25 August 2008

Family registers

I previously mentioned that in my upcoming South Korean trip, part of my work will involve digging through family vital records.

I found some relevant Wikipedia articles, which deal with the scope of family registers in both Koreas as well as China and Japan. In fact, Japan's koseki (戶籍) system formed the basis of South Korea's old family register, which was used until this year. The koseki uses the family as the basic unit of record, and is fraught with many privacy issues; in Japan, regulations had to be enacted to safeguard sensitive information, including birthplace, lineage, and transgender status.

China runs the hukou system, which works similarly. Taiwan has a slightly more liberal version of hukou, where address of registration can arbitrarily be changed.

Nevertheless, South Korea's new individual-based registry system is a first in East Asia. It enjoyed the strong support of feminist and liberal groups, and drew condemnation of Confucian conservatives and the Moonies (who even launched a new political party promising to restore the old system). Again, I'll report more on it when I am in Seoul and in possession of my vital records.

There are no equivalent systems in English-speaking nations, which have traditionally been more stringent about collecting and maintaining personal data, though the post-9/11 US police state may be buckling that trend.

Korean Women's Development Institute