Daily Archives: April 6, 2010

Dong Yi, social classes in the Joseon period

Dong Yi the novel

In the introduction to the novel Dong Yi, the author, Chong Che-in 정재인writes about the approach to writing the story. The writer had to imagine what life was like for Dong-yi’s character as the history books tell us very little about her since she came from the servant class.

All that’s known is that she was born into the chonmin class – the lowest of all the social classes during the Joseon period – and was taken into the palace as a maid to serve King Sukjong. The King took her as a concubine and she gave him three sons and the second son became King Yongjo.

Chong Che-in writes that, according to the history books, both Yongjo and his mother had a complex about coming from the chonmin class. Chong wondered how she really felt about this. Perhaps she was optimistic that the blood of low and higher classes would mix and create social equality, so Chong considered this point when writing the novel.

Social classes during the Joseon period

Ji Jin-hee as King Sukjong (1661-1720)

Rules about marriage between the classes seem to have changed several times during the Joseon period but apparently, during King Yongjo’s rule it was impossible for a child born with parents from different classes to move up to the higher class. Yongjo changed the law so that if a child was born to a parent from the chonmin class and the other from the higher yangin class then the child could move up into the yangin class.

I did some research, some of it here, to find out more about the strict hierarchy of social status in Joseon times to understand this story better. Continue reading

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