1 Introduction

This chapter critically reimagines the dynamics between Korean Confucianism and family and rediscovers constructive meanings and functions of emotions (jeong 情). First, this chapter introduces the Korean concept of jeong in relation to the closely related concepts of uri (we/us) and han (resentments). Korean women have been recognized as icons of the uniquely Korean feelings of jeong and han. Unlike general assumptions that Korean society has been described as an extreme form of patriarchy since Joseon dynasty (1392–1897), Korean women’s role in the Confucian family is predominant and even more powerful than women’s in the Western family on some points. This chapter analyzes multiple degrees of jeong as more than genderized emotions but transformative affects to bring compassions and care for others despite its destructiveness and dangers. This chapter recognizes Korean women’s leading roles in traditional Confucian families as advisors, educators, and caregivers. Korean women have thrived through han by dealing with salim (enlivening) as the subject of life. Finally, this chapter suggests its familial expansion to the holistic planetary ‘eco- family’ beyond biological ties and anthropocentrism for which jeong is a crucial element to interconnect humans and more than humans.

2 The Familial Dynamics of Uri, Han, and Jeong

What is it about jeong that makes it so uniquely Korean? Jeong is closely related to the term we (uri 우리) by asking, “Are we strangers, others? (uriga naminga? 우리가 남인가?)”, which means jeong is a main factor that draws a line between us and them or others. Basically, jeong refers to the emotional and psychological bonds that join persons in a Korean cultural context; it permeates all levels, dividing the world into different degrees of us (uri 우리) versus them (nam 남). With jeong, people in a community become like a family and share communal feelings via solidarity and compassion. In this sense, jeong can be actually practiced and is realized as a familial attachment amongst Koreans that it can potentially be and is often extended to strangers beyond actual biological ties of kinship.

Koreans’ familial relationship is connected by the term uri (우리 our/us). It is always, uri jib (우리집 our home), uri ddal (우리딸 our daughter), uri sengmyeong (우리생명 our life), and uri nara (우리나라 our nation). Uri is far more than a word that connotes togetherness or possession, it is a word embedded with one organismic communal body of peoplehood. Uri encompasses what it means to cultivate a care community that gives birth to a selfhood not the other way around. A selfhood is shaped and defined by the community of which we are a part. Western modernity and the cultural transformations that has engendered are typically more individualistic while traditional Asian, African, and indigenous cultures tend to be more convivial. The scholar of comparative political theory, Sungmoon Kim, argues that the social-psychologically constituted uri in Korean society is qualitatively different from social groups in Western liberal society because the Korean uri is accompanied by the group-specific self-transformation of individual participants, generating a unique group dynamic that is rarely found in liberal associations (Kim 2014: 213–214). This difference is from how they recognize the self. An individualistic sense of self is defined more by who they are on the inside, minimizing the influence of factors, contexts, and people outside the individual. A convivial sense of self is defined more by who they are with other people, or by their membership in a group. In this regard, uri is intersubjective self (I) in the community we belong to via recognition of empathetical affection and familial relationality beyond biological ties. Maintaining social harmony, getting along with others, and meeting social expectations are more important in convivial cultures. In Korean social psychology, uri is indistinguishably interwoven with ‘I.’ This is evident in the way that Koreans refer to their mothers not as ‘my mother’, but as ‘our mother’ (uri eomma 우리엄마). Mothers in Korea act like a mother to everyone, not just their children. This extent of attention and concern can seem burdensome, or even an invasion of privacy, but in a world where society is becoming more fragmented and individualized, the care for those around you expressed through jeong becomes increasingly valuable. Jeong ties people together in the category of uri regardless if they are family or friends or not.

Jeong is formed through relationships while at the same time relationships are consolidated via jeong. Due to this mutual relationality of jeong, Korean people say that jeong is piled up and is accumulated (jeongi ssaida 정이 쌓이다). Like an old grandmother piling plate upon plate of food in front of their grandchildren to the point they feel they might burst. Jeong is largely related to love, a deep-seated love. There is a cliché in Korean, ireoda jeongdeulgeteo (이러다 정들겠어, someone may grow on you), which means that you feel close to the person as a good friend. The relationality of jeong is extensive beyond one’s family or human relationships. One can feel jeong for their family, friends, lovers, colleagues, and even for places like their house and objects such as hometown or their car. Jeong is more easily felt than verbally described. Koreans often express jeong through unspoken actions. Jeong can be seen in the Korean custom such as sharing food with people including strangers, helping each other, taking baths together as friends, and so on.

