This essay examines Chosŏn monarchs’ patronage of the Nongsŏ Yi clan, a representative Ming descent group in Chosŏn, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The clan claimed its descent from Li Rusong and Rumei, the commanders of the Ming expeditionary forces during the Imjin War. This essay investigates the bureaucratic advancement of Li Rusong and Rumei's descendants, closely analyzing the monarchs’ roles in making the clan a military yangban family and the obstacles that constrained such royal endeavors. It will also illuminate the close relationship between the intensification of Ming loyalism and the surging bureaucratic fortunes of the Nongsŏ Yi clan, placing special emphasis on how the rulers made use of Ming loyalist rituals to nurture the careers of the Nongsŏ Yi. This study also examines the bureaucratic vicissitudes of the Nongsŏ Yi during the nineteenth century, when the rulers exhibited a diminished interest in boosting Ming loyalism. This essay will also shed light on the status of Ming loyalism and the changing nature of rulership in nineteenth-century Chosŏn.


Recent studies of the history of late Chosŏn have highlighted the Chosŏn court's efforts to promote Ming loyalist ideology during the eighteenth century, particularly in the latter half of the century (Chŏng Okcha 1998; Hŏ 2007; U 2013; Bohnet 2020: 138–63; Han Seunghyun 2019: 200–16, 2022: 5–14, 2023: 68–73). These efforts include the establishment of the Taebodan (大報壇, Altar of Great Gratitude) rites in honor of the three Ming emperors, the court's patronage of various shrines dedicated to the veneration of figures associated with Ming loyalism, the mobilization of the descendants of the Ming Chinese for the Ming loyalist court rituals and their inclusion in the military bureaucracy, and the court publication of literary works aiming at elevating Ming loyalism. These endeavors bolstered the Chosŏn government's claim to be the sole legitimate heir of untarnished Confucian civilization after the fall of the Ming. The monarchs’ encouragement of Ming loyalism also raised their position and power, as it allowed the rulers to display their leadership in edifying their ministers and subjects. It could also emphasize to them the significance of loyalty toward Chosŏn rulers, as the monarchs’ involvement in the rituals exhibiting loyalty toward the fallen Ming itself was an efficient way to engrave the virtue of loyalty in the minds of the ritual attendees and beyond. Kings Yŏngjo 英祖 (r. 1724–76) and Chŏngjo 正祖 (r. 1776–1800) often took active roles in sponsoring Ming loyalism during the eighteenth century, a sponsorship that indicates its intricate relations with the construction of robust kingship (Haboush 2001: 29–82; Han Seunghyun 2022:10). The patronage of the Chosŏn monarch toward the descendants of the Ming Chinese residing in Chosŏn was a crucial measure to bolster the king's claim as the ruler of a country that had inherited from the Ming the mantle of preserving Confucian civilization.

This essay investigates the Chosŏn monarchs’ promotion of the Nongsŏ (Ch. Longxi 隴西) Yi 李 clan, a notable Ming descent group in Chosŏn, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The clan claimed descent from Li Rusong 李如松 (1549–98) and his younger brother Rumei 如梅, commanders of the Ming expeditionary forces that fought alongside Korea against the Japanese army during the Imjin War (1592–98). Li Rusong and Rumei were both sons of Li Chengliang 李成梁 (1526–1618), a powerful warlord based in Northeast China whose ancestry is allegedly traced to Chosŏn (Swope 2004: 39). Specimens of popular folklore collected in modern Korea often describe Li Rusong as a negative figure who was reluctant to engage in the battle with the Japanese, imposed hardship upon the Korean populace, and even attempted to become a king of Chosŏn himself (Im 1983; Yi 2000). However, the rulers and officials remembered him as a heroic savior of Chosŏn, who had won a decisive victory against the Japanese army in P'yŏngyang in 1593.1 The special attention Chosŏn rulers and courtiers gave to the Nongsŏ Yi clan, and the exceptional position the clan held in the community of Ming descent groups in Chosŏn, can be attributed to this historical experience and memory.

Through the support of the rulers and the court, the descendants of various Ming emigrant families produced military officials from the eighteenth century onward. Nevertheless, the bureaucratic achievements of the descendants of Li Rusong and Rumei were exceptional, as a number of them ascended to the highest offices through active monarchical support. Some of the Ming descent groups settled in Chosŏn as chungin (中人, “intermediate social stratum”), while others belonged to lower social status groups. Chungin, denoting government technical specialists in a narrower sense, also encompasses lower-ranking military officers, administrative clerks, and the illegitimate sons of yangban aristocratic elites (Park 2008: 737; Yun 1999: 1–19). Even if the Ming descent groups produced officials, their bureaucratic advancement typically halted at the middle rung of military officialdom. The Nongsŏ Yi, however, distinguished themselves among these groups and successfully made their way into the circle of military yangban elites by landing positions reserved for yangban elites.

Despite the clan's prominence among the Ming descent groups, modern scholars have rarely focused on the clan's bureaucratic achievements. An exception to this is a recent study by Adam Bohnet, claiming that during the reigns of Yŏngjo and Chŏngjo, the Chosŏn courts orchestrated the construction of the Nongsŏ Yi descent group from the top down, aiming to establish connections to the fallen Ming dynasty (2020: 151–56). While this significant study addresses the bureaucratic ascension of certain clan members in the eighteenth century, it falls short of encompassing the entirety of those who secured positions in officialdom. Furthermore, it lacks specificity regarding the rulers’ role in their promotion. Additionally, the study does not fully address the challenges Chosŏn monarchs faced in promoting these individuals nor the necessity of such active monarchical intervention.

The present study provides a comprehensive analysis of the monarchs’ roles in molding the Nongsŏ Yi clan, a family of foreign origin, into a part of the military yangban stratum. It delves into the challenges that constrained these royal efforts. The study aims to demonstrate how the growing royal involvement in the clan's bureaucratic trajectories contributed to their ascent and the systematization of their regular entry into officialdom. It will also illuminate the strong correlation between the heightened Ming loyalism and the burgeoning bureaucratic success of the Nongsŏ Yi clan. During the eighteenth century, the Nongsŏ Yi became an integral component of the intricate Ming loyalist court rituals. This study will particularly emphasize how rulers strategically utilized these rituals to foster the careers of the Nongsŏ Yi.

This study is also the first attempt to examine the bureaucratic vicissitudes of the Nongsŏ Yi during the nineteenth century. A recent study has demonstrated that Chosŏn rulers in the nineteenth century exhibited a diminished inclination toward boosting Ming loyalism, in contrast to their eighteenth-century counterparts (Han Seunghyun 2022: 14–19). Considering the waning enthusiasm of nineteenth-century rulers in actively promoting Ming loyalism, how did this shift impact the clan's bureaucratic fortunes throughout the same period? By addressing this question, this study aims to illuminate both the state of Ming loyalism and the evolving nature of rulership in nineteenth-century Chosŏn. Before delving into the bureaucratic rise of the clan under Yŏngjo and Chŏngjo, let us briefly examine the careers of Nongsŏ Yi members prior to Yŏngjo's rule.

The Court Patronage of Li Rumei's Descendants Prior to Yŏngjo's Reign

It was the descendants of Li Rumei, rather than those of Li Rusong, who initially captured the Chosŏn court's attention. The court was aware of the presence of Li Rumei's progeny in Chosŏn, but not of Li Rusong's. Li Chenglong 李成龍, recognized as a grandson of Rumei, sought refuge in Chosŏn after escaping the defeated Ming forces in the Battle of Sarhu against Later Jin in 1619.2 His initial haven was Kado Island, situated off the coast of P'yŏngan Province, where the Ming garrison, commanded by General Mao Wenlong 毛文龍 (1576–1629), was stationed. Later, Chosŏn's supreme field commander, Chang Man 張晩 (1566–1629), orchestrated his relocation to Poryŏng 保寧 in Ch'ungch’ŏng Province, where he subsequently settled.3

Yi Pŏn 李飜 (b. 1639), the eldest son of Chenglong, passed the military examination in 1670 after serving as a soldier in the Concurrent Stable (Kyŏmsabok 兼司僕), a royal guard unit.4 He was then appointed as a concurrent military official-royal messenger (Mugyŏm Sŏnjŏn'gwan 武兼宣傳官) around 1672. The officials in the Bureau of Royal Messengers, however, initially vetoed Yi's appointment on the grounds of his foreign origin. This opposition displays the reluctance of Chosŏn bureaucrats to acknowledge the prestige of Yi Pŏn's family, despite Yi being known as a descendant of Li Rumei. When Yi protested against this to Min Chŏngjung 閔鼎重 (1628–92), the minister of war at the time, Min proclaimed that an individual with such a prominent pedigree in the great country (taeguk 大國) should not be blocked at the level of royal messenger of a small country (soguk 小國).5 Min's intervention was the first instance in which a court official advocated that the Nongsŏ Yi, despite their foreign origin, possessed the requisite family background to hold the esteemed position of royal messenger. This coveted military office (ch’ŏngyojik 淸要職), typically reserved for yangban elites, served as a stepping stone to higher offices (Park 2007: 113; Chŏng Haeŭn 2020: 302–33, 306–7). Yi concluded his career as the commander of a small port (Manho 萬戶, Jr. 4).6

The court's patronage of Li Rumei's descendants continued under King Sukchong 肅宗 (r. 1674–1720).7 Yi Pŏn's eldest son, Tongjae 東栽, died without assuming an official position. However, his brother Tongbae 東培, despite lacking a military examination degree, was able to secure the office of a small port commander in 1705 through the recommendation of Yu Tŭgil 兪得一 (1650–1712), the minister of war at that time. Subsequently, Tongbae was promoted to the position of Five Guards general (Owijang 五衛將, Sr. 3) in 1710.8 He concluded his career by serving as the magistrate of a smaller minor county (Hyŏn'gam 縣監, Jr. 6).9 Five Guards general was a ministerial office (Tangsanggwan 堂上官) in name, yet it was not a highly regarded one. During the late Chosŏn period, officials sometimes steered clear of this office due to its demanding duty of laborious night patrol (Chŏng Haeŭn 2019: 195, 202). Additionally, the office was offered indiscriminately, often even to non-yangban officials (Park 2008: 740, 742).

The subsequent generation after Tongbae in the family line of Li Rumei boasted several members who successfully achieved official positions, with their careers consistently receiving support from various officials. Yi Myŏn 李葂, the son of Tongjae and responsible for Li Rumei's sacrifice, lacked a military degree but began his career in 1705 as a ninth-rank officer (Sayong 司勇). This opportunity arose through the efforts of Min Chinhu 閔鎭厚 (1659–1720), the chief magistrate of the Hansŏng magistracy. Min proposed that a ritual heir responsible for the sacrifice to Li Chenglong should hereditarily receive the sayong post.10 In 1717, Yi obtained a minor military position on Kanghwa Island through the recommendation of the special mayor of Kanghwa, which was Yi Myŏn's hometown.11 Furthermore, in 1722, he was appointed commander of a small port upon the request of another special mayor of Kanghwa.12 In this early phase of settlement, the descendants of Li Rumei occasionally received court attention to aid their bureaucratic advancement. However, the initiatives came from officials, not kings, and the offices they held were much less prominent than those they would later hold.

The Nongsŏ Yi during the Early Years of Yŏngjo's Rule, 1725–51

Yi Myŏn became a constant topic of discussion between King Yŏngjo and his ministers in the early years of Yŏngjo's reign. The court attention showered on Yi Myŏn and other members of the Nongsŏ Yi testifies to the ascendant tide of Ming loyalism during the reign of Yŏngjo and also reveals that patronage of the Nongsŏ Yi was an integral part of the court's ideological agenda. In the twelfth lunar month of 1725, the king inquired about the current status of the offices occupied by the descendants of Ming émigrés.13 Shortly thereafter, Yŏngjo expressed regret that Yi Myŏn had not held an office for an extended period and ordered the appointment of Yi to a military post in the border region.14 This decision led Yi to assume the position of commander of a small port in Hamgyŏng Province.15 This event marks the first recorded instance of the ruler himself taking the initiative to promote the bureaucratic advancement of Li Rumei's descendants.

