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

(Darren Dugan) #1

state restrictions on the import of goods from abroad. After the inordinate
demands for gold and silver tribute by the Ming rulers had been dropped, the
country had abandoned both mining and metallurgy, and because of the import
of high-level silk textiles, Korean manufactures in those goods never reached
the level of the Chinese. Other factors related to the lag in the development of
commodity production were the extremely low level of demand for goods, the
poor transportation system, and the disappearance of currency from the mar-
kets. Yi, therefore, concluded that the net result was stagnation in commercial
Kang Man'gil, however, has stressed a number of changes that took place in
the seventeenth century. Five of the thirty bureaus (kaksa) of the Six Ministries
were abolished, and the artisans attached to ten of them were eliminated, espe-
cially the weavers of cotton cloth and earthenware vessel potters, and these prod-
ucts were taken over by private artisans. The registry of artisans assigned to other
bureaus ceased also, an indication that artisans were gradually moving toward
a system offree and independent production. Private merchants (sajang) began
to be mobilized by the state for the manufacture of goods for the state, particu-
larly by Yonsan'gun at the tum of the sixteenth century. Furthermore, as the lev-
els of skill among official artisans began to decline, more private merchants had
to be enlisted by the state to provide items of quality, but they were still not paid
wages for their services. In the countryside there were few skilled artisans, so
that provincial governors, magistrates, and military commanders had to recruit
private merchants to produce necessary goods.
Nevertheless, that development did not yet culminate in full-scale commod-
ity production even by the middle of the nineteenth century because state agen-
cies continued to use corvee labor to make goods even though they employed
private artisans.^43 Monks still retained their traditional hold on papermaking,
shoemaking, carpentry, and the yeast (or distillery) industry, and the paekchOng
outcastes were occupied mainly in butchering, leatherware, and willow basketry.44

Decline in Cotton and Cotton Textile Production

Cotton and cotton textiles had replaced ramie and hemp as the chief material
for clothing. Trade in that commodity had increased so greatly that cotton cloth
became a medium of exchange, but government taxation of cotton production
inhibited its expansion, and exports of cotton cloth to Japan declined after the
Imjin War because the Japanese began their own cotton production and soon
became self-sufficient in it. One official, Pak Hongjun, testified in 1755 that gov-
ernment demands for cotton cloth had caused overcultivation of a single crop
that had sapped the fertility of vast amounts of land.
Sung Jae Koh (Ko Si'ingje) has pointed out that this phenomenon was occur-
ring as the rural economy had shifted to a general pattern of fragmented, small
peasant holdings that reduced family economies to a bare subsistence. Peasants
were forced to tum to cotton cultivation and weaving as the main source of sub-

Free download pdf