Hakucho (the ordinary people or inferior servants) (白丁)

Hakucho is a term referring to male ryomin (ordinary people) with no special rank or title and no public employment in the Chinese and Japanese ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code). People with no special rank or title were called hakucho ('haku' means white in Kanji [Chinese character]) since they wore not colored clothes but white ones.


Hakucho was called 'hakutei' under the Japanese ritsuryo system. It refers to male citizens with no special rank or title, that is, seitei (adult man) and rotei (old man at the age of 61 to 65, later changed to 60 to 64 under ritsuryo system) who rendered yo (tax in kind in lieu of labor) and cho (tax on product).

However, in legislation of government official origin, hakutei took on a broader meaning including people except Onshi (a noble child who qualified for oni [the system which if his father or grandfather had more than Fifth rank, he was automatically granted above a certain rank when he became 21 years old in the Japanese ritsuryo system]) and Ishi (a legitimate child whose father had Eighth rank or more but below Sixth rank in the Japanese ritsuryo system), in other words, to add to original hakutei, a illegitimate child of government official whose rank was from Sixth to Eighth rank of Naii (court rank given to nobles or goverment official linving in the capital) except Ishi, Gei (Ikai, Court rank for Gozoku, local ruling family in the region and chihokan, a local officials) and Shoi (initial rank) (including Naii), a child of government official with no rank such as Zonin (lower-ranking government official) (Whether it was a legitimate or illegitimate child was not considered). Among them, an illegitimate child with Naii Eighth or higer rank and a son of Gunji (local magistrates) had a qualification to be a guard, however, others received the same treatment as hakutei who was a citizen with no rank and title.

To be hired as government official, hakutei received Jonin (investiture) after they went to Kyoto and worked as toneri (a servant) of central government official or received a court rank after they worked as Zaichokanjin (the local officials in Heian period) of kokuga (provincial government office compounds). Or some of them received a court rank after they worked as servants such as chonai (a servant for Imperial Prince) or shijin (lower-rank officers provided to the Imperial or noble families and used as a guard or miscellaneous services) for Koshin (Emperor's family) and nobles.
Moreover, by doing deeds of arms in a war or passing an examination of monjosho (student of literary studies in the Imperial University), myobosho (student of law studies in the Imperial University) and others, some of them were promoted from no rank, however, even if so, the highest rank was Fourth and they could hardly be promoted higher than it (In most cases, it is believed that they stayed at initial rank, where their descentands were not given the qualification of Ishi.)
(Also, examples of a special conferment of a court rank were investiture by Chikusen-joirei (an ordinance to ordain a court rank to someone who saved a certain amount of money), contribution of property or reporting auspiciousness.)
Later these rules became invalid.

In addition, even if they worked as zatsumu (a person who did routine tasks) of government official, they were not exempt from taxes such as Soyocho (taxes in kind or seervice) as long as they were hakutei.


In Joseon Dynasty, hakucho was called Pekuchon or Petchon and the term for victim of discrimination placed in the lowest rank of the following people of the lower classes (unfree people): Shichihankosen (the following seven kinds of government-owned humble or lowly people: kannuhi [government-owned slave], kisaeng [female entertainers], court lady, Rizoku [lower ranked local government official], ekisotsu [guards], Gokusotsu ogre, criminal fugitive) and Hachihanshisen (the following eight kinds of privately-owned humble or lowly people: miko [a shrine maiden], a craftsman of leather footwear, shirei [musicians of court music], Buddhist monk, saijin [an entertainer], syado [a group which earned a living by singing or dancing, traveling around], kyoshi [people singing, dancing or performing with girls], hakucho). There are three main theories, which are mythology, different ethnic groups and political prisoners, about the origin, however, the theory of the different ethnic groups is the best guess of the three. It is believed that hakucho was originated from Tatar of Central Asia who naturalized in Goryeo and faced discrimination since they repeatedly pillaged in the political confusion.

The class discrimination which hakucho faced in Korean Peninsula was as follows.

Prohibited to hold zokufu (record of family lines in China and Korea).

Prohibited to take jobs except slaughter, meat merchants, leather products industry, bone craft and willow craft.

Prohibited to marry common people.

Prohibited to live in sunshiny places or highlands.

Prohibited to live in a house with a tiled roof.

Prohibited to learn writing and go to school.

Prohibited to use languages except honorific language to people with other social status.

Prohibited to use the following kanji (Chinese character): 仁 (jin [mercy]), 義 (gi [righteousness]), 禮 (rei [courtesy]), 智 (chi [wisdom]), 信 (shin [belief]), 忠 (chu [faithfulness]) and 君 (kun [lord]) for their names.

Prohibited to have a family name.

Prohibited to visit public places.

Prohibited to use a coffin at the funeral.

Prohibited to use a tub at the wedding.

Prohibited to dig a grave in higher places than common people's grave and in the sunshiny places.

Prohibited to build a gravestone.

Prohibited to walk tall in front of common people.

If they broke these rules, they were given a severe punishment and at times beaten up to death. In that case, the killer was not punished at all. This is because hakucho was considered as nonhuman.

Hakucho generally lived in a group in a remote area outside cities or villages and mainly took jobs such as slaughter, leather products industry and willow craft. Hakucho was not allowed to marry common people and their residential area was also restricted. In addition, they were not allowed to use expensive daily commodities. They had been prohibited from being engaged in agriculture and trade, however, this regulation was relaxed in the middle of Joseon Dynasty, so it seems some of them were engaged in the agriculture. Meanwhile, hakucho was not included in the family register and exempt from paying a tax or gunpu (a tax to be paid instead of conscription) since they were social outcasts who were not put under national control. It is in contrast with Nuhi (slave) controlled by the nation. Although hakucho's expenditure and behavior were heavily restricted, they could earn commissions from their jobs, and escaped the terrible property collection, which was performed for the common people repeatedly, since yangban (traditional ruling class or nobles of dynastic Korea during the Joseon Dynasty) detested even to seize hakucho's property, therefore it is believed that hakucho was the only rank which could accumulate the capital in Joseon Dynasty.

Some of them were freed from the hakucho rank, which was called mensen, but it was rarely done. Naturally, some people insisted that 'hakucho is also human' and waged the freedom movement, however, as a result, they also suffered from discrimination as 'new hakucho'. After Gabo Reform carried out during the reign of Gao Zong, some people were freed from the social status as hakucho and became government official, but the discrimination against them consistently remained. In 1923, Chosenkoheisya (Korean social organization) was established to eliminate the discrimination against hakucho and waged the movement to eliminate the class difference along with the Zenkoku Suiheisha (the National Levelers' Association) in Japan. According to the statistical investigation carried out in 1926 by Chosen Sotoku-fu (Korean government-general), hakucho who existed in Korean Peninsula at that time were 8,211 families and 36,809 people. Regarding the percentage of occupations, the most common occupation was animal food distributive trade, whose percentage was 27.8 percent. Added a set of occupation related to cows such as slaughter, leather products industry, shoe industry to the above, it became 48.8 percent. The agriculture was 25.2 percent. The willow craft was 10.6 percent. The running of restaurants and low-grade inns was 5.8 percent.

The discriminated class in the Republic of Korea had disappeared due to the social disorder by the independence and later outbreak of the Korean War and the flow of population to urban areas in the process of industrialization and democratization, however, still now 'Pekuchon' or 'Petchonnomu' are sometimes used as a swear word.

Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) says that 'Under the socialism, hakucho issue has already been solved' however, the sense of discrimination is persistent as they accused the president of Republic of Korea of being 'Human hakucho'.

[Original Japanese]