22 May 2024

Patreon supporter only: Xu Chao Guang (許朝光), Yelang Beyond the Sea

Wokou engaging in rape and pillage, from 'Tai Ping Kang Wo Tu (《太平抗倭圖》)'.
In the previous months I've covered some Jia Jing Da Wo Kou (嘉靖大倭寇) topics, namely Zhang Lian (張璉), who was a mountain bandit being mistaken as Wokou, as well as Twenty-four Generals of Yue Gang (月港), who were a rare case of grassroots attempt to participate in smuggling/piratical activities. For this article though, I will cover another famous pirate lord named Xu Chao Guang (許朝光). In many ways, Xu Chao Guang was a quintessential Wokou, however he only became active during the later phases of Jia Jing Da Wo Kou, when Ming coastal defence began to improve, many notorious Chinese Wokou leaders had been wiped out, and the inflow of Japanese Wokou began to dry out. Thus, his piratical activities showed signs of transitioning from Wokou/Japanese-based piracy practices into Chinese-style piracy.

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30 April 2024

Battle of Jiksan

This illustration actually depicts Battle of Byeokjegwan rather than Battle of Jiksan, hence the snowy terrain. Unfortunately there is a serious lack of modern illustration of Battle of Jiksan, so I have to make do with what I can find. The particular painting is the handiwork of Feng Zi Jian (冯子建).


The complete destruction of Joseon navy during Battle of Chilcheollyang thoroughly upended the defence landscape of Korea. Joseon army, still reeling from the devastation of the previous Japanese invasion, could not offer any meaningful resistance to the renewed Japanese onslaught, and the responsibility of defending Korea thus disproportionately fell on the shoulders of Ming army, of which there were only 12,000 Ming troops scattered around Korea at the time.

Japanese army met its first serious opposition at Namwon, which guards a critical mountain pass connecting Gyeongsang Province and Jeolla Province. Unfortunately, it was impossible for 3,000 Ming troops and 700 Joseon troops in a poorly fortified city to resist a besieging force of 56,800 troops, and Siege of Namwon ended in Japanese victory in just four days.

The fall of Namwon spooked the Ming garrison at Jeonju to immediately abandon the city and retreat to Gongju. From then on, Japanese army met no further challenge and was able to rampage through Jeolla and Chungcheong Province unopposed. The vast majority of Joseon leadership and military garrisons of the two provinces abandoned their duty and fled, and Japanese troops actually spent more time looting, torching villages and rooting out Korean refugees hiding in the mountains to be massacred than fighting (they were far more violent and cruel during the second invasion than the first). As Japanese army steadily drew closer to Hanseong (present-day Seoul), capital city of Joseon Kingdom, Ming armies at Gongju and Chunju were also recalled to Hanseong to bolster its defence. Gongju subsequently fell into Japanese hands.

To prevent Japanese army from marching straight to Hanseong without anyone standing in its way, Ming military commissioner of Korea Xing Jie (邢玠), who was at Liaodong at the time, issued an order to Military superintendent Ma Gui (麻貴), asking him to send Ming army to defend Jiksan and Cheonan City. Upon receiving his order, Ma Gui dispatched Jie Sheng, Po Gui, Yang Deng Shan and Niu Bo Ying to lead 2,000 Ming cavalry (which were all Ming army could spare at the time) and head south to interdict Japanese army. Unfortunately, due to time-delay of relaying messages between Liaodong and Hanseong, Cheonan had already fallen into Japanese hands. As thus, Ming army wasn't able to enter Cheonan as originally planned, and had to set up an ambush between Jiksan and Cheonan.

The Battlefield

Ming army went all the way from Hanseong to Jiksan to interdict Japanese army (click to enlarge).
Battle of Jiksan was a meeting engagement between Ming army and Japanese army that happened at roughly 4 km south of Jiksan.


Ming army

Commander: Jie Sheng (解生), Po Gui (頗貴), Yang Deng Shan (楊登山), Niu Bo Ying (牛伯英)
Total strength: 15 officers, 2,000 cavalry
Casualties: 85 noses collected by Kuroda Nagamasa's army after the battle*, 150~160 claimed dead

*Note: Since Ming army withdrew from battle first, thus allowing Kuroda Nagamasa to clean up the battlefield, 85 dead can be taken as the most accurate assessment of Ming casualties. Nevertheless, Ming army may or may not suffered additional casualties depending on whether it fought Mōri Hidemoto's reinforcement or not.

