March 1, 2024

Conference paper: Ming-Chosŏn Naval Cooperation during the Imjin War

Barend Noordam presented a paper at the Association of Asian Studies Annual Conference 2024, on 1 March 2024. Barend’s talk “Ming-Chosŏn Naval Cooperation during the Imjin War (1592-1598)” took place as part of the panel: “War and State in Pre-Westphalian Continental East Asia: Historical Perspectives.”


The Imjin War seems to have demonstrated the value of long-range heavy firepower in countering the boarding tactics of the Japanese during naval battles of the Imjin War. This was a lesson already learned by the Chinese during the Wokou piracy raids of the mid-sixteenth century. According to general Yu Dayou (1503-1579): “Those with guns beat those without guns; bigger guns defeat smaller guns.” Yet, the Koreans seems to have taken this concept to its logical conclusion first, mirroring European developments during the sixteenth century. The kŏbuksŏn “turtle ships” were warships with a fully enclosed fighting compartment protecting the gun crews from boarding parties. This type of ship seems to have relied entirely on its cannon to destroy enemy ships from stand-off range. Ming ships also relied on firepower to hold off enemy boarding parties but had not made the radical transition to using warships mainly relying on cannon yet, but instead utilized warships with high decks sheltering crews firing a hodgepodge of small cannons, hand-held firearms, fire arrows, and incendiary bombs. This paper will look at contemporary Chinese accounts of the Imjin War to trace Ming perceptions of Korean naval strength and their use of advanced warships, and its possible influence on Chinese naval policies. Furthermore, by also making use of Korean sources, this paper endeavours to analyse how these perceptions shaped Ming – Chosŏn naval cooperation during the war, taking in account jointly executed operations like the Battle of Noryang (1598).”

For details of Barend’s ongoing work, see