Historical Materials on the Imjin War
Korean Translation of Jinglue fuguo yaobian:
by Lee Hyojong Associate Curator, Jinju National Museum
The Ming Campaign of the Imjin war 1-5

We usually notice that the “visible landscape” changes depending upon where we stand. So according to our own situation or environment, we interpret or act on the same incident or object in different ways. Such behavior is common when it comes to historical events. Therefore, in historical narratives, an effort is made to draw conclusions that match the facts as much as possible by comparing and analyzing historical materials written from diverse positions and perspectives.

The book to be introduced here is the Korean translation and original text of Jinglue fuguo yaobian01. Titled Myeongnara ui imjin jeonjaeng (The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War) 1-5 in Korean, the book is a compilation of letters written by Song Yingchang (1536-1606), a military commissioner of the Ming Dynasty, during the first Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592. The Korean translation began in 2019 and was published in 2021 with the original Chinese text. The following gives a brief overview of the book and looks at some of the parts that we should focus on.

01 The book consists of five volumes: 1. The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: The Eve of Joining the War; 2. The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: Recovery of Pyongyang; 3. The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: Peace Negotiations; 4. The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: After the War; and 5. The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: Original Text
The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War (Myeongnaraui imjin jeonjaeng) 1-5 ISBN 9791189946814 (set), 186x230mm, Published by the Jinju National Museum

The title Jinglue fuguo yaobian means a “compilation of key texts written by Song Yingchang, who had been appointed chief administrator of military affairs, on managing the restoration [of Joseon].” As this title indicates, the book is a vivid first-hand account of the Imjin War, or the Japanese invasion of 1592, from the Ming perspective. When Joseon was imperiled by the aggressive offensive of the Japanese, the Ming intervened in the war. The book gives a glimpse into Ming’s position, strategies, and its own hidden agenda in the process of fighting battles in Pyongyang and Byeokjegwan, and later carrying out peace negotiations with Japan.
Song Yingchang commanded the Ming army as military commissioner, or jinglue, from shortly after the outbreak of the Imjin War in 1592 to the end of 1593. He procured weapons and provisions for General Li Rusong, who actually led the Ming expedition, and secured the support of ministers within the Ming court. In early 1593, Ming defeated the Japanese in the Battle of Pyongyang. Soon afterwards, however, they lost the Battle of Byeokjegwan and attempted negotiations to have the Japanese withdraw.
Song Yingchang invested Toyotomi Hideyoshi as the regent of Japan and promoted the investiture-tributary system that would allow tribute trade through the city of Ningbo. Song’s peace negotiations were strongly criticized by King Seonjo and the officials of Joseon as well as the pro-war forces and censors of the Ming court.
While Song Yingchang suppressed the resistance of Joseon, he did not ease military pressure on the Japanese. Later, when discussing the withdrawal of Japanese troops in 1593, he paid careful consideration to movements of Japan and Joseon defense measures.

Battle of Pyongyang (folding screen) Joseon Dynasty, Color on paper, 176.0x390.0cm
Map of the Korean coast from a map of the Chinese and Korean coasts in Jinglue fuguo yaobian This map that shows all strategic military spots was drawn looking south from the north, opposite to the way modern maps are drawn. The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: The Eve of Joining the War, Vol. 1, p. 60

Jinglue fuguo yaobian hence is a valuable resource that not only describes the Imjin War situation in detail but also shows the situation and strategies of Joseon, Ming and Japan from the Ming perspective. Moreover, the Korean translation is expected to be a catalyst for research reflecting the Chinese view of events as existing studies on the Imjin War have been based on historical materials written from the Korean and Japanese sides only. The translation is accompanied by meticulous footnotes and a directory of major names, making it easy for researchers and ordinary readers alike to read the difficult documents in the book. In addition, to the translation (Vol. 1-4) the original text is also included (Vol. 5), enabling readers to compare the translation with the original. The following discusses major points to note, from the Ming perspective, when reading the book.
First, when the Imjin War broke out in 1592, the Ming Dynasty got a grasp of the situation and prepared countermeasures against a naval attack by Japan. Through a long period of peace, Ming had not maintained military fortifications along its coastal areas and so this became the court’s major concern.
Consequently, Ming appointed Song Yingchang as jinglue to defend the stretch of coast from today’s Liaoning Province to Shandong Province02. The Ming court was not afraid of Japanese troops invading mainland China via Liaodong and Shanhai Pass but was concerned that ships would be launched from major waterways of Korea such as the Hangang River and the Daedonggang River to attack the Ming coast03. This shows that Ming perceived the situation differently to what Japan had originally planned or Korea had predicted.

