Choson & Tax Reform, etc. Lecture: Tax reform was long overdue: it took the devastation of the wars to convince the people in the court that it was time for one. The wars did push Choson to the edge of economic collapse; the loss of revenue was that extreme. The problem facing the people that court wasn?t simply a matter of increasing taxes & surveying the land under cultivation to ensure it was on the tax roles: it was that the policymakers had to be very careful to avoid discouraging the practice of agriculture. The last tax reform was under King Sejong (1450-1518); in 1444, Sejong issued the edict for the promotion of agriculture. In this edict, he invokes the Chinese past & the Korean past to justify his efforts to promote agriculture. The point here is that agriculture provides the necessities of life: food & clothing. Therefore, when they enact a tax reform, they had to be very careful not to discourage it! His tax reform REDUCED the tax on farmers from 10% to 5%; it was adjustable to the fertility of the land and the amount of rainfall. The tribute tax required farmers in a particular area to send in a local commodity. They were also expected to participate in the gathering and shipping agency of the government. The new tax reform occurred in 1608, but only in the capital district. ?Grand Tax Law? or the ?Unity Tax Law?: each farmer was liable for 15 quarts of rice per unit of land (kyol) 1% of the harvest per unit payable in cloth or coin the problem with this tax is that the kyol varied in size from period to period. *it eliminated the tribute tax! (which was important because it generated such a large portion of revenue for the gov?t.) in its absence, there are significant developments in Choson?s economy. Now the court has to buy the items that were once given them; they use the revenue from the new tax law to buy it. This very quickly stimulated commercial activity. Merchants started to discover that the government was going into the markets and buying what it needed. Markets are open every 5 days to allow the merchants to travel from market to market. These developments, in response to the tax reform to 1608, were given added impetus in the early seventeenth century and beyond by new technology and agriculture. The most important, new, technology in agriculture was RICE TRANSPLANTING. ^^ this means that as one rice crop is maturing, long before it matures, another rice crop is planted in a small rice paddy. They are planted very close together (much too close to each other for ultimate maturation). Once a rice paddy is cleared/harvested, the farmer transplants the other rice crops into the paddy at the proper distance. Now they are able to increase the number of harvests from a particular piece of land because of the practice of rice transplanting. Now the farmers take some of the land out of rice cultivation and use it for cash crops ? tobacco, cotton, ginseng, etc. It is coincidental that the new tax law and the new technology occurred at the same time. ?Tribute men? = merchants; the monopoly rights of the gov?t agents became increasingly precarious because now the gov?t could simply wait for the merchants to come around. The gov?t response to the increase in the markets & merchants was to discourage ALL of it; unchecked commercial activity was undesirable because of the fears that it would undermine agriculture. ?It is said that farming is occupation of the government?.With sweat and strain, farmers work the land?merchants merely exchange cheap goods for precious items, thereby gaining double profit. It is no wonder therefore that the number of farmers diminishes and the number of merchants increases daily. It is requested that all merchants register?and following the ancient custom of taxing idle people?anyone who engages in commerce without proper registration?all his stuff would be confiscated.? By the turn of the 18th century, one century after the tax reform, there were 1000+ open markets on the record. They were open every 5 days to allow peddling merchants to travel from one market to the next. The more sophisticated of the merchants formed groups, etc. By the 17th century, there were 3 large marketplaces in the capital. Under the close supervision of the gov?t, every transaction, these markets were selling goods from provinces in China and Japan: books, art objects, colored silk, ginseng, gold, etc. (Korean cloth, rice, and ginseng for spices and sulfur) Sulfur is a very useful item in agriculture as an herbicide and insecticide. Changes in degree due in part to the effect of the tax reforms of the early 17th century ? still an agrarian economy, but moving away from a barter economy to one with vigorous markets, expansion of commercial activity & private merchants.*Please do not refer to this as a market economy. It carries connotations that do not apply to the Choson. Other changes in the economy: not directly related to the tax reform- cottage industry ? the government retained control because it did not want to let it develop to the point that it would attract people away from agriculture. The only purpose for small scale manufacturing was to meet the needs of the state. With the increase in markets, the government no longer needed to employ artisans/craftsmen. Cottage industry did spread ? the number of artisans working in it proliferated ? but manufacturing did not exceed the level of quality/productivity required by the government. What are some of the (social, cultural) implications of these changes taking place in the economy? Increased population ( 2.29mil ? 4mil ? 6.8mil ? 7mil); approximately 300,000 chonmin & their families reclassified themselves into yangmin status because of their military service; economic changes that took place tended to blur tax distinctions; on occasion in literature there are examples of yangban aristocratic families falling on hard times and having to turn to merchant families to bail them out*do not overstate these changes. Some people benefitted, but others suffered; these were changes of degree, not of kind.
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