However, it is fair to state that up until the 1740s, it was primarily court officials rather than the ruler who played a more active role in advancing their careers. The attention Yi received from officials as the ritual heir of Li Rumei attests to the initiatives of officials patronizing the Nongsŏ Yi clan during this period. In 1735, Yi Myŏn acquired the office of large port commander (Ch’ŏmsa 僉使, Jr. 3) in Kanghwa on the recommendation of the special mayor of Kanghwa.16 When Yi's career was interrupted, Right State Councilor Song Inmyŏng 宋寅明 (1689–1746) stressed to Yŏngjo in 1737 that Chosŏn should give preferential treatment to the descendants of Li Rumei. Then chief state councilor Yi Kwangjwa 李光佐 (1674–1740) recommended Yi for special recruitment.17 Despite these efforts, Yi Myŏn continued to remain outside officialdom, as the Ministry of War did not take action to reappoint him.

While Yi Myŏn was experiencing a setback in his career, Yi Myŏn's cousin Yi Chŏ 李著, a son of Tongbae, began to be promoted. Unlike Yi Myŏn, Yi Chŏ held a military examination degree and became a large port commander and later a Five Guards general, both in 1739.18 By the early 1740s, Yŏngjo succeeded in curtailing the factional struggles among officials, and the king began to assert Ming loyalism more strongly, thereby consolidating his monarchical power (Kim Paekch’ŏl 2014: 70). In this regard, Yŏngjo initiated stronger efforts to support the descendants of Li Rumei.

In 1740, after learning from the Right State Councilor Yu Ch’ŏkki 兪拓基 (1691–1767) that Yi Myŏn still held no office, Yŏngjo appointed Yi as the fifth minister in the Office of Ministers-without-Portfolio (Ch’ŏmji 僉知, Sr. 3), which was a sinecure.19 In less than two months, Yi held the office of Five Guards general and attended a royal audience that Yŏngjo had scheduled for him. This was the first time a Chosŏn monarch met a descendant of Li Rumei face to face.20 In this audience, Yŏngjo praised Yi for offering bows toward the Taebodan on New Year's Day, bestowing prizes in recognition of his sincerity.21 Yŏngjo then blamed the officials who had previously been reluctant to nourish the careers of Ming émigrés, claiming that those officials “saw them as foreigners and did not think about their roots (i.e., family background in China).”22

The monarch subsequently summoned the sons and nephews of Yi Myŏn and Yi Chŏ for an audience. Yi Hun 李薰 (b. 1710), a younger brother of Yi Chŏ, and Yi Kwanghyŏk 李光爀, Yi Hun's son, both serving as soldiers in the Palace Army (Kŭmgun 禁軍), came to meet Yŏngjo. The king held an archery test for Yi Hun and Kwanghyŏk and awarded a bow to each of them.23 On the same day, Yi Hun was elevated to the rank of royal guard (Pyŏlgunjik 別軍職), a military post that Yŏngjo cherished to strengthen royal security and power. This position, along with that of royal messenger, increasingly served as a stepping stone for those who wished to rise to the highest military offices.24 Yi Hun acquired the post through protection privilege and was the first among Li Rumei's descendants to occupy this position.25 Yi Hun eventually passed the military examination in 1740.26 In early 1741, Yi Hun's brother Yi Chŏ had returned from the Qing with a portrait of Li Chengliang, which he had purchased there.27 In the fourth lunar month of 1741, Yŏngjo looked at Li's portrait and discussed it with his ministers. Then he summoned Yi Hun for an audience.28 For the descendants, the portrait was a medium by which they could authenticate their claims of descent from their honorable ancestors and enhance the prestige of their family. For Yŏngjo, it was a channel through which he could make memories of the Ming more vivid and stimulate Ming loyalism.

Some of Li Rumei's descendants continued to represent themselves in the bureaucracy during the remaining years of the 1740s. Yi Kyu 李葵, an elder brother of Yi Hun, became a junior sixth-rank military officer (Pusagwa 副司果) in 1744, which was a temporary stipend post.29 Yi Hun successfully built his career in the military as he assumed various posts until 1751, including that of major county magistrate (Kunsu 郡守, Jr. 4) and fourth secretary at the Military Training Bureau (Hullyŏnwŏn Ch’ŏmjŏng 訓鍊院僉正, Jr. 4).30 Yi Chŏ came to serve as a smaller minor county magistrate in 1743, but was impeached for corruption charges, dying in the same year.31

The promotion of Ming loyalism by Yŏngjo and his ministers included not only the support of the bureaucratic careers of Li Rumei's offspring but also the elevation of his ritual status. In 1740, the court made Li Rumei's tablet a pulch’ŏn chi chu 不遷之主, literally meaning “a tablet that is not removed,” which was a special favor granted by the court to someone with significant merits. It was an honor to maintain the veneration of this person by not burying the tablet after the passage of four generations, the period after which a tablet was normally removed. Moreover, after discovering that Yi Myŏn had been using a paper tablet instead of a wooden tablet for his sacrifice, the court decided to make a tablet for him.32 In the same year, Yŏngjo also sent officials to Yi Myŏn's home in Kanghwa to participate in the sacrifice for Li Rumei.33 In 1741, Yŏngjo endorsed chief state councilor Kim Chaero's 金在魯 (1682–1759) request that the court bestow land upon Yi Myŏn to meet the expenses for Li Rumei's sacrifice.34 Through the royal audiences granted to Li Rumei's descendants and the government's support of his sacrifices, the importance of the descendants became more firmly inscribed in the ideological landscape of Chosŏn in the 1740s. The elevated status of these descendants, in turn, supported and justified the throne's efforts to promote their bureaucratic careers.

Yŏngjo and the Nongsŏ Yi after the Establishment of the Mangbaerye Ritual in 1751

The 1749 court decision to honor two other Ming emperors at the Taebodan, Hongwu 洪武 (r. 1368–98) and Chongzhen 崇禎 (r. 1627–44), in addition to the already revered Wanli 萬曆 (r. 1572–1620), was a ritual manifestation of intensified Ming loyalism (Bohnet 2020: 133–38). In the third lunar month of 1751, the court introduced the mangbaerye 望拜禮 ritual in which the kings and their ministers venerated the three Ming emperors on the anniversary of their respective deaths and, albeit very rarely, on their respective inauguration days (Han Seunghyun 2022: 5–10). With the introduction of this court ritual, Yŏngjo began to hold Ming loyalist rituals in the Taebodan and other areas of the palace much more frequently than before. These ritual occasions allowed Yŏngjo to actively intervene in the personnel process and promote the official careers of Ming Chinese descendants. The 1750s were an important period that saw the bureaucratic rise of the Nongsŏ Yi members.

In the second lunar month of 1754, Yŏngjo held a ritual at the Taebodan and ordered the appointment of Yi Hun to an office, albeit unspecified, in the Five Guards Directorate (Owi toch'ongbu 五衛都摠府).35 While his appointment did not occur immediately, he eventually became a junior third-rank commander (Pujŏng 副正) at the Military Training Bureau.36 On the tenth day in the sixth lunar month of 1754, the day when the Wanli Emperor ascended to the throne, Yŏngjo held a mangbaerye ritual, again ordering Yi Hun's appointment to an office at the Five Guards Directorate.37 In less than a month, Yi Hun became a junior fifth-rank officer at the directorate and subsequently rose to the position of a junior fourth-rank officer (Kyŏngnyŏk 經歷) within the same organization.38 In 1755, Yŏngjo emphasized that Yi Hun had “already successfully landed an office at the Five Guards Directorate” (Kit'ong ch'ongbu 旣通摠府), revealing his pride in securing an office for Yi at the directorate where its offices were reserved for yangban elites.39

Perhaps due to Yi Myŏn's lack of a military examination degree, in contrast to Yi Chŏ and Yi Hun, he found himself again holding no office by 1751. Then, in the third lunar month of 1751, Yi Myŏn received the post of loyal and supporting guard general (Ch'ungigwi chang 忠翊衛將, Sr. 3) through a recommendation from an official.40 The censor Sŏng Ch’ŏnju 成天柱 (1712–79), however, criticized this appointment, claiming that the post was an office for the chungsŏ (中庶, “intermediate stratum”). Sŏng reminded the throne that Yi Myŏn was in charge of Li Rumei's sacrifice and that he was also preserving the portrait of Li Chengliang, demanding that the court grant him a post befitting his status as a yangban elite.41 Sŏng brought to Yŏngjo's attention the discrepancy between the ideal of considering the progeny of Li Rumei as yangban elites and the reality in Chosŏn officialdom, which was reluctant to assign offices for yangban to the progeny of Li Rumei. Sŏng also recommended Yi P'il 李苾, Yi Chŏ’s brother and an illegitimate son of Tongbae, for office. Yi P'il, who did not have a military degree, served as a military instructor (Kyoryŏn'gwan 敎鍊官) at Kanghwa.42 In response to Sŏng's request, Yŏngjo issued an edict that day granting the post of Five Guards general to Yi Myŏn and assigning Yi P'il a military post in the border region.43 Yŏngjo also mandated that the local government in Kanghwa build a shrine so that the sacrifice for Li Rumei and the preservation of Li Chengliang's portrait could be carried out in a more appropriate fashion.44

On the tenth day in the fifth lunar month of 1751, the mangbaerye day for Hongwu, Yŏngjo emphasized the significance of the day in Chosŏn's Ming loyalism, proclaiming that he would appoint Yi Myŏn to the position of fourth minister at the Office of Ministers-without-Portfolio (Tongji chungch'ubusa 同知中樞府事, Jr. 2).45 Although it was an honorary office with no specific duties, contemporaries viewed it as a prestigious position that brought honor to the recipient's family (Chŏng Haeŭn 2019: 197). Yŏngjo therefore had to justify Yi Myŏn's appointment by explaining his ritual status vis-à-vis Li Rumei.46 The Tongjisa office proved to be Yi Myŏn's last government position before his death in 1752.47

In 1753, Yŏngjo received the report of Yi Myŏn's death and attempted to find someone from his family to replace him in officialdom. Yŏngjo ordered that his grandson, Yi Chongyun 李宗胤 (1739–99), be given a temporary stipend as a ninth-rank military officer after the mourning period, a privilege created in 1705 for the descendants of Li Rumei and already enjoyed by Yi Myŏn.48 On the day of the Taebodan ritual in the second lunar month of 1754, the minister of war reported to the throne that, despite his urging, the Bureau of Military Royal Messengers (Sŏnjŏn'gwan ch’ŏng 宣傳官廳) had not recommended Yi Kwangch’ŏl 李光喆, a son of Yi Chŏ, for the post of royal messenger. Angered, Yŏngjo commanded the punishment of the leaders of the recommendation process.49 Yŏngjo then ordered the appointment of Yi Kwangch’ŏl as Naesŭng 內乘 in the Royal Stables Administration (Saboksi 司僕寺), but the appointment did not materialize because there was no vacancy.50 Yi Kwangch’ŏl, however, finally became a royal messenger candidate in the sixth lunar month of 1754 through protection privilege.51 Shortly after this, Yŏngjo summoned Yi for an audience and asked him: “If it had not been for me, how could you have been recommended for the Military Royal Messenger position?” Yi fully agreed.52

Yŏngjo's intervention in the personnel process illustrates that the monarch was exerting substantial efforts to elevate the social status of the Nongsŏ Yi to that of yangban. Yŏngjo claimed that he had already done so for another Ming Chinese family when he boasted in 1753 that he had managed to make the Chŏn 田 descent group, those who claimed their descent from a minister of war in the late Ming period, a yangban family through his efforts.53 The position in the Five Guards Directorate that Yŏngjo gave to Yi Hun in 1754 was reserved for a candidate with a distinguished family background, as illustrated by the following episode. When Yŏngjo attempted in 1740 to appoint Chŏn Tŭgu 田得雨 from the aforementioned Chŏn family to a position at either the Five Guards Directorate or the Office of Ministers-without-Portfolio, the minister of war responded that Chŏn's assignment to either of these two was inappropriate. When Yŏngjo pressed him further, asking why a descendant of a Ming minister was unsuitable for these offices, the minister gave his consent only to Chŏn's appointment to a post in the Office of Ministers-without-Portfolio, still insisting that a post in the Five Guards Directorate was too prestigious for Chŏn.54 Yŏngjo warned the minister not to disparage Chŏn Tŭgu's family, as they were descended from a minister of the Ming court.55

