Joseon caste system
Class Hangul Hanja Meaning
Yangban 양반 兩班 aristocrats
Jungin 중인 中人 middle people
Sangmin 상민 常民 commoners
Cheonmin 천민 賤民 vulgar commoners
 • Baekjeong 백정 白丁 untouchables
 • Nobi 노비 奴婢 slaves (or "serfs")

The Baekjeong (Korean: 백정) were an untouchable class in Korea,[1] originating from some minority, nomadic groups of disputed ethnicity. In the early part of the Goryeo period (918–1392), these minorities were largely settled in fixed communities.[1] However, the Mongol invasion left Korea in disarray and anomie, and these groups became nomadic.[1] Other subgroups of the baekjeong were the ‘chaein and the ‘hwachae’. The baekjeong occupied specific professions like butchery, tanning, basket weaving and performing executions.[1] During the Goryeo period, "baekjeong" was used as a neutral term to refer to the common people.[2] From the time of the Joseon dynasty, it became an insulting title used to refer to the lowest class of society.[3] In addition, since the Joseon dynasty, the "baekjeong" has been also used to denigrate a person.[4][5] In contemporary South Korea, the term is mainly associated with the meaning of a butcher and even used in the restaurants' names.[6][7]

A masked person acting as a Baekjeong butcher in a play
Revised RomanizationBaekjeong


There is a theory that they had migrated from Tartar.[8] The term 'Tartar' seems to have been a general term for all northern peoples, Mongols, Manchurians, and so on. This theory is based on the writings of Jeong Yakyong, who was one of the most distinguished scholars on the methodology of historical researches in the reign of King Jeongjo (1777-1800) and King Sunjo (1801-1834).[8] In his book, the origin of baekjeong is attributed to a nomadic group from the Goryeo period known as the Yangsuchuk (Hanja: 楊水尺) or Mujari (Korean: 무자리).[8] Being an alien people from Tartar, the Yangsuchuk were hardly assimilated into the general population.[8] They were engaged in the making and selling of willow baskets.[8] They were also proficient in slaughtering animals and had a liking for hunting,[8] which was frowned upon by the Buddhist society of the Goryeo Dynasty.[8]


In the Goryeo periodEdit

From the Goryeo Dynasty (918~1392) until the time of King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty, baekjeong was not a title to refer to the lowest class of people.[9] The term "baekjeong" itself means "common people".[10] The scholars assume that the baekjeong is "a person who have no burden of duties (역, 役)" based on "Goryosa". It consists of "baek" (Korean: 백, Hanja: 白), which means "white/innocent/blank", and "jeong" (Korean: 정, Hanja: 丁)", or "person, man".[9] As such, baekjeong, "blank man," connotes a group of peasants who have not been granted land because they have not received certain duties from the state.[9]

But they also existed as the lowest class of people. In the Goryeo period, the names calling them were 'yangsuchuk (hanja: 楊水尺)', 'suchuk (hanja: 水尺)', 'hawchuck (hanja: 禾尺)' and 'mujari (Korean: 무자리, lit. "placeless")'.[11] They had been a descendant of the Jurchen or Khitans since the beginning of Koryo.[12] These lowest worship groups liked the group life among themselves, so they continued to live in a temporary residence while moving to various areas.[13] they were distributed nationwide, especially in Pyeongan-do and Hwanghae-do provinces.[13] They were not registered in the national register.[13]

In the Joseon periodEdit

After the Goryeo period, Joseon was founded. In the early days of the founding of the Joseon Dynasty, King Sejong consolidated 'yangsucheok', 'sucheok', 'hawcheok' and 'mujari' with ordinary farmers.[9] Therefore, the title calling them became 'Baekjeong', which is the general peasant group in the Goryeo period.[9] King Sejong also put them on the family register, gave them lands to plant and settled them into farmers, and tried to keep them under state control.[9] However, the common policies of King Sejong could not succeed because the ordinary people continued to do so and discriminated against it. Even government officials did not follow the instructions of the king.[14]

