The Puyo group of tribes is first known to have lived along the banks of Sungari River in northern Manchuria, and was a “considerable tribal power” by the first century AD, and somewhat equal in power to the Koguryo, or Korean, tribes south of it. The Puyo held commonly slaves, who were either prisoners of war or criminals. The Yi Dynasty of 14th & 19th centuries, continued the practice of holding slaves – paralleling the Arab slave trade of the Bantu’s in southeast Africa which predated the transatlantic slave trade by 700 years.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Slavery in Korea
“At the bottom of [Korea’s Yi Dynasty] social ladder were the ch’on-min. The majority of them were slaves serving either the government or private individuals, and they were regarded as hardly human and treated accordingly, though government slaves had a somewhat easier time of it than private ones.
The government slaves worked mostly in the workshops which supplied court and bureaucracy with various manufactured goods and performed various menial tasks for the officials. Private slaves served as household servants and also tilled the soil, their labor being much less expensive than that of sangmin farmers.
While slave status was hereditary, it was sometimes possible for a man to be a slave of a given person while his family was not. It was sometimes even possible for a slave to own slaves. Marriage outside the ch’on-min class, however, was impossible, and the children of slave women were classified as slaves no matter what their father’s status might have been.
In addition to slavery, certain other occupations were regarded as so demeaning as to merit ch’on-min status. These included strolling actors (there were no actresses), kisaengs [prostitutes], and butchers. Butchering was the most despised of all occupations, so much so that butchers and their families were often compelled to live in segregated villages.
The numbers of slaves held by the government had been greatly increased at the outset of the Yi Dynasty by the expropriation of many thousands of slaves held by Buddhist temples and monasteries.
[With the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 and after], the government pressed many slaves into military service . . . and this often entailed an automatic rise in status. And when at last the country was at peace, many of the government offices found that they were unable to support as many slaves as formerly.
Often the government had no option but to emancipate large numbers of slaves because it was unable to feed and house them . . . and large numbers of slaves became artisans or farmers. Eventually it became government policy to give official yangmin [farmer] status to all slaves who had served the government for two generations in positions formerly reserved for yangmin.”
(The History of Korea, Han Woo-Keun, Grafton Mintz, editor, Eul-Yoo Publishing Company, 1970, excerpts, pp. 252-253; 313-315)