A critique of Samuel Hawley's The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China — Part 2: The second invasion

Chapter 24: "Water, Thunder, and Great Disaster"
Initial mobilisation of Ming army during the second invasion
  1. The author claims that "Accordingly to the Chinese historical record, initial mobilizations of army units yielded 38,000 troops. They would be joined over the coming months by approximately 16,000 additional troops from outlying regions of the empire. The naval units that eventually found their way to Korea added another 21,000 men. At the height of the second Korean campaign, therefore, Ming army and navy forces totaled approximately 75,000 men.".

    Unfortunately, no Chinese historical record claims such thing. The author simply put together irrelevant bits and pieces of numbers from different Chinese sources to come up with this "estimation". In fact, the figure of "38,000 troops" came from (《經略復國要編》), and it was the Ming mobilisation for the first invasion. Furthermore, the "16,000 additional troops" did not come from outlying regions of China. They were in fact Ming troops from the first invasion that stayed behind to defend Korea. Korean source (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》) in turn records an initial Ming mobilisation of 17,000 troops.

    The figure of 21,000 naval troops was also incorrect. According to (《經略禦倭奏議》) written by Ming military commissioner of Korea Xing Jie (邢玠), initial Ming naval mobilisation consisted of:

    Number of troops Place of origin Commander Status
    2,000 Wusong (吳淞) Li Tianchang (李天常) Departed on March 29, 1598.
    2,280 Nanjing Wan Bangfu (萬邦浮) Passed by Tianjing on April 2, 1598.
    1,320 Fujian Bai Siqing (白斯清) Currently stationed at Tianjing, awaiting the completion of their ships.
    3,154 Zhejiang Chen Mao (沈茂) Departed on January 31, 1598. Already passed by Dezhou (德州).
    3,000 Guangdong Zhang Liangxiang
    On the way to Korea.
    1,500 Langshan
    Fu Risheng (福日昇) Arrived at Lingshan Garrison (靈山衛), Shandong on March 2, 1598.
    “Sand troops*”
    Chongming Island 
    Liang Tianyin (梁天胤) Departed on February 24, 1598.
    (*Translator's Note: "Sand troops" or Sha Bing (沙兵), refers to soldiers recruited from the shoal dwellers of Chongming Island.)

    So there were 16,254 men in total, not 21,000 men.

    Unsurprisingly, the author's claim of 75,000 Ming troops during the height of the second Korean campaign is also untrue. According to (《經略禦倭奏議》), more than 90,000 troops arrived at Korea during the second invasion. Korean source (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》) in turn records the number of Ming troops that took part in the final four route offensive (i.e. Ulsan, Sachon, Sunchon, and Noryang) at 92,100 men, and there were still more that came to Korea but did not participate in the offensive. Additionally, (《東征記》) records the total number of Ming troops during the entire second invasion at 98,000 men, which is likely the most accurate estimation.

Chapter 25: The Japanese Advance Inland
Siege of Namwon
  1. The author claims that "Gathered inside the (Namwon) fortress were three thousand Ming troops led by General Yang Yuan, a thousand Koreans under Cholla Army Commander Yi Bok-nam...". In reality, according to (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), Yi Bok-nam only had 700 men when he arrived at Namwon.
  2. The author claims "Fifty thousand Japanese soldiers now stood poised to attack Namwon.". In reality, according to (『樺山久高譜中』) incorporated in (『舊記雜錄後編』), Japanese army numbered 68,820 men.
  3. The author claims that Yang Yuan "had to fight their way out through strong Japanese resistance. Yang himself was wounded twice by musket fire, and only one hundred of his men survived.".

    There are actually a few different accounts on how Yang Yuan survived. According to (《西厓集》) and (《牧齋初學集詩注》), it is possible that the Japanese knew Yang Yuan's identity and intentionally let him escape, just in case if they had to enter negotiation with Ming Dynasty again later. Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible to escape an encirclement of nearly seventy-thousand troops.
  • The author claims that "Shortly after they captured Hwangsoksansong, word reached the Japanese that the Left Army had already taken Namwon. With this objective no longer available to them, Kato, Nabeshima, and Kuroda set out instead for Chonju, fifty kilometers farther north. By the time they arrived the city had been deserted by both civilians and troops: upon receiving news of the fall of Namwon, Chinese general Chen Yuzhong had withdrawn with his two thousand men and retreated north toward Seoul. Kato and his compatriots thus marched into Chonju on September 30 without a fight, where they were soon joined by a portion of the army that had taken Namwon. After garrisoning the city, this forward army fanned out west toward the coast and northeast toward Kumsan to subdue the northern half of Cholla Province. Nabeshima Naoshige led his forces farther north to take Kongju, the main city in Chungchong Province. Kato Kiyomasa’s contingent headed northeast to occupy the town of Chongju. Kuroda Nagamasa, finally, ventured farthest north into Kyonggi-do, the province bordering Seoul.".

    This is completely untrue. In reality, it was Konishi Yukinaga (小西行長), vanguard of the Left Army, that reached Chonju first. He was soon followed by Ukita Hideie (宇喜多秀家), commander-in-chief of the Left Army. Kato Kiyomasa (加藤清正) and the rest of Right Army arrived last. As such, Chonju was obviously not "deserted" by the time of their arrival, as it was already occupied by the Japanese.