On the other hand, it seems that the baekjeong did not change their existing lifestyle or occupation easily.[14] They settled in one area and did not try to farm, but they lived and worked in certain jobs, such as making and selling wicker products, slaughtering, singing and dancing.[14] In this situation, the exchange and integration with the baekjeong and the ordinary peasants was not easy, and the practice of discrimination and suppression against the white cane continued.[14] In particular, the mainstream group regarded the life and customs of the butchers as despicable, antisocial, non-normative, and even potential criminal groups.[14]

End of the Joseon DynastyEdit

Near the end of the Joseon Dynasty, a mutual aid organization for the baekjeong was established, called Seungdongdoga (Korean: 승동도가, hanja: 承洞都家), with representatives from various communities.[15] The organization was involved in taking actions, coordinating improvements, and acting at times as the official representative of the baekjeong in legal matters.[15] In 1894, the system of cadets was legally abolished by the Gopal reform. However, social discrimination against the baekjeong was not lost. The family register of baekjeong was still separate, and it was marked by the use of the word "殺漢 (killing the beast)" or the red dot.[16] Nonetheless, the Gapo reform ensured that baekjeong could become an official, an asset, a scholar or an artist if they had the ability.[17] Although still largely limited to their traditional occupations, modified regulations in 1896 allowed non-baekjeong to become licensed butchers, eventually leading to meat businesses which have pressured many out of one of the few tasks allowed them.

However, while changes to improve the baekjeong's social status was slow, commoners (the lower of the yangmins), who had economically been little different from slaves, was already meaningless as the respect for the government in the 17th century as they fled from the invading Japanese and Manchurians, leaving the civilians at their mercy. The government also awarded many militiamen yangban class status in exchange for their voluntary militia activities against these invaders. In time, with the rise of commerce, merchants bought forged family histories and official status documents as well. Eventually, around three fourths of the population were yangban in name.

Modern useEdit

The term "baekjeong" is still used in modern Korean society. This is particularly common in occupations dealing with raw meat, which carry a negative social stigma.[18] In spite of this, "baekjeong" is widely used in Korean restaurant names, denoting barbecue establishments where raw marinated meat is served and cooked at the table.[19] In this context, baekjeong is descriptive and carries no negative connotation.



Throughout much of the Joseon Dynasty, they were also forced to serve as executioners.[20] When the baekjeong community were called upon to supply an executioner, the job was assigned to some hapless member, sometimes practically an insane person.


The baekjeong did jobs that no self-respecting Buddhist Korean would touch, including anything working with animals.[21] Slaughtering animals; leather making; these kinds of duties were avoided by Koreans, and so were filled de facto by baekjeong.[21] In other words, the group was assigned to the most demeaning tasks in Korean society.[21] They were also considered in moral violation of Buddhist principles, which led Koreans to see work involving meat as polluting and sinful, even if they saw the consumption as acceptable.[21] By the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty, baekjeong accepted the principles of Confucianism and did not slaughter for three years when their parents died.[22]


The group had long suffered severe social discrimination in Korean society.[23] The baekjeong were seen as contemptible and polluted people that others feared and avoided meeting.[23] Baekjeong could not live in a roof-tiled house, were not allowed to wear silk clothes or leather shoes, and did not wear a gat(hat).[24] When baekjeong went outside their houses, they had to untie their head and wear paeraengi.[24] Baekjeong had to lower himself in front of a yangin. Baekjeong could not smoke or drink in front of a yangin.[24] Baekjeong could not ride a litter or horse when they married, and a married woman could not wear a hair stick.[24] Baekjeong could not put a last name on their name, nor could they use words in their name like 仁, 義, 禮, 智(Korean: 인, 의, 예, 지).[24] The extent to which they were seen as impure people is well-illustrated in the fact that their bodies were kept in separate graveyards so as not to mingle with those of the yangmin.

