Above, a painting from the Seoul Museum of History's "Passion for Culture: Middle-Class Community at the Foot of Mt. Inwang" exhibit — Joseon's middle class key to development of literature, culture. From the article:
- The term “jungin” was used around the 17th century, referring broadly to the social strata ranging from translators, doctors, lawyers, accountants, astronomers and painters to librarians, who are now deemed as high-paid professionals. The class also included offspring born of “yangban” (noble class) and their concubines and low-level employees of government offices in Seoul. Mainly it comprised of people in miscellaneous classes barred from obtaining top positions of the mainstream elite.
Yet in a narrow sense, “jungin” referred to technicians living in Seoul. They were small in number, but had a great deal of knowledge in art and literature, used refined languages and had economic capability. They grew into a major class to represent the culture of the late Joseon period.
However, the middle class who were discriminated against from the mainstream elite waged a campaign against the rigid social system to upgrade their social status through the “Tongcheong Movement.” They urged the government to open key positions to them and raised funds from 1,670 people and tried to improve their social environment by appealing directly to the king with a letter. Their activism contributed to the process of modernization of the Neo-Confucian state in the late Joseon period.
According to the museum, “jungin” created poetry clubs while living in the western parts of Gyeongbok Palace at the foot of Mt. Inwang, which was called “seochon” or “utdae.”