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Joseon Envoy’s Appraisal on the political climate of Qing Dynasty in the Early 19th Century - Central focus on assessing Qing’s Emperor -

  • The Review of Korean History
  • 2017, (126), pp.279-314
  • Publisher : The Historical Society Of Korea
  • Research Area : Humanities > History

Kim Chang Su 1

1서울시립대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

While the bilateral political relation between Joseon and Qing was going through a period of stabilization in the 19th century, Qing was experiencing a decline in national strength that had been expanded during the reign of Qianlong Emperor. Despite substantial military spending, Qing was incapable of effectively subduing regional rebellions, including the White Lotus Revolution (白蓮敎). Agricultural failure due to natural disasters were frequent. Such decline in Qing’s national strength was a combined result of increasing population and lax governmental control by the regime. Joseon’s envoys (使臣) to Qing continued to report on Qing’s political situation in the 19th century to the royal court of Joseon, visiting Beijing at least twice a year. Reports compiled by the envoys, deemed to possess high reliability, were pivotal in the formation of Joseon government’s perception on Qing. Among intelligence collected was an assessment on Qing Emperor’s governing capabilities, which proved to be a key piece of information in predicting the national prospects of Qing. The early half of the 19th century corresponds to the periods of reign by Jiaqing Emperor (嘉慶帝, 1796~1820) and Daoguang Emperor (道光帝, 1820~1850). Jiaqing Emperor ascended the throne in 1796, following Qianlong Emperor’s abdication. Joseon envoys were optimistic in their appraisal and had high expectations on Jiaqing Emperor’s reign, who had ascended the throne with the previous emperor alive. Following the passing of Qianlong Emperor, Jiaqing Emperor began to lead the regime independently. Witnessing the fall of Qing both directly and indirectly, Joseon’s envoys recorded the gradual decline of Qing in their reports. In their appraisal, the envoys commented that while Jiaqing Emperor was overly harsh, he set an example as a frugal leader. In 1820, Joseon’s envoys once again displayed high hopes on the newly throned Daoguang Emperor. But lax governmental control persisted during Daoguang’s regime. The governing strength of Qing’s royal court was further weakened in 1840, with the onset of the First Opium War. Despite the turmoil, however, Joseon’s envoys to Qing maintained their positive review on Daoguang Emperor’s regime unlike Jiaqing Emperor’s period, being regarded as a monarch who stayed true to the Way of the King, as witnessed in his frugality and wisdom in appointing court officials. Daoguang Emperor was also reviewed as one who respected Joseon-Qing bilateral relations. Furthermore, there were sentiments that the frequent occurrence of natural disasters and regional uprisings were not due to mistakes in the emperor’s regime. Although Joseon’s envoys to Qing in the early 19th century observed signs of Qing’s decline and compiled them in their reports, they did not predict the ultimate fall of Qing through this. With respect to their assessment of emperors, while the envoys had mixed opinions on Jiaqing Emperor, envoys were predominantly optimistic in their analysis of Daoguang Emperor’s regime. More important fact was that envoys thought the decline of Qing as distinct from the ability of Qing’s emperor. This implies that the basis of envoys’ appraisals was rooted more on the Joseon-Qing relations and Joseon’s hopes and expectations on Qing, rather than on objective factors.

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