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Cheonmin, or "vulgar commoners," were the lowest caste of commoners in dynastical Korea. They abounded during the Goryeo and Joseon periods of Korea's agrarian bureaucracy. Like the caste system in India, this social class was largely hereditary and based on certain professions considered "unclean" by the upper classes. This list of unclean professions included butchers (Baekjeong), shamans, shoemakers, metalworkers, nobi (slaves), prostitutes, magicians, sorcerers, jailkeepers and performers like the kisaeng. The hereditary nature of the caste system bred institutionalized discrimination and prejudice early on in Korea's history, as the cheonmin were barred from most forms of social advancement, including entry into government service or taking the gwageo civil service examinations.
The cheonmin, although a step above the traditional caste of untouchables or outcasts called the Baekjeong, lived segregated lives, like the baekjeong, isolated from the rest of society and shunted away in ghettoes far away from the rest of society. While the cheonmin performed tasks that other Koreans considered unclean or undignified, they still had an essential function and role within dynastical Korean society. Their work as butchers, shoemakers, low-class entertainers, performing unclean jobs provided services to the other classes that were unattainable from anyone else. While the class and caste system of dynastical Korea no longer exists and has largely disappeared in the modern era, remnants of such social discrimination based solely on one's occupation or a forebearer's previous line of work continue to shape traditional Korean thinking and values today.