Japanese army

Kuroda Nagamasa's army

1) Vanguard

Commander: Kuroda Naoyuki (黒田直之), Kuriyama Toshiyasu (栗山利安), Keya Takehisa (毛屋武久)
Strength: Unknown, but in the range of 2,000+

2) Scout

Commander: Gotō Mototsugu (後藤基次), Kuroda Kazushige (黒田一成), Nomura Ichiemon (野村市右衛門)
Strength: Unknown

3) Full army (after reorganisation)

3.1) Centre Battle
Commander: Kuroda Nagamasa (黒田長政)
Strength: 2,000 troops.

3.2) Left Battle
1st Left Division Commander: Gotō Mototsugu (後藤基次), Kuroda Kazushige (黒田一成)
2nd Left Division Commander: Kuroda Naoyuki (黒田直之), Kiriyama Nobuyuki (桐山信行)
Strength: Unknown

3.3) Right Battle
1st Right Division Commander: Mori Tomonobu (母里友信), Kuriyama Toshiyasu (栗山利安), Kuroda Toshitaka (黒田利高)
2nd Right Division Commander: Inoue Kurobei (井上九郎兵衛), Nomura Ichiemon (野村市右衛門)
Strength: Unknown

Total strength: Approximately 5,000 troops
Casualties: 29-31 heads collected by Ming army, 500~600 dead claimed*

*Note: Claim given by Ming troops returning from battle and seemingly corroborated by the testimony of Fukuda Kansuke (福田勘介), a soldier of Mōri Hidemoto's army who was captured by Koreans on a later date. However, a testimony under duress may not be all that reliable.

Mōri Hidemoto's reinforcement

1) Vanguard

Commander: Shishido Mototsugu (宍戶元續)
Strength: 2,950 troops

2) Main army

Commander: Mōri Hidemoto (毛利秀元)
Strength: Unknown

Total strength: Unknown but around 25,000+
Casualties: Unknown but likely negligible

The Battle

On October 17, 1597, the vanguard of Kuroda Nagamasa's army led by Kuroda Naoyuki, Kuriyama Toshiyasu and Keya Takehisa left Cheonan City before dawn and marched north towards Jiksan. At the time, the Japanese didn't know about Ming ambush, although Kuroda Nagamasa's vanguard was able to detect the presence of Ming army before being detected in return.

Mistakenly believing (or more likely, deliberately inflating) that the number of Ming troops to be far greater than they really were, commanders of the vanguard fell into indecision. Kuroda Naoyuki wanted to retreat to rendezvous with Kuroda Nagamasa's main army before deciding the next course of action, however he was objected by Keya Takehisa, who rightly pointed out that it was impossible to outrun Ming cavalry by foot. Keya Takehisa instead suggested that the vanguard should launch a surprise attack against the still-unsuspecting Ming army, then quickly retreat amidst the chaos. He also added that Ming troops were well-protected by bullet-proof iron shields, thus matchlock guns should only be used to signal and cover the charge (with gun smoke), and the battle should be decided in close combat. In the end Keya Takehisa's suggestion was accepted by other commanders.

On the Ming side, Ming troops actually detected Kuroda Nagamasa's vanguard as well, but mistook them for Koreans as Japanese troops of the vanguard were dressed in white. As thus, they did not react to these "Koreans" closing in until they suddenly opened fire. Caught in a surprise, Ming troops were momentarily pushed back, but quickly regained composure as Kuroda Nagamasa's vanguard attempted to disengage from them, and began a fierce counterattack.

Meanwhile, Kuroda Nagamasa, who departed Cheonan later, was alerted by the sounds of gunshots coming from the direction of his vanguard. Hoping that his vanguard was merely using matchlock gun for hunting, Kuroda Nagamasa nevertheless ordered Gotō Mototsugu, Kuroda Kazushige and Nomura Ichiemon to scout ahead due to a sneaking suspicion that the vanguard had run into troubles. The scouts quickly arrived at the scene and saw that Kuroda Nagamasa's suspicion had indeed become reality—Ming cavalry already defeated the vanguard and chased them over an earthen bridge, and both armies entered a stand-off at either side of the bridge.

Gotō Mototsugu, who was the first scout to arrive and saw the carnage, quickly retreated to a nearby hill for safety, and called other scouts to follow suit. However, Kuroda Kazushige insisted to immediately help the vanguard and rushed to join the fray, as he was worried that since the vanguard was surrounded, Ming army could directly go after Kuroda Nagamasa if they failed to prevent a bridge crossing. He personally hopped onto the bridge and slew several Ming troops while directing the vanguard to defend the bridge, and successfully drove Ming army back after a fierce battle. Meanwhile, Gotō Mototsugu ordered his troops to create large movements on the hill to give an impression that a large Japanese army had taken control of the hilltop, in the hope that this will confuse Ming troops and delay them further. Soon after, Kuroda Nagamasa himself also arrived and climbed the hill on the east side of the battlefield to access the situation. He proclaimed that they must prepare to fight to the death as there won't be any more backup coming, then reorganised his army into three battles to engage the Chinese in pitched battle.

