25 September 2019

A critique of Samuel Hawley's The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China — Part 1.5: Truce and negotiations

Left: Emperor Shenzong of Ming. Right: Toyotomi Hideyoshi, regent of Japan.
Translator's Note: I originally only intended to translate the critique into a two-part article. However, it turns out that the critique is significantly longer than I anticipated, so in the end I have to separate it into a three-part blog post instead.

Chapter 19: Negotiations at Nagoya, Slaughter at Chinju
  • The author claims that "The two Ming envoys, Xu Yihuan and Xie Yongzu, had in the meantime returned to Korea from Hideyoshi’s headquarters at Nagoya. Traveling with them was a middle-aged Christian named Naito Tadatoshi, otherwise known as Naito Joan, “Joan,” the Portuguese version of “John,” being the Christian name he had been given at his baptism thirty years before.". This is incorrect. In reality, Naito Tadatoshi (内藤如安) departed from Pusan and went to Seoul on July 18, 1593, with Shen Weijing (沈唯敬) accompanying him, while Xu Yiguan (徐一貫) and Xie Yongzi (謝用梓) returned to Korea on August 11, 1593.

    (Translator's Note: The author incorrectly romanised Xu Yihuan and Xie Yongzu. They should be Xu Yiguan and Xie Yongzi.)
  • The author claims that after the release of two captive Korean princes, "Hideyoshi’s seven demands, meanwhile, were heatedly debated on both sides.". This is completely wrong. There was no heated debate on Ming side at all. In reality, either Ming envoys deliberately tinkered with Hideyoshi's document when they reported to Song Yingchang (宋應昌), or Song Yingchang himself did the tinkering. Either way, Ming court was kept in the dark. The heated debate that arose later was about resuming tributary trade relations with Japan, instead of Hideyoshi's other demands (Hideyoshi's actual demands were only exposed after Li Zongcheng's escape).
  • The author claims that "Hideyoshi’s document, after all, was not addressed directly to the Chinese, but rather to Konishi Yukinaga and Hideyoshi’s three other representatives. They—or more precisely Japanese envoy Naito Joan—were to serve as Hideyoshi’s intermediary in the coming talks in Beijing.". This is completely untrue. In reality, Hideyoshi's list of seven demands was given to Ming envoys Xu Yiguan and Xie Yongzi directly. Konishi Yukinaga (小西行長) and other representatives later received copies of the list, but it was the Ming envoys that were responsible for the delivery.
  • The author claims that "Naito Joan, the envoy sent north by Konishi Yukinaga to deliver Hideyoshi’s seven demands to Beijing, had been denied permission by the Ming to proceed any farther than Liaodong Province, and was now waiting on the Chinese frontier. ". This is incorrect. In reality, Shen Weijing and Naito Joan already departed from Pusan on July 18, 1593. At the time, Konishi Yukinaga wasn't even aware of Hideyoshi's seven demands. As such, he only sent Naito Joan to meet with Shi Xing (石星), China's Minister of War, rather than delivering the demands. Konishi Yukinaga only received a copy of the demand list on August 11, 1593, after Mashita Nagamori (増田長盛) and others arrived at Pusan from Japan.

Chapter 20: Factions, Feuds, and Forgeries
  • The author claims that "It was at about this time that Song Yingchang, the Ming official in charge of overseeing affairs in Liaodong and Korea, was forced to resign and return to China, the victim of the factional wrangling that affected the government in Beijing nearly as strongly as its counterpart in Seoul. A growing bone of contention in the Chinese capital was the Korean war itself, a prowar faction on one side urging its aggressive prosecution, an antiwar faction on the other, led by Minister of War Shi Xing, demanding its hasty conclusion so as to spare the treasury any further expense. Song Yingchang’s dismissal marked a victory for the doves."

    This cannot be further from the truth. In reality, Song Yingchang changed to a more dovish stance during the mid-late stage of the war, and became the backbone of the antiwar faction. All major peace negotiations after Battle of Pyokje, including Yongsan Negotiation, Nagoya Negotiation and Ungchon Negotiation, were all hosted by him without exception. In fact, according to (《宋經略書》) Song Yingchang was forced to resign precisely because he was accused of being antiwar by Xu Honggang (許弘綱). Additionally, according to Korean source (《壬辰記錄》), even after his resignation, Song Yingchang still wrote memorial to the throne and beg for tributary trade relations for Japan.
  • The author claims that "By the time he finally returned north, the man who had sent him, Ku Yangqian, had, like Song Yingchang before him, been dismissed as a result of factional strife. Ku’s removal and the subsequent appointment of Sun Kuang as civilian overseer of eastern affairs marked a small victory for the hawks in Beijing.". This is incorrect. According to (《宋經略書》), despite putting up a facade of being prowar, deep down Sun Kuang (孫鑛) still belonged to the antiwar faction.

