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In Session: Capture, Slavery, Bondage, and Forced Relocation in Asia (1400-1900), Part 1
3: The Resilience in Korean Slavery: Tyrannical Masters, Resourceful Slaves, and the Ambivalent State
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Sun Joo Kim
Harvard University, United States
Slavery was the social and economic foundation of Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910) and one of its key features is longevity. Why? This paper seeks to answer this question by analyzing several cases concerning the oppression of slaves by slave owners, wrongful deaths of slaves, and runaway slaves. Slave owners’ interactions with their slaves show their tyrannical presence as well as their compromised position in their dealings with slaves. Slaves, though under constant exploitation and unjust social conditions, took advantage of their economic, social, and familial resources as well as legal rights in managing their precarious life. The state’s reliance on the elites for social control and its ideological commitment to a benevolent government led the state to formulate pliable policies on slavery that contributed to alleviating a tension between slaves and slave owners. This structural complexity and slaves’ agency created a malleable yet enduring form of slavery in Korea.