[KS] Rags-to-riches in Korean literature?

Stefan Ewing sa_ewing at hotmail.com
Thu Dec 22 14:24:50 EST 2005

Dear KS List Members:

Brother Anthony wrote:

>An interesting question would be whether, given the cheating associated 
>with the Gwageo exam, and the fact that it was only open to those of 
>Yangban birth, anyone ever saw it as opening the way to social mobility?

Perhaps for "country yangban" (_sigol yangban_?)?  Given the ebb and flow of 
family favour depending on who held influence in the royal court, there must 
have been at least a few people born into relatively poor yangban families 
far away from the power centre of Hanso^ng in such places as Andong, Ansan, 
Anso^ng, or Anju, who wrote and passed the civil service exam, and 
eventually rose to fame and influence.

I'm perhaps the least knowledgeable person here on Korean literature, but as 
a docudramatic example, I recall the character Yi/Ri/Li Sukpo^n (played by 
So^n Tonghyo^k) in the 1996-98 KBS teledrama _Tears of the Dragon_ (_Yongu^i 
Nunmul_).  He rose from evident obscurity in Anso^ng (born to the Anso^ng 
Yi/Ri/Li clan), passed the civil service exam with flying colours (according 
to the drama), took his first official post as commissioner of Ansan County 
(_Ansangunjisa_), and eventually became the future T'aejong's right-hand 
man--described on one website as "Yi Pangwo^n's kingmaker."

(I have no idea how much or what is written of him in the annals on which 
the drama is based, however, or how much his story was embellished for TV.  
Nor do I know what his clan's status was at the time, but his origins were 
certainly presented in the drama as being thoroughly provincial in nature.)

Wishing all the best in the holiday season and the coming year,
Yours sincerely,
Stefan Ewing

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