We Were Deceived by Tradition; Korean Ritualistic Culture, “Jesa”
We Were Deceived by Tradition; Korean Ritualistic Culture, “Jesa”
  • Kim Tae-eun (Planning Editor)
  • 승인 2023.01.13 14:15
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Since the ancient times, it has been a part of Korean culture to hold rituals to honor our deceased ancestors. Tradition is just tradition; however, inconvenience and trouble as a result of such traditional culture hound us who live in the present generation. Accordingly, Sungkyunkwan University introduced a simplified ritual table. Let us look at how it was made simple......................... Ed


 ‘Jesa’ is a traditional culture that contains the Confucian spirit of Korea. Jesa means to honor ancestors, and it involves a ritual. On the day of Jesa, various foods are prepared, and people bow to honor their deceased elderly and ancestors. Jesa started in ancient China to receive the grace and protection of ancestors. Due to its geographical closeness to China, Korea was also exposed to it through cultural exchanges with China.

 Jesa is divided into three types: Gi-je, Cha-rye, and Myo-je. Gi-je is held on the anniversary of one’s death, and Cha-rye is held on the Lunar New Year and Chu-seok. Myo-je involves visiting your ancestors‘ graves with food and bowing in front of the graves. However, in the modern times, they are used without distinction. In the table setting method of Jesa, there are norms, such as ‘Hong-dong-baek-seo’ and ‘Jo-yul-i-si.’ Basically, at least 15 kinds of food are served at the table of Jesa. However, in July 2022, Choi Young-gap, the new chairman of the ‘Sungkyunkwan KCA,’ said, ”Hong-dong-baek-seo and Jo-yul-i-si is groundless. You can just put foods conveniently, and I think it will take a few fruits, including rice, soup, vegetables, and alcohol for the table,” he said, introducing the simplified table of Jesa. In other words, the table of Jesa that we currently set up is a table of Gi-je, which celebrates the anniversary of someone‘s death. Therefore, there is no need to set it up like how people do during Chuseok and New Year.

 Through the disclosure of this simplified table, a big wave occurred in Korean society. The biggest change occurred in Korea‘s ‘daughter-in-law’ culture. First, the daughter-in-law culture in Korea is a little unique. When a woman marries, she becomes a family member of her husband, sets up a Jesa table to commemorate her husband‘s ancestors, and watches from a step away when men perform a ritual (honoring his ancestors in front of the table). Because it is a ritual that follows the Confucian tradition, women cannot participate due to their status that had been considered lower than men’s. From a modern perspective where gender equality is important, this does not fit the social atmosphere. Therefore, the ritual culture has recently been a hot potato, and this simplified ritual table has become a spark for many daughters-in-law to cry out injustice and make a difference.

 Lee Geun-pil, the 16th great-grandson of Toegye Yi Hwang, said: “Confucian culture is recognized as a Jesa but, in fact, Confucianism is an individualistic idea that emphasizes individual dignity, subjectivity, freedom, and responsibility.” Experts say that there is no reason to continue to insist on a ritual that creates unnecessary labor, so ‘fake’ traditions are expected to be simplified or eliminated.


Kim Tae-eun (Planning Editor)


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