AAS Annual Meeting

Korea Session 734

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Session 734: Gift, Tax, and Tribute: Things and Networks in Late Choson Korea

Organizer: Young-Jun Cho, Academy of Korean Studies, South Korea

This panel aims to shed light on the circulation of things in late Choson-era Korea, to reveal its operating rules in the context of social totality. Many literatures on that period have emphasized commercialization in the prospect of modernization. These Hegelian approaches have ignored, however, the social totality in which markets were laid out. As Karl Polanyi pointed out, the circulation of things would be well understood in the context of social networks; so too would the operation of a society be with a close observation of the circulation. Choson Korea is a good example through which to analyze various networks between the center and the regions of the Confucian countries. Although strong centralized administration was introduced by the Chinese Empire, Choson's relatively small territory made it much more thorough in its governance. Its unique social and cultural features, and even the long duration of the dynasty should be understood in that aspect. However, the operating principles of the society have not been directly analyzed, which the papers in this panel try to do. Ryu's and Tsuji's papers deal with the Korean tax system, and the international tributes and trade between East Asian countries, with respect to textiles and ginseng. Kim’s paper approaches the vertical social network under the dynastic rule, analyzing the role of fans and almanacs, which were the two major and regular royal gifts. Finally, Cho's paper uses the account books of mutual aids in social organizations to reveal their rules of unification.

The Legacy of Tax-in-Kind in the Korean Textile Industry
Sang Yun Ryu, , South Korea

This paper aims to shed light on the relation of tax-in-kind and textile production in late Choson Korea. Tax-in-kind was once common all over the world. In East Asian countries, rice and textiles were two major commodities that could be used as tax payment. In the mid-17th century, however, Korea became the only country where textiles were used by peasants to pay taxes, mainly as a substitute for military service. In contrast, newly established governments in China and Japan stopped collecting fabrics directly from peasants. A general tax good needs uniformity. Un-dyed fabrics with no patterns met the requirements. Therefore, the existence of tax-in-textile meant that large amount was demanded by the economy, or at least by the government. In the 16th century, the Korean government demanded plain cotton fabrics for military clothing and gifts to Japanese ambassadors; and plain silk for tributes to China. In Korea, the tax-in-textile system survived until the end of the 19th century, although it had been modified over the years. Its long life inversely influenced the production and distribution of textile goods. One legacy of the system was the Paegui (White clothing) custom, which used to be a symbol of Korea among foreigners. Another legacy was the weak merits associated with factory or putting-out production. Plain fabrics were relatively easy to weave, and hand looms and weaving skills had spread throughout the country to every agricultural household required to pay tax in the form of textile goods.

Ginseng Tributes and Trading in Late Choson Korea
Yamato Tsuji, Gakushuin University, Japan

From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, wild ginseng was a major export item for Choson. As Choson’s demand for silver could not be met domestically, it was imported from Japan or China by exporting commodities such as cotton, silk, and ginseng. This study will first examine the formation process of the Choson government’s ginseng policy and then analyse the government’s attitude towards tributes by the nation and trading by merchants. Ming had originally imposed upon Choson to make tributes of ginseng each year. The Choson government therefore forced some domestic counties to collect ginseng, and each county relied on a market for gathering the ginseng. In 1593, Choson allowed merchants to export wild ginseng to Ming. However, the increase in ginseng trading troubled the Choson government because the soaring price of the herb prevented them from collecting the required quantity for tributes. To limit the number of merchants, in 1604, the government ordered that the merchants be issued a pass by the government. As late as the seventeenth century, Choson started exporting ginseng to Japan through merchants in Dongnae. At that time, Choson also needed the supply of ginseng for diplomatic purposes. The government therefore made merchants pay customs duties on ginseng and regulated the number of ginseng merchants. When the Choson government came to manage both private export and diplomatic gifts, they adopted the 1604 policy of ginseng regulation, which was originally intended to sustain ginseng tributes to Ming.

The Political Economy of the King's Gift Relations in the Choson Dynasty
Hyok Kim, Kyungbuk National University, South Korea

This paper aims to research the meaning of gift relations in the Confucian monarchy system by exploring the value circulation of the most popular gifts during the Choson dynasty. The Choson era had two nationwide gift-giving ceremonies: The giving of fans in the Dano festival and almanacs in the Dongji festival. These were practiced annually and were popular from royalty to ordinary people. These were one of the king's essential technical means as an apparatus of security. Restoring the value-circulation system of the fans, the social category of the receptors was almost equal to that of the privileged groups at that time. In addition, there were numerous social relations everywhere that were similar to those of king and the privileged class. Those rituals were common not only among the privileged class including Yangban and their relatives, families and employees, but also between a higher officers and their staffs. On the other hand, gift relations through the almanacs were similar to those through the fans in the early Choson era but different in the late. The range of supplying calendar books had expanded to one per 6 households in the 19th century. Their supply relied on the market system differently from that of the fans. This means that the continuous chains of gift relations were nearly broken from the king. Illuminating the meaning of gift relations is critical to understanding the fabric and change in the monarchy system in the Choson dynasty.

Gift Economy and Organization in Late Choson Korea
Young-Jun Cho, Academy of Korean Studies, South Korea

The funeral ceremony was one of the most important events in traditional Korea, where the Confucian ideology prevailed on a nationwide scale. As the expenses incurred in the rituals of any funeral were surprisingly huge, ordinary people, as well as the Royal family, needed a great deal of money to perform ceremonial funerals. These were generally unexpected expenses. Therefore, people, including the elite class, or Yangban, often gave money or a portfolio of commodities to one another based on the idea of reciprocity. In addition to giving mutual aid as individuals, there were established condolence systems in most organizations, such as government offices, the procurement agency for the Royal family, and merchant guilds. This was the case both in Seoul, the capital, and in the countryside. Accountants of organizations kept records of expenditures related to people who died or who experienced the death of family members. These documents included information regarding the mutual aid, commonly referred to as condolence money. Based on studies of such documents from the Kyujanggak Institute in Korea and from the Kawai Collection of Kyoto University in Japan, this paper analyzes the characteristics of condolence culture in pre-modern Korea. From the results of this study, we may come to know the similarities or differences among representative organizations in the late Choson dynasty, and the trends in the way the bookkeeping has changed through the years. This paper also presents criteria of the condolence culture in Korea in order to compare it with that of other nations.