In late Choson, increasing domination of the civil branch of the central government by capital civil official families led to the political marginalization of other yangban families. Turning to military examinations, some in Seoul reproduced themselves as semi-hereditary military lines that enjoyed the powerful civil officials' patronage and government support. Many among the provincial elite also chose military careers in the course of their exclusion from central politics. Possible weakening of their local political hegemony, however, may have made the elite status more purely ascriptive in nature, and the military examination degree seems to have lost its appeal. Despite the differentiation, the central civil official, central military official, and local elite families continued to constitute one yangban status group. This elite substratification process ultimately allowed the capital military men to retain their membership in yangban society, take pride in their profession, and loyally defend the existing order. Meanwhile, commoners began to participate en masse in the military examinations, but the degree merely helped to satisfy their aspirations for higher social status without actually allowing their political participation. By facilitating elite substratification and nonelite accommodation, the military examinations in late Choson appear to have promoted social stability and dynastic longevity.


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