The Korea Historic Collections Part Two:Choson Dynasty 1700-1800

The Choson Historic Coillections 1700-1800

Created By

Dr Iwan Suwandy,MHA

Private Limited Edition In CRD-ROM

Goal of 605 Posts Completed



I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done. — Steven Wright


Pre Choson Dynasty


Goryeo Dynasty

the nearly 500 year-old Goryeo Dynasty established by Wang Geon in 918


Taejo Choson  Dynasty


The Choson Dynasty(1392-1910) is the nation’s longest-lived. Its founder, Yi Song­gye, took the dynastic name Taejo (“Great Prog­enitor”),

Early Joseon Dynasty


King Taejo‘s portrait

Monarchs of Korea
Joseon (Choson) Dynasty
  1. Taejo 1392–1398
  2. Jeongjong 1398–1400
  3. Taejong 1400–1418
  4. Sejong the Great 1418–1450
  5. Munjong 1450–1452
  6. Danjong 1452–1455
  7. Sejo 1455–1468
  8. Yejong 1468–1469
  9. Seongjong 1469–1494
  10. Yeonsangun 1494–1506
  11. Jungjong 1506–1544
  12. Injong 1544–1545
  13. Myeongjong 1545–1567
  14. Seonjo 1567–1608
  15. Gwanghaegun 1608–1623
  16. Injo 1623–1649
  17. Hyojong 1649–1659
  18. Hyeonjong 1659–1674
  19. Sukjong 1674–1720
  20. Gyeongjong 1720–1724
  21. Yeongjo 1724–1776
  22. Jeongjo 1776–1800
  23. Sunjo 1800–1834
  24. Heonjong 1834–1849
  25. Cheoljong 1849–1863
  26. Gojong 1863–1907
  27. Sunjong 1907–1910


 King Sejong the Great

King Sejong‘s portrait

In August of 1418, following Taejong’s abdication two months earlier, Sejong ascended the throne.


Middle Joseon monarchs: Seongjong to Injo

Portrait of Emperor Gojong, Yi Haeung wearing Tongcheonggwan and Gangsapo. Portrait painted by Yi Hancheol and Yu Sook.

Portrait of Emperor Gojong, Yi Haeung wearing Tongcheonggwan and Gangsapo. Portrait painted by Yi Hancheol and Yu Sook.

Following Seongjong’s reign, the next six Joseon monarchs ruled for a period of 150 years, most of them staying on the throne much longer than the early Joseon monarchs, characterizing the middle years of the dynasty with a sense a security. When King Sejongjong reach the end of his life, he had to choose an heir. Of Seongjong’s many sons, only two were the sons of queens. One of them, Jungjong, was only six years-old when Seongjong died, so the throne went to 18 year-old Prince Yeonsan (Yeonsangun), the son of a concubine who had become queen shortly before the Prince’s birth. Yeonsan proved a violent monarch, seeking vengeance for the death of his mother who had been exiled and poisoned by rival factions at court, and after 12 years he was removed from the throne and replaced by his half-brother Jungjong, whom everyone in the court recognized as the son of a full Queen. Because he was deposed, Yeonsan was stripped of the title King, and given only the rank of prince. At the same time, Yeonsan’s son, Crown Prince Hwang, became ineligible for the throne when his father was deposed, so the line of succession moved to a different branch of the family.

King Jungjong held the throne for a long time, reigning for nearly 40 years. Jungjong was succeeded by his first son King Injong, who reigned only a year and died without an heir, and then his second son, King Myeongjong, who ascended the throne at 12, with his mother Queen Munjeong as regent. Although King Myeongjong held the throne for 22 years, Munjeong did not give up control when her son reached the age of 20, and he was over 30 before he she died in 1565, giving him a chance to rule on his own. He died two years later, and his only son had already died, leaving him without an heir, so he was succeeded by his nephew, Seonjo, the son of his youngest brother, Prince Deokheung.

King Seonjo’s 41 year reign started out well, but as time went by, he became greedy and corrupt. Toward the end of Seonjo’s reign, he entrusted a lot of responsibility to his two eldest sons, Princes Imhae and Gwanghae, sons of one of Seonjo’s concubines. Gwanghae ran the country while Seonjo fled to safety during the seven years of war with Japan under Hideyoshi. Feeling that Prince Gwanghae had more leadership ability than his elder brother Imhae, King Seonjo directed that Gwanghae should succeed him to the throne. This decision was opposed by the Chinese Emperor, who had some control of Korea throughout almost all of the Joseon Dynasty, and felt that the oldest son, Imhae, should succeed Seonjo. There was also opposition to Gwanghae from elements in the court who felt the crown should go to Seonjo’s youngest son, Prince Youngchang, the only Prince whose mother was a Queen. Seonjo’s wishes prevailed, and Prince Gwanghae ascended the throne and ruled for 15 years, and ruled with skill, but the controversy surrounding his succession eventually caused him to be deposed and replaced by his nephew King Injo, the son of Gwanghae’s younger half-brother Wonjong (Prince Jeonwon). Like Prince Yeonsan, Gwanghae was not given the title ‘King’ because he was deposed, and is referred to as ‘Prince’ (Gun), the title of Crown Prince was taken from his son, and the line of succession passed to his brother Wonjong’s line.

King Seongjong
Prince Yeonsan
Crown Prince
          Grand Prince
            Grand Prince
Prince Gwanghae
Crown Prince
            Donsu           Prince
King Injo
King Jungjong
King Injong
          Wonjong     Prince
King Myeongjong
    Crown Prince
Sun Hoi
    Prince Yeongyang           Prince Heungan
King Seonjo


King Injo
    Crown Prince
King Gyeongjong
King Hyojong
King Hyeonjong
King Sukjong
King Yeongjo
                  Crown Prince
    Grand Prince
King Jeongjo
King Sunjo
    King Ikjong
(posthumous title)
King Heonjong
King Cheoljong
      Grand Prince
      Grand Prince
    Yi Jinik
    Yi Jintae    
            4 illegitimate
      Yi Byeongsun           Prince
      Yi Byeongwon     Prince
    Prince Heungwan     Yi Jaemyeon
      Yi Byeongjun           Prince
Emperor Gojong
    Yi Jaeseon

 Classic Choson

Korea, 1600–1700 a.d. 


포항 중성리신라비20090901And while we’re on the subject… Apparently on the same day as they announced the Munmu stele, the Kyongju museum also announced they had discovered the oldest Silla inscription yet in the P’ohang area. No details yet regarding the contents, but it seems fairly legible… (via 조선일보)

포항 중성리 신라비_이성시_20090903

Here Prof Yi Song-si of Waseda is seen inspecting the new find…


Part of King Munmu’s stele


Saw on the KBS evening news yesterday that part of King Munmu’s stele has been rediscovered. It was found in an old hanok in the eastern part of Kyongju. Apparently it had been used in the backyard to make a platform or bassin for the water tap… King Munmu (661-681) is famous as the Silla unifier and also for his ‘underwater tomb’ near Kamp’o on the East Sea coast east of Kyongju. According to the Samguk yusa he was cremated and given a water burial, but at the same time there must also have been a conventional tumulus – a stele such as this one would have been placed near a tumulus. It is also said however that the stele was discovered at Sach’onwang-sa, but it would have been unusual to place a stele of a king in a temple; at least I haven’t seen any other examples of that.

The text is not exactly unknown – the stele had earlier been discovered in 1796, as reported in Hong Yangho (1724-1802)’s Igyejip 耳溪集, and rubbings were sent to China where Liu Xihai (1793-1853) included them in his Haidong jinshi yuan. But the stele itself went missing again; another part was discovered in 1961, and now the top part has been found, though it is not clear how complete the text now is. People at the Kyongju museum seem confident that they can decypher a few more characters – i.e. ones that are not included in the Haidong jinshi yuan edition. 


This is the part from the Kyongju museum. Not very spectacular… from this very useful website, which brings together all the epigraphy from Korea:)

신라문무왕릉비 20090903

This gives a better idea of how it was found, and how the part really fitted in as a nice flat stone to do your washing on! (via 조선일보)


Still exorcizing the past

August 13, 2009It is still a tradition to put to rest some minor remnant of colonial history before the major national holidays in Korea, March 1 and August 15 (Liberation day). Kim Young Sam undoubtedly tops the list of such acts with his demolition of the former government general building, later National Museum, which started on Aug. 15, 1995. However, I was surprised to confirm again the nationalist vigour of the Jogye order. These monks of Beomeosa (i.e. 범어사 – one example of how awful the current romanization system can be) are joyfully tearing down a small ballustrade, apparently in Japanase style, despoiling their pagoda, which is treasure no. 250.  The idea is, as always, to restore it to ‘its original state.’ Not very enlightened behaviour, to say the least:

 범어사)난간 해체20090813MSN

법어사 monks20090813

Another famous example that always shows up is that of the iron rods supposedly driven into the soil to destroy the geomantic power – or prevent the birth of great people, according to an 80-year old villager in Gangcheon, near Yeoju (Gyeonggi-do), where an example was recently recovered:

Iron rod 20090813

According to the report, the rod is about 4-5 cm in diameter and 50 cm out of the earth – it is not known yet how deep it is embedded in the earth. As a perceptive student in one of my classes once pointed out, it resembles a rod used in surveying land or rods used to delineate plots of land… As far as I know, nobody has yet seriously looked at any documentary evidence to back up the popular claims that these were meant to be some kind of voodoo needles to sap the strength out of Korea…


Choson royal tombs

Taereung of Q Munjeong_K Jungjons spouse_KR_090624_p25_royal3

As ‘predicted’ in one of the earliest posts on this blog, the royal tombs of Choson kings, queens, and princes (?) have been registered as UNESCO world heritage. The Korean application was approved at the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee in Seville on June 26. It is number nine on the list for the ROK, and more seem to be planned – Hahoe is one of them.

joseon tombs_KT_090624_p25_royal9

(photos via the Korea Times)

This whole UNESCO business seems to be getting out of hand, with everyone pushing whatever they have in order not to be left behind. A refreshing satire from the Chinese side – where the same thing is happening – can be found here.


Colonial era heritage still controversial…

There seems to be a growing acceptance in Korea of the value of colonial-era buildings, with many now being registered with the Cultural Heritage Administration. Thus the former Bank of Chosen building in Kunsan – which has a rich colonial heritage – was registered last year as ‘registered cultural property 등록문화재 no 374′. However, there are still throwbacks to past attitudes,  witness this proposal by Chang Sehwang of the DP to make it impossible to make “exploitative facilities from the colonial period” cultural heritage. He does not seem to advocate their demolition, but wants to put them in a different category of “historical materials to be preserved” (역사적보존자료); apart from the problem of how to distinguish exploitative from non-exploitative facilities, if the law passes it would probably become easier to demolish them anyway. Hence the strong opposition to this law from conservation groups such as the 한국군축역사학회 (Korean architectural history society?) and also the city of Kunsan.


Despite its protected status (see the small board in front of the building), the 1923 former bank of Chosen in Kunsan is obviously in need of some repair.


Through Gates of Seoul …

Borrowed this title from an old guide book to Seoul by Edward Adams. It’s exactly a year now since the South gate (Namdaemun/Sungnyemun) burnt down; a tragedy of course for Seoul’s (meagre) heritage, but in a way it seems to tie in well with the city’s plans to restore the city walls. I’ll have to hunt down some evidence for this, but it seems that there are definitely plans to rebuild the walls, and then apply for Unesco heritage status… Even the demolition of the old Tongdaemun stadium seems to be connected to this – underneath it was uncovered some pretty impressive remains, including this water gate:


For a good overview of the excavation activities concerning Seoul’s walls and gates, see this article in the Chosun.


