Mastering Life in Late Chosôn:

A Woman's Guidebook to Everyday Life

Mastering Life in Late Choson: A Woman's Guidebook to Everyday Life

by Michael Pettid, Professor of Korean Studies, Binghamton University (SUNY)

Date & Time: Tuesday, October 18, 2022, at 1:30 PM AZT

Location: Durham 240 & Zoom



Despite rhetoric to the contrary, women in late Chosŏn Korea had numerous avenues to self-expression and presenting their ideas to others. We can certainly cite poems, novels and songs as some of these female-created commentaries along with other less visible formats such as shaman songs and even the management of a family’s household. While domestic work is not often understood as being particularly critical to the workings of a given society, it is in fact the very foundation of a society. Without the proper preparation of foodstuffs or practicing healthy dietary habits, sickness and waste of resources would cripple larger society. Moreover, first aid, managing pregnancies and illnesses are crucial to making one’s home a successful building block for the larger community.

This talk will examine the Kyuhap ch’ongsô [The Encyclopedia of Daily Life], which was compiled by Lady Yi Pinhôgak (1759-1824) in the early years of the nineteenth century. The work was meant to be a guide to knowledge that womenfolk needed to properly manage a household and was passed on to her daughters and daughters-in-law. I will examine two of the five volumes of the work that cover food and drink, and prenatal care, medicine, and first aid. The work gives great insight into what upper status women held to be important during this period and how they sought to achieve their goals. Lady Yi used various sources for her work including those written in Literary Chinese, Korean, and also oral knowledge that must have circulated widely at the time. The result is a work unlike any other that gives readers a small glimpse into the lives of upper status women during this time.

Speaker's Bio

Prof. Pettid

Michael Pettid is Professor of Korean Studies at Binghamton University where he has taught since 2003. The focus of his research and teaching is premodern Korea's history, literature, religion, and culture. His most recent books are the co-edited volumes of Premodern Korean Literary Prose (Columbia University Press, 2018) and Death, Mourning, and the Afterlife in Korea: Critical Aspects of Death from Ancient to Contemporary Times (University of Hawaii Press, 2014); he also has monographs of Unyŏng-on: A Love Affair at the Royal Palace of Chosŏn Korea (Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley), and Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History (Reaktion Books, 2008) among numerous other publications. His most recent publication is a co-authored and annotated translation of a nineteenth century guidebook for women, the Kyuhap ch’ongsŏ [The Encyclopedia of Daily Life] (University of Hawaii Press, 2021).