's definition is "the act of abolishing a system or practice or institution (especially abolishing slavery)." Abolition is synonymous with abolishment. smile

  • Yes, but see OED where abolishment is rated archaic, mostly unused since the 17th century and unseen since 1881, and abolition "is now generally used instead." "Abolishment" will read illiterate to most contemporary users of the language, and there is no purpose in an archaicism were a perfectly good modern substitute based on the same word is available and is shorter.


The year 2008 began with a new family registry system taking effect in South Korea, which replaces much contested abolishment of “Hojuje”, the country’s male-oriented family registry system.

  • This would have been a good place to state a thesis rather than a fact.

On March 1, 2005, making an epochal change to the old family registry system long criticized for being gender-biased, the Korean National Assembly passed a revision of the Civil Law that included repeal of Hojuje.

  • Because this sentence says pretty much the same thing again.

And the Constitutional Court ruled that Hojuje was unconstitutional. The Court said that it violated egalitarian principles stipulated in the Constitution. The Court's ruling has put an end to the prolonged dispute over the constitutionality of Hojuje between Confucian-minded conservatives and women's organizations and progressive civic groups.

The abolishment of Hojuje is a significant step toward women's equality in Korean society. Many women's organizations have made tremendous efforts to abolish this biased law over the years.

What is Hojuje?

"Hojuje" is a patriarchal family registration system that restricts women's legal rights within family relationships. It was introduced in Korea in 1898. The system is based on the male-oriented patriarchal idea that all family has a 'hoju' (a male head of a family) and all family members are under the hoju.

In Korea, the Hojuje was used to file the personal records of all Korean citizens. One person was named the hoju, and the rest of the family was registered under the hoju. Thus, all the citizens' records were kept in family units, not individual files.

However, the Hojuje went far beyond the function of certifying a citizen's identity. It was a gender discriminatory practice that acknowledged only paternal lineage by giving the man of the family first priority when naming the hoju.

For example, if the hoju dies, the family must report the transfer of the hoju title within one month, and there is a hierarchy involved. The first in line is a male descendent of the former hoju (his son, grandson, great grandson, all of whom are considered family regardless of marriage), followed by an unmarried female descendent (daughters are not considered family once they marry and automatically become a member of their husbands), the wife, the mother, and then the daughter-in-law.

Pro-Hojuje arguments

Conservative Korean men think the new system infringes upon men’s rights. The organization, such as Korea Clan Leaders Federation, is strongly opposed to the new system. Their main claim is that abolishing the system has done more than shaking the roots of Korean families; they argue that Korean national identity has been obliterated, and that a history that has lasted for thousands of years is now effectively erased.

They even picture a “Sodom and Gomorra” kind of society where a younger brother marries his brother’s widow and his nephew becomes his son. (On the contrary, this was a common practice in Biblical time)

  • I don't know what "on the contrary" means. Although it is contrary to Jewish law, it happens among Jews as among almost all other people: my maternal grandfather grew up in a family so constituted after his father's early accidental death and his mother's remarriage to her husband's brother. What is the problem with such a family structure according to the objectors?

How the new law will differ from Hojuje?

The revisions were made to embrace the age of gender equality, another step forward in human rights and democracy. No longer are women legally subject to a male family head like their father, husband or eldest son.

Under the new individual identification system, there will be no more hoju in a family, thereby eliminating the male-dominated and hierarchal order to succession. Also, when women get married, they will simply need to change their marital status, not to remove herself from her previous family registry and be part of her husband’s family registry. Although this may not sound like a big change, the underlying implication is of leaving your clan and subjecting yourself to other clan, where you are inevitably the weaker, if not the weakest.

Another unfair feature of Hojuje was that a man was free to register his child born out of wedlock on his family register without the permission from his wife, while the opposite was prohibited. Also, even if a divorced woman holds parental and custody rights to her children, the children continue to remain in her ex-husband's family registrar, and her relationship with her children was merely defined as "residing together" under the resident registration.

Also, when a woman got married again with her children from her previous marriage, her children could not have her new husband's family name. Her children had to keep her ex-husband's family name. This generated considerable social prejudice against the children of remarried couple where three or more different family names existed; a wife's, a wife's husband and the wife's children's from her ex-husband. However, under the new law, when a woman gets married again with her children from her previous marriage, her children change their family name to their stepfather's family name with the court's approval, removing social stigma once imposed on the children of remarried couple.

What would be the social effect of abolishment of Hojuje?

As law, the Hojuje went against the times by placing more importance on the maintenance of the patrilineal blood line than on the happiness of the members of a family. Hojuje violated the Korean Constitution, which stipulates gender equality and the dignity of the individual.

The scrapping of the male-dominated family registry system will change the concept of a family centered on lineage and the male family head. Although there has been much tedious and exhausting debate over the years, but the abolishment of the Hojuje is landmark accomplishment that will promote progress in our society's democratization and equality.

What remains to be done is adequately finishing up the necessary follow-up measures. The basis on which they should be decided must be how much something contributes to the people's freedom, equality, and happiness, and whether it protects the dignity of the individual.

It remains to be seen whether the new system of family registration will shake the core of Korean society. But seeing as the nation is already a quarter into the new year and still intact, the end of Hojuje hardly seems the end of Korea. Perhaps 10 years from now, 2008 will be regarded as a groundbreaking year for Korean families and society in general.

  • This essay doesn't really make its thesis clear even at the conclusion. Is the abolition of hojuje a formal step that acknowledges conditions of gender equality and individualism that have now displaced traditional Korean patriarchy? Or is it supposed to be an effective step that will itself substantially alter and replace traditional social structure. Napoleon I famously said to the drafters of the legal code that bears his name "Make the family responsible to its head, and the head responsible to me, and I will keep order in France." But he wasn't talking about making France into Korea, and the Code Napoleon could not possibly have achieved that result effectively, though the Emperor formally got what he thought he wanted. The nature of your social theory matters a good deal to how we read the paper; your last sentence seems to imply an ironic stance towards the expectation of effectiveness expressed by opponents, but the expectations of opponents are often exaggerated, because the parade of horrors is the medium in which they work, not live. But this at least implies that they do not believe society has changed yet to center the individual rather than the family, or to make equality of women at all effective--as it must be if it is to be real at all--as a threat to patriarchy. And one cannot tell whether, on this point, you agree with them, or how--if you do--you come to hold that a legal change of this sort and magnitude could somehow be effective at itself causing profound social change.

-- YaeAhnPark - 04 Apr 2008



Webs Webs

r6 - 22 Jan 2009 - 02:26:47 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM