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Engaging in Dialogue: Women’s Petitions in Eighteenth Century Chosŏn Korea

Abstract

This paper examines women’s engagement in dialogue with the state via the petition system during the eighteenth century Chosŏn Korea (1392-1910). By using the petitions, it focuses on how women appropriated the legal channel to voice their concerns to the state and how the state reacted to women’s voice. It demonstrates women’s utilization of the legal space, either in written or verbal mode, to actively engage in dialogue with the state and examines their petitioning strategies to persuade the authorities and their usage of rhetoric. It has been often assumed by scholars that women during this period were prescribed with only domestic roles. However, I illustrate that the state enhanced women’s public roles on the basis of their domestic roles by allowing them to raise domestic concerns to the state. By petitioning, women were performing their duties as wives, mothers, daughters, and daughters-in-law. In this paper, I analyze one specific case to show how women exercised their agency by utilizing the petition system. In 1794, an elite woman, Madam Kwŏn, went all the way to the capital, Seoul, to present verbal petition to the central government about her husband’s unjust death. She cried out to the authorities how her husband had died from severe corporal punishment which she claimed to have been unwarrantedly inflicted by the County Magistrate. She appealed to the higher authorities to seek justice by asking them to punish the County Magistrate. This paper analyzes Madam Kwŏn’s case in depth and explicates its implications.

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