The Tradition of Commons: Two Magna Cartas of England and Korea

Key information

5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Russell Square: College Buildings

About this event

Speaker: Prof Hang-Nyeong Oh (Jeonju University)


‘Magna Carta’ was an charter approved by King John of England in 1215. And there was a constitution called the Great Compendium of Statecraft(經國大典) in Korea in 1485. Article 33 of Magna Carta stipulates that "In the Thames, the Medway River, and all of England the monopoly fishing-net shall be demolished." It was a measure of protection for the common-land(commons) of the people. The Great Compendium of Statecraft of Korea also has a regulation that "Those who occupy pastures and forests in private are punished."

The history of cooperation and conflict over public lands is a universal experience for mankind. 2 |페이지 Before the nation was established, even before farming, people settled down somewhere and lived. Various natural products around the house were used for living in mountain, field, stream and river. Forests and rivers was the in-depth structure of human history.

The issue of commons in East Asia begins with the statement of Mencius(孟子, about BC.372-289). He proposed to the king that Parks and lakes be used with the people. It is the thought of ‘Sharing it with the people’(與民同之). I think this is the biggest reason why Zhu Xi, a master of neo-Confucianism during the Song Dynasty of China, chose Mencius as one of the "Four Books" along with the Analects, the Mean and the Great-Learning.

Even in East Asian society, where new Confucianism was popular, the attitude of accepting Mencius was different in Joseon Korea, Ming China, Japan, and Vietnam. In Japan, only some intellectuals read Mencius, but Mencius's ideas do not appear to have had a political or economic impact. King Taejo of the Ming Dynasty of China deleted all the chapters in which the ideas of ‘Sharing it with the people’ appeared.

In Joseon society, the attitude of accepting Mencius was very different. It was read widely and without reserve. During the Joseon Dynasty, the common land was called ‘Forest and River 山林川澤’. The commons was the stage and background of public action. There was no community without commons and sharing. This was because, as long as it was a community resource, they had to decide who can access, who can use it, how to share it, how to maintain it, and how to enable reproduction. A certain system worked to decide that.

When the commons was invaded by the king or influencer, people prepared and resisted through the ideas of ‘Sharing it with the people’. Sarim(士林) criticized the act of the monarch competing for interests with the people with the logic that ‘the king has no private savings.’ Until the late Joseon Dynasty, the national administration and power only reached the door of Myeon-ri(面里 village) reading the people and land.

But the modern government is different from them of past. The modern Korean government has a clear look at Oh Hang-nyeong's salary envelope. Modern governments have superior intelligence and administrative power over governments of any past era. If such a government takes the lead in neo-liberal privatization, the shared intellectual nature of water, medical care, railways, ports, airports, and educational services is threatened. Britain under Thatcher and the United States under Reagan have already shown examples. What kind of struggle will take place on the commons of mankind in the future?

Speaker Biography

Hang-Nyeong Oh is Professor of History at Jeonju University.


This event is free and open to public.

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