[KS] Korean Commons?

James C Schopf jcschopf at hotmail.com
Sat Sep 1 20:12:28 EDT 2012

Well Field System is 井田(정전) 제도.   As I understand, in the Zhou Dynasty the proceeds from the land would go to the King.
Considering the more active Kings at the beginning of the Chosun Dynasty, and the flourishing of Neo-Confucianism in the 1500s, I wonder if the early Chosun Kings ever considered the well field system as part of a Confucian reform program to increase state revenue.  The tax-exempt Yangban would have had a strong incentive to defeat such a plan, however.

From: ubcdbaker at hotmail.com
To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws; hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Date: Sat, 1 Sep 2012 14:57:07 -0700
Subject: Re: [KS] Korean Commons?

서민 means "commoners," not "commons"!  As for the idea that mountains constituted a "commons" in pre-modern Korea, I am skeptical. There were many lawsuits during the Chosŏn dynasty over burial sites on mountains, which suggests that at least parts of those mountains were seen as private property rather than common property. It is true that poor peasants sometimes abandoned life in lowland villages and became "slash and burn" agriculturalists [火田] in the mountains. However, it is unlikely that was seen as the lawful use of communal property.   

Don Baker 
Department of Asian Studies 
University of British Columbia 
Vancouver, Canada V6T 1Z2 
don.baker at ubc.ca

Date: Sun, 2 Sep 2012 06:29:20 +0900
From: john.eperjesi at gmail.com
To: hoffmann at koreaweb.ws; koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
Subject: Re: [KS] Korean Commons?

All your responses are very helpful, so thanks!  Especially the "well-field" concept.  That definitely points me in the right direction.

One point: in English usage, "to commons" could also function as a verb, not just as a noun.  It was the act of making something common or shared.  

Finally, I was told that "서민" is the Korean term roughly equivalent to commons.

Thanks again!

On Sat, Sep 1, 2012 at 8:24 PM, Frank Hoffmann <hoffmann at koreaweb.ws> wrote:

One more note:

The TWO definitions that John Eperjesi provided--again quoted below as
(A) and (B), well, we might want to be aware of the context here: I
suggest NOT to create any direct context between these two quotes,
these two definitions, at least not if you look at such a topic from a
historical point of view. Contemporary groups like e.g. the 'Pirates'
and others loosely associate to that centuries old concept, but they
completely redefine it at the same time. Those contemporary definitions
are also very problematic: "biodiversity," for example, used in below
quoted definition (B), obviously is a noun that describes a "state of
being" (of being diverse), thus it cannot belong or not belong to
anyone. Same as with any sort of other political movements (e.g.
Minjung movement in Korea in the 1980s) such associations with historic
concepts and events, however forced, provide new movements with an
additional "historical" legitimacy and emotional binding. That's about

Today, and since John did not mention that I do so here, "commons" is a
term that is mostly used by programmers and by the Internet community
that is involved with any sort of digital product or online texts and
arts creation. "Creative Commons" (CC) is a non-profit organization in
California that issues free copyright licenses (known as "Creative
Commons licenses"). Even as just a user you may have well seen these,
you may have been asked to confirm the your acceptance of the CC
license after you downloaded a free program. There are also lots of
artists using this licensing system now, and CC is also very popular in
Korea--but well, everywhere else also.
--> http://creativecommons.or.kr/
--> http://creativecommons.org/tag/korea  (2008)




> The commons refers to the shared communal spaces that existed in
> England before the enclosure acts that founded capitalism, and was
> defended in the "Charter of the Forests" that accompanied the Magna
> Carta:
> "The Charter specifically states that "Henceforth every freeman, in
> his wood or on his land that he has in the forest, may with impunity
> make a mill, fish-preserve, pond, marl-pit, ditch, or arable in
> cultivated land outside coverts, provided that no injury is thereby
> given to any neighbour."


> "In essence, the commons means everything that belongs to all of us,
> and the many ways we work together to use these assets to build a
> better society. This encompasses fresh air and clean water, public
> spaces and public services, the Internet and the airwaves, our legal
> system, scientific knowledge, biodiversity, language, artistic
> traditions, fashion styles, cuisines and much more. Taken together,
> it represents a vast inheritance bequeathed equally to every human―
> and one that, if used wisely, will provide for future generations."
> from: http://www.thenation.com/article/163670/struggle-commons#

Frank Hoffmann

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