    After the rendezvous of Japanese Left and Right Army in Chongju, the commanders held a meeting. Nabeshima Naoshige (鍋島直茂) decided to stay in Chonju, while other Right Army commanders, in particular Mori Hidemoto (毛利秀元), Kuroda Nagamasa (黒田長政), and Kato Kiyomasa continued to march north. It was the three of them, not Nabeshima Naoshige, that conquered Kongju.
  • The author claims that "By the beginning of October the Japanese army therefore seemed well on its way to achieving its objective of seizing the southern half of Korea as Hideyoshi's consolation prize. They had been in much the same position five years before, however, only to see their initial gains slip away due in part to unremitting Korean resistance.".

    This claim is incorrect and cannot be further from the truth. According to (《經略禦倭奏議》) and (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), in stark contrast to the multitude of guerrilla activities and resistance movements that sprung up during the first invasion, Korean reaction to the second invasion can only be described as utter incompetence and worthy of scorn and derision. Even as Japanese Left and Right Army pillaged and plundered their ways through Kyongsang and Cholla Province, nearly all Korean commanders and government officials simply fled. None dared to resist the onslaught, going as far as ignoring orders from the Korean king and Ming commanders. Some Korean commanders even colluded with the Japanese, forming non-aggression pacts with them. In his report to Emperor Shenzong titled (《直陳朝鮮情形疏》), military commissioner Xing Jie complained that:

    "Yi Won-ik, Kwon Yul, and Seong Yun-mun are military commanders of that country (Korea). Now they all hide at the corners of the far east. Regulator (of Korean Military Affairs, i.e Yang Hao) sent out badge of order to urge (them to act), yet they did not respond; Korean king gave orders (to them), yet they ignored him. Yi Won-ik led an army and entered secret communication with Kato Kiyomasa, so that neither side will attack the other even as they pass by each other. This alone is unusual and terrifying enough."

    Xing Jie's accusation was certainly not baseless. According to (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), Yi Won-ik was stationed at Songju (성주 or 星州), while Kwol Yul, commander-in-chief of the Korean army, was defending Koryong (고령 or 高靈), south of Songju. Kato Kiyomasa's invading army reached as far as Ch'angnyeong (창녕 or 昌寧), Chogye (초계 or 草溪) and Hapchon (합천 or 陜川), just south of both places, yet he did not continue his attack north, but abruptly changed direction and marched to Namwon at Cholla Province instead. It is thus highly probable that these secret non-aggression pacts between Korean and Japanese commanders were responsible for the disastrous collapse of the defence of Kyongsang and Cholla Province, putting Namwon under dire risk.

    After the fall of Namwon, Huang Zhongren (黃仲仁), one of the Ming commanders that escaped, claimed that all troops of the besieging Japanese army were in fact Korean collaborationists. He was clearly exaggerating, but it is undeniable that a significant number of Korean civilians collaborated with Japanese army, serving as guides and even fought for them. As such, on top of the inaction of the aforementioned Korean commanders, these Korean collaborationists were also responsible for the fall of Namwon. Given the sorry display of Koreans in the second invasion, Xing Jie was unsurprisingly upset. In the same report, he again complained that:

    "(We) originally planned to aid the people of Korea to fight and to defend (themselves), (but) now their commander-in-chief fled without a fight, their civilians ran away at the slightest rumour. (Our) troops have not yet gathered, if I am to fight (the Japanese), who will defend? If I am to defend, who will fight (the Japanese)? If I fight and defend at the same time, who will provide us with supply?......Not to mention the entire court of Korea, the ruler is not willing to endure hardship, the thought of fleeing fills his mind every day; those who serve have no loyalty, (many) already secretly submitted to the Japanese. (The Koreans) cause the situation to exacerbate, giving us no time to rest, and (they) lash out frustration by sabotaging and ruining (our plan), causing us nowhere to defend. (They only know how to) sit and watch the situation unfold. On top of that, now Kyongsang Province lies in ruin and the defence of Cholla Province has collapsed, yet the (Korean) court is still full of treachery and conspiracy. (We have to) defend against the Japanese and be wary of the Koreans at the same time, we are in extreme misery."

    In yet another report incorporated in (《萬曆邸鈔》), Xing Jie again complained that:

    "Namwon and Chonju have fallen, the Japanese are high in morale. The soldiers and people of that country (Korea) fled in droves, leaving empty towns and cities behind. Not only they don't help our troops, not providing us with supply, they even burned the food down, choking our army's throat. Treachery and infighting abound. (Our) lone armies are hard-pressed to resist the Japanese, yet to defend against the Korean traitors is even harder."

    As such, one would be hard-pressed to find any support for "unremitting Korean resistance" from contemporary sources. Unlike the first invasion, Korea's performance during the second invasion was abysmal, as it not only failed to assist Ming army, but actually did more harm than good most of the time. Even Yi Sun-sin did not contribute to the war in any meaningful way, for despite his famous victory at Myongnyang Channel, Yi's naval base was subsequently captured by the Japanese, and he had to retreat to Tangsa island (당사도 or 唐笥島).

Battle of Chiksan
This section contains numerous glaring errors:
  1. The author claims that Yang Hao (楊鎬) sent Ma Gui (麻貴) southward to the hills of Kyonggi Province to ambush the Japanese when they drew near Seoul. In reality, Ma Gui did not go to Kyonggi Province at all. Only Yang Dengshan (楊登山), Jie Sheng (解生), Po Gui (頗貴) and Niu Boying (牛伯英) went there.
  2. The author claims that Ming army was "a combination of foot soldiers and mounted troops". According to (《象村稿》), only cavalry were sent out.
  3. The author claims that Ming army "divided into three sections, one remaining by the road and the other two branching into the left and right". No verifiable historical source supports this claim.

