Original Thread: The Imjin War: A Basic Guide
The Imjin War: A Basic Guide
The Imjin war (the late 16th century war where Japan invaded Korea, and the Ming dynasty Chinese ended up sending a large army to try and aid the Koreans ) is one that probably perk the fancy of many, as it was the only pre-modern Japanese invasion on a large scale, and it coincided with the height of the Samurai era, and it involved 3 of the preeminent East Asian culture of the time. The real war records left behind at the time is really very complete, yet unfortunately distorted since the begining of the 20th century of many obvious reasons (tools of imperialism, tools of nationalism, tools of Samurai mania, you name it)
I'll start a post that trys to bring a relatively simple , complete, balanced view on this war. trying to both help the beginners while staying true to sources.
To start. let's get an overview of how the war actually went down.
Stage 1: the Invasion
May - August of 1592
The Japanese forced landed in late May of 1592, and they basically swepted aside the woefully unprepared and inexperienced Korean forces. within 20 days they had already marched up to the capital city of Seoul, and took PyongYang a little less than a month later.
By August of 1592, the 3 most important Korean cities of the time (Seoul / PyongYang / Kaesong) had all fallen to Japanese hands (and all 3 were lost without a real fight), while even the more remote provinces were being overran by Japanese . only a few pocket of resistence (most notabbly in the South Western Province of Jelloa) remained. the Japanese army even managed to drive right up to the Yalu river that bordered China, and even send a scouting party across the border briefly)
Stage 2: bogged down
September of 1592-January of 1593
Although the Japanese exploded into Korea almost uncontested , they begin to run into trouble after taking PyongYang, as their lines were stretched long and thin they begin to get harrased badly by the various groups of insurgent Koreans.
While things looked even worse at sea, as the Korean fleet under Admiral Yi Sun Sin handed them defeat after defeat. topped off by the battle of Hansando in mid August. where the bulk of the Japanese fleet was annihilated .
These problems begin to throw the Japanese into a quagmire mode. where the Koreans can't really do anything against their army. but they in turn can't really do much about their situation. as they have poor control of anything out of their immediate vicinity. and food supplies become increasingly more problematic. only a small portion of Koreans were willing to work with them at all, while many rose up in arms against the foreign invaders.
Stage 3: the Ming expedition
January 1593-May 1593
Although the Ming made some initial attempts to relieve the Koreans by around August of 92, they were generally confused by the news comming in, as it was difficult to comprehend how their ally could have fallen so swiftly and decisively in such a short period. After sending their own investigation and having some of their small initial parties badly crushed. they decided to make a complete effort by late September of 1593
Song YingChang was named as the chief overseer of the expedition , and the administrator assembled an army of some 36000 by late December of 1592. with the general Li Ru Song as his main comamnder. The expedition crossed the Yalu river right around the turn of the new year.
The expedition was generally successful. they arrived quickly outside of PyongYang, and after some initial attempt of bartering they defeated the Japanese force in a single day assault. for the first time in the war the Japanese suffered a serious defeat on land.
The expedition's success at PyongYang prompted all the Japanese forces in northern parts of the Country to pull back south. concentrating around the capital of Seoul. meanwhile the Ming also retook a largely abandoned Kaesong soon after the sack of PyongYang.
By late January the Ming forces begin to move against the capital city of Seoul. their initial attempt backfired as they had been misled into believing that like Kaesong, the Japanese were about to give up on Seoul as well. this prompted the Ming general to move ahead with mostly their cavalry and leaving their infantry to march nearly a day behind them. They soon ran into a large Japanese force just north of Seoul and although they escaped relatively in one piece. this battle forced them to reconsider their strategy and they temporarily pulled back to Kaesong.
Meanwhile, one of the most prominent insurgent Koran General Kwon Yul had taken a key fortress at Haenju just north of Seoul as part of the combined effort to move against Seoul, when the Ming forces was set back they in turn was trapped deep in enemy territory and soon a large Japanese force were knocking on their gate.
However, the much smaller Korean forces managed to defend the small fortress succesfully. dealing a very devastating blow to the Japanese forces. it was probably the single most succesful operation by the Korean forces on land in the war.
Encouraged by this success, the Ming army moved against Seoul again not long after. The two sides basically remained at stalemate with neither side willing to commite to a fight for the next couple of month outside of the Seoul area.
However, the Japanese logistical situation was growing dire, and made worse when a combined Ming / Korean special operation managed to burn down one of their largest grain storage.
They begin to sue for peace, and as part of the negotiation they pulled out of Seoul uncontested. With the ally forces' entrance into Seoul and the return of the Korean court to their capital. this marked the end of the first war.
