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  • Korean: 両班 (yangban)

The yangban were a class of government officials and administrators in Joseon Dynasty Korea, patterned after the scholar-official aristocracy in China.

In Korea, as in China and Ryûkyû, members of the scholar-aristocracy obtained official government posts through a system of Confucian exams. The term yangban literally means "two groups" or "both groups," and included both civil and military officials, but could also refer to an official's family or even extended clan, who enjoyed the benefits of the official's status and income. As a class, they were near the top of the social status hierarchy, with skilled technicians below them, followed by farmers and merchants below them, with a class of outcastes at the bottom of the ladder.

Like the scholar-aristocracy of China and Ryûkyû, and like the samurai of Edo period Japan, the yangban privileged scholarly and cultural skills, knowledge, and pursuits, and the literati lifestyle. Calligraphy, the playing of music, the production and appreciation of painting, and the like were favored pasttimes, and treasured skills.

Towards the end of the period, anyone who passed the Confucian exams was permitted to elevate his entire household, and patrilineal descendants, to yangban status, and over the course of relatively few generations, the proportion of the population who were of yangban status skyrocketed. Whereas only some 8.3% of Koreans were of yangban status in 1690 (a percentage roughly equivalent to the portion of Japanese who were of samurai status), by 1858, nearly 60% of the population were members of degree-holder families (i.e. were of yangban status).[1]


  • Francis D.K. Ching, et al., A Global History of Architecture, Second Edition, John Wiley & Sons (2011), 592.
  • Soyoung Lee, "Yangban: The Cultural Life of the Joseon Literati," Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004.
  1. Chie Nakane, "Tokugawa Society," in Nakane and Shinzaburô Ôishi (eds.), Tokugawa Japan: The Social and Economic Antecedents of Modern Japan. University of Tokyo Press (1990), 227.