Influence of religionEdit

Donghak and Christianity had a lot of influence on the Baekjeong. Both Donghak and Christianity exposed the Baekjeong, and Koreans more generally, to concepts of egalitarianism and social equality. The influence of these religions was then linked to the social movement.


Towards the end of the 19th century, there was an increasing impetus on human dignity and liberalization. Of particular importance was the growth of certain religions (Donghak) supportive of change. Donghak, a Korean nationalist religion, wished to end unfair sinbun conventions, and Tonghak peasants had staged an uprising in 1894 in favor of human rights, especially for those low on the social ladder. They also demanded that the baekjeong no longer be forced to wear discriminatory hats and widows be allowed to remarry.[25] Although this uprising was ultimately unsuccessful, it was an important impetus behind the Gabo Reform, and helped to abolish the status structure that had restricted some groups legally. However, the baekjeong had benefited much less from these changes than other groups, such as the slaves.


The other major religious influence on human rights came through Christianity.[26] Some missionaries had converted baekjeong to Christianity, stating that everyone has equal rights under God.[26] However, everyone was not equal under the Christian congregation, and protests erupted when missionaries attempted to integrate them into worship services, with non-baekjeong finding such attempts insensitive to traditional notions of social status.[26] Thus, both Donghak and Christianity exposed the baekjeong, and Koreans more generally, to concepts of egalitarianism and social equality.[26] Parallel to and supportive of the rise of these ideas were transitions occurring in Korean society as a whole, particularly with regard to social classes.[26]

Social movementsEdit

Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the baekjeong began to resist the open social discrimination that existed against them.[27] In 1900, leaders from 16 counties petitioned the mayor of Jinju to wear the same clothes and hats as other people.[28] When others in the north refused to wear the humiliating garb traditionally expected of them and were jailed, an effort was made to release them.[28] Growing industrialism in Korea began to erode baekjeong dominance over certain occupations, particularly as the Japanese began to control slaughterhouses and exploit them as employees.[28]

However, as some baekjeong fell into financial despair, the loosening of segregation led others to profit from changes, giving them the ability to fund efforts for change.[28] Beyond financial resources, organization was also strengthened due to the longstanding connections created through segregation and close-knit social networks.[28] Between these human and financial resources, an emphasis on progressive models, and feelings of social deprivation and discrimination, the conditions were ripe for the baekjeong to mobilize for change.[28] One of the earliest of these movements was in 1910 when Chang Chip'il, later an influential member of the Hyeongpyeongsa, attempted to unsuccessfully establish a trade union for butchers.[28] In 1921, the Jipseong Johap was established by Korean and Japanese entrepreneurs, attempting to provide poverty assistance for butchers.[28] However, this effort for improvement of economic conditions was soon overshadowed by an organization with broader goals.[28]

The Hyeongpyeongsa was launched in Jinju on 23 April 1923 through the alliance of wealthy or educated baekjeong and non-baekjeong proponents of change, advocating for "the abolition of classes and of contemptuous appellations, the enlightenment of members, and the promotion of mutual friendship among members."[29] It advocated both for individual civil rights as well as communal fellowship, recognizing that the group must maintain its identity under the strain of changes such as urbanization and industrialization which threatened to atomize the community.[29] Thus, the Hyeongpyeongsa pursued both an equality of human rights and the right to assimilate into the broader public, even as it worked to forge a common identity.[29] In 1927 a number of members of the Hyeongpyeongsa were arrested for their involvement in the creation of an underground nationalist organization. Their absence was partially responsible for the organization's shift to the socialist left in the late 1920s.[29] Power within the organization shifted several times, including the shift in 1925 from the original Chinju faction advocating educational reform to a group of Seoul intellectuals more interested in economic reforms based around traditional occupations.[29]

