cks logo
menu bar

Food, Governance, and Military Performance in the War of Japan's Invasion of Chosŏn Korea, 1592-1598

Food, Governance, and Military Performance in the War of Japan

A battle scene at Sunchŏn in 1598

Professor Nam-lin Hur, Dept. of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia

Wednesday, February 21, 2024
4:00 PM (Pacific Time)

Bunche Hall, Rm 10383

Within three weeks of the invasion in 1592, the Japanese troops occupied Hansŏng, the capital of Chosŏn, and King Sŏnjo fled to the north for life. The Chosŏn Dynasty encountered a crisis of survival – one that lingered on to 1598. Chosŏn’s ground military forces struggled to fend off the Japanese invaders. Ming China’s rescue troops who joined the war from 1593 in a serious manner also struggled to fend off the Japanese despite their initial victory at Pyongyang. Nevertheless, in the end the Japanese forces failed to achieve their goals and all withdrew from the Korean peninsula.

In this talk, Hur asks what caused Japan’s failure in the war despite its overwhelming military capacity. More specifically, what helped Chosŏn’s fragile defense be initially able to keep the Japanese troops in check in 1592, and how were the joint-forces of Chosŏn and Ming able to blunt the Japanese aggression amid their rather miserable performances in 1597 and 1598. To be sure, Chosŏn’s naval forces of Yi Sunsin frustrated the Japanese at sea battles in 1592 and dealt a blow to the Japanese navy at one point in 1597 but the overall progress of the war was shaped by ground battles, not by sea battles. To answer these questions, Hur focuses on the mechanism of governance with which each country conducted the warfare in its own way, and suggests that each country’s military performance was tied to the delivery of military supplies, most importantly, food (grain), to the front, which was contingent on the governance of corvée in the field. 

Nam-lin Hur is a professor in the Department of Asian Studies, The University of British Columbia. His teaching and research involve international relations in premodern East Asia, premodern Korean/Japanese history, and East Asian Buddhism. He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled Food, Diplomacy, and Governance: Japan’s Invasion of Chosŏn Korea in 1592-1598 and Ming China’s Involvement. His recent publications on the Imjin War include: “Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Invasion of the Chosŏn Kingdom, 1592-1598,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History (2019); “Japan’s Invasion of Chosŏn Korea and Abduction of Koreans,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 81 (2021); “Japan’s Invasions of Korea in 1592-98 and the Hideyoshi Regime,” in The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2022); “Atrocity and Genocide in Japan’s Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598,” in The Cambridge World History of Genocide, Volume II (2023). 

Sponsor(s): Center for Korean Studies

Image for Calendar ButtonImage for Calendar Button