Dong Yi, court lady sang-gung

So if all goes well, Dong Yi will soon move up the ranks to become a concubine.

Dong Yi, MBC

At the moment she is a court lady, sang-gung, rank 5, (top rank for a court lady but below the concubines). But of course she is different to the other sang-gung. First of all, she’s different because she hasn’t worked her way up the ranks like the other court ladies have had to do. Dong Yi has gone from no rank to sang-gung thanks to her relationship with the king and so her title is not just sang-gung but sung-un sang-gung 승은 상궁 承恩尙宮. This is a special title for sang-gung who are intimate with the king and are likely to move up to concubine status. Jang Hee bin (currently the queen) was this level at the beginning of the drama and we saw her ceremony when she became a concubine, hu-gung 후궁 後宮, rank 4 Sook-won.

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

Because of this special status, the sung-ung sang-gung doesn’t have to work  like the other sang-gung do. The regular sang-gung have jobs to do around the palace – in the drama we see sang-gung leading the court lady investigation bureau. It seems that all that the sung-un sang-gung has to do is look nice and wait for the king!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Dong Yi, court lady sang-gung

  1. Kaili

    Very interesting. One question, though. How do the concubines move up the ranking system – is it based on family, children, etc? With the four ranks, I wanted to know how or why they moved up and how each rank was chosen for the concubine.

    • Thanks for your question.

      I haven’t been able to find out very specific criteria about how the concubines moved up the ranks, but the queen was in charge of the whole nemyeungbu (ladies’ court) which included all of the court ladies and concubines – ranks 1-9 – and so she was in charge of dealing with issues that came up including deciding who was to be promoted up the ranks. (We see Hee Bin, while she is queen, promote Dong Yi to concubine status.)

      Giving birth to the King’s child was definitely grounds for promotion, but the rank given depended on whether the child was a girl or a boy. If a sang-gung became pregnant, she may move up to concubine rank 4 sook-won. And if the child was a boy, and so possible heir, then she could be moved higher. Jang Hee Bin (while she was rank 4 Sook-won) jumped to rank 1 Bin when she gave birth to a boy as there was no other male heir to the throne.

      To become a concubine in the first place, girls were often picked from appropriate yangban families while they were still young. This was done so that from an early age they would know that when the time came they would be moving in to the palace and so they had to keep themselves pure and behave appropriately – no scandals, etc. (I’m not sure if they all had to start off at rank 4 though.)

      The other way to become a concubine was to be noticed by the King as in the cases of Dong Yi and Hee Bin who did not come from yangban families but started off as palace maids. In the drama we see that there was opposition for them to be promoted since they were not from yangban families. So I guess background did play a part in the concubine ranking system but producing an heir guaranteed promotion.

  2. I personally wouldn’t romanize ‘후궁’ as fu-gung, but rather hu-gung. For me the ‘h’ is clearly pronounced unlike it’s Japanese counterpart.

  3. oh yes, you’re right. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve corrected the spelling.

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