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Reviewed by:
  • A Korean War Captive in Japan, 1597–1600: The Writings of Kang Hang ed and trans. by JaHyun Kim Haboush and Kenneth R. Robinson
  • James B. Lewis
A Korean War Captive in Japan, 1597–1600: The Writings of Kang Hang. Edited and translated by JaHyun Kim Haboush and Kenneth R. Robinson. Columbia University Press, 2013. 272 pages. Hardcover $55.00/£38.00.

In 1592, Hideyoshi cried “‘Havoc’, and let slip the dogs of war; That this foul deed shall smell above the earth With carrion men, groaning for burial” (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, act 3, scene 1). Indeed, the invasion of Korea (1592–1598) was foul with many carrion men, women, and children groaning for burial. Despite its vast scale, wide-ranging impact, and the simultaneous military involvement of China, Korea, and Japan (only one of a handful of times in recorded history that this has occurred), the war has received little attention in the English language. Official and unofficial sources are plentiful. Among unofficial sources are a number of extant diaries kept during the invasion, but we have very few firsthand accounts that relate the experiences of Koreans or Chinese encountering Japanese off the battlefield, such as we have here in the book under consideration, or of Japanese viewing their invasion of Korea with any degree of self-reflection.1

A Korean War Captive in Japan, 1597–1600 offers an excellent translation of an important work by Kang Hang (1567–1618), a yangban who was held in Japan for several years as a prisoner of war. That work, Kanyangnok (The Record of a Shepherd), is [End Page 297] widely known by scholars of Korean-Japanese relations and contains not only Kang’s personal diary, but also a range of other materials that he either authored or copied from various sources while he was in Japan. Kang’s students later compiled all of these materials into a single volume, titling it Kanyangnok. Kang was abducted in the ninth month of 1597 off the coast of Chŏlla province; was sent to Japan; and then escaped, arriving back in Korea in the fifth month of 1600. Kanyangnok was known in Korea and Japan from the seventeenth century, and it has been translated into modern Korean and Japanese numerous times and discussed extensively in the secondary literature in both of those languages. In Haboush and Robinson’s translation of this compilation, we now have what is surely the definitive rendition in English and a significant contribution to our knowledge of the war—a contribution that has the additional benefit of increasing our sense of intimacy with the mind of a mid-Chosŏn literatus. The translation, with its extensive notations and remarkable introductory essay, is an outstanding piece of scholarship. The introduction even contains a considered discussion of the map included in Kanyangnok, although sadly the volume under review does not contain a reproduction of the map; this map constitutes an invaluable depiction of the cartographic image of Japan that Koreans possessed prior to the modern period and therefore would have been a welcome addition. Also missing from the volume are Chinese, Korean, and Japanese native scripts, whose inclusion in the index and bibliography would have further aided future research by Anglophone scholars. The riches we are offered, however, are remarkable.

Kanyangnok is rare and valuable and offers multiple insights. Kang takes us off the battlefield, through the palpable terror known to every prisoner of war, and all the way to Japan and back. We meet a few minor Japanese political and diplomatic figures, Chinese ambassadors, other Korean captives, and a major Japanese intellectual figure—Fujiwara Seika (1561–1619). If we trust historian Abe Yoshio, then the friendship that blossomed over poetry and painting between Kang and Seika also included Seika’s having been tutored by Kang in Yi Hwang’s version of Zhu Xi’s teachings, an interpretation that Seika passed on to Hayashi Razan (1583–1587), a development that had far-reaching implications for Tokugawa-period intellectual history. We also hear about the machinations of Japanese warlords—their plots, subterfuges, and constant jockeying for power. We can feel the despair of attempted suicide, the bitterness of losing one’s...


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