Relic case discovered at Miruksa

20090119_ebafb8eba5b5ec82acec82aceba6aced95a8Today the munhwajae yon’guso unveiled the sarira (relics) case discovered underneath the central pillar shaft (心柱)at Miruk-sa, the famous Paekche stupa near Iksan. Normally such a case is buried underneath the plinth supporting the central wooden pillar of the pagoda – however, as we all know the Miruk-sa stupa (NT 11) is completely made of stone … (Jonathan Best cites a Chinese source which claims that the originally wooden pagoda was destroyed by lightning in 639; so perhaps the box may indeed have originally been placed under a wooden pagoda)


This picture shows the completely dis-assembled pagoda, with the lid just being taken off the sarira case. (from here) It will be interesting to see how this will affect our knowledge of Paekche history. I haven’t seen any transcription yet of the text, but one thing is clear: the Samguk yusa’s romantic story of how the daughter of Silla king Chinp’yong eloped to marry King Mu of Paekche (600-641) will have to be taken with an extra pinch of salt. It is correct though in saying that the temple was founded by King Mu’s queen, but she was a daughter of a Paekche nobleman.


Locks.. but not under lock!


150 locks and other small metal objects from the Lock museum (쇳대박물관) are currently on exhibit in Tokyo… although they are ‘undesignated cultural treasures’ (비지정문화재) they need permission from the Cultural Heritage Admin. to travel abroad… Permission which was not applied for, yet they clearly left the country without problem! Pictured is a lock said to date from the Koryo period (via Donga)


Destruction of Silla fortress

This story just caught my eye on Daum (via Ohmynews) – apparently the city of Mungyong is destroying the ancient fortress of Komo sansong (Sinhyon-ri, Masong-myon, Mungyong), believed to have been built ca. 470. The reason? To make way for a Confucian Culture zone tourist project – whatever that may be. Despite protests by local cultural protection groups, the work is continuing. Apparently permission was granted, and the Cultural Heritage Administration is powerless because the site is not listed… It is really baffling, all the more so since excavations were carried out last year, by the Chungwon munhwajae yon’guso (presumably yonguwon), which revealed a unique subterranean wooden structure, believed to date to the Silla period:

This image via the Dong-a ilbo. Just imagine what the outcry would have been like if China had touched a Koguryo fortress … From this picture it appears that the purpose is simply to remove the old walls and replace it with a flash new structure as can be seen in the foreground:



The Manchu invasions of the Korean peninsula and the subsequent establishment of the Qing dynasty in China during the first half of the seventeenth century shape the Joseon elite’s view of its own culture. Scholars and officials increasingly take an interest in Korea’s history, geography, agriculture, literature, and art. The new strain of research, now commonly termed sirhak, or “practical learning,” is in vogue through much of the two centuries between 1600 and 1800. It is manifested in practical legislation that seeks to control and enhance the government’s bureaucratic workings and the lives of the general population, especially the peasants.

Culturally, a similar strain of interest in things Korean finds expression in works of art that explore native vernacular, geography, and social customs. Fiction written in hangeul (Korean writing) explores nontraditional themes that fall outside of yangban (literati) interests, and are often authored by people of the lower classes. Paintings of the eighteenth century depicting famous sites in Korea and the daily lives of people—known as “true-view” landscape painting and genre painting—evidence the vibrant and “Korean” artistic expressions of this period. Ceramic production, having suffered setbacks following major Japanese and Manchu invasions of the peninsula, reemerges with fresh creativity by the second half of the seventeenth century and through the eighteenth century.

Attention to Korea’s history and culture does not mean indifference to foreign stimuli. On the contrary, there is enduring, if selective, interest in and relations with the world outside, alongside discoveries of native potentials. Diplomatic and cultural exchanges with China and Japan continue, despite ambivalence and mistrust, and contribute significantly to shaping Joseon culture. Sporadic and largely accidental contact with the West sparks the two worlds’ awareness of each other.


Woodblock of the Tripitaka Koreana.
Woodblock of the Tripitaka Koreana. The carving of the woodblocks for the Korean Tripitaka (Buddhist canon) began in the early eleventh century and was completed in 1087. The original woodblocks were destroyed during the thirteenth-century Mongol invasions. The Tripitaka Koreana that remains today is a later edition, begun on Kanghwa Island, where the court had taken refuge from the Mongols. It was completed in 1251. Requiring about 81,200 woodblocks, this edition combines accuracy with beauty. This woodblock was presented to then- Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin by Dr. Hong Joo Moon, President of the Academy of Korean Studies, in 1986. (Korean Collection, Asian Division)

The Library’s Korean collection has made up for a relatively late start and now stands as the largest The Library’s Korean collection has made up for a relatively late start and now stands as the largest and   most comprehensive outside Korea. Although the collection is largely contemporary (this aspect is discussed later), it does contain a number of valuable pre-nineteenth-century publications in traditional format. Korea, like Japan and Vietnam, absorbed early cultural influences from China, including language, and many of its early classics were written in Chinese. Old Korean books, however, are quite different from their counterparts in China and Japan. They tend to be larger and are often printed on tough, durable paper, which is noted for its beauty and uniform whiteness. Because of the paper’s quality, Korean versions of Chinese classics sometimes survived the original printings in China. For example, the only existing version of an important fourteenth-century Chinese map, Sheng-chiao Kuang-pei t’u (Map of the Vast Reach of China’s Moral Teaching), is a fifteenth-century Korean work containing a copy of the original.

The Library has some 422 titles (2,900 volumes) of rare Korean books, printed on mulberry paper in Chinese characters, many of which were obtained in the 1920s. While the majority of the Korean rare books are in the Asian Division, thirteen titles are in the Law Library. There are also rare Korean maps in the Geography and Map Division, including those provided to the Library by the American geographer Shannon McCune. Unique Korean photographs may be found in the Prints and Photographs Division.

Yi Munsun Chip (1241).
Yi Munsun Chip
(1241). The collected works of Yi Munsun (the literary name of Yi Kyu-bo), the great poet, scholar, and statesman of Korea’s Koryo Dynasty (918-1392), were edited and printed with metal movable type by his son Yi Ham in about 1241. This was some 215 years before Gutenberg used a similar process to print his famous Bibles in Germany. Printed on handmade mulberry paper, the eight-volume work contains Yi Munsun’s essays, poetry, descriptions of early printing, warnings against shamanism, and his autobiography. (Korean Collection, Asian Division)

The most important contributor to the Library’s classical Korean book collection was Dr. James S. Gale, a Canadian missionary who arrived in Korea in 1888 and spent the next forty years there. A prodigious scholar, Gale translated many of Korea’s literary classics into English and wrote numerous books on Korean history, literature, and culture. Gale helped the Library procure a number of Korean classics, including rare books from the estate of the Korean scholar Kim To-hui. In 1927, the Library received the major portion of Gale’s own library, more than doubling its Korean holdings.

Korea made a special contribution to the technology of printing by developing movable cast metal type, beginning in 1241. Although China first used movable type made of clay, it was in Korea that printing with movable metal type reached a high point in the fifteenth century. Korean printing technology spread to China and Japan, but movable type was not a commercial success and by the nineteenth century had been almost completely displaced by the older woodblock printing. This technology in turn soon gave way to European typography. The Asian Division holds some fine examples of Korean printing from metal movable type. These include the collected writings, printed in 1744, of the renowned sixteenth-century Confucian scholar and statesman Yi I and the 1834 reprint of the works of the “father of Korean literature,” Ch’oe Ch’i-won (857-915 A.D.). Examples of rare woodblock-printed books include a history of the Koryo Dynasty (Koryð Sa), printed in 1590, and the law code of the Yi Dynasty (Kyongguk Taijon), printed in 1630.

Map of Korean Peninsula.
Map of Korean Peninsula.
This map of Korea is one of twelve handcolored maps in the manuscript atlas, Tae Choson Chido (Great Korean Map). The atlas, dating to circa 1800, has individual maps of the provinces of Korea and maps of the world, China, and Japan. (Geography and Map Division)
Tonqui Pogam (A Valuable Treatise on Oriental Medicine). Tonqui Pogam (A Valuable Treatise on Oriental Medicine).
The Tonqui Pogam was written by the physician Ho Chun at the order of King Sonjo (1567-1608). Completed in 1611, it combines Chinese and Korean medical writings on disease and treatment, and covers topics such as pediatrics, gynecology, acupuncture, surgery, and general medicine. The most important medical compendium of Korea’s Yi Dynasty, the work was widely read in China and Japan. This 1754 edition, consisting of twenty-two volumes, was printed with wood blocks.

Group of miniature funerary vessels, porcelain, Choson dynasty, 1400-1600

Yun Hyu (尹鑴, 윤휴, 1617-1680) was a Chosun dynasty scholar and government official. His ancestral home is Namweon (南原, 남원); his courtesy name was Heuijung (希仲, 희중), which indicates he was the second born son; and his pen names were Baekho (白湖, 백호, “white lake”) and Haheon (夏軒, 하헌, “summer veranda”).  He was nominated to be a Jipyeong (持平, 지평) as a Yebinshijeong (禮賓寺正, 예빈시정) and had served in various other posts, before he left politics to absorb himself in scholarly pursuits. He was a member of the Southerner faction (南人派, 남인파). With the expulsion of that faction, he was exiled to Gapsan (甲山, 갑산) and sentenced to death by poisoning.

陋巷 누항

The Squalid Alley

明着衣冠士子身 명착의관사자신
簞瓢陋巷不厭貧 단표루항불염빈
雲開萬國同看月 운개만국동간월
花發千家共得春 화발천가공득춘
邵子吟中多氣像 소자음중다기상
淵明醉裏樂天眞 연명취리낙천진
從來大隱皆城市 종래대은개성시
何必投竿寂寞濱 하필투간적막빈

Augustly wearing the clothes and hat, a body of a scholar,
On the squalid alley with its bamboo baskets and gourd dippers, does not get annoyed at the poor.
When the clouds open, ten-thousand [1] countries altogether see the moon.
When a flower blossoms, ten-thousand households [2] together have Spring.
In the poems of Soja [3], much of nature and temper.
In the drunkenness of  Yeonmyong [4], the joy of innocence [5].
From times past, large hermits all lived in towns and markets.
Why is it necessary to throw a fishing line from the tranquil water’s edge?


  1. That is, everyone or many people.
  2. Again to mean “many people.”
  3. Refers to a Song dynasty scholar and poet by the name of Shao Yong (邵雍, 소옹, So’ong, 1011-1077).
  4. Refers to the Eastern Jin dynasty poet Tao Yuanming(陶淵明, 도연명, Do Yeonmyeong, 365-427).
  5. 天眞 (천진, cheonjin) does not mean “heavenly truth” but “innocence” or “naivete.”


  • 陋 (루, ru) – to be squalid (누추하다) or filthy (더럽다).
  • 簞 (단, dan) – bamboo basket (소쿠리) or lunchbox (도시락).
  • 瓢 (표, pyo) – gourd dipper (바가지).
  • 濱 (빈, bin) – water’s edge (물가).

An Jeongbok (安鼎福, 안정복, 1712-1791) was a Chosun dynasty scholar and government official. He was of the Gwangju (廣州 ,광주) An clan. His courtesy name was Baeksun (百順, 백순) and his pen name was Sun’am (順庵, 순암). He belonged to the Southerner’s faction and the Silhak school of thought, and did initially take interest in Catholicism when it was first introduced by Yi Seunghun and other Silhak scholars. However, unlike the others authors covered this week, in the end, An Jeongbok criticized Catholicism and Western thought and warned other scholars who took interest in it in his work, Thoughts on the Study of Heaven (天學考, 천학고, Cheonhakgo).

白雲有起滅 백운유기멸
靑山無改時 청산무개시
變遷非所貴 변천비소귀
特立斯爲奇 특립사위기

white-cloud-to have-to rise-to destroy
blue-mountain-to have not-to change-time
to change-to move-to be not-that/which-value
to be special-to stand-this-to be-commendable

White clouds have risings and vanishings;
Blue mountains do not have changing times.
Transformations and alterations are not something to be valued.
Standing independently — this is [what is] commendable.

