Duc, sequere, aut de via decede!

“Jamae”: Selling Oneself into Slavery

March 10th, 2007 . by Gerry-Bevers

The above document is called a Jamae Mungi (自賣文記 – 자매문기), which was a contract used in Joseon Korea to sell oneself and/or one’s family members into slavery. It was an option available to Koreans in dire circumstances. You can find the above document here.

The documents included the date of sale, the names of the buyer and seller, the reason for the sale, the selling price, the name of a witness, and a signature. If the seller could not write, he or she could draw an outline of his or her hand (手掌 – 수장). The document also had to be stamped by a local official. 

In the above document, which was made in 1832, the man was selling himself, his pregnant wife, the unborn baby, and their 2-year-old child because “life was difficult.”

Also, the Dong-a Ilbo had a very interesting article, here, about a man who sold himself into slavery in 1815 to pay for a proper funeral for his father, who had become a “wandering beggar” after a flood had destroyed their home. Here is how his document started out:

“My household was originally poor, and we had no close relatives. So when the big famine hit us in 1815, my father left home to wander as a beggar. He ended up dying several hundred ri from home.”

It is a tragic story, but stories like that and the old custom of selling oneself or one’s family members into slavery during dire times may help explain why so many Koreans became “comfort women.”

“Frog in the Well” also talks here about the custom of “Jamae” and the Donga Ilbo article.

62 Responses to ““Jamae”: Selling Oneself into Slavery”

  1. comment number 1 by: hls

    Same old trick?


  2. comment number 2 by: tman

    You can deny, refute, and do all kinds of crazy rational. But in the end, the more you do so, the more you people look like assholes.

    There are too many holes on that dam and not enough of your fingers to plug all the holes.


  3. comment number 3 by: kjeff


    You were right to point out the weak logical link between selling oneself or one’s family members into slavery during the Joseon period and becoming a comfort woman during the colonial period. My linking the two was an afterthought and was done to show that it was not unimaginable for Koreans to sell themselves or their family members to overcome hardship.

    Thanks for the clarification. Regardless, I thought it was an informative posting to say the least. Many thanks.

    I am just trying to find answers to some of my questions about the comfort women. For example, why were there more Korean comfort women than Taiwanese, considering that both peoples were colonial subjects of Japan?

    Now, that’s deserving a look, although similar practices were common within Chinese societies, no? I’m tempted to say, well I’ll say it, Koreans women are p*****er. No links on plastic surgeries in Korea, please. And yes, there are 27 Korean prostitutes arrested in Mars last month. Let it go!

  4. comment number 4 by: kjeff

    First, I’m sort of, kind of, on your side here, so I don’t want you to get excited and defensive.

    You can deny, refute, and do all kinds of crazy rational. But in the end, the more you do so, the more you people look like assholes. There are too many holes on that dam and not enough of your fingers to plug all the holes.

    Second, come on… No personal attacks, please! If you must, I mean REALLY must, call names, choose something that actually have meaning, and be ready to back them up. What the hell is “asshole” anyway? You’ll end up looking like one.
    Third, when you link an article, be specific on what you want to show. You can’t possibly defend 2000+ words article in its entirety. You just CAN’T, even if it was from a peer-reviewed academic journal, and yours is not even that. So please, limit yourself. And, good luck!

  5. comment number 5 by: happyRiceField

    Hey all,
    I have the same question too.

    If “all” the women were “forced” or tricked by the Japanese military to be prostitutes, then why were there ads in Korean newspapers advertising for “Comfort Women”? And if the women were forced, why were they being paid such high salaries? Does it make sense that “sex slaves” made three times more money than Japanese army officers?

    I really want to know the truth of comfort women.
    When I was small, I saw crying Korean women on TV who claimed that they were forced to be “Ianfu”. As they were soooo emotionally crying, it gave big impact on me and I felt really sorry to them. But now it sounds illogical, because it’s totally unnecessary for the Japanese imperial government to kidnap or trick those women. Many poor women had been already working as prostitutes in both Korea and Japan anyway. Ad announcement must be much easier and safer way.
    I found afterwards at least one of them was almost surely a liar according to a Yoshinori Kobayashi’s book.

    I want to know Korean’s honest view about “comfort women”.

  6. comment number 6 by: jion999

    As they were soooo emotionally crying, it gave big impact on me and I felt really sorry to them.

    They cry every time everywhere. They cry and shout in the meetings, assemblies, demonstrations, and US House of Representatives.
    Then Japanese is sentenced guilty. (笑)

  7. comment number 7 by: ponta

    Come to think of it, Gerry’s link between Korean
    slave and comfort women must be clear for Korean people; after all, according to Korean people “omfort women is sex “slave”.

  8. comment number 8 by: tman

    Japanese accusing prostitution in Korea. That’s just rich.

  9. comment number 9 by: kjeff

    “It was an appalling episode in a tragic period in the history of the world.”

    “There can be no quibbling about what happened and there can be no quibbling in my view about the level of coercion that was involved.”

    Someone who has a ‘large’ Korean ethnic constituents

  10. comment number 10 by: Kaneganese


    I found this post in Enjoy Korea. There are more documented contracts of selling themselves as slaves until Japanese occupation, sadly. There were human trafficking in Japan too in those days, but those newspaper article confirms that legal authority were actually trying to prevent those illegal crimes(coersion by broad definition) in Korea under the Japanese occupation as well. I don’t think it has anything to do with 慰安婦 directly, but those pimps in Korea were deceiving lots of girls and sold them to Chinese. Even Japanese girls were almost victimised. As you already know, Japanese imperial military actually ordered to regulate those illegal act by pimps.

  11. comment number 11 by: Ken

    DPRK is not ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ but ‘Democratic Prostitution Republic of Korea’ as follows.

  12. comment number 12 by: ub

    Over view of how ianfu-problem arises


    In korea, police had arrested koreans who kidnapped women to force prostitute