On Jan. 29, about 40 women, including Lee Kyongja of the Jongjegong branch of the Sungju Lee clan, held a demonstration condemning the men in their clans. They claimed that their male kin had arbitrarily amended the clan entailments to exclude the married daughters, after which they proceeded to inherit all the clan property among themselves. From 1997, the price of land in Yongin, Kyonggi-do, skyrocketed thanks to the government's plans to develop a new city in the area.
The Sungju Lee, Chungsong Shim and Yongin Lee clans that had their roots in the area held clan meetings without the clanswomen and amended the clan entailments, changing the qualifications of a clan member from 'any descendent bearing the family name' to 'only men twenty years old and above,' The men then split the profits from selling the clan-owned real estate among themselves.
The clanswomen, claiming that an amendment made without their consent should be nullified, filed a lawsuit against their clansmen. Based on the Supreme Court's judicial precedents, the women lost the case in the first trial. But they are intent on fighting to the end, planning to appeal to the high court and then take the case to the constitutional court if that fails.
Shin Hoyang, the lawyer in charge of the case, says that there are no statutes governing clans, only judicial precedents that have been passed down from Japanese colonial rule. During that time, the Supreme Court had defined a clan as an arbitrary group formed spontaneously by customs to observe ancestral worship and strengthen family ties. Traditionally, only the men were considered members of the clan.
But Shin claims that in today's society where gender equality is stipulated in the constitution and upheld in the process of inheritance, clinging to Confucian ethics dating back to the Yi dynasty is an anachronistic attitude. Shin adds that furthermore, any amendments made without the consent of the women, whose clan membership had been acknowledged before the amendment, should be null and void. However, the lawsuit only has the Supreme Court's judicial precedents to go by, meaning that this could be a long, drawn-out affair.