The Naesŭng position that Yŏngjo initially offered to Yi Kwangch’ŏl, because of its intimate relations with the monarch, was also a sought-after office for military aspirants, usually reserved for yangban.56 As mentioned, the position of royal messenger, for which Yi Kwangch’ŏl was eventually recommended, was also a highly coveted military post usually closed to social strata other than yangban. If a candidate was recommended for this office, even though they were not actually appointed, the level of their family background could still be confirmed by the relevant officials (Chŏng Haeŭn 2020: 299–305). Yi Kwangch’ŏl was the first Nongsŏ Yi to become a candidate for the office of royal messenger in the eighteenth century. One month after the recommendation, Yi Kwangch’ŏl assumed the office of Naesŭng.57 He finally obtained the military examination degree through the ch'ungnyang kwa (忠良科, “examination for the loyal and virtuous”) held in 1764, a special examination for which only the descendants of Chosŏn's loyal ministers and the families of Ming origin could sit. Under his new name, Kwangt'aek 光宅, Yi attended a royal audience on the mangbaerye day in the fifth lunar month of 1769.58 Although Yŏngjo ordered his special promotion to the sixth rank on this day, he does not seem to have risen higher than Naesŭng.59

The year 1754 marks a time when Yi Hwŏn 李萱, the first known descendant of Li Rusong in Chosŏn, appeared at court and attracted royal attention. Compared to Li Rumei, Li Rusong certainly occupied a higher position as the most important benefactor of Chosŏn during the Imjin War. Support of Li Rusong's descendants, if indeed they existed in Chosŏn, would have solidified Chosŏn's claim to be the legitimate heir of Confucian civilization after the Ming dynasty. The discovery of Yi Hwŏn came just as the court was in dire need of a descendant of Li Rusong. The news that there was a descendant of Li Rusong in Chosŏn was first conveyed to Yŏngjo by an official in 1753.60 Even at that time, however, another official flatly denied the possibility.61 By the twelfth day in the sixth lunar month of 1754, however, Yi Hwŏn's name had been reported to Yŏngjo, who on that day demanded that army offices immediately offer a position to him.62 On the eighteenth day of the seventh lunar month of the same year, Yŏngjo asked if the post of company commander (Ch'ogwan 哨官) could be given to Yi Hwŏn, praising his bravery.63 Yŏngjo rushed his appointment through three days later on the mangbaerye day for Wanli Emperor. By the eleventh lunar month of 1754, Yi Hwŏn appears as a company commander appointed through protection privilege at the Military Training Command (Hullyŏn togam 訓鍊都監).64

It is unclear how the court verified Yi Hwŏn's descent from Li Rusong. Chŏngjo once remarked that Yi Hwŏn had lived off the land in Ch'unch’ŏn 春川 of Kangwŏn Province and that no one had known that he was a descendant of Li Rusong. According to Chŏngjo, the discovery of Yi Hwŏn in the 1750s was based solely on hearsay, with no solid evidence such as a genealogy or other written documents to verify Yi Hwŏn's descent from Li Rusong.65 Despite that, by 1788, the family line linking Li Rusong with Yi Hwŏn emerged and was even recognized by Chŏngjo.66

Yi Hwŏn began to rise fast in the military bureaucracy under the sponsorship of Yŏngjo. Yi became a Naesŭng by protection privilege in 1756, passed the military examination in 1757, and became a candidate for royal messenger in 1758.67 He eventually became a royal messenger, which was made possible by Yŏngjo's active involvement in the selection process.68 Prior to Yi Hwŏn's appointment, Yŏngjo conferred with officials about the bureaucratic positions held by members of the Nongsŏ Yi. Yŏngjo mentioned that Yi Kwangch’ŏl, who was now called “Kwangt'aek,” had been given the post of Naesŭng and asked the minister of war about the situation of Yi Hwŏn and Yi P'il. The minister replied that Yi Hwŏn had also been appointed as Naesŭng. Yŏngjo then boasted that the recommendation of the Chŏn 田 and the Yi 李, two Ming descent groups, for the royal messenger post would not have been possible without his support. The king also asked if Yi Kwangt'aek, Yi Hwŏn, and Yi P'il had become candidates for the post of royal messenger. When he heard that Yi Kwangt'aek and Yi Hwŏn had been recommended, he commanded that one of the two should be appointed to the office.69

During his tenure as royal messenger, Yi Hwŏn provoked Yŏngjo's wrath in 1760 with his haughty attitude, which triggered Yŏngjo's order to relieve him of his post.70 A month later, however, Yŏngjo rescinded his previous order, saying that “the descendants of Li Rusong deserve to be pardoned for ten generations.”71 Yi Hwŏn was then promoted to a junior fifth-rank office at the Five Guards Directorate (Toch'ong tosa 都摠都事) in the twelfth lunar month of 1760.72 The king ordered that the post of royal messenger, which had been vacated by the promotion of Yi Hwŏn, be filled by Yi Kwangsŏk, Yi Hun's son. During a meeting with Yi Hwŏn shortly after this measure, Yŏngjo told him, “Your family has now become military yangban,”73 implying that the position to which Yi Hwŏn was appointed was an office reserved for a yangban elite. Yi Hwŏn further rose to the office of navy inspector (Sugun Uhu 水軍虞侯, Sr. 4) of Chŏlla Province in 1761.74

Yŏngjo's enthusiastic patronage of Yi Hwŏn did not mean that the throne withdrew its support for the offspring of Li Rumei. A day after the mangbaerye rite for Hongwu in 1756, Yi P'il became a battalion commander in the Royal Guards (Pyŏlgunjik pujang 別軍職 部將) by special order of Yŏngjo who invoked the significance of the mangbaerye.75 However, Yi P'il's official career did not blossom—he died in 1758.76 Yi Kwangsŏk 李光錫, the son of Yi Hun, also embarked on an official career. He passed the military examination in 1759 and in the same year became a royal messenger candidate.77 The person who recommended Kwangsŏk was Yi Hwŏn, who had been a royal messenger since 1758.78 Yi Kwangsŏk became a royal messenger in 1760.79 After assuming a few middle-rank offices, he rose to the position of navy inspector of Chŏlla Province in 1765.80 A smaller minor county magistrate position he held in 1769 was his last.81

In the early months of 1762, Yŏngjo held discussions on the selection of the three Ming ministers whose tablets were to be added to the Taebodan altar to be venerated along with the three Ming emperors as the emperors’ subordinates (chonghyang 從享). In the fifth lunar month of 1762, Yŏngjo finalized the decision. The figure finally selected for Wanli was Li Rusong.82 The installation of Li's tablet at the Taebodan in 1762 symbolized the consolidation of the ideological status of the Nongsŏ Yi. This enhanced symbolic status helped accelerate the further ascendance of Nongsŏ Yi members within the military bureaucracy during the 1760s and 1770s.

In 1764, Yi Hun, for example, rose as high as military division commander (Yŏngjang 營將, Sr. 3).83 The Yŏngjang position was “the highest realistically attainable post for military examination passers from renowned military yangban lines” (Park 2007: 79). No one in the Nongsŏ Yi clan before Yi Hun had ever reached a position this high. The next year, Yi Hun became the commander of the Concurrent Stable (Kyŏmsabok chang 兼司僕將, Jr. 2).84 In 1768, Yŏngjo summoned Yi Hun, who was then serving as a member of the Royal Guards, after the mangbaerye rite for the Wanli emperor. To illustrate the Ming loyalism that day represented, Yŏngjo gave him the post of fourth minister at the Office of Ministers-Without-Portfolio.85 Yi Hun later held the office of large port commander in 1768, the last post he held before his death in 1771.86

Yi Chongyun passed the military examination in 1765 and became a royal messenger candidate in the same year.87 He was appointed as concurrent military official-royal messenger in the sixth lunar month of 1767 and then became a royal guard in the seventh month of 1768.88 Yŏngjo eventually made him a royal messenger after having an audience with him on the mangbaerye day for Hongwu in 1770.89 Yi Chongyun was implicated in a fraud case during a palace archery test held in 1770, receiving the punishment of flogging.90 At that time, the minister of war berated him: “You are the son of yangban family; how can you do a deceitful thing like this?”91 This incident illustrates that court officials had come to recognize the Nongsŏ Yi members as yangban.

After this incident, it was again Yŏngjo who played a decisive role in putting Yi Chongyun back on the fast track to the highest ranks of military officialdom. On the second day of the fifth lunar month of 1774, Yŏngjo issued a special order to promote the official rank of Yi Chongyun, who still held a rank below the sixth grade.92 A week later, Yi received the senior third-rank title of T'ongjŏng taebu 通政大夫, which suddenly made him the holder of a ministerial rank.93 Over the next several months, he passed through some honorary offices, finally becoming a governor's military aide (Chunggun 中軍) at senior third-rank in the eleventh lunar month of 1774.94 A year later, he assumed the post of commander of the Concurrent Stable, which Yi Hun had occupied.95 After Yi Hun's death in 1771, no one could represent the Li Rumei family line at the highest level of the military bureaucracy. The meteoric rise of Yi Chongyun seems to have been a measure to fill this gap.

Similar to Yi Chongyun, Yi Hwŏn's career was also boosted by royal favor. After serving as a navy inspector, Yi held no office until 1765. However, on the recommendation of the minister of personnel, he was reinstated as a major county magistrate in 1765 and promoted to a post as high as military division commander in 1769.96 Several months later, an official impeached him for malfeasance he had allegedly committed during his previous term as a magistrate.97 Frustrated and indignant, Yŏngjo stated that he could not pardon Yi Hwŏn even though he was the progeny of Li Rusong.98 Soon after, however, Yŏngjo released him, confessing that he could not bear Yi Hwŏn's imprisonment because he was a descendant of Li Rusong.99 In less than three months, Yi Hwŏn was reinstated as Naesŭng and concurrently appointed as the commander of the Inner Forbidden Guards (Naegŭmwi chang 內禁衛將, Sr. 3), one of the elite royal guard units.100 Yi Hwŏn then held various offices for several years before assuming the post of governor's military aide in 1775.101 Beginning in the 1760s, some members of the Nongsŏ Yi began to rise to important high-level military positions, such as the Naegŭmwi chang, Kyŏmsabok chang, Yŏngjang, and Chunggun. This was undoubtedly facilitated by the enhancement of the family's importance, which was consolidated by the regular participation of its members in mangbaerye rituals, state support for the sacrifices of their ancestors, and the installation of Li Rusong in the Taebodan.

Bureaucratic Careers of the Nongsŏ Yi under Chŏngjo

Chŏngjo, who ascended the throne in 1776, inherited his predecessor's policy of patronizing the Nongsŏ Yi members. Some rose even higher in the military bureaucracy under Chŏngjo than ever. While all members of the Nongsŏ Yi who held government posts under Yŏngjo were descendants of Li Rumei, with the sole exception of Yi Hwŏn, a few descendants of Li Rusong reached the highest military positions during Chŏngjo's reign.

One of the first things Chŏngjo did after his enthronement in 1776 was to remove Yi Chongyun from office and punish him with a heavy flogging, as the new king accused Yi of blasphemous actions that had enraged him during his years as the grand heir.102 Yi Chongyun could not hold office until the king allowed his reinstatement in 1784. While Yi Chongyun fell out of royal favor, a descendant of Li Rusong was promoted.

