Rites for four generations of ancestors
Confucian custom of holding memorial rites in honor of the four latest generations of ancestors, from deceased parents to the great great grandparents.
The tradition of sadaebongsa was established in the belief that the great great grandparents would be the oldest ancestors one has a chance to see before their death. Descendants sharing the same great great grandparents are sometimes referred to as yubokchin (Kor. 유복친, Chin. 有服親, lit. relatives in mourning garments), because they were entitled to wear the official mourning garments. When the Confucian style ancestral rites were introduced to Korea during the late Goryeo period, they were held not according to the sadaebongsa system but based on the status of the family in the clan holding the ceremony. Application of a grading system in the practice of ancestral memorial rites was influenced by the clan law system established in early Chinese society.
According to the Chinese clan law system, clans were divided into daejong (Kor. 대종, Chin. 大宗, lit. major clans) and sojong (Kor. 소종, Chin. 小宗, lit. minor clans). The former had no limit to the number of generations of ancestors honored in the rites, while for the latter the number was limited to the four latest generations. Early Joseon rulers tried to establish a standard system based on “Jujagarye” (朱子家禮, Family Rituals of Zhu Xi), but with the promulgation of “Gyeonggukdaejeon” (Great Code of National Governance) in 1474 the rites were limited to the three latest generations of ancestors. It was only after the 18th century, when the provisions of “Jujagarye” were spread to common families that sadaebongsa was fully established. In 1973, the number of generations honored in annual memorial rites was drastically reduced to two after the Korean government issued the Regulations on Family Ceremonies in an effort to simplify traditional family ceremonies. Recently, there have been moves to reduce the number to three or two, or even one to honor all the deceased ancestors at the same time, while still many other families remain faithful to the sadaebongsa tradition.