As a unique cultural feeling for Koreans jeong is deeply related to han (한/恨, deep resentment) that is also a representative sentiment feeling of Koreans. Both jeong and han are expressed as something formed with a verb, 맺다 (maetda, form). While the term jeong is combined with an active verb 맺다 (maetda), for example, I and my husband have formed jeong (i.e. I and my husband fell in love). The word han is combined with a passive verb 맺히다 (maechida, being formed), for example, in my heart-mind han has been formed. Jeong is more like an active emotion and motion by oneself via mutual relationships while han occurs in one’s heart-mind by external causes such as violence, oppression, exploitation, invasion, coercion, and colonization without a right reciprocity. A Korean American constructive theologian, Andrew Sung Park, defines han as the critical wound of the heart formed by unjust psychosomatic repression, as well as by socio-political, economic, and cultural oppressions such as Holocaust, racial discriminations, child-molestation, exploitation of labors, and patriarchy (Park 1993: 10). Park describes han from victims’ perspectives as not only the abysmal experience of pain but also as being dominated by feelings of abandonment and helplessness (15). He names han “the wounded heart”: “When the aching heart is wounded again by external violence, the victim suffers a yet deeper pain. The wound produced by such repeated abuse and injustice is han in the heart” (20). Park has highlighted the link between women’s experiences of han and patriarchal violence.

Along with uri (we), han (resentment) and jeong (attachment) are closely related as uniquely Korean feelings at the same time they have been generally recognized as feelings of femininity in relation to Korean women and patriarchy. Korean Christian theologian Jaehoon Lee compared women and men in dealing with han; Most often women’s experiences are allowed by patriarchy to experience han as jeonghan (정한/情恨, love-hate resentment/love from han) whereas men are dictated by the norms of patriarchy to experience wonhan (원한/怨恨, vengeful resentment/hate from han) that is often encouraged to lead to the practice of dan (斷, cutting off forms of oppression) (Lee 1994: 37). There is inevitable coexistence of han and jeong as jeonghan. Given this dichotomy of han and jeong and their ironical combinations of both, both han and jeong have been understood as depressive and negative while jeonghan has been interpreted as passive, ineffective, compromised, and essentially domesticated as gendered. Wonhee Anne Joh, a Korean postcolonial theologian, powerfully advocates that we need to always be creatively seeking a positive and transformative nature of jeong in overcoming oppressive han (Joh 2006: 23).

As I mentioned above, three very intensive and intimate concepts in Korean, 우리, 한, and 정: uri (we/us/our), han (wounded heart/resentment), and jeong (caring heart/attachment feelings) connect the Korean people with a silent force, cultivating shared culture and kinship. While han can be compared to the dark cloud that hangs over modern Korea and the promise of clear skies on the horizon, jeong can be metaphorically likened to the enormous umbrella that embraces everyone in terms of uri. Korean people regard Korea as one extended family by calling uri nara (우리나라, our country) a nation family (gukga/guojia 國家). Kim calls jeong an “uri-building familial relationality” that induces “uri-responsibility” to perform social actions for a unique Korean-Confucian democracy (Kim 2014: 213 and 217). I agree with his critical point that “uri-responsibility works through jeong (212),” especially miun jeong (미운정, affectionate hatred, so-called, han), which can be and have been constructively transformed into people’s democratic movements against oppressive systemic evil with collective moral responsibility. There are some shared han and jeong in the category of uri as Korean people today regardless of gender identity have via the historical traumas (han) persisting from the period of Japanese colonial rule over Korea (1910–1945), the Korean war (1950–1953), the division of Korea (1953–), the military dictatorship (1963–1979), the Gwangju uprising and massacre (May 18, 1980), the IMF crisis (1997–2001) and the Sewol ferry disaster (April 16, 2014). Throughout this han-ridden history of modern Korea, Korean people gather still can together as one organic body of uri nara (our country) under the name of a nation family actively participating in creative democratic movements such as the “enlivening” salim movements (Korean environmental activism) for responding to the IMF crisis and the post-Sewol candlelight protests of 2016–2017.

Regardless of the prejudicial assumptions that Korean women are apolitical and excluded from the patriarchal national politics, many Korean women have actively participated in the Korean democratic struggles. The salim movement is also predominantly carried out by Korean women in the everyday practice of caring for their homes. Ironically, this politicization arising from Korean women’s traditional gender roles deconstructs the patriarchal designation between the public domain of politics and the private space of the family. The entanglement of jeong, han, and uri in contemporary Korean political experience might run deeper and broader than a similar triadic affective entanglement as relates to the complex issues of gender oppression and violence in the Korean Confucian patriarchy. Nevertheless, in order to discover the positive elements of jeong, it is imperative that we need to know how jeong has been consistently genderized and feminized, and how women’s roles in the traditional and contemporary Korea function in the dynamics of jeong, han, and uri.

