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    Year 1430, Spring

    With the arrival of spring, Joseon once again buzzed with activity. Various sectors that formed the backbone of the economy were growing rapidly in the wake of the Land Reform. However, agriculture still remained the mainstay of the economy, and rice cultivation was its cornerstone.

    As the full-fledged planting season began, all corners of Joseon gradually began to stir. In the aftermath of the Giyu Rebellion, Joseon’s rural areas had started to undergo subtle changes.

    The most significant change was the marked increase in the number of regions implementing land consolidation.

    The state of Joseon’s agricultural land made land consolidation an absolute necessity. When Hyang first saw the rice paddies of Joseon, she could only mutter, “Is this some kind of giant puzzle…?”

    For Hyang, who had only seen neatly organized fields resembling checkerboards in the 21st century where mechanized farming was commonplace, this was a natural reaction. However, there was a reason for this state of affairs.

    Two-thirds of the Korean peninsula is mountainous. People lived on the remaining third, the plains, where they cultivated farmland and built their homes. The ownership of farm roads of each household varied, which inevitably led to the irregular shapes of the fields and plots.

    This situation inevitably led to problems. The biggest problem was land management. The fields were so intertwined that it was almost impossible to manage farm roads, irrigation canals, and drainage ditches. As a result, it was impossible to use carts on the narrow farm roads, and disputes over agricultural water were commonplace.

    Of course, the countries of the Korean peninsula had not given up on solving this problem. However, due to various issues such as manpower mobilization and ownership disputes related to land consolidation, they had not seen much success.

    Joseon was no exception.

    In 1419, the governor of Go-bu County and the governor of Jeolla Province petitioned to build a dike called Neulje[1] in Gobu County and reclaim 10,000 gyeol of farmland below it. Jeolla Provincial Governor Yi An-woo implemented the Jeongjeon System (Land Division System)[2].

    However, the results were not good. In August of the following year, a major flood broke the banks of the levee, destroying about 600 gyeol of rice paddies. In the end, Jeolla Provincial Governor Jang Yun-hwan recommended the closure of Neulje, which was eventually closed.

    This situation began to improve slowly after Hyang received the title of Crown Prince.

    Hyang, who began to assert his presence with the royal seal, advocated for nationwide flood control projects using relief funds.

    Sejong and his ministers, who agreed with Hyang’s proposal, began flood control projects using relief funds.

    The scale of these projects was gradually expanded as their effectiveness was demonstrated. As the scale of the projects grew, so did the variety of works undertaken.

    Once the construction and repair of dams and reservoirs were nearing completion, the court focused on river management.

    During the short period between harvest and the freezing of ice, and again between the melting of ice and the start of planting, the court concentrated manpower on river maintenance.

    The riverbed was dredged of accumulated sand, and the surrounding area was cleared to widen the riverbed and reduce the risk of flooding.

    In the early stages, stone was used to build underwater dams. Later, after the development of cement called Hoeju (a type of cement made from lime and clay), reinforced concrete was used to build dams to prevent drought and salinity damage caused by seawater intrusion during high tides.

    While the proposal to utilize relief rice for flood control projects came from Hyang, the knowledge and technology used in these projects were not his own.

    Over thousands of years, humanity has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience in river management. This was also true in Joseon. Since the Three Kingdoms period, Koreans have built dams and reservoirs, demonstrating their technical expertise.

    However, the reason why Joseon – and previous dynasties – had not been able to properly manage their rivers was a problem of mindset. Traditionally, large-scale civil engineering projects such as river management were considered “corvée labor.” As a result, Joseon officials often resorted to forced mobilization of labor.

    This meant that there was no incentive for workers, and they often had to provide their own food. This situation led to many people becoming slaves or vagrants.

    It was here that Hyang applied his knowledge to great effect.

    Initially, he offered relief rice in exchange for labor. Later, as the financial situation of the court improved, he introduced the concept of “performance-based pay” to these projects.

    Officials who oversaw the projects and managed to shorten construction time or prevent accidents were promoted. Laborers involved in the projects were also given additional rewards in addition to relief rice.

    As Hyang said, “Praise can make even whales dance, but incentives can make them fly!”

    With these incentive measures in place, river management projects gained further momentum.

    As a result, by the year Giyu (1429), the sixth year of King Sejong’s reign, river management efforts across Joseon were beginning to show significant results.


    In this situation, a large number of slaves were exempted as the land tax system was reformed. This was followed by the Giyu Rebellion and its aftermath, which caused a large-scale migration of tenant farmers. The landlords, who had previously managed many slaves and tenant farmers, now had to farm with far fewer.

    With fewer hands, they had no choice but to increase agricultural efficiency if they wanted to maintain the same level of production as before. The answer was land consolidation.

    Before the planting season, the landlords recruited not only tenant farmers but also people from nearby towns to participate in the land consolidation. They demolished the uneven and tangled ridges of the paddy fields and fields to create one large field, and they also improved the irrigation system.

    It was not just a simple improvement of the irrigation system. With the water level of the rivers stabilized by reservoirs and various types of dams, waterwheels, which had previously been known but not widely used, were introduced on a large scale to supply water to the irrigation system.

    As the irrigation system and cultivated land were improved, it was natural that the farm roads would also be widened. The narrow farm roads, which previously could only be passed by one person carrying a backhoe, were now wide enough for carts to pass through.


    As the land reform progressed, the court received an unexpected gift.

    It was the spread of carts.

