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 work.

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.