Protect the Pines, Punish the People: Forests and the State in Pre-Industrial Korea, 918-1897
AbstractAs the main fuel source and building material of almost every society before the Industrial Revolution, wood was a fundamental component of human life. In turn, wood’s primary source, the forest ecosystem, was a site of competing claims and usages. From the peasant’s fuel wood to the hunter’s habitat and the admiral’s timbers, the pre-industrial forest was a site of contestation and, accordingly, an accordant site of laws, edicts, and codes meant to prioritize certain claims, often those of the state. State forestry, the management of forests by government personnel for state use, thus became a crucial aspect of administrative expansion in the pre-industrial world, particularly in the early modern or “late pre-industrial” era between 1400 and 1850.
This dissertation examines the political, social, and environmental implications of one of the longest state forestry systems in world history, that of Korea’s Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1910). For five hundred years, the Chosŏn dynasty maintained an extensive state forestry system across the Korean peninsula largely around the protection of a single conifer, the pine. As the first English-language study of Korea’s pre-industrial environmental history, I utilize Chosŏn-era administrative records, gazetteers, literati treatises, and diaries to analyze the development of Korean forestry institutions and their impact on the environment and society. I argue that the expansion of state forestry was fundamental to the expansion of the Chosŏn state and underpinned its remarkable longevity. Moreover, the government’s prioritization of pine profoundly impacted Korea’s environment.
During the Chosŏn dynasty’s early years, pine timber provided solutions to numerous issues ranging from naval defense to edifice and coffin construction. Thus, from the fifteenth century onward, the Chosŏn government identified key pine forests along coastal and riverine areas and monopolized them for state use. Thanks to rigid enforcement, state forests along Korea’s coasts and rivers grew predominantly into successional stands of Pinus densiflora and Pinus thunbergii. These forests and their timber would prove crucial during the Imjin War (1592-1598) when Korean naval victories helped defeat major Japanese invasions. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Chosŏn state continued to expand state forestry along the southwestern coastal and island regions and into the upper Han River basin northeast of Seoul. It did so by bringing a wide array of personnel – civil officials, soldiers, licensed merchants, and even monks – into the state forestry system as inspectors, wardens, loggers, and shippers. The government utilized the same personnel to stamp out perceived threats to state forests such as vagrants, slash-and-burn agriculturalists, and illegal gravesites. Thus, state forestry in Chosŏn Korea became a vehicle for imposing particular ecologies and land-use practices on the countryside.
In the same period however, a growing population and commercializing economy brought new complications to state forestry. A booming salt industry raised demand for fuel wood and opened state forests to wider usages and avenues for corruption. Merchants around Seoul gained access to more forests outside of government cordon. Villagers formed forestry organizations to protect local woodland for their own usage. By the nineteenth century, the state forestry system was in decline due to corruption and rising disputes over forest usage rights. The pine, however, continued to dominate the Korean landscape into the modern era. This dissertation thus uses the relationship between the state and the forest to offer a fresh perspective into Korean and global history, one that moves toward a multi-faceted, longue durée view of administrative expansion and environmental change in both Korea and across the pre-industrial world.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:39987984
- FAS Theses and Dissertations