    (Translator's Note: The critic later identified the source of this claim: (《亂中雜録》). However, he maintains that the record of (《亂中雜録》) regarding this particular battle is unreliable to the extreme and contradicts other sources on nearly every detail.)
  4. The author claims that "Luckily for Ma and his men, the Japanese force approaching from the direction of Chonju was not particularly large. It was the vanguard of Kuroda Nagamasa's five thousand-man force...". which was later reinforced by his main force. In reality, Kuroda Nagamasa's army during the second invasion only numbered 5,000 men IN TOTAL. Since he participated in numerous battles such as Battle of Chilchonnyang and the Siege of Hwansoksansong beforehand, his army should no longer be at full strength by the time of Battle of Chiksan. In addition, the vanguard of Mōri Hidemoto (毛利秀元) led by Shishido Mototsugu (宍戶元續), and later Mōri Hidemoto himself also joined the battle. According to (『黒田家譜』), this brings the total number of Japanese troops in that battle to around 30,000.
  5. The author claims that the Battle of Chiksan was fought for two days. However, Ming source like (《東征記》),  Korean source like (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), and Japanese sources such as (『毛利家記』) and (『黒田家譜』) all agree with each other that it was only fought for a single day. The only source which records a two-day version of the battle is (《亂中雜錄》), which is at best an uncorroborated evidence.
  6. The author describes the outcome of Battle of Chiksan as "The Chinese, although hard pressed by musket fire, eventually drove Kuroda's men back with arrows and light cannons and muskets of their own, then charged and sent them scattering in retreat back toward the south. An additional force of two thousand cavalrymen sent from Seoul by Yang Hao arrived on the scene just in time to swing the balance and join the chase. While Ma's exhausted men sat down to rest, these fresh cavalrymen galloped down the road after the retreating Japanese, adding a few more enemy heads to the tally before finally turning back.".

    This description of the outcome of Battle of Chiksan is incorrect. Through cross-referencing historical sources from China, Korea and Japan, it can be established that all three sides agree that Ming army lost the battle and retreated first because it was badly outnumbered, as shown in the table below:

    Source Description Translation
    China《兩朝平攘錄》 “解生見敵眾兵寡,乃退兵” "Jie Sheng saw that enemy was many and his troops were few, so he retreated."
    Korea 《亂中雜錄》 “日暮各斂兵屯聚” "Both sides withdrew their troops and regrouped as twilight fell."
    Korea 《象村稿》 “還軍振威” "(Ming army) withdrew to Chinwi."
    Korea 《宣廟中興志》 “四將度不可敵,而斂騎還振威” "The four (Ming) generals saw that they couldn't win the battle, so (they) withdrew their cavalry and returned to Chinwi."
    Korea《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》 “眾寡不敵,各自退守” "(Ming army) was outnumbered, so both sides withdrew."
    Japan『黒田家譜』 “會秀元與諸隊來援,敵軍乃退” "(Kuroda Nagasawa) was joined by Mori Hidemoto and other reinforcement, so the enemy retreated."
    Japan『豐臣秀吉家譜』 “解生等辟易而逃”
    "Jie Sheng retreated and fled."
    "Jie Sheng retreated in a hurry."
    Japan『島津世家』 “解生等懼逃走”
    "Jie Sheng and others retreated in fear."
    "Jie Sheng was greatly terrified and retreated."

    Referencing ancient maps of Korea such as (《海東地圖》) and (《八道地圖》), it can be deduced that after Battle of Chiksan, which was only fought for one day, Ming army retreated first and fled to Chinwi (진위 or 振威), then again to Suwon (수원 or 水原). There was no "additional force of two thousand cavalrymen sent from Seoul" at all. In fact, according to (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), Ma Gui only sent out Bai Sai (擺賽) with 2,500 troops to reinforce Suwon AFTER Battle of Chiksan was lost, so the claim about fresh cavalrymen chasing down Japanese troops is obviously untrue (some later-date Korean sources intentionally conflating two events together and fabricating some details about the reinforcement beating Japanese army for propaganda purpose).

    Route of retreat of Ming army after Battle of Chiksan.
  7. The author claims that Japanese army "lost no more than six hundred men and inflicted significant casualties in return upon the Ming Chinese.". The second part of this claim lacks support from historical sources. In contrast, according to Kuroda Nagamasa's own record in (『黑田文書』), his troops only managed to collect 85 ears from the corpses of Ming troops after the battle. It should be noted that since Ming army retreated first and Japanese army took complete control of the battlefield afterwards, this 85 dead was the total number of Chinese casualties after Japanese troops scoured the entire battlefield for the dead and dying.
    Japanese army split in two and continued to advance north after the battle.
  8. The author claims that "the battle nevertheless marked the turning point in Hieyoshi's second invasion of Korea, the point of his army's farthest northern advance before turning back toward the south.". This is also untrue. After Battle of Chiksan, Japanese army split up in two and continued to advance north, one army reached the border between Chinwi and Yangsong (양성 or 陽城), according to (《瑣尾錄》), while the other army moved to Ansong (안성 or 安城) and Chuksan (죽산 or 竹山) according to (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》). The real turning point of the second invasion was Siege of Ulsan, not this battle.
  9. The author gives the reasons for Japanese retreat as "They were prompted to turn back mainly by the now-certain knowledge that a large Ming army was assembling in the north and would soon moving their way. To take on this expeditionary force in their present situation, the Japanese knew, would be foolhardy, spread out as they were in all towns and cities all across the provinces of Kyongsang, Cholla, and Chungchong. There was also the approaching Korean winter to consider and the attendant difficulties of obtaining supplies, a difficulty that would be further exacerbated by the Korean navy under a reinstated Yi Sun-sin, which was about to deny Japanese ships access to the supply route north through the Yellow Sea. Taking these considerations together, there was only one sensible course of action for the Japanese army to take: they had to fall back toward the south.".

