Despite increased agricultural output, famine was a growing problem in late Chosŏn Korea, in terms of both frequency and scale. The Chosŏn state developed an elaborate system of tax exemptions and relief aid to deal with crop failure and famine. It is often argued, however, that state administration deteriorated in the nineteenth century due to neglect under the influence of so-called in-law politics. Based on an analysis of early nineteenth-century relief aid guidelines and relief grain procurement practices, this article argues that the deteriorating effects of in-law politics have been exaggerated. In fact, that state’s famine relief policies successfully and simultaneously addressed the two difficult tasks of helping a countryside increasingly afflicted by famine and of reproducing the existing social order in order to secure the state’s stability. The Chosŏn state carried out both of these tasks within the constraints of general fiscal difficulties.

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