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    As the autumn of the Giyu year arrived, the harvest and tax collection began amidst a mix of anticipation, fear, and tension.

    ‘This harvest, taxes will be collected in currency only!’

    This announcement from the court had been made well before the uprising, so the people of Joseon were already aware and had somewhat prepared themselves mentally.

    At the entrance of a bathhouse near Seochon (West Village) in Hanyang.

    Two men were chatting at the entrance.

    “Have you heard they’re distributing new currency?”

    “Yeah, I heard it’s completely different from what we’ve used so far.”

    “Really? Wonder if it’ll actually be useful this time.”

    “We’ll see…”

    “Are you here to bathe or just block the entrance chatting! Decide already!”

    “Oops!”

    The men, absorbed in their conversation, hurried to the bathhouse counter at the owner’s scolding.

    “Here’s the fee.”

    “Me too!”

    They presented small sacks of grain, which the bathhouse owner opened to inspect.

    “Beans, huh? Let’s see…”

    He poured the beans into a scale’s pan to weigh them.

    “Got the right amount this time. Go on in!”

    As the men entered, the bathhouse owner grumbled while filling a large sack with beans.

    “Darn it! It’s not like making money is birthing a baby, why does it take so long! They should release it quickly once decided. Even weighing these is a hassle!”

    In Joseon’s urban areas, the general sentiment was in favor of the currency. However, the majority of rural dwellers responded negatively.

    “Making new money? Just wasting good copper!”

    “Cotton fabric was good enough, why bother with this…”

    “What’s the use? They’ll just stir up trouble catching counterfeiters again.”

    “Even if they make it, there’s nothing you can buy with it, just a nuisance…”

    Rural and fishing communities were still accustomed to bartering. Additionally, the low trust in previously issued currencies fueled their skepticism.

    Finally, on the day the harvest and tax collection began, the people of Joseon got their first look at the newly minted Joseon currency.

    ***

    As the harvest began, the officials from the Ministry of Taxation dispatched across the nation were exceptionally busy.

    The officials monitored the farmers packing the harvested rice into sacks, ensuring there was no malpractice.

    “Let’s see… Kim Gap-seok’s rice, 22 seom… so, according to the tax rate…”

    The official informed Gap-seok of the amount of tax he needed to pay.

    “You understand how much you need to pay, right?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Then, come to the grain market next to the trading post within five days and exchange it for currency to pay your tax.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Don’t forget, a late fee of 1% per day will be added if you miss the five-day deadline!”

    “I’ll make sure to come within five days!”

    “Ah, and remember, the trading post also only accepts currency, so bring enough!”

    “Yes! I understand!”

    After repeatedly cautioning the farmer, the Ministry of Taxation official hurried off to inspect another household’s harvest.

    ***

    Farmers, carrying or carting sacks and bundles of rice to the grain market to exchange for currency to pay their taxes, found the area beside the market teeming with people.

    “Why are so many people gathered here?”

    Gap-seok, like other farmers carrying rice sacks to pay taxes, asked a nearby farmer the reason for the crowd.

    The farmer explained in a disinterested tone.

    “Before entering the market, we need to attend a brief explanation about the currency. That’s why everyone’s waiting here.”

    “Is that so?”

    Gap-seok craned his neck to see ahead. Indeed, soldiers with spears were organizing the farmers into lines, and an official, seated behind a desk, was pointing at various items on the desk while explaining something.

    “Next!”

    After about two hours of waiting, it was Gap-seok’s turn. Along with other farmers, he approached the official’s desk. On the desk were colorfully marked paper bills and yellow copper coins, along with white silver coins, all laid out in abundance.

    The official, after taking a sip of water to clear his throat, began explaining to Gap-seok and the other farmers.

    “First, I’ll explain about the coins. This white one here is the white-copper coin[1]. The smaller sizes are 1 and 5 pun. Ten of these white-copper coin make one yellow-copper coin, which is worth 1 won. Do you understand so far?”

    The farmers blinked and nodded at the official’s explanation about the coins.

    “I think I get it.”

