Monthly Archives: June 2010

snap of the day: kimchi pot shop

In Seoul I stumbled over this cute shop selling kimchi pots all ready to be filled with chili paste, soy bean paste, or soy sauce.  I wouldn’t mind a few pots just for decoration. But when they are in use they look like this…

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Was there really a Court Lady Investigation Bureau in the Joseon Palace?

So I found this interesting site comparing the events in the drama, Dong Yi, to actual Joseon historical records. In episode 12 Dong Yi enters the 궁관 kung-gwan (court) and joins the Court lady Investigation Bureau. But according to records from the Joseon period, officially, there was no Court lady Investigation Bureau in the palace. And so, no official title of Court Lady Investigator.

Organization of court ladies

The ladies working in the court would be assigned to the King, Queen, Queen Mother, Crown Prince or Crown Prince’s concubine. The number of ladies in court probably varied throughout the period but according to records from King Gojong’s reign (1863-1907), 100 ladies would serve the King, 100 the Queen Mother, 100  the Queen, 60 the Crown Prince, and 40 the Crown Prince’s concubine. Then they would be assigned to work in various areas of court – bedrooms, washrooms, private rooms etc. Generally speaking, the court ladies that were ranked from 5 to 8 had duties concerned with day to day living in the palace. The lowest ranked court ladies (rank 9) were the female musicians. Then within each area of the palace, court ladies were assigned as inspectors  to check up on the other court ladies and make sure they were behaving themselves. There was one inspector assigned to the Crown Prince, and two for the King or Queen Mother. If moral issues or indiscretions amongst the court ladies were discovered then the inspector would report these to the head court lady,제조 상궁 che cho sang gung 提調尙宮 who would then report to the lady’s master or mistress – the King, Queen etc. So, although there was no actual police bureau, unofficially there were female inspectors chosen within the various departments amongst the court ladies and they were known as 감찰 시녀 kam chal shi nyo 監察侍女, which in English we could call ‘lady inspectors’?

As I wrote about in my last post the court ladies were given ranks from 9 to 1. Their male counterparts, the yangban officials in the sa-dae-bu, were also ranked from 9 to 1.

Joseon Court Organizational Chart


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Dong Yi, Court Lady Rankings, part 2

In my last Dong Yi post I looked at the ranking system for the King’s concubines in the Joseon period. The  내명부 (內命婦) ne-myeong-bu were the concubines and court ladies in the palace and they were divided into two groups  – the higher 내관 ne-gwan (for concubines) and then the lower  궁관 kung-gwan (for court ladies). There were 9 ranks altogether. The top 4 ranks were held by the concubines and the remainder by the court ladies. In episode 12 Dong Yi moves into the kung-gwan inner court and becomes a court lady 궁녀 kung-nyo working in the investigations bureau. We are not told what her rank is but she has to speak plain Korean to the palace slaves as she is now above them and finds this difficult. The other court ladies in the investigation bureau don’t want to accept her though, because they still see her as a slave.

episode 12 Dong Yi becomes a court lady, MBC

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Snap of the Day. Garlic Truck

A truck selling garlic by a market in Seoul

Garlic season is here. In Korea it’s harvested in June and July and the market places and street stalls are now stacked high with it. The six clove variety is said to be the most popular and the six-clove garlic festival is on now in Taean about three hours from Seoul.

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Dong Yi, Concubine Ranks in the Joseon Period

In the latest episode of Dong Yi, the concubine Jang Hee Bin has finally fulfilled her ambition and become Queen. During King Sukjong’s reign, concubines that made the top rank (Bin) could then move up to become Queen (Bi) if the King so desired. Historically though, due to rumours about Jang Hee Bin’s role in the death of the Queen Mother, King Sukjong later demoted her back to Hee Bin and passed a law that no concubine could become Queen. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the drama, but he is already suspicious of her.

Lady Jang becomes Jang Sook-won, episode 17 Dong Yi, MBC

So I wanted to find out how many ranks there were for concubines during the Joseon period and according to the information I found  here , there were 18 levels altogether for the concubines and special court ladies. But the top 4 ranks were for the concubines and each rank had two levels so there were 8 levels altogether really (정 正 was the higher of the two levels and 종 從 was the lower level of the two but I’m interpreting them as 1A and 1B and so on..) Continue reading


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King Sukjong and Jang Hee Bin’s Tombs

Myeongneung (明陵)

King Sukjong and Queen Inhyeong’s tombs

Last weekend I went to Seoorung 서오릉 (meaning 5 western tombs) a UNESCO World Heritage site just outside of Seoul in Gyeonggi-do where some of the Joseon Kings and Queens and concubines are buried. Lady Choi’s tomb, (Dong Yi)  is not here.  But we did see King Sukjong, Queen Inhyeon, and Jang Hee Bin’s tombs. Continue reading


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Calligraphy Lesson 4

The teacher came around a few times to check what I was doing and show me where I was going wrong by guiding my brush across the paper. Finally our group got to practise our first whole hangul character today too. 가 Ka.

Still wobbly with dodgy spacing but it’s a start.

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