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International Journal of Korean History > Volume 16(1); 2011 > Article
International Journal of Korean History 2011;16(1): 51-80.
King Yŏngjo’s T'angp'yŏng Policy and its Orientation : The trio of the king, state, and people
Paekchol Kim
Researcher, Institute of Rice, Life & Civilization, Chonbuk National University
전북대학교 인문한국 쌀·삶·문명연구원 HK교수
From the 17th century onwards, Chosŏn searched for various reform measures to overcome factionalism and mitigate the damage caused by the Hideyoshi and Manchu Invasions. However, no political faction was allotted enough time to complete such reforms. During the 18th century, a blueprint for a political system through which sweeping reforms could be implemented based on the strong power of the king emerged in the form of t'angp'yŏng (Impartiality) policy. The evil practices associated with political factionalism reached a boiling point during the early reign of King Yŏngjo. The political situation became so bad that even the king was no longer exempt from the clutches of political factionalism. In this regard, King Yŏngjo introduced a third way that would allow him to move beyond the prevailing political structure under which only one political faction could be in power at a time. This third way took the form of the king-led t'angp'yŏng (Impartiality) policy. During this process, the king established himself as the equivalent of sage kings such as Yao and Shun and, based on the authority that he drew from this status, proceeded to grasp the reins of political leadership. Once Yŏngjo had justified his status as the ‘king of the state’, he compelled the political factions to participate in projects designed to reestablish the national institutions, and implemented these national projects amidst a structure characterized by beneficial competition. Several state-level efforts to achieve civilizational and institutional improvements, including the Soktaejŏn (續大典), were carried out as part of this process. Once these projects to bolster national institutions had been completed, King Yŏngjo devoted himself to reforming the taxation system. The development of policy measures centering on the ‘people’ reached its zenith with the establishment of the Kyunyŏkpŏp (均役法, Equalized Tax Law). Yŏngjo desired to become a king for all the people, be they sajok or commoners. To this end, while he ruled over the privileged classes in a despotic manner that saw him require sacrifices and concessions on the part of the latter, he approached the socially weak commoner class as a benevolent king akin to Yao and Shun. As such, the king that brought us t'angp'yŏng policy in the 18th century created a complicated image of himself as both a despotic monarch and a benevolent king akin to Yao and Shun.
Keywords: King Yŏngjo, t'angpy'ŏng (Impartiality) policy, king, state, people, Yao, Shun, Soktaejŏn (續大典), Kyunyŏkpŏp (均役法, Equalized Tax Law)

17세기 이래 조선은 양란이후 후유증을 해소하기 위해서 붕당정치기 다양한 각도에서 更張案의 모색이 이루어져 왔으나, 어느 붕당도 경장을 완수할 수 있을 만큼 충분한 시간을 확보하지는 못하였다. 18세기가 되면 강력한 구심점을 바탕으로 大更張을 추진할 수 있는 정치체제에 대한 청사진이 탕평정치로 나타나게 되었다. 영조초반에는 黨習이 극에 달하여 국왕조차도 붕당에서 자유롭지 못한 정국이 연출되었다. 이에 국왕은 양자택일의 구도를 해소하기 위해서 제3의 길을 제창하고 이를 군주주도의 탕평으로 제시하였다. 이 과정에서 국왕은 堯舜이 되었고 그 권위를 바탕으로 국정주도권을 장악하였다. 이러한 ‘국왕’의 정치명분을 획득하자, 각 붕당을 국가제도의 경장사업에 참여시켜 상호경쟁 속에서 ‘국가’의 사업을 추진하도록 하였다. 이 과정에서 『속대전』을 비롯한 국가의 문물제도가 정비되었다. ‘국가’ 제도의 정비사업이 일정한 궤도에 오르자 이제는 보다 근본적인 稅制의 개편에 몰두하게 되었다. ‘백성’을 중심으로 하는 정책계발이 이루어지면서 균역법으로 최종 귀결되었다. 영조는 사족과 양민들을 아우르는 모든 백성들의 군주가 되고 싶었기에 기득권층에게는 양보와 희생을 요구하여 전제군주로서 군림하였으며, 약자였던 양민들에게는 한없이 자애로운 요순군주로서 다가가고자 했다. 이에 18세기 탕평군주는 전제군주와 요순의 자애로운 이미지를 복합적으로 지니는 국왕으로서 자리매깁하게 되었다.
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