    “Different sizes should make it easy to distinguish, right?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Satisfied with their response, the official pointed to the yellow coins and continued his explanation.

    “These are yellow-copper coin. The smallest ones are 1 won, then 5 won, 10 won, and 100 won. As with the white-copper coin, the size varies for different values. Do you understand?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Having explained the coins, the official moved on to the paper bills.

    “This bill with a diagonal blue stripe is worth one nyang of silver. So, this paper bill is equivalent to one nyang of silver.”

    The farmers widened their eyes as they examined the bill. Its edges were decorated with red and blue lines, similar to traditional Korean dancheong, and it was labeled ‘Silver 1 Nyang (銀1兩)’. Beside the label was a beautifully drawn landscape painting.

    [TL/N: Dancheong is the decorative coloring on traditional Korean wooden buildings and artifacts for the purpose of style. See some of the designs below.

    The official continued, “One thousand won of yellow-copper coin equals one silver nyang. Do you understand?”

    “Yes? Yes.”

    “And ten of these silver nyang bills make…”

    He pointed to another paper bill.

    “One gold nyang. Understand? Though, you won’t see a gold nyang bill often.”

    The farmers nodded, almost reflexively. Gold was something they might only see once or twice in their lifetimes.

    They had heard stories about someone finding rare ginseng in the mountains and buying a gold ring for their wife, changing their household’s fortune, but those were just stories.

    After a brief basic education, the official posed a question to the farmers.

    “So, which one is 1 pun?”

    “Uh… that is…”

    ***

    Having received education about coins and banknotes, Gap-seok and other farmers moved to the location of the grain market.

    The market was set up in the spacious front yard of a large mansion that once belonged to a noble who participated in the “Giyu Rebellion”. The 70-plus room mansion’s yard hosted several desks, where officials were exchanging the farmers’ grain for currency.

    “Wait here until a spot opens up, then move one at a time.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    The farmers obediently waited in line as instructed by the military officer guarding the area.

    When it was his turn, Gap-seok moved to an empty spot and set down his jige frame carrier.

    [TL/N: Jige carrier.]

    “Where do you live, and what is your name?”

    “I’m Kim Gap-seok, or rather, Kim Gap-dol, from Angol.”

    “Kim Gap-seok from Angol…”

    Upon hearing Gap-seok’s response, the official stood up and sifted through piles of documents at the back. He searched through dozens of well-arranged ledgers, picked one, and returned to his seat to check its contents.

    “Kim Gap-seok from Angol… here it is. Is your yield this year 22 i?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Then the tax rate is…”

    After calculating with an abacus, the official asked Gap-seok.

    “The tax you owe is 1 mal and 1 deo of rice, correct?”

    [TL/N: 1 mal and 1 deo is around 2L]

    “That’s right.”

    Upon confirming with Gap-seok, the official used the abacus again.

    “One mal and one deo of white rice equals… Let’s see, 1 seom of white rice is worth 1 nyang and 200 won of silver, so… that’s 110 won in copper coins. Did you bring the rice?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Gap-seok then unloaded a bag of rice from his carrier.

    “You brought a bag of rice?”

    “Yes. I need to buy some salt and a few other things at the trading post. They only accept money now…”

    “I see, you there!”

    “Yes, sir!”

    Responding to Gap-seok, the official signaled a waiting soldier. The soldier opened the rice sack to check for contamination and weighed it, then reported back to the official.

    “There are no issues.”

    “Good.”

    After receiving the soldier’s report, the official opened a wooden box beside him and took out copper coins.

    Receiving the coins, Gap-seok involuntarily let out a gasp.

    “Ack…”

    At Gap-seok’s reaction, the official chuckled slightly.

    “Not much, is it? But it’s money guaranteed by the government.”

    “Yes, yes…”

    Gap-seok still looked unconvinced. Regardless, the official opened another wooden box and carefully took out a banknote, handing it over to Gap-seok with both hands.

    “Here you go. This is worth one nyang of silver.”

    “Why are you giving it to me with both hands?”