Stage 4: failed peace talk
May 1593 - July 1597
Although the Ming and Japanese entered into peace talks after mid 1593, they were too far apart to begin with and had both misunderstood each other badly. combined with possible deception on their delgation's part, the talks really went no where and by 1597 it finally collapsed . as the Ming thought they were simply trying to woo another fring tribal chieftan who had some modest military success in a far away border. Their final ceremony for Toyotomi Hideoyoshi was met with wrath and anger and soon they were throw out of Japan. the failed peace talk would also prove disastorous for the Ming delgations as their lead negotiator was executed and many of the high ranking officials that lead the peace talks back home was purged.
Stage 5: The second invasion
July 1597 - Septermber 1597
With the breakdown of peace talks the Japanese unleashed their fury on Korea again, but this time the Koreans were far more prepared on land, and progress turned out much slower for the Japanese.
However, on the other end of the specturm the Japanese were far more prepared at sea. and combined with what was either a clever double agent plot or simply the incompetence of the Joseon court, which had removed and jailed their best admiral right at the start of this new round of fighting. the end result was that a less competent admiral lead the Korean navy to a disastorous defeat in mid August.
The naval defeat also gave the Japanese a break on land, and they were able to break through the ally defenses, including taking the key garrison of Namwon, where 3000 Ming forces with 3000 Koreans were annihilated .
Stage 6: the tide turns again
September 1597 - December 1597.
After the naval debatical the Joseon dynasty appeared to be on the brink again, after the garrison in Namwon was lost, most of southern Korea fell back into the Japanese hand and they marched towards Seoul by September.
The court was in full panic and even the Ming generals stationed in Korea
adviced for them to pull back with the Ming forces to PyongYang and wait until reinforcements arrive in full. However the Ming administrators overruled the generals and ordered them to defend Seoul at all cost.
The Ming generals send an elite force of cavalries some 2000 strong along with 2000 additional reinforcing cavalries and intercepted the Japanese advance at Jiksan. Though there are some conflicting account to how the battle actually went down, it seemed that the Ming forces were able to utilize cavalry tactics succesfully against the Japanese, and they were forced back. this marked their high water mark on land.
During all this, the Joseon court also hastily and embarrsingly released Admiral Yi and restored his position. with only a handful of ships left from the previous disastor. Yi never the less crushed the Japanese fleet only days after the battle of Jiksan. these two victory marked the turning point of the war.
After this, the Koreans work to build up their navy again.
With the arrival of the intial Ming reinforcement (which brought their overall numbers back to around the 40K range ) the Ming army drove south in their first attempt to counter attack the Japanese. they had the Japanese force surprised and pinned down at the fortress of Ulsan in December of 1597.
However, the Ming forces met tough defenses at Ulsan , along with some management error on the Ming part. they went scuffing in defeat as a Japanese relieve force managed to pull off a succesful surprise attack in the cover of heavy rain. a confusing attempt to retreat without warning send the allied forces into chaos and eventually a near full rout back towards Seoul.
Stage 7: the final stretch
Even after turning back the Allied forces at Ulsan, the Japanese were unable to make much headways into Korea . the two side fought to a stalemate as the Japanese were again in tough shape at sea while the Ming waited for additional reinforcements and the regroup the supplies they lost at Ulsan (and the Korean to rebuild their navy) through most of winter and early Spring.
By then, the health of Toyotomi Hideyoshi was deterioiating and he had more or less decided to discontinue the war. by pulling out a good portion of his troops in early 1598 he had basically left just enough men to defend the Southern coast of Korea (some 50-60K)
By mid 1598, the Ming reinforcement had arrived in full. and a new offensive begin to take place. In September of 1598 the Ming launched the final massive offensive of the war on the Japanese positions . Seperating their army into 3 groups. they headed for the 3 final Japanese strong hold guarding the line into their headquoter at Busan. with Ma gui heading the offensive up north against the defenses lead by Kato Kiyomasa at Ulsan yet again, Dong Yi Yuan attack the center fortress at Sacheon against the head of the Shimazu clan Shimazu Yoshihiro , and Liu Ting attacking the Southern fortress of Suncheon defended by Konishi Yukinaga in a combined effort with the combined fleet of Yi Sun Sin and the Ming admiral Chen Lin. The ally forces, land and sea combined, now run over 100K strong with several hundred ships.
The offensive did not actually go well, Ulsan went back and forth without any sort of decisive battle during the offensive, while the Ming ran into disastor at Sacheon, when their artillery crew had a gunpowder accident during their siege and blew up their whole camp with their own gunpowder, the Shimazu forces seized the moment and sallied out (they were in deep trouble up to this point, as their outer walls were already breached and even the gates of the inner war was shattered by the Ming artillery.) . The Ming forces were already devasted by the explosion and promptedly routed by the sallying forces.
