(Translation) 御製垂綸吟

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This passage demonstrates King Yŏngjo's policy to exempt women from the taxation. On February 14, 1774 (50th year of King Yŏngjo), Kim Ŭngsun suggested that King Yŏngjo should try to fix the chronic problem of the mistreatment of male/female slaves working at public facilities. Therefore, the king initiated the action, in which he abolished the system of levying tributes on women. At first, he put an end to the collection of tributes, namely, hemp cloth, from female slaves belonging to government offices/public stations, and later from the private female slaves owned by aristocrats (yangban). Subsequently, he proceeded to release female shamans residing in Seoul from the burden of their tributes.

It is said that this measurement was initiated by the king's hearing of an anecdote of a miserable lady called Hongnyŏ, who ended up becoming a slave at a public station, and had to weave hemp cloth all night long, only to pay the tributes to the local government. On a fundamental level, however, there were two major factors that propelled King Yŏngjo to bring forth such action: 1) As he was one of the most scholarly monarchs of the Chosŏn dynasty, well-versed in Confucian classics, he endeavored to emulate the precedents of ancient sages. In this regard, he realized that the Chinese rulers and elites, especially those from the Three Dynasties to the Han and Tang periods, had not imposed taxes on women. Indeed, this led him to the abolition of women’s taxation, which had lasted for several hundreds of years in the Korean traditions. 2) It can be presumed that his family background might have played a critical role in the formation of his notions of Chosŏn’s female slaves in general. Well-known to the public, his mother, Sukpin Ch'oe, belonged to the lowborn class and hence worked as a musuri (water maid) at the Chosŏn court. Furthermore, this constantly served as a major threat toward his royal authority as a whole. Therefore, such action must have been indispensable for him, in regard not only to his personal sympathy to female slaves, but also to keeping the legitimacy of his monarchical rule stable/intact.

Primary Sources: Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty

金應淳, 以寺奴婢痼弊, 建議陳白。 上欲盡革女貢之名, 寺婢驛婢貢及巫女布, 皆令除之, 私婢亦勿使收貢, 命廟堂議成節目, 廟議難於給代, 久不決。

臨殿臨門, 謀及卿士庶民, 而衆議甲乙, 汔無定見, 廼特敎減夫布一疋, 設廳均役, 收諸路魚鹽隱結之稅充其代。 又念女貢之非古, 一皆蠲除, 德音所被, 室家相慶, 有足以導揚和氣, 迓續景命矣。

愍玆赤子, 歲納布縷, 爲蠲其半, 以涵以煦, 爰發輶軒, 率彼海濱, 曰漁曰鹽, 無稅不均。哀此紅女, 名編驛婢, 夜織于機, 征入不巳。 乃降明諭, 悉減女貢, 永泮于歸, 百室歌誦。

活人署當初設立, 蓋以都下人民, 若有癘疫, 則使之救活, 而但本署元無財力, 京巫女若干身布, 自本署收捧, 以給員役一年料布。 先大王甲午, 罷女貢, 故京巫女貢, 亦隨而罷。

Primary Sources: The Daily Records of Royal Secretariat of Joseon Dynasty

Original Script

Classical Chinese English


垂綸吟 暮年政

其何事 爲其貢

自三代 至漢唐

凡有賦 只男丁

同男女 東風俗

今此舉 即繼述

幾百年 始校整

興惟此 曷勝懷

舉其綱 用其目

從容吟 十句成


Royal Instruction of King Yǒngjo to be Handed Down to Future Generation

Leaving a legacy for future generation, I wrote down this instruction about the policy during the last years of my reign.

What is it? It is about the taxation policy.

From the Three Dynasties[1] till the Han and Tang periods,

Every taxation policy had only [affected] male adults.

[On the contrary, taxing] equally both men and women is the tradition of the East.[2]

Now this act is a continuation and realization [of the Chinese practices in the past].

It was only after several hundreds of years that [this inconsistency with past practices] began to be rectified.

Seeing my state prospered in this right way, my intention could be fulfilled.

Bringing up the essence and employing the details,

I calmly completed this instruction in ten sentences.

In the same year, month, and day, written in the middle of the night.


  1. The Three Dynasties refer to the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties.
  2. Koreans referred to their own country as either Haedong (East of the Sea) or Tongguk (the Eastern Country).

Discussion Questions

  1. Considering the political situation of that time and his Confucian upbringing, Why did King Yŏngjo want to change the traditional taxation practice of Korea in line with those of pre-Han and Tang periods?
  2. How did King Yŏngjo's background influence his decision to follow the taxation system of Ancient China?
  3. Why did King Yŏngjo write a royal instruction to ensure future Chosŏn kings to following his taxation reform?
  4. Why the taxation system did not change in several centuries until King Yŏngjo's reign? Are there any underlying social, political and economic issues that propelled King Yŏngjo to reform?

Secondary Sources

Further Readings