At the 1931 national conference, they stirred controversy within the movement by introducing a dissolution proposal, feeling that the organization had abandoned its original aims in favor of those of the bourgeois intellectuals directing it.[29] It was their belief that dissolution would better serve their interests as it was replaced by trade unions.[29] The dissolution proposal failed, but not without further alienating more conservative members of the movement, who were already financially strapped from broader economic conditions in Korea.[29] Even more fatal for the movement was the arrest of a number of young radical members, who were accused of establishing a secret communist organization, the "Hyeongpyeongsa Youth Vanguard", which authorities said demanded struggle against feudalism and the abolishment of private property.[29] The trial related to this accusation dragged on for four years, before the defendants were found to be innocent. It appears likely that the "organization" was a construction by Japanese authorities to ensure the labor wing of the Hyeongpyeongsa would not interfere with their access to leather needed for the invasion of China.[29] As a result, the Hyeongpyeongsa shifted to the right, abandoning progressive ideals and finally disbanding in 1935, claiming the movement's aims had successfully been met.[29]

The growing power of the radical wing divided the movement, and much of the economic support provided by wealthier baekjeong was pulled, particularly under the strain of the Great Depression, which had negatively impacted the meat and leather trades.[30] The young socialists in the Hyŏngp'yŏngsa forged connections with other movements, attempting to broaden the movement and work towards "the reconstitution of Korea as a whole."[30] More importantly, they focused on social and economic injustices affecting the baekjeong, hoping to create an egalitarian Korean society.[31] Their efforts included attacking social discrimination by the upper class, authorities, and "commoners" and the use of degrading language against children in public schools.[31]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Dr, OP Sudrania (2012-09-09). "Castes in a Global Perspective - Is Caste Only a Hindu Problem? (Part 6) -". Retrieved 2018-05-05.
  2. ^ "Baekjeong(白丁) - Korean National Culture Encyclopedia". (in Korean). Retrieved 2018-04-14.
  3. ^ "National Korean Language Institute - Standard Language Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2018-04-14.
  4. ^ "Prosecutors alleged the lobby to finish checking two people indicted without detention ... 'anticlimax'" (in Korean). 2018-04-18. Retrieved 2018-04-28.
  5. ^ Lee, Jung Geun (2011-10-25). "Human Baekjeong, criticism of Sejo of Joseon". Oh-My-News. Retrieved 2018-04-28.
  6. ^ "Kang Ho Dong BAEKJEONG". Archived from the original on 2018-06-16. Retrieved 2018-06-14.
  7. ^ Yoon, Soon Yong (2011). "벽초『임꺽정』에 나타난 백정의 실체와 문학적 형상화" [The) Butcher's reality and his literary portrayal in 「Imggeokjeong」]. Master's Thesis(Graduate School of Education, Kongju National University): 1.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Rhim, Soon Man (1974). "THE PAEKCHONG: "UNTOUCHABLES" OF KOREA" (PDF). Journal of Oriental Studies. 12: 30–40.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Kim, Joong Seop (2013). ""조선시대 백정"의 기원에 대한 역사사회학적 고찰" [Articles : The Origins of the Outcast, Paekjong, in the Choson Period: The Socio-Historical Perspective Reconsidered]. 동방학지. 164: 140~141 – via 연세대학교 국학연구원(Yonsei Univ. Oriental Institute).
