The Traditional Korean House Hanok as a Reflection of the Family Hierarchy

  • Zuzanna Krzysztofik (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


The traditional Korean house – the hanok – represents a specific eastern attitude towards nature, i.e. adapting to the geographical conditions instead of making efforts to control or modify them. Aside from socioeconomically determined differences in the houses of the upper, middle or commoner class, the individual distinctions of a hanok have mainly resulted from their natural surroundings. A hanok’s harmony with the environment comprises its location, structure, style and building material as well as the outdoor design. Moreover, the architectural features are directly related to the traditional social order in Korea, which was developed during the reign of the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) in line with the state ideology. Adopted from China, the orthodox ideology of Neo-Confucianism was believed to become a comprehensive recipe for social and political renewal in Korea. The government methodically implemented it as a state religion and law. According to the doctrine of the Neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi, human relations as well as obligations for different social strata became strictly defined. Elaborate family rituals were introduced to reinforce and maintain the patriarchal system of Korean society, in which clans played a leading role. The residential architecture was also influenced by and adapted for profound changes in the social life of Korea. This article focuses on the impact of Neo-Confucian thought on family life in Korean upper-class homes. Predominantly, the noble families strictly followed Zhu Xi’s ritualism, i.e. the extended hierarchy rules and the complex ancestor cult rituals. As an example, the case of a contemporary jongga family is examined, which provides additional information on the current developments of the traditional life in a hanok.