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.