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Traditional Korean Masks


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Yangban, the Aristocrat
Yangban, the cheerful aristocrat character in Korean mask-dancing.

Traditional Korean mask of Yangban, the aristocrat.

Kallie Szczepanski

This mask represents Yangban, the aristocrat. The character looks rather jolly, but he sometimes has people flogged to death if they insult him. A skilled actor could make the mask look cheerful by holding his head high, or menacing by dropping his chin.

The common people took great joy in mocking the aristocracy through talchum. In addition to this regular type of yangban, some regions included a character whose face was painted half-white and half-red. This symbolized the fact that his biological father was a different man than his acknowledged father; he was an illegitimate son.

Other yangban were portrayed as disfigured by leprosy or small-pox. Audiences found such tribulations hilarious, when they were inflicted on the aristocratic characters.

In one play, a monster called Yeongno comes down from heaven. He informs the yangban that he has to eat 100 aristocrats in order to return to the exalted realm. Yangban tries to pretend that he's a commoner to avoid being eaten, but Yeongno isn't fooled... Crunch!

In other dramas, commoners deride the aristocrats for their families' failings, and insult them with impunity. A comment to an aristocrat such as "You look like a dog's rear end!" would probably end in a death sentence in real life, but could be included in a mask play in perfect safety.

The Twelve Hahoe Mask Designs

There are twelve traditional characters in Hahoe talchum.

The nine that still exist in the village are: Yangban (the aristocrat), Kaksi (the young woman or bride), Chung (the Buddhist monk), Choraengi (Yangban's clownish servant), Sonpi (the scholar), Imae (the foolish and jawless servant of Sonpi), Bune (the concubine), Baekjung (the murderous butcher), and Halmi (the old woman).

The three missing masks are Chongkak (the bachelor), Byulchae (the tax collector) and Toktari (the old man).

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