3 Jeong and Korean Women

Jeong as a Korean concept of affection has been interpreted as a complicated feeling of human relationships but somehow practiced as a gendered concept that enforces women to accept and justify their sufferings rendered by a patriarchal society. Despite the constructive and positive elements of jeong in human relationships, jeong can also be a most vulnerability-inducing and dangerous concept when practiced as part of a psychological suppression strategy to overlook the transgressions of perpetuators. Jeong has been essentialized and feminized within the patriarchal culture in Korea. Jeong is like a double-edged sword that allows vulnerability and acceptance of heterogeneity and differences. Joh utilizes jeong and constructs a love-centered theology of the cross. She understands jeong (love) in relation to han (suffering). She understands the Christian act of atonement as the han of Jesus’ crucifixion and the transformative power of jeong/love in Jesus’ life and death. She argues that the cross performs a double gesture of han and jeong (xxii). Joh’s juxtaposition of han and jeong makes her postcolonial Christology a Korean contextual theology since han and jeong are highly representative words describing historical and cultural feelings of Koreans. Beyond a passive and reductively feminized form of relationality, she suggests a powerful women’s embodiment of jeong as dynamic, empowering, and oriented toward sustaining forms of life that could possibly unravel han (Joh 2006: 127).

As Joh warns, patriarchal domestication of jeong has often justified unhealthy relationships. In many cases, a woman couldn’t divorce from her abusive spouse ‘because of jeong (jeong ttaemune 정때문에).’ When an unhappy married woman says ‘because of jeong I live-with my spouse- (jeong ttaemune sanda 정때문에 산다), jeong can be interpreted as a negative comment. In other words, even if the wife wants to divorce with her abusive husband, she shouldn’t because of jeong. For instance, imagine an unhappy married woman who has grown sick of her husband over the years due to his mistreatments, but she stays married to him because either she doesn’t have any other sources to get out of her marriage or she can bear with him just enough to live under the same roof. It can be interpreted as a blind loyalty, or a hopeless faith. In any case, jeong doesn’t mean an erotic love at all. It is more like a habitual and unreflective ‘attachment’ to relationships even in unwanted situations of living. Indeed, what she needs is a definitive dan (斷, cutting off forms of oppression) and danjeong (斷情, cutting off attachment) to free her from the oppression of her marriage. However, there is a fear of being a single woman due to social prejudice against divorced women, which seems to be far from an idealized traditional role for women, the so-called wise-mother good-wife (hyeonmoyangcheo/xianmuliangqi 賢母良妻)Footnote 1 model in traditional Korean Confucian society. This model represented the ideal for womanhood in East Asia in the late 1800s and early 1900s and its effects continue to the present. Women were expected to master domestic skills such as sewing and cooking, as well as to develop the moral and intellectual skills requisite to raise strong, intelligent sons for the sake of the nation. Even in my college days in the late twentieth century in Korea, some of my classmates expressed their dream occupation as being a devoted ‘wise-mother and good-wife.’

This idealized womanhood as ‘wise-mother good-wife’ has been enforced by patriarchal society and has become a barometer to judge women as qualified or as relatively worthless. In this binary stereotypical gender bias, women have been enforced to embrace even their unjust and abusive relationships in the name of jeong. If one rejects this traditional model of womanhood, she might easily receive adjectives in front of her name such as selfish, unwomanly, unruly, disobedient, opinionated, useless, tough, butch, and so on. Having grown up in Korea, I was also taught to comply with male authorities and often trained to be hiding my feelings and opinions. For Korean women in general, quietness (jeong/jing 靜) and caring love (jeong/qing 情) are virtually kin concepts. Women have no way of venting or letting out frustrations when scolded by in-laws, elder siblings, or teachers because of the prohibitions involved in the rigid hierarchy of traditional Korean society. Even today, the Korean patriarchy still demands that the younger generation find ways to fit into the structure of the old (Son 2013:23). For instance, in a famous Korean drama, My Mother Is Having An Affair (SBS May 4–October 23, 2020), it is very typical that a mother-in-law scolds and even slaps her daughter-in-law when the daughter-in-law talks back and presents an opinion against her. It is an irony then that I grew up in a cultural context wherein women’s emotions were suppressed while at the same time being labeled as a gender that was by nature more emotional than men were. Both jeong/jing (靜, quietness) and jeong/qing (情, caring love) have been expected from women as cultural values and virtues. Hiding women’s feelings has become a virtue under the traditional gender binaries. Women’s sacrifice, selflessness, the motivation to internalize women’s opinions and desires, and the humility to minimize their agency are considered virtuous and normalized.

