This article discusses how paper artisans in Chosŏn Korea transformed the once government-controlled paper production into their own prosperous trade, by focusing on their techniques for recycling paper. They called the paper they made that was not in use ‘resting paper’, and referred to its reuse, which they facilitated, as a process of ‘returning’. These recycling techniques were unique even among its East Asian neighbours and induced new rules about paper production, including the careful accounting of ‘resting paper’ by government officials. This essay thus helps illuminate two things thus far less noted in the Chosŏn transformation of production: First, the prominent role of techniques in Chosŏn’s productive revolutions (not best characterized as either ‘industrial’ nor ‘industrious’) before the twentieth century; and second, the constant negotiations that these recycling artisans had made with the Chosŏn court and its officials. The essay uses the robust recycled paper products still remaining in museums, and new kinds of documents about ‘resting paper’ and its constant transformers.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2021S1A5B8096301). I thank the organizers and participants of the Making History Workshop, referees and editors of the journal, and Prof. Moon Joongyang andthe audience at the colloquium of the History Department, Seoul National University, for their valuable input.
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- Chosŏn Korea
- Confucian record-keeping bureaucracy
- production techniques