UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Collusive oligopolistic politics : sedo and the political structure of early-nineteenth-century Chosŏn Korea Eom, Tae Yeon


In contemporary Korean historiography, the reign periods of King Sunjo (r. 1800-1834), King Hŏnjong (r.1834-1849), and King Ch’ŏlchong (r. 1849-1863) are generally called “The Era of Sedo Politics” in Chosŏn Korea (1392-1910). In contemporary Korean historiography, the political theme of sedo predominated after the death of King Chŏngjo (r. 1776-1800), when national politics was exclusively led by a few powerful royal in-law families, most notably the Andong Kim and P’ungyang Cho clans, for sixty-three years. Obviously, those two major clans enjoyed extensive political authority and high social status in the nineteenth century. However, the negative images and common misconceptions in previous research on sedo politics have prevented scholars from understanding the period of sedo politics from a balanced angle and driven them to emphasize its unique features too much. This thesis rather paints the mainstream view of the political history of late Chosŏn Korea with a different brush. Starting off with a discussion of the definition and origin of the historical terminology sedo (世道 or 勢道), this paper questions more deeply the structure of sedo politics and re-examines previous research on characterizations of sedo politics. In addition, based on some statistical data and extensive research in genealogy records, this thesis will identify many points that cannot be illustrated or that are only partially explored in existing literature in the context of the 1800 to 1863 era of sedo politics. Through this re-examination, this research project will contribute to enlarging the vision of the political history of Korea in the first half of the nineteenth century, which has not been a major research topic among political historians of Korea, who have mainly dealt with struggles and conflicts for political power among various historical agents.

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