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Dec 07 BAKS conference report #2: Anders Karlsson

Dr Anders Karlsson – Lecturer in Korean, SOAS
Royal benevolence and disaster relief in Choson Korea

No abstract is available

Notes (the usual caveats about my amateur efforts apply)

AK started with a brief account of the severe floods in Pyongan province in 1859. The records indicate that the central government sent an “admonishing magistrate” to assess the situation, provide comfort and advice, and to distribute aid. Compensation was provided for loss of life and property. AK traced the history of both types of aid:

  • Loss of life
    • A practice inherited from China
    • Initially only granted to the families of high officials who lost their life in the course of their duties.
    • Subsequently extended to soldiers who died in national service
    • King Sejong in 1442 widened the scope to include anyone dying on official duty.
    • Subsequently extended to cover any unnatural death: eg:
      • Drowning, suicide (often to avoid death by starvation), murder, food poisoning, freezing to death, unjust execution, killed by tigers, even trampled to death by a crowd (AK gave the statistic that in 1754 120 people were killed by tigers in the course of one month in Kyongi Province alone, while the deaths as a result of poor crowd control occurred during a special examination by the king in 1686)
    • By 1673 the practice had become a “cumbersome task to administer” as well as being open to corrupt practices by local magistrates (who were responsible for making the initial assessment and passing the request for aid to the central government)
  • Loss of property
    • Practice of providing compensation for loss of property started in early 17th century, but had become systematised by eighteenth century.
    • eg loss of housing in a fire in 1748 was compensated by a gift of millet and more timber.
    • Tax exemptions in the event of crop failure was a separate system, distinct from these compensation arrangements.
    • System worked well up until the mid 1860s (contrary to a conventional view of the Koryo dynasty as being exploitative), but thereafter economic decline meant there were fewer resources to give away.

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