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Tobacco and the Gift Economy of Seoul Merchants in the Late Nineteenth Century

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Chapter Summary

This paper makes a detailed investigation on Korean guild merchants. While collecting data from the late nineteenth-century account books of Seoul's Guild of Domestic Silk Merchants (Myŏnjujŏn), one thing that stood out among the everyday administrative expenses of the organization was the frequent appearance of large quantities of tobacco. It appeared even from this casual observation that the social smoking of tobacco and its use as a gift was extremely important to the internal economic and social life of the Silk Merchants' Guild. The Chosŏn government recognized the importance of the guilds and particularly the Six Guilds, and in return for their services they were granted monopoly rights within the jurisdiction of the Capital Administrative Bureau. The use of tobacco in guild meetings by guild members collectively must have had the function of promoting friendly relations among members through the collective activity of smoking.

Keywords: Capital Administrative Bureau; Chosŏn government; Korean guild merchants; Myŏnjujŏn; tobacco



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