Kingdom of Pines: State Forestry and the Making of Korea, 1392-1910

Part of the Autumn 2018 season of seminars at SOAS:

Kingdom of Pines: State Forestry and the Making of Korea, 1392-1910

John Lee (Manchester)
Friday 23 November 2018, 5:15 – 7:00pm
SOAS Brunei Gallery Room B211

Abstract

Korean pinesFor almost every society before the twentieth century, the forest ecosystem was the main source of fuel, construction material, and raw chemical matter. This presentation examines the longest continuous state forestry system in world history, that of Korea’s Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1910). For five hundred years, the Chosŏn government managed forests across the Korean peninsula with focus on one type of conifer, the pine. I argue that state forestry was fundamental to the expansion of the Chosŏn state and its military, political, and cultural priorities from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. Moreover, the government’s prioritization of pine profoundly transformed Korea’s environment. Over time however, Chosŏn forests also became contested zones as government policies clashed with administrative corruption, commercial operations, and the workaday sylvan needs of a growing populace. Overall, I offer a new, environmental-historical approach to Korean history that interweaves the making of state, society, and ecology on the Korean peninsula.

Speaker Biography

John S. Lee is Presidential Fellow in Environmental History at the University of Manchester. Previously, he was a Postdoctoral Associate in the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University. He received his Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University in 2017. His current monograph in preparation, Kingdom of Pines: State Forestry and the Making of Korea, 1392-1910, will be one of the first studies of Korea’s pre-industrial environmental history. His other current project examines the environmental legacies of the Mongol Empire in Korea, focusing on the long-term impact of Inner Asian equine culture on Korean society and ecologies. His most recent publication, “Postwar Pines: The Military and the Expansion of State Forests in Post-Imjin Korea, 1598-1684,” appears in the May 2018 issue of the Journal of Asian Studies.

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