At Suncheon the battle also did not go well. as either due to some miscommunication or perhaps personal grudges between the Ming generals. the land sea coordination efffort was poor, as Chen Lin and Yi Sun Shin launched a daring assault from the sea during high tide. the forces on land lead by Liu Ting for some inexplicable reason did not follow up the attack on land. even though there were reports of the walls on the land side being almost completely abandoned while the Japanese defender scramble to defend against the sea attack. The attack resulted in several of the Ming and a few Korean ship being trapped on land when the tide went out. and many of its crew (espeically the Ming crews. who were operating on smaller ships and was closer up to the fortress, the Korean crew mostly was able to defend themself on their bigger ships until the tide went up again.) was killed.
However, right around this time Toyotomi Hideoyoshi died, and the Japanese decided to make a final daring retreat. Chen Lin hesistated to give chase at the initial news of the retreat (and possibly agreed to let the Japanese just leave ) but Yi Sun Sin rushed foward. Chen then decided the Yi was right and followed him to the straits of Noryang .
The final epic showdown of Noryang was basically a one sided slaughter, however as Chen Lin and his second in command Deng Zhi Long along with Yi Sun Sin all decided to manuver their ships ahead of the Japanese to cut them off, this put them directly into danger, in the end they were able to annihilate over 10k men at sea alone within a few hours, which was roughly 20% of the entire Japanese forces left on Korea at that time. the allied casualty was actually quite light, losing only a few hundred men in the battle. but among the casautlies were Yi Sun Sin and the Ming vice admiral Deng Zhi Long. as the 3 commander manuvered their flag ships in daring fashion ahead of the rest of their fleet.
Also, I think one of the real plus on the Japanese side was that when they lost (on land), they usually managed to preserve their forces well, even in devastating situations such as getting knocked out of PyongYang , they still manage to survive with a good portion of their army. where as the Ming armies sometimes went into full rout mode when things didn't go their way.
Important figures of the war
Hideyoshi was the leader of Japan at the time of the war , and much of his legend came before this, as he literally went from a farmer to the lord of Japan. in a heavily feudalized society, it was a truely remarkable feat.
He was said to be a small man, as later day records often cite him as being nick named "monkey" while his boss , Oda Nobunaga, often called him "bald rat" and contempory Jesuits also said he was a "small and ugly figure, but one of the most hard working men i've ever seen", the lack of physical prowess did not hamper his rise. as he was both a brilliant tactician and an even better politician and diplomat.
Of course. much of his success was also owed to his boss, Oda Nobunaga, whom was the most ambitious daiymo in all of Japan, and really set in motion the path of reuniting Japan. as he managed to conquer nearly all of Central Japan in a little more than two decade's time. an amazing feat in every right.
However, he also met an untimely death in 1582 at the hands of one of his chief generals. whom had suddenly betrayed him in the middle of a campaign. A chaotic war soon exploded as the various Oda clan generals tried to gain the upper hand against each other. much to everyone's surprise though, it was the low born Hideyoshi (who was called Hashiba Hideyoshi at the time) that won out against many other more senior Samurais.
Hideyoshi was quickly able to not only restore the previous Oda empire, but expand upon it. by 1590, he had destroyed the last large clan that dared to stood against him (the Hojo clan , who ruled modern day Tokyo area). He was truely at the pinnical of power.
Why he ended up launching the invasion into Korea remains a hotly debated subject, a multitude of reasons seem to be invovled, including glory seeking, pure expansion, wasting the energy of potential enemies. or even denying glories to other potential enemies. At the end of the day, it appeared that he went in expecting to win, but it did not turn out the way he envisioned.
Hideyoshi was the true master of Japan , but his position wasn't quite as secure as it would appear, as his meteoric rise also carried the problem of him not being nearly as deeply entrenched as the other old clans. he had relatively few immediate retinues (compare to other major daiymo anyway) , and even fewer capable retinues who are closely related to him.
What's worse was that he appeared to be incapable of spawning offsprings. as he had no child at all despite several wife, though curiously one of his wife eventually did have 2 sons, one of them died early and the later one was born when Hideyoshi was already in his late 50s .
This spawned a multitude of problems as well, as he had previously intended to let one of his nephew inherit his clan, yet with the new baby he made the decision to kill his nephew and install the young child as his eventual heir.
He died in 1598, which also resulted in the end of the Imjin war. and he was succeed by his 5 year old son. Hideyori.
Not surprisingly, with a young child in the pinnical of power and a reigm that was never deeply entrenched to begin with. soon new plots begin to brew, and within just 2 year a massive showdown. the largest battle in Japan's history, occured in Sekigahara . with the winner being a long time ally of the Oda and Toyotomi clan, Tokugawa Ieyasu, while the losing side were some of the most trustly administrator of Hideyoshi.
Tokugawa systematically took apart the Toyotomi power one piece at a time, and by 1615 he found an excuse and simply attacked an killed Hideyori. which marked the end of the Toyotomi line.
Kato was the most prominent general of the Japanese in the war. he was the more feared by the allied forces.
Kato is closely related to Hideyoshi, a not too distant relative , his father died young and he was basically raised by Hideyoshi and his wife, when he grew up he naturally joined Hideyoshi's forces and soon made a name for himself, especially in Hideyoshi's war efforts after the death of Oda Nobunaga. He was eventually made a daiymo himself by Hideyoshi, and when the time came to invade Korea, he became one of the leading generals.
