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    Despite the swirling storms of upheaval following the uprising, there were those who remained undeterred, focusing solely on their tasks. On one side were those pioneering in the northern territories, and on the other, the Ministry of Taxation.

    The officials of the Ministry of Taxation, led by Kim Jeom, were all intensely driven.

    The time had come for the distribution of currency, coinciding with the harvest season.

    ***

    As economic reforms progressed, the economy of Joseon gradually expanded.

    With the growth of the economy, the government’s finances also increased in scale. Tax revenues rose, but so did expenditures. Therefore, the Ministry of Taxation’s office was bustling every day, except on New Year’s Day and Chuseok.

    The officials had to work tirelessly overnight to prevent leakage in tax collection and to suppress expenditure as much as possible, all in an effort to secure funds for the operation of the new currency system.

    After a relentless struggle, when the planned year of Giyu arrived, the Ministry of Taxation was somewhat prepared.

    “If we hadn’t developed the gold and silver mines, this would have been impossible. And, the help from the Ouchi family was significant too….”

    Kim Jeom murmured to himself while reviewing the reports.

    ***

    Previously, trade with Japan involved intermediary trade via Tsushima Island. Most of the Japanese living in the Japanese enclaves (waegwan or wakan)[1] in Gyeongsang Province were from Tsushima.

    However, with King Sejong’s active economic reforms, the composition of Japanese residents in Waegwan began to change gradually.

    “We can’t trust those Tsushima scoundrels!”

    Following King Sejong’s decision, the local government offices managing the Waegwan scrutinized them closely. If any Japanese resident showed the slightest fault, the Joseon officials would use it as a pretext to immediately expel them to Tsushima.

    As vacancies arose, Joseon would promptly fill them with Japanese sent by the Ouchi family and the Governor of Kyushu.

    This arrangement benefited the Ouchi family, the Governor of Kyushu, and Joseon alike.

    The Ouchi family and the Governor of Kyushu could import cultural goods from the more advanced Joseon directly, bypassing Tsushima and reducing costs. They could then resell these goods in their neighboring territories for a profit.

    For Joseon, this arrangement was beneficial as well. Unlike Tsushima, which was just a small island, the Ouchi family and the Governor of Kyushu were lords of large domains, thus capable of mobilizing significantly larger funds. Moreover, their friendly stance towards Joseon made maintaining a good relationship easier. Particularly in the case of the Ouchi family, communication was smooth, partly because they considered themselves descendants of the Baekje kingdom.

    As a result, Tsushima suffered the greatest loss. With the Ouchi family and the Governor of Kyushu – formidable competitors for Tsushima – entering the scene, Tsushima was inevitably pushed out of the competition. Moreover, since the Tsushima Campaign, Joseon’s attitude towards Tsushima had not been favorable.

    ‘Otori in the north, Tsushima in the south’

    King Sejong and his court already viewed these two as targets to be eliminated.

    Tsushima was in a dilemma. Although they wanted to employ their old tactics of using pirates to adopt a hardline approach, they couldn’t underestimate the power of the Joseon military. Especially with the introduction of new warships known as ‘Panokseon’ in the navy, the maritime supremacy between Joseon and Tsushima was increasingly shifting in Joseon’s favor.

    [TL/N: Panokseon. Also know as Turtle Ship.]

    https://malevus.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Panokseon-as-the-origin-of-the-korean-turtle-ship.jpeg?x57477 

    Additionally, Joseon held control over Tsushima’s lifeline through its trade ships, the Segyeonseon[2]. Although Tsushima had its agricultural lands, they were insufficient to provide enough food for the people of Tsushima.

    Consequently, the Japanese in Tsushima had no choice but to lie low and be cautious of Joseon’s influence.

    With these changes in the forces managing trade between Japan and Joseon, the composition of the Japanese residing in the Waegwan underwent significant changes.

    By the time of the Giyu year, the composition of the Japanese in the Waegwan was approximately Ouchi 3.5: Governor of Kyushu 3: Tsushima 2: various merchants including those from the Shogunate and ten other regions in Japan (Jipcheo Waesa, the ten Japanese territories permitted to send envoys to Joseon) 1.5.

    With the Ouchi family and the Governor of Kyushu becoming central to trade, Joseon was able to resolve long-standing issues. One such resolution was the smooth import of copper and sulfur.

    Joseon, by encouraging competition and checks among the Ouchi family, the Governor of Kyushu, Tsushima, and other forces, managed to resolve the supply issues of copper and sulfur.

    Furthermore, continuous mining activities within Joseon eventually led to the discovery of copper and sulfur mines, finally allowing King Sejong to breathe a sigh of relief.

    “We have overcome one of the major challenges that troubled Joseon!”

    ***

    While reviewing reports, Kim Jeom called for the officials of the Ministry of Taxation.

    “Everyone from the lower to the higher ranks, gather in the meeting room!”

    At Kim Jeom’s summons, intermediate officials up to the rank of Jeong 4-pum and senior officials up to the rank of vice minister gathered in the meeting room.

    Once all the officials were seated, Kim Jeom reviewed the situation.

    “Have all the marketplaces been set up?”

    “Yes. We built them quickly thanks to the extra space allocated during the construction of the existing monopoly stores.”

    “What about the supply of copper coins and both the white and yellow bronze coins?”

    “We prepared them based on last year’s tax revenues, with an additional 20% surplus.”

