Wrongful Deaths

Selected Inquest Records from Nineteenth-Century Korea

Translated by Sun Joo Kim and Jungwon Kim

  • Published: 2014
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / Japan; Law
  • Bibliographic information: 280 pp., 7 illus., 1 map, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Korean Studies of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies
  • Contents

This collection presents and analyzes inquest records that tell the stories of ordinary Korean people under the Choson court (1392-1910). Extending the study of this period, usually limited to elites, into the realm of everyday life, each inquest record includes a detailed postmortem examination and features testimony from everyone directly or indirectly related to the incident. The result is an amazingly vivid, colloquial account of the vibrant, multifaceted sociocultural and legal culture of early modern Korea.
Sun Joo Kim is the Harvard-Yenching Professor of Korean History at Harvard University. Jungwon Kim is assistant professor of Korean history at Columbia University.

"This book provides an extremely rare view into social interactions among people of quite different classes in Choson Korea. Points of interest abound."
-Robert E. Hegel, Washington University, St. Louis

"This is an important contribution that significantly advances our knowledge of nineteenth-century Korean legal history. The translated cases shine by being able to introduce daily struggles of nonelites and illustrate the complex dynamics of the judiciary system during the last century of the Choson dynasty."
-Jisoo Kim, George Washington University

Translators' Notes
Map of Nineteenth-century Korea

Introduction Choson Korea in Its Last Century

Case 1 An Adulterous Widower Meets a Violent Death
Yang Hang-nyon (P'yongyang, P'yongan Province, 1866)

Case 2 A Family Activist Confronts a Local Magnate
Ms. Pak (Yongin, Kyonggi Province, Late Eighteenth Century)

Case 3 A Defiant Slave Challenges His Master with Death
Yi Pong-dol (Anui, Kyongsang Province, 1842)

Case 4 Two Widows Fight
Madam Chang and Ms. Un (Yech'on, Kyongsang Province, 1842)

Case 5 A Heartless Wet Nurse Abuses an Infant
Mun Chong-ji (Chunghwa, P'yongan Province, 1866)

Case 6 A Widower Seeks Private Settlement
Ms. Chong (Yongch'on, Kyongsang Province, 1889)

Case 7 Adultery Leads to Murder
Ms. Paek (Anak, Hwanghae Province, 1897)

Case 8 An Illegal Burial Begets a Son but Kills a Relative
Kim Kap-san (Hoeyang, Kangw n Province, 1899)


"[Wrongful Deaths] contributes significantly to our understanding of not only the inner workings of the criminal justice system but also the social, cultural, and economic contexts of the last century of the Chos n dynasty (1392-1910). Thoughtfully compiled and translated by Sun Joo Kim and Jungwon Kim, the selected eight cases open a window onto familial and social relations and everyday struggles in nineteenth-century Korea. . . . [A] most welcome addition to the literature on the history of Chos n Korea."
-Jisoo M. Kim, Journal of Asian Studies