    The critic comments that the author pretty much imagined all these reasons. In reality, by careful study of historical sources such as interrogation record of Japanese prisoners and interview of Japanese defector found in (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), as well as the diary (『朝鮮日々記』) written by Kyonen (慶念), a Buddhist monk-doctor serving under Ota Kazuyoshi (太田一吉), it is clear that Japanese army was simply following Hideyoshi's order, which was to conquer Cholla, Kyongsang and Chungchong, but leave Kyonggi Province alone.

Chapter 27: Starvation and Death in a "Buddha-less World"
  • The author claims that "by early December forty thousand Ming troops had arrived in Seoul from China's Liaodong Province and regions farther west, bringing the total number of Chinese soldiers in Korea to the neighborhood of sixty thousand.". In reality, according to (《經略禦倭奏議》), Ming army in Korea only totalled 42,000 men by December 1597.

Siege of Ulsan
  1. The author claims that "Beneath him were Left Army Commander Li Rumei with 12,600 men...". In reality Li Rumei (李如梅) had 13,006 men under him, according to (《兩朝平攘錄》).
  2. The author claims that "The fighting commenced three days later, on January 29, as forward Chinese units neared the town of Ulsan. A feigned retreat drew the town's Japanese garrison charging out in pursuit, straight into a larger Chinese force that was waiting to the rear in crane wing battle formation.". In reality, the initial hostility happened at either Chwabyongyong (좌병영 or 左兵營) or Nongso (농소 or 農所), not Ulsan.
  3. The author claims that "As the days passed, however, more ships began to arrive from other Japanese strongholds further along the coast, notably a fleet with two thousand fighting men aboard sent by Konishi Yukinaga all the way from Sunchon.". According to (《東征記》), Konishi Yukinaga did not send out any reinforcement.
  4. The author claims that "Subsequent estimates of the number of Chinese and Korean soldiers killed during the three-week siege would range from eighteen hundred to ten thousand, the lower figure being suggested by those officials eager to support Yang Hao, the higher by those just as eager to bring him down. The truth probably lies somewhere between, in the range of several thousand killed and at least as many injured.". In reality, according to first hand primary source (《東師奏報失實疏》), Ming army lost 738 men, with another 823 men succumbed to injury or sickness after they retreated, so the total number of casualties was 1,561 men. There were another 2,908 men suffered light injury though.

    (Translator's Note: The critique made a slight error here, which he later corrected in the book he published. The correct number of Ming casualties should be 798 dead and 823 succumbed to injury or sickness, for a total of 1,621.)
  5. The author claims that "According to one estimate, fewer than a thousand men survived from the original garrison of ten thousand.". In reality, according to (『西藩烈士干城録 · 島津豐久傳』), the garrison numbered 20,000 men originally, while (『大河内秀元朝鮮記』) put the initial number at 23,000.

Chapter 28: "Even Osaka Castle is only a dream"
  • The author claims that "It was therefore not until July of 1598, many months after setting out from his base in western China, that "Big Sword" Liu Ting arrived in Seoul with the twenty thousand soldiers under his command, mainly troops from the province of Sichuan and tribal fighters from the regions bordering Burma and Thailand.". This is incorrect. According to (《經略禦倭奏議》), Liu Ting only brought 10,000 men.

Chapter 29: The Last Act
  • The author claims that "After months of delay, Ming naval force under Chen Lin had at last arrived to reinforce the Korean fleet under Yi Sun-sin. Chen reached Yi's base on the island of Kogum-do in August with 5,000 men aboard a handful of serviceable battleships and a host of smaller craft, adding significant manpower to the 16,000 troops that had by this time flocked to Yi's command.". This is incorrect. According to  (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), Chen Lin had 19,400 men, while Yi only had 7,328 men.

Siege of Sachon
  1. The author claims that Dong Yiyuan (董一元) "took possession of the remains of Chinju without a fight, then proceeded to Sachon...". This is a fairly widespread, but ultimately untrue, misinformation. Multiple Chinese and Korean sources including (《明史 · 董一元傳》), (《宣廟中興志》),  (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), (《經略禦倭奏議》), (《悠然堂集》) all agree that Dong Yiyuan actually fought and defeated Shimazu Yoshihiro (島津義弘), liberating Chinju by force.
  2. The author claims that "There were now 8,000 Japanese troops holed up inside this fortress south of Sachon, under the command of sixty-three-year-old Shimazu Yoshihiro and his twenty-year-old son Tadatsune.". In reality, an authoritative estimation is difficult to make, as even Shimazu Clan's own records disagree with each other. For example, (『西藩野史』) records only 1,000 troops inside the fortress, (『淵邊量右衛門覺書』) records less than 3,000 men, (『朝鮮役録』) records 5,000 men, (『川上久辰譜中』) records 7,000 men and (『岛津歷代歌』) records 10,000 men. Korean source (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》) also varyingly records 4,000 men, 7~8,000 men, and 10,000 men.