The silencing and mutilation of women’s voices has become usual given some popular Korean proverbs such as “when hens crow, the house is ruined,” “Loud women will be kicked out of family” and “Arguing with a woman in the morning and your entire day will be ruined.” In this regard, a Korean marriage therapist Chul Woo Son listed twelve particular proverbs (to me they sound disgustingly familiar since I have heard throughout my lifetime) made by “men for men” shows the distinct trait of placing women in the role of submission and muting their voices (26–28):

  1. 1.

    If you do not beat your woman for three days, she becomes a fox.

  2. 2.

    A woman’s laughter is a bag of tears.

  3. 3.

    When three women get together, the dishes will break.

  4. 4.

    A woman must not know the market day in her own town, if she is to have a good life.

  5. 5.

    If you listen to a woman’s advice, the house comes to ruin; if you don’t listen, the house comes to shame.

  6. 6.

    If a woman cries, no good luck for three years.

  7. 7.

    Even a tiger won’t eat the intestines of a man with two wives.

  8. 8.

    You know what’s in water a thousand fathoms deep while you can’t know a woman’s heart-mind.

  9. 9.

    As she carries the dinner table over the door still, a woman has a dozen thoughts.

  10. 10.

    A woman’s mouth is a cheap thing.

  11. 11.

    When a woman bears resentments (han 한), you will see the summer frost (Hell hath no fury).

  12. 12.

    After getting slapped at work, come home and hit your woman.

Those listed proverbs above seem to be extremely misogynic. However, I can’t deny my embodied experiences that I have been going through due to my biological sex in a patriarchal culture. Nevertheless, in order to transform the traditional values which are still widely used even today, I need to return to the text again and revisit the context once more to say neither the one nor the other, but something else, something totally new and constructive that will bring forth a renewed power of life.

Suppressing women’s feelings by silencing them is justified by the patriarchal paradigm of namjon yeobi (男尊女卑, men are superior/women are inferior) which can be easily summed by samjong ji do (三從之道, the way of three obediences). Before marriage, a woman should obey her father. After marriage, she should obey her husband. In the event of the husband’s death, she should obey her son. The idea of the three obediences came from the Book of Rites also written in Naehun (內訓, Teaching Women, 1522) by Queen Sohye (소혜왕후/昭惠王后; 1437–1504).Footnote 2 Naehun elaborates on the various scripted roles that a married woman had to perform successfully in order to be an obedient wife and a daughter-in-law, and a caring mother. In the chapter of Marriage (Hollyejang 婚禮章) in Naehun, Queen Sohye seemed to embrace the way of triple obediences (samjongjido 三從之道) along with the seven deadly sins (chilgeojiak 七去之惡) that justify divorce:

According to Confucius, a wife should be submissive to her husband, not handle affairs by herself, and fulfill ‘three obediences (samjong 三從)’: Obey her father when unmarried, obey her husband when married, and obey her son after her husband dies. This means that a woman should never handle things alone. (Naehun; trans. Lee 1976: 154)

The seven valid causes for divorce are: (1) disobedience to the parents-in-law, (2) inability to give birth to a son, (3) adultery, (4) jealousy, (5) genetic disease, (6) a lot of talk, (7) and kleptomania (Lee 1976: 153).

All of the above are extremely preposterous and terribly oppressive based on the double standards pervasive in this binary understanding of sex and gender. However, Queen Sohye listed three anti-divorce facts (sambulchul 三不出) to protect women from being kicked out, even if they fall under the seven sins listed above: You could not abandon your wife for three facts, the fact that the wife has spent three years of mourning for her parents-in-law’s deaths, or she has no place to return, or you became rich after your marriage (153). There is undeniable sexism in the patriarchal paradigm of gender relations throughout Queen Sohye’s Naehun as she started the chapter of ‘Husband and Wife (Bubujang 夫婦章)’ as follows:

