Authors: Samuel Hawley
THE IMJIN WAR
Japan’s Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Kore
and Attempt to Conquer China
THE IMJIN WAR:
JAPAN’S SIXTEENTH-CENTURY INVASIO
OF KOREA AND ATTEMPT TO CONQUER CHINA
Copyright © 2014 by Samuel Hawley
Published by Conquistador Press, 2014
ISBN (for eBook edition):
ISBN: (for print edition):
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
The first edition of THE IMJIN WAR was published in 2005 by the Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch, Seoul and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, with a second printing in 2008.
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It will soon be ten years since
The Imjin War
was co-published in October 2005 by the Royal Asiatic Society in Korea and the Institute of East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley. My foremost thanks then, and now, is to Kim Kyong-mee for the many hours she spent with me, twice a week over the course of two years, translating the various Korean-language sources that were used in the preparation of this book. I would also like to renew my thanks to Kim Young-duk and Bae Sue-ja, respectively the president and general manager of the RASKB at the time
The Imjin War
was originally published; to IEAS managing editor Joanne Sandstrom for her copyediting skills; and to the So-ae Memorial Foundation and Poongsan Corporation, without whose support this book would never have been published in the first place.
The Imjin War
book received virtually no marketing when it was first released and distribution was confined to just a few sources. Normally such lack of publicity and availability would doom a book to wither and die, unknown and unsold. But for some reason
The Imjin War
didn’t wither. Readers found it, word got around and the initial print run of 2,000 copies eventually sold out. In 2008 a second printing was made.
As an older and wiser author today, more aware of the harsh realities of the book business, I look back on this modest success with a measure of wonder. When I set out to find a publisher in 2003, after four years of solitary research and writing, I contacted a number of literary agents and publishing houses, pitching it as a popular history for general readers, and I sat back expecting to receive at least a few favorable replies. Fifty-seven rejection letters followed, each assuring me that a book on a presumably obscure sixteen-century war in
Korea wouldn’t sell. To all the people who bought
The Imjin War
anyway when it finally came out, despite this conventional wisdom that they weren’t supposed to; to everyone who devoted the hours required to read through its many pages; to everyone who has said or written kind things about it over the years and encouraged me to write more—to all these people I would like to say:
This new edition of
The Imjin War
is largely identical to the original version. The main difference is that I have eliminated the center section of pictures, replaced the Acknowledgements with this new Preface and designed a new cover. Everything else, including the text, is the same. I remain very proud of this book. It was a labor of love that required more time and drive and energy than I could ever muster again, and so I have decided to let it stand as I originally wrote it.
It has grieved me over the years to receive emails from people saying that they wanted a copy of
The Imjin War
but couldn’t find one to buy, or that the only copy they could locate was being sold for an outrageously high price. It is my hope that these more reasonably priced paperback and eBook editions, coupled with easier availability and more widespread distribution, will overcome these problems.
, Ontario, Canada
On December 8, 1941—December 7 on the American side of the international date line—army and navy forces of Japan launched a surprise attack on Western colonial possessions in Asia and the Pacific, initiating what would come to be known in Tokyo as the Great Pacific War. It was the final, ultimately disastrous step in an expansionist phase in Japanese history that had already led that nation into three other wars of increasing ambition: the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05, and the campaign to conquer
China begun in 1931. By the summer of 1942, eight months into the Great Pacific War, the empire of Japan extended from Manchuria to Burma on the Asian mainland and south across the Pacific as far as the islands of Java and New Guinea. Then, in the face of overwhelming American power, it began to fall apart.