     *Han Hyo Joo as DongYi / Choi suk bin
11—49 years old. Born on 1670 (11 th year of King Hyunjong)
Later, Mother of King Youngjo. She was honored as Sukbin which is located third level in Chosun lady’s hierarchy system.
She is very bright, smart and witty. Not only smart but also warm heart, she cannot pass poor person freely. After her father and brother was executed bitterly, she became a orphan. As police officer Mr. Seo Yongki chase her continuously, she hide herself in Jangakwon, which is music academy, with the help of Suli. With her born familiarity and wit, she is chosen as a helper in palace from the slave position. Behind her, there is Cha Chunsoo, who gave her a love in spite of all kind of sacrifice. He is best friend of her brother, Dongju.
Later, surprisingly, she was picked up by Sukjong to sleep with. Then, discord against queen Chang Heebin, then, return of queen Inhyun, giving birth to a prince, Yeonanggun. Love from Sukjong, trouble with queen Inhyun. Education of prince Yeonanggun, whose position was always in danger.
Within the difficulty which concubine would face and her son’s royalty to her, her life faced incredible turning point.
    *Ji Jin Hee as King Sukjong
24-60 years old. The 19th king of Chosun dynasty (1661—1720)
His- childhood- time name was Soon.
He was absolute monarch of Chosun. He recovered the authority of king which had dropped before. Though he became a king when just 14 years old, with the powerful leadership and wide knowledge, he succeeded and ruled experienced old his subjects. To recover royalty of king which had dropped through 2 times war, he eliminated Song Siyul who was the biggest scholar in Chosun.
With the powerful leadership and gut, he controlled his subjects and used the power game among his subjects.
Though he was scareful king to his subjects, he is delicate and smart. That means, he was smart and fantastic king to the numerous concubine. He met Dongyi first time during palace festival, then, he was impressed by her warmth and smartness.    *Bae Soo Bin as Cha Chun Soo
20-55 years old
New leader of Hanyang Gumgae, which is secret swordsman organization.
He worked as corpse inspector during the day and acted as a key member of Gumgae, whose purpose was cleaning the governmental disorder during the night. Though he is in low class person, he has academic ability and can use sword very well.
He is trusted very much by Choi Hyowon, who is father of Dongyi. He was a young staff of Gumgae organization and best friend of Dongju, who is brother of Dongyi. When Mr Choi and Dongju were executed, they ask him to take care of Dongyi. Afterwards, he took care of Dongyi for his whole life. After Choi Hyowon died, he rebuilt Gumgae organization and became a new leader. He never forgets the word of baby Dongyi, which is, “When I grow up, I will marry with Chunsoo”. He loves Dongyi with his whole life.    *Park Ha-sun as Queen In-hyun
(1667 – 1701)
First queen of Sukjong, who was 19th king of Chosun dynasty.
She has warm heart , but she was paid no attention by Sukjong. She was expelled out of palace once, then, she came back as a queen again. But she died early. She trusted Dongyi very much and gave many helps to her.    *Lee So-yeon as Lady Jang
(1659 –1701)
Second queen of Sukjong.
She entered palace with the help of Cho Sasuk. Her first name was Chang Okjung. She received love of Sukjong, but she was expelled by Sukjong’s mother. When her party, Namin, succeeded to get power, she could come back to palace and succeeded to give birth to prince, Kyun. When her son became a successor of king, her position was upgraded to second queen.
When Sukjong’s first queen, Inhyun was expelled, she became first queen. But, afterwards, Sukjong regrets his mistake, he recovered Inhyun’s position, then, made Heebin Chang to second queen again.From the start to the last, she made rivalry with Dongyi. Finally she died by the penalty of death.

    *Jang Jin Young
30 – 60 years old. Police chief.
He has fair and straight personality and careful.
He valued high the ability of Choi Hyowon who was working as a corpse inspector, which is the lowest job. Mr. Seo has treated Mr. Choi as a normal class person in spite of his low society position.But, after his father was killed by Gumgae member, he feel betrayal and swear to clean Gumgae.
When Dongyi became the helper of police, he met her again. At that time, he was high official, then, help her lots of times.

    *Choi Cheol-Ho
    *Jung Yumi

In full disclosure, unlike many Korean-Americans (“1.5 generation” included), the author of this blog is not a Protestant. In fact, he tries to stay away from Protestantism for the same reasons that he stays away from the beer Keystone. He is Catholic, though not too happy about the state of the Church today, as hopefully made clear in the following post.Yi Byeok (李檗,이벽, 1754-1786) was born into the Gyeongju Yi family clan (慶州李氏, 경주이씨). His pen name was Gwang’am (曠菴, 광암, “empty hermitage”). Although well-versed in Confucian classics like many early Korean Catholics and unlike his brothers, he did not take the civil entrance exam and did not pursue government position. He was Korea’s first Catholic catechist. Unlike many lay catechists today, who teach from books that are no more informative than coloring books, Yi Byeok actually taught Catholicism. One of the remarkable things about the Catholic Church in Korea is that it was not founded by missionaries. Rather, it was started by Korean literati who read Catholic books and wished to pursue the religion on their own. Indeed, as there were no Catholic clergy established in Korea until the mid-18th century, Yi Byeok was baptized by fellow Catholic layman Yi Seunghun. The following is an excerpt from his catechism, The Essential Meaning of the Heavenly Religion, or Seonggyoyoji (聖敎要旨, 성교요지). It is modeled on the poems found in the Classic of Poetry, and was meant to be sung. Most of the early Catholic works written by Korean Catholics were done in Classical Chinese, was only translated into Korean later.未生民來 前有上帝 미생민래 전유상제
唯一眞身 無聖能比 유일진신 무성능비
六日力作 先碧天地 육일역작 선벽천지
萬物多焉 旣希差異 만물다언 기희차이
遂辨和土 將位靈矣 수변화토 장위영의
命處賜薹 千百皆與 명처사대 천백개여

There was not yet life and the advent of mankind; [but] before, there existed the Lord Above [1].
There was only one true body: there was no sage that can be equaled [to Him].
In six days, with His strength, He created: first, the blue heavens and earth [2].
All creation is many; from the beginning, [how] rare and [how] distinct.
At last, He decided, collecting earth, in order to place a soul.
Life and place, He bestowed rapeseed [3]. To thousands and hundred, all He gave [to them].


  1.  上帝 (상제, Sangje) – Confucian word for God. Pope Clement XI’s decree Ex Illa Die actually forbid the use of this word among Chinese Catholics in 1705.
  2. Catholic Church does not teach literal six day creationism.
  3. That is, nourishment.
  • 薹 (대, dae) – rapeseed

Late Choson Period

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The postwar period of the 17th century in Choson witnessed a great deal of social and economic upheavals.  The rise of wealthy merchants contributed to the decline of the yangban society, while financial difficulty drove the government repeatedly to undertake tax reforms and sales of titles.  Upward social mobility, almost unknown in the prewar period, began to take place.  Rich peasants and merchants acquired yangban status, and nobi bondsmen were able to purchase freedom.

Neo-Confucian orthodoxy was called into questions by a rising critical spirit which engendered distrust of the yangban.  The impact of Western culture, entering through China, gave further impetus for the development of pragmatic studies which called for socioeconomic reforms and readjustments.  Factional strife also intensified.  Attention was drawn to agricultural problems as more yangban – dropouts from the struggle for official power – became involved land cultivation issues.  As a result, agromanagerial techniques and production methods were steadily improved  Privately operated handicraft factories replaced government-operated ones, stimulating the production of goods for sale.

The increase in mercantile activities expedited the rise of commercial farming, which in turn began to transform rural life.  The circulation of coin currency spread, provided a bridge between rural life and city economy.  The rise of popular verse and fiction drew the attention of the people to the government abuses and encouraged their participation in social reforms.




The factional split in 1585 was between a younger and an elder group of scholars, called the Tong-in (Eastern) faction and the Soin (Western) faction, respectively, and this rivalry was intensified under the postwar financial difficulties.  Splits often occurred over issues such as the questions of selection of the crown prince and rituals of royal mourning.


TheTong-in faction divided again into the Namin (Southern) faction and the Pugin (Northern) faction, and the latter gained power during the reign of King Kwanghaegun (r. 1608-1623), who made efforts to restore the Confucian state.  When the Manchus rose up against Ming China, who asked Choson for assistance, King Kwanghaegun, mindful of the assistance rendered by the Chinese in Choson’s struggle against the Japanese, promptly sent an army of 10,000.  However, when it became obvious the Manchus would be victorious, the Chosons quickly surrendered thus avoiding any retaliation.


In the aftermath of this switch, King Kwanghaegun was deposed by the newly ascendant Soin faction which was pro-Ming.  The insurrection which ensued demonstrated the necessity of strengthening the defense of the capital area.  Accordingly, new camps were built around the capital city, and Namhansansong fortress was constructed for its protection.


The Manchus thus felt the need to eliminate any threat from Choson.  The peace treaty concluded after the first Manchu invasion stipulated that Choson would come to the aid of the Manchus, not the Ming.  Upon King Injo’s (r. 1623-1649) refusal to acknowledge a suzerain-vassal relationship in 1636, the Manchu ruler, now enthroned as the Qing Emperor of China, invaded Choson.  King Injo fled to Namhansansong fortress, then capitulated to the invaders on a bank of the Han-gang river.  He agreed to break relations with the defeated Ming and to send princes as hostages.


This personal surrender of King Injo was a double blow to the monarchy and yangban, as the nation had  to acknowledge subservience to the “pagan” tribes of the Manchu.  Distrust of the orthodox Neo-Confucian yangban began to grow in the minds of the people, who had been denied an opportunity to resist the Qing army.


A deep sense of humiliation and disgrace was felt, and sympathy toward Ming was strong.  The peasants and bondsmen openly ridiculed the yangban; offspring of interclass mating, mostly between yangban men and non-yangban women, also posed a serious social problem.  These illegitimate sons of prominent officials were considered outcasts and banned from governmental service.


Resentment of the rigid social stratification as described at the Hong Kil-tong chon spurred the rise of revolutionary ideas.  The basic theme in the novel – that all men were created equal – gave encouragement to the people and further undermined the prestige of the yangban society.


Postwar Readjustment

The urgent tasks of the postwar period included the reorganization of defense forces and the increase of state revenues.  The Border Defense Council (Pibyonsa) was elevated to the status of a de facto decision-making body, consisting of state councilors, ministers of the six boards and military staff generals, which made important decisions ranging from war to the selection of the Crown Prince.

The arts of war which had proved to be effective in defense against Japanese pirates on the south China coast were given first priority in the postwar defense activity.  This system of army training, however, required an additional budget which had to be collected as taxes from the peasants.  Privately owned bondsmen, who had previously been exempted from military service, were recruited for training, and had a new reason to consider themselves equal to commoners.

The reconstruction of palace buildings and the printing of lost books, such as duplicate sets of the Choson Wangjo Shillok (Annals of the Choson Dynasty), land ledgers, and census records, all required extra funds.  Wooden printing type was carved because of the metal shortage brought about by arms production.  Books were sold to pay for expenses, contrary to the prewar practice.  Efforts were made to revive the peasant economy, the main source of revenue.


Medical care for the disease-stricken populace was an urgent need and gave impetus to the compilation of medical treatises such as Tong-ui pogam (Exemplar of Korean Medicine), which was completed in 1610.

The system of recruitment for the bureaucracy by merit had long deteriorated, as both civil and military service examinations virtually became levers in the hands of powerful officials and the faction in power.  The irregular special examination graduates created a pressing demand for land, at the same time the practice of holding unregistered land was draining state revenue.  As some yangban sought control of tax-free school land, the number of private schools quadrupled during the 17thcentury alone, multiplying the school estates which sheltered an increasing number of literati and students.

The royal relatives and officials in power accumulated land deserted in wartime and converted it into tax-exempt holdings.  Competition for government office became intense, since a term in office could easily lead to economic advantage. 


Tax Reforms

During this period, there was a gradual rise of subordinate agents of the tribute-tax collector who collected extraordinary additional amounts.  This practice, started during the prewar period, became so rampant that peasants often turned over their land to powerful yangban, who would then help them to withdraw the land from registration so that the yangban could collect the tax themselves.

Attempts to convert the tribute-tax to an additional tax on land were partly successful.  An additional tax on land, Taedongpop (Uniform Land Tax Law), was vigorously advocated by Kim Yuk, the chief minister of King Hyonjong (r. 1649-1659).  Its implementation proved highly advantageous both to state revenues and to the lot of the peasants.  Such an outcome was especially valuable to King Hyojong, whose aim was to strengthen the army and increase national revenue so as to oppose the Qing.  As a further revenue measure, he decreed a universal tax in exchange for exemption from military service to be paid by all males, even monks.