The husband is the heaven of his wife. The wife should respect him as if she serves her father…. If your husband is angry, you must not say words until he calms down. Even if he beats you, how dare you bear a grudge? Men are superior to women while women are inferior to men (namjonyeobi 男尊女卑). It is absolutely fair given the relationship, if your husband hits and scolds you. How could you talk back and show your anger? (Lee 1976: 155–156)

Historically in practice, Confucianism has contributed to gender inequality and oppression of women in Korea. Although the contemporary Koreans are not obviously Confucians, they are still deeply permeated and guided by Confucian values. Confucianism was the official philosophy and the way of life throughout the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) in Korea. Confucianism has most greatly influenced Korean culture than any other philosophies of Asia. It is not really wrong to say that Neo-Confucianism has been institutionalized and systemically proliferated in every part of life of the Korean people through to the present. In this aspect, Queen Sohye’s quotes and summaries with her own commentaries of Confucian classics by extracting the key points of the women’s discipline from four books of Chinese classical books for women such as Biographies of Exemplary Women (Lienu 烈女), Lesser Learning (Xiaoxue 小學), The Precious Mirror of Bright Heart-Mind (Mingxinbaojian 明心寶鑑), Chinese Introduction for Women (Liexiao 列校), followed and introduced Confucian philosophies and social orders. Considering the social construction of Confucian hierarchy in her time, it is not so surprising.

Confucianism in historical practice was used from elitist and hierarchical viewpoints. And a complete education was not always accessible to every human person. Only those with access to the knowledge gained respect and established themselves as part of a ruling legitimacy. The actual cause of composing Naehun was indeed from her jeong (caring heart-mind/compassion) to encourage women who couldn’t read Confucian classics (in hanja) to teach them how to become ‘an exemplary person (gunja/junji 君子).’ In the traditional Confucian Korea and China, the junzi as a Confucian term often translated as ‘gentleman’ was not gender neutral. Nevertheless, it is neither sufficient nor generous to say that becoming junzi is open to women too. Nonetheless, Confucianism in reality was used from the elitist and hierarchical viewpoints. Queen Sohye regretted that there were no educational books that women could read easily at that time. She explained how she came to write the book in the introduction of Naehun:

Humans are born with the sacred energy of heaven and earth, and contain the five virtues of human relationships. In theory, beads or stones are not different. But why are orchids and wormwoods different? It depends on whether or not you have done your best to cultivate yourself. The enlightenment of the king Zhou of Shang, was further expanded by the wisdom of his wife, Daji. The king Yu of Zhou dynasty’s supremacy was derived from the power of his wife, Bao Si. Who could be better than these women to serve the king and serve the husband? Politics is ruling or dizzying, and the rise and fall of the country depends on the brightness and stupidity of the king-husbands, but also on the good and bad performance of their wives. Therefore, we must teach women as well (37–40).

Queen Sohye presents an active goal of the education of women as the cultivation of one’s inner self, a self that possesses innate moral goodness and the virtues of the five relations endowed by the spirit of heaven and earth. Queen Sohye envisioned a female gunja/junzi (君子, exemplary person) via learning through her inspiration from Mengzi in Naehun. Confucianism emphasizes ren (仁, human-heartedness) and confirms that every individual feels sympathetic when others are suffering (ceyin zhi xin 惻隱之心) that is one of four sprouts according to Mengzi. For Mengzi, the heart-mind’s endorsement of all virtues is based on its sympathetic ability. Queen Sohye justifies her calling for educating women: “I feel deep regret that women are not allowed to learn classics and exemplary moral conduct but are only expected to learn household works such as weaving. Women should learn the wisdom of the sages. The rise and fall of a country are not only related to the wisdom and ignorance of men, but also intimately tied to the good and bad qualities of women; thus, women must be taught” (9). Providing education for women, Queen Sohye expanded the objects of cultivation of one’s inner self for all. Inclusion of vernacular hangul translations in the Naehun helps a reader who lacks sufficient knowledge of classical Chinese to comprehend Chinese classics.

In this regard, Queen Sohye did not place filial piety (hyo/xiao 孝) as the most important virtue of women, but instead emphasized wisdom (ji/zhi 智) and righteousness (eui/yi 義). Within the Confucian constructed gender norms, she emphasized the importance of education for women through her text and provided a space in which women could exercise some agency. Queen Sohye presented the role of woman as a competent state counselor, emphasizing the role of a mother who takes the responsibilities of education for her children, and securing the position of matriarchs within the patriarchal Confucian social order.

