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Confucianism and War: The Korean Security Crisis of 1598 Gari Ledyard /V country immersed in war and international crisis might not seem the most likely place to look for Confucianism in action. While armies are on the march and pillage and rapine stalk the land, where is the ambience for stately and respectful ceremonies? When men are killing each other and women shriek their grief, where does one look for evidence of the goodness of human nature? As Chinese and Japanese armies pushed their way up and down the Korean peninsula throughout the 1590s, leaving behind burning towns, desecrated graves, and scattered families, many Koreans might have found good reason to Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Columbia University Seminar on Traditional China and at the Seminar on Korea, and also at the Conference on Korean Neo-Confucianism held at Bellagio, Italy, in August 1981. Support for me to attend that conference was provided by the Korean Traders Scholarship Foundation and is gratefully acknowledged. References to Korean sillok or Chinese shilu are made as follows: a date in year/ month/cyclical day-numerical day, followed by kwön orjuan number/page number. SJ indicates the year of Sönjo's reign: SJ 1 = 1568, SJ 31 = 1598. WL (Wanli) indicates the year of Emperor Shenzong's reign: WL 1 = 1573, WL 26 = 1598. An SJ date automatically refers to the Sönjo taewang sillok; a WL date automatically refers to the Shenzong shilu. Since my dates and page numbers stricüy follow the original dating and pagination (although as a supplement I add the numerical day to the cyclical day for convenience in calculating the equivalent western date), they are viable for any edition of these texts. In the body of the paper only western equivalent dates are used. 81 82Journal of Korean Studies conclude that the Confucian values in which they had taken so much solace and pride had deserted the land. Yet in a Confucian country like Korea, even suffering and despair were experienced in peculiarly Confucian ways. And so too were Confucian values inextricably bound up in the complicated relationship between Korea and China. This is a paper about a central crisis that developed in the context of that relationship during the year 1598, when Korea's fate seemed to hang in the balance. Korea's triumph over the Japanese invasions of 1 592—98 has inspired generations of Koreans with love for their country and respect for their victorious ancestors. In the historical record, it is not hard to find indubitable instances of heroism and self-sacrifice. Loyal stalwarts , outnumbered and overmatched, harried the enemy, cut his supplies, and defended the graves of their ancestors. Yi Sunsin worked miracles with his now legendary—but then quite real—turtle ships, humiliating the Japanese admirals and winning control of the sea. But as one seeks and finds the historical documentation for these exploits, one also finds, on nearly every page of the records left by the Koreans of those times, Chinese soldiers, tens of thousands of them, led by hundreds of Chinese generals and diplomats. And the more one reads, the more one is forced to conclude that for all the heroics and turtleboats, it was the Chinese alliance that was the most crucial military element in Korea's survival. Moreover, it is clear from abundant primary sources that Koreans of the day recognized this fact. Yet if the proper understanding of Korea's survival cannot leave the Chinese-Korean relationship out ofaccount, the conventional wisdom concerning the so-called tributary system, by which China and Korea regulated their affairs, is woefully inadequate as a foundation for grasping that relationship. It was always more complicated than the dispatch of envoys skilled in poetry, the writing and presentation of elaborate "manifests" (biaolp'yo) of adulation to accompany the tribute , and the acceptance from the Chinese emperor of patronizing homilies on submission and the munificent gifts of a splendid and approving empire. Even in supposed times of peace there were nittygritty issues of a sort that must inevitably come up between neighboring nations for discussion between clever and tough-minded diplomats , and behind those concrete issues there...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1665
Print ISSN
0731-1613
Pages
pp. 81-119
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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