This article examines the life of Paek Kyŏnghae (1765–1842), a late Chosŏn scholar official from P’yŏngan Province, a region popularly conceived as lacking a yangban pedigree and scholarly tradition, so that its inhabitants were subject to ongoing social contempt and political discrimination. Situating Paek within this regional cultural context and also within the dynastic institutional practices of his time reveals the development of subjective expressions of regional belonging by insiders, as well as equally subjective expressions of regional stereotyping by outsiders. Tracing northern regional identities, as constructed and negotiated in reaction to outsiders’ views, and then locating such regional identities and politics in relation to the central court sheds new light on the personal ordeals that Paek was forced to undergo throughout his career. The compromises and choices that he made at every turn were driven by contradictions between Confucian ideals that honored the principle of meritocracy and dynastic practices that hinged upon long-standing aristocratic tradition. This article exposes the integrative power of dynastic ideology and systems (as well as complex institutional processes) that demanded a high level of conformity from individual participants, thus imposing lifelong agony on a gifted man because of his demeaned place of origin and less-than-desirable pedigree. In methodology, this study provides a critique of nation-centered historiography by highlighting views from the periphery.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.