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A Yangban

 

Japanese Color Woodblock Print

A Yangban

by Kawase Hasui, 1935


IHL Cat. #31

About This Print

According to Paul Shiota, owner of T.Z. Shiota Gallery in San Francisco, Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) and Watanabe Shozaburo (Publisher) (1885-1962) were commissioned by his grandfather, T.Z. Shiota of San Francisco, to produce a limited edition of 300 prints of this image.  Approximately 200 of these prints are in circulation with the remainder being held by the Shiota family.  The print is an idealized portrait of a Korean gentleman-scholar created from a photograph.  Paul did not know why his grandfather desired this image.  His grandfather also commissioned a print of the Washington Monument (artist's catalog raisonné reference 358.)

Catalog Raisonné Entry

Source: Kawase Hasui; The Complete Woodblock Prints, Kendall Brown, Amy Reigle Newland, Amsterdam, Hotei Publishing, KIT Publishers, 2003, P. 104.

Yangban (literally, “two order”) were an elite class of civil and military government officials in Korea, principally during the Choson period (1392-1910).  Yangban were exempt from obligatory labor or military duty, and were meant to devote themselves to an education in the Confucian classics and to advance according to the strictly organized examination system.  The yangban class was endogamic, which meant they were prohibited from marrying and living together with non-yangban.


 
A game of "Go-ban," or oriental chess
Yun-Woong-Niel, Korean Minister of War (left) in his home, Seoul. c. 1904
 
Catalogue Raisonné
image and entry
  357 A yangban
  Work of August 1935
Hasui signature with Kawase Seal
Publisher: Watanabe Shozaburo (unsealed)
Commissioned by Shiota Tezeko

Yangban in Korea

Source: North Korea: A Country Study. Andrea Matles Savada, ed., Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1993. http://countrystudies.us/north-korea/26.htm
In the Chosn Dynasty, four distinct social strata developed: the scholar-officials (or nobility), collectively referred to as the yangban; the chungin (literally, "middle people"), technicians and administrators subordinate to the yangban; the commoners or sangmin, a large group composed of farmers, craftsmen, and merchants; and the ch'mmin (despised, or base people, often slaves) at the bottom of society. To arrest social mobility and ensure stability, the government devised a system of personal tallies in order to identify people according to their status, and elites kept detailed genealogies, or chokpo.

In the strictest sense of the term, yangban referred to government officials or officeholders who had passed the civil service examinations, which tested knowledge of the Confucian classics and their neo-Confucian interpretations. They were the Korean counterparts of the scholar-officials, or mandarins, of imperial China. The term yangban, first used during the Kory Dynasty (918-1392), literally means two groups, that is, civil and military officials. Over the centuries, however, its usage became rather vague, so the term can be said to have several overlapping meanings. A broader use of the term included within the yangban two other groups that could be considered associated with, but outside, the ruling elite. The first included those scholars who had passed the preliminary civil service examination and sometimes the higher examinations but failed to secure government appointment. In the late Chosn Dynasty, there were many more successful examination candidates than there were positions. The second included the relatives and descendants of government officials because formal yangban rank was hereditary. Even if these people were poor and did not themselves serve in the government, they were considered members of a "yangban family" and thus shared the aura of the elite so long as they retained Confucian culture and rituals.

In principle, however, the yangban were a meritocratic elite. They gained their positions through educational achievement. Although certain groups of persons (including artisans, merchants, shamans [mudang], slaves, and Buddhist monks) were prohibited from taking the higher civil service examinations, they formed only a small portion of the population. In theory, the examinations were open to the majority of people, who were farmers. In the early years of the Chosn Dynasty, some commoners may have been able to attain high positions by passing the examinations and advancing on sheer talent. Later, talent was a necessary but not a sufficient prerequisite for getting into the core elite because of the surplus of successful examinees. Influential family connections were virtually indispensable for obtaining high official positions. Moreover, special posts called "protection appointments" were inherited by descendants of the Chosn royal family and certain high officials. Despite the emphasis on educational merit, the yangban became in a very real sense a hereditary elite. Thus, when progressive officials enacted the 1984 Kabo Reforms, a program of social reforms, they found it necessary to abolish the social distinctions between yangban and commoners.

Below the yangban, yet superior to the commoners, were the chungin, a small group of technical and administrative officials. This group included astronomers, physicians, interpreters, and career military officers. Local functionaries, who were members of an inferior hereditary class, were an important and frequently oppressive link between the yangban and the common people, and were often the de facto rulers of a local region.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog  #31
 Title  A Yangban 両班
 Series  
 Catalogue Raisonné  Number 357 (as listed in the Kawase Hasui; The Complete Woodblock Prints)
 Artist
 Kawase Hasui (1883-1957)
 Signature
 Hasui
 Seal  Kawase
 Publication Date  August 1935
 Edition  First (and only) edition with no seal (as issued.) (For a full discussion of Watanabe publisher seals see "Watanabe Publisher Marks, Seals and Editions") Edition size: 300
 Publisher  Watanabe Shōzaburō
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  excellent
 Miscellaneous  
 Genre  shin hanga (new prints)
 Format  Oban tate-e
 H x W Paper  16 3/4 x 11 7/8 in. (42.5 x 30.2 cm)
 H x W Image  16 x 11 1/8 in. (40.6 x 28.3 cm)
 Collections This Print Los Angeles County Museum of Art M.73.37.173 (no seal, as issued); Carnegie Museum of Art 89.28.172 (no seal, as issued); Honolulu Academy of Arts 26246 (no seal, as issued)
 Reference Literature Catalogue Raisonné: Kawase Hasui; The Complete Woodblock Prints, Kendall Brown, Amy Reigle Newland, Hotei Publishing, KIT Publishers, 2003, p. 473, pl. 357; Modern Japanese Prints: The Twentieth Century, Amanda T. Zehnder, Carnegie Museum of Art, 2009, p.78; Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Reciprocal Influence between East and West, Lucille R. Webber, Brigham Young University Press, 1980, p. 90, fig. 73.

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