    (Translator's Note: The author incorrectly romanised Ku Yangqian. The name should be Gu Yangqian.)
  • The author claims that "Beginning in the spring of 1595 Kato Kiyomasa, angered by Konishi Yukinaga’s twisting of the taiko’s demands, embarked on some diplomacy of his own, laying before first the Chinese and then the Koreans the original list of seven conditions for peace that Hideyoshi expected to be met, and in so doing contradicting everything that had been said and promised by Konishi and Shen Weijing. The first of these meetings took place between Kato and a group of Ming officials in April, at the former’s Sosaengpo camp near Ulsan, a day’s journey north along the coast from Pusan.".

    This is incorrect. Kato Kiyomasa (加藤清正) never met with any Ming official directly. It was Korean warrior monk commander Yujong (유정 or 惟政) and Choson officer Yi Kyong-su (이겸수 or 李謙受), at the behest of Ming general Liu Ting (劉綎), that met with Kato Kiyomasa at Sosaengpo camp. Also, all meetings at Sosaengpo happened during 1594, not 1595.
  • The author claims that "Throughout the latter half of 1593 Konishi Yukinaga, working with Ming negotiator Shen Weijing, proceeded to drop Hideyoshi’s demands one by one in an attempt to break this impasse. He had little choice. It was Japan, after all, that wanted something from China, not the other way around. China’s world was already complete. On his own initiative Konishi pared the taiko’s demands down to the very bone, until finally he stated that his master would be satisfied with just one province of Korea, an indemnity payment of twenty thousand taels of silver from the Choson court, and a resumption of trade relations with China. Song, not surprisingly, refused even this. All he would consent to consider was the revival of tribute trade as it had once existed between the two nations. "

    This is incorrect. According to (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), Konishi Yukinaga's demands, including the ceding of one Korean province, reparation of twenty thousand taels of silver, and resumption of trade relations with China, were brought up in July 1593, before he received the copy of Hideyoshi's demands. In other words, Konishi Yukinaga issued the aforementioned demands on his own without Hideyoshi's knowledge. Naturally, it was impossible for him to "pared the taiko's demands down to the very bone" since he had no knowledge of Hideyoshi's demands yet. Konishi Yukinaga was trying to extort ransom for captured Korean princes and ministers held by him, and his personal extortion should not be equated with the formal negotiation between Ming Dynasty and Japan (in fact, his attempt ultimately failed because it ran counter to Hideyoshi's idea, so Hideyoshi ordered him to release the Korean princes). For his part, Song Yingchang demanded Konishi Yukinaga to release the Korean princes first, otherwise he would not negotiate with him.

    At this point, the critic comments that the author is so wrong on so many levels, that he'd rather explain the truth behind the negotiation of the second half of 1593 himself. See explanation below:

    (Translator's Note: It should be noted that the critic wrote this explanation not just to adress numerous errors found in the author's book, but also to correct some misconceptions that seem to float around the Chinese side of the Internet.)

    According to (《宣祖昭敬大王實錄》), when Ungchon Negotiation between Konishi Yukinaga and Shen Weijing formally began during late 1593, Konishi Yukinaga only insisted on two primary demands: a diplomatic marriage between Ming Dynasty and Japan, and ceding of all Korean territories south of Han River (i.e southern half of Kyonggi Province, as well as Chungchong, Cholla, and Kyongsang Province) to Japan. The demand to resume trade relations wasn't a priority.

    During the negotiation, Shen Weijing generously agreed to cede three-and-a-half Korean provinces to Japan (although this may be understood as a delaying tactic, similar to how Sun Yat-sen agreed to cede Manchuria to Japan, according to the critic). Also, according to a testimonial of a captured Japanese troop, Shen Weijing also agreed to send a Ming princess to Japan to marry a Japanese prince. Japanese side threatened Shen Weijing that if he failed to carry out his promises, it would raise new troops and launch an invasion on Chinese soil from Cholla Province, as well as inviting the Nanban (南蠻, i.e. Europeans) to invade Zhejiang from the south, forcing China into a two-front war.

