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154The Journal ofKorean Studies PERSPECTIVES ON THE IMJIN WAR The Book of Corrections: Reflections on the National Crisis during the Japanese Invasion ofKorea, 1592-1598 translated by Byonghyon Choi. (Korea Research Monograph 28) Berkeley , CA: Institute of East Asian Studies, 2002. 250 pp. $20.00 (paper) The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion ofKorea and Attempt to Conquer China by Samuel Hawley. Seoul: Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch; and Berkeley, CA: Institute of East Asian Studies, 2005. 679 pp. $45.00 (cloth) Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War, 1592-1598 by Stephen Turnbull. London: Cassell and Co., 2002. 256 pp. $29.95 (cloth) The Japanese invasion ofKorea of 1592-1598, which is better known to Koreans as the Imjin War, was without question one ofthe most traumatic events in Korean history. It was also one of the most significant military conflicts in East Asian history, pitting Japan's newly unified military forces, under the leadership of the brilliant hegemon, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98), against the combined forces of a supposedly weak Chosön Korea and a tottering Ming China that was desperate to retain its preeminent position in the East Asian international order. Leaving aside these standard interpretations ofthe belligerents for the moment, it is nonetheless surprising that such an important and well-documented event has, until recently, received so little scholarly attention in the West. I would suggest a number of reasons for this paucity of Western scholarship . The first concerns the sheer volume of surviving primary sources, not to mention secondary works in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. It would be extremely difficult for even the most dedicated scholar to master the full range ofdocuments produced by all three sides. Second, the sources themselves are often colored by profound biases that obscure the events, and a fairly thorough knowledge ofthe background to their production is often needed. This means that while it might be plausible for an individual to get a firm grasp of the material produced by one side, it is difficult to get the full picture. Along these lines, the modern secondary works produced in Korea, Japan, and China often rely primarily upon the original sources produced by their respective sides, further obscuring things for Western readers. Some ofthe Korean and Japanese works, particularly Japanese publications produced during the period of Japanese colonial rule in Korea, tend to be nationalistic, and present the Imjin Book Reviews155 War in light oftwentieth-century predilections and concerns. Korean accounts produced in the postcolonial era often have their own nationalistic undertones. Chinese secondary works, for their part, tend either to denigrate the incompetence of the Ming imperial forces and their monarch—erroneously treating the war as an important step in hastening the fall of the Ming—or to praise China's heroic defense of its helpless little neighbor. Third, the nature of the war itself, which, though an allied victory over the Japanese, lacked many truly satisfying victories for the winners, has perhaps contributedto its neglect outside East Asia. Finally, the fact that the Imjin War took place around the same time as more famous engagements in Western Europe, such as England's defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, may account for its obscurity among military historians. It is therefore refreshing to see this war finally getting the kind ofWestern scholarly attention that it deserves. While all the works under consideration in this review have their own particular problems and limitations, each sheds light on this important event and serves to introduce a new audience to a subject that still resonates for many East Asians today. In terms ofcommonalities between these works, the first is that none is a true academic monograph. Choi's work is a translation from classical Chinese ofa memoir ofsorts written by Yu Söngnyong, who served, essentially, as the prime minister for Chosön Korea for the duration of the war. Hawley's book has the outward appearance of a monograph, including its impressive length, but the author is not a historian and has apparently based his work almost entirely on others' translations of primary sources. It also seems as if some of Hawley's sources are actually Korean translations of Chinese-language originals...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1665
Print ISSN
0731-1613
Pages
pp. 154-161
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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