Yeongjo of Joseon
|Yeongjo of Joseon
Yeongjo (1694-1776, r. 1724-1776) was the twenty-first ruler of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. He was the second son of Sukjong ( 숙종; 肅宗), and succeeded his older brother Gyeongjong ( 경종; 景宗, the twentieth king). During his 52-year reign, Yeongjo accomplished a number of important reforms in various fields including political organization, culture, and industry. He put an end to the strong political factionalism which had dominated Joseon politics and had detrimental effects on state affairs. He reduced the military service tax by half, and ordered taxes on fisheries, salt, vessels, as well as by an additional land tax, to make up the difference in revenues. King Yeongjo also instituted an accounting system to rationalize state revenues and expenses. He adopted practical measures such as allowing taxes in remote Gyeongsang Province to be paid (in the form of grain) at nearby ports, and mountainous areas to pay in cotton or cash instead of grain. More coins were minted to encourage the circulation of currency.
Yeongjo was a strong Confucianist, and Confucianism in the Joseon Dynasty reached its peak during his reign and the reign of his successor, Jeongjo. During the same period, Joseon experienced a vibrant economy fueled by the growth of trade, manufacturing and mining.
One night, King Sukjong, the nineteenth monarch of the Joseon Dynasty, had a dream in which a priest came into his palace. The dream was so vivid that when he woke up, the king ordered one of his secretaries to go out of Namdaemun (the south gate of his castle) and see what was going on there. The secretary found a priest, the High Buddhist Teacher Yeongwonseonsa, taking a brief rest in front of the gate. The surprised king asked the Buddhist teacher to pray that he might have a son. Soon afterwards, his queen became pregnant, and the next year, 1694, she bore a son, Yeongjo. King Sukjong was very pleased and gave the Buddhist teacher an additional name, "Hyeoneung." At that time, Buddhist temples in Korea were heavily oppressed by the Confucians. Hyeoneung took advantage of his newly-found favor with the king and asked the king to enshrine his royal ancestral tablets in the Buddhist Pagyesa Temple. The strategy was successful. Hyeoneung's stele, sarira stupa, and King Yeongjo's royal robe are still kept in the temple.
The second son of King Sukjong, King Yeongjo was appointed as the Crown Prince in 1721 and succeeded his elder brother Gyeongjong ( 경종; 景宗, the twentieth king), on the throne in 1724. King Yeongjo was a strongly Confucian monarch, and is said to have had a greater knowledge of the classics than his officials. During the reign of Yeongjo and his grandson Jeongjo( 정조; 正祖), Confucianism was dominant.
Successful Economic Policy
The economic recovery from the wars of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was also at its height during Yeongjo’s reign. Trade and manufacturing flourished, and capital accumulated through the creation of monopolies and the wholesaling of goods. The existence of numerous small shops created a lively demand for wholesale goods. The government began issuing patents which gave artisans and manufacturers sole rights over the products they produced. Merchants along the rivers monopolized commodities from the provinces of Gyeonggi and Chungcheong. Merchants accompanied envoys to China in order to seek opportunities to trade, taking paper, horsehair and otter furs with them. The greater demand for silver and copper stimulated the growth of the mining industry. Wholesale activities created a larger demand for silver and copper, which in turn gave impetus to the mining industry. Many yangban became involved in commerce, farming, or money-lending to augment their incomes.
Bak Jiwon, Bak Jega and others who visited Qing with Joseon's envoy missions, witnessed the rapid development of commerce and industry there, and the traditional Confucian attitude that commerce and industry were marginal occupations, unworthy of the yangban, began to change. Returning to Joseon, they began to formulate policies to promote the development of commerce, metallurgy, fishing, stock farming, horticulture, and mining. 
During his 52-year reign, King Yeongjo achieved many reforms in various fields including political organization, culture, and industry. Realizing that the bitter rivalries between political factions had detrimental effects on state affairs, he attempted to end factionalism soon after ascending the throne. He practiced impartiality towards all political factions as a means of curbing factional strife. When he wanted to reinstate the universal military service tax, he left the palace and sought the opinions of officials, literati, soldiers, and peasants. He then reduced the military service tax by half, and ordered taxes on fisheries, salt, vessels, as well as by an additional land tax, to make up the difference in revenues. King Yeongjo also instituted an accounting system to rationalize state revenues and expenses. He adopted practical measures such as allowing taxes in remote Gyeongsang Province to be paid (in the form of grain) at nearby ports, and mountainous areas to pay in cotton or cash instead of grain. More coins were minted to encourage the circulation of currency.
Yeongjo also made efforts to improve the lives of the peasants through education, distributing important publications, such as agricultural texts, in Korean script. Rain gages were once more mass produced, and distributed to local offices. Yeongjo began extensive public works projects. He also increased the opportunities for upward social mobility for the children of commoners. 
