Confucian Statecraft and Korean Institutions. Yu Hyongwon and the Late Choson Dynasty - James B. Palais

(Darren Dugan) #1


Post-Imjin Developments

in Military Defense and the Economy

Tbe last chapter should have conveyed an inkling to most readers that the attempts
to rebuild the military might not be totally successful. It was already clear by
the end of the first decade of the seventeenth century that the attempt to increase
the ranks of the army, arm it with a full complement of muskets and cannon,
and rebuild all defensive fortifications was lagging behind expectations, but more
important problems of national survival would involve nontechnical, even non-
military problems, such as domestic politics and foreign policy.
While attempting to deal with a new crisis from the north, the Koreans were
also forced to rebuild government finances, the economy, and the welfare of the
population. The struggle to achieve these objectives was protracted, but by the
middle of the century, after the foreign threat had subsided, the signs of success
became apparent. Success was measured not only in increased agricultural yields
and taxes, and the expansion of trade, but also in the reform of the tribute sys-
tem, and this new situation had an important effect on Yu Hyongwon's propos-
als for reform.


Factional Rivalry over Foreign Policy

Devastated by the Imjin War, the Korean people had only begun the long strug-
gle to overcome the damage to population and production when they were faced
by another threat of invasion, this time from the Manchus in the north. As so
often occurs in human history, the Koreans attempted to apply some of the
lessons they had learned in the war against Hideyoshi, but the situation had
changed significantly. Some of the lessons learned were based on flawed pre-
cepts to begin with, and the ability to establish a proper policy of defense was
limited by domestic political factional divisions and disagreement on the moral
and practical approach to foreign policy. The results were not only tragic, they


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