    For his part, not only Song Yingchang also agreed to cede Korean territories to Japan, it was him that instructed Shen Weijing to accept the diplomatic marriage demand in the first place. In fact, if it wasn't for his consent, Shen Weijing wouldn't dare to accept these terms so easily. In other words, Shen Weijing was simply doing his bidding, and later made a scapegoat when the scandal broke out.

    Song Yingchang's real intention was to simply find a random Chinese peasant girl, disguise her as Ming princess, and marry her off to appease Hideyoshi. In exchange, Japan would pull out from Korea and end the war. This wasn't the first time Song Yingchang engaged in deception, as the earlier idea of dispatching two low-ranking Ming officials, Xu Yiguan and Xie Yongzi, to pass as representatives of Ming emperor to negotiate with Hideyoshi was also his. As for the Ming court, he emphasised on Japan's intention to resume tributary trade relations, while Hideyeoshi's marriage demand was covered up.

    It should be noted that Hideyoshi no longer held onto his initial demands by the time of Nagoya Negotiation with the (fake) emperor's representatives. The list of seven demands was trimmed down into a binary choice between diplomatic marriage with China and ceding of Korean territories. This binary choice was also the same one insisted by Konishi Yukinaga during the later Ungchon Negotiation with Shen Weijing. As such, Konishi Yukinaga did not "working with Ming negotiator Shen Weijing, proceeded to drop Hideyoshi’s demands one by one in an attempt to break this impasse.". He faithfully followed the demands set by Hideyoshi during the negotiation.

    However, the Koreans eventually learnt of this secret deal after the capture of a Japanese soldier with insider information of Ungchon Negotiation. On the Chinese side, the scandal was exposed by Zhu Longguang (諸龍光), private school teacher of Li Rusong (李如松). The scandal about the secret agreement to marry a Ming princess to a Japanese prince without the knowledge of the emperor shook the Ming court greatly, as both Song Yingchang and Li Rusong, as well as many others, were implicated in the scandal. It was only through political manoeuvring of antiwar faction, in particular Minister of War Shi Xing, that the scandal could be downplayed and flew under the radar, although wistleblower Zhu Longguang was put to death for his trouble. After the incident, it was no longer possible for Shen Weijing to send a princess (real or fake) to Japan, so he made up an excuse and told the Japanese that the princess died en route.

    As such, based on various contemporary accounts, it can be deducted that Hideyoshi coveted a diplomatic marriage with China the most, rather than resuming tributary trade relations. According to (《歇庵集》), a report brought back by intelligence agents sent to Japan by Xu Fuyuan (許孚遠), provincial governor of Fujian, indicates that Hideyoshi was building more warships and preparing to invade China after he heard of the news of the failure of diplomatic marriage deal. 

    Hideyoshi insisted on the demand for the hand of Ming princess, and repeatedly threatened to launch a direct invasion well into 1595. It was only until June 1, 1595, after another round of negotiation between Shen Weijing and Konishi Yukinaga, and after Konishi Yukinaga reported back to Hideyoshi (possibly regurgitating Shen Weijing's lie about the dead princess), that he was finally convinced to drop the marriage demand. After that, Hideyoshi lowered his demands to just three:

    1. Choson court should hand over one prince and two ministers to Japan to serve the taiko (i.e. Choson should submit to Japan).

    2. Four Korean provinces should be rewarded to the Korean prince. It should be noted that although Hideyoshi appears to gave up demanding his share of Korean territories, in reality he still planned to exert control on these provinces through a puppet government headed by non other than the Korean prince serving under him (see the above demand).

    3. Tributary trade between China and Japan should resume.

    Fast forward to 1596. Although Ming court eventually bestowed Hideyoshi with the title of "King of Japan", it never agreed on his other demands. Furthermore, Shen Weijing demanded Hideyoshi to pull out all Japanese troops from Korea and destroy all Japanese castles there. This greatly angered Hideyoshi as he felt humiliated, so he used Choson court's refusal to send a prince to Japan (it only sent low-ranking officials to Japan) as casus belli to launch the second invasion.

    It should be noted that even after the decision to launch the second invasion was made, Hideyoshi's representatives in Korea, Konishi Yukinaga and Kato Kiyomasa, were still trying to negotiate with the Koreans. With Hideyoshi's consent, they demanded the Koreans to hand over a prince to Japan as a condition to call off the second invasion and end the war. As for the demand to resume tributary trade relations with China, it was no longer brought up by either of them, since Hideyoshi didn't pay much attention on that demand in the first place.

