10 Interesting Facts About Korean Familes And Clans

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Written by: Thanh Trâm + Thùy Linh


Although over the past few years, Korea is no longer a stranger name to many people around the world. Its society revolves around the family unit. Families and clans in Korean are highly hierarchical-based, strict, and unbelievably complex. Therefore, there are a lot of rules that Koreans must follow to be a part of their family.

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1. Christmas Is For Couples And Friends, New Year and Thanksgiving Are For Family

Although a huge percentage of Koreans are Christians, Christmas is not as an important traditional holiday as New Year. Christmas in South Korea is more like a couple day since people tend to spend time with partners or friends instead of their families on this special occasion. 

Korean families and clans

 On the other hand, Korean New Year (Seollal) and Thanksgiving (Chuseok) are two of the biggest holidays of the year. They are traditional holidays that people usually go back to their hometown and pay respect to their ancestors. On these occasions, Koreans are always busy because they have to prepare for a huge family gathering. 

2. It Is Very Important To See The Family In The Korean New Year

Seolla, or Korean New Year, is a traditional holiday in Korea. This holiday commemorates the first day of the Korean Lunar Calendar and takes place several days. Traditionally, Koreans all come back to their hometowns for family gatherings and to pay respect to their ancestors and the elders. 

 This holiday is a good opportunity to enjoy cultural and traditional experiences. Koreans play some traditional games, prepare gifts for their family, wear the traditional customs (usually Hanbok) to celebrate this special occasion.

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3. There are 4,179 clans in South Korea

Bon-gwan is the concept of clan in South Korea, which is used to distinguish clans that share the same last name. A Korean clan is a group of people that have the same paternal ancestor. 

 According to the population and housing census of late 2000 conducted by the South Korean government, there are a total of 286 surnames and 4,179 clans, with Kim, Lee and Park among the most popular Korean surnames.

 Therefore, in South Korea, people who have the same last name does not always mean they are relatives who share the same paternal ancestor. For example, there are 285 regional origins for Kims, such as the “Gyeongju Kim” clan and the “Gimhae Kim” clan.

Korean families and clans

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4. Gimhae Kim clan is the biggest clan in Korea

The Gimhae Kim clan is a Korean clan which was founded by King Suro, the king of Gaya confederacy. Their Bon-gwan is in Gimhae,  a city in South Gyeongsang Province, South Korea. With more than 4 million members in the clan, Gimhae Kim clan is by far the biggest clan in South Korea. 

Korean families and clans

5. The Nuclear Family Is Very Common In Korea

In the past, Korean family structure was heavily influenced by Confucian ideals, the common family structure at that time was “branch family”, in which people in a family tend to depend a lot on others. However after the Korean war, the nuclear family consisting of a husband, a wife, and children became popular.

In nuclear families, children are raised to be more independent. Contrary to the previous common family structure, nowadays, although men still mostly remain as breadwinners, women gain much more status and power in the family compared to what they gained in the past. 

6. Korean Families Are Heavily Influenced By Confucius

In the 15th century, Confucianism had a strong impact on people’s lives. 

Confucianism in the 14th has been a profound influence on the Korean families’ behavior patterns, the structure of the family, and communities.

Confucianism is seen as a factor in creating group harmony, respect for elders and authority, as well as the importance of family, friendship, ancestors, and even tradition.

Korean families and clans

 In the 1500s, the emergence of Neo-Confucianism dominated Korean thought and society.

    Especially, Confucians recognized that “the family is indispensable for human survival and flourishing”.


Below are some distinctive features of Confucianism that have a significant impact on Korean families

 Korean family

  • In a Confucian family, the family group is inextricably linked to the clan and is regarded as an entity that takes precedence over its members. 
  • The responsibility of each member is to uphold tradition and maintain the household. 
  • The central familial relationship is the bond between parents and children, especially between fathers and sons, but not husband and wife or other relationships. 
  • Most of the relationships related to family members are all relied on mutual love and equality.
  • The important virtue is integral as filial piety characteristic between parents and children.
  •  Authority is the head of the household (man) that is in charge, and the other members of the family are of varying status. 
  • The majority of Korean wives will sacrifice themselves for looking after their husbands and children.
  • When a spouse passed away, his wife and son were required to observe a three-year period of mourning.
  • The Confucian places a strong emphasis on traditional values, such as how people should view the family unit, how parents and children should interact, and how husbands and wives should support one another.
  • Confucianism tends to reduce the level of domestic violence and the number of broken families. 

Women’s status

  • Korean female labor has a right to fight for equality.
  • After getting married, women will leave their corporate-sector jobs. 

7. After The War, The Family Tradition Was Westernized

Westernization and modernization of the Korean family emerged, after the Korean War. 

