2.1 Ancient Societies - Group Control of Land
Early life in Korea was seminomadic. Clan communities organized
life collectively to guarantee livelihood and protection.
Fishing, hunting, and agriculture in the river valleys provided
subsistence. Around 500 B.C., bronze and iron were introduced
from China and had a great influence on agriculture. The metal
made iron ploughs, sophisticated reservoirs and embankments
possible. Oxen, cattle, rice, and silk production were introduced
at that time.
The increasing productivity in agriculture allowed the emergence
of a small family system instead of clan communities. It created
a surplus, and some families became richer than others. To
control .more land meant more wealth. Individual families
united in tribal communities which tried to conquer land and
take prisoners to work as slaves. The chiefs could secure
more land and became richer. While land was controlled by
groups, the technical development in agriculture and its consequences
brought differences into the former egalitarian society. Some
were in control of more land; some had to submit part of their
product to the more powerful; and others were slaves and did
The trend to organize larger regions led, in 57 B.C., to
the formation of three kingdoms, actually alliances of tribes
with the chief of the strongest tribe as the king. This socalled
Three-Kingdom Period lasted until 668 A.D. The distinction
between classes became more marked: conquering tribesmen above
conquered tribes, chiefs above petty peasants, etc. In time,
this division was elevated to the "Kolpunje" bone-rank
system, according to the individual's rank and social position
at birth. The advent of Confucianism around 350 A.D. strengthened
this aristocratic class system.
This structure of the society influenced the system of control
over land. But power was always held by groups and not by
individuals. Land was controlled by the state, i.e., the ruling
community, not by the king alone. He only effected control
on behalf of the group. Much land was under his supervision.
The ruling class obtained land grants as a salary for services,
not as property, but merely to be used for cultivation with
the labour of slaves and for reaping the yield. Peasants were
given plots of land to cultivate against the payment of taxes,
and villages or clans had the right to use communal land.
Thus, while groups and not individuals controlled the land,
the class consciousness and separation of rich and poor fostered
the emergence of large estates in the hands of an aristocratic
class. Their right was limited to usufruct - all that was
necessary at a time when much land was available in comparison
with the limited population.