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"Comparing the Incomparable": Local Custom and Law in Sixteenth-Century Korea and France

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image of Journal of Early Modern History

In the second half of the sixteenth century, prominent Neo-Confucian scholar-officials in Choson Korea formulated community compacts (hyangyak), a form of village covenants regulating local residents' social relationships. Implemented with the main goal of promoting social improvement through moral regeneration in the countryside, community compacts consisted of members of the elite yangban class but their effect reached the entire village community. With its emphasis on coercive commands for rectification of customs, hyangyak was the closest the Koreans came to the formation of local rules governing private legal relations. Interesting parallels can be made between the spread of community compacts and the codification and reformation of coutumes in France which took place almost contemporaneously. These two phenomena reveal how each society's concern for reforming customs evolved in disparate directions, and highlight different assumptions, categories and priorities underlying each legal tradition. Comparing different legal cultures can help in understanding the implications of legal transplant in the modern world.

Affiliations: 1: St. Cloud State University


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