Kato was just entering his 30s during the war. so obviously in the prime of his life, he spear headed the Japanese invasion , including it's expedition into north eastern Korea, it was his army that send an recon group into China.
As the Ming entered the war. he also became the biggest proponent against peace talks. and in the second invasion he was most famous for his succesful defense at Ulsan, which weathered several attempts by the allies .
He clearly had war in his blood, and was a brave warrior in his own right. but the Imjin war also drew him into conflict with other Toyotomi retinues who were for peace talks, such as Konishi Yukinaga.
Soon after returning to Japan at the conclusion of the war. his grudge began to play out. as his conflict with Konishi and Ishida Mitsunari was one of the main spark that propelled Japan to war again. Although he did not actually want to see ill of Toyotomi Hideyori, his actions eventually had that result.
He passed away before the final fall of the Toyotomi clan. though his clan's realm was removed by the eventual Tokugawa Shogunate just some 2 decades after his death . (Which doesn't happen often. so it was obviously suspicious)
Konishi was actually the adopted son of a merchant. yet he eventually found his way into the samurai service (first for the Ukita clan, then for Hideyoshi ) . he was prized as a skilled administratro. but also made a mark as a general . he was made a daiymo by Hideyoshi .
When the time came to invade, he was the leader of the first army, and lead the army in taking PyongYang. he also headed the negotiation with various Ming and Korean officials through almost the entire war.
Yet always known more as a administrator than a general, Konishi met an army that was too much for him to handle when the Ming arrived in full force in 1593, and he was dealt a crushing defeat at PyongYang.
As the first war ended in negotiation, Konishi was the head of the Japanese negotiation party, yet misunderstandings had the talks going nowhere , and it eventually failed, but Konishi was spared and given a second chance to attack Korea.
He lead the army in taking the key fortress of Namwon early in the war. but soon the war was going poorly again. he held up the key southern fortress of Sucheon which came under repeated attacks from the allied force, yet he prevailed until the final retreat.
However, in the negotiation he made many enemies with the other samurais. who blamed him and Ishida for various reasons, and they in turn thought their rivals lacked the intellectual capcity to run a government.
The rivalry played right into Tokugawa Ieyasu's hand, and soon Japan spun into civil war again, at the battle of Sekigahara Konishi and Ishida's western army lost and they were both captured and executed, his land was given to his old rival Kato.
Shimazu Yoshihiro is the leader of the famous Shimazu clan of Kyushu. in his youth he and his brothers made the Shimazu clan the strongest in Kyushu , yet just as they're about to finally unite the entire island, Hideyoshi cam knocking with a huge army and even after fighting off their inital assault and more valiant fighting, they failed and sued for peace. their realm was reduced to just a portion of Kyushu again.
At this time Yoshihiro offically took over for his brother as the head of the clan. he served Hideyoshi well for the next few years until the invasion of Korea.
The Shimazu family have obvious interest in a realm so close to their home, so they were one of the more commited clans in the war. he only saw some action in the first war however, it was the second war that really made him shine.
as the second war was turning poorly, he lead the defense of the key garrison at Sacheon. which sat right at the center of the remaining Japanese line. when the Ming made their final offensive their largest army headed for the key fortress.
pinned down by the Ming artilleries and having most of his outer garrisons taken and his outer wall breached, things looked grim for the Japanese defender.
However fortune smiled upon them, as the Ming arilleries suddenly suffered a massive accident and a massive explosion rocked the Ming camp. seizing the moment the Shimazu clan sallied for and scored a decisive victory, the Ming general Dong Ying Yuan even send an emmisary after this battle. hoping to talk Yoshihiro into defecting, as he heard of the rumor that the Shimazu clan had a turbulent past with the Toyotomi regime, but Yoshihiro reported said that "No thanks, I'll see you in Liao Dong (the North Eastern Ming garrison that borders Korea)"
Of course, he never had a chance to carry out that boast. as Hideyoshi had died and the Japanese decided to retreat. his forces suffered the most during the retreat. as they were caught by the wrait of the Yi Sun Sin and his fleet. even though the managed to kill Yi and the Ming general Deng Zhi Long, their forces were utterly devastated.
Although Yoshihiro eventually sided with the losing western army in the showdown 2 years later, the Shimazu family managed to keep their realm and preserved it throughout the Edo period, in fact their realm eventually became the launching point of the modernization movement that toppled the final Shogun.
On the Korean side
Yi Sun Sin
Yi is widely recognized as Korea's greatest hero (of all time really) , and indeed his effort in this war was nothing sort of amazing.
Yi was just another commander in the Korean forces until the war erupted, when the war begun he had little previous experience of naval warfare, yet he immediately begun to pull off successful naval operation against the Japanese supply ships.
