Jungme kyoron (중매 결혼) Posted by on Oct 23, 2008 in Culture

Jungme kyoron (중매 결혼) is an arranged marriage.  Traditionally Koreans son bayo (손 봐요) or go on an arranged date or meeting with a potential marriage partner.  Son bayo (손 봐요) literally means, to look at one’s hand.  Son () means hand.  Bayo = (look at, see).  It dates back to the time when fortune tellers would “read” their clients’ palms to foretell of the future.  In the same way, these arranged dates or meetings are used  to determine whether the other person is suitable as a marriage partner.   While jungme kyoron (중매 결혼) is an arranged marriage, it does not necessarily mean that one is forced to get married to a person he or she doesn’t like.  There is considerable latitude over mate selection.  Often people will go on several dates set up by a jungmejengi (중매쟁이) or matchmaker. 

The jungmejeni (중매쟁이) hooks people up with similar backgrounds by considering such factors like educational status or hakbol (학벌) and the family’s social status and wealth.  Of course many other factors are considered but these are the main two that are valued.  Koreans do not generally feel comfortable marrying “below” themselves.  Marrying “below” themselves would disrupt the social hierarchical system influenced by Confucius, not to mention the snickering that would be followed by such a marriage.

Nowadays, many Koreans are preferring to marry by love (연애 결혼) or rather are preferring to forgo marrying people based on their hakbol (학벌).  While many South Koreans are choosing yuhne kyorlhon (연애 결혼) it should be noted that parents are still actively involved in the marriage selection process.  A parent’s approval of a potential mate is key to whether a marriage will take place.  It is not unusual for Korean couples to break up if one or both of the families do not agree to the marriage.  In many ways choosing a mate is not a decision made by two people but rather a communal decision made by families.  If a person goes against a parent’s will, that child may be disowned.  As a result, the marriage process is not an easy process. 

Once parents give their approval, some couples choose to hold a yakonshik (약혼식) or an engagement ceremony.  These ceremonies are much like a real wedding ceremony.  Yakonshiks (약혼식) involve inviting guests in large ceremonial halls, with food catered and an exchange of rings.  Yahkonshilks (약혼식) are a big deal and they are understood of as a serious expression of intent to walk down the aisle.  Therefore, people do not casually break up with each other if they are engaged.  Much time and money is wasted if couples were to break up due to cold feet or uncertainty.  In sum, marriage is not a light matter in Korea and with the divorce rate rising in Korea, it will probably continue to be a serious issue.

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