Hyojong’s anti-Qing ideas came to naught, for in 1654 and 1658, he was forced to send trained military men at the request of Qing China to help them fight in Manchuria against Russian invaders.  His economic policies were more effective and the population more than doubled in the ten years after his death.

The increase in the national population from 2,290,000 in 1657 to 5,018,000 in 1669 was remarkable.  The Hanyang population grew from 80,572 to 194,030 in the same period.  The national increase was largely due to the enforcement of tax reforms and the improvement in agromanagerial and agricultural techniques.  The increase in the Hantang population along can be attributed to the influx of merchants dealing in goods no longer paid to the government as tribute-tax.

After the Taedongpop was implemented in most parts of the country the governmental demand for local products in kind was met by merchants who became purchase agents for that purpose.  Acquiring the privilege of monopoly, they set the pattern for the guilds which spread nationwide.  The decline of government-operated workshops and manufacturer stimulated artisans and technicians to create private workshops and to go into business as dealers in their own products, often forming into guilds.

In the provincial towns, markets were held every five days, serving as channels between producers and Hanyang merchants.  The licensed suppliers of local products in Hanyang gradually accumulated capital with their lucrative and guaranteed transactions.

Thus a new notion of wealth came into being: that of mercantile wealth, consisting no longer of land and bondmen but of commodities for quantitative trade in money.  Commercial capital was given a foundation on which to grow, as trade flourished and currency circulated.  However, these efforts, whose purpose was to preserve the Confucian yangban society, led to the erosion of that same society.

Rise of a Reformist School

With the death of King Hyojong, the yangban no longer paid the universal military service tax, and were once again virtually exempted from military service.  A critical attitude developed among the out-of-power yangban.  Yun Hyu and Pak Se-dang were among the prominent scholars who attacked the idolized system of Chu Hsi.  Conservative yangban branded them as heretics, but the time was ripe for the rise of a new school of thought critical of the traditional order.

To the new generation of scholars, the living  conditions of the people meant more than the problems of legitimacy and ritual so head to the literati of Neo-Confucian bureaucracy.  “No nation can survive without the well-being of the peasant, whereas the people can flourish even without a monarch.” Such was the modern thinking that underlay the reformist schools’ pragmatic studies.

Yu Hyong-won in his Pan-gye surok (Essays on Social Reform) suggested the following measures: the establishment of a land system under which benefits could be shared equitably by all; the institution of the recommendation system which would replace civil service examinations; the establishment of equal opportunities for all men; the reform of government organization; and the adoption of new learning.  His proposals found no official acceptance, but his reformist school of thought became the mainstream of pragmatic studies.  Emphasis was given to agriculture, since the success of the suggested reforms depended upon the solution of agricultural problems.  The need for pragmatic studies was keenly felt by scholars who were removed from the bureaucracy.  The latter, on the other hand were preoccupied with internal power struggles, and factions clashed over differing interpretations of Neo-Confucian rites.\

During the latter half of the 17th century,


 the struggle for power among the factions became fierce and more factions split off, among which the Noron faction, or the elder group, and the Soron, the younger group, were prominent.  Such factional strife had nothing to do with the life of the peasant or national interests.  The majority of the younger group began to show concern over the well-being of the peasants, who condition was closer to their own, since many of the yangban engaged in farming and could not even afford to hold bondsmen.

It was in this process of socioeconomic change that the reformist school went with the demands of society.  Mercantile activities continued to grow with the development of government-licensed supplier guilds on a nationwide scale and their transactions accounted for 60 percent of the total government revenue.  Government revenues were constantly growing during this period, and some wealthy farmers converted their status to that of the yangbanKing Yongjo’s Reforms

Realizing detrimental effects, on state administration, of factional strife during the latter half of the 17th century in Choson Dynasty, King Yongjo (r. 1724-1776) attempted to end factional strife as soon as he ascended the throne.  To reinstate the short-lived universal military service tax, he even came out of the palace gate and solicited the opinions of officials, literati, soldiers and peasants.  He reduced the military service tax by half, and ordered the deficiency supplemented by taxes on fisheries, salt, vessels and an additional land tax.  King Yongjo also regularized the financial system of state revenues and expenses by adopting an accounting system.  His realistic policies allowed the payment of taxes in grain in the remote Kyongsang-do province to nearby ports, and payment in cotton or cash for grain in mountainous areas.  The circulation of currency was encourage by increased coin casting.

His concern for the improvement of peasant life was manifest in his eagerness to education the people by distributing important books in Korean script, including books on agriculture.

The pluviometer was again manufactured in quantity and distributed to local offices, and extensive public works were undertaken.  King Yongjo upgraded the status of the offspring of commoners, opening another possibility for upward social mobility.  His policies were intended to reassert the Confucian monarchy and humanistic rule, but they could not stem the tide of social change.

Mercantile activities increased in volume at a rapid rate in the 18th century.  There was accumulation of capital through monopoly and wholesaling that expanded through guild organization.  Many merchants were concentrated in Hanyang.  The traditional divisions of government-chartered shops, the licensed tribute-goods supplier, and the small shopkeepers in the alleys and streets, were integrated into the fabric of a monopoly and wholesale system.  The temporary shops were originally set up to meet the demands of the people on special occasions, such as civil service examinations, royal processions and other national events, but the continued after the events to supply the general populace with groceries and sundry items.  Operated by poor shopkeepers in temporary huts, they were for the most part dependent on the wholesale merchants.  As a result, the wholesale merchant’s price policies had direct impact on the life of the populace of Hanyang.

The artisans often became self-employed producers.  Some even developed into factory owners and obtained charters of monopoly for the sale of their products.  In some cases, it proved more lucrative simply to be a wholesale dealer in certain commodities than to engage in the production of goods.  It was becoming fashionable among merchants and artisans to obtain charters by creating a new commodity through minor refinement of goods already chartered.  The charter ensured monopoly and the protection of the government.

The so-called estuary merchants monopolized commodities from the provinces of Kyonggi-do and Ch’tungch’dong-do, and other wholesale merchants had nationwide networks for the sale of ginseng.  The merchants of Kaeson or Songdo competed vigorously with their Hanyang counterparts in wholesale activities, conducting tripartite international trade between Japan and China; they traded ginseng and other Korean products for Japanese silver and Chinese books and silk.  They even accompanied the envoy missions to China in their quest for gain.  They went into the business of buying up paper for trade to China from the original producers in Buddhist temples, horse hair for hats from the remote southern Chjudo island and otter fur from hunters on the east coast.

The constant movement of trading ships between and among these remote ports is described in Yi Chung-hwan’s T’aengniji (Ecological Guide to Korea) and depicted in Yi In-mun’s painting, the Inexhaustible Rivers and Mountains.

The monopoly and wholesale activities created a larger demand for silver and copper, which in turn gave impetus to the mining industry.  Under strict control of the government in prewar times, mines were turned over to private operators.  In the 17th century, 68 silver mines were in operation but copper mining was not well developed, as copper was supplied by Japan.  In the 18th century, however, copper mines were also developed when the Japanese stopped exporting copper and Qing demanded great supplies of it.

The constant rise in price of commodities would have threatened the livelihood of the populace of Hanyang had they not been involved one way or another in mercantile activities.  Regardless of status, many yangban and commoners engaged in some kind of merchant activity.

Thus Hanyang made great strides as a commercial and industrial city in the 18th century.  The popular demand for handicraft goods such as knives, horsehair hats, dining tables and brassware was ever increasing.  Restrictions on the wearing of the horsehair hat, originally a symbol of yangban status, virtually disappeared.

The increase in the number of yangban had been the root cause of their impoverishment, as their land-holdings had to be divided equally among the sons at the least, and often among daughters as well, whether married or not.  The yangban of declining fortunes had the choice of either engaging in agriculture as an owner-cultivator, or in lucrative enterprises indirectly.  Money-lending was another field they entered as trade and currency circulation expanded.

The traditional Confucian notion that commerce and industry were marginal occupations, unworthy of pursuit by the yangban, also changed, and the necessity for hands-on learning was encouraged by Qing China.  Pak Chi-won, Pak Che-ga and others who had traveled to Qing with the Choson’s envoy missions witnessed the rapid development of commerce and manufacturing industry there.  Upon returning to Choson, they proposed positive policies for the development of commerce, metallurgy, fishing, stock farming, horticulture and mining.

Even pirating of books became commercialized, as competition developed among well-to-do yangban in the publication of collected literary works of renowned ancestors.  This led to the printing of popular fiction and poetry.  The people especially appreciated satire and social criticism.  The Ch’unhyangjon (Tale of Ch’unhyang), about the fidelity of an entertainer’s (kisaeng) daughter, was widely read as a satire aimed to expose the greed and snobbery of government officials.

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Development of Agriculture

The development of trade and manufacturing stimulated agricultural diversity.  Commercial farming of ginseng, hemp, tobacco and medicinal herbs was practiced in various parts of the country.  Improved agricultural techniques increased yields.  For example, transplantation of rice, which ad been common only in the fields of Cholla-do, Kyongsang-do and Kangwon-do provinces, now spread northward to the provinces of Ch’ungch’long-do, Kyonggi-do and Hwanghae-do.  This technique not only yielded more rice but allowed for the harvesting of two crops a year, barley and rice.

The improved ration between productivity and labor gave peasants the incentive to revolutionize agromanagerial procedures, since it ws possible for them to rise to wealth through managerial expansion.  The wealthy yangban and peasants gradually enlarged their farm lands by renting other land.  This drove the poor peasants elsewhere for employment in cities, mining and manufacturing.  Some became mountain recluses living by slash-and-burn agriculture practices.

The land-tax burden was shifted to the tenant farmers.  As in other decaying medieval societies, this sort of socioeconomic change drove the poor peasant further into poverty.  The well-to-do peasants, on the other hand, were able to purchase yangban titles which increased their prestige and power in the local community.

Rules were set for sale of titles, and there was a gradual rise in such sales as the government was often faced with a shortage of revenue.  Bondsmen were emancipated and often became owners of land and other bondsmen.  The increase of yangban from the 1690s to the 1850s was extraordinary.  In these years, the number in some sectors increased from 9.2 to 70.2 percent of the population, whereas the commoners, mostly peasants, decreased from 53.7 to 28.2 percent, and the bondsmen from 37.1 to 1.5 percent.  This upward mobility was a result of the exploitation of newly created wealth by a chronically deficit-ridden government.   The forging and purchase of genealogies conferring social recognition on members of the non-yangban class was prevalent in the 18th century.

There was, however, another side to the picture.  Some yangban actually descended to the status of commoner, and began to intermarry with peasants and other lower classes.  Government offices, unable to afford the support of bondsmen, gradually freed them in return for tribute or a lump-sum tax payment.  The number of office-owned bondsmen decreased from 190,000 in the 17th century to 27,000 in the mid-18th century.  Bondsmen privately owned by yangban numbered 400,000 in 1623, but decreased sharply in the course of social change, and many of the yangban could not afford to hold even a single bondsman.  Under such conditions some private bondsmen became part-tenant and part-free cultivators.  Finally in 1801, all bondsmen registers of government offices and palaces were destroyed by the government to assure their emancipation.

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Pragmatic Studies

The pragmatists’ urge to learn about Qing China in the late Choson period was propelled by the recognition that Korea’s well-being as a nation was in need of dramatic improvement.  Many scholars thus attempted to seek the solution to social problems by administrative reforms in land distribution and thus attempted to seek the solution to social problems by administrative reforms in land distribution and agricultural improvement, emphasizing limitation of landholding and application of egalitarian principles in land tenure.  Yi Ik proposed the creation of an open society by abolishing class distinctions and emancipating all bondsmen.  Pak Chi-won wrote stories ridiculing the idle, unproductive and pretentious way of life of the yangban.  For the social advancement of Choson, he advocated the improvement of agricultural equipment, irrigation systems and new cultivation techniques.  There were scholars like Pak Che-ga, Yi Tok-mu and Hong Tae-yong who recommended that Choson import Western techniques and participate in international trade along with Qing China.  They were the vanguard of a movement that was destined to destroy the traditional yangban attitude toward technology and commerce.

