2001 volume 33(8) pages 1489 – 1506
doi:10.1068/a3455

Cite as:
Teather E K, Rii H U, Kim A b E H, 2001, "Seoul's deathscapes: incorporating tradition into modern time - space" Environment and Planning A 33(8) 1489 – 1506

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Seoul's deathscapes: incorporating tradition into modern time - space

Elizabeth K Teather, Hae Un Rii, Assisted by Eun Hye Kim

Received 23 February 2001; in revised form 11 June 2001

Abstract. Honouring the dead at their graveside at appropriate dates is required by Confucian tradition, and has always had significant time - space implications in Korea. Today, with the majority of Koreans now living in cities -- a dramatic shift in the last two generations -- many still travel to patrilineal ancestral villages to carry out the necessary annual rites in family graveyards established long ago. However, an official campaign to encourage cremation in Seoul was initiated in 1998. A small, space-saving family tomb has been designed to hold the ashes of up to twenty-four family members, and is being promoted at public cemeteries. Fieldwork was carried out into deathscapes in the vicinity of Seoul in late 1999. The paper describes small family graveyards, including one established generations ago and two that have been newly established. It also describes different types of columbaria, two of which employ the traditional dome shape of Korean graves. Discussion focuses on the persistent cultural significance of maintaining ties with patrilineal places of origin. We suggest that this is a valued Confucian dimension of Korean heritage; many are seeking manageable ways to incorporate this dimension in their predominantly urban time - space commitments. From family graveyard to columbarium, there is a progressive divorce from ancestral territory (the family graveyard in the patrilineal village) and from social context (lineage).

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