Organized Panel Session
As the Chosŏn state expanded into its remote northern frontier during the seventeenth century, it introduced technologies, capital, and labor that enabled new ways to manipulate the natural environment. Members of the royal family deployed their financial and technological resources to spearhead land reclamations in the coastal plains and river estuaries of the northern Korean peninsula. Among the most significant of these projects were large-scale, multipurpose waterworks that integrated irrigation, drainage, and flood control systems to transform marshes and swamps into grain-producing farmlands. These engineering interventions—designed to mitigate the effects of coastal flooding and saline soils– extended the agricultural capacity of Chosǒn’s frontier provinces, but also devastated the wetland biota (e.g., fish and reeds) that provided the principal materials for local sustenance, handicrafts, and salt industries. Disputes consequently arose over access to hydraulic facilities and the appropriation of wetland resources.
This paper investigates the intertwined histories of tideland reclamation and borderland formation in late Chosŏn Korea. Drawing on under-studied land reclamation records and litigation documents, I show how complex interactions among technological innovations, environmental conditions, and power relations informed land reclamation schemes and how, in turn, reclamation efforts transformed local property regimes and resource extraction patterns. By focusing on the capital-intensive, multi-functional agricultural infrastructure necessitated by volatile northern tides, this paper supplements the extant scholarly focus on small-scale irrigation in southern rice farming. Such an approach further illuminates the important but overlooked role that wetland ecology played in shaping the economic and social character of Chosŏn’s northern frontier.