  10. ^ Ryu, Sun Young (2001). "高麗時代 白丁에 대한 再檢討" [Reexamation of Baekchong in Koryo Dynasty]. Thesis (Master)-Dong-A University Graduate School: History Department. 3: 1~50 – via 동아대학교 도서관(Dong-A University Library).
  11. ^ "Yangsuchuck(楊水尺) - Korean National Culture Encyclopedia". (in Korean). Retrieved 2018-04-14.
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  13. ^ a b c "Hawchuck(禾尺) - Korean National Culture Encyclopedia". (in Korean). Retrieved 2018-04-14.
  14. ^ a b c d e Kim, Joong Seop (2013). ""조선시대 백정"의 기원에 대한 역사사회학적 고찰" [Articles : The Origins of the Outcast, Paekjong, in the Choson Period: The Socio-Historical Perspective Reconsidered]. 동방학지. 164: 154~155 – via Yonsei Univ. Oriental Institute.
  15. ^ a b Lee, Moon Jae (August 8, 1991). "'분강나루'서 건져낸 백정 恨" [Baekjeong's Resentment]. (in Korean). Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  16. ^ Kim, Han Jong (Jun 6, 2004). "차별과 저항의 역사 '백정'" [The history of discrimination and resistance "Baekjeong"]. (in Korean). Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  17. ^ Lee, Lee Hwa (2008). 인물로 읽는 한국사 시리즈 - 빼앗긴 들에도 봄은 오리니 [Korean History Series by Humans- Spring is also coming down Take away Field] (in Korean). 김영사[Gimmyoung]. ISBN 978-8934953647.
  18. ^ Kim, Yun Ho (2018-04-16). "스키니진 입고 칼질하는 열아홉 육부장" [Nineteen Sixteen Meat Directors]. JoongAng Ilbo (in Korean). Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  19. ^ Kang, Matthew (November 17, 2017). "Watch: Is Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong the World's Favorite Korean Barbecue?". Eater Video. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  20. ^ Shin, Michael D; Park, Edward; Yŏksa, Yŏn'guhoe (2014). Everyday life in Joseon-era Korea : economy and society / The Organization of Korean Historians, Seoul ; edited and translated by Michael D. Shin ; co-translated by Edward Park. Netherlands: Leiden. ISBN 9789004261150.
  21. ^ a b c d "CE 1100. The Baekjeong: Medieval Outcasts". The History of Korea. 2017-09-11. Retrieved 2018-05-05.
  22. ^ Jo, Yun Min (2017). 모멸의 조선사: 지배 권력에 맞선 백성의 열 가지 얼굴 [Anger History of Joseon-Ten faces of the people against the dominant power]. 글 항아리. ISBN 9788967354961.
  23. ^ a b Kim, Han Jong (Jun 6, 2004). "The history of discrimination and resistance 'Baekjeong'". Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  24. ^ a b c d e Kim, Jung In (2015). 민주주의를 향한 역사 : 시대의 건널목, 19세기 한국사의 재발견 [History for Democracy: Crossing the Age, Rediscovery of 19th Century History]. 책과함께. ISBN 9791186293393.
  25. ^ Park, Eun Hong (2006). 한국사 상식 바로잡기 [Correcting Korean common sense]. 책과함께(Wbooks). ISBN 978-8997735853.
  26. ^ a b c d e Kim, Jong Rock (2013). 근대를 산책하다 [Take a walk in the Modern Times]. Dasan Books. pp. 126~133. ISBN 978-8963709352.
  27. ^ Kim, Jung-Seop (1999). "In Search of Human Rights: The Baekjeong Movement in Colonial Korea". In Gi-Wook Shin and Michael Robinson (ed.). Colonial Modernity in Korea. Harvard Univ. p. 326. ISBN 978-0674005945.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kim, Chung-sŏp (2001). 형평 운동, 3권, 진주 문화 를 찾아서 (in Korean). University of Michigan: 지식 산업사. ISBN 978-8942348176.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Lee, Jeong-eun (2013). "근대도시의 소외된 사람들-소수자와 인권의 사회사" [The Urban Marginalized People in the Modern City : The Social History of Minorities and Human Rights]. Institute for East Asian Studies. 10: 140–142 – via SungKongHoe University.
  30. ^ a b Kim, Joong-Seop (2003). The Korean Baekjeong under Japanese rule: the quest for equality and human rights. p. 147.
  31. ^ a b Kim, Joong-Seop (2003). The Korean Paekjŏng under Japanese rule: the quest for equality and human rights. London. p. 147. ISBN 9781138863460.


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