Indeed, she invited women to sagehood as exemplary persons (gunja/junzi). There are gender-neutral teachings for becoming junzi, which are difficult to be designated as separate teachings according to gender identity. Given the belief that everyone can become a sage, the goal of Naehun is a completion of moral personhood. Thus, these educated women were morally as great as any moral man. Their men might make mistakes, but these educated women provided advice and counsel for them. Queen Sohye recognized education as a path to become sages via their compassionate heart-mind shared with people who suffered from illiteracy. Women in Sohye’s view were indeed junji-to-be.

As I showed dual aspects of women in Naehun, discovering/uncovering the positive and hidden elements is a critical step toward a constructive and creative reading of the traditional classics. Feminist philosophers in the East and West tend to be anti-Confucian and to criticize Confucianism as a primary instigator that legitimizes women’s oppression. Nevertheless, the homogeneous aspects of seeing Korean women as merely passive victims of Korean history and Confucianism as an extremely misogynistic, patriarchal ideology throughout the history are overly pessimistic as well as largely destructive for the future of Asian feminism. This is precisely because recognizing only these aspects tends to Orientalize Asian philosophies as despotic as well as overly fetishize the weakness inherent in the hyper-feminized Asian woman. I am not trying here to romanticize the Korean women’s gender roles in the traditional Korean Confucian households. If so, it would simply become an epistemic denial of women’s suffering, including my own experience in the patriarchal history of Korea. In spite of the general history of women’s oppression, it is extremely crucial to be excavating largely forgotten or ignored stories of women’s active roles and to discover women’s subaltern salim-power (a biopolitical power operating from “below” or from the “margins”) in order to deconstruct the traditional male/female dichotomy that has been normalized as a fixed, natural, and unchanging natural duality. The most positive and familiar word for Korean women must be salim (enlivening). I would like to feel a more enlivened and egalitarian jeong particularly in the context of thinking and feeling through the historical and current connection between women and salim.

4 Jeong, Salim, and an Expansive Planetary Family

I can say that han (suffering) is a shadow side of jeong while salim (enlivening) is the sunny side of jeong for Korean women. Jeong for Koreans symbolically signifies motherly love and care in their familial settings. Although family and familial care can be the most positive and constructive part of Korean jeong, both family and care can be the very location of oppression and psychological imprisonment for Korean women producing more han (resentment) in the name of jeong. Korean women are often expected to be primary caregivers within their household and primarily responsible for taking care of day-to-day household tasks (salim 살림). The broader meaning of salim is enlivening of all things while the narrow meaning of salim is mundane household tasks. There is an inseparable sticky relation among salim, jeong, and women in Korean households. Traditionally, household tasks and familial care have almost always been assigned to women, especially to mothers given the traditional gender binary. Why should women alone have to do all these caring labor in the name of love? Although salim as nurturing, feeding, and educating the family is indeed foundational for our living well with and for each other in family and society, both salim and women have been largely disregarded as inferior realms inappropriate to men’s activities and models of self-actualization. A systemic level of evil banality permeates our everyday carelessness in patriarchal society. Women have suffered from unpaid and under-recognized care work in their households and barely receive thanks from their family members. When jeong is transformed into a more egalitarian and democratic model of familial caring, everyone in the household could be embraced and enlivened. However, if it is only expected from women only, such an exclusive gender binary becomes a form of oppression and han. Thus, it is really important to re-cognize, re-interpret, and re-imagine women’s roles in their family in order to re-construct a true harmony (hwa/he 和).

When we talk about familial care/jeong and harmony, understanding the importance of family ethics in East Asian Confucian culture is a best way of learning about East Asian Confucian society. In Confucian philosophy, the family is enshrined as a sacred community as the famous proverb in Korea: “If the family lives in harmony, all affairs will prosper (gahwa mansa seong/jiahe wanshi xing 家和萬事成).” The family is considered the natural basis for all moral and political behavior and the most biologically rooted of all human institutions. Mengzi states that “The root of the world lies in the state; the roof of the state lies in the family; the root of the family lies in oneself (Van Norden 2008: 4A: 5).” Similarly, as the Great Learning states,

Those of antiquity who wished that all people throughout the empire would let their inborn luminous virtue shine forth put governing their states well first; wishing to govern their states well, their first established harmony in their household; wishing to establish harmony in their households, they first cultivated themselves.Footnote 3

The family is considered to be a model for all human social organization, extensively including the nation/state (gukga/guojia 國家). Gukga 國家 is a combination of nara 나라 (country 國) and jib 집 (household or ga 家) which means that your nation is your extended home and all the people in your country is your family.

