Soh Jaipil Lecture Series: "The Survival of the Chosŏn Dynasty in the Imjin War (1592-98) and the Issue of Governance"

Within three weeks of the invasion, the Japanese took Hansŏng, the capital of Chosŏn, and King Sŏnjo fled to the north. Japan’s sudden invasion dealt a blow of life or death to the dynasty King Sŏnjo had inherited. Seven years later, Japan’s invader regime gave up the war without achieving anything and, two years later, it collapsed. Ming China which sent a rescue force to Korea suffered heavy casualties and financial losses. A few decades later, it also collapsed. But the Chosŏn dynasty survived and enjoyed longevity for three more centuries. The war unfolded in Korea only. What helped the Chosŏn dynasty survive the crisis? The avenues of Chosŏn Korea’s survival were two: military and diplomatic.

In this talk, Hur examines the ways in which the military avenue contributed to the survival of the Chosŏn dynasty. From the beginning to the end, King Sŏnjo was determined to destroy the Japanese invaders even though his country’s military capability was not a match. In 1592, the most critical year, Chosŏn Korea had already been able to frustrate Hideyoshi’s goals far before Ming China committed a large rescue force. In 1593, Ming China, which failed to strike the Japanese out, sought a negotiated settlement to the war to 1596, but to no avail. In 1597 the Japanese resumed a massive attack on the Chosŏn, and the Ming sent a larger force. The Ming force depended on supplies which the Chosŏn procured (to a great extent) and transported to the front. How was Chosŏn Korea able to do the job that contributed to frustrate the Japanese? In answering these questions, Hur pays attention to the modus operandi of Chosŏn Korea’s governance.

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