    After the negotiation with the Koreans also failed, Konishi Yukinaga took the liberty to dispatch Yanagawa Shigenobu (柳川調信) to inform Hideyoshi that Koreans refused to hand over a prince. In exchange, they offered two ministers in the prince's place, and pay yearly tribute to Japan. Hideyoshi relented and accepted the term, and called off the invasion (even after this concession, Hideyoshi paid no heed to the tributary trade demand).

    Unfortunately, the Koreans never agreed to send their ministers to Japan, nor did they agree to pay tribute. These "offers" were nothing more than lies made up by Konishi Yukinaga. Before long, the lies were discovered, and an enraged Hideyoshi decided to restart the invasion.

    After the Siege of Ulsan (Translator's Note: Although unsuccessful, the siege dealt a devastating blow to the Japanese. This is likely the reason why the critic calls it the real turning point of the second invasion.), Hideyoshi reverted to his rational self, and sent Kato Kiyomasa to attempt to restart negotiation with the Koreans. This time, Hideyoshi's demand became even lower: he would end the war if Choson court issues an apology. This final demand would remain unchanged all the way till his death. Hideyoshi hardly ever brought up the demand of resuming tributary trade with China anymore for the remainder of the war.

    As such, based on contemporary sources as well as the above explanation, it is clear that Hideyoshi's desires, by descending order of importance, should look like this:

    1. Diplomatic marriage between a Ming princess and a Japanese prince.

    2. Gaining all Korean territories south of Han River.

    3. Taking one Korean prince and two ministers as hostage, as well as the submission of Choson Kingdom.

    4. Taking Korean ministers (instead of low-ranking officials) as hostage, and receiving yearly tribute from Korea.

    5. A Korean apology.

    6. Resumption of tributary trade with China.

    In other words, it's clear that Hideyoshi never really cared about the tributary trade. He coveted the hand of Ming princess and Korean territories the most, and among those two, he valued the marriage above even territorial gains (although antiwar faction in the Ming court covered up the marriage demand and emphasised on tributary trade instead.). After the second invasion broke out, Hideyoshi instead demanded the Koreans to hand over a prince (he repeatedly made concessions and lowered his demands as the situation became increasingly dire for Japanese army). Hideyoshi's disinterest in the tributary trade was made abundantly clear as he would rather demand an apology from the Koreans than ask for the resumption of tributary trade.
Chapter 22 : “You, Hideyoshi, are hereby instructed...to cheerfully obey our imperial commands!”
  • The author claims that "With Konishi away, Kato Kiyomasa now attempted to insert himself once again into the negotiation process. From his camp near Ulsan he sent messages to the Ming delegation quartered at Pusan, stating that Konishi had deceived them into thinking Hideyoshi wanted to submit to China and become a vassal king. To drive the point home, he assured the envoys that if they proceeded with their mission they would only succeed in enraging the taiko and in turn very likely would lose their heads. These threats of death, coupled with the strain of close confinement within a Japanese military camp, went to work on Envoy Li Zongzheng’s nerves until finally they broke. In May, some time in the middle of the night, he slipped out of the Pusan camp with just the clothes on his back and began a panicked race north, arriving at the city of Kyongju after several days of hard walking over back routes and mountain trails.".

    This is incorrect. There is no evidence to suggest that Kato Kiyomasa threatened Li Zongcheng (李宗城) with a letter. According to Li Zongcheng's own testimonial recorded in (《萬曆邸鈔》), he made up his mind to flee because a man known by the name of Guo Xuyu (郭續禹), a former Japanese captive from Fujian, came to warn him about the danger of going to Japan. It had nothing to do with Kato Kiyomasa.

    (Translator's Note: The author incorrectly romanised Li Zongzheng. The name should be Li Zongcheng.)
  • The author claims that "Almost every line in these two documents was a slap in Hideyoshi’s face. He had dispatched his armies overseas not to submit to the Ming, but to conquer them. While this lofty objective had proved beyond his reach, he nevertheless expected to come away from the invasion of Korea with something to show for his efforts, a portion of that peninsula perhaps, a handful of important hostages, a princess from Beijing, something he could use to aggrandize his name and make the war seem worthwhile. But this arrogantly worded patent of investiture and condescending edict—this was nothing but an insult designed to humiliate him, a written assertion that he had lost the war. In a towering rage, he tore off his Chinese robes and threw his crown to the floor.".

