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Foreign Trade and Interpreter Officials

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Chapter Summary

International trade in the early Joseon era was mainly conducted through the tributary system. The term 'tributary system' refers to the unique structure of diplomatic relations in pre-modern East Asia. The nature of trade in the region began to change in the sixteenth century. Joseon had broken off relations with Japan because of the Imjin War, but after Japan returned its prisoners of war, relations between the two countries were restored in 1609. Interpreters were important officials who were indispensable to the conduct of Joseon's diplomacy. Interpreters became involved in trade because the government was unable to pay all of them a salary. From the early Joseon period, it was common for interpreters to trade goods secretly on their trips abroad. Foreign trade also stimulated the development of domestic agriculture, handicraft industries, and commerce and thus played an important role in promoting the growth of markets within the country.

Keywords: foreign trade; Imjin War; interpreters; Joseon period; tributary system



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