Even while absorbing Western culture and techniques by way of China, concern for Korea’s identity began to revive as Koreans began to study their own history, geography, language and epigraphy.  Painter departed from traditional China-oriented painting styles and began to paint the scenery and life of Choson.  An Chong-bok asserted an independent Korean line in Korea’s historiography by emphasizing Tan-gun and Kija and the first legitimate rules.  This reinterpretation can be seen as parallel to Chu Hsi’s legitimation by Shu Han of China’s San Guo (Three Kingdoms) period.  An’s contribution to the historiography of Korea was his emphasis on the role of the people who expelled foreign invaders.  He reprimanded the ruling classes for having mainly concerned themselves with how best to exploit the people.

His book Tongsa kangmok (Annotated Account of Korean History) made a lasting impression on such modern historians as Pak Un-shik and Shin Ch’ae-ho.  Han Ch’i-yun paid great attention to the kingdoms of Koguryo and Parhae, viewing the latter as an integral part of Korean history.  In the same vein, Yu Tuk-kong, another historian, wrote a monograph on Parhae (Parhaego).

Historical geography kept pace with other branches of historical study, and wood block cartography developed.  Chong Sang-gi’s ingenious scaling device stimulated Korean cartography.  Kim Chong-ho created a scale map of modern cartographic precision on the basis of his indefatigable travels throughout the peninsula.

Compilation of books increased in the 18th century.  Tongguk munhon-pigo (Reference Compilation of Documents on Korea) was supplemented; Taejon t’ongp’yon (Comprehensive National Code) and the Compendium of Korean Music were compiled, as were diplomatic archives.  King Chongjo (r. 1776-1800), himself a scholar, employed young scholars of mixed origin in his newly established Inner Royal Library for such projects.

For the economic publication of fine editions, moveable metal type was repeatedly cast, and the carving of wooden type continued.  The printing of fiction developed into a business enterprise in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Korean typographical enterprise gave stimulus to developments in Qing China.  The famous Chinese encyclopedia Kuchin Tushu Chich’eng was printed for the first time with moveable copper type in 1772.  Ssuk’i Ch’uanshu, the great Chinese bibliography, was also printed with wooden type when a Korean Manchu, Chin Chien, suggested this economical method to the Ch’ien-lung Emperor.

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Emergence of Modern Culture

The most significant change in this period was the rise of a critical spirit and a new philosophical thinking, which made deep inroads into the traditional Confucian outlook.  The rise of popular novels and mass participation in cultural activities presaged the decline of traditional society.

In his popular novel, The Hong Kil-tong chon, Ho Jyun (1569-1618) advocated popular revolt against misrule.  His hero, Hong Kil-tong, like the virtuous outlaw Im Kkok-chong, was enraged by governmental corruption and rose up against it.  Ho Kyun realized that, if provoked, the lower classes, together with the peasant class, could become a powerful tool in the struggle for social justice.

Like the Renaissance philosophers, he made a bold departure from traditional norms and values, basing his morality on the true nature of man.  It was Ho Kyun’s conviction, eloquently expressed in his pioneering egalitarian novel, that every man was endowed with particular talents to survive, and ought not to be exploited by others.  He found the class-divided, traditional society abominable.

In the Ch’unhyangjon, an unknown author exposed the corrupt magistracy and the decaying yangban ethos.  Giving a happy ending to an interclass mating, he held out the promise of a brighter society characterized by equality and justice.  This popular novel was also dramatized in quasi-operatic style.

Yi Su-gwang (1563-1628), probably the earliest Korean thinker to have contact with Catholic and European culture, stressed the idea that knowledge is of no value unless itresults in action, just as enforcement is an essential part of the law.  His Chibong yusol (Topical Discourses of Chibong) published in 1614, is an encyclopedic effort similar in inspiration to the work of French encyclopedists.  It greatly expanded the knowledge available to Koreans about Europe and Southeast Asia, and explained the nature of Catholicism for the first time.

Pak Chi-won (1737-1805), a thinker comparable to Ho Kyun, declared that Heaven bestows unique talents on all men.  His  Tale of the Yangban describes a yangban who had done nothing but read while subsisting on government provender.  To reimburse the government, the yangban sold his status to a merchant, but the latter discarded it when he realized that the essence of yangban life was idleness, corruption and hypocrisy.  The discrediting of the traditional yangban values left a void that was keenly felt, and it was in response to this need that pragmatic philosophy developed.

Hong Tae-yong (1731-1783), in his scientific quest, declared that “nothing is substantial without a sincere mind.”  He saw in natural science the essence of all spiritual activities, and refuted the traditional Confucian concept that science and technology were marginal branches of knowledge.   The earth’s rotation, the cause of eclipses and the nature of the rainbow were included among his scientifically valid findings, and his work in mathematics was no less noteworthy.  He rated Western science and technology superior to anything Tang or Song civilization could offer, and advocated the pursuit of such learning for the advancement of society.

Remarkable scientific achievements were also made by Chong Yak-yong (Tasan, 1762-1836), who was also know for his deep concern for the peasants and people.  His construction plan for the Hwasong Fortress as Korea’s emergency capital included the use of his own applications: cranes, windlasses, pulleys and specially design vehicles.  Yi Kyu-gyong, another revolutionary thinker, also compiled works on various branches of natural science.  His collected work on astronomical and meteorological development in Korea was published in 1818.


Welfare Programs

The ideal of a Confucian welfare state during the Choson Dynasty was conceived and implemented by King Sejong in the 15th century, but it was Yi Su-Gwang who elaborated on the philosophy of welfare in the period following the Hideyoshi invasions.  He expounded the idea that the Way of Heaven was to be found among the people, and its noblest realization was to feed and clothe the people properly.

Pak Se-dang said he would go to the country and engage in manual labor, since Confucius endured labors more onerous than farming.  Since such men espoused egalitarian principles, their concerns were more and more centered upon public welfare programs.

Yi Ik stated that learning or knowledge should not be sought unless it as of benefit to the daily life of the people in general.  His sharp analysis of the causes of factionalism stemmed from a deep-seated concern for the welfare of the people.

Kim Yuk, who is known for his implementation of the Taedongpop, recommended the increased use of vehicles.  Hong Tae-yong and Pak Chi-won also saw increased vehicular traffic as promising great advantage for the national economy.  Pak made a far-sighted statement: “The ruler will be blamed by future generations for not having learned from pragmatic studies.”

Chong Yak-yong was outstanding among the scholars who analyzed the evils of society and made positive proposals for reform.  He advocated a system of land distributions based on egalitarian principles, and the placement of people in professions in accordance with their ability.

Exploitation continued, however, and distressed people sought salvation.  Catholicism met the needs of many, since its tenets accorded with the new egalitarian principles in addition to stressing salvation.

Some scholars converted to Catholicism, and others benefited from the scientific learning that accompanied the religion.  The number of Catholics in Korea gradually increased.

Since Catholicism was opposed both to Confucian ancestral rituals and to rigid social stratification, Catholics were termed criminals by the state.  Many of them, including prominent scholars such as Chong Yak-yong and his brothers, were punished or even executed.

Catholicism prospered secretly nonetheless, especially among artisans such as pottery makers. The negation of traditional values in a quest for salvation was an enigma to the Confucian-oriented yangban officials, and they resorted to various means of suppressing the alien faith.  It was evident that the men in power were far behind the people in their social and intellectual consciousness.

For the welfare of the people, medical jurisprudence was emphasized in order to ensure fair practice of medicine.  Other significant studies related to the welfare of the people included work on therapeutic practices based on the physical features of mankind.  Yi Che-ma (1838-1900) classified men into four different physical types and developed different physical types and developed different therapeutic treatments for each.

Equality, human dignity, opportunity, public welfare, and the advancement of the national economy were conspicuous principles in the philosophy that emerged in this period.  This development of the 17th-18th centuries is in some respects reminiscent of the Renaissance period of Western Europe.

In the literary scene, love stories were popular and sold well.  Since books printed from metal type were far too costly for commoners, popular demand was met by the use of the cheaper clay-carved plates, in addition to wood-type printing.  Anthologies of shijo poems by two intermediary class men were noteworthy.  Kim Ch’long-t’aek assembled 580 poems, from the Koryo period on, in his Ch’eonggu yong-on (Enduring Poetry of Korea), and Kim Su-jang (b. 1690) compiled a similar anthology entitled Haedong kayo (Songs of Korea).  Chong Ch’ool (Songgang, 1534-1593) and Yung Son-do (Kosan, 1587-1671) were talented yangban poets whose individual anthologies were also published.

Korea-centered painting also came into vogue.  Chong Son (Kyomjae, 1676-1759), unlike his predecessors, depicted the landscape of Korea, while Kim Hong-do and Shin Yun-bok concentrated on themes of the daily life of the masses.  White porcelain with underglaze blue-line drawings was produced in quantity to meet public demand.  Modern intellectuality dawned in all sector of 18th century Korea.




 Korea, South THE CHOSoN DYNASTY –

Statue of King Sejong (1418-50), Toksu Palace, Seoul
Courtesy Oren Hadar

At 518 years (1392-1910), the Choson Dynasty is the nation’s longest-lived. Its founder, Yi Song­gye, took the dynastic name Taejo (“Great Prog­enitor”), moved the capital to Hanyang (Seoul), and named the dynasty after the ancient Choson Kingdom. This ended the Koryo Dynasty Wang family’s rule and supplanted it with the Chonju branch of the Yi family. Referring to this family name, the Choson Dynasty is often mistakenly called the Yi Dynasty


Middle Joseon Dynasty

1402Kangnido, a Korean-made map of the world was created in 1402 by Kim Sa-hyeong (김사형, 金士衡), Yi Mu (이무, 李茂) and Yi Hoe (이회, 李撓). The map was created in the second year of the reign of Taejong of Joseon. The map was made by combining Chinese, Korean and Japanese maps.


The middle period of Joseon dynasty was marked by a series of intense and bloody power struggles between political factions that weakened the country and large-scale invasions by Japan and Manchu that nearly toppled the dynasty.

Factional struggle

Main article: Sarim

The Sarim faction, which suffered a series of political defeats during the reign of Yeonsangun, Jungjong, and Myeongjong gained control of the government in Seonjo‘s reign, but soon split into Western and Eastern factions, the Eastern faction in turn splitting into Northern and Southern factions. The Western faction also eventually split into Old Learning and New Learning factions. The alternations in power among these factions were often accompanied by charges of treason and bloody purges, initiating a cycle of revenge with each change of regime.


One example is Gichuk Treason Case of 1589 (기축옥사), in which Easterner Jeong Yeo-rip was accused of conspiracy to start rebellion. Jeong Yeo-rip had formed a society with group of supporters that also received military training to fight against the Japansese marauders. There is still a dispute about the nature and purpose of his group, which reflected desire for classless society and spread throughout Honam region. Jeong Cheol, head of the Western faction, was in charge of investigating the case and used this event to effect widespread purge of Easterners who had slightest connection with Jeong Yeo-rip. Eventually 1,000 Easterners were killed or exiled in the aftermath.


Early Japanese invasions

The Turtle ship. While the spikes are known to have been made of iron, the historical existence of the ironclad roof is disputed.[9][10][11]

Throughout Korean history, there were frequent pirates attacks on both the sea and land. The only purpose for the Koreans running a navy was to secure the maritime trade against the Wokou pirates. The Korean navy repelled the pirates by using an advanced form of gunpowder technologies (i.e. cannons, fire arrows in form of Singijeon deployed by Hwacha, etc.).

During the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598), Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, plotting the conquest of Ming China with Portuguese guns, invaded Korea with his daimyō and their troops in 1592 and 1597, intending to use Korea as a stepping stone. Factional division in the Joseon court, inability to assess Japanese military capability, and failed attempts at diplomacy led to poor preparation on Joseon’s part. The use of European firearms by the Japanese left most of the southern part of the Korean Peninsula occupied within months, with both Hanseong (present-day Seoul) and Pyongyang captured.

Rear view of the statue of Admiral Yi Sunsin at Busan Tower, in Busan, South Korea.