After the rearrangement, Mori Tomonobu, commander of the 1st Right Division, re-initiated the fight by ordering his arquebusiers to open fire. He was quickly followed by Kuriyama Toshiyasu and Gotō Mototsugu (commanders of 1st Right Division and 1st Left Division, respectively), who shouted warcries and charged Ming army. Ming troops responded by shooting volleys of arrows into Japanese ranks, then engaged them in close combat. During the chaotic melee Kuroda Kazushige, Kuroda Naoyuki, Mori Tomonobu, Kuriyama Toshiyasu and Gotō Mototsugu found themselves surrounded, although they managed to break out of encirclement with great difficulties. Seeing that his subordinates were in great danger, Kuroda Nagamasa committed his own 2,000 troops and personally joined the fight. He was soon joined by Shishido Mototsugu, who just arrived at the scene leading the vanguard of Mōri Hidemoto's army. Despite this, they still failed to gain upper hand over Ming army. Nevertheless, the situation completely overturned as the battle dragged into noon, as Mōri Hidemoto himself arrived with a large army, bringing the total number of Japanese troops at the scene to around 30,000.

What happened next varies depending on the source. Most Chinese and Korean sources, and some Japanese sources, agree that Ming army bailed as fast as it could at the sight of Mōri Hidemoto's massive reinforcement. However, Mōri Kaki (『毛利家記』, i.e. Mōri Clan Records) claims that Mōri Hidemoto slaughtered many thousands of Ming troops and saved Kuroda Nagamasa from the brink of danger. Survivors of the slaughter fled to a nearby hill and dispatched a translator to Mōri Hidemoto to beg for mercy, which he gracefully granted and let them go. While it is clear that this record is heavily biased and exaggerated (Ming army wasn't large enough to be able to afford the loss of "many thousands" of troops), the possibility that Mōri Hidemoto did briefly fight Ming army, rather than Ming army immediately retreating without engaging him, cannot be completely ruled out.

In any case, and regardless of which source to believe, thus ended Battle of Jiksan.


Ming army quickly retreated to Jinwi after successfully disengaging. Still feeling threatened, it continued to retreat north after a short rest and meal, arriving at Suwon by evening. The news of Ming retreat quickly reached Hanseong, and upon being briefed on the latest situation, Ma Gui immediately mobilised Ming army stationed at Hanseong to guard the river crossings of Han River, knowing full well that Hanseong was at the brink of coming under direct threat. He also worried that Suwon—now the last line of defence between Hanseong and the Japanese—would soon come under attack, so he ordered Bai Sai (摆塞) to lead 2,500 elite cavalry to reinforce other Ming commanders at Suwon and interdict the coming Japanese army.

Route of retreat of the Ming army (click to enlarge).
After Ming army retreated from battle, Japanese army did not give pursuit and returned to Cheonan City for the night. The next day (October 18, 1597), it resumed advance northwards and quickly captured the now vacant Jiksan. From hereon, it appears that Japanese army continued to head north and ran into Ming army again.

The Elusive Battle of Sosapyeong

Ming army engaged Japanese army once again on October 18, 1597 (click to enlarge).
Battle of Sosapyeong was a skirmish between Ming army and Japanese army at Sosapyeong (소사평 or 素沙坪), a flat grassland north of Jiksan.

A relatively unheard of battle, what exactly transpired during Battle of Sosapyeong varies depending on the source. According to Korean source Sangchongo (《상촌고》 or 《象村稿》), Bai Sai and 2,000 Ming cavalry encountered the Japanese at "the border of Jinwi and Jiksan" (which is where Sosapyeong is) and defeated them after joining force with the other four Ming commanders, beheading 64. Another Korean source Nanjung Chamnok (《난중잡록》 or 《亂中雜錄》) contains a rather fanciful account of the battle, in which three contingents of Ming troops employed artillery bombardment, cavalry charge, and deadly iron whips to crush a Japanese army using matchlocks and "Crane Wing Formation". A later Korean source, Mumyeong Jajib (《무명자집》 or 《無名子集》), even describes Ming army unleashing hundreds of "ape cavalry" to disrupt the Japanese before crushing them with a ferocious cavalry charge.