    “Do you see the red seal at the bottom?”

    “Yes.”

    “That’s His Majesty’s royal seal (御璽, Ok-sae).”

    “Good heavens!”

    Startled, Gap-seok vigorously rubbed his hands on his trousers before respectfully accepting the banknote.

    “It’s an item marked with the royal seal of His Majesty, so handle it with care and don’t damage it.”

    “Yes! I will be careful!”

    “For paying your taxes, please go inside the main house.”

    “Yes, sir!”

    ***

    After paying his taxes, Gap-seok stared at the banknote in his hand.

    “It’s turned into a hot potato in no time.”

    The banknote felt like a burden to Gap-seok. He couldn’t just shove something stamped with the King’s royal seal into his underwear, and carrying it around was an open invitation to thieves.

    After a brief contemplation, Gap-seok bit his lip resolutely.

    “Best to get rid of this hot potato quickly! Let’s spend it and see how it goes!”

    He headed straight to the nearby trading post.

    That day, Gap-seok bought sacks full of salt, sugar, various spices, and even treats and alcohol for his children, before returning home. He then faced a lively scolding from his wife.

    “What were you thinking! Who told you to buy so much salt and sugar? Are we going to plant salt in the fields instead of rice seeds?”

    ***

    With the introduction of currency, naturally, merchants were among the most interested.

    “Hmm…”

    Carefully examining the newly circulated currency, the merchants soon reached a conclusion.

    “Anyone skilled enough to forge these new coins could make much more money doing other things.”

    “Indeed.”

    The merchants assessed the coins as ‘unforgeable’.

    The merchants, scrutinizing the newly minted coins, were certain of their assessment.

    “Definitely not cast using traditional methods.”

    “It’s certain that the press method the Crown Prince introduced was used.”

    “Because of that, as we mentioned, counterfeiting them would be tough.”

    As the merchants pointed out, the new coins were indeed minted using a press. The skills of the craftsmen in the royal foundries, honed through producing armor for the military, had reached a peak. With the introduction of animal-powered machinery replacing human force, they could apply much greater pressure. Utilizing high-quality steel from the foundries, they were able to create more precise molds.

    The merchants’ high regard for the coins wasn’t just because of the difficulty in counterfeiting them.

    “The metal value of the white-copper coin and yellow-copper coin, if melted down, is much less than their face value, so no smart person would melt them for other uses.”

    “Indeed.”

    This was Hyang’s doing. Aware of incidents during the IMF crisis where 10-won coins were melted for their metal value, leading to changes in their design and size, Hyang boldly reduced the size of the coins.

    “The important thing is the number on the coin! And that the country guarantees its value!”

    Convinced by Hyang’s argument, King Sejong and the ministers accepted this approach.

    The merchants were unanimous in their praise for the coins. The varying sizes corresponding to different values, reducing confusion, was another aspect that received accolades.

    The discussion among the merchants then shifted to the banknotes.

    When they first saw the banknotes, their eyes were drawn to King Sejong’s royal seal stamped on one corner, and their assessment was straightforward.

    “If you don’t want to be branded a traitor, don’t even dream of counterfeiting it!”

    Traditionally, counterfeiting currency was akin to treason, punishable by death.

    However, these new banknotes carried the King’s royal seal. Counterfeiting them was tantamount to undeniable treason.

    In simple terms, it wasn’t just the counterfeiter’s head that would roll – it would mean the execution of their entire family.

    “With this, we don’t have to worry about counterfeiting.”

    “Right.”

    Having concluded the banknotes were unforgeable, the merchants started to examine other aspects of the paper money.

    Quietly inspecting the banknotes, they all tilted their heads in wonder.

    “How exactly did they print these?”


    TL/N: A little reminder of the currency introduced in this chapter.

    Coins

    • 10 White-copper coin = 1 Yellow-copper coin = 1 won.

    Bills

    • 1000 yellow-copper coin or 1000 won = 1 silver nyang (blue note)
    • 10 silver nyang = 1 gold nyang
    1. Coins made with combination of copper, nickel and zing[]
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