Chŏngjo's initiative to elevate the descendants of Li Rusong commenced with the memorial submitted by Ku Sŏnbok 具善復 (1718–86), a court official, on the eleventh day of the seventh lunar month in 1781. In the memorial, he asserted that Li Rusong's descendants, despite occasionally securing official positions through successful military examinations, had endured even harsher treatment than Chosŏn examination graduates hailing from rural areas. He further advocated for the recruitment of Li Rusong's descendants into officialdom.103 In response, Chŏngjo immediately demanded a search for appropriate candidates among Li Rusong's scions.104 The following day, the Ministry of War recommended Yi Kwangu 李光遇 (b. 1754), the son of Yi Hwŏn, who had passed the military examination in 1780.105 Chŏngjo then invited him to an audience. During this audience, Yi Kwangu impressed the throne by presenting the genealogy of his descent group. He had received this genealogy from his relatives in China through Chosŏn envoys who had been dispatched to the Qing in the previous year.106 Since Yi Kwangu had no prior recommendation of officials, Chŏngjo could not immediately assign him to an office, so the king ordered that he first be accepted into the military as a soldier.107 That same day, Chŏngjo criticized the problems in the selection of the royal messenger candidates, as the king believed that the recommendation practice was fraught with nepotism. The king warned the heads of the Royal Messenger Bureau that they would face punishment if they did not recommend suitable candidates, including descendants of Ming Chinese.108 In less than six months, Yi Kwangu became a royal messenger candidate.109

On the mangbaerye day for Chongzhen held in the third lunar month of 1785, Chŏngjo scolded the Ministry of War for not accepting Yi Kwangu into government service despite his repeated orders. The monarch then demanded that he be appointed as royal messenger as soon as a vacancy arose.110 Within months, Yi Kwangu finally became a royal messenger.111 On the twelfth day in the first lunar month of 1788, Chŏngjo held a ritual at the Taebodan to celebrate the seventh sexagesimal year of the founding of the Ming dynasty on the same day in 1368. Chŏngjo held an audience with the descendants of the Ming Chinese and ordered that Yi Kwangu be appointed to the magistrate, an order that was fulfilled six days later.112

While Yi Kwangu was consolidating the foundations of his career under the patronage of the monarch, his father, Yi Hwŏn, was going through a difficult time. In 1782, Yi Hwŏn was again indicted for his wild character, his consumption of alcohol, and his arbitrary exercise of punishment. As a result, he was relieved of his duties as a smaller minor county magistrate.113 He was exiled to a remote island and released a few months later. He remained outside officialdom until 1786.114

With Yi Hwŏn temporarily dismissed from office and his son Kwangu still at an early stage of his career, Chŏngjo turned his attention to Yi Chongyun, who had been out of his favor since 1776. On the mangbaerye day for Hongwu in the fifth lunar month of 1784, Chŏngjo proclaimed that he had pardoned Yi and commanded his immediate reinstatement.115 Yi attended the mangbaerye rite for Chongzhen in the third lunar month of 1785, holding a sinecure.116 He made a dramatic comeback to officialdom as a division commander a few days later.117

Chŏngjo's efforts to raise the bureaucratic positions of the Nongsŏ Yi encountered familiar challenges: both society at large and the officials responsible for personnel matters were less impressed by the family origins of descendants than their monarchs. Like Yŏngjo, Chŏngjo emphasized that the Nongsŏ Yi came from a prominent family in China and stressed their importance to Chosŏn's Ming loyalism. Throughout his reign, Chŏngjo enthusiastically took various measures to strengthen Ming loyalism, including venerating the Nongsŏ Yi ancestors. In the third lunar month of 1786, Chŏngjo sent the special mayor of Kanghwa to make an offering to Li Chengliang in his portrait hall on the island, and personally composed the sacrificial text for Li.118 A few weeks later, Ku Sŏnbok, the commander of the Military Training Command at the time, conveyed Yi Hwŏn's plea to the king that Li Rusong's descendants could not offer sacrifices to Li because his sacrificial tablet was missing. The court discussed whether it was ritually appropriate to make a tablet for Li Rusong, since much time had passed since Li's death. Chŏngjo finally approved the erection of a new tablet according to the precedent Yŏngjo had set for the veneration of Li Rumei in 1740.119 Later in 1786, the court endorsed making Li Rusong's tablet a pulch’ŏn chi chu, the same honor already given to Rumei in 1740.

On the twentieth day of the sixth lunar month of 1788, Chŏngjo issued an important order urging the Ministries of War and Personnel to promote the descendants of Li Rusong and Rumei. According to the monarch, Chosŏn customs placed an extremely high value on pedigree, but no family in Chosŏn could boast a more prestigious pedigree than the elite families of China. Nonetheless, Chŏngjo criticized, Chosŏn people disdained the descendants of Ming émigrés whose ancestors had established illustrious merits in Chosŏn. They even called the descendants, Chŏngjo lamented, “ordinary yangban families” (sangjo panjok 常調班族).120 Chŏngjo then demanded that there should be no office to which the descendants of Li Rusong and Rumei should not be appointed, including the highest posts such as those in the provincial army, naval command (Konsu 閫帥), and military division command (Taejang 大將). Chŏngjo then highlighted that among the descendants of Li Chengliang, only Yi Chongyun remained, since Yi Hwŏn had been removed from his position, and his son Kwangu had experienced a decline in the assessment of his administrative accomplishments.121 Based on these justifications, Chŏngjo ordered that Yi Chongyun be appointed as junior second-rank provincial military official (Pangŏsa 防禦使), a prestigious military position coveted by many, even though Yi did not have the qualifications required for the position.122 Two days later, Yi finally became a defense command magistrate (Pusa 府使, Jr. 3) concurrently holding the Pangŏsa office.123

On the twenty-sixth day in the seventh lunar month of 1788, Chŏngjo again announced an important measure that contributed to the bureaucratic rise of the Nongsŏ Yi. During an audience that day with local officials who were leaving for their posts, Chŏngjo had a conversation with Yi Chongyun, who was leaving for his post as a defense command magistrate. Chŏngjo reiterated that no distinguished family in Chosŏn could rival the reputation of Yi's family. However, he explained to Chongyun that his family faced challenges in bureaucratic advancement due to differing customs in Chosŏn concerning the assessment of a family's prominence.124 Since recruitment of descendants of Ming emigrants was a way to convey the value of Ming loyalism to Chosŏn subjects, Chŏngjo explained, he had appointed Yi to this high post through an extraordinary promotion. However, Chŏngjo stressed that his appointment was only a temporary measure that would not guarantee the family's long-term glory. Moreover, the king continued, his own experience with officials showed that despite repeated royal orders to promote the descendants of Li Rusong and Rumei, they tended to disregard such orders when time had passed.

Chŏngjo therefore devised a special recruitment system for the Nongsŏ Yi that would ensure their continuous access to high military positions. The scheme involved recommending Nongsŏ Yi members for the royal messenger post. If there was anyone among the descendants of Li Rusong and Rumei who passed the military examination, that person would be recommended for the royal messenger post first. If there was among them a hallyang (閑良, “military examination candidate”) with archery skills, then he would also be recommended for the same post.125 It should be noted that this preferential treatment applied only to the Nongsŏ Yi, not to other families of Ming origin who also regularly participated in Ming loyalist rituals (Han Seunghyun 2019: 198–204).

Chŏngjo's instruction regarding the recommendation of royal messenger candidates seems to have been generally heeded, if not strictly followed, by the Royal Messenger Bureau in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the twelve years between the issuance of this order in 1788 and Chŏngjo's demise in 1800, no fewer than four members, two from Li Rusong's line and the other two from Rumei's, were selected as candidates for this office, all by protection privilege, since none of them had an examination degree.126 The first two, recommended in 1788 and 1789, respectively, were at the top of the recommendation list, although Chŏngjo stipulated such a privilege only for graduates of the military examination. Prior to these four, five Nongsŏ Yi members had been recommended since 1754, all of whom had military examination degrees, with the exception of Yi Kwangch’ŏl, who was recommended in 1754.127

In 1788, Chŏngjo took further measures to support the veneration of Li Rusong. In the eleventh lunar month, Chŏngjo sent officials to the house of Yi Hwŏn to make an offering to Li Rusong. The king also instructed the Ministry of Revenue to buy a house in Hansŏng to serve as a shrine for the worship of Li Rusong.128 To celebrate the construction of Li's shrine, Chŏngjo declared that he would personally compose a record of the shrine, which, on his instructions, Li's descendants were to read on the day of sacrifice. He also ordered that the genealogy of the Nongsŏ Yi, imported from the Qing in 1780, be kept in this shrine.129 In this way, Chŏngjo displayed his robust support for the Nongsŏ Yi.130

Along with these ritual measures, Chŏngjo also promoted Yi Hwŏn. On the thirteenth day of the eleventh lunar month of 1788, the king announced that Yi was to be immediately appointed deputy commander of a military division. Chŏngjo drew the officials’ attention to the earlier case of Yi Chongyun, who had been promoted to the post of Pangŏsa without being restricted by required credentials. The king urged the officials to disregard such credentials in the case of Yi Hwŏn as well, since prominent Ming Chinese descendants should not be restricted by personnel regulations of Chosŏn.131 On that day, Yi became a deputy commander (Jr. 2) of the Forbidden Guard Division (Kǔmwiyŏng 禁衛營) and, eight days later, he concurrently took up the position of deputy commander of the Five Guards Directorate (Puch'onggwan 副摠管, Jr. 2).132

The year 1789 marked the fourth sexagesimal year of Li Rusong's birth. To mark the occasion, Chŏngjo ordered an official who had previously held the ministerial post of senior second rank or above to make an offering to Li Rusong.133 At the same time, Chŏngjo awarded Yi Hwŏn, now renamed Yi Wŏn 李源, the prestigious post of Left Kyŏngsang provincial army commander (Pyŏngma chŏltosa 兵馬節度使, Jr. 2) on the eleventh day in the twelfth lunar month, the anniversary of Li Rusong's birthday.134 Chŏngjo's simultaneous promotion of the ritual for Li and the career of Yi Hwŏn illustrates Chŏngjo's skillful appropriation of ritual significance in order to facilitate the unprecedented bureaucratic promotion of Li Rusong's offspring.

Yi Wŏn's ascension to the powerful position of provincial army commander was extraordinary and was enforced by Chŏngjo's decisive command. However, this measure aroused discontent among court officials. During an audience with high-ranking officials in the twelfth lunar month of 1789, Chŏngjo fulminated, “How could it be that the status of Yi Wŏn's family is not as high as that of you ministers? How can you look down on him like this?” Then Ch'ae Chegong 蔡濟恭 (1720–99), chief superintendent of the Royal Medical Bureau, consoled the king, “His appointment to the provincial army commander office truly resulted from your sagacious virtue. How can he be inferior to the yangban of our country, and how can there be a position he cannot assume?”135 Despite Chŏngjo's constant efforts to emphasize the status of the Nongsŏ Yi as a respected Chinese family, some court officials still seem to have departed from this royal view. Their skeptical opinion of these descendants is consistent with the attitude of the officials Yŏngjo criticized in 1771, who regarded Ming descendants as obscure people whose family origins were uncertain.136 The elevation of the descendants of the Ming Chinese was necessary for the kings to strengthen Ming loyalism and thus consolidate kingship. The court officials, however, were less enthusiastic about the promotion, not only because they had relatively low regard for the Nongsŏ Yi members’ pedigree and ability but probably also because the clan's rise would make their access to offices, especially high ones, somewhat more competitive.

Yi Wŏn served as the Left Kyŏngsang provincial army commander in 1790 and 1791, and then was transferred to the post of deputy commander of the Five Guards Directorate in 1792.137 From 1792 to 1793, Chŏngjo also mobilized him to increase the importance of Ming loyalist rituals, as the throne specifically commissioned him to attend the offering at the Muyŏlsa (武烈祠, Shrine of Military Achievement) in P'yŏngyang and to inspect the condition of the Sŏnmusa (宣武祠, Shrine of Military Excellence) in Hansŏng, shrines erected to honor Ming officers who had participated in the Imjin War.138

On the day of the mangbaerye rite for Wanli in 1793, Chŏngjo once again accorded Yi Wŏn an extraordinary favor by upgrading his rank to senior second Chahŏn taebu 資憲大夫. Chŏngjo then appointed him third minister of the Office of Ministers-without-Portfolio (Chi chungch'ubusa 知中樞府事, Sr. 2) and at the same time made him commander of the Five Guards Directorate (Toch'onggwan 都摠管, Sr. 2).139 These were both prestigious offices. As mentioned earlier, even the Tongji chungch'ubusa, one rank lower than the Chi chungch'ubusa, brought high prestige to the recipient's family. Also as mentioned, offices in the Five Guards Directorate were reserved for yangban elites, and Yi Wŏn ascended to the rank of commander of that organization. The granting of these two positions was an extreme honor for Yi Wŏn since they were the highest positions ever attained by any member of all the Ming émigré descent groups.140 Chŏngjo himself was aware of the extraordinary nature of his measure: “This is the first time that a descendant of Yŏngwŏnbaek (寧遠伯, Li Chengliang) has ever become a chŏnggyŏng of our country,” with chŏnggyŏng 正卿 referring to the highest-level ministerial officials at senior second rank or above.141 The constant efforts of Yŏngjo and Chŏngjo to promote the careers of Nongsŏ Yi members culminated in this appointment in 1793. On the same day, the king also sent Yi Hanp'ung 李漢豐 (1733–1803), commander of the Forbidden Guard Division, to the shrine of Li Rusong to make an offering. Yi Hanp'ung was a descendant of Yi Sunsin 李舜臣 (1545–98), the famous admiral who won decisive victories against the Japanese navy during the Imjin War. The king personally composed the offering text for Li Rusong.142 The dispatch of Yi Sunsin's descendant to the shrine of Li Rusong highlighted the collective efforts between Chosŏn and the Ming to preserve Confucian civilization from the Japanese attack during the Imjin War.

