Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Rice Chest of Wunjoru

In Kurye city, Cholla Province, there is a house built by Yu Yiju (1726~1797) who served as governor there during the reign of King Youngjo. The house is called “Wunjoru”, which literally means ‘House of a Bird Hiding in the Clouds’.

In this house there is a rice chest that has been passed down from generation to generation. It is a cylindrical chest, made from a hollowed-out log. On the underside of the chest there is a small rectangular hole (5 x 10cm), and an inscription “For anyone and everyone” carved on the stopper. Its meaning is that anyone can freely take rice from the chest.

The Yu family used the rice chest to help needy people in the area. Travellers who were passing through would also take rice from the chest. In order to protect the dignity of the people who used it, they put the chest far away from the main building so that people would not run into the owners.

The chest can hold up to two and a half sacks of rice (200 kg). When the stopper with the inscription is turned, the rice comes out through the hole at the bottom. The quantity of rice taken by each person was normally around two to four liters. People rarely took more than this, even though the owners were not there to see them.

The Wunjoru held close to twenty acres of rice paddies, which produced 200 sacks of rice every year. Since 36 of those sacks of rice went into the rice chest, the Yu family gave away almost a fifth of their total produce to people who were in need.

The owner of the household checked the contents of the rice chest each month. If there was ever any rice left over, he would always tell his daughter in law, “We have to practice the virtue of giving for our family to prosper. Give this rice to neighbors who are in need of it immediately. Make sure that there is no rice left in the chest at the end of the month.”

The Kurye area was notorious for the many peasant uprisings that took place in it towards the end of Choson period, and also for guerilla warfare during the Korean War. There is no doubt that the Wunjoru house was able to survive the tumultuous history of the region because of the benevolent spirit behind this rice chest, which had warmed the hearts of many people.
Source: Chung Hyo Ye - Tales of filial devotion, loyalty, respect and benevolence from the history and folklore of Korea

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