Curiously, official histories of both Ming Dynasty and Joseon Dynasty, i.e. Veritable Records of the Ming Emperor Shenzong and Annals of King Seonjo, do not mention this battle at all, and records about this battle only date to 17th century at the earliest and contain many discrepancies such as getting the date wrong, believing that Japanese army was led by Katō Kiyomasa (加藤清正) rather than Kuroda Nagamasa and Mōri Hidemoto, as well as confusing or conflating it with Battle of Jiksan.

Given the silence of official histories and low reliability of other sources, Battle of Sosapyeong almost seem like a fabricated fiction in the same vein as Battle of Bantan (Note: Patron-only content), if not for the fact that some contemporary sources do attest or allude to its existence. For example, Xing Jie repeatedly praised Bai Sai for his bravery and exploits at Jiksan, even though Bai Sai clearly did not participate in the October 17 battle. This strongly hints that another battle took place at around the same area but on a different date. Moreover, Korean source Soemirok (《쇄미록》 or 《瑣尾錄》), a war diary written by a Korean refugee who wandered all over Korea to escape the conflict, also describes a battle at "the border of Jinwi and Yangseong" where Ming army led by Po Gui encountered some "Koreans", only this time Ming troops saw through the disguise and attacked immediately, forcing the Japanese to retreat to Jiksan. Japanese army then split up, with one of the contingents noted to be heading towards Juksan. Soemirok's account matches with known Japanese activities around the same time, as Anseong City and Juksan came under Japanese attack on October 20, 1597, three days after Battle of Jiksan.

Japanese activities on October 20, 1597 (click to enlarge).
As such, at best it can be surmised that Battle of Sosapyeong most likely did happen, although whether or not Japanese troops disguised as Koreans a second time, and whether or not Ming army beheaded 64, remain uncertain. In any case, the battle seems like an insignificant skirmish of little import, considering official histories of both Ming Dynasty and Joseon Dynasty couldn't be bothered to record it.


Battle of Jiksan was a battle where both sides claim victory, although analysis of the various sources reveals that Japanese army prevailed over Ming army and forced the latter to retreat, lending credence to the Japanese claim. Nevertheless, it is also obvious that Ma Gui wouldn't expect a mere 2,000 cavalry to stop the entire Japanese Army of the Right, which numbered 65,300 troops, dead on its track (Ming army couldn't possibly know how many Japanese troops will turn up during Battle of Jiksan beforehand). As such, Battle of Jiksan was most likely intended to be a delaying action to slow down Japanese advance, rather than a decisive battle to defeat them. From this perspective, it is also fair to say that Ming army accomplished its objective.

For some reasons, both Battle of Jiksan and Battle of Sosapyeong were subjected to increased (and undue) attention after the war ended. Post war, privately-composed histories describe the battles in flowery prose and exaggerate their significance and impact, and view that Battle of Jiksan broke the Japanese advance started to crop up and gain popularity. Regrettably, such view eventually crept into modern historiography of Imjin War, leading to an oft-repeated myth that "Jiksan was the furthest the Japanese ever got towards reaching Hanseong (Seoul)", which can be easily debunked by the fact that Japanese army raided Anseong and Juksan, both located at the north of Jiksan.

In truth, both Battle of Jiksan and Battle of Sosapyeong did little to stem the Japanese advance. Contemporary accounts from Hanseong show that the Koreans were in a state of panic, which was only exacerbated after news of the fall of Anseong and Juksan reached Hanseong, as the Japanese just opened up a new route to attack Hanseong directly, bypassing Ming defensive line at Suwon. The only Joseon army that was available on short notice, that of commander Yi Gyeong-jun (이경준 or 李慶濬), was tiny in size and holed up in Gwacheon behind the back of Ming army, refusing to either join force with the Chinese or interdict potential Japanese advance from another direction. Even King Yi Yeon of Joseon expressed despair in the face of the hopeless situation, and his court was swarmed with pleads and plans of evacuation. On the Ming side, the Chinese hardly fared any better than the Koreans. Panic began to spread after Ming troops witnessed first-hand the overwhelming numbers of Japanese army, not to mention Ming garrison at Suwon was now under serious risk of being attacked from the rear by the Japanese contingent that took a detour to Juksan. As a result, many were contemplating a full retreat from Korea.