Yi Wŏn's career continued until his death in 1797. In the fourth lunar month of 1795, he assumed the post of provincial army commander of Hamgyŏng Province. Nonetheless, his tenure in that position was short-lived, as he was relieved of his post at the end of 1795 due to administrative misconduct.143 On the occasion of a ritual at the Taebodan in the third lunar month of 1796, Chŏngjo granted Yi Wŏn a special pardon and ordered his reinstatement.144 Then, on the mangbaerye day for Wanli in 1796, Chŏngjo fully rehabilitated him by according him the prestigious office of the commander of the Five Guards Directorate, which he had previously held, while also dispatching him to inspect the Sŏnmusa shrine.145

Impressed by Yi Wŏn's critical report on the shrine's poor condition later that day, Chŏngjo assigned him the responsibility of conducting regular inspections of the Sŏnmusa shrine. Simultaneously he appointed Yi Wŏn deputy commander of the Royal Division Command (Ŏyŏngch’ŏng Chunggun 御營廳中軍, Jr. 2) in addition to his role as commander of the Five Guards Directorate.146 These were, however, Yi Wŏn's last offices, as he soon fell seriously ill and died in 1797.147

While Yi Wŏn was undergoing his meteoric ascent in the military bureaucracy, his son Kwangu, who had been renamed Hyosŭng 孝承 by Chŏngjo's command, also rose rapidly in office. In 1789, he attained the position of governor's military aide of P'yŏngan Province,148 but he was later dismissed from this role due to unfavorable evaluations of his administrative performance, resulting in a demotion.149 When Yi was once again recommended for an office in 1790, his lowered rank appears to have been an issue. At that juncture, Chŏngjo intervened and decreed that his demotion should be disregarded, as individuals from the Ming dynasty (chungjoin 中朝人) should not be subject to the minor regulations of a small country (sobang 小邦).150 Although Yi Hyosŭng's reinstatement appears not to have materialized at this time, he eventually secured an appointment as the commander of the Concurrent Stable in 1792.151 He proceeded to hold various offices, including those of royal messenger and defense command magistrate.152 On the mangbaerye day for Chongzhen in 1797, the monarch demanded that a provincial army or navy commander position be promptly given to Yi Hyosŭng whenever a vacancy arose, given his father Yi Wŏn's inability to assume any office due to his illness.153 A few weeks later, Yi Hyosŭng was indeed appointed Left Chŏlla provincial navy commander (Sr. 3).154 Yi Wŏn and his son Hyosŭng achieved high-ranking military positions two generations in a row under the careful planning of the throne.

With the death of Yi Wŏn in 1797, there was a lack of high-ranking figures from the Nongsŏ Yi who could represent the family in the military bureaucracy and the Ming loyalist rituals, as his son Hyosǔng had to resign from his post during the mourning period. On the second day of the third lunar month in 1798, one day prior to the Spring Sacrifice at the Taebodan, Chŏngjo ordered a search for capable descendants of Li Rusong who were deemed suitable for official positions. Later that same day, the Ministry of War recommended Yi Hǔijang 李熙章 (b. 1771), known as a seventh-generation descendant of Li Rusong.155 The name Yi Hǔijang was not new to Chŏngjo, as the monarch had previously held an audience with him several years earlier. A resident of Kŏje 巨濟 Island, Yi Hǔijang asserted his descent from a son born to Li Rusong and Madam Kǔm 琴, a Korean lady, during Li's stay in Chosŏn amid the Imjin War.156 Yi Hanp'ung, then commander of the Forbidden Guard Division, first introduced Yi Hǔijang to Chŏngjo in 1794.157 At that time, Chŏngjo held an audience with Yi Hǔijang and demanded that he exert all his efforts to pass the military examination.158 Thanks to Yi Hanp'ung, Yi Hǔijang began his military career as an officer in the Forbidden Guard Division in 1794 and became a royal messenger candidate in 1795.159 In the third lunar month of 1798, Chŏngjo offered him a junior sixth-rank office and instructed him to participate in the Taebodan ritual.160

With a sudden shortage of suitable senior military officers from Li Rusong's family line, Chŏngjo turned to Yi Chongyun. Yi had not held office since his dismissal from the post of defense command magistrate in 1789; he had not been reinstated because he had escaped royal attention, which was now focused heavily on the descendants of Li Rusong. On the day of Yi Hǔijang's appointment in the third lunar month of 1798, Chŏngjo ordered the immediate reinstatement of Yi Chongyun.161 Yi Chongyun eventually resumed government service in less than a month, assuming the role of a Five Guards general.162 On the mangbaerye day for Wanli in 1798, Yi Chongyun was appointed deputy commander of the Royal Division Command by royal decree, the same office bestowed upon Yi Wŏn a year earlier.163

Since Yi Chongyun now represented the Nongsŏ Yi descent group as the highest-ranking official, he again received due attention from the throne. On the twenty-second day in the seventh lunar month of 1798, a day after Yi's promotion to the deputy commandership, Chŏngjo offered an audience to him during which the monarch called him a “Chinese yangban” (Chunghwa yangban 中華兩班), to whom the offer of a position in Chosŏn would not add much honor.164 Chŏngjo then gave him two copies of the royal edict issued a day earlier on the mangbaerye day and instructed him to take the copies back to his hometown of Kanghwa and keep each copy in the portrait hall of Li Chengliang and the shrine to Rumei.165

Chŏngjo subsequently took additional measures to enhance the status of Yi Chongyun and sponsor the careers of his family line. In the seventh lunar month of 1798, Chŏngjo granted the elevation of the official rank of Yi Chongyun's father.166 A month later, Yi was transferred to the post of deputy commander of the Five Guards Directorate, another high-ranking position previously held by Yi Wŏn.167 In the second lunar month of 1799, Chŏngjo emphasized the importance of this year as the third sexagesimal year of the Battle of Sarhu in 1619, which eventually led to a descendant of Li Rumei's immigration to Chosŏn territory. The monarch then sent the special mayor of Kanghwa to make offerings at the shrine of Li Rumei and the portrait hall of Li Chengliang and announced that he would write the sacrificial text himself.168 Chŏngjo had largely focused his ritual support on Li Rusong rather than Li Chengliang or Rumei, but now he suddenly shifted his ritual focus to the latter.169

On the same day, Chŏngjo also called for a search for Li Rumei's descendants who deserved offices or could pass the military examination, acknowledging that Li Rumei's descendants, with the exception of Chongyun, had not been admitted to officialdom for a long time. As a result, officials reported to the throne the names and places of residence of Li Rumei's descendants.170 Two were recommended for bureaucratic promotion.171 With Yi Chongyun now representing the Nongsŏ Yi, the bureaucratic careers of Li Rumei's descendants once again became the subject of royal patronage, as did the sacrifice to Li Rumei.

As Yi Chongyun fell ill and died in the third lunar month of 1799, however, Chŏngjo inevitably had to shift the focus of his patronage to Yi Hǔijang, who belonged to the family line of Li Rusong.172 In the twelfth lunar month of 1798, shortly before Chongyun's death, Chŏngjo appointed Hǔijang royal messenger after an audience with him.173 The monarch held another audience with him after the Taebodan ritual in the second lunar month of 1799.174 In 1800, when Yi Hǔijang passed the military examination, Chŏngjo commemorated his success by granting him a junior fourth-rank office in the Five Guards Directorate. He also instructed him to pay reverence at the Sŏnmusa shrine and at Li Rusong's shrine carrying the degree certificate.175

All these efforts Chŏngjo put forth to advance the descendants of Li Rusong and Rumei came to an abrupt halt with his death in the sixth lunar month of 1800. Thanks to Yŏngjo's initiatives, members of the Nongsŏ Yi clan managed to achieve considerable progress in their bureaucratic careers. However, it was not until Chŏngjo's reign that their bureaucratic careers reached their zenith.

Declining Bureaucratic Careers of the Nongsŏ Yi Members during the Nineteenth Century

Unlike the eighteenth-century rulers, the monarchs during the early nineteenth century displayed significantly less enthusiasm in supporting the bureaucratic careers of Nongsŏ Yi members, as the monarchs rarely intervened in the personnel process to propel their careers forward. Other signs of diminished royal interest in the promotion of Ming loyalism were the monarchs’ less frequent personal participation in the Ming loyalist court rituals and the complete halt of royal audiences with the mangbaerye attendees after 1810 (Han Seunghyun 2022: 14–19). The diminishing role of monarchs in mobilizing Ming loyalism resulted from the emergence of young and weak rulers in the first half of the nineteenth century, whose political authority and power were curtailed by the rise of in-law government. The rulers in this period could not claim to be ruler-teachers (kunsa 君師) like the eighteenth-century rulers, who took on the role of edifying their subjects, including the yangban elites.

Chŏngjo had shown great interest in the Nongsŏ Yi clan by personally composing sacrificial texts and sending high officials to offer sacrifices to their ancestors. However, this ritual sponsorship of the Nongsŏ Yi all but disappeared in the nineteenth century. In 1801, King Sunjo 純祖 (r. 1800–1834) sent an official to offer a sacrifice at the shrine of Li Rusong to commemorate the sexagesimal year of the Wanli emperor's death.176 However, this ritual sponsorship never occurred again during the nineteenth century, except once during the reign of Ch’ŏlchong 哲宗 (r. 1849–1863), when shortly after his accession to the throne the king sent a military officer for a sacrifice at Li Rusong's shrine in 1849.177 Moreover, the initiative did not come from the throne but from chief state councilor Chŏng Wŏnyong 鄭元容 (1783–1873), who urged the king to celebrate the fifth sexagesimal year of Li's birth.178

The Muyŏlsa shrine is another example that illustrates the diminished state ritual patronage for the Nongsŏ Yi ancestors. In 1730, 1749, 1753, and 1770, Yŏngjo dispatched officials to the shrine for sacrifice, usually on mangbaerye days, and he personally composed the sacrificial text in 1770.179 Chŏngjo inherited this practice of ardent state support for the shrine. In 1788, he dispatched an official to the shrine for a sacrifice on Li Rusong's birthday, personally composing the sacrificial text.180 The following year, in 1789, Chŏngjo once again decided to write a text for Li's sacrifice at Muyŏlsa. Chŏngjo's strong interest in the shrine was sensed by Hong Yangho 洪良浩 (1724–1802), governor of P'yŏngan Province. In 1792, the king endorsed Hong's request to rebuild the shrine and add to the shrine the tablet of Luo Shangzhi 駱尙志, a Ming officer who had joined the Ming expeditionary forces during the Imjin War.181 When the reconstruction was completed later that year, the king composed the sacrificial text and requested that Yi Wŏn be the libation officiant (hŏn'gwan 獻官) responsible for offering liquor to the spirits during the sacrificial ceremony. In addition, the king proclaimed that qualified candidates who had participated in the ceremony would be offered a military skills test. He entrusted Yi Wŏn with the utmost authority (sangsi 上試) to oversee this test, while repositioning the governor of P'yŏngan to a secondary role (pusi 副試). This measure was aimed at showing reverence to Li Rusong and raising the status of his descendants.182

In the nineteenth century, however, royal patronage of the Muyŏlsa shrine declined. In 1801, Sunjo sent an official to offer a sacrifice at the Muyŏlsa a few days after issuing an order to sponsor the sacrifice at the shrine of Li Rusong in Hansŏng to commemorate the sexagesimal year of Li's birth.183 However, the king's second order to send an official to the Muyŏlsa shrine did not come until twenty-three years later, in 1824, when the court had to commemorate the third sexagesimal year of the fall of the Ming.184 Sunjo's third and last order came in 1832, the fourth sexagesimal year of the outbreak of the Imjin War.185 Although Sunjo followed the earlier precedent of sending court officials to the Muyŏlsa on special occasions that required extraordinary court actions, he never personally composed the sacrificial text. Moreover, subsequent Chosŏn rulers no longer sent an official for the offering at the Muyŏlsa until it was resumed twice by King Kojong 高宗 (r. 1863–1907) in 1884 and 1892.186 Including Kojong, no Chosŏn ruler in the nineteenth century personally composed the sacrificial text.

