The devastation of war had severely weakened the social order and national discipline. To overcome this crisis, the ruling class intensified its emphasis on Neo-Confucian ethics and studies of propriety. Some officials launched the “Northern Campaigns,” advocating loyalty to the Ming Dynasty. The most significant change was tax reform, which led to the development of a new monetary economy based on commodities. Through these efforts at war recovery, the Joseon Dynasty was transformed into a new society.
After the Imjin War (1592-1598), agricultural productivity increased, commerce was stimulated, and the population became more mobile. The implementation of the “Uniform Land Tax Law” led to the development of a monetary economy based on commodities, in which people used grain or cotton cloth as currency to acquire goods. When acting as an intermediary for large international trades, Joseon used silver coins for substantial financial transactions.
Whereas King Sukjong (r. 1674-1720) strengthened the power of the throne by ousting various opposing factions, King Yeongjo (r. 1724-1776) and King Jeongjo (r. 1776-1800) sought to stabilize the government by maintaining a balance among different political groups. King Yeongjo implemented tax reform, furthering the development of the commodity and monetary economy, while King Jeongjo exerted great efforts to cultivate young scholars. Thus, the eighteenth century was a period of artistic and cultural revival, as well as political and economic stability.
Following the death of King Jeongjo in 1800, a few powerful families came to dominate the Joseon governance, leading to political corruption. On the other hand, the culture and thought of the Qing Dynasty was widely disseminated, contributing to the development of cities and the rise of new social classes, including middle-class professionals and merchants. For the most part, however, Joseon failed to stay abreast of the rapidly changing international environment. Anti-Western policies were pursued, leading to multiple military skirmishes. By the time an open-door policy was adopted, it was too late to ward off foreign interference.