Aristocratic families with equal standing in terms of marriage eligibility
A clan-based community created through generations of intermarriage among upper class families.
Honban refers to “compatible social status suitable for marriage” or “aristocratic families with equal standing in terms of marriage eligibility.” But in social science, it refers to a social alliance formed through frequent intermarriage between aristocratic families of equal social status where the marriage is arranged by a relative. In pre-modern society, marriage was a symbol of the family’s social standing and rank.
Intermarriage between families that formed the basis of honban seems similar to nuibakkumhon (Kor. 누이바꿈혼), a type of “marriage by exchange” where two families exchange their daughters, but the backgrounds to the formation of these customs are different. Whereas nuibakkumhon was carried out to save marriage expenses or because the two families were close, the purpose of intermarriage was building social cohesion among two or three families of equal standing or maintaining the families’ social status. Honban considered lineage, school connections and family traditions as important qualifications for choosing a marriage partner, and in this sense, was different from honmaek that is a marriage based on acquaintance or financial reasons. During the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), honban served to expand the boundaries of marriage from one that was bound by biological ties to a political and social union. The family’s social and political power, and even financial wealth could be surmised from honban. It was a departure from the traditional view of marriage centered on family, kinship or descent, and is noteworthy as a marriage culture that demonstrated the political and social historical significance of alliances formed through marriage.