With greatly reduced personal participation of the monarchs in the mangbaerye rituals and the disappearance of the postritual royal audience in the nineteenth century, Chosŏn rulers seldom had the opportunity to support the bureaucratic careers of the Nongsŏ Yi. Under these circumstances, the clan members were less successful in their bureaucratic advancement, although their importance to Chosŏn Ming loyalism was not lost on court officials, who occasionally urged the throne to take an interest in Nongsŏ Yi members.187

Yi Hyosŭng's bureaucratic success did not match that of his father Yi Wŏn. Yi Hyosŭng held posts such as deputy commander of the Five Guards Directorate and defense command magistrate before his death in 1807.188 Beginning with Yi Hŭijang, the effects of reduced royal interest in the Nongsŏ Yi became increasingly pronounced. In 1804 he became a major county magistrate, but he was impeached in 1805 and did not hold office until 1812. This suggests a lack of royal interest in advancing his career.189 With Yi Hŭijang's impeachment in 1805 and the death of Yi Hyosŭng in 1807, there was no one who could represent the Nongsŏ family within both the central and local bureaucracies. Nevertheless, there is no indication that Sunjo viewed this absence as a notably serious issue, in contrast to Chŏngjo, who diligently attended to their representation at court.

In 1812, Kim Chaech'an 金載瓚 (1746–1827), chief state councilor, urged Sunjo to appoint Yi Hŭijang to a magistrate office.190 Within a few weeks, Yi became a major county magistrate.191 However, his career did not fare well. While serving as a major county magistrate in 1813, he faced yet another impeachment due to administrative misconduct.192 Given the lack of royal interest in his career, he remained without an official position for several years after his impeachment. It was then that Nam Kongch’ŏl 南公轍 (1760–1840), third state councilor, intervened on Yi's behalf. In 1818, he urged Sunjo to promptly reinstate Yi, who was then reinstated as the navy inspector of Ch'ungch’ŏng Province in 1819.193 He subsequently held various provincial military positions, such as army inspector (Pyŏngma Uhu 兵馬虞侯, Jr. 3) and navy inspector in 1823.194 In 1824, Sunjo ordered Yi Hŭijang's appointment to a magistrate post to commemorate the third sexagesimal year of the fall of the Ming.195 Yi became a defense command magistrate that year.196 By 1838, however, Yi once again found himself without an official position. In that year, Yi Chiyŏn 李止淵 (1777–1841), third state councilor, appealed to Queen Dowager Sunwŏn 純元 (1789–1857), who was serving as the regent at that time. He conveyed that Hŭijang had not been promoted to a provincial army or naval commander (Konim 閫任) position within the statutory deadline, despite possessing adequate qualifications.197 However, it was not until 1846, a span of eight years after Yi Chiyŏn's appeal, that Yi Hŭijang finally achieved the position of provincial naval commander.198 Furthermore, his tenure was short-lived, as he faced impeachment once again due to administrative negligence, leading to his dismissal from office in 1847.199

Then, in 1850, Chŏng Wŏnyong, chief state councilor, offered advice to the regent Queen Dowager Sunwŏn to appoint Yi as provincial army commander, displaying the court's patronage of the Nongsŏ Yi family.200 Yi finally became the army commander of Right Kyŏngsang Province in 1850.201 Thus, it took him forty-six years to reach a Konsu position after obtaining his military examination degree in 1800. Moreover, he achieved this not through the initiative of the rulers, but through the constant entreaties of court officials. His father, Yi Hyosŭng, and grandfather, Yi Wŏn, had taken only seventeen and thirty-two years, respectively, to obtain a Konsu position after passing military examinations. This discrepancy symbolizes the reduced interest of the throne in Nongsŏ Yi members.

Apart from Yi Hyosŭng and Hŭijang, the bureaucratic achievements of other descendants in the first half of the nineteenth century were even less remarkable. The career trajectory of Yi Myŏngjip 李命集, a son of Yi Chongyun, serves as a clear example. He passed the military examination in 1802 and became a royal messenger candidate in the same year.202 However, the officials in charge erased his name from the recommendation list, citing his “low family status” (chibŏl pimi 地閥卑微) as the reason.203 Yi Myŏngjip's wife lodged an appeal with the Ministry of War, protesting this unfair treatment in 1803. However, it was not until 1807 that Yi was recommended again as a royal messenger candidate.204 Despite this, Yi continued to be excluded from official positions. Recognizing Yi's predicament, the special mayor of Kanghwa appealed to Sunjo for his appointment in 1812. The Ministry of War rejected the proposal on the grounds that such an appointment would contravene the ministry's regulations.205 In 1813, the mayor once again urged Yi's prompt appointment, but without success.206 It was not until 1820 that Yi's first official appointment finally came to fruition, taking as many as eighteen years for the descendant in charge of Li Rumei's sacrifice to secure his inaugural office after passing the military examination.207 The most prominent positions he attained were only modest third-rank posts, such as Five Guards general, loyal and supporting guards general, and large port commander—highly unimpressive achievements compared to his father, Chongyun.

Yi Chŏnghan 李鼎漢, Hŭijang's son who was responsible for the sacrifice to Li Rusong, and Yi Sangju 李尙周, the son of Myŏngjip who was in charge of the sacrifice to Li Rumei, are additional examples that illustrate the diminishing royal support for the Nongsŏ Yi. Yi Chŏnghan passed the military examination in 1841 and became a royal messenger candidate in the same year.208 His first appointment, however, had to wait another eight years, until he received the office of royal messenger in 1849 through the intervention of Chŏng Wŏnyong.209 He ended his career with a junior fourth-rank office he received in 1853.210 In the case of Yi Sangju, he became a royal messenger candidate in 1821 and passed the military examination in 1827.211 He received his first office only in 1840.212 He became a smaller minor county magistrate in 1845 but was impeached in 1850 due to his administrative dereliction and stripped of his office.213 Then in 1853, Chŏng Wŏnyong entreated the throne that Yi Sangju should be reinstated, as he was experiencing financial difficulties in maintaining Li Rumei's sacrifice.214 It took two more years, however, for Yi to be reinstated as a defense command magistrate, his highest and last position.215

Yi Pyŏnghan 李秉漢, the adopted son of Hŭijang, did better than Chŏnghan in the bureaucracy but still lagged behind his father. He passed the military exam in 1847 and became a royal messenger in the same year.216 Afterward, he held various positions in both the central and local bureaucracies. These included serving as the governor's military aide of Kyŏnggi Province and as a high-ranking officer in the Royal Division Command at the senior third rank, as well as being a major county magistrate and then defense command magistrate until 1880.217

Thanks to the regulations Chŏngjo established in 1788, the members of the Nongsŏ Yi could continue to have their sons recommended as royal messenger candidates. Yi Insik 李寅植, Chŏnghan's son, passed the military examination in 1874 and became a royal messenger candidate in the same year.218 In 1876, he obtained his first position as a royal messenger with the help of a senior official who intervened on his behalf.219 Yi later held a major county magistrate post in 1892 as his most notable office.220 Yi Yongho 李容鎬, the grandson of Sangju, is another member of the Nongsŏ Yi whose career ended at the level of a local magistrate. He passed the military examination in 1869 and was recommended for the royal messenger position in the same year.221 However, he received his inaugural office only ten years later in 1879, and a defense command magistrate was his most notable position.222

The only exception to this nineteenth-century pattern is perhaps the case of Yi Kihyŏk 李基赫 (1823–?), a son of Sangju, whose bureaucratic success surpassed that of Yi Hŭijang. Yi Kihyŏk passed the military examination in 1849 and became a royal messenger candidate in the same year.223 His first office appointment, however, came only in 1858 when he assumed the position of royal messenger.224 The campaign by a French expedition against Korea, known as the 1866 French incursion (Pyŏngin yangyo, 丙寅洋擾), provided a crucial, albeit haphazard, momentum for Yi's meteoric rise, as he participated in the campaign as an officer and received a prize from the throne.225 Supported by his own merits and the policies of Kojong, who sought to promote Ming loyalism and the careers of Ming Chinese descendants amid the accelerating foreign crises of the 1870s and 1880s, Yi Kihyŏk ascended rapidly within the military bureaucracy, attaining the post of Left Kyŏngsang provincial army commander in 1879.226 He then held other junior second-rank positions in the central bureaucracy throughout the 1880s. In the early 1890s, he eventually occupied senior second-rank offices, including second magistrate of the State Tribunal (Chi Ŭigŭmbu sa 知義禁府事), third minister of the Office of Ministers-without-Portfolio, and chief magistrate of the Hansŏng Magistracy (Hansŏngbu p'anyun 漢城府判尹).227

The decline in the bureaucratic career of the Nongsŏ Yi during the nineteenth century is further illustrated by the decrease in the number of Nongsŏ Yi members who became royal messenger candidates. From 1754 to 1800, nine Nongsŏ Yi members were recommended for this position, including five through protection privilege. During the nineteenth century, however, the number dropped to eight, all of whom (except for Yi Sangju, who was recommended through protection privilege in 1821) held military examination degrees. In the nineteenth century, it became more difficult for the Nongsŏ Yi to be recommended for this office, especially if they did not hold a military examination degree.


There were a number of Ming émigré families living in Chosŏn society that claimed lineage from Ming ministers and generals. However, the Nongsŏ Yi descent group occupied a key place among them, as the Chosŏn court highly appreciated the meritorious services Li Rusong and Rumei had rendered to Chosŏn during the Imjin War. Despite the importance of the Nongsŏ Yi to Ming loyalism, the bureaucratic advancement of their members would have been challenging and gradual without the monarchs’ constant interference in the personnel selection process, as the officials in charge tended to denigrate their pedigree and ability. Both Yŏngjo and Chŏngjo, therefore, had to emphasize the status of the Nongsŏ Yi as a prominent Ming family while enhancing the ideological status of their ancestors through robust ritual support. By recruiting their members into the military officialdom and by propelling their careers to the highest-ranking positions, the two rulers ultimately solidified the Nongsŏ Yi as a yangban family.

Kyung Moon Hwang categorizes military officials, alongside government clerks, illegitimate sons of yangban, northerners, and government technical specialists, as secondary status groups situated below the civil yangban elites (Hwang 2004: 2). He does not include military officials, even those from prominent families that consistently produced high-ranking military officials, within the yangban elites. By contrast, the present study accentuates the variations in status within the military officialdom, arguing that the Nongsŏ Yi clan was part of the military yangban stratum.228 Martina Deuchler has asserted that yangban status was determined socially, rather than legally (2015: 55). In this regard, the military examination graduate genealogies (mubo) compiled during the nineteenth century play a crucial role in demonstrating the social recognition of the Nongsŏ Yi clan's status among the yangban elites. Typically, these genealogies focus on documenting military examination passers from established yangban families (Chang 2005: 32–33; Park 2007: 72, 135). The inclusion of the Nongsŏ Yi clan in a number of these genealogies highlights that the nineteenth-century Chosŏn yangban perceived the Nongsŏ Yi as their social equals.

Many of the Ming émigré descent groups generally belonged to the chungin social stratum within the late Chosŏn social hierarchy. Yŏngjo, despite actively supporting the bureaucratic careers of numerous Ming Chinese descendants, once remarked that not all of them could aspire to become yangban (Han Seunghyun 2019: 208). In this respect, the Nongsŏ Yi stood out as an exception. Distinctions in status among Ming-origin families are also evident in the fact that the Nongsŏ Yi clan predominantly engaged in intermarriages with elite Chosŏn families, rather than with other Ming-origin descent groups, despite their shared ethnic background (Han Sangwoo 2021: 247–69).