The patriarchal dimensions of household management serve to promote male members of families as the heads of the household and maintain primary power and predominance in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control and distribution of family property. In East Asian Confucian societies, there is a legacy of traditionally patrilineal family order, by which titles and rituals are inherited by male family lineage. The central Confucian virtues of family are filial piety (hyo/xiao 孝) and family harmony (gahwajiahe 家和), but these have been historically misogynistically practiced. In such a gender hierarchy, a woman’s roles in a family are at various times conceived to be subordinated to her father, husband, and also male siblings. The patrilineal societies have minimized women’s contribution to their family and enforced women’s sacrifice for other family members. Even when people glorify mother’s jeong there is a conventional belief based on the sexiest double standard that being a mother is an endless sacrifice. It is wrong to consider mother as an icon of sacrifice.

Notwithstanding all the dangers and destructive practices of patriarchal family structures, a wife’s leadership role in a typical Korean household has indeed been much greater than it has been characteristically misunderstood as in terms of the Orientalized and misogynized ‘submissive wife’. Salim, in a narrow and traditional sense refers to women’s everyday embodied tasks such as cooking, educating children, cultivating gardens, and managing household economics and affairs. Salim, in a more expansive sense though can also include all of the diverse ecological activities that enliven and sustain all of planetary living. Beyond managing a household, for keeping a sustainable living of this planet, Korean women have consistently been at the frontlines of Korean ecological movements for eco-justice and sustainability that are referred to as salim movements. The Korean salim movements (ongoing since 1997) are a radical collective or expressive collaborative community of ecological resistance movements that initially formed as responses seeking to resist and remedy the destructive consequences of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) crisis. When the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and South Korea negotiated the largest IMF rescue package in early December 1997, of approximately US $57 billion, it came as a shock to most Koreans. The situation became popularly known as the IMF crisis. Confronting the IMF crisis, Korean women mostly mothers and wives led the salim movement to save their family, children, and the country as an extended family. The salim movement functions as an ecological movement in saving the economy and ecology as a valuable oikos (home in Greek) our living organism, the household. Recovering is an important activity of recycling as healing and mending the creation—as such exemplary Korean women have been and continue to be the agential subjects and forerunners of the salim movement.

Amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Korean women in their households have been working at the frontline to save their families by taking care of family members while at the same time often working outside the home in all different occupations. 70% of the world’s health and medical workers who are active at the forefront of COVID-19 are women. Women are showing their capabilities as agents in overcoming this pandemic and incumbent geopolitical crisis. On the one hand, problems such as inequality, discrimination, alienation, and violence experienced by women in their daily life have been intensified due to the spread of COVID-19 and are becoming more accelerated. With this dynamic in mind, it is understandable how the pandemic is leaving working mothers feeling particularly fraught. Due to the social and economic lockdowns, women are doubly suffering from the enforced exclusivity of the binary gender roles. Mothers do most childcare and household chores in lockdown and domestic violence against women in the home has increased by 30–60% worldwide. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), it is still women who shoulder three-quarters of all unpaid care work and do four times more unpaid care work than men in Asia and the Pacific do.Footnote 4 It seems then that the pandemic disaster attacks everyone equally but women particularly cruelly. Home has now become the safest place for education and care, which women mostly take care of. Such global shifts in political economy makes women endure more pain and suffering given the fact that the burden placed upon women has significantly increased.

We have an urgent ethical need then to be critically expanding jeong as caring heart not only toward expanded communities as an extension of family, but also to and from all genders as differently embodied caregivers. The power of jeong resides in capacities and relational potentials for sharing caring labor and caring affects. There is a cliché in Korean, “we share jeong: jeongeul nanuda (정을 나누다).” Ironically, the verb nanuda (to share) also means to divide. In terms of jeong, nanum (나눔, the noun of nanuda) doesn’t mean an individualistic division or discrete separation, but rather a relational sharing and embodied caring. Historical examples of sharing jeong can be found in pumashi (품앗이, working together) and dure (두레, collective laboring). Although the historical origin of dure and pumashi should go backward considerably, they began during the Joseon dynasty with a systematic look and passed down to the present. Dure is a term used more for common village work such as farming, which is difficult to do alone; while pumashi used is more for smaller works than dure such as helping gimjang (김장, preparing ton of kimchi for the winter) together. Since dure requires more physically demanding work, it is typically conceived more along the lines of men’s common work, while pumashi is relegated to women’s work. When there was something big to take care of in a village, everyone in the village rolled up their sleeves and worked together as one family. These examples are indeed embodied actualizations of jeong.

