It is common that a narrative of Japan’s invasion of Chosŏn Korea in 1592 starts with some words on what Hideyoshi, the de facto ruler of Japan at that time, had in his mind: a goal of conquering China and beyond. Such a narrative has been dominant regarding the warfare that unfolded in Chosŏn only for seven years until 1598. The narrative has perpetuated the myth that Hideyoshi invaded Chosŏn in order to conquer China through the Korean peninsula. To be sure, Ming China eventually sent troops to Chosŏn and fought against the Japanese invaders during the war. However, Hideyoshi’s alleged goal of continental conquest has no evidence. At best it was no more than a daydream which he developed only briefly in the early stage of the war in 1592. In this talk, Hur suggests: (1) Hideyoshi’s goal was to subjugate Chosŏn Korea; (2) even so, his goal did not last long but for a few months only; and (3) more importantly, Hideyoshi struggled, but in vain, to end his doomed foreign military campaign for almost six years without being able to stabilize his power until his death in 1598. Hur concludes his talk with some words on how the misconstrued narrative has damaged research on, and teaching of, Japan’s invasion of Chosŏn Korea for so long.
Nam-lin Hur (PhD, Princeton) is a professor in the Department of Asian Studies, 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” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History (Oxford University Press, 2019), 27 pages (online publication); “Japan’s Invasion of Chosŏn Korea and Abduction of Koreans,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 81 (2021): 67-83; “Japan’s Invasions of Korea in 1592-98 and the Hideyoshi Regime,” in The Tokugawa World, edited by Gary P. Leupp and De-min Tao. London and New York: Routledge, 2022, pp. 23-45