Siege of Sunchon
  1. The author claims that "“Big Sword” Liu Ting in the meantime was moving south toward the western end of the Japanese fortress chain with the 13,600 Chinese troops of his Western Route Army, 10,000 Koreans under Commander in Chief Kwon Yul, and Minister of the Right Yi Dok-hyong to help arrange supplies.". According to (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), Liu Ting actually led 21,900 men, while Korean army only numbered 5,920 men.
  2. The author claims that Liu Ting's plan to lure Konishi Yukinaga from his fortress and capture him failed because "Unfortunately for Liu, allied artillery units, either his own or from the ships advancing with the tide from seaward, opened fire on the fortress at that moment, sending Konishi and his men racing back through the gates before they could be seized.".

    There are actually three version of the event recorded in different sources, although the author didn't cite any of them but pretty much fabricated a new one. (《亂中雜錄》) records that it was Liu Ting's right assistant troop that botched the reconnaissance by launching a signal rocket too early near the place of meeting, alerting Konishi Yukinaga. (《再造藩邦志》) in turn records that Konishi Yukinaga already raised his suspicion after arriving at the meeting place and seeing too many Ming troops there, while at the same time Ming army released a pigeon as signal too early, causing the East Route Army to strike out and shoot at Japanese army at the wrong time, thus ruining the plan. On the other hand, (《兩朝平攘錄》) records that one of Liu Ting's company commander, who was a Japanese, secretly leaked the plan to Konishi Yukinaga.

Konishi Yukinaga's negotiations with Liu Ting and Chen Lin
  1. The author claims that Konishi Yukinaga, believing that Liu Ting had broken his word that he would allow the Japanese to evacuate in peace, "He accordingly took two of the hostages Liu had sent him as evidence of his good faith, cut off their hands, and sent them back to the general’s Sunchon camp as a sign of his displeasure. Liu replied that any agreement existing between them applied only to his ground forces; he had no control over what was happening at sea.". According to (《亂中雜錄》) and (《閔氏壬辰錄》), Liu Ting simply referred Konishi Yukinaga directly to Chen Lin. He never mentioned anything about existing agreement only applies to his ground force.
  2. The author claims that after Konishi Yukinaga repeatedly bribed Chen Lin with gifts so that Chen Lin may lift the naval blockade, "Chen Lin had expressed a willingness to comply. Winning over Chen, however, solved only part of the problem. There was also Yi Sun-sin to consider. Chen himself first tried to talk Yi into allowing the Japanese to withdraw without a fight. The Korean commander refused.".

    This part is at least supported by some historical sources. However, the author then follows up with:
    "Chen Lin now stepped in and attempted to resolve the situation by taking action of his own. He informed Yi that he was going to pull his ships out of the blockade and move east to Namhae Island, to clear away the last remnants of enemy forces he said were still there. For Yi this was the last straw. Already angered by Chen's truckling with Konishi, he now made it clear that he expected the Ming admiral to do his part in maintaining the blockade. Besides, Yi pointed out, the bulk of the Japanese garrison had already left Namhae. Most of the people still there were Koreans who had been taken prisoner and forced to work for the Japanese. Chen Lin brushed this aside. They collaborated with the enemy, he said, and as such should be regarded as enemies themselves. He therefore would go to Namhae and cut off their heads.".

    This part is completely unsupported by any source. Chen Lin never said anything like that to Yi Sun-sin. In fact, it is doubtful if Chen Lin actually agreed to lift the blockade in the first place. It's true that Korean sources record that Chen Lin entered negotiation with Konishi Yukinaga and he agreed to lift the blockade. However, according to Japanese source (『宇都宮高麗歸陣物語』), even though Chen Lin was convinced by Konishi Yukinaga to enter negotiation with him, and even sent him two hostages, he never actually lift the blockade. The reason being, according to (『宇都宮高麗歸陣物語』) and (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), that Chen Lin was still waiting for Konishi Yukinaga to fulfil his part of the bargain: give up Namhae under Sō Yoshitoshi to him, and send him 2,000 Japanese heads. Sending hostages to Konishi Yukinaga was but a diplomatic gesture of trust (Translator's Note: this was a fairly common practice for negotiation between hostile parties.), it did not imply that the negotiation was successful nor did it imply they had come to an agreement. For his part, Konishi Yukinaga also never intended to fulfil the bargain. He was simply using the negotiation to buy time, while secretly sending boats to request reinforcement from Sachon and other places.
  3. The author claims that after Chen Lin angered Yi Sun-sin, Yi Sun-sin said to him "Your emperor commanded you to annihilate the enemy in order the save the live of our countrymen. Now you intend to kill them instead of rescuing them. That is not the august wish of the emperor!". Chen Lin in turn roared back at Yi Sun-sin, telling him "The emperor gave me a long sword!" and "reaching for his weapon in a threatening way.".

    The critic comments that these passages are more suitable for soap opera and impossible to happen in real life. Unsurprisingly, no historical source supports author's story. The only source that comes remotely close to what the author said is (《李忠武公全書》), but even that book is nowhere as dramatic. The book records that after the disagreement, Yi Sun-sin reprimanded Chen Lin by telling him that:

    "A general should not speak about peace, an enmity should not be overlooked and let go easily. This enemy is one that even China does not forgive, yet why are you willing to make peace with them?"
    In which Chen Lin only responded with silence. Unlike the author's soap opera he did not threaten Yi Sun-sin with a sword.