Yeongjo is also famous for having treasured Park Mun-su, who was appointed as Amhaeng-eosa (암행;어사) or secret governmental inspector. Park, who had earned great merit in putting down Yi In-ja's rebellion, traveled around Joseon exposing corrupt local officers and arresting them in the name of the king.
Yeongjo was the first to take action against Roman Catholic activities in the country. By the eighteenth century, Catholicism was beginning to acquire a following, especially in the Gangwon and Hwanghae provinces. In 1758, Yeongjo officially outlawed Catholicism as an evil practice.
Death of Crown Prince Sado
Seven years after the death of Yeongjo’s eldest son, another son, prince Sadoseja (장조; 莊祖), was born to King Yeongjo. Immediately after his birth, the king decided to make the newborn Crown Prince. He distanced himself from his son, and placed him in the care of others in his court, in order to raise him as a future king. Consequently the relationship between King Yeonjo and his son was a difficult one. Sadoseja was in continual fear of his father, who frequently scolded him, and this apparently led to mental illness. Whenever King Yeongjo reproached him, Sadoseja randomly beat or killed people in the palace to relieve his stress, and was a sexual deviant. Yeonjo decided that his son must be put to death, but he refused to kill his son with his own hand, and Sado would not follow orders from his father to take his own life. On a hot August day in 1767, Sado finally obeyed his father and climbed into a large wooden rice chest. After eight days, Sado died of suffocation. Sado’s son, Jeongjo, was 11 years old when his father died, but his mother, Crown Princess Hong of Hyegyeonggung, taught her son not to hold a grudge against his grandfather.
Nine years later, in 1776, Yeongjo died and Sado's son Jeongjo became king. Yeongjo was buried in the dynastic tombs at Donggureung.
Yeongjo Donggungilgi (英祖]東宮日記 : Logs on King Yeongjo as Crown Prince) were official logs that were maintained by the Office of the Crown Prince’s Lecturers, recounting the daily events of King Yeongjo’s court during his years as the Crown Prince, from 1721 (first year of King Gyeongjong’s reign) to August 1724. This record is richer, longer, and more varied in its descriptions than the records of other Crown Princes because Yeongjo had come of age and was experienced and knowledgeable about state affairs. Included in the text are a list of items that were daily used by members of the Office of the Crown Prince’s Lecturers and the Office of the Crown Prince’s Attendants, the two principal organs under the heir apparent; a list of the items that were used during the future King Yeongjo’s wedding ceremony; a list of the names and positions of officials who attended the Crown Prince’s lectures as well as of the books that were studied; and a list of new appointments and dismissals in the two offices related to the Crown Prince. At the end of book six are officially stamped records of the Board of Rites and the Office of Slaves regarding the supplies and provisions that were to be returned to various government organs after the dissolution of the Office of the Crown Prince’s Lecturers. The document bears the signatures of various officials in the Office of the Crown Prince’s Lecturers. 
Full Posthumous Name
- King Yeongjo Jangsun Jihaeng Sundeok Yeongmo Uiryeol Jang-ui Hong-yun Gwang-in Donhui Checheon Geongeuk Seonggong Sinhwa Daeseong Gwang-un Gaetae Giyeong Yomyeong Suncheol Geon-geon Gonyeong Baemyeong Sutong Gyeongryeok Honghyu Junghwa Yungdo Sukjang Changhun Jeongmun Seonmu Huigyeong Hyeonhyo the Great of Korea
- Daegu Zone Course, Daegu Metropolitan City. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
- King Yeongjo's Reforms, Korea History. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
- King Yeongjo's Reforms, Korea History. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
- The Education of the Joseon Royal Household, donga.com. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
- Donggungilgi, Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Kang, Jae-eun, and Suzanne Lee. 2006. The land of scholars: two thousand years of Korean Confucianism. Paramus, NJ: Homa & Sekey Books. ISBN 1931907307 ISBN 9781931907309 ISBN 1931907374 ISBN 9781931907378
- Lee, Gil-sang. 2006. Exploring Korean history through world heritage. Seongnam-si: Academy of Korean Studies. ISBN 8971055510 ISBN 9788971055519
- Pratt, Keith L. 2006. Everlasting flower: a history of Korea. London: Reaktion. ISBN 186189273X ISBN 9781861892737
- Yi, Ki-baek. 1984. A new history of Korea. Cambridge, Mass: Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674615751 ISBN 9780674615755 ISBN 067461576X ISBN 9780674615762
|Rulers of Korea
|Monarchs of Joseon and The Korean Empire
|Joseon: Emperor Taejo | King Jeongjong | King Taejong | King Sejong the Great | King Munjong | King Danjong
King Sejo | King Yejong | King Seongjong | Yeonsangun | King Jungjong | King Injong | King Myeongjong
King Seonjo | Gwanghaegun | King Injo | King Hyojong | King Hyeonjong | King Sukjong
King Gyeongjong | King Yeongjo | King Jeongjo | King Sunjo | King Heonjong | King Cheoljong
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