Joseon - Government - The Officials

The Officials

The government officials were ranked in 18 levels, ranging from first senior rank (정1품, 正一品) down to ninth junior rank (종9품, 從九品) based on seniority and promotion, which was achieved through the royal decree based on examination or recommendation. The officials from 1st senior rank to 3rd senior rank wore red robes while those from 3rd junior rank to 6th junior rank wore blue and those below wore green robes.

Here a government official refers to one who occupied a type of office that gave its holder a yangban status - semi-hereditary nobility that was effective for three generations. In order to become such an official, one had to pass a series of gwageo examinations. There were three kinds of gwageo exams - literary, military, and miscellaneous, among which literary route was the most prestigious. (Many of key posts including all Censorate posts were open only to officials who advanced through literary exam.) In case of literary route, there was a series of four tests, all of which one had to pass in order to qualify to become an official. 33 candidates who were chosen in this manner took the final exam before the king for placement. The candidate with the highest score was appointed to a position of 6th junior rank (a jump of six ranks). Two candidates with the next two highest scores were appointed to a position of 7th junior rank. Seven candidates with next highest scores were assigned to 8th junior rank while the remaining 23 candidates were given 9th junior rank, the lowest of 18 ranks.

The officials of 1st senior rank, 1st junior rank, and 2nd senior rank were addressed with honorific "dae-gam" (대감, 大監) while those of 2nd junior rank and 3rd senior rank were addressed with honorific "yeong-gam" (영감, 令監). These red-robed officials, collectively called "dangsanggwan" (당상관, 堂上官), took part in deciding government policies by attending cabinet meetings. The rest of ranked officials were called "danghagwan" (당하관, 堂下官).

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