Given the situation, Regulator of Korean military affairs Yang Hao (楊鎬) decided to intervene to stabilise the panic. He planned to make a trip to Suwon on October 22, 1597 to encourage Ming troops at the frontline, but was stopped at last minute by Ma Gui, as the latter was unwilling to put one of the highest ranking commanders of Ming army in Korea at risk of being outflanked. As a compromise, Yang Hao and Ma Gui forced King Yi Yeon to come with them on a military review outside the city of Hanseong, then a tour of Ming defensive positions along Han River, then another military review near Gwanaksa Mountain on the other side of Han River. These acts served to remind the king that Ming army will continue to protect Joseon Kingdom, while at the same time reassure Korean public that their king will not abandon them unlike the first invasion. Though nothing more than posturing and public displays, by "volunteering" King Yi Yeon to venture beyond the safety of city walls and place himself in (symbolic) danger, Yang Hao managed to calm down the panic somewhat.

As such, it's clear from Korean reaction and Yang Hao's action that the actual situation after Battle of Jiksan was the complete opposite of popular narrative. Not only Japanese advance wasn't stopped, it was the Ming army that had been visibly shaken.

Unexpected retreat

In a surprising twist of fate, the dreaded Japanese attack on Hanseong never came. Japanese army began to pull back to the southern coasts of Korea, much to the confusion of both Chinese and Koreans. The sudden retreat was not caused by any effort on the part of Chinese and Koreans, but simply due to a retreat order from Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉), as well as the looming Korean winter. In particular, Mōri Hidemoto already received Hideyoshi's order while he was still at Gongju, while the rest of the Army of the Right (that did not take part in Battle of Jiksan) agreed to a decision to retreat on a military council held on October 19, 1597. Given the time-delay of relaying messages between Japan and Korea, Hideyoshi must have issued said order weeks if not months earlier, so it was simply impossible for Battle of Jiksan, Battle of Sosapyeong, and Battle of Myeongnyang for that matter, to be the cause of the retreat.

Regardless of the actual reason though, it would be idiotic to not capitalise on such godsend opportunity. Ming army began a pursuit almost immediately, chasing Mōri Hidemoto all the way to Cheongju and beheaded hundreds of Japanese troops in a series of skirmishes (Kuroda Nagamasa took a different route of retreat and evaded Ming army).

Thus ended the crisis of Hanseong and Battle of Jiksan saga. However, the real turning point of the second invasion had yet to come...


Much of the information in this article are taken from the well-researched 《万历朝鲜战争全史》 authored by Zhu Er Dan (朱尔旦), a.k.a. the critic of Samuel Hawley's book, coupled with some of my own researches. I highly recommend anyone interested in learning more about Imjin War (and can read Chinese) to buy a copy of this book.

Further reading

I've prepared some extra contents for Battle of Jiksan which are exclusive to my Supporter-tier Patrons! The article is best read as a companion article to this one and can be accessed here. If you like my work, please support me via Patreon!

10 April 2024

Fei Long Hua Dao (飛龍化刀)

Drawing of a Fei Long Hua Dao rocket, from 'Huo Long Jing (《火龍經》)'.
Fei Long Hua Dao (飛龍化刀, lit. 'Flying dragon turning into knives') is a highly unusual and viciously designed—if not terribly effective—rocket. Recorded in famous Ming military treatise Huo Long Jing (火龍經), this is a one zhang five fen long spear-sized rocket with a two chi long bamboo rocket motor as well as two Du Huo (毒火) poison smoke-cum-incendiary warheads, which by itself isn't anything unusual. What set Fei Long Hua Dao apart from other rockets is that it is fitted with secondary rockets designed to be engaged at the same time as poison smoke warheads detonate. Known as Hua Dao Tong (化刀筒, lit. 'Knife-changing tube'), these stickless secondary rockets are two chi five cun long gunpowder-filled tubes fitted with three poisoned blades on both ends, and are said to be able to cover an area dozens of zhang wide, literally shredding anything they hit.

Long Fei Hua Dao Zhen (龍飛化刀陣)

Layout of Long Fei Hua Dao Zhen, from 'Huo Long Jing (《火龍經》)'.
The author of Huo Long Jing also created a military formation for the rocket, called Long Fei Hua Dao Zhen (龍飛化刀陣, lit. 'Dragon flying changing into knives formation') or simply Long Fei Zhen (龍飛陣, lit. 'Dragon flying formation'). The formation is designed to inflict maximum mayhem with the rockets to create an opening that allows a trapped unit to break out of encirclement, and is best deployed during cloudy but windless weather.

Long Fei Hua Dao Zhen consists of thirty-two rocket teams armed with ten Fei Long Hua Dao rockets each. These rocket teams are arrayed in a checkerboard-like formation, with eight teams serving as vanguard, twelve teams as wings, four teams at the centre, as well as eight teams as rearguard. Nevertheless, it is not known what purpose does such a specific formation serve other than for firearms safety, as Fei Long Hua Dao has a long enough range that such arrangement wouldn't be necessary.

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