    It should be noted that (《李忠武公全書》) is a book that was specifically written to embellish Yi Sun-sin's accomplishments and heroics. As such, it is of questionable reliability when it comes to events surrounding Yi Sun-sin himself. The narrative about Yi Sun-sin taking a more hardline stance and confronted Chen Lin over the matter of naval blockade only appeared in later Korean sources written years or decades after the fact, while earlier Korean sources like (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》) generally record that Yi Sun-sin tried to keep a low profile before Chen Lin. In fact, according to (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), after Yi Sun-sin discovered Konishi Yukinaga's plan to call in reinforcement, he had to beg for Chen Lin's help in tears before the indifferent Chinese admiral finally agreed to help and participate in Battle of Noryang. The crying Yi in the historical records and the hardline Yi in the author's book are essentially two entirely different characters.
  4. The author claims that "When Yi Sun-sin learned of the boat’s passage later that day, he rightly suspected that enemy reinforcements would not be long in coming. When they arrive, he explained to his subcommanders, our ships will be vulnerable to a pincers attack, a combined assault by Konishi’s fleet from the north and enemy reinforcements from the east. Considering this risk, the best course of action would be to lift the blockade and move east across Kwangyang Bay to meet the approaching enemy fleet before it could join forces with Konishi.".

    This is again incorrect. In fact, it's the complete opposite. According to (《閔氏壬辰錄》), not only Yi Sun-sin did not give such a statement to his subcommanders. It was actually Song Hui-rip (송희립 or 宋希立), Yi Sun-sin's subcommander, that gave advise to Yi Sun-sin about the best course of action. The author basically robbed Song Hui-rip of his achievement and falsely credited it to Yi Sun-sin.

Battle of Noryang
  1. The author claims that "some three hundred Japanese ships began congregating at Noryang". In reality, an authoritative estimation is difficult to make due to different sources claiming different numbers.  For example, (『朝鮮役録』) records 50 ships, (『義弘公御譜中』) records 100+ ships, (《宣廟中興志》) records 500+ ships, (《明神宗實録》) records 6~700 ships and (《經略禦倭奏議》) records 800 ships. The critic is yet unable to find any conclusive and trustworthy number from first-hand account by Japanese witness/participant of the battle.
  2. The author claims that "The entire force was divided into three squadrons, Yi Sun-sin in command on the right (with 2,600 Ming fighters on board his ships to fight alongside his own men), Chen Lin at the center, and Ming commander Deng Zilong on the left.". This claim lacks support from historical sources.

    According to Chinese source (《東征記》), authored by Xu Xizhen (徐希震), the allied fleet arrived at the scene at different time. The first to arrive was Yi Sun-sin, then Chen Lin (陳璘) rushed to his aid as Yi Sun-sin was in trouble, then Deng Zilong (鄧子龍) that arrived last also joined the fray to rescue Chen Lin. Another Chinese source (《兩朝平攘錄》), authored by Zhuge Yuansheng (諸葛元聲), records that Deng Zilong arrived first, then Yi Sun-sin, then Chen Lin. Korean source (《象村稿》) also separately records the event that broadly corroborates with the narrative presented in (《東征記》), so (《東征記》) version seems to be more trustworthy.
  3. The author claims that "Chen Lin at the center of the formation was one of the first to engage.". This is incorrect. Both (《東征記》) and (《象村稿》) agree that Yi Sun-sin was the first to engaged the Japanese.
  4. The author claims that "It is said that Shimazu's own flagship capsized when it ran onto a rock, and the daimyo commander himself nearly gaffed and hauled aboard by allied sailors before being saved by Japanese ships that rushed to his aid.".

    The critic cries horsefeathers on this entire passage, and it likely stems from the author's misinterpretation of historical sources. In reality, Shimazu's large flagship slowed down during retreat due to falling tide and was caught up by the chasing allied warships. Allied warships hooked Shimazu's flagship and almost boarded it, only to be repulsed by volleys of musket fire from Shimazu's men on the flagship. Another warship in Shimazu's fleet rushed to his aid and covered his retreat, but all on board the rescuing ship were killed. This more accurate version of the event is reconstructed from (『島津国史』), (『朝鮮役録』), (『兵庫頭義弘様先年高麗江御渡海被成候事』), and (『町田氏正統系譜』). The critic comments that the author was being unfairly disparaging to Shimazu Yoshihiro, as he was certainly not so incompetent to the point of being "nearly gaffed and hauled aboard".

Chapter 30: What Came Next

  • The author claims that "the fall of the Ming Dynasty and the rise of the Qing (Pure) Dynasty was not as traumatic as many previous dynastic change. It has even been called "the least disruptive transition from one major dynasty to another in the whole of Chinese history." It was so because in the end the Ming were weakened to the point where a power vacuum effectively existed in the region around Beijing, one that the Manchus simply had to march into and fill. Once in power, moreover, the Manchus left things largely as they were, for they admired Ming culture and society and had no desire to change things (beyond requiring that everyone wear Manchu dress and that males shave the top of their heads and braid their hair in back into a long Manchu-style queue). Indeed, the Manchus portrayed themselves as protectors of a great tradition that the enfeebled Ming were no longer able to preserve. Other than the initial resentment caused by the imposition of the queue, the Qing dynasty thus would not be regarded by the Chinese so much as time of "suffering under barbarian domination", as had been the cause during the Yuan dynasty, when China was ruled by the Mongol descendants of Genghis Khan. Many Chinese in fact welcomed the stability that the Manchus brought." This is obviously false.

    (Translator's Note: The critic seems to consider this point self-evident and did not give his usual refutation, so I think I should explain a little: The Ming-Qing transition saw a serious population collapse in China, with estimated population decline that range from 11% to as high as 40%. "Traumatic" would be a massive understatement for this period of upheaval and chaos, to say the least.)

