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International Journal of Korean History > Volume 1(1); 2000 > Article
International Journal of Korean History 2000;1(1): 113-148.
신라하대 농민항쟁의 특징
한남대학교 사학과 교수
The first record in Korea's history of peasant resistance where the peasants themselves were agents of social change occurred during the later Silla period and has been carefully examined in its links to social change in Tang China, role of powerful local lineages, movements of non-elite classes and the historical position of the peasant. The first significant large-scale uprising in which the peasants were involved was the Kim H?n-ch'an uprising in 815. Although this commoner uprising, bearing the characteristics of a coup d'etat, had spread to the provinces because of the antagonisms and conflicts amongst the central true bone aristorcracy, it was not a genuine peasant resistance based upon peasant power. Despite the participation of roving 'brigands' (tojŏk) and 'grass brigands' (ch'ojŏk), they were not centralized forces thus making this resistance nothing more than a peasant power struggle against the central aristocracy using military force. A significant change occurred in the nature of the peasant armies after the Kim P?m-mun uprising in 825. The leader of the peasant army, Susin, a bandit from Kodarsan, consolidated forces with Kim Pŏm-mun and attempted to establish a new state capital. This was not simply an attempt by Susin to stop exploitation by regional officials and local landlords but rather an attempt to establish a new state. Thus it displayed characteristics distinct from the small-scale uprisings that occurred in reaction to exploitative taxation. Although the peasant armies had indeed allied themselves with the ruling strata to start the uprising, by the beginning of the 9th century, the uprising had already grown out of incipient forms and possessed the foundations of a statewide peasant resistance movement against the Silla state. During King Chinsŏng's reign (r. 887-896), the erupting peasant revolt swelled to a size that enabled the first step to be taken in the downfall of the Silla kingdom. The direct cause of this revolt was excessive taxation. Growing opposition against the state's taxation changed into a peasant uprising. Peasant uprisings in later Silla generally had occurred in Sangju, Chukchu, and W?nju, central transportation hubs, and erupted in each of these central regions. In addition to these areas, the peasant army appeared frequently in every comer of the country in Kangn?ng, Namhae, Kogsŏng, and Mungyŏng, and were called a variety of names such as Ch'ojŏk (grass brigands), Nokrim (green forest), Chŏkio (band of thieves), Sanj?k (mountain brigands). Some peasant armies were even known as the 'Red Trousered Banditti' (chŏkko chŏk). However, they were essentially interested only in pillaging, making it unlikely that any social contradictions could be resolved through their development and as a group necessary for basic production, their uprising would undoubtedly be shortlived. Rampant banditry was an unstabilizing force not only to the state but also to the lives of the people. These conditions were mainly caused by the failure of the Silla state to enact any government policies on behalf of the people. In the end, the peasants who had lost faith in the state developed forces to protect themselves, and this appears to be the most important factor in the gradual legitimization and dominance of powerful local lineages. Peasant revolts were not only the result of hostility towards irrational taxation, but also large-scale movements against the government that went beyond mere opposition to overtaxation by wealthy local families. Leading figures of the peasant army such as Wŏnjong, Aeno, Kihwŏn, and Yanggil, attracted peasants and developed their respective forces, ultimately causing Silla to crumble into a weakened state. Later Koguryŏ and Later Paekche were then founded by Kungye and Ky?nhwon who had championed equality and redistribution of land that peasants so greatly desired. Intensified mass exploitation in later Silla had increasingly fettered and interrupted peasant lives on a daily basis. Unequal conditions of income through the development of commerce and peasant self-awareness became the crucial factors underlying countrywide peasant uprisings. Impoverished peasants greatly desired to extricate themselves from poverty but the difference in their wealth in relation to the aristocracy or merchants made their own deprivation appear even more severe. As a result, peasants adhered blindly to yusa religion or myths such as the ch'amwi myth. In fact, although the peasants sought the redistribution of land, !hey believed that the only way to realize this was to eliminate the Silla dynasty and construct a new system entirely. Peasant self-awareness, by those who attempted to change traditions gone awry, functioned as an important impetus behind peasant resistance in later Silla. Sŏn buddhism also greatly influenced peasants peasants to participate in the uprising. S6n buddhist monks in later Silla strove to restore life to the masses, telling them that they possessed the same Buddha-nature as the ruling class. Therefore, although they did not support the peasant uprising per se, they had encouraged the development of peasant self-consciousness through the notion of differentiating between self and others, creating a theoretical foundation that supported the peasant rebellion. Although the later Three Kingdoms period was established through the peasant uprisings, some distance still remained to be traversed before they would realize the society that the peasants envisioned. Kungye and Kyŏhyŏn replaced the Silla dynasty with another exploitative ruling class. It was not until the Koryŏ kingdom unified the later Three kingdoms that the bone-rank system was abolished, excessive exploitation prohibited, and a tithe demanded as tax in a policy in an effort to win peasant support. Although no reforms were initiated to redistribute land for peasants in terms of landownership relations, there were however certain effects, such as the prevention of excessive taxation, that enabled the peasants to maintain a stable livelihood. Moreover, powerful local lineages make it possible to advance to official positions in the capital based on ability. Thus, there is no denying that the local powers and the role of peasants became an important foundation of Koryŏ society.
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