Korean Traditional Value of Gong-Gyeong

Korean Traditional Value Gong-GyeongCredit: Korea Hyosung Culture Agency

By Young Mi Chun

One very important concept of Korean traditional value is respect for elders, called gong-gyeong (공경) in Korean. Gong-gyeong is often expressed as filial piety or hyo (효) and it has been one of the important values in Korea for a long time and has been deeply rooted in Korean culture due to Confucianism. Korean parents teach their children how to respect elders or anyone older than them at an early age. Let us take a look at how gong-gyeong is expressed in daily situations, such as during a family dinner, gifting, speaking and ancestral memorial ceremony.

Family Dinner

When dining with seniors, gong-gyeong can be observed in many ways. As a general rule, you should let the seniors eat first. You should also eat at the same speed as the seniors. You should not leave the dining table until the seniors finish their meal. And you should also finish all the food given. When drinking alcohol in front of the seniors, you should turn your head before drinking.


When visiting a house where seniors are present, you should prepare some gifts, such as yokan (양갱, sweet jelly of red beans), red ginseng tea, Korean traditional snack or seasonal fruits.

  • When handing a gift to a senior, use both hands with a bow.
  • When receiving an item from a senior, receive it with both hands


Korean language contains honorific speech that should be used when speaking to seniors. When talking to seniors, do not look directly into their eyes, instead you should set your gaze at their chest level. Your posture should be straight, do not slouch.

Ancestral Memorial Ceremony

Koreans reconfirm the relationship between ancestors and descendants through ancestral memorial ceremony (차례 charye) on special days like Seollal (Korean New Year’s Day) and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day). This is to show appreciation and respect for ancestors. Koreans believe that when their parents die, their spirits do not leave immediately but stay with their descendants and look after them sincerely. So people express their appreciation for ancestors through formalized ritual form and procedures.

Formalized Ritual Form

1. Certain foods, for example red fruits, are placed on the east side of the table, while white fruits should be placed on the west side.

2. Many kinds of meats and fish should be placed in the center.

3. An ancestral tablet is placed in front of a folding screen along with all the dishes and drinks. In the past, the tablet was made of wood and called Shinju. The ancestor’s name is written in black ink on the tablet.

4. And a folding screen placed behind the offering table.

Ancestral Memorial Ceremony Procedure

1. Traditionally, only male members of the family could participate in the ritual because ancient Korea was a patriarchal society.

2. At the beginning of the sacrifice, the eldest male in the family kneels down in front of the table to light the incense.

3. The patriarch stands up and bows twice and then pours three cups of traditional liquor in a bowl. Every male of the family repeats the bowing ritual.

4. The patriarch then places the spoon in the rice bowl and the men leave the room so that their ancestors can eat in peace.

5. After a few minutes. the men return and bow again three times to finish the ritual.

6. After the sacrifice, the food is then served to all the family members, including the women.