Other blog posts in my translated The Imjin War critique series:
Part 2: The second invasion


  1. i often see accusation of chinese "incompetence" caused the death of Yi in Noryang by charging into enemy ships, is this true?

    1. It's untrue. Yi charged into battle first and was surrounded, then Chen Lin tried to rescue him, and was surrounded as well. THEN Deng Zilong tried to rescue Chen Lin. In the end only Chen Lin got out alive.

    2. If you would study Yi's tactics and the strategic approach of his 22 other battles, you'll see that a situation where Yi would "charge into battle and get surrounded" would be highly unlikely.

    3. @Unknown
      No, that doesn't preclude him from leading the charge at Battle of Noryang.

      "Charge" doesn't imply he dive into close combat/boarding action without a second thought.

    4. On second thought I shouldn't be using "charged into battle", which may be misleading. Changed to "first to engage".

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. @C
      The thing is that Shimazu clan left behind the most records regarding Battle of Noryang, including Shimazu Yoshihiro's own written record and the autobiography he wrote in his old age (i.e. 「惟新公御自記」).

      If he really did kill Admiral Yi using Stegamari tactic, that would be a significant achievement, and he certainly would've write that accomplishment down. However, Shimazu Yoshihiro only claimed that he "destroyed 2~3 ships" during Battle of Noryang. Yes, that's about all he did.

  2. Regarding the 85 ears taken from the battlefield at Chiksan, is it possible in any way that dead lower-ranking troops were largely passed over for collection?

    Interesting to find out that the Japanese actually *won* that battle, though--I see a lot of things saying that it was either a stalemate or an Allied victory!

    1. Good day and welcome to my blog.

      1. No way. Japanese were not picky, an ear is an ear, the more the merrier.

      2. It seems that the critic generally define the outcome of a battle with two criteria: which side retreat first, and whether the objective of the battle is achieved. Ming army failed on both counts. Regardless of how well it did during the actual fighting, it still lost the battle.

    2. Hm, I see!

      I've always found the Imjin War tremendously fascinating yet endlessly frustrating to research--there seems to be a dearth of information that A) is definitively objective and B) is easily available in English. I've learned to take just about everything that goes up about it with a mild grain of salt. XD

      But it is still great to get a translated example of a Chinese take on the events. Thank you!

    3. I've read a few other articles on Imjin War written by the critic, both before and after my friend asked me to translate this one. From what I can tell, the critic has definitely gone pass the surface level of "X perspective","Y perspective" etc. and he definitely studied boatloads more primary sources than Hawley, Swope and Turnbull combined.

      The critic is also able to notice "Source A referenced Source B during its writing" as shown in his criticism on Hawley's bias, while a lesser historian can only use the source as-is.

    4. I will definitely keep that in mind should you translate any of the others, then. It's good to hear of somebody going to those lengths to find more objective sources--perhaps someday more of these will go mainstream and more accurate versions of events will be a tad bit more common knowledge.

      ...Any of those articles, perchance, shed better light on what the heck caused the explosion at the Second Battle of Sacheon?

    5. No, Chinese/Korean sources don't even agree on whose cannon exploded. From what I've read, reason given range from freak accident, callous handling of gunpowder, the cannon was made of wood (Ming army stretched its supply line to breaking point so it had to make do with makeshift cannon), stray shot from Japanese guns, or Japanese surprise attack.

    6. Haha, I suppose it'll have to be just one of the great mysteries of the ages, then. Thank you for the replies!

    7. Unless there are primary sources that point to stray shots/Japanese ambush, the most likely cause was accident.

    8. Yeah, that's what always seemed the most logical and likely conclusion to me too--some foolhardy fellow(s) in the rear mishandling powder or thereabouts.

  3. Awesome write up, thank you!

    The Imjin War has always been fascinating, as the last time a Chinese army met a Japanese one and fought in Korea was during the Tang dynasty during the Paekche Restoration War !!

    This analysis just shows how much we just don't know about the Imjin War, all the assumptions we have (at least in English) are probably wrong. But one thing is certain, which has always surprised me, is that the Japanese lost ... that their wild dream of invading China was a fantasy to say the least, and even their invasion and occupation of Korea was foolish to say the least. It's surprising to me because like Hawley said, I've always assumed the Japanese under Hideyoshi at the close of the Sengoku Era had the best military in the world, the best guns, the most battle hardened samurai warriors, the most experienced generals and field commanders, etc, etc. They went up against not the Ming Army of Hong Wu or Yongle (the height of the dynasty) but their opponent was the Ming military under Wanli which was in the twilight era of the Dynasty, corrupt, incompetent, and badly led and supplied due to corruption (so the stereotype says). Despite that, the Ming fought and defeated the Japanese with fewer men and resources and allied with treacherous and cowardly Korean Court officials. Amazing!! (and like I said, surprising).

    1. All three sides have their fair share of unsightly conducts, stupidity, and general f*ckups. The samurai were certainly no superwarriors, but neither was Ming Dynasty an unstoppable military juggernaut.

      It's just that while samurai tend to get overhyped, China tend to be portrayed as a "paper tiger", so people tend to get surprised when they find out the paper tiger actually packs some serious teeth and claws.

    2. What I find particularly interesting about it is that the Imjin War disproves a distressingly common internet argument notion that Japanese weapons and means of war had absolutely no worthwhile function outside of the zeitgeist of Japan itself.