    “Is that so?”

    Listening to the responses of the officials, Kim Jeom went through the records of last year’s tax revenues.

    “Let’s see… last year’s tax revenues… focusing only on what was collected from the farmers…”

    Humming like he was singing a song, Kim Jeom found the relevant section and recited the details.

    “Looking at last year’s tax revenues from the farmers… we have rice 113,840 seok, field rice 70,013 seok, soybeans 36,650 seok, cotton fabric 28,750 bolts, cloth 57,550 bolts(footnote 1)… Is that correct?”

    [TL/N: 1 seok is roughly around 100kg to 145kg depending on type of grains.]

    At Kim Jeom’s question, the officials, after checking the records, all nodded in agreement.

    “That’s correct.”

    “Did you prepare accordingly based on these figures?”

    “Yes, we did.”

    “Hmm… And the transportation of the currency?”

    “We transported it with military escort, and it’s almost complete everywhere except for Jeju Island and a few other islands.”

    “That’s a relief.”

    Receiving the reports from his subordinates, Kim Jeom showed a sigh of relief.

    Since the Goryeo era, successive Joseon kings had tried but failed to circulate currency. Now, King Sejong was making another attempt.

    Having started later than initially planned, they took extra care in preparation, fully committed to ensuring its success.

    While Kim Jeom was reviewing the readiness, an official asked him a question.

    “What about the tenant farmers working on the lands confiscated in the Samnam region?”

    “Follow the law as already announced for this year. Right after this harvest, there will be a decision from His Majesty.”

    “Understood.”

    At Kim Jeom’s words, the officials all bowed their heads.

    “Any other questions? Or new matters to report?”

    When the officials responded with silence, Kim Jeom stood up.

    “Then, go back to your duties. If we do this right, next year will be easier.”

    “We’ll keep that in mind!”

    Returning to his office, Kim Jeom muttered with a worried expression.

    “The Crown Prince’s words are still troubling me…”

    ***

    The issue of handling the real estate, including the fields confiscated from the nobles who failed in the uprising, was a new topic of discussion.

    “Shouldn’t we make it state property?”

    At Lee Jik’s suggestion, King Sejong and the other ministers nodded in agreement. Seeing their reaction, Hyang posed a question.

    “Does making it state property mean managing it as Gungbangjeon (Real Estates Owned by the Royal Household)?”

    “Probably, yes.”

    “But Gungbangjeon is tax-exempt land owned by the royal family, isn’t it? Won’t that cause issues with tax revenues?”

    “Ah!”

    At Hyang’s point, the ministers and King Sejong showed a realization.

    King Sejong had temporarily allowed the management of the royal lands, except for the Royal Household Finance Office, naesusa[3], by the government to facilitate economic reforms. This was a temporary measure.

    During this process, King Sejong had even promised in writing to the royal relatives that the privileges taken away would be returned when the time was right.

    Once the economic reforms were complete and Joseon’s economy grew further, it was certain that the royal relatives would demand the fulfillment of this promise.

    Eventually, King Sejong and the ministers had to reconvene to find a solution.

    The decision made was to turn the confiscated fields and real estate into state-owned lands. As Joseon operated under an absolute monarchy where ‘Joseon = King,’ there were no significant issues. These lands would be managed separately from Naesusa and Gungbangjeon fields, minimizing impact on tax revenues.

    “Of course, the problem will be how much rent to charge. We’ll need to deliberate on this aspect too.”

    At Kim Jeom’s comment, King Sejong nodded.

    “That’s true. However, if there’s a discrepancy between Gungbangjeon and these state lands, it might lead to discontent among the tenant farmers and promote illegal activities. Let’s think this through.”

    Thus, a compromise was reached after thorough discussion:

    – The rent for those who lease state-owned agricultural land will be the same as for Gungbangjeon.

    – Those leasing Gungbangjeon and state-owned lands will pay taxes at the same rate as regular tenant farmers.

    “That seems reasonable. But let’s think a bit more. Something feels off.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    The ministers accepted King Sejong’s vaguely expressed concerns without objection. They didn’t have much time.

    Delaying further could result in the harvested rice in the fields rotting. They needed to harvest and collect taxes as soon as possible, which would ease the burden on both the people and the officials, allowing them to plan next year’s budget more comfortably.

    “Minister of Taxation.”

    “Yes, Your Highness.”

    As Kim Jeom was leaving the Geunjeongjeon after the meeting, he stopped when Hyang called out to him.

    Kim Jeom’s unease stemmed from Hyang’s last remark.

    “Why suddenly mention restorative tonics? Everyone in the Six Ministries Street knows that’s the last thing one should talk about these days, especially around the Crown Prince.”

    Though his eyes were on the documents, Kim Jeom’s mind was increasingly troubled.

    The father and son duo of the Geunjeongjeon and Easter Palace were always a step ahead. While it was often possible to anticipate the King’s actions to some extent, the Crown Prince was utterly unpredictable.

    Additionally, the Crown Prince had recently developed a concerning habit. Even if he identified issues in new policies, unless they were critical matters affecting the nation’s survival, he wouldn’t mention them beforehand. Instead, he would vaguely hint at them to the ministers, quietly prepare countermeasures, and then present them to King Sejong when the situation escalated.

    1. Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waegwan_(enclave)[]
    2. Japanese trading ships[]
    3. A government office in charge of managing royal finances during the Joseon Dynasty[]

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