The Korean Society during the Joseon Dynasty

Devitt Khuallalmuan Ngaihte, Imphal, Manipur

First of all, let us understand what a ‘society’ is. A society is a group of individuals involved in social interactions having a collective interest, language, culture and traditions. The Korean society since time immemorial has been framed by order and hierarchy and the demand to meet expectations of the society. It emphasized on family values, hierarchy between classes, older and younger people. Also, the Korean people have been very hardworking, and the country has undergone profound economic developments and transformations in a short span of time. In this article, I will discussing about the the drastic transitions that took place in the Korean society at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty.

King Taejo; Picture Credits: Wikipedia

Joseon (조선) is one of the well-known and notable dynasties which ruled the Korean peninsula for over 5 centuries (1392-1910) until the Japanese colonization in 1910. The Joseon dynansty began with the overthrowing of Goryeo Dynasty by a military commander named, Yi Seong-Gye (이성계) who assumed himself the title of ‘Taejo of Joseon’ and ruled as the first king of the Joseon Dynasty from 1392 to 1398. With the Joseon dynasty coming in the power, Neo-Confucianism became the state ideology and the society was greatly influenced by the principles of the same and became hierarchical and classist in nature. The society in Joseon was divided into four major classes as ranked in descending order–Yangban (or the aristocracy), Chungin (or the upper-middle class), Sangmin (or the commoners) and Cheonmin (or the ‘outcasts’ commoners). The monarch and the royal family were considered the highest and most respectable class in the society.

Picture Credits: Wikipedia

Yangban (양반)

Yangban was the highest class in Joseon class system. People belonging to this class would hold the highest portion of the power dynamics and enjoyed most authority in the society. This class was also referred to as the land-owning class and an extremely wealthy class. They were also exempted from the military service and were given the permission to collect the taxes from the lower class. To belong in this class, one had to pass the national civil examination called Gwageo (과거). If none of the family members could pass Gwageo, in three generations, their families were deprived of the Yangban status and its privileges. This examination was required to be passed by the two groups within Yangban class namely, civil officials (munban, 문반) and military officials (muban, 무반). Notably, Yangban class was neither considered a part of aristocracy nor was hereditary. Hence, to enjoy the priviledges of the Yangban class, one had to pass the extremely difficult national civil examination. Once, passed, the entire family of the official would enjoy the Yangban status for the next three generation.

Picture Credits: Wikipedia

Chungin (중인)

“Chungin” was the second-highest class in the society. People belonging to this class were considered as upper-middle-class of the society. It consisted of highly educated specialists, artists, astrologers, physicians, accountants, and low-level bureaucrats. To belong to this class, one had to pass the technical efficiency examination, called the Chapkwa, and hence, could become a Chungin. Chungin, similar to Yangban were also exempted from military service and paying taxes.

Picture Credits: Wikipedia

Sangmin (상민)

Sangmin was the third-highest class in the society comprising of the working-class commoners like peasants, farm labourers, small merchants, fisher-men, crafts-men etc. Heavy taxes were imposed on the people belonging to this class and they were also subjected to military drafts, and therefore, did not have privileges which the other two classes, Yangban and Chungin had. Since, the people belonging to this class were not wealthy, they were often oppressed by the upper classes. This section of the society had the highest number of people and they lived a very humble life.

Picture Credits: Wikipedia

Cheonmin (천민)

People belonging to Cheonmin class, were placed at the bottom of the societal structure during the Joseon period. People were considered as an outcast. This class consisted of people working as butchers, shoe-makers, shamans, and female entertainers. Since, the society was purely based on the principles of Neo-Confucianism and the privilege status was given based on the occupation, the works of Cheonmin class were considered as unclean and very immoral. They were offered low wages, and had to endure a hard time living in such a society.

Picture Credits: Wikipedia

This strict class system that was followed for centuries was finally abolished in 1894 due to the trade corruption of Yangban classess towards the end of the Joseon era. After the class system was abolished, the Korean society entered a stage of new modern reforms with influences from the Western world. Till today, such classes are still prevalent in some under-developed and developing countries like India. In this modern world, the class system needs to be abolished worldwide, as it creates discrimination and violates the human rights of a person. With the increasing popularity of K-dramas like The Return Of Iljimae, Mr. Queen, My Sassy Girl, 100 Days My Prince the portrayal of the distinct classes and functioning of the society during the Joseon dynasty can be observed.

