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Discrimination Against the Gaeseong Region and the Identity of its People During the Joseon Dynasty

  • 중앙사론
  • 2017, (46), pp.51-85
  • Publisher : Institute for Historical Studies at Chung-Ang University
  • Research Area : Humanities > History

Yang Jeong Pil 1

1제주대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This article examined the identity of people in the Gaeseong region, which is primarily associated with city merchants, and investigated alternative identities unassociated with the city’s trade. A secondary identity of Gaeseong was determined based on political and social discriminations by the Joseon dynasty. Fifteenth century Gaeseong witnessed political injustice in that it was not ineligible for civil service examinations, which opened the door to government posts and allowed private business practices. This state ban was lifted after the sixteenth century, but unequal political treatment continued. People of Gaeseong origin who passed civil service exams were given limited opportunities and only appointed to regional or low-level central office posts. They were also degraded as belonging to the low-status mercantile class. The majority of Gaeseong people were traders and businessmen and looked down upon in the rigid class-oriented Joseon society. Accordingly, they were subjected to political and social abuse. However, Gaeseong citizens endeavored to make improve their opportunities; for example, some yangbans abandoned the state exams, and even though others were entitled to government posts, they indirectly complained about the unfairness of their position and their lack of promotion. Still others made strong bonds with colleagues facing similar situations. Realistically, it was difficult for Gaeseong citizens to act directly against social obstructions since protesting meant defying Joseon itself. Instead, they turned to spiritual consolation by bringing back the proud history of their ancestors. Specifically, the people of Gaeseong re-established the Old Story of Doomoondong, which is a story of martyrs who stood against the founding of the Joseon dynasty. This story gave the people an identity, as descendants of the honorable Koryo men of the late Joseon period. This was their philosophical solution to overcoming the harsh reality in which they found themselves. The Old Story of Doomoondong spread orally during the early Joseon period; it was only after the Hideyoshi Invasion that it was finally recorded and subsequently authorized for inclusion in local geography books. It was officially recognized when king Yeongjo visited Gaeseong in 1740, which enabled local inhabitants to publicly recite the story, which enhanced their pride in their identity. Thus, people of Gaeseong were able to internally share common feelings to combat political and social discrimination, and such movements eventually made a significant impact on their identity.

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