02 The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: The Eve of Joining the War, Vol. 1, p. 52; royal command paper 03 The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: The Eve of Joining the War, Vol. 1, p. 58-59; preface to the map of Chinese and Korean coasts

Second, it can be said that Ming’s dispatch of troops to Joseon was a preemptive measure to block a coastal invasion. After reinforcing key coastal positions, it sent troops to Joseon to prevent the advance of Japanese troops04. Many of Song Yingchang’s early moves were thus made to defend the Ming coast. At the same time, he made military preparations, drawing strategies for the recovery of Pyongyang and Hanseong (present day Seoul) and procuring troops and provisions 05. As a result, Ming defeated the Japanese army in Pyongyang, but when it was defeated in the Battle of Byeokjegwan it began considering peace negotiations with Japan06.

04 The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: The Eve of Joining the War, Vol. 1, p. 185; report to the throne by the jinglue regarding defense of the coast 05 The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: The Eve of Joining the War, Vol. 1, p. 469; report to the throne regarding the schedule for advance 06 The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: Recovery of Pyongyang, Vol. 2, p. 405; letter to Konishi Yukinaga

Third, the Ming dynasty took the lead in strategic operations of the Ming army and in the peace negotiations with Japan. While this is a well-known fact, rarely has material highlighting the Ming perspective on the war been directly examined. According to Jinglue fuguo yaobian, Joseon accepted Ming’s military policy but expressed dissatisfaction with the caution with which Ming troops advanced after the retaking Hanyang. Moreover, Joseon was opposed to the peace negotiations. It was Song Yingchang’s job to mediate these differing positions07. In addition, in regard to the second Battle of Jinjuseong Fortress in 1593, the general view is that the Japanese were unable to invade Jeolla-do Province thanks to the dedicated defense of the local armies (suseong-gun), but the book suggests that it was the deployment of Ming troops in Jeolla-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do that stopped the Japanese troops from advancing08.

07 The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: Peace Negotiations, Vol. 3, pp. 30-31; letter to the Joseon king The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: Peace Negotiations, Vol. 3, pp. 89-90; letter to the Joseon king 08 The Ming Campaign of the Imjin War: Peace Negotiations, Vol. 3, pp. 231-232; report to the throne saying that it is not necessary for the jinglue (military commissioner) and didu (provincial military commander) to be stationed together in the same place

In short, this book may be rather disquieting because the contents give a different view of the Imjin War to the way it is seen in Korea. Also, it cannot be concluded that all the contents are historical facts. However, to accurately understand historical reality, it is important to compare and analyze material written from the Ming perspective with other existing historical materials. Given that the Imjin War was fought by soldiers of three nations, Jinglue fuguo yaobian, with its first-hand account from the Ming dynasty’s perspective, something lacking in other historical accounts, will help to form a new picture of the war. When these varying views are brought together they will not only enhance understanding of the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 but give insight into international politics at that time.
In this regard, the Jinju National Museum will continue annual projects to translate materials into Korean. In 2021, it started the Korean translation of Jinglue yuwo zhouyi (K. Gyeongnak eowae juui) by Xing Jie (1540-1612), who was appointed as Ming’s chief administrator of military affairs (jinglue) for Jeongyu jaeran, or the second Japanese invasion in 1597. Translation of such important foreign historical materials into modern Korean is anticipated to expand our perspectives on the 16thꠓcentury Japanese invasions of Korea.