Filed Under Comic

Kinship Novels

A Lens into the Past

The ideology of kinship established the foundation for the social and political spheres of  Chosŏn life-influencing the everyday choices and actions of the people, including the king. Thus,  learning about kinship helps us in the modern world understand the motives and actions of the  people living during the Chosŏn era. But what is kinship? Ksenia Chizhova’s Kinship Novels of  Early Modern Korea: Between Genealogical Time and the Domestic Everyday (Princeton  University Press, 2021) gives us a look into the origin and impact of kinship in Chosŏn through  kinship novels. In early Chosŏn, the kinship system was brought along with the introduction of  Neo-Confucian ideas and “embodied a moral, state-endorsed vision of idealized human bonds”  (Chizhova, 5). A person who understands their role in familial relationships develops both  domestic harmony and lays the foundation for their role in society. For example, the relationship  between father and son sets up the relationship between ruler and subject. 

As described by Ksenia Chizhova, kinship novels, or vernacular Korean lineage novels,  “elaborate the intricacies of the kinship system of late Chosŏn Korea” (Chizhova 2). They are  aptly named so for being novels written in vernacular Korean by elite women, which often  circulate within a family or lineage. Although each novel is unique, they follow a common  pattern: they open up with the hereditary moral excellence of the lineage members, the patriarch  plays a minor yet important role, and the stories often revolve around kinship norms.  

The novels state the lineage’s moral excellence because a person’s lineage played an  important role in Chosŏn society. Chosŏn was a low social mobility society. Belonging to a strong and prestigious lineage granted high social status, which enabled an individual to obtain high-ranking jobs and better prospective partners.  

Meanwhile, the patriarch, who represents the identity of the lineage, is never the  protagonist of the novel. Instead, he acts as a representation of ancestral virtues and a guiding  figure for the protagonist who is usually a young person who struggles to conform to kinship  norms while harboring unruly, selfish feelings. These unruly, selfish feelings threaten the  harmony created by the kinship system and the protagonist must learn to balance these personal  feelings and the social order to protect the harmony. 

Marriage and Desire in Kinship Novels 

Brothers Hyŏn 

This comic follows the lineage novel, Brothers Hyŏn, the first novel in a kinship trilogy  of the Hyŏn lineage. The trilogy’s central theme is desire and marriage. Brothers Hyŏn follows  two brothers, Hyŏn Sumun and Hyŏn Kyŏngmun, who are on opposite spectrums of desire.  Sumun is described as “the quintessence of virility and lust” while Kyŏngmun focuses on his  work as a scholar and is “uninterested in the affairs of the bedchamber” (Chizhova, 131). This  comic follows Sumun and his wife, Yun Hyebing. Sumun rapes Hyebing to consummate their  marriage. After the traumatic event, Hyebing initially tries to escape, but because she and Sumun  already had sex, both her own parents and her in-laws see her as belonging to Sumun and push  her to exemplify the female virtue of obedience towards the husband. This story is an example of  how kinship novels deal with the consequences of unruly emotions. Although Hyebing’s  suffering is acknowledged and Sumun’s transgression is recognized, ultimately the social and  human problems of unruly emotions are resolved through a reaffirmation of kinship in this story.

A Woman’s Role 

The relationship between husband and wife is one of the three fundamental Confucian  moral bonds. Marriage signified the passing of the woman’s subservience from her father to her  husband. In the end, Hyebing must submit herself to her husband to uphold kinship norms.  Following the rules of patriarchal lineage, Hyebing married Sumun and must now follow her  father-in-law and her husband. Hyebing’s actualization of the role of the wife brings back the  domestic harmony of the kinship system.



Brothers Hyun, the Comic Preview Page Creator: Kyle Nguyen
Brother Hyun, The Comic Page 1 Creator: Kyle Nguyen
Brother Hyun, The Comic Page 2 Creator: Kyle Nguyen
Brother Hyun, The Comic Page 3 Creator: Kyle Nguyen
Brother Hyun, The Comic Page 4 Creator: Kyle Nguyen
Brother Hyun, The Comic Page 5 Creator: Kyle Nguyen
Brother Hyun, The Comic Page 6 Creator: Kyle Nguyen
Brother Hyun, The Comic Page 7 Creator: Kyle Nguyen
Brother Hyun, The Comic Page 8 Creator: Kyle Nguyen
Brother Hyun, The Comic Page 9 Creator: Kyle Nguyen
Brother Hyun, The Comic Page 10 Creator: Kyle Nguyen
Brother Hyun, The Comic Page 11 Creator: Kyle Nguyen


Brother Hyun, The Comicpdf / 51.98 MBDownload


Kyle Nguyen, “Kinship Novels,” UCLA Korean History and Culture Digital Museum, accessed June 13, 2024,