However the invasion was slowed down due to Admiral Yi Sun-shin destroying the Japanese invasion fleet. The guerrilla resistance that eventually formed also helped. Local resistance slowed down the Japanese advance and decisive naval victories by Admiral Yi Sun-sin left control over sea routes in Korean hands, severely hampering Japanese supply lines. Furthermore, Ming China intervened on the side of the Koreans, sending a large force in 1593 which pushed back the Japanese together with the Koreans.

During the war, Koreans developed powerful firearms and the Turtle ships (right before the war started however). The Joseon and Ming forces defeated the Japanese at a deep price. Following the war, relations between Korea and Japan had been completely suspended until 1609.


Manchu invasions

After the war, Korean peninsula was seriously devastated. Meanwhile Nurhaci (r. 1583–1626), the chieftain of the Jianzhou Jurchens, was unifying the Jurchen tribes of Manchuria into a strong coalition that his son Hung Taiji (r. 1626-–1643) would eventually rename the “Manchus.” After he declared Seven Grievances against the Ming dynasty in 1618, Nurhaci and the Ming engaged in several military conflicts. On such occasions, Nurhaci required help from King Gwanghaegun (r.1608–1623), putting Joseon in a difficult position because the Ming court was also requesting assistance.[12] The Joseon king tried to maintain neutrality, but most of his officials opposed him for not supporting the Ming, which had saved Joseon during Hideyoshi’s invasions.[12]

In 1623 King Gwanghaegun was deposed and replaced by King Injo (r. 1623–1649), who banished Gwanghaejun’s supporters. Reverting his predecessor’s foreign policy, the new king decided to support the Ming openly, but a rebellion led by military commander Yi Gwal erupted in 1624 and wrecked Joseon’s military defenses in the north.[12] Even after the rebellion had been suppressed, King Injo had to devote military forces to ensure the stability of the capital, leaving fewer soldiers to defend the northern borders.[12]

In 1627, a Jurchen army of 30,000 led by Nurhaci’s nephew Amin overran Joseon’s defense.[13] After a quick campaign that was assisted by northern yangban who had supported King Gwanghaegun, the Jurchens imposed a treaty that forced Joseon to accept “brotherly relations” with the Jurchen state.[14] Because King Injo persisted in his anti-Manchu policies, Qing emperor Hong Taiji sent a punitive expedition of 120,000 men to Joseon in 1636.[15] Defeated, King Injo was forced to end his relations with the Ming and recognize the Qing as suzerain instead.[16] Injo’s successor King Hyojong (r. 1649–1659) tried to form an army to chase the enemy away and save China from the Manchus, but could never act on his designs.[17]

Despite becoming a tributary state of the Qing dynasty, Joseon leaders and intellectuals remained resentful for conquest by the Manchus, whom they regarded as barbarians.[14] Long after submitting to the Qing, the Joseon court and many Korean intellectuals kept using Ming reign periods, as when a scholar marked 1861 as “the 234th year of Chongzhen.”[18]

Korea became increasingly isolationist. Its rulers sought to limit contact with foreign countries.

.[citation needed]


Joseon dynasty was a highly centralized monarchy and neo-Confucian bureaucracy as codified by Gyeongguk daejeon, a sort of Joseon constitution.

The king

The throne of the king of Joseon in Gyeongbokgung.

The king had absolute authority, but his actual power varied with political circumstances. He was bound by tradition, precedents set by earlier kings, Gyeongguk daejeon, and Confucian teachings. The king commanded absolute loyalty from his officials and subjects, but the officials were also expected to persuade the king to the right path if the latter was thought to be mistaken. The natural disasters were thought to be due to the king’s failings, and therefore, Joseon kings were very sensitive to their occurrences. When there was severe drought or a series of disasters, the king often formally sought criticism from both the officials and citizenry, and whatever they said or wrote were protected from prosecution in such cases (although there were few exceptions).

The officials

The government officials were ranked in 18 levels, ranging from first senior rank (정1품, 正一品) down to ninth junior rank (종9품, 從九品) based on seniority and promotion, which was achieved through the royal decree based on examination or recommendation. The officials from 1st senior rank to 3rd senior rank wore red robes while those from 3rd junior rank to 6th junior rank wore blue and those below wore green robes.[21]

Here a government official refers to one who occupied a type of office that gave its holder a yangban status – semi-hereditary nobility that was effective for three generations. In order to become such an official, one had to pass a series of gwageo examinations. There were three kinds of gwageo exams – literary, military, and miscellaneous, among which literary route was the most prestigious. (Many of key posts including all Censorate posts were open only to officials who advanced through literary exam.) In case of literary route, there was a series of four tests, all of which one had to pass in order to qualify to become an official. 33 candidates who were chosen in this manner took the final exam before the king for placement. The candidate with the highest score was appointed to a position of 6th junior rank (a jump of six ranks). Two candidates with the next two highest scores were appointed to a position of 7th junior rank. Seven candidates with next highest scores were assigned to 8th junior rank while the remaining 23 candidates were given 9th junior rank, the lowest of 18 ranks.

The officials of 1st senior rank, 1st junior rank, and 2nd senior rank were addressed with honorific “dae-gam” (대감, 大監) while those of 2nd junior rank and 3rd senior rank were addressed with honorific “yeong-gam” (영감, 令監).[22] These red-robed officials, collectively called “dangsanggwan” (당상관, 堂上官), took part in deciding government policies by attending cabinet meetings. The rest of ranked officials were called “danghagwan” (당하관, 堂下官).

Central government

State Council

Portrait of The Chief State Councillor, Chae Jegong (1720~1799).

State Council (Uijeongbu, 의정부, 議政府) was the highest deliberative body, whose power however declined over the course of dynasty. The Chief State Councillor (Yeonguijeong, 영의정, 領議政), Left State Councillor (Jwauijeong, 좌의정, 左議政), and Right State Councillor (Uuijeong, 우의정, 右議政) were the highest ranking officials in the government (All three were of 1st senior rank). They were assisted by Left Minister (Jwachanseong, 좌찬성, 左贊成) and Right Minister (Uichangseong, 우찬성, 右贊成), both of 1st junior rank, and seven lower ranking officials. The power of State Council was inversely proportional to the king’s power. There were periods when it directly controlled Six Ministires, the chief executive body of Joseon government, but it primarily served in advisory role under stronger kings. State councillors served in several other positions concurrently.

Six Ministries

Six Ministries (Yukjo, 육조, 六曹) make up the chief executive body. Each minister (Panseo, 판서, 判書) was of 2nd senior rank and was assisted by deputy minister (Champan, 참판, 參判), who was of 2nd junior rank. Ministry of Personnel was the most senior office of six ministries. As the influence of State Council waned over time, Minister of Personnel was often de facto head of ministers. Six ministries include in the order of seniority:

  • Ministry of Personnel (Ijo, 이조, 吏曹) – was primarily concerned with appointment of officials
  • Ministry of Taxaton (Hojo, 호조, 戶曹) – taxation, finances, census, agriculture, and land policies
  • Ministry of Rites (Yejo, 예조, 禮曺) – rituals, culture, diplomacy, gwageo exam
  • Ministry of Defence (Byeongjo, 병조, 兵曺) – military affairs
  • Ministry of Justice (Hyeongjo, 형조, 刑曺) – administration of law, slavery, punishments
  • Ministry of Works (Gongjo, 공조, 工曹) – industry, public works, manufacturing, mining

Three Offices

Three Offices, or Samsa (삼사), is a collective name for three offices that functioned as major organ of press and provided checks and balance on the king and the officials. While modeled after Chinese system, they played much more prominent roles in Joseon government than their Chinese counterparts. In their role as organ of press, they did not have actual authority to decide or implement policies, but had influential voice in the ensuing debate. The officials who served in these offices tended to be younger and of lower rank compared to other offices but had strong academic reputation and enjoyed special privileges and great prestige (For instance, censors were permitted to drink during working hours because of their function of criticizing the king). To be appointed, they went through more thorough review of character and family background. Three Offices provided the fastest route of promotion to high posts and was almost a requirement to becoming a State Councillor.

  • Office of Inspector General (Saheonbu·사헌부) – It monitored government administration and officials at each level in both central and local governments for corruption, malfeasance, or inefficiency. It was also in charge of advancing public morals and Confucian customs and redressing grievances of the populace. It was headed by Inspector General (Daesaheon·대사헌), a position of 2nd junior rank, who oversaw 30 largely independent officials.
  • Office of Censors (Saganwon·사간원) – Its chief function was to remonstrate with the king if there was wrong or improper action or policy. Important decrees of the king were first reviewed by censors, who could ask to withdraw them if judged improper. It also issued opinions about the general state of affairs. It was composed of five officials, led by Chief Censor (Daesagan·대사간), of 3rd senior rank.

While the primary focus for Office of Inspector General is the government officials and Office of Censors is focused on the king, two offices often performed each other’s functions, and there was much overlap. Together they were called “Yangsa,” (양사) which literally means “Both Offices,” and often worked jointly especially when they sought to reverse the king’s decision.

  • Office of Special Advisors (Hongmungwan·홍문관 弘文館) – It oversaw the royal library and served as research institute to study Confucian philosophy and answer the king’s questions. Its officials took part in the daily lessons called gyeongyeon (경연), in which they discussed history and Confucian philosophy with the king. Since these discussions often led to commentary on current political issues, its officials had significant influence as advisors. It was headed by Chief Scholar (Daejehak·대제학), a part-time post of 2nd senior rank that served concurrently in another high post (such as in State Council), and Deputy Chief Scholar (Bujehak·부제학), a full-time post of 3rd senior rank that actually ran the office. There was great prestige attached to being Chief Scholar in this deeply Confucian society. (The office was established to replace Hall of Worthies (Jiphyeonjeon·집현전) after the latter was abolished by King Sejo in the aftermath of Six martyred ministers.)

[edit] Other Offices

The major offices include the following:

  • Royal Secretariat (Seungjeongwon·승정원) served as a liaison between the king and Six Ministries. There were six royal secretaries (승지), one for each ministry, and all were of 3rd senior rank. Their primary role was to pass down royal decree to the ministries and submit petitions from the officials and the populace to the king, but they also advised the king and served in other key positions close to the king. In particular Chief Royal Secretary (도승지), a liaison to Ministry of Personnel, served the king in the closest proximity of all government official and often enjoyed great power that was derived from the king’s favor. Hong Guk-yeong (during Jeongjo‘s reign) and Han Myeong-hwe (during Sejo) are some examples of chief royal secretaries who were the most powerful official of their time.
  • Capital Bureau (Hanseungbu·한성부) was in charge of running the capital, Hanyang or present-day Seoul. It was led by Paanyoon(판윤), of 2nd senior second rank equivalent to today’s mayor of Seoul.
  • Royal Investigation Bureau (Uigeumbu·의금부) was an investigative and enforcement organ under direct control of the king. It chiefly dealt with treason and other serious cases that concerned the king and royal family and served to arrest, investigate, imprison, and carry out sentences against the suspected offenders, who were often government officials.
  • Office of Records (Chunchugwan·춘추관) – Its officials wrote, compiled, and maintained the government and historical records. It was headed by State Councillors, and many posts were held by officials serving in other offices concurrently. There were eight historiographers whose sole function was to record the meetings for history.
  • Seonggyungwan or Royal Academy (성균관) – Royal university served to prepare the future government officials. Those who passed first two stages of gwageo examinations (literary exam) were admitted to Seonggyungwan. The class size was usually 200 students, who lived in the residential hall and followed strict routine and school rules. (The tuition, room and board were provided by the government.) It also served as the state shrine for Confucian and Korean Confucian sages. The students’ opinions on government policies, especially collective statements and demonstrations, could be influential as they represented fresh and uncorrupted consesus of young scholars. The official in charge was Daesaseong (대사성), of 3rd senior rank, and 36 other officials including those from other offices were involved in running the academy.

 Local government

The officials of high rank were sent from the central government. Sometimes a secret royal inspector (Amhaeng-eosa·암행어사) was appointed by the king to travel incognito and monitor the provincial officials. These undercover inspectors were generally young officials of lower rank but was invested with the royal authority to dismiss corrupt officials.

