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Population Dynamics and Ho Politics: Reconsidering Total Household Population (hochong, 戶總) Figures

Full title: Population Dynamics and Ho Politics: Reconsidering Total Household Population (hochong, 戶總) Figures in the Joseon Period

PARK, Keong-Suk | Seoul National University


The Hogu Chongsu, published in the 13th year of King Jeongjo (1789), and total number of households recorded in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty have provided key data for estimating the population dynamics of the Joseon period. However, as ho (household) registers for various regions were discovered and computerized in the 2000s, scholars began to discuss the epistemological assumptions involved in ho register research. Significant omissions and a complicated editing process affected the creation of ho registers and, since these were the basis of recorded total number of households, questions were raised about whether the trends seen in those records could be treated as reliable indicators of population dynamics. This study examines whether the ho registers and total number of households, both of which were produced in the complex context of ho-politics, can be used as population data. It also analyzes how population dynamics and ho-politics are embedded ho registers. In order to explore the relationship between the figures for the total number of households recorded in ho registers and actual demographic dynamics, the relationship between registered total number of households and records of disasters (plagues) during the Joseon Dynasty were examined. A very interesting relationship between the frequency of infectious diseases and the figures for the total number of households was found. Serious disasters occurred throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and the number of households declined during years of severe disaster. However, whilst the number of disasters recorded during the 19th century was relatively small, the number of households decreased significantly and stagnated over this period, raising the question of why, and in what context, this transpired. To address these questions the study explores how ho politics was strongly related to disaster governance and the politics of tax, social status, and family support. Ho politics sought to secure the ho as the foundation of the Joseon state’s system of military, agricultural and financial obligations. The concept of ho insisted that men and women form a family regardless of their social status and emphasized the importance of observing the three doctrines (samgang). These tenets were easily absorbed by the populace. They were internalized and put into practice through small, male-centered family living units that embodied the three doctrines (samgang) and acted as units of self-reliant survival strategy.


Household Registers, Social Status, Disaster, Tax, Population, Family, Joseon

Society and History, no.133, pp. 7-82

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