Korean families are deeply affected by the renovation of industrialization and modernization; however, many of their traditional customs are still maintained.

Here are some notable traits of traditional Korean families that have been influenced by Western culture:

  • During the Westernization stage, most Korean young people were affected by mass communication, such as telephone, social media, and intelligence facilities, leading to the loss of interaction with family.
  • Families nowadays only focus on their careers; as a result, they barely give thought to their children and just leave them to care for themselves.
  • The mother now frequently expresses and shares the responsibility for child discipline, which traditionally falls on the father.
  • The relationship between parents and children is less binding.
  •  Nowadays, older Koreans are more likely to live independently, rather than with their descendants.
Korean families and clans

Despite the incorporation of the West, traditional Korean family rituals are still maintained, such as worshiping the ancestors, wedding rituals, and traditional attire.

8. Jongga And The Significance Of An Heir

In Korean customs and traditions, the man is always held highly responsible for standing as the primary household registration of the family, whether it was the elder son or any member of the clan.   

The heritors have outstanding talent, and intelligence, and must have taken glory toward their clan and the nation. 

That implies that anyone in the family without a son to inherit would seek out a brilliant talented boy to adopt and substitute the clan to be as a Jongga’s household. 

Such prodigiously talented individuals would have to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors to maintain the coming generation and to gain success in their careers. 

Korean families believe that Jongga’s tradition will hold onto precious cultural traits so that their descendants can keep on going with their ancestors.

9. Sunheung Ahn Clan Is the Most Powerful Clan in Korea

Sunheung Ahn clan is the clan linked with the town of Dunhuang, South Korea.

The majority of the people in Korea with 73.5% of the population bear the surname “Ahn” and they are all members of the Sunheung clan.

In the census, in 2000, the population accounted for 468,827 ones of the “Sunheung” Ahn clan. 

Korean families and clans

It is known during the Goryeo Dynasty and in the early Joseon Dynasty for its “blue-blood” status.

For more information about this clan, here are two primary features of the Sunheung Ahn clan that passed through dynasties:

  Goryeo Dynasty 

  • Sunheung Ahn clan has been considered as aristocracy under the “blue-blood” status since their earliest history throughout the Joseon Dynasty and the Goryeo Dynasty. 
  • Ahn Ja-mi, a renowned military leader from the Goryeo era, founded the Sunheung Ahn clan.
  • Sunheung Ahn clan is separated into three various branches, Ahn Ja-mi empowered his three sons to lead these branches.  
  • It became one of the most prominent clans after Ahn Hyang, a grandson of Ahn Yeong-yu 
  • Also, Ahn Yeong-yu set up a branch himself called Moonsun Sub-Branch within the Sunheung Ahn clan. 
  • The Sunheung Ahn clan had members who passed the state examination for 11 generations, and 20 of them became dukes or grand dukes for the remainder of the Goryeo Dynasty.

Joseon Dynasty

  • The Sunheung Ahn clan was regarded as one of the Six Greatest Clans in the Kingdom and was one of the most powerful and well-known aristocratic families following the fall of Goryeo and the founding of Joseon in 1392.
  • 641 members of the clan passed the State Examination during the Joseon Dynasty.
  • Unfortunately, the Sunheung Ahn clan lost its dominance in the middle of the 15th century as a consequence of its support for King Danjong, a young king who was deposed (and later murdered) by his uncle in the middle of political unrest.
  • This story was romanticized as the terrible fate of the Sunheung Ahn clan, which remained devoted to the young King, in the “Danjongaesa”, a well-known early 20th-century novel that depicts the life of King Danjong.
  • The surname Ahn came to be associated with obstinacy and loyalty because of the clan’s well-known history of remaining devoted to King Danjong.
  • The Sunheung Ahn clan was accused of treason as a result of the collapse of Danjong’s restoration.
  • Nevertheless, once Joseon fell in the late 19th century, it gave birth to many famous members.

10. The Adoption Rule

 In South Korea, adoptive families should be accepting of kids with mild to moderate special needs if they plan to adopt from South Korea. 

By the time a referral is made, medical issues are frequently already in better shape. The availability of older children or sibling groupings for placement is uncommon. 

  • It is forbidden to adopt more than one child at once. The youngsters are of East Asian descent.
  • More girls than boys are adopted domestically in Korea, where families are not permitted to specify gender. 
  • Boys are therefore more likely to be recommended to US families. Parents that are a part of the Korean Heritage Program or families adopting a Waiting Child (available, with special needs) may request gender, according to some agencies.
  • Children are often cared for in foster homes run by Korean child welfare organizations while they wait to be adopted.
Korean families and clans


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