      They lost the war, the Ming cavalry was a constant frustration for them in the field, and they had to make tactical adjustments to meet the demands of facing an unfamiliar foe in the Ming-Korean alliance, but they fought quite well and didn't collapse in abject and total confusion the instant they faced warriors who weren't Japanese. XD

  4. What is the origin of the maps you used in this post?

    1. I mean where I can see their full size

    2. I just grabbed the map from the critic's article. There are a few ancient Korean maps out there but I am not sure which one he used.

  5. Any more info about Kato Kiyomasa's campaign in the north when he engaged Jurchen troops in battle? What a fascinating untold story! What was the result of the battle? What did the respective forces think of each other? It's my understanding the Japanese had virtually no cavalry during the Imjin War, you can't invade China without cavlary, everyone knows that !!!

    1. According to the Koreans, it went badly for him.

      The Japanese did have cavalry in the form of mounted samurai. I remember reading about a very interesting skirmish during Imjin War: a combined force of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese(!) troops ambushed a Japanese force that was in the process of crossing a river, and was in turn ambushed and surrounded by (I think) 200 Japanese cavalry. The combined force fought their way out of the encirclement though.

  6. Swope also claims that J/Chiksan is a Ming victory. He apparently includes Japanese sources in Mori and Kuroda (clan records?) that describe Ming armour "iron shields" (pavises?) basically being bulletproof. I do recall reading that Luis Frois evaluated Ming armour quite highly but I don't think I've ever read anything about them being bulletproof!

    (Screencap: https://i.imgur.com/aYupGDM.png)

    Does the critic ever make any mention of this, and are there any Korean or Chinese sources that corroborate Swope's claim?

    It kinda reminds me of something Tonio Andrade addressed in his "Gunpowder Age" book. There's a quote from the Dutch at Fort Zeelandia where there was a mistranslation in the original passage that claimed Tie Ren armour was bulletproof when it in fact referred to immunity to "small arms."

    1. I just did a quick read on the critic's articles about this battle. Here's my take of it after reading the articles:

      Mentions about iron shield at Jiksan seem to come from less reliable Japanese sources. According to the critic, all Japanese sources about the battle were written at a later date (late 17th century at the earliest), and seem to directly referenced earlier sources from the Chinese side, but altered/discarded some details that they disagreed with.

      That is not to say all Japanese sources are COMPLETELY untrustworthy. For example, Chinese and Koreans had no way of knowing how many ears Kuroda's troops managed to collect after the battle, so this part must've come from Japan's own records. However, for details on what actually happened during the battle, the earlier a source was written, the more trustworthy it is, especially if the source contains witness's accounts.

    2. Ming rarely (if ever) used iron shields, let alone iron pavises. It was mostly likely a description of Ming's brigandine armor and steel armguards, which were (by East Asian standards) quite good, but definitely not bulletproof.

    3. @TheXanian
      Actually they did use iron shield. There are multiple mentions of iron shield from several Korean sources during the Siege of Pyongyang (used by Southern infantry).

  7. A suggestion, I think you should write a book on the Imjin War.

    1. Are you perhaps Japan at War?

      There's still much I need to learn about Imjin War, and there are people far more qualified than me to write on this topic (like the author of this critique).

      I also heard that an online database on Imjin War source recently launched. Hopefully with time people can produce better studies than what's currently available in the English-speaking world.

    2. I'm not but I have read all 3 books (Turnbull, Hawly and Swope). Swope at least is able to read traditional Chinese use primary sources so I deem his analysis best of the 3.

      One cannot study Far East Asian history without a good command of Chinese (as all primary sources were in classical Chinese). I see you have good command of the language and obviously knowledgeable on the subject. Your methodology on correcting mistakes mean you have extremely good command of the primary sources, and it shows your ability to reach conclusions on the based on the evidence. I think you writing a book will contribute greatly on the subject.

    3. @Unknown
      Oh, I must've mistaken you for someone else.

      Do note that this blog post is merely my translation of someone else's work.

      One of the stumbling blocks in my research of Imjin War-related topics is that my understanding of Japanese is fairly limited, and I can't read Korean at all. While many original sources were written in Chinese, there are some valuable modern studies (such as archaeological studies of Waesong) that are only available in Japanese. Unfortunately, I have limited understanding/access to that kind of sources.

    4. It is an impressive translation, and your command of English and Chinese is excellent.

      Many Japanese sources written at the time were written in classical Chinese. May I suggest that you could collaborate with Japanese who are knowledge in this field, and work together on a book together. I have not known any Japanese account of the war in English. I think such collaboration will bring alot of good to the understanding of the war.

    5. Thank you for your affirmation and encouragement.

      I will probably start working on a blog post about Siege of Ulsan in the near future (after I finish the article about siege defence), which will probably be my first non-translated Imjin War article. Stay tuned!

    6. Looking forward to it!

  8. In the war diary(乱中日記)written by Yi Sun-sin himself,there was no record of the great success in sinking any Japanese ships. In his actual war memoirs in the Battle of Myeongnyang(1597),he says the following:

    賊= enemy
    船= ship
    三十= 30
    隻= numeration of a ship
    撞= hit
    破= break

    In other words, he wrote that he damaged 30 Japanese ships or broke through the siege of the 30-ship Japanese fleet... That's all we can see from the record...
    Let's just be a bit rational until then the korean coastline had been plagued by wokou raids countless times, Japanese diaspora populations found as south as Vietnam and Philippines upon the arrival of first Europeans in those areas and so suddenly a god-like amateur admiral with no other military training but shooting arrows at jurchens' butts on the yalu river border?



Buy Me a Coffee