His raids obviously did not go unnoticed, and in August of 1592 the Japanese assembled a huge fleet to try and beat him in a direct confrontation. headed by one of Hideyoshi's trusted generals and several other experienced naval daiymos, the mighty fleet was thoroughly crushed around the island of Hansan, where Yi's navy was based.
After this, Yi was able to effectively shutdown the Japanese shipping into their main port of Busan, and made life miserable on the Japanese forces, though the Japanese were still able to get some shipments over they always had to take a much longer rout and stay close to their fortress.
Yi would keep operating out of Hansan island uncontested until the end of the first war.
In many cases of great generals. one wonder if his success is mearly due to the lack of competence of his rival or the sheer superiority of his troops, but they almost never have a chance to make a real comparason, however in Yi's case it was different.
As the peace talk began to break down, a plot brewed against him. as the Joseon court was restored they quickly went back to their petty politics and Yi became a target, possiblly fueled on by Japanese double agents. Yi ended up not only getting removed from his command, but demoted back to a common soldier and even jailed with the threat of death later on.
His mighty fleet was handed over to another naval officer in Won Gyun, who had operated with Yi for much of the first war. but Won ended up being drawn into a trap soon after taking command, and the entire fleet of nearly 100 ships was lost and he was killed after struggling ashore.
Shocked and horrified by the news, the Joseon court humuliatingly realeased Yi and restored his position. with his fleet now reduced to only a little more than 10% of it's previous number. yet with this small fleet he sailed forward none the less, and in less than a month time he found the cream of the Japanese fleet, a huge armada of 100 + warship protecting a huge logistic convoy of some 200more ship.
Amazingly, he won the day with almost no loss at all on his side (only a couple of sailor was killed, non of the ship was even really damaged) while the Japanese fleet was devastated yet again, losing nearly 100 ships (some 30 to sinking and even more was damaged beyond repair) . he played the strong currents perfectly and toyed with the Japanese ships with ease. it was one of the most amazing battle in the entire war.
This amazing victory coincided with the Ming forces halting the Japanese advance near Seoul, and the tide of battle turned yet again.
Soon after this battle, the Korean began to rebuild their fleet, and by mid 1598 the Ming fleet also joined them. together they cordinated attacks against the vital Japanese fortress of Suncheon in September of 1598. where they made daring attacks at high tide close to the fortress. but a lack of cordination denied them of total victory.
The Japanese at this point decided to retreat back home, with the death of Hideyoshi they made their daring escape a few month later , the Ming navy had hesitated in giving chase. but Yi Sun Sin convinced them by charging foward with his own ships. soon the entire armada sailed forth with annihilation in mind.
The final battle of Noryang was a slaughter. the Japanese lost some 10k men to the sea while the allied fleet mercilessly cut them down. but in the battle the Ming commanders along with Yi all decided to manuver their flag ships ahead of the Japanese. and they put themself right in the heart of danger.
They were successful in the end. as the allies only took light casualties compared to the horrific losses on the Japanese side. yet among the few casualties were Yi Sun Sin himself, and the second in command of the Ming army. the admiral of the Ming navy, Chen Lin, was shocked to hear the news and wepted for days, personally escorting his body back to his home town for burial.
Kwon was the most famous Korean general on land during the war, he was first just a minor general for the Joseon court, when the war started he was ordered to join up with the main host . yet the main army disentergrated before even seriously engaging the enemy.
Left with no army to work with , Kwon was not willing to give up without a fight, and he gathered some of the remaining men with militas raised and began fighting many hit and run battles against the Japanese forces. he was trapped a few times by the Japanese but always managed to either escape with all his men or even beat back the attackers.
The most epic example was in Haenju, where he and a small force of some 3000 took the abandoned fortress only some 20+ km away from Seoul, in anticipation of the Ming forces driving south. yet the Ming forces was beaten back not long afterwards. and they were in turn surronded by a large force and besieged.
Yet the Japanese took devastating losses while attempting to claim the mountain fortress, even several of their top commanders were wounded, and they gave up the siege and let Kwon and his men slip from their hands yet again. it was said that the Korean killed nearly 3 times their own numbers in that battle with only light casualties.
After this battle. he cordinated with the Ming army for most of the rest of the war , especially noted in the Ming's first attempt to attack in late 1597.
He was said to be a mighty warrior in his own right, though the testiment of that on his tombstone might be a little over the top, as it read how he cut down 2 dozen attackers who caught him alone in the middle of the night , and even managed to cut down their BULLETS with his sword.
Hyujong was an elderly monk at the time of the war, one of the most respected monk of Korea, he was the one most responsible for organizing the various orders into fighting units, and the warrior monks he assembled were basically Korea's most reliable fighting force on land during the first war.
The Monk operation's peak was the joint operation with the Ming army at PyongYang, where Li Ru Song assigned them and his most combat worthy men, the southern troops under Wu WeiZhong, to attack the key stronghold on Mt. Moranbong just north of the city.