The rituals at the Taebodan, where Li Rusong was venerated alongside the three Ming emperors, regularly affirmed and reinforced the symbolic status of the Nongsŏ Yi. As the descendants of Li Rusong and Rumei became an integral component of the Taebodan ritual and their bureaucratic achievements were facilitated by their position in Ming loyalism, the Nongsŏ Yi fashioned themselves as a Ming loyalist family with resolute anti-Qing convictions. The biographical works written by Yi Hŭijang, and featured in the contemporary genealogy of the Nongsŏ Yi clan, portray his Nongsŏ Yi branch in Chosŏn as an icon of anti-Qing consciousness, a family that sought refuge in Chosŏn to escape the barbaric rule of the Qing dynasty and lead lives guided by uncorrupted Confucian ideals.229 This self-stylization of the Nongsŏ Yi aligned with and consolidated Chosŏn's claim to be the sole legitimate inheritor of Confucian civilization in the post-Ming world, and at the same time legitimized their presence in Chosŏn. The clan seems to have regarded this self-representation as even more vital, as Chosŏn rulers and officials claimed that Li Chengliang's descendants living in Qing China had become “barbarized” due to their marriages into the Manchu imperial clan or their service to the Manchu rulers.230 By contrast, as asserted by Chosŏn rulers and ministers, the Chosŏn branch upheld the genuine Confucian culture and faithfully served the rightful rulers, as Chosŏn had become the sole legitimate bulwark of Confucian civilization.

This paper was supported by Konkuk University in 2022.



This does not mean that there was no tension between the Chosŏn court and the Ming officers during the Imjin War. The Chosŏn court's reluctance to support the temple to Guan Yu at the close of the Imjin War is a good example. See Van Lieu (2014).


Sŭngjŏngwŏn ilgi (hereafter SJW), 1607.40a–41a (YJ 27/4/7). It is not clear how the Chosŏn court verified Li Chenglong's claim to be the grandson of Li Rumei. It is worth noting that there was an instance where he was mistakenly referred to as the grandson of Li Rusong during the seventeenth century. See Yun Wŏn'gŏ, Yongsŏ chip, kwŏn 2 si 詩, “Chŭng Tangin Li Chenglong” 贈唐人李成龍, 2b. From 1705 onward, Li Chenglong consistently appears as the grandson of Li Rumei. See Chosŏn wangjo sillok, Sukchong sillok (hereafter Sukchong sillok), 42.5a (SC 31/6/10).


Chosŏn wangjo sillok, Injo sillok, 15.59a (IJ 5/3/18), 23.31b (IJ 8/10/5), 23.35a (IJ 8/10/22); Bohnet (2020: 90, 119).


Kyŏngsul ch'u munmugwa pyŏlsi pangmok, 31.


SJW, 882.47a–48a (YJ 14/12/13), 1607.40a–41a (YJ 27/4/7); Chosŏn wangjo sillok, Yŏngjo sillok (hereafter Yŏngjo sillok), 47.49b (YJ 14/12/13).


SJW, 248.71b (SC 1/7/27), 1607.40a–41a (YJ 27/4/7).


SJW, 882.47a–48a (YJ 14/12/13). A sketch of their bureaucratic careers is mentioned in Bohnet (2020: 119).


SJW, 455.56a (SC 36/7/6), 477.37b (SC 39/4/11).


SJW, 490.46a (SC 41/9/1), 517.18a (SC 45/7/23), 882.47a–48a (YJ 14/12/13).


SJW, 1607.40a–41a (YJ 27/4/7); Sukchong sillok, 42.5a (SC 31/6/10).


Chosŏn wangjo sillok, Kyŏngjong sillok (hereafter Kyŏngjong sillok), 4.10b (Kyŏngjong 1/Intercalary 6/15); SJW, 531.111b–112a (Kyŏngjong 1/Intercalary6/15), 531.117a (Kyŏngjong 1/Intercalary 6/16).


SJW, 531.111b–112a (Kyŏngjong 1/Intercalary 6/15), 536.5a (Kyŏngjong 2/1/3); Kyŏngjong sillok, 4.10b (Kyŏngjong 1/Intercalary 6/15).


SJW, 606.108a (YJ 1/12/13). In an attempt to promote royal legitimacy and the virtue of loyalty, Yŏngjo also attempted the recruitment of the Kaesŏng Wangs (descendants of the Koryŏ royal house) and the descendants of Koryŏ loyalists into officialdom. See Park (2019: 111–29).


SJW, 607.29b (YJ 1/12/17).


SJW, 607.87a (YJ 1/12/27).


SJW, 797.53b (YJ 11/3/25).


SJW, 863.124b (YJ 13/11/30).


Mubo (K2–1741, Digital Library of Korean Studies, Academy of Korean Studies), 81a; Mubo (Ko 351.306 M88, Kyujanggak Institute of Korean Studies), 65a; SJW, 886.16a (YJ 15/2/20), 897.57a (YJ 15/9/11).


SJW, 905.124ab (YJ 16/1/20), 905.152b (YJ 16/1/26).


SJW, 909.26b–27a (YJ 16/3/19).


SJW, 909.26b–27a (YJ 16/3/19).


SJW, 909.26b–27a (YJ 16/3/19).


Hwangjoin sajŏk, Kyŏngsin 庚申 (1740), frame 46.


SJW, 909.21b (YJ 16/3/19). Chang (1989: 285–86, 292–93, 300).


Pyŏlgunjikch’ŏng sŏnsaengan, 7a; Pyŏlgunjik sŏnsaengan, 7a; Kamdaech’ŏng sŏnsaengan, 2.7a.


SJW, 918.111a (YJ 16/8/11); Kyŏngsin Hyojong taewang, frame 66.


SJW, 930.88b–89a (YJ 17/4/13). After finishing his terms as a Five Guards general, Yi Chŏ joined the diplomatic delegation to Qing as a military officer of the vice envoy.


SJW, 930.99b–100b (YJ 17/4/13); Yŏngjo sillok, 53.22b (YJ 17/4/17).


SJW, 978.194a (YJ 20/10/27).


SJW, 942.9a (YJ 18/3/3), 968.2b (YJ 20/1/16), 1047.46b (YJ 25/8/10), 1074.61b (YJ 27/9/14).


SJW, 965.126b (YJ 19/11/21), 1006.171ab (YJ 22/7/28), 1007.69b (YJ 22/8/16).


SJW, 910.87ab (YJ 16/4/14), 910.141a (YJ 16/4/20), 915.64b–65a (YJ 16/Intercalary 6/8); Bohnet (2020: 152).


SJW, 924.19a (YJ 16/11/3).


SJW, 935.86ab (YJ 17/9/14); Hwangjoin sajŏk, Sinyu 辛酉 (1741), frame 47.


SJW, 1103.148b (YJ 30/2/30).


SJW, 1106.122a (YJ 30/Intercalary 4/25).


SJW, 1108.57a (YJ 30/6/10).


SJW, 1109.38b (YJ 30/7/7), 1132.104a (YJ 32/6/25).


SJW, 1126.15a (YJ 31/12/3).


SJW, 1066.139b–140a (YJ 27/3/23), 144b (YJ 27/3/25).


SJW, 1067.39b–41a (YJ 27/4/7).


SJW, 1067.40b (YJ 27/4/7).


SJW, 1067.41a (YJ 27/4/7).


SJW, 1067.41a (YJ 27/4/7).


SJW, 1068.81b (YJ 27/5/10).


SJW, 1068.81b (YJ 27/5/10).


SJW, 1068.84b (YJ 27/5/11).


SJW, 1091.113a (YJ 29/2/29).


SJW, 1103.148b (YJ 30/2/30).


SJW, 1106.71ab (YJ 30/Intercalary 4/12).


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 2.46ab; SJW, 1106.71b (YJ 30/Intercalary 4/12), 1108.83ab (YJ 30/6/14).


SJW, 1108.83b (YJ 30/6/14).


SJW, 1091.113a (YJ 29/2/29).


SJW, 916.79b–80a (YJ 16/7/13).


SJW, 916.80a (YJ 16/7/13), 916.84ab (YJ 16/7/14).


“Naesŭng”; Chŏng Haeŭn (2008: 302).


SJW, 1109.93a (YJ 30/7/18).


SJW, 1292.47b (YJ 45/5/10).


SJW, 1292.47b (YJ 45/5/10). Various versions of Mubo compiled in the nineteenth century record the Naesŭng office as his last office.


SJW, 1091.113b (YJ 29/2/29).


SJW, 1091.113b (YJ 29/2/29).


SJW, 1108.69a (YJ 30/6/12); Hwangjoin sajŏk, YJ 30/6th month, frame 31.


SJW, 1109.100a (YJ 30/7/18).


SJW, 1109.113a (YJ 30/7/21), 1113.97b (YJ 30/11/22).


Chosŏn wangjo sillok, Chŏngjo sillok (hereafter Chŏngjo sillok), 52.12b (CJ 23/7/29); SJW, 1811.171b–172a (CJ 23/7/29). During the late Chosŏn period, many families of Ming origin claimed their descent from prominent figures in China, but the veracity of their claims is often dubious. It is likely that the Chosŏn court was aware of this uncertainty but nonetheless acknowledged their claims, as the presence of such families in Chosŏn served to elevate the position of the monarch and Chosŏn.


Hongje chŏnsŏ, kwon 14, ki 記, “Chedok Yigong sadang ki” 提督李公祠堂記; Yi Kyusang, Pyŏngse chaeŏllok, 172–74; Bohnet (2020: 153–54).


SJW, 1133.81a (YJ 32/7/14), 1133.127b (YJ 32/7/23), 1141.53a (YJ 33/2/10); Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 2.52a.


SJW, 1161.82a (YJ 34/10/18).


SJW, 1160.6ab (YJ 34/9/1).


SJW, 1180.133ab (YJ 36/4/26).


SJW, 1181.50b–51a (YJ 36/5/12).


SJW, 1188.111b–112a (YJ 36/12/19).


Hwangjoin sajŏk, YJ 36/12th month, frame 33.


SJW, 1194.157a (YJ 37/6/24).


SJW, 1131.50b (YJ 32/5/11), 1131.64b (YJ 32/5/14).


SJW, 1163.124b (YJ 34/12/23).


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 2.56a.


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 2.56a.


SJW, 1188.49b (YJ 36/12/9), 1188.112a (YJ 36/12/19), 1204.79a (YJ 38/4/13).


SJW, 1227.113b (YJ 40/2/23), 1231.159a (YJ 40/6/30), 1244.104b (YJ 41/6/22), 1247.24b (YJ 41/9/7).


SJW, 1292.12a (YJ 45/5/4).


SJW, 1203.185b (YJ 38/3/30), 1205.44ab (YJ 38/5/7), 1205.62a (YJ 38/5/10).


SJW, 1221.156a (YJ 39/8/30).


SJW, 1231.158b (YJ 40/6/30).


SJW, 1282.119b (YJ 44/7/21).


SJW, 1284.70b (YJ 44/9/12).


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 2.63b.


SJW, 1268.177a (YJ 43/6/30); Pyŏlgunjikch’ŏng sŏnsaengan, 10b; Kamdaech’ŏng sŏnsaengan, 2.11a.


SJW, 1305.69a (YJ 46/Intercalary 5/10).


SJW, 1307.148ab (YJ 46/7/23).


SJW, 13ŏ07.148b (YJ 46/7/23).


SJW, 1351.10a (YJ 50/5/2).


SJW, 1351.51a (YJ 50/5/9).


SJW, 1351.85a (YJ 50/5/14), 1355.7a (YJ 50/9/2), 1357.127b (YJ 50/11/28).


SJW, 1367.15b (YJ 51/9/3).


SJW, 1244.107b (YJ 41/6/22), 1246.97b (YJ 41/8/23), 1299.82b (YJ 45/12/18).


Yŏngjo sillok, 114.26a (YJ 46/Intercalary 5/17).


SJW, 1305.137ab (YJ 46/Intercalary 5/19).


SJW, 1306.37b, 40b (YJ 46/6/10).


SJW, 1309.25b (YJ 46/9/5), 1314.92b (YJ 47/2/20).


SJW, 1316.51a (YJ 47/4/10), 1333.106a (YJ 48/12/21), 1346.123b (YJ 49/12/22), 1350.49a (YJ 50/4/9), 1350.111a (YJ 50/4/18), 1362.146a (YJ 51/4/24), 1371.56a (YJ 51/12/10).


SJW, 1390.119ab (YJ 52/10/21).


Chŏngjo sillok, 12.8a (CJ 5/7/11).


SJW, 1489.79ab (CJ 5/7/11).


SJW, 1489.87ab (CJ 5/7/12); Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 1.5b.


