The Baekjeong (Korean: 백정) were an "untouchable” minority group of Korea. In the early part of the Goryeo period (918-1392), these minority groups were largely settled in fixed communities. However, the Mongol invasion left Korea in disarray and anomie, and these groups became nomadic. Other subgroups of the baekjeong are the ‘chaein’ and the ‘hwachae’. During the Joseon dynasty, they were specific professions like basket weaving and performing executions. In the Goryeo period, baekjeong was used as a term to refer to the common people group. However, in Choson dynasty, it was refer to the lowest class of people and insulting title. In addition, in the Joseon Dynasty and today, the baekjeong was also used as an expression to denigrate a person. On the other hand, sometimes, the meaning is refined and used as a restaurant name. The fact that the name "Baekjeong" has changed into a term referring to various classes of people from different ages is a recent history research achievement.
There is a theory that they had migrated from Tartar. The term 'Tartar' seems· to have been a general term for-all northern peoples, MongoHans, Manchurians, and so on. This theory based upon the writings of Jeong Yakyong who was one of the most distinguished scholars on the methodology of historical researches in the reign of King jongjo (1777-1800) and king Sunjo (1801-1834). In his book, origin of baekjeong is to a roving group of the Goryeo period known as the Yangsuchuk(Hanja: 楊水尺) or Mujari(Korean: 무자리). Being an alien people from Tartar, the Yangsuchuk were hardly assimilated into the general population. They were engaged in the making and selling of willow baskets. They were also proficient in slaughtering animals and nad a liking for hunting. This type of activity was despised by the people of the Buddhist Goryeo Dynasty.
In the Goryeo period
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. The term baekjeong itself means "common people. 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 'no', and "Jeong(Korean: 정, Hanja: 丁)", which means a person without land. So, baekjeong means a group of peasants who have not been granted land because they have not received certain duties from the state.
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)'. They had been a descendant of the Jurchen or Khitans since the beginning of Koryo. These lowest worship group liked the group life among themselves, so they continued to live in a temporary residence while moving to various areas. they were distributed nationwide, especially in Pyeongan-do and Hwanghae-do provinces. They were not registered in the national register.
In the Joseon period
After the Goryeo period, Joseon was founded. In the early days of the founding of the Joseon Dynasty, King Sejong consolidated 'yangsuchuk', 'suchuk', 'hawchuck' and 'mujari' with ordinary farmers. Therefore, the title calling them became 'Baekjeong', which is the general peasant group in the Goryeo period. 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. 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.
On the other hand, it seems that the baekjeong did not change their existing lifestyle or occupation easily. 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. 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. In particular, the mainstream group regarded the life and customs of the butchers as despicable, antisocial, non-normative, and even potential criminal groups.
End of the Joseon Dynasty
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. The organization was involved in taking actions, coordinating improvements, and acting at times as the official representative of the baekjeong in legal matters. 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. Nonetheless, Gapo reform ensured that Baekjeong could become an official, an asset, a scholar or an artist if it had the ability. 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.
The term baekjeong still remains in modern korean society. This is particularly common in occupations dealing with raw meat. When someone choose a job to deal with raw meat, they sometimes encounter severe objections. But at the same time, there is also a restaurant that uses the word baekjeong. This is also an example of the fact that the butcher is not used as a word to disparage others.
Throughout much of the Joseon Dynasty, they were also forced to serve as executioners. When Paekchong community was 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. Slaughtering animals; leather making; these kinds of dirty duties were avoided by Koreans, and so were filled de facto by baekjeong. Retell, the group was assigned to the most demeaning tasks in Korean society. Nevertheless, 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. 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.
The group had long suffered severe social discrimination in Korean society. The baekjeong were seen as a contemptible and polluted people that others feared and avoided meeting. baekjeong could not live in a Roof tiles house, did not wear silk clothes, did not wear leather shoes, and did not wear a gat(hat). When baekjeong go out of their house, baekjeong have to untie their head and wear paeraengi. Baekjeong had to lower himself in front of an yangin. baekjeong could not smoke or drink in front of yangin. Baekjeong could not ride a litter or horse when they married, and a married woman could not use a Hair stick. Baekjeong could not put a last name on their name, nor could use words in their name like 仁, 義, 禮, 智(korean: 인, 의, 예, 지). The extent to which they were seen as a polluted 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 dead.
Influence of religion
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 is 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. 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. Some missionaries had converted baekjeong to Christianity, stating that everyone has equal rights under God. 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. Thus, both Donghak and Christianity exposed the baekjeong, and Koreans more generally, to concepts of egalitarianism and social equality. 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.
Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the baekjeong began to resist the open social discrimination that existed against them. In 1900, leaders from 16 counties petitioned the mayor of Jinju to wear the same clothes and hats as other people. 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. Growing industrialism in Korea began to erode baekjeong dominance over certain occupations, particularly as Japanese began to control slaughterhouses and exploit them as employees.
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. Beyond financial resources, organization was also strengthened due to the longstanding connections created through segregation and close-knit social networks. 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. One of the earliest of these movements was in 1910 when Chang Chip'il, later an influential member of the Hyeongpyeongsa, attempted unsuccessfully to establish a trade union for butchers. In 1921 the Jipseong Johap was established by Korean and Japanese entrepreneurs, attempting to provide poverty assistance for butchers. However, this effort for improvement of economic conditions was soon overshadowed by an organization with broader goals.
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." 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. Thus, the Hyŏngp'yŏngsa 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. In 1927 a number of members of the Hyŏngp'yŏngsa 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. 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.
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. It was their belief that dissolution would better serve their interests as it was replaced by trade unions. The dissolution proposal failed, but not without further alienating more conservative members of the movement, who would already financially strapped from broader economic conditions in Korea. 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 "Hyeongp'yeongsa Youth Vanguard", which authorities said demanded struggle against feudalism and the abolishment of private property. 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. 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.
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. 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." More importantly, they focused on social and economic injustices affecting the baekjeong, hoping to create an egalitarian Korean society. Their efforts included attacking social discrimination by the upper class, authorities, and "commoners" and the use of degrading language against children in public schools.
- Untouchable (social system)
- Burakumin - The Japanese equivalent of baekjeong.
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