The Monks won prestige in the war, and their position in the dynasty were raised after the wr. Hyujong's work was preserved and traslated by modern scholars.
Yu was one of the primary administrator of Korea during most of the war. as he travelled with the King in exile, and was key in relaying information between the Ming dynasty and various Korean genreals.
He was present with the allied forces at PyongYang, and was the first to report it's victory back to the court.
After the war though, he was ousted by the renewed petty political bickering, he retired and went into writing.
His diaologs were widely documented in the official Korean history, and his Jingborok remains one of the key first hand source of the war.
Song Ying Chang
Song was the chief administrator of the first war, called Jin Lue, he was the main in charge of the operation. both putting together the army, organizing the logistics, and directing the strategic aspect of the army.
Song was your classic later Ming war official , he was from the Southern city of Shao Xing, a place certainly more known for it's wine and poetry than military prowess, however in Song's career he was often stationed at the coastal province that was still dealing with the pirate raids, almost all of whom had some ties to Japan (either they were Japanese, or trained by Japaneses, or operated out of Japan.. or equiped by Japanese. or usually several of the above at the same time). so he was quite well aware of how the Japanese system worked.
When the news first reached the Ming of the invasion, there was a lot of back and forth debate on what course or action they should take. (and that many even thought this was a conspriacy, arguing that the only way the Korean could have fell so quickly was that they were in fact working with the Japanese). Song was at the time, already one of the top officials in the department of military , and he was the most notable firm advocate for immediate strong assistance to Korea.
So when the war party won out, it was natural that Song was appointed as the chief administrator in charge of the operation.
He took most of the later 3 months of 1592 to assemble the army from all parts of China, (including pulling one army wayyyy out from the border to Burma!! though that army only reached after most of the fighting was done ) and deviced a clear strategy on what they were going to do once in. in the final days of 1592 they set out and crossed into Korea, in his offical letter to the court on their marching order, he had a tally of some 30K men, though in later letters he usually referr to his army as 36k. (yes, his letters are around, I've read them.)
They were pretty successful, retaking PyongYang almost immediately, and then the major city of Kaesung just a 10 day later. but then they ran into much stiffer resistence at Seoul as the Japanese forcse gather around the capital. Still, eventually they were able to get the Japanese to leave Seoul by May, so in the span of 5 month, they succeeded in retaking half of Korea and their 3 largest city from the hands of the Japanese, all with a army roughly 1/4 of the entire Japanese forces deployed in Korea at the time.
At this point though, Song was growing weary , as the debate rage on back home in the Ming court on how to handle the negotiation with the Japanese, strings of attack were also levied against him and his generals (really the common thing in the Ming at the time, your going to get attacked whether you do well or not. if you suck then obviously people want your head and if you look like your having success jelous official will also try to find or make up some prove to the contrary). The Japanese forces were also now concentrated in the south eastern portions of Korea, and simply too much for the much smaller Ming army to deal with.
So by late 1593, as the Korean court finally returned to Seoul, Song resigned and retired from public service, returning home and lived for some 15 more years. he was well rewarded for his service (one of his son was allowed into office without taking the exams, one of the most prestigious honor a civil official can earn) enjoying a nice retirement life and also putting together his letters during the war period to be published, it's calle Jin Lue Fu Guo Yiao Bian, "the collection of the restoration management" a banned book during the later Qing period. it was however saved after the dynasty's fall.
Li Ru Song
Li was the chief commander of the Ming forces in the first war, he hails from the most prominent military family at the time, his father Li Chen Liang was one of the most famous and powerful generals of his time, and almost all his sons were prominent generals in his own right (in fact, he also had a adopted son.... this guy). Ru Song was his eldest son.
Li first grew to national prominence just shortly before the Imjin war. as he lead the Ming forces to victory against the rebellions of Ning Xia, one of the 9 garrisions of the Northern Ming at the time. he carried out the Ming's plan of daming the nearby by water sources (the Yellow river and some other lakes) and completely flooded the city into oblivion. before this campaign ended he was assigned to command the operation into Korea.
Li seem to have a habit of liking to charge around with his retinues on the battle field himself, a bit of a reckless warrrior who didn't give too much thought into his own safty. this can be seen in his time at Korea, as in the siege of PyongYang he got close enough to have his horse shot from under him by arbeques, and then in Byeokjegwan it was even more obvious, as he lead his retinue cavalries ahead of the entire army (possibly based on the rumor that the Japanese had abandoned Seoul) and was caught by a much larger Japanese army, still he fought his way out of the ordeal.
Li also came under plenty of fire from back home, though the emperor rewarded him plenty for his service in Korea. (though it should also be noted that he married the sister of one of the Emperor's favorite concubine). he was later assigned back to him home area of Liao Dong .