Today, this fifty-year period of international aggression tends to be regarded as an aberration in Japan’s long history, the only time most people are aware of when the Land of the Rising Sun dispatched armies overseas to conquer foreign lands. This, however, is not the case. The Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, the invasion of China, the Great Pacific War—they all had an important antecedent that is little known in the West. In May of 1592, some 350 years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the state of
Japan, recently unified under a dictator named Toyotomi Hideyoshi, sent a huge army across the strait from Kyushu to Pusan on Korea’s southern tip. Its objective was first to invade that neighboring kingdom, then to press on to Beijing and conquer China. Once China was securely in Hideyoshi’s grasp, he planned to extend his hegemony even farther: south into Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma; offshore to Sumatra, Java, Taiwan, the Ryukyu Islands, and the Spanish colony of the Philippines; west to India—perhaps even all the way to that distant place where the strange bearded men came from who had first appeared in Japan fifty years before, the southwestern barbarians who claimed to be from a country called
Hideyoshi, in short, was intent on conquering the whole world as it was then known to him, an ambitious goal for what was in fact the first centrally directed war of overseas aggression in the history of
The resulting conflict immersed
Japan, Korea, and China, plus token forces from as far away as Thailand, in nearly seven years of bloody war. It came to be known to the Japanese under a variety of appellations, from the prosaic “Korean War” to the more poetic “Pottery War” and “War of Celadon and Metal Type,” references to the spoils that Hideyoshi’s armies took back with them to Japan. The Chinese would refer to it simply as “the Korean Campaign,” a designation lumping it together with two other military campaigns that occupied the armies of China in the 1590s, despite the fact that it dwarfed the other two in size. To the Koreans, who suffered by far the greatest devastation and loss, it would come to be known as
, “the bandit invasion of the year
(water dragon),” commonly rendered in English as “the Imjin War.”
Since this book relies most heavily on Korean sources and a Korean perspective, this is the title that I have chosen:
, “the Imjin War.”
The scale of the Imjin War was immense. It far exceeded any con
flict that had occurred in Renaissance Europe up to that time. The army of invasion that Toyotomi Hideyoshi sent to Korea in 1592 totaled 158,800 men, three times the size of the largest army that any European nation in the late sixteenth century could muster and put into the field. Add to this the nearly 100,000 Ming Chinese troops ultimately dispatched by Beijing to Korea to counter the approaching threat, plus the many tens of thousands of Korean soldiers and guerrilla fighters who participated in the war, and the total number of combatants rises to something in excess of 300,000 men. The most contemporary European comparison, the “invincible armada” that was sent by Philip II of Spain to invade England in 1588, by contrast involved 30,500 Spaniards against an Elizabethan military that in its entirety amounted to not much more than 20,000 men.
The Imjin War did not result in a redrawing of the bounda
ries of the nations involved. When the fighting finally ended in December of 1598, China, Japan, and Korea were each left with exactly the same territory they had started with seven years before. The impact of the war was nevertheless profound. For Japan it marked the end of its military age, or at least the beginning of the end, an international crescendo of conflict capping more than a century of civil war. After the death in 1598 of the war’s architect, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and the subsequent rise to power of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan would enter the longest unbroken period of peace in its history, the Tokugawa era of 1601 to 1867. In China, the strain of responding to Japanese aggression in Korea would greatly weaken the already declining Ming dynasty, undermining its ability to resist the Manchu forces that would ultimately overwhelm it to establish a dynasty of their own, the Qing. And in Korea, while no corresponding dynastic change took place, the war weakened the country so severely that it would not fully recover for centuries to come.
What follows is the most comprehensive account in the English language of this important conflict, the Imjin War, still so little known in the West. It lays a framework for understanding
Japan, Korea, and China as they existed four hundred years ago. It recounts the five years of diplomatic maneuvering and misunderstanding that preceded the outbreak of hostilities. It gives a detailed account of the entire six-and-a-half-year conflict, from the first day of the Japanese invasion in 1592 to the final bloody clashes of 1598. It introduces the pageant of characters involved: the warlords and kings, the officials and envoys, the commanders and soldiers, and the common people who suffered and died. And it conveys, I hope, something of the drama, the tragedy, and the emotion of this fascinating episode in the history of the East, for it is nothing less than an epic tale and deserves to be told as such.