World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0003833246
Reproduction Date:

Title: Cheonmin  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Sangmin, Chungin, Gwangmu Reform, Social classes, Joseon
Collection: Goryeo, Joseon Dynasty, Korean Caste System, Social Classes
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Hangul 천민
Hanja 賤民
Revised Romanization Cheonmin
McCune–Reischauer Ch'ŏnmin

Cheonmin, or "vulgar commoners," were the lowest caste of commoners in dynastical Korea. They abounded during the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1897) periods of Korea's agrarian bureaucracy.


  • Social class system 1
  • Legacy 2
  • Exception 3
  • See also 4

Social class system

Like the caste system in India, this social class was largely hereditary and based on certain professions considered "unclean" by the upper classes. This list of unclean professions included butchers, shamans, shoemakers, metalworkers, prostitutes, magicians, sorcerers, jail-keepers, and performers (like the kisaeng). Nobi (slaves), were servants taken from the cheonmin class to serve yangban (aristocracy) and royalty, but like slaves, they were considered the property of their owners and could be given away to other high ranking people.

Kisaeng, female entertainers for yangban, were in this class, educated but not respected by others in society. The hereditary nature of the caste system bred institutionalized discrimination and prejudice early on in Korea's history, as the cheonmin were barred from most forms of social advancement, including entry into government service or taking the gwageo civil service examinations.

The cheonmin, although a step above the traditional caste of untouchables or outcasts called the Baekjeong, lived segregated lives, like the baekjeong, isolated from the rest of society and shunted away in ghettoes far away from the rest of society. While the cheonmin performed tasks that other Koreans considered unclean or undignified, they still had an essential function and role within dynastical Korean society. Their work as butchers, shoemakers, low-class entertainers, performing unclean jobs, provided services to the other classes that were unavailable from anyone else.


While the class and caste system of dynastical Korea no longer exists and has largely disappeared in the modern era, remnants of such social discrimination based solely on one's occupation or a forebearer's previous line of work continue to shape traditional Korean thinking and values today.


In all the Joseon Dynasty history there is just one extraordinary case of a cheonmin who overcame her class status to gain the highest rank, just under the Queen, and became a Royal concubine. She was Choi Suk Bin, mother of King Yeongjo, who originally entered the Palace as a musori or slave-girl. Due to his mother's low origins, Yeongjo suffered multiple attempts to his life when he was named Crown prince over his half brother. Although he was adopted by Queen Inwon and under her protection, many nobles were against a low-born son ruling the country as king.

See also

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.