In Beijing, Li Zongde 李宗德, a fifth-generation descendant of Li Ruzhen 如楨, a son of Li Chengliang, gave this genealogy to the Chosŏn delegation, hoping that it would be delivered to the members of the Li family branch in Chosŏn. See Sŏng Haeŭng, Yŏn'gyŏngjae chŏnjip sokchip 續集, 15 ch'aek 冊, p'ungch’ŏn nok 風泉錄, “P'alssŏng chŏn” 八姓傳.


SJW, 1489.97ab (CJ 5/7/13).


SJW, 1489.95a (CJ 5/7/13); Chŏngjo sillok, 12.9a (CJ 5/7/13).


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 1.5b.


SJW, 1579.32b–33a (CJ 9/3/19).


SJW, 1582.20b (CJ 9/5/4).


Chŏngjo sillok, 25.4a (CJ 12/1/12); SJW, 1638.69b (CJ 12/1/12), 1638.99a (CJ 12/1/18).


SJW, 1510.61b–62a (CJ 6/5/26).


Chŏngjo sillok, 14.35b (CJ 6/12/3); SJW, 1522.22a (CJ 6/12/3).


SJW, 1558.55a (CJ 8/5/10).


SJW, 1579.32b (CJ 9/3/19).


SJW, 1579.57a (CJ 9/3/24).


SJW, 1597.13a (CJ 10/3/3); Yŏlssŏng ŏje pyŏlp'yŏn, 4.15b–16a.


Chŏngjo sillok, 21.30b (CJ 10/3/22); SJW, 1597.164b (CJ 10/3/22), 1597.187b–188a (CJ 10/3/27).


SJW, 1643.159ab (CJ 12/6/20).


SJW, 1624.7ab (CJ 11/4/16), 1643.114b (CJ 12/6/13).


SJW, 1643.159ab (CJ 12/6/20); Chŏng Haeŭn (2019: 210, 212).


SJW, 1643.174b (CJ 12/6/22), 1644.131ab (CJ 12/7/26).


SJW, 1644.131ab (CJ 12/7/26); Chŏngjo sillok, 26.4a (CJ 12/7/26).


SJW, 1644.131ab (CJ 12/7/26).


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 1.20b, 22b, 33a, 38b.


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 1.5b, 2.46b, 2.52a, 2.56a, 2.63b.


SJW, 1648.45ab (CJ 12/11/6); Chŏngjo sillok, 26.25a (CJ 12/11/6). See also Bohnet (2020: 155).


SJW, 1648.82b–83a (CJ 12/11/13).


Yŏlssŏng ŏje pyŏlp'yŏn, 4:17b–18b; Hongje chŏnsŏ, kwon 14, ki, 5a–7a; Nongsŏ Yissi sebo (1974: 22).


SJW, 1648.83a (CJ 12/11/13).


SJW, 1648.80a (CJ 12/11/13), 1648.126b (CJ 12/11/22), 1653.84a (CJ 13/3/16); Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 1.20b.


SJW, 1669.24b (CJ 13/12/2).


SJW, 1669.70b (CJ 13/12/11). Yi Hwŏn was renamed by royal fiat following the generation character of his Chinese relatives recorded in their genealogy imported from the Qing in 1780. See Yi Kyusang (1997: 172–74); Hwangjoin sajŏk, CJ 14/12th month, frame 40. The renaming happened sometime between the eleventh month of 1788 and the third month of 1789.


SJW, 1670.48a (CJ 13/12/22).


SJW, 1319.56a (YJ 47/7/10).


SJW, 1701.22a (CJ 16/3/6).


SJW, 1709.125b (CJ 16/9/18); Chŏngjo sillok, 35.66a (CJ 16/9/18); Kuwano (2015: 299–307).


Chŏngjo sillok, 38.3a (CJ 17/7/21); SJW, 1719.79a (CJ 17/7/21).


The office of commander was usually reserved for royal kinsmen, royal sons-in-law, or high-level civil officials. See Park (2007: 22).


SJW, 1719.79a (CJ 17/7/21).


Yŏlssŏng ŏje pyŏlp'yŏn, 4:20b–21a, “Yi chejok sadang yujemun” 李提督祠堂侑祭文.


Chŏngjo sillok, 43.71b (CJ 19/12/19).


SJW, 1760.7b (CJ 20/3/2).


SJW, 1765.146b (CJ 20/7/21).


SJW, 1765.146b (CJ 20/7/21), 1765.154a (CJ 20/7/22).


SJW, 1774.91a (CJ 21/3/19), 1779.157b (CJ 21/7/21).


SJW, 1669.77b (CJ 13/12/12); Ilsŏngnok, CJ 13/12/20.


SJW, 1679.76b (CJ 14/6/16), 1679.111b (CJ 14/6/24), 1681.17b (CJ 14/8/5); Ilsŏngnok, CJ 14/7/25.


SJW, 1682.79b (CJ 14/10/13).


SJW, 1707.91b (CJ 16/7/19).


SJW, 1765.147a (CJ 20/7/21); Ilsŏngnok, CJ 20/7/21.


Chŏngjo sillok, 46.25b (CJ 21/3/19); Ilsŏngnok, CJ 21/3/19.


SJW, 1775.1b (CJ 21/4/1); Ilsŏngnok, CJ 21/4/1.


SJW, 1788.5b (CJ 22/3/2).


Bohnet pointed out that the courts under Yŏngjo and Chŏngjo connected three different branches of Li Chengliang's descendants, who had uncertain relations with each other, to construct one unified Nongsŏ Yi descent group. Bohnet (2020: 155–56).


Chŏngjo sillok, 41.29b (CJ 18/11/1); SJW, 1738.16a (CJ 18/11/1).


SJW, 1738.21a (CJ 18/11/2).


SJW, 1738.20a (CJ 18/11/2); Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 1.33a.


SJW, 1788.7a (CJ 22/3/2).


SJW, 1788.6b (CJ 22/3/2); Ilsŏngnok, CJ 22/3/2.


SJW, 1789.51a (CJ 22/3/21).


SJW, 1794.124b–125a (CJ 22/7/21).


SJW, 1794.137ab (CJ 22/7/22).


SJW, 1794.137ab (CJ 22/7/22).


SJW, 1794.174a (CJ 22/7/27), 1794.176b (CJ 22/7/28).


SJW, 1795.136b (CJ 22/8/21).


SJW, 1804.172ab (CJ 23/2/30).


Yŏlssŏng ŏje pyŏlp'yŏn, 4:28a–29a.


SJW, 1804.172b (CJ 23/2/30).


SJW, 1804.172b (CJ 23/2/30); Ilsŏngnok, CJ 23/2/30.


According to the genealogy of the Sŏngju Yi clan from which the Nongsŏ Yi ramified, Yi Chongyun died on the twenty-seventh day in the third month of 1799.


SJW, 1802.54b (CJ 22/12/20).


SJW, 1804.175b–176a (CJ 23/2/30).


SJW, 1820.31b (CJ 24/4/8); Chŏngjo sillok, 54.2b (CJ 24/4/8).


SJW, 1834.8b–9a (SJ 1/3/2).


SJW, 2496.38a (Ch’ŏlchong's enthronement year/12/8).


SJW, 2495.91b (Ch’ŏlchong's enthronement year/11/30).


SJW, 706.109b–110a (YJ 6/5/10),1042.62a (YJ 25/4/11), 1096.113ab (YJ 29/7/21), 1307.137a (YJ 46/7/21).


SJW, 1648.82b–83a (CJ 12/11/13).


SJW, 1708.25a (CJ 16/8/6).


SJW, 1709.125b (CJ 16/9/18). This was a tremendous honor for Yi Wŏn. His son Hŭijang emphatically noted it in his writing included in the genealogy of the Nongsŏ Yi family. See Nongsŏ Yissi sebo (1974: 56).


SJW, 1834.30ab (SJ 1/3/6).


SJW, 2176.48a (SJ 24/3/17), 2176.61ab (SJ 24/3/22).


SJW, 2274.16a (SJ 32/2/6).


SJW, 2921.2b (KJ 21/3/1), 3017.71b (KJ 29/1/26).


For example, from the mid-nineteenth century, the Chosŏn court began to assign the Muyŏlsa guardian position (ch'ambong, Jr. 9) to the Nongsŏ Yi members residing in Kangdong county and nearby areas in P'yŏngan Province. SJW, 2541.56ab (Ch’ŏlchong 4/4/20), 2542.45ab (Ch’ŏlchong 4/5/20).


SJW, 1862.28a (SJ 3/1/9), 1900.56b–57a (SJ 5/9/23); Nongsŏ Yissi sebo (1974: 64).


SJW, 1877.104b (SJ 4/2/14), 1904.74b (SJ 5/12/18).


SJW, 2016.37b (SJ 12/6/10).


SJW, 2016.97b (SJ 12/6/29), 2017.18a (SJ 12/7/7), 2020.110b (SJ 12/10/25).


SJW, 2027.54a (SJ 13/4/15).


SJW, 2107.81b (SJ 18/12/20).


SJW, 2123.82b (SJ 19/12/25), 2162.62a (SJ 23/1/17), 2167.57a (SJ 23/6/24).


SJW, 2176.61b (SJ 24/3/22).


SJW, 2179.61b (SJ 24/6/25), 2241.11b (SJ 29/5/6).


SJW, 2360.46b (HJ 4/10/15).


SJW, 2456.54b (HJ 12/11/20).


SJW, 2463.26b (HJ 13/7/11).


SJW, 2502.38b (Ch’ŏlchong 1/3/20).


SJW, 2503.26a (Ch’ŏlchong 1/4/5).


Mubo (Sangbaek ko 923.5-M88, Kyujanggak), frame 72; SJW, 1854.120a (SJ 2/6/21).


SJW, 1854.120a (SJ 2/6/21).


SWJ, 1870.100b (SJ 3/8/19); Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 1.46a.


SWJ, 2032.55b (SJ 13/9/15).


SWJ, 2032.56a (SJ 13/9/15).


Mubo (Sangbaek ko 923.5-M88), frame 72; SJW, 2127.34a (SJ 20/4/6).


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 1.114b.


SJW, 2496.68a (HJ 15/12/17); Ilsŏngnok, Ch’ŏlchong 1/1/29.


SJW, 2545.81b (Ch’ŏlchong 4/8/25).


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 1.77b; Mubo (Sangbaek ko 923.5-M88), frame 72.


Mubo (Sangbaek ko 923.5-M88), frame 72.


SJW, 2445.100a (HJ 11/12/27), 2503.4b (Ch’ŏlchong 1/4/1).


SJW, 2545.84b (Ch’ŏlchong 4/8/25).


SJW, 2574.63b (Ch’ŏlchong 6/12/26).


SJW, 2462.42b (HJ 13/6/24).


SJW, 2485.45b (HJ 15/Intercalary 4/13), 2593.56a (Ch’ŏlchong 8/6/26), 2672.117b (KJ 1/1/20), 2762.3a (KJ 8/3/1), 2845.47b (KJ 14/12/20).


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 3.87b.


SJW, 2832.59a, 60a (KJ 13/11/20).


SJW, 3017.64b (KJ 29/1/24).


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 3.66b.


Chinsin mubo, frame 106; SJW 2864.80a (KJ 16/6/26), 2926.33a (KJ 21/7/13).


Sŏnjŏngwanch’ŏng ch’ŏn'an, 1.130a.


Pak (1986: 383); Mubo (K2–1741, Digital Library of Korean Studies), 81.


Chosŏn wangjo sillok, Kojong sillok, 3.85a (KJ 3/10/25).


SJW, 2867.32b (KJ 16/9/20); Han Seunghyun (2022: 20–24).


SJW, 3033.62a (KJ 30/4/25), 3035.46a (KJ 30/6/25), 3045.75b (KJ 31/4/27).


Other works, such as Chang (2005), Park (2007), and Chŏng (2020) also consider prominent families that hereditarily produced high-ranking military officials as military yangban. Sun Joo Kim stresses that military officials encompassed almost all status groups, ranging from bona fide yangban to slaves. See Sun Joo Kim (2008: 138).


Nongsŏ Yissi sebo (1974: 63). This self-positioning as fierce anti-Qing, Ming loyalists is observed among other Ming descent groups as well. See Bohnet (2020: 173–91).


SJW, 1068.22a (YJ 27/5/2); Chŏngjo sillok, 9.36b (CJ 4/4/22); Ilsŏngnok, CJ 8/10/28.


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