In 1598 however, his recklessness played out again, and this time he couldn't wiggle out of it, as he lead his retinues to scout on a gathering of Mongolian tribes (the Ming had officially made peace with the Mongols by then, but individual tribes were still problematic at times) . he was caught by a much much larger Mongolian forces and killed in battle.
Wu Wei Zhong
Wu was probably the man who served the longest stint in Korea for the duration of the war. among the Ming forces of first war, he lead his man as the vanguard and crossed into the Yalu several weeks ahead of the rest of the army, then he was also the last of the army to remained stationed in Korea, and when the new fighting begun his group was also one of the first to be moved in again.
Wu's actual title was not particularly high, he was but a minor general by official title. though the prestige and respect he gather goes well beyond that. and even his impact.
For one thing, most of the great wall of China you see today were built by Wu and his men. as the late Ming was the final rebuilding stage of the Great wall , and Wu Wei Zhong also probably served the longest tenure of any officer incharge of the ground operation of building the section north of Beijing.
Wu's military career is also legendary in his own right, as he was not of the military class to begin with. but joined the forces being raised by the famed Ming general Qi Ji Guang in the late 1550s early 1560s to fight against the rampant pirate problem in southern China. Wu was said to be a tall and big man, and was raised to a minor officer pretty quickly, he followed Qi on their many difficult campaign to root out the Japanese connected pirates of the south.
After Qi was able to finally put the Pirates down for the most part. he was transferred to the garrison of Ji just north of Beijing, it is a very important post for obvious reasons. there Qi begun the final rebuilding of the greatwall , and Wu was one of his chief officer to actually conduct the project. after Qi was forced to retired in he 1580s, Wu and his collegues were in effect the real commanders of the Ji garrisons. together they continue to build the walls and train up a new generation of soldiers under the methods deviced by Qi, they focused more on infantry tactics and gunpowder use than most of the Ming force at the time.
So when the Imjin war hit, Wu was the guy every administrator was trying to get their hands on. knowing that his experience was simply invalubale in the war effort. and indeed he was.
Wu was hit by a bullet in the chest in PyongYang, but went on to command his men to victory anyway. and then fought in most of the war as well. he did however suffer a incident in late 1593, when his men attacked a group of Korean civilian they suspected of trying to raid the Ming resources. he was temporarily stripped of his title (but the Korean court plead to the Ming to reverse that edict)
Wu was already a old man at the time, at least into this late 50s. and was almost surely into his 60s when the war ended in 1598, so he retired not long after the war.
Luo Shang Zhi
Luo was one of the most notable collegeus of Wu Wei Zhong, the group that fought all the way from the South Eastern coast toe rebuidling the great wall, Luo was probalby a year or two senior to Wu, and his rank was also one level higher. but at the time of the Imjin war it was Wu who commanded most of the "Southern troops" as they were known, while Luo only had a handful of men under his command.
However, Luo's valiant efforts were noted to the extreme by Korean records. he was one of the Ming generals to be stationed at Uiji with the Korean court, before the actual Ming expedition arrived, and many Korean officials were taken in by the well mannered yet obviously extremely martial proficent old man. one of the Korean officials even became a pact brother with him. and he gave him a large collection of books in his holding. he also personally trained many Korean warriors at that time.
However he was hardly just a well mannered old man. when the army moved to PyongYang the most valiant feats were almost all attributed to him. including crazy feats such as firing a cannon while holding it in his hand (it was actually possible, given that the Ming used a lot of very small cannons .the most common type of the 20ish kg Tiger croushing cannon). and how he dual wielded two No-Dachi (the Ming forces had copied that design from the pirates who had gotten them from the Japanese). etc.
Luo was nicked name "Thousand pound Luo " by his men, referring to his massive physical strength. so it was most likely that he was a awesome warrior . he remained a very popular figure in Korea during the war. and was the lowest ranking general of the Ming that they eventually made a statue for.
Yuan was one of the administrative officials working under Song YingChang during the war, he was mostly in charge of communicating with the Korean court at Uiji, and later on he was tasked with helping to defend the recaptured PyongYang.
Yuan was however, much more famous as a writer than he was as an official, as his other name, Yuan Liao Fang, is widely associated with as one of the more famous writer of the late Ming period. Much like Song he was also forced into retirement after 1593, as he and Li Ru Song accused each other of wrong doings in the war. he would retire and write up many important works in his remaining days.
An interesting figure, Yuan was a rare case where he had originally intended to be a doctor, only giving thought to a political career mid life.
Liu was part of both war in 93 and 97-98, he arrived too late to take part in most of the first war's battle (having marched his troops from the opposite corner of China), though he was stationed in Korea during most of the peace talk period.
His efforts in the second war is controversial, as he lead the allied land assault on the fortress of Suncheon along with the allied naval forces, but the battle did not go well and many blamed his indecisiveness for the unsuccessful assault.
However, after the war Liu lead the Ming forces against the rebellion of Bo Zhou soon after returning home, and he was said to have been instrumental in defeating the invasion, he was aslo famous for defeating Burmese attacks on the Ming border.
