2.4 Yi Dynasty (Jonseon Dynasty) - Permanent Private Control of Land

The new Yi Dynasty (Jonseon Dynasty) (1329 - 1910) destroyed the material basis of the Koryo elite by confiscating their estates. This land was given to the new elite, but with careful steps to prevent them from becoming too powerful. Officials were never posted in their home area, were transferred every three years, and central government officials were given land only near the capital in the Kyonggi province.

The success of these measures varied as time went by. Especially after the Hydeyoshi invasion, 1592-98, more thorough changes took place regarding the control of land in connection with the development of the ya'ngban class. According to the rule, only officials could obtain grants of land. To be appointed, one had to pass an examination, mainly in Chinese and Confucian classics. Accordingly, devoting oneself to intellectual pursuits opened the way to control of land. To remain yangban, each family had to have at least one member in office, while the rest could live on the estate and engage in leisure activities with feasts, poetry, music, etc. Hereditary land grants became more common and finally led to private land. The former tax collector became landlord, and the tax - payer became tenant. From this time onwards, something similar to land-ownership developed from the grants of tax rights, even if illegally in the beginning.

The development of the yangban as literati-officials into landlords is a contradiction in itself. As officials, they were supposed to work for a strong government based on Confucian virtues. But these very virtues included obligations to their families such as increasing the family holding and wealth, which was against the interest of the state. The institution of hereditary grants brought about a more stable aristocracy and made it easy for the yangban family to give priority to their family interests.

While former tax receivers developed into bureaucratic landlords, a class of farmer landlords emerged as well. The state encouraged the reclamation of uncultivated land by granting tax exemption over ten years. If it was discovered that the cultivated land already belonged to somebody else, the. tiller had to pay 1/3 of the yield as a rent to the legal owner. This regulation established a tenant relationship. People who cleared much land and rented it out became farmer landlords, and fixed or share rent became widespread.

Thus, the period of the Yi Dynasty (Jonseon Dynasty) brought permanent private control of land, even if the rights on land consisted of usufruct and tax rights and not full private ownership. Landlord-tenant relations emerged; absenteeism, various forms of tenancy, exploitation, and insecurity were reported, and while not all yangban were rich people, a wide gap existed between yangban and the peasantry.