An Important Female Family Member

A beautiful green cemetary

The Chang family started in China about 2,000 years ago. One branch of the family fled China and came to Korea in the late 800 AD. My family records are largely intact since that time. It appears that the Chang clan split and my branch of ancestors came to my clan village about 400 hundred years ago. There is a low hill in my clan village where our early ancestors are buried. In one grave an ancestor from about sixteen generations before me is buried without a head. This is how that happened:

My grandfather’s female cousin was known widely for her precociousness. One of the King’s advisors was searching for a wife for his widowed son with two young sons and heard about this young woman from a farming village in Chungnam Province. After being tested along with other candidates whose stations were above hers, she was chosen. She later made it possible for her brother to obtain a minor title, which raised the status of the clan.

When she came to the clan village, often with many bags, the whole clan made a fuss to honor her. Outsiders might have assumed she brought bags of money. One day shortly after such a visit, her brother received a ransom note demanding a large sum of money for the skull of one of our ancestors. Sure enough, a grave was disturbed and a head was missing. It was a bad omen to disrespect dead ancestors, so the money was dropped at the designated time and place. Servants waited in hiding with bats to beat up the extortionist. The extortionist never showed and the head was never recovered.

More about this lady

She managed her husband’s household and wisely raised her two stepsons to adulthood. Her visits to the royal court led to her understanding that a changing tide was coming and the future was in Western education in science and technology rather than Chinese literature and philosophy.

Not having children of her own, after being widowed, she poured her energies into educating the boys of her clan in the best schools in Seoul. Under her supervision, all the core clan sons received a modern education in science, medicine, law, finance, and engineering. One of the boys wanted to study art, and she gave him permission only after he made a promise to become the best artist in the nation. His name and a picture of his painting were in my middle school textbook. His paintings still hang in museums in Korea.

I saw her once when I was a child. She was old then. In my clan, thanks to her, daughters are not slighted.

Categorized as General

By Wondra

Wondra Chang was born in South Korea and has lived in the U.S. since 1970. Her writing discipline began at age ten, writing five short stories a day under the tutelage of a writing teacher. She won first place in a province-wide in-person writing competition. She studied journalism at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, Korea. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas, where she lives with her husband, Bernard Rauch.