Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Historically in China, Korea and Japan people had stamps or seals which were used to affirm official documents, but in Korea at least, these days a signature with a pen will often suffice - but not for everything. When my wife registered our marriage in a local government office, her parents didn't come with us, so she took her mother and father's stamps, which are called dojang ('도장') in Korean, in order to 'sign' or authenticate the marriage papers on their behalf. This is, incidentally, the point at which she no longer belonged to her family unit in the eyes of this country's civil bureaucracy, but instead formed her own. Normally the man would be the notional head of the family, although I'm not quite sure why there actually needs to be such a designated position, but I think I later established that because I'm a foreigner my wife is the head of our family unit.

For Christmas my wife bought me my own dojang. Unlike those of a Korean person, which would typically have the appropriate Chinese characters representing their name, mine are in the Korean Hangul script and they've managed to fit my name into the space. Here it is (with my name suitably blurred):

This one's made of wood, but my wife has a plastic one and so they aren't all as necessarily aesthetically pleasing. Similarly, cases can vary from the Chinese-style hard case design here to simple plain zip-up pouches. The raised black dot on the stamp indicates which way is up when you're stamping a document, as you wouldn't want to stamp it upside down, especially not when you're dealing with Chinese characters. Mine's already been dipped in a red ink-pad as a test, although the reality is that I'm not sure I'll ever need to use it as a necessity, because I believe that these days most institutions allow signatures rather than requiring a dojang stamp. That said, I understand that Korean Mother still has to use her stamp in the bank sometimes, because she set up her account a long time ago and she hasn't switched over the authorisation method to a signature because it seems it's not entirely straightforward.

Apart from the obvious problems of not having your dojang with you when you need it, or not being able to find where you last put it in your apartment, there is another danger. Since it can be used in place of a signature there's a considerable risk of fraud if it should fall into the wrong hands, so it's quite important to keep it safe. Still, I'm really happy to have one as it makes me feel a little more like I have a proper Korean identity, which is becoming an increasingly significant issue given I am being prevented from having my British one.

Korean tags: 도장, 역사

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

get it registered at the local gu office, in contrast to your assumptions, it remains an important device for property transactions legal dealings, negotiating bureaucratic channels.
the gu office may require you to make another that corresponds with your legally registered name. they did for me. business dealings are very difficult to carry out without a registered stamp.

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