  • Provinces (Do·도) – There were eight province, each of which was governed by Governor (Gwanchalsa·관찰사), a position of 2nd junior rank.
  • Bu(부) – administrative offices in charge of major cities in provinces. Each bu was led by Buyoon (부윤), which was equivalent to Governor in rank.
  • Mok (목) – There were twenty moks, which governed large counties named ‘ju'(주). They were run by Moksa (목사), of 3rd senior rank.
  • County (Gun·군) – There were eighty counties in Joseon, each governed by Gunsu (군수), a 4th junior rank.
  • Hyeon (현) – Large hyeons were governed by Hyeongryeong (현령) of 5th junior rank while smaller hyeons were governed by Hyeonggam (현감) of 6th junior rank.

Administrative divisions

During most of the Joseon Dynasty, Korea was divided into eight provinces (do; 도; 道). The eight provinces’ boundaries remained unchanged for almost five centuries from 1413 to 1895, and formed a geographic paradigm that is still reflected today in the Korean Peninsula’s administrative divisions, dialects, and regional distinctions. The names of all eight provinces are still preserved today, in one form or another.


Social and population structure

The population of Joseon Korea is controversial. Government records of households are considered unreliable in this period.[23] One recent estimate[by whom?] gives 6 million at the start of the dynasty in 1392, growing irregularly to a peak of as many as 18 million by about 1750. Between 1810 and 1850, the population declined approximately 10% and remained stable.[24] By the early 20th century, at the close of the Joseon Dynasty, the average life expectancy for Korean males was 24 and for females 26 years.[25]

Joseon Korea installed a centralised administrative system[when?] controlled by Confucian scholars who were called Yangban. By the end of the 18th century, the yangban had acquired most of the traits of a hereditary nobility except that the status was based on a unique mixture of family position, gwageo examinations for Confucian learning, and a civil service system. The family of a yangban who did not succeed to become a government official for the third generation lost their yangban status and became commoners. For most part, the only way to become a government official was to pass a series of gwageo exams (One had to pass “lesser gwageo” exam (소과) in both of two stages to qualify for greater gwageo exam, which again one had to pass in both of two stages to become a government official.) The yangban and the king, in an uneasy balance, controlled the central government and military institutions. The proportion of yangban may have reached as high as 30% by 1800, although there was considerable local variation.[26] As the government was small, a great many yangban were local gentry of high social status, but not always of high income.[27]

Another 30-40% of the population were slaves (nobi), “low borns” (cheonmin) or untouchable outcastes (baekjeong). Slavery was hereditary, as well as a form of legal punishment. There was a slave class with both government- and privately owned slaves, and the government occasionally gave slaves to citizens of higher rank. Privately owned slaves could be inherited as personal property. During poor harvests, many sangmin people would voluntarily become slaves in order to survive.[citation needed] During the Joseon Dynasty about 30% to 40% of the Korean population consisted of slaves.[28][29][30] However, Joseon slaves could, and often did, own property.[31] Private slaves could buy their freedom.

A Joseon painting which represents the Chungin (literally “middle people”), equivalent to the petite bourgeoisie.

Many of the remaining 40-50% of the population were surely farmers,[32] but recent work has raised important issues about the size of other groups: merchants and traders, local government or quasi-governmental clerks (Chungin), craftsmen and laborers, textile workers, etc.[33] Given the size of the population, it may be that a typical person had more than one role. Most farming was, at any rate, commercial, not subsistence.[34] In addition to generating additional income, a certain amount of occupational dexterity may have been required to avoid the worst effects of an often heavy and corrupt tax system.[35]

During the Late Joseon, the Confucian ideals of propriety and “filial piety” gradually came to be equated with a strict observance to a complex social hierarchy, with many fine gradations. By the early 18th century the social critic Yi Junghwan (1690–1756) sarcastically complained that “[W]ith so many different ranks and grades separating people from one another, people tend not to have a very large circle of friends.”[36] But, even as Yi wrote, the informal social distinctions of the Early Joseon were being reinforced by legal discrimination, such as Sumptuary law[37] regulating the dress of different social groups, and laws restricting inheritance and property ownership by women.[38]


Yet, these laws may have been announced precisely because social mobility was increasing, particularly during the prosperous century beginning about 1710.[39] The original social hierarchy of the Joseon Dynasty was developed based on the social hierarchy of the Goryeo era. In the 14th–16th centuries, this hierarchy was strict and stable. Since economic opportunities to change status were limited, no law was needed.

In the late 17–19th centuries, however, new commercial groups emerged, and the old class system was extremely weakened. Especially, the population of Daegu region’s Yangban class was expected to reach nearly 70 percent in 1858.[40]


King  Jeong Jo


(info from my  korean friend)

 *Han Hyo Joo as DongYi / Choi suk bin      11—49 years old.

*Han Hyo Joo as DongYi / Choi suk bin

Born on 1670 (11 th year of King Hyunjong) Later, Mother of King Yeongjo.

King  Jeong Jo

She was honored as Sukbin which is located third level in Chosun lady’s hierarchy system. She is very bright, smart and witty. Not only smart but also warm heart, she cannot pass poor person freely. After her father and brother was executed bitterly, she became a orphan. As police officer Mr. Seo Yongki chase her continuously, she hide herself in Jangakwon, which is music academy, with the help of Suli. With her born familiarity and wit, she is chosen as a helper in palace from the slave position. Behind her, there is Cha Chunsoo, who gave her a love in spite of all kind of sacrifice. He is best friend of her brother, Dongju.

Later, surprisingly, she was picked up by Sukjong to sleep with. Then, discord against queen Chang Heebin, then, return of queen Inhyun, giving birth to a prince, Yeonanggun. Love from Sukjong, trouble with queen Inhyun. Education of prince Yeonanggun, whose position was always in danger. Within the difficulty which concubine would face and her son’s royalty to her, her life faced incredible turning point.   

 *Ji Jin Hee as King Sukjong      24-60 years old.

Ji Jinhee as King Sukjong (1661-1720)

The 19th king of Chosun dynasty (1661—1720) His- childhood- time name was Soon. He was absolute monarch of Chosun. He recovered the authority of king which had dropped before. Though he became a king when just 14 years old, with the powerful leadership and wide knowledge, he succeeded and ruled experienced old his subjects. To recover royalty of king which had dropped through 2 times war, he eliminated Song Siyul who was the biggest scholar in Chosun. With the powerful leadership and gut, he controlled his subjects and used the power game among his subjects. Though he was scareful king to his subjects, he is delicate and smart. That means, he was smart and fantastic king to the numerous concubine. He met Dongyi first time during palace festival, then, he was impressed by her warmth and smartness.

In 1801,

 Government-owned slaves were all emancipated, and the institution gradually died out over the next century.[41] The institution was completely abolished as part of a social plan in the Gabo Reform of 1894.



The Joseon Dynasty presided over two periods of great cultural growth, during which Joseon culture created the first Korean tea ceremony, Korean gardens, and extensive historic works. The royal dynasty also built several fortresses, palaces.


Male dress of a Confucian scholar. A portrait painted by Yi Je gwan (1783-1837)

In Joseon Dynasty, jeogori of women’s hanbok became gradually tightened and shortened. In the 16th century, jeogori was baggy and reached below the waist, but by the end of Joseon Dynasty in the 19th century, jeogori was shortened to the point that it did not cover the breasts, so another piece of cloth (heoritti) was used to cover them. At the end of 19th century, Daewon-gun introduced Magoja, a Manchu-style jacket, to Korea, which is often worn with hanbok to this day.

Chima was full-skirted and jeogori was short and tight in the late Joseon period. Fullness in the skirt was emphasized round the hips. Many undergarments were worn underneath chima such as darisokgot, soksokgot, dansokgot, and gojengi to achieve a desired silhouette. Because jeogori was so short it became natural to expose heoritti or heorimari which functioned like a corset. The white linen cloth exposed under jeogori in the picture is heoritti.

The upper classes wore hanbok of closely woven ramie cloth or other high-grade lightweight materials in warm weather and of plain and patterned silks the rest of the year. Commoners were restricted by law as well as resources to cotton at best. The upper classes wore a variety of colors, though bright colors were generally worn by children and girls and subdued colors by middle-aged men and women. Commoners were restricted by law to everyday clothes of white, but for special occasions they wore dull shades of pale pink, light green, gray, and charcoal. Formally, when Korean men went outdoors, they were required to wear overcoats known as durumagi which reach the knees.

[edit] Painting

A late Joseon painting. It shows some influences of the Western painting techniques introduced to Joseon.

The Mid-Joseon dynasty painting styles moved towards increased realism. A national painting style of landscapes called “true view” began – moving from the traditional Chinese style of idealized general landscapes to particular locations exactly rendered. While not photographic, the style was academic enough to become established and supported as a standardized style in Korean painting.

The mid to late Joseon dynasty is considered the golden age of Korean painting. It coincides with the shock of the collapse of Ming dynasty links with the Manchu emperors accession in China, and the forcing of Korean artists to build new artistic models based on an inner search for particular Korean subjects. At this time China ceased to have pre-eminent influence, Korean art took its own course, and became increasingly distinctive to the traditional Chinese painting.

[edit] Architecture

Geunjeongjeon (Throne Hall)

The history of Joseon architecture would be described in three periods of the early, the middle, and the late period, in accordance with the cultural and architectural development. In the early period, the architecture developed as a succession from the cultural inheritance of the previous dynasty with the new political guiding principles of Confucianism that took the place of Buddhism.

Through the influence of Confucianism, a refined aristocratic taste of the previous era was replaced by the characteristics of unsophisticated, simple and humble beauty with the qualities of commonness and steadiness. The intercolumnar bracket set system was used in building the most important edifice on the premises. The columnar bracket set system and the eclectic bracket system, which consists of architectural elements from both columnar and intercolumnar systems, were also used for temples and other important buildings. In the period of the Joseon dynasty, Korean architecture developed further with a unique will to manifest the expression of the ideas and values of the period.

The bracket cluster system, structurally and visually important elements of the buildings, were developed to follow structural function and to express the unique formal beauty of Korean architecture. Architectural ornaments and their symbolic connotation had more variety and richness. Architects of the period intended to express a strong will to form an indigenous style in architecture, and tried to use decorative elements of all kinds. This achieved a kind of symphonic quality with the methods of architectural organization by strong contrast of light and dark, of simplicity and complexity, and then finally reached the definite climax of architectural ingenuity. This tendency of architectural expression of the later period might remind us somewhat similar impressions of the Western Baroque and Rococo style.


The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty (also known as The True Record of the Joseon Dynasty) are the annual records of the Joseon Dynasty, which were kept from 1413 to 1865. The annals, or sillok, comprise 1,893 volumes and are thought to cover the longest continual period of a single dynasty in the world. With the exception of two sillok compiled during the colonial era, the Annals are the 151st national treasure of Korea and listed in UNESCO‘s Memory of the World registry.

Main article: Uigwe

Uigwe is a collection of royal protocols of the Joseon Dynasty, which records and prescribes through text and stylized illustration the important ceremonies and rites of the royal family.


[edit] Science and technology

Korean celestial globe first made by the scientist Jang Yeong-sil during the reign of King Sejong.

The Joseon Dynasty under the reign of Sejong the Great was Korea’s greatest period of scientific advancement. Under Sejong’s new policy Cheonmin (low-status) people such as Jang Yeong-sil were allowed to work for the government. When Jang was very young he built machines to help make work easier, and supervised the building of aqueducts and canals. Jang eventually was allowed to live at the royal palace, where he led a group of scientists to work on advancing Korea’s science.[citation needed]

Some of his inventions were an automated (self-striking) water clock (the Jagyeokru) which worked by activating motions of wooden figures to indicate time visually (invented in 1434 by Jang), a subsequent more complicated water-clock with additional astronomical devices, and an improved model of the previous metal movable printing type created in the Goryeo Dynasty. The new model was of even higher quality and was twice as fast. Other inventions were the sight glass, and the udometer.

Also during the Joseon Dynasty Heo Jun, a court physician, wrote a number of medical texts, his most significant achievement being Dongeui Bogam, which is often noted as the defining text of Traditional Korean medicine. The work spread to China and Japan, where it is still regarded as one of the classics of Oriental medicine today.