    This claim is simply a regurgitation of a widespread nationalistic narrative that is completely untrue. According to first hand witness account such as (『仙巢稿』) written by Japanese Buddhist monk and witness Keitetsu Genso (景轍玄蘇), as well as contemporary Jesuit reports taken from (『十六・七世紀イエズス会日本報告集』), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉) happily accepted the investiture. He never tore off the robe, nor threw the so-called crown to the floor. In fact, this error has been pointed out by several Japanese historians such as Hoshino Hisashi (星野恒, 1839–1917) and Yamamuro Kiyouko (山室恭子, 1956–) in the past. It should be noted that Hideyoshi did fly into a towering rage several days after the conclusion of investiture ceremony, albeit for completely unrelated reason. He was actually enraged by Shen Weijing's insistence on demanding the complete withdrawal of all Japanese troops from Korea and asking him to have an audience with Korean delegation.

Other blog posts in my translated The Imjin War critique series:
Part 1.5: Truce and negotiations


  1. It seems out of character for Hideyoshi to accept investiture by the Ming isn't it? Why wouldn't he be pissed off with the condescending Chinese? Seems fishy to me.

    1. Fact is fact, nothing fishy about that. Legitimacy was THE single most important thing that Hideyoshi lacked and desperately need (due to his low social status), and Ming recognition gave him just that. He'd be completely crazy to turn the offer down or worse, sabotage the ceremony.

    2. I get your point, yes Hideyoshi's achilles heel was his low social status, but getting it from the foreign Ming emperor instead of his own emperor?? Sorry, I don't buy it. The Ashikaga shoguns are still cursed for their acceptance of the Ming investiture of 'King of Japan'. Hideyoshi was a conqueror on par with Napoleon, Tamerlane, Caesar ... to stoop to humbly accepting 'recognition' and investiture from the Ming Son of Heaven doesn't seem to be in character for one such as Hideyoshi, a proud Samurai and early Japanese nationalist. Maybe I'm wrong, but it still seems fishy.

    3. The fact about Hideyoshi happily accepting the title is not in dispute - Primary accounts by the witnesses/participants of the ceremony from China, Korea, Japan, and Portuguese missionaries, all agree on that point.

      China's action did hold more weight than Japanese Emperor (who was more of a figurehead anyway). After all, China was still the head of a world order (of that part of the world), that set the game rules for everyone else to play along. Also, it wasn't just about the legitimacy of Hideyoshi's rule, but also diplomatic status of Japan itself.

      Hopefully you can see the bigger picture when more parts of the critique are translated, especially about the finer points of the negotiation process.

    4. Can't help but add, what to be a conqueror on par with [insert name here], it really helps to conquer more than your own country.

    5. At the historical context at that time, investiture from Chinese Emperor was of great value , even if Hideyoshi , happenes to be a great warrior. He still needed that recognotion from the Ming Emperor to justify and support some of his hegemony. Because at that tine China was considered as an advance nation , so recognition has " Intrinsic value" internationally. For Hideyoshi , that mattered, because what he saw the value of recognition from office of the emperorship, while the man as person of emperor, Hideyoshi could not care and most probably he didnt even care as so much.....

      It was China centrist policy at that time that made the investiture worthwhile....dont compare that with today modern political map , of course such investiture will be viewed as ridiculous

    6. CMIIW, it was a status increase for Japan from the point of view of international community at that time.

  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piOuF02ijdQ&fbclid=IwAR28ZtystMGuXu1OmA2kvj0NZcgdEteg3UUfr0LlBa5ucp1BapbI_Jk4VAo seems he made his own podcast now

    1. Wow I am suprised. About time too since I just finished my translation.

  3. Did Chinese call their counterparts in Korea, Vietnam and Japan son of heaven/Tianxi too when exchanging letters? Or it was just king or any other name?

    1. You mean Tianzi? No, that title was used by Chinese emperor alone. The title "King of Japan" reads as "Ri Ben Guo Wang (日本國王)" in Chinese. Similarly, King of Korea was called "Chao Xian Guo Wang (朝鮮國王)".

  4. Do you think Konishi and Shen did a decent negotiating job and ended up scapegoated because their bosses were uncompromising, or did they screw things up even further by not being entirely honest in their negotiations?

    1. Decently, given the hands they were dealt with.

    2. Oh, and Shen definitely got scapegoated.


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