Love and affection can be multiplied and intensified by sharing labors through jeong whereas suffering can be minimized. Although salim and jeong have historically been problematically gendered and degraded as exclusively women’s tasks and characteristic emotions in classical Korean culture, due to the traditionally oppressive gender roles, the power of jeong and salim lies precisely in their transformative potential to be expanded beyond a narrow patriarchy enforced only for women. These affective concepts need to be embodied in everyone and everything (even more than humans) including male gendered persons, in order to be critically extending jeong toward greater convivial communities as one caring family, all the while deconstructing gender binaries in terms of expansive care—this is our ethical imperative.

The distinctive heart-mind of family experience must be rooted in jeong (caring heart). Family experience should be at the root of any imagination and realization of caring community. With the sticky feeling of jeong, then we care for members of family, but this shouldn’t be limited to biological ties or geographical relatedness alone. Rather, our familial expansion of care should be extended to our ecological bio-communities as well beyond a narrowly anthropic exceptionalism. The subjects and objects of jeong should not be limited to humankind only.

The Northern Song Dynasty neo-Confucian Zhang Zai (張載, 1022–1077) in his “Western Inscription” (a verse he posted on the Western wall of his scholar’s studio) poetically identified himself as such with the whole cosmos:

Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I find an intimate place in their midst. Therefore, that which fills the universe I regard as my body and that which directs the cosmos I consider as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters and myriad things are my companions.Footnote 5

Zhang Zai expanded the category of family beyond a set of biological ties that may restrict and limit the process of expansion of our jeong to the myriad things in the cosmos. Zhang Zai’s horizontal expansion of family, as the whole cosmos beyond both a biological family and an exclusive anthropocentrism, deconstructs the pseudo-biological boundaries and patriarchal obstacles of family conceived of as an ecological model of sustainable living that overcomes the pitfalls and limitations of a narrowly humanistic orientations of a certain brand of environmental ethics.

This ‘planet as an extended eco-family’ can become a live option by practicing our jeong with others who are unfamiliar to us in terms of critically and imaginatively expanding our circle of caring beyond our biological families, political parties, sexual orientations, countries, religious upbringings, and human species. Similarly, going beyond a narrow meaning of salim (enlivening) as simply women’s mundane household tasks, a concept that could easily be degraded along with the women to whom it normally applies, salim can and should be reimagined in a broad sense to indicate all activities that are critically and caringly directed toward realizing a sustainable planetary living. Salim is then actualization of jeong as jeong namum (정나눔, sharing jeong). Jeong and salim should not belong to women or humans only. We all are and should be subjects of jeong (caring heart) and salim (enlivening) for our extended/expanding planetary family.

5 Conclusion

In this chapter, I suggested a planetary family by introducing the unique Korean concepts of ‘uri, han, jeong, and salim.’ I attempted to avoid the patriarchal dangers of using the term ‘family’ at the same time tried to overcome essentialist aspects of gender roles. A family is supposed to be a community of jeong as a caring organism for which women’s role in Korean household should be re-evaluated as salim (enlivening) maker and subjective agency of life. The concept of family has been employed by patriarchal systems of oppression in Eastern as well as Western cultures to subordinate women. Throughout the history, women’s status in Korean households has been highly complicated and at least double-sided within Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) identity politics as well as within the contemporary lived reality of Korean society. As we investigated the twofold aspects of women in Queen Sohye’s Naehun and the Confucian society, it is crucial to excavate the positive elements and hidden voices from the traditional classics for doing Asian and comparative philosophies constructively as a Korean ecofeminist scholar. Despite destructive practices of patriarchal family around the world, I suggest a planetary expansion of ‘eco-family’Footnote 6 toward an interconnected ecosystem and an extended meaning of salim as all diverse activities for enlivening a sustainable symbiosis. Both jeong and salim cannot be essentialized or genderized. Beyond the dichotomy of male and female, Koreans and non-Koreans, human and nonhuman beyond any exceptionalisms, we must recognize jeong as caring heart exists not only in women and men but also in every aspect of life. Nonetheless, jeong doesn’t automatically break down boundaries and divisions. Jeong needs to be actualized through caring activities as we learned from Korean extensive familial experiences of jeong namum (정나눔, sharing jeong) activities such as dure, pumashi, and the salim movements. This interdependent and interconnected earth is supposed to be a caring organism for which we human beings ought to ‘practice’ the positive aspect of jeong as planetary love that heals destructive families, communities, and our aching planet.