The Life of a Yangban
My grandmother's grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, was a high-ranking yangban official for the last Yi dynasty king. His position, says Halmoni, was that of Provincial Governor of the Chungchong province of central Korea. The family, she remembers, was very wealthy, and lived in a splendid large house, with both servants and slaves to look after them. (Slavery was not abolished until the reforms of 1894, though in effect, many slaves led lives little diferent from that of peasants and tenant farmers.)
He must have cut a splendid figure, my great-great-grandfather, in his official dark-blue uniform embroidered with the design of a crane, for such high-ranking officials wore their imposing official uniforms even at home. At the court, they wore even grander red or blue silks with embroidered patterns, decorative belts, and splendid crown-shaped hats made of woven horse-hair.
At home, great-great-grandfather had his own sarangbang or living area, a master's quarter that consisted probably of at least three rooms where he would retire to study, compose poetry, practise calligraphy, and drink wine with his male friends. This inner sanctum would have been simply furnished with bookshelves, a writing table, a table for his inkstone, and stands for the writing brushes and for his long bamboo smoking pipes. Women-- except for favored kisaengs, skilled in the arts of music, poetry, painting, and love-- were rarely allowed to enter into such privileged male domains.
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