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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 8)

All News 06:54 September 08, 2022

Simplified Chuseok rituals
Sungkyunkwan's move is in line with social changes

Sungkyunkwan, an institution dedicated to preserving traditional Confucian culture, has announced a "standardization of memorial service table" ahead of Chuseok, the four-day fall harvest holiday which starts Friday. The move is belated but welcome as it will help modify the ancestral rites, or "charye," that has caused diverse social conflicts as seen in "holiday syndrome" and discrimination against women.

The organization's Ritual Establishment Committee said only nine dishes will be sufficient for the ritual. It refuted the need to make "jeon," Korean traditional pancakes which require heavy preparation. During a press conference at the Korea Press Center on Monday, the committee rebuffed the principle of "Hong Dong Baek Seo," placing red fruit on the east side and white fruit on the west in the memorial table.

It said the ancient literature introducing ancestral rituals does not contain such a phrase in reality. "So we do not have to follow such tradition," it said. The committee recommended the rituals proceed as agreed upon among family members. As for the reason for announcing the standardization, the panel cited the need to ease growing social conflicts between older and younger generations over the traditional holiday.

"Confucianism, in the process of modernization, has failed to play a leading role (in social reform), implanting a negative image among the people," the committee said. Thus far, during traditional holidays, the outdated ritual culture has been the cause of family discords as well as conflicts between different genders and generations.

Many women have complained of "holiday syndrome" and the divorce rate has continued to increase following holidays. The prolonging practices of focusing on formality and protocol have overshadowed the descendants' efforts toward ancestral rites, just triggering diverse social disputes.

Sungkyungkwan has come up with the new guidelines based on a survey of some 1,000 adults aged 20 and older, plus in-depth discussions. Its move deserves acclaim, as it will help the nation cope with the rapidly changing social environment, such as the fast rise in the number of one-person households that reached 7.16 million in 2021, accounting for 33.4 percent of the total households.

In addition to the ancestral memorial services, there are still so many "ostentatious" practices in wedding and funeral ceremonies arising from the tradition of formality and face-saving. Such practices have wasted enormous amounts of money and deepened the social divide between haves and have-nots. As the committee put it, the country needs to double down on enhancing Confucianism for the sake of the people and the nation.

For this, the people need to embrace rapid social changes and mitigate diverse social conflicts. The standardization is also expected to help ease the financial burden on households in preparation for memorial rituals. This is especially important given soaring commodity prices amid rises in international oil and food prices. Simplified ritual tables can help ease inflationary pressures temporarily during traditional holidays.


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