Seokjeon (Kor. 석전, Chin. 石戰, lit. stone fight) was a team game in which two opposing teams threw stones at each other. Prior to the game the villagers divided into two groups and aligned themselves on either side of a street in such a way that the teams faced each other at a distance of several hundred feet. The group whose members retreated first during the fight lost the game. Seokjeon is also known as pyeonjeon (Kor. 편전, Chin. 便戰, 邊戰, lit. team battle), seokjeon nori (Kor. 석전놀이, Chin. 石戰戱, lit. stone fight game), and dolpalmae nori (Kor. 돌팔매놀이, Chin. 石擲戱, lit. stone-throwing game). It was mostly held on the evening of the Great Full Moon Day (the fifteenth of the first lunar month) but in some areas it took place on the following day.
According to the “Dongguk Sesigi” (Kor. 동국세시기, Chin. 東國歲時記, A Record of Seasonal Customs in Korea, 1849), Seoul residents who lived outside the city’s three gates (Namdaemun, Seodaemun and Seosomun) and those of the Ahyeon area gathered together on the hill in Malli-dong. They divided into two teams and then they lunged at each other, while shouting out loud war cries and threatening each other with clubs. Then they would throw rocks at each other. In this game, referred to as pyeonssaum (Kor. 편싸움, Chin. 邊戰), the loser was the team whose members fled to the periphery of the battle field. People believed that if the team made up of the people from outside the three city gates won, it would be a harbinger of abundant crops in the Gyeonggi region (the area around the capital). If the other team, made up of residents of Ahyeon, claimed victory it would signify a great harvest in the entire country. The “Dongguk Sesigi” also notes that the Joseon royal government banned these stone fights because they resulted in many injuries and a number of deaths each year. The ban proved ineffective and the popular fervor continued for a long time in spite of measures taken by the government.
Not all kinds of seokjeon, however, involved actual fights, exhibiting great regional variations. In general, these activities helped people forget about everyday troubles and strengthened the bonds between the members of a community. Seokjeon may also be seen as a custom reflecting the warring spirit of the Korean people. During foreign invasions, residents of local communities with experience in stone-throwing fights were often enlisted to help the army, contributing significantly to the outcome of the battle.