The Anachronism of “5-jang 6-gi”

The dowry market has seen a long history in the Korean peninsula. According to one of the older historical recordings Samguk Sagi (completed by Kim Busik in 1145 CE), 300 wagons of gifts were given during King Sinmun’s wedding ceremony in the Unified Silla Kingdom in the 7th century. More recently during the Chosun dynasty, realist Confucian Lee Dukmu criticized the failings of morality in the 18th century: “Because dowry costs too much, the birth of a daughter is thought to be an omen of collapse, whereas her death is thought to be a money-saving consolation.”

Today, this wedding custom is increasingly becoming a past tradition in South Korea, where more newlyweds are dividing the costs of marriage items and purchasing the typical dowry items together. In North Korea, the custom is also becoming an anachronism, but not necessarily because of the same reasons.

5-jang 6-gi is a well-known phrase in North Korea that refers to the ideal dowry package. 5-jang entails the following items: a blanket set (yibul-jang), a suit (yangbok-jang), a china set (sik-jang), a bookshelf (chaek-jang) and a closet (ot-jang). 6-gi constitutes the following: a television set (susang-gi), a tape recorder (nokeum-gi), a film recorder (nokhwa-gi), a refrigerator (naengdong-gi), a washing machine (saetak-gi) and a fan (sunpung-gi). A woman capable of endowing her husband’s family with any of the 5-jang 6-gi items is treasured as the ideal bride.

However, the prevalence of the phrase does not necessarily indicate the prevalence of the practice. Since the disintegration of the North Korean economy in the ’90s, the culture of exchanging material gifts has inevitably been changing in North Korea. 5-jang 6-gi is an inaccessible dream to most of North Korea, a country in which the “middle class” status may be determined not by one’s material possessions, but simply by …read more

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