In 1619, he was called upon to join the Ming army against the new rising Machurian forces under Nurhachi, and was killed in the subsequent battle of Sarhu, as his forces was cut off deep into enemy territory. it was said that Liu slained a dozen assailent after he was already mortally wounded before finally being taken down.
Liu was reputed to be one of the best warrior of the Ming, the common description was "wielding a 120 jin (roughly 70kg+) blade like it was nothing while riding. everyone under heaven know of big sword Liu"
Shi was the minster of military affairs at the start of the war, though he was generally reluctant in fully committing to the Korean front, citing that the Ming was facing many other problems elsewhere. however he was pressed into the war by the emperor and other fellow members of the ministry (such as Song Ying Chang)
He send a personal friend Shen Wei Jin to help in the negotiation efforts. hoping to be able to end the war without extended fighting, however after peace talks failed Emperor Wanli was furious and Shi became the fall guy, as he was jailed and died in prison a few years later.
Shen Wei Jin
Shen was a civilian who apparently could speak Japanese and had significant experience in dealing with Japanese. so when the war started he told his home town friend , the war minister Shi Xing that he could aid in the effort. and was appointed as a military officer, though mostly he was incharge of talking to the Japanese.
Shen drew the irk of most of the other Ming officers though, aside from being a obvious personal appointment, he apparently had trouble seperating private busniess from public, and was accused of selling stuff to the Japanese while doing talks with them.
Still, he was helpful in starting the negotiation with the Japanese, and after the Ming army made significant progress in 1593 the peace talk started in full and he became the chief negotiator.
However the pace talk never really had a chance to really work, and in the end Shen would pay the biggest price for this debatical, as he was executed by the furious Ming court in 1597.
Xin would take over for Shi Xing after he was jailed as the minister of war, and he was personally stationed in Seoul for most of the 97-99 period, directing the war himself, which was a good indication of how highly the Ming thought of this conflict.
Yang was the Jin Lue of the second war, though his power was not on the same scale as Song YingChang in the first, as the minister of war Xin Jie was in fact calling all the shots in Korea, while Yang acted more as the field offical at the front line.
Yang and Xin 's insistence on the Ming to defend Seoul was the turning point of the war on land, however after this Yang lead the ally to attack Ulsan. Some tough luck and mismanagement combined for the allies to be badly routed in the failed siege, and instead of accepting the defeat Yang tried to wiggle out of it by holding down the report of the defeat.
The military officers of course would have no part in such a badly deviced plot, and soon Yang was revealed and striped of his position.
He would be reinstated on and off in the next two decade, however his final ill-fated campaign was the lead the Ming forces against the rising Machurians in the battle of Sarhu, where they were badly crushed. Yang was arrested and eventually executed years later.
Ma was a famous northern general, and the primary Ming general during the second war.
Dong Yi Yuan
Dong was also a major Ming general, though his effort in Korea was most notable in the failed siege of Sacheon, where an artillery accident send the Ming into a full route.
Qian ShiZheng (1561-1542)
Qian is a oddball, the son of a scholar in what is today Shanghai city, and a brilliant child at a early age in literature, he seem set on a course to become a administrator in the Ming dynasty VIA the imperial exam (his father did pass the level below the highest, but only took office for a few months before retiring for good).
Of course, a kid from a scholar family in the ricefields of the south studying Confucian scriptures will obviously acquire the skill of horsemanship and archery which was amusingly the case with Qian, who seem to be something of a real geniues is this regard, somehow becomming exellent in both martial and academic skills.
He passed the martial version of the imperial exam just 3 years before the Imjin war, and the war turned out to be his first chance at the big times , as he was promoted offically to a low ranking general to take part in the war.
He is unique in that he left a book detailing his actions in the war, something that is still found today.
He seem to be rather feared by other Ming generals, who was jelous of his academic backgrounds. and often denied him of his claim in war. such as one incident where he slained a samurai in single combat outside of Kaesong, the Northern generals told him that they can't acknowledge the deed unless he can tell them who this samurai is... obviously a bad joke of some sort.
He also accompanied and traveled with the Japanese delegations in the intial stages of the negotiation. and even went hunting with them.
After the war he rose pretty fast. but retired immediately after reaching the highest position.
Here's a few good maps of the situation during the war.
clockwise from upper left:
1.The greatest extend of Japanese invasion by late 1592
2.Peace talk period after Ming counterattack during 1593
3.Second invasion's greatest extend during 1597
4.After the ally counter attack in late 1597 till basically the end of the war in late 1598
(blue is japanese, orange is korean / chinese allies, the large city point in south eastern Korea is their base of operation in Busan, and the one in middle western area of Korea is the capital city of Seoul)
And here are the series of events in the second conflict
(The intial invasion)
(first wave of allied counter attack)
(final allied offensive)
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