Video Credits: Viki Global TV

We hope that this article could help you in understanding a little bit about the History of Korean culture in detail. Please share your feedback in the comments!

58 Comments Add yours

  1. iridescent2512 says:

    Well done! Good research 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      Thanks!!😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very well explained 🙂

        Like

  2. Haarini Balasubramaniam says:

    It’s a really good article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      Thank you!!😄

      Like

  3. shwets007 says:

    This is such a well researched article! Amazing work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      Thanks!!😊

      Like

  4. Sanskriti Saxena says:

    Nice article

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      Thank you!!😊

      Like

      1. mugdhaattarde says:

        Well done

        Like

    2. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      Thanks!!❤️

      Like

  5. anujav1307 says:

    Well written. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. jasminek134 says:

      A very well-researched article! This is so informative and explains the structure of society during Joseon period very well! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Very informative and detailed article! 👏👏

        Like

    2. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      Thank you so much!!💜

      Like

    3. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      Thanks!!

      Like

  6. Amazing write up🙌🙌 keep going

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      😊😊💜

      Like

  7. Woah this gave so much knowledge about the Korean Culture in detail 😍😍so so well written 💜

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      😊💜

      Like

  8. kylemyoxin78 says:

    very informative and well written!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      💜💜💜

      Like

  9. Ritika Jain says:

    A beautifully summarised and informative article..Hope to read many more penned by you👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      Thank you!!😊💜

      Like

  10. saumya7897 says:

    Amazing…..i learnt something new..💜

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      😊💜

      Like

  11. Mailmeonkhushi says:

    So informative it is

    Like

  12. polly1493 says:

    Very well written!

    Like

  13. Wonderfully written and very informative article.. 👌

    Like

  14. aanchal18 says:

    Very well written article, definitely informative!!

    Like

  15. aanchal18 says:

    Definitely helpful for people who want to learn more about the aspects of korean history

    Like

  16. Smriti. L says:

    The article is extremely well written! 👍

    Like

    1. Devitt Ngaihte says:

      Thank you!!💜

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Devitt Ngaihte says:

    Thank you everyone for sparing your precious time for reading my article. I will try my best to write more intersting articles for everyone to read. Thank you everyone for all your kind and encouraging comments😊💜

    Like

  18. pixiehere says:

    Loved the information 👍

    Like

  19. maple0808 says:

    Well written☺
    Good job

    Like

  20. Really Informative 💕

    Like

  21. Ishika Gupta says:

    Beautifully written 😍✨

    Like

  22. smitiyer says:

    This article has been amazingly written. I just loved reading it!!

    Like

  23. teecee0506 says:

    Excellently worded, very informative 👍👍 Good Job.

    Like

  24. Piyush Mandal says:

    Well written and informative. I learned many things about Korean History and it was very helpful.🤗🙂

    Like

  25. Piyush Mandal says:

    Well written and informative. I learned many things about Korean Dynasty and it was very helpful.🤗🙂

    Like

  26. This article is really worth all the praise it’s getting.👌

    Like

    1. ThatMoleGirl says:

      Beautifully written … informative and interesting read 💜

      Like

  27. Piyush Mandal says:

    Well written and informative. I learned many things about Korean Dynasty and it was very helpful 🤗🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  28. andreaimmaculate says:

    Really Informative article

    Liked by 1 person

  29. shrishti3599 says:

    👍👍👍👍

    Like

  30. B.Sophia Soren says:

    Really nice 👍

    Like

  31. ThatMoleGirl says:

    Beautifully written ..informative and interesting read 💜

    Like

  32. This article makes me want to know more. Great Work.

    Like

  33. Good work! Really informative!

    Like

  34. ThatMoleGirl says:

    Beautifully written .. informative and interesting read💜

    Like

  35. hallyufan135 says:

    I was collecting some data about Joseon Dynasty. Your article helped me a lot. It’s written beautifully.

    Like

  36. chandrasep11 says:

    very well written i have seen many Joseon period dramas and now i can understand the difference clearly.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Well written article. This explains about Joseon Dynasty very well. Thanks for this informative article

    Like

  38. rupalikujur says:

    Woah!
    Such detailed information on Joseon Dynasty. 👌🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Sameen Murtaza says:

    A really informative and well-written post.

    Like

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