    Sejong had worked hard to encourage the people to use carts widely.

    The effort to spread the use of carts began during the reign of Taejong. Jang Jahwa, who had been sent to Ming as an envoy, reported as follows:

    “There is nothing like a cart for transporting goods.”

    “Is that so?”

    After receiving the report, Taejong ordered the craftsmen to make carts, but he met with strong opposition from Yeonguijeong Ryu Jeong-hyeon.

    “Our Joseon is a mountainous country, so carts have their limits! Considering the resources, time, and effort required to make them, their usefulness is too low, so there is no need to make them!”

    In the end, Taejong had to give up on spreading the use of carts.(Note 3)

    The same was true during the reign of Sejong. A look at the history before Hyang made its introduction shows that in 1435 (Eulmyo year, 17th year of Sejong), Sejong and his ministers clashed over the issue of ‘carts’.

    However, Sejong pushed ahead, and after confirming its usefulness, he said to his ministers:

    “Some people may not like it, but there is nothing more convenient than a cart for carrying things like bricks, tiles, and stones. If you load them all on a cart at once, you can carry twice as much as three people carrying them, so how beneficial is that?”

    Gaining confidence, Sejong decided to expand the use of carts to the Dongbuk and Seobok regions[3]. However, the ministers, including Hwang Hui, continued to oppose it.

    “Carts are convenient, but they are only good on flat roads. They cannot be used on rough or muddy roads. Even in Pyongan Province, the road to Anju is good because it is flat, but the roads in other areas are too rough to use them.”

    Pointing out the geographical problem, Hwang Hui continued.

    “And carts are not something that anyone can make. If we want to spread the use of carts, the country has to send craftsmen to make them, but they will break down as soon as they are used and become unusable within a few months. It is not possible for the country to keep sending craftsmen, is it?”

    In the end, Sejong gave up on spreading carts to rough terrain. After that, carts gradually disappeared in Joseon.

    It is funny that 350 years later, Park Je-ga, a Silhak[4] scholar during the reign of Jeongjo, strongly advocated for the use of carts in his book “Discussion of Northern Learning”[5].

    And Sejong’s frustration made him hand over more and more work to the crown prince.

    Sejong, who was frustrated by his health deteriorating due to a diet too heavy on meat and stress, and his continued failures to push through various reform policies, began to hand over government affairs to the crown prince.

    Having handed over the work to the crown prince, Sejong began to focus on studying the Korean alphabet.


    However, after Hyang intervened and changed history, the number of carts gradually increased.

    The expansion of commerce and industry played a role in the increase in the number of carts, but Hyang’s virtues also played a role.

    The handcarts (or rearcars in the 21st century terms) produced in the Area 51 by Hyang were a huge hit during the Great Fire of Hanseong.

    The handcarts, which had frames made of iron that was mass-produced from the ironworks in Anju, were sturdy.

    “If only we had rubber….”

    Unlike Hyang’s regret, the wooden cartwheels were more sturdy than expected.

    Another reason for their popularity, along with their sturdy structure, was their convenient size.

    The fact that they were small enough for one or two people to push and pull instead of using horses or oxen was actually the reason for their success.

    Although the carts were small, they could carry at least as much as four or five men could carry on their backs in one go.

    Even the rough terrain that Hwang Hui had pointed out, and the narrow paths that large carts pulled by oxen or horses could not go through, were mostly passable by handcarts.

    Since two or three men could push and pull them to pass through rough terrain, peddlers became the biggest buyers of handcarts.

    It gradually became a common sight to see peddlers carrying goods on handcarts pulled by donkeys.

    The same was true for large merchants. They needed a lot of carts to transport their goods.

    While large carts pulled by oxen or horses were useful, handcarts pulled by manpower were perfect for short-distance deliveries.

    Finally, thanks to blacksmiths suddenly becoming symbols of high-income professionals, the problem of maintenance was also solved as blacksmiths increased nationwide.

    In this way, the number of carts began to explode due to a complex web of causes and effects.

    After the fall of Goguryeo, which was known as the “Land of Carts,” carts had gradually disappeared, but they made a spectacular comeback during this period.


    Even though it was unintentional, as land reform was actively carried out and the countryside was waking up, the court finally began road construction.

    “It is finally starting.”

    At Sejong’s words, the ministers looked at him with tense faces.

    Sejong continued with a serious expression.

    “There is also water transportation, and they say that railroads are being researched, but water transportation is vulnerable to natural disasters, and we don’t know when the railroads will be completed. Therefore, we must improve the land roads of this Joseon so that the people can be comfortable. So you all know how important this road construction is that we will be undertaking from now on.”

    “We will keep it in mind.”

    The ministers answered in unison, but Sejong continued to urge them.

    “Keep in mind that the development of this Joseon depends on the success or failure of this project.”

    “We will engrave it in our hearts!”

    The ministers answered Sejong’s urging with loud voices.

    1. One of three main lakes that were used as embankment[]
    2. It is a land system that is said to have been implemented during the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties of China. It is a system in which the land is divided into nine sections in the shape of a well, and the central land is cultivated as public land and the proceeds are used to pay taxes.[]
    3. Northwest regions[]
    4. Silhak (“Practical Learning”) was an intellectual and reform movement in Korea that aimed to address societal problems through critical analysis and practical solutions.[]
    5. The book addressed issues of  social inequality and the rigid class system. Park Je-ga proposed some reforms, though he wasn’t radically advocating for overthrowing the social order.[]
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