The highpoint of Korean astronomy was during the Joseon period, where men such as Jang created devices such as celestial globes which indicated the positions of the sun, moon, and the stars.[42] Later celestial globes (Gyupyo, 규표) were attuned to the seasonal variations.



The apex of astronomical and calendarial advances under King Sejong was the Chiljeongsan, which compiled computations of the courses of the seven heavenly objects (five visible planets, the sun, and moon), developed in 1442. This work made it possible for scientists to calculate and accurately predict all the major heavenly phenomena, such as solar eclipses and other stellar movements.[43] Honcheonsigye is an astronomical clock created by Song I-yeong in 1669. The clock has an armillary sphere with a diameter of 40 cm. The sphere is activated by a working clock mechanism, showing the position of celestial objects at any given time

The first soft ballistic vest, Myunjebaegab, was invented in Joseon Korea in the 1860s shortly after the French campaign against Korea. Heungseon Daewongun ordered development of bullet-proof armor because of increasing threats from Western armies. Kim Gi-du and Gang Yun found that cotton could protect against bullets if thick enough, and devised bullet-proof vests made of 30 layers of cotton. The vests were used in battle during the United States expedition to Korea, when the US Navy attacked Ganghwa Island in 1871. The US Army captured one of the vests and took it to the US, where it was stored at the Smithsonian Museum until 2007. The vest has since been sent back to Korea and is currently on display to the public.



During the Goryeo Dynasty, Korea had a healthy trade relationship with the Arabians, Japanese, Chinese, and Manchurians. An example of prosperous, international trade port is Pyongnam. Koreans offered brocades, jewelries, ginseng, silk, and porcelain, renowned famous worldwide. But, during the Joseon Dynasty, Confucianism was adopted as the national philosophy, and, in process of eliminating certain Buddhist beliefs, Goryeo Cheongja porcelains were replaced by white Baekja, which lost favour of the Chinese and the Arabians. Also, commerce became more restricted during this time in order to promote agriculture. In addition to this, constant Chinese request for tribute pushed the Korean policy of ceasing to produce various luxury item elements (i.e. gold, silver), and importing only the necessary amounts from Japan.[citation needed] Because silver was used as currency in China, it played an important role in Korea-China trade.



 Titles and Styles during Joseon Kingdom

King -1

  • Great Predecessor King (seondaewang, 선대왕, 先大王) or Great King (daewang, 대왕, 大王) used to reference a late monarch.
  • Queen Dowager (daebi, 대비, 大妃), the consort of the deceased King (perhaps the mother of the current king), with the style of Her Royal Highness (mama, 마마, 媽媽). Queens dowager often exercised a great deal of influence on the king’s influence through their regencies, which took place when the king was too young to rule in his own name, or simply through their role as the mother or even a senior female relative of the monarch.
  • Royal Queen Dowager (wangdaebi, 왕대비, 王大妃), a former consort preceding a least senior queen dowager or current king’s aunt or grandmother, with the style of Her Royal Highness (mama, 마마, 媽媽).
  • Grand Royal Queen Dowager (daewangdaebi, 대왕대비, 大王大妃), a former consort senior to two other queen dowagers or the current king’s great-grandmother, with the style of Her Royal Highness (mama, 마마, 媽媽).
  • Grand Internal Prince (daewongun, 대원군, 大院君), the father of a king who was unable to take the throne himself as he was not part of the generation following that of the last incumbent of the throne (kings who are honored at the royal Jongmyo Shrine must be senior generation-wise to the current incumbent of the throne). There have been cases when Grand Internal Prince acted as regent for his son, the last person to do so having been the Regent Heungseon.
  • Grand Internal Princess Consort (budaebuin, 부대부인, 府大夫人), the mother of a king whose father himself never reigned.
  • Internal Prince (buwongun, 부원군, 府院君), the queen consort’s father.
  • Internal Princess Consort (bubuin, 부부인, 府夫人), the queen consort’s mother.

 King -1/2

  • King Former (sangwang, 상왕, 上王), a yet living king who has voluntarily abdicated to the current king. They usually remained influential or even powerful through the remaining years of their lives. The style of His Majesty (jeonha, 전하, 殿下) or, less frequently but yet still quite common, His Royal Highness (mama, 마마, 媽媽) was used.
  • Grand King Former (taesangwang, 태상왕, 太上王), an abdicated king whose relinquishment of power precedes that of another former king. The style of His Majesty (jeonha, 전하, 殿下) or, less frequently but yet still quite common, His Royal Highness (mama, 마마, 媽媽) was used.


  • King (wang, 왕, 王), the king, with the style of His Majesty (jeonha, 전하, 殿下) or, not as correct but yet still quite common, His Royal Highness (mama, 마마, 媽媽). Before the style of “jeonha” were used a variety of titles for the king. Native names such as “naratnim” (나랏님) and “imgeum” (임금) were also used colloquially. For foreign envoys the title used was State King (gugwang, 국왕, 國王); and for those in the court who needed to mention the king outside his presence, and thus more formality was required in addressing the monarch, the title was Current King (geum-sang, 금상, 今上),Sovereign (jusang, 주상 , 主上 or sanggam, 상감 , 上監), or Grand Palace (daejeon, 대전, 大殿). The style remained the same for all titles with the exception of queens dowager and the relatively few kings who abdicated, who simply addressed or mentioned the king without using his style.
  • Queen consort (wangbi, 왕비, 王妃), the queen consort, with the style of Her Royal Highness (mama, 마마, 媽媽). The title used in the court language was Center Palace (junggungjeon, 중궁전, 中宮殿 or jungjeon, 중전 , 中殿). Queens consort that remained married to the king until their death were generally given a title consisting of two Hanja in the front and the customary suffix Queen (wanghu, 왕후, 王后) in the back.

King +1/2

  • Royal Prince Successor Brother (wangseje, 왕세제, 王世弟), the younger brother of the king who has been formally invested as heir apparent when the king has no offspring. King +1
  • Prince Royal (wonja, 원자, 元子), the firstborn son of the king before being formally invested as heir apparent, with the style of His Royal Highness (mama, 마마, 媽媽). Generally, princes royal were the son who was born first between the king and his official wife, but there were exceptions when the title of Prince Royal was given to the firstborn son of the king through a concubine, the most notable case having occurred in the reign of King Sukjong.
  • Grand Prince (daegun, 대군, 大君), a prince born to the official match between the king and queen with the style of His Young Highness (agissi, 아기씨) before marriage and the style His Excellency (daegam, 대감, 大監) afterward. The title of a grand prince is not inherited and his sons are generally referred to as mere princes.
  • Grand Princess Consort (bubuin, 부부인, 府夫人), the consort of a grand prince.
  • Princess (gongju, 공주, 公主), the daughter of the official match between the king and his official wife, with the style of Her Young Highness (agissi, 아기씨) before marriage and Her Excellency (jaga, 자가) afterward.
  • Prince (gun, 군, 君), a son born to the match between the king and a concubine or a descendant of a grand prince. The style used is His Young Highness (agissi, 아기씨) before marriage and the style His Excellency (daegam, 대감, 大監) afterward.
  • Princess Consort (gunbuin, 군부인, 郡夫人), the consort of a prince.
  • Princess (ongju, 옹주, 翁主), the daughter of the king and one of his concubines, with the style of Her Young Highness (agissi, 아기씨) before marriage and Her Excellency (jaga, 자가) afterward.
  • Royal Prince Successor (wangseja, 왕세자, 王世子) the invested heir apparent to the throne, with the simplified title Prince Successor (seja, 세자, 世子) being frequently used instead of the full name with the style of His Royal Highness (jeoha, 저하, 邸下). Most of the time, he was the eldest son of the current king. In less formal but still official court language, the title Eastern Palace (donggung, 동궁, 東宮) or Spring Palace (chungung, 춘궁, 春宮) and the style His Royal Highness (mama, 마마, 媽媽) was used intermittently with “Prince Successor,” although the style was frequently dropped by more senior members of the royal family.
  • Royal Princess Successor Consort (wangsaejabin, 왕세자빈, 王世子嬪), the consort of the heir apparent, or simply Princess Successor Consort (saejabin, 세자빈, 世子嬪), with the style of Her Royal Consort Highness (manora, 마노라 or manura, 마누라).

Later, as the distinction between “Her Royal Highness” and “Her Royal Consort Highness” became unclear due to the influence of the Andong Kim clan, the style Her Royal Highness (mama, 마마, 媽媽) also came to apply to the consort of the heir apparent. The style ~ Royal Highness also came to apply to grand princes, princes, and princess as well for the same reason.

 King +2

  • Royal Prince Successor Descendant (wangseson, 왕세손, 王世孫), the son of the prince successor and the princess successor consort, and the grandson of the king, with the style of His Highness (hap-a, 합하, 閤下).

Titles and Styles during the Korean Empire

  • Hwangje (皇帝 황제), the emperor, with the style of His Imperial Majesty (陛下 폐하 pyeha)
  • Hwanghu (皇后 황후), the empress (consort), with the style of Her Imperial Majesty
  • Hwangtaehu (皇太后 황태후), the empress dowager
  • Taehwangtaehu (太皇太后 태황태후), the empress dowager, current Emperor’s living grandmother
  • Hwangtaeja (皇太子 황태자), the crown prince of the Empire, the eldest son of the emperor, with the style of His Imperial Highness (殿下 전하 jeonha)
  • Hwangtaeja-bi (皇太子妃 황태자비), the crown princess (consort) of Empire, with the style of Her Imperial Highness
  • Chinwang (親王 친왕), the prince (imperial), son of Emperor, with the style of His Imperial Highness
  • Chinwangbi (親王妃 친왕비), the princess (imperial) (consort), with the style of Her Imperial Highness
  • Gongju (公主 공주), the princess of the Empire, the daughter of the emperor and his empress consort, with the style of Her Imperial Highness
  • Ongju (翁主 옹주), the princess of the Empire, the daughter of emperor and one of his concubines, with the style of Her Imperial Highness






 Nu Shi Yun Bing (active 1670-1710)


The population growth kept pace as well, increasing by almost two million in the 48 years from 1669-1717.




Jeong Yakyong (丁若鏞, 정약용, 1762–1836) was a Chosun late era philosopher, and is known perhaps better by one of his many pen names Dasan (茶山, 다산, “tea mountain”) . He is of the Naju Jeong clan. Jeong Yakyong passed the civil service examination in 1783. He was a philosopher in the Neo-Confucian movement of Pragmatic Learning (實學, 실학, Silhak), which wanted to reform Neo-Confucianism and return it to its early Confucian roots. Many in this movement became interested in Catholicism, as they rightly viewed Neo-Confucianism as lacking spiritualism. Along with many members of his family, Jeong Yakyong converted to Catholicism and took on the baptism name “John,” or in Korean Yowang (요왕). However, during the Catholic Persecutions of 1801, in which one his brothers was martyred, he renounced the Holy Faith but was nevertheless banished for having participated. Catholicism nevertheless had an effect on his philosophy. The following poem was probably written during his exile.

구우 久雨

The Long Rain

窮居罕人事 궁거한인사
恒日廢衣冠 항일폐의관
敗屋香娘墜 패옥향낭추
荒畦腐婢殘 황휴부비잔
睡因多病減 수인다병감
愁賴著書寬 수뢰저서관
久雨何須苦 구우하수고
晴時也自歎 청시야자탄

Living in destitute, [only] a few times I greeted others.
Everyday, I wore not my attire and hat.
In the dilapidated house, my fragrant wife has fallen.
In the ruined fields, my rotten maid has died.
Slumber reduces many illnesses.
Writing books makes light anxieties.
Why should the long rain be [this] distressing?
Even [1] when [the sky] clears, I will [still] be lamenting.


  1. 也 (야, ya) here means “also.” This seems to be a modern usage of that character.


  • 罕 (한, han) – to be rare (드물다).
  • 畦 (흉, hyung) – farm field.


the end @ copyright dr iwan suwandy 2011


5 responses to “The Korea Historic Collections Part Two:Choson Dynasty 1700-1800

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