Early Joseon Period, State Structure

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Early Joseon Period, State Structure

 


Near the end of the Goryeo Dynasty, in 1389, General Yi Seong-gye seized political and military power, deposing King Chang (r.1388-1389) and placing King Gongyang (r.1389-1392) on the throne. He and his faction then carried out sweeping land reforms. Neo-Confucian ideology became the political capital in his fight against the declining Goryeo monarchy and nobility.

The Gwajeonbeop (rank land law) was instituted, providing not only land for General Yi to distribute but also the power to rule the country. He and his group were well aware that the ability to bring order and to end the decadent Goryeo Dynasty lay in the land tenure system.

Under the terms of the status land system, land was ordinarily distributed for life only, on the basis of one's status or rank. Recipients were given the right to collect rents, while the peasant was given the right to cultivate. The customary rent amounted to half the crop and was usually paid as rent-tax to the state.

Since the peasant, as tenant, was guaranteed land tenure in terms of cultivation rights, not subject to confiscation, his livelihood was improved. In addition, the accumulation of land by the yangban, or office-holding aristocrats, was strictly controlled by the stipulation that status land would be granted to them only in the Gyeonggi area around the capital, where the government could easily maintain supervision and surveillance.

By resolutely carrying out land reform, Yi Seong-gye and his followers obtained economic influence. King Gongyang was forced to abdicate and Yi Seong-gye's followers placed Yi on the throne, bringing an end to the house of Wang. Yi Seong-gye renamed the dynasty Joseon and he was given the dynastic name of Taejo. The establishment of institutions of Confucian learning was given top priority in order to institute a Confucian state. A college and five municipal schools were set up in Hanyang, and local schools were established in all the magistrates. From these schools, Confucian-oriented scholar-officials were recruited for government.

The yangban class, acting in concert, had the power to influence the monarchial administration and decision-making procedures. Under Confucian precepts, the bureaucracy was to act as the agent of the monarch's will, since the monarch had a vested interest in benevolent rule. The monarch in turn had to heed the advice of the Confucian scholars. In this connection, the Office of Royal Lecturers and the Office of State Councilors (Uijeongbu) were of prime importance. Below this were the six boards of administration - civil appointment, taxation, rites, military, punishment and public works - the principal government organizations in the capital. In provincial areas administrative divisions and magistrates under provincial governors carried out local administration.

The Censorate Offices submitted memorials and remonstrances to the monarch and had the authority to ratify and rectify the monarch's appointment of officials and his renovative decrees. The court historians, who were to record daily happenings in the court and render verbatim records of the royal conversation, were empowered to criticize the monarch and keep him under close surveillance.

In order to enhance Confucian learning, movable metal type was cast for the printing of Confucian classics and historical literature in 1403. Typography was developed and improved by the repeated casting of new fonts as a means of promoting Confucian studies for the welfare and prosperity of the state.

 

 

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