AAS Annual Meeting

Korea Session 181

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Session 181: Silver and Trade in Premodern East Asia

Organizer: Seonmin Kim, Korea University, South Korea

Chair: Richard von Glahn, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Discussant: Richard von Glahn, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Since the late sixteenth century, China, Korea and Japan were involved in major warfare, by which they all experienced violence and turmoil, including severe damages to material resources and dynastic changes in each society. The Qing court of the Manchus conquered China and simultaneously re-established the hierarchical relationships with its neighbors. Chosŏn Korea, most notably, was forced to replace the Ming with the Qing as their suzerain court, and Tokugawa Japan was incorporated, though during a brief period, into the Qing world order through its connections with the Chosŏn. Even though they included various types of rituals and correspondences, the relationships among these three countries were primarily grounded upon their trade relations. Of various trade relations in East Asia, this panel will discuss with focus on silver circulations linking through China, Korea and Japan. A huge amount of Japanese silver was imported to Chosŏn Korea and later went to Qing China through the hands of Chosŏn merchants. Two geographical points of such trading network were located at Korean borders. The southern entry was Japan House near Pusan, where Japanese silver, Korean ginseng and Chinese silk were exchanged. The northern gate was Ŭiju, a Korean border city near the Yalu River, and Bianmen, the first gate into the Qing territory. It was silver circulation that connected these border cities and eventually China and Japan. By analyzing silver trade in East Asia and roles of merchants in it, this panel will examine economic relationships among China, Korea and Japan.

The Negotiations over Silver Circulation between Chosŏn Korea and Japan, 1698-1717
Sung-il Chung, Independent Scholar, South Korea

This paper explores the circulation of East Asian silver in the late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries when important changes took place in monetary policies in Tokugawa Japan and Chosŏn Korea respectively. A revaluation of Japanese silver occurred when a friction between the Chosŏn and Japan over the Korean island of Ullŭng (then called Takeshima in Japan) caused tensions in the trade relations between the two countries. In 1695, the Tokugawa bakufu introduced a new silver currency with 64% purity, the Genroku silver. This new currency was designated to replace the Keicho silver, which was 80% purity silver and had been in circulation for nearly 100 years. Since then, the Japanese government frequently devalued its silver currency. Whenever such devaluation took place, the Tsushima domain informed the Chosŏn court, a precondition so that the Tsushima domain was able to maintain their trade relations with the Chosŏn. By analyzing the Chosŏn court’s responses to the devaluation of Japanese silver, this paper will provide a way to better understand the circulation of silver in East Asia. Because the Chosŏn court depended on silver imported from Japan as a means for purchasing goods in Qing China, the revaluation of silver in Japan was an issue of great importance to the Chosŏn court. Examining diplomatic discussions over silver currency will provide us a better picture of trade and diplomacy connecting China, Korea and Japan in premodern period.

Chosŏn Trade with Qing China and Inflow of Japanese Silver
Nae-hyun Kwon, Korea University, South Korea

By the time the Manchus, previously an inferior northern tribe, invaded Korea and later conquered China proper, the Chosŏn court was forced to serve the Qing instead of the Ming court. The Chosŏn court sent its royal delegations, both regularly and irregularly, to Beijing, an action showing that the Chosŏn formally acknowledged the superiority of the Qing court. But the tributary embassy dispatch was also an effective way to receive high culture and information from China and to make a huge profit through trade with China. In fact, such a highly ritualistic setting as the tributary relationship was inseparable from trade relations. The Chosŏn purchased white yarn, the primary source for silk, from China through spending a huge amount of silver, most of which was imported from Japan. Through examining such trade relations with China and Japan, this paper will address the way that Chosŏn Korea was connected to silver network in East Asia, in which China became the final destination of world silver since the late sixteenth century and Japan produced silver and supplied it to China. When Japanese silver export declined in the early eighteenth century, the Chosŏn effort to participate in this silver network was seriously damaged. This paper will explore the ways how silver circulation through China and Japan affected the Chosŏn society and economy, and furthermore, how this silver network influenced the relationships among the three East Asian countries.

Transportation and Trade in Qing-Chosŏn Border
Seonmin Kim, Korea University, South Korea

It has been widely discussed that Qing-Chosŏn relations were built on the tributary relationship, a premise which required the Chosŏn court to send its royal embassies to Beijing on a regular basis. Compared to rich literature on political aspects of this tributary setting, there are only a few discussions in regards to economic and social effects of Korean embassy visits to Qing and Chosŏn respectively. How did these Koreans manage their travel from the border to Beijing? What kinds of economic activities did they get involved? How did local Qing people respond to and interact with these foreign visitors who came to their place so frequently and regularly? This paper seeks to explore the economic and social dimension of the Qing-Chosŏn tribute relations in the development of border markets and transportation business between Korean tribute embassies and local Chinese. The borderland between the Yalu River and the first border gate to China, separated by about twenty two miles, provided a good opportunity for both local Chinese and Korean visitors to develop various methods for border trade. This paper especially discusses transportation service for Korean embassies, a business through which local Qing people, both the Han and the Manchus, were involved in Korean trade. By exploring the ways how Qing merchants delivered and took care of Korean luggage, commodities, and most importantly, silver, this paper addresses that tribute relationship facilitated silver circulations between the Qing and the Chosŏn.