October 30, 2021

Conference Panel: Aftermath of the Imjin War

Members of the Aftermath project will be presenting papers on 30th October at the Association of Korean Studies in Europe Conference, in La Rochelle University, France, and online.

The panel, “Aftermath of the Imjin War”, features the following speakers:

James Lewis, Associate Professor, University of Oxford (Aftermath advisory board), panel chair. “Economic Impacts of the Imjin War.”

The paper proposes a periodisation for the economic history of the entire Chosŏn period and then focuses on the long seventeenth century following the Imjin War or the East Asian War. The economy of Korea was organised along physiocratic principles for most of its recorded history, but a clearly articulated physiocratic economy took shape in the century from about 1350 to 1450 (period 1), during which state-building efforts constructed systems to assess and tax agricultural production, promote technology to expand production and population, and to control access to the country and manage trade. Between 1450 and about 1510 (period 2), a regulatory framework was completed that supported farming and village-based agricultural production, not urbanisation and the creation of wage labour. From 1510 to 1592 (period 3), the new system expanded across the country with an expanded circulation of knowledge through rural yangban networks, the creation of sowŏn as independent intellectual centres, and local societies inspired with ideological zeal to create utopias, even while structural and political limitations affected the efficient functioning of the system. The East Asian War of 1592-1598 (period 4) was a profound external shock that did not shatter the system but changed it profoundly. The resilience of the physiocratic economy allowed recovery within about two generations, but the recovery was based on profound changes to the old structures. Over the long seventeenth century from 1598 to about 1715 (period 5), the post-war recovery benefited from a stabilisation of taxation through the standardisation offered by the Taedongbŏp, a recognition of private property, and the expansion of minting from 1678. The seventeenth century saw an expansion of rice production and a population recovery and produced the second take-off of a physiocratic economy. Between 1715 and 1840 (period 6) the physiocratic economy plateaued and extended agricultural production to its Smithian limits, marked by stability and prosperity under good governance. From 1840 to 1970 (period 7), the physiocratic economy saw decline and eventual collapse under incompetent rule, disruption from external markets and foreign rule, civil war, and industrialisation. From 1970 to the present, although physiocracy was set aside in favour of industrial expansion, a shadow form of physiocracy emerged in the state protection of agriculture.

The purpose of the presentation will be to define the ‘physiocratic economy’, offer a general narrative for Chosŏn-period economic history, and highlight economic continuities and discontinuities from before the war to the early eighteenth century.

Sangwoo Han, Assistant Professor, Ajou University (formerly, Aftermath postdoctoral researcher). “Demographic Impacts of the Imjin War.”

Chosŏn Korea was devastated demographically during the Imjin War. Although scholars believe that hundreds of thousands of Koreans were captured and enslaved by Hideyoshi’s army during the war, only a few studies have focused on population and demographic changes after the war and provide empirical evidence from historical sources.

This study explores traces of the Imjin War in the household registers of seventeenth-century Korea. The oldest extant household registers of Chosŏn Korea were published in the counties of Sanŭm, Tansŏng, Chinhae, and Ulsan in 1606 or 1609, around ten years after the Imjin War. The southeastern part of the Korean peninsula, where these counties are located, was severely damaged during the war, and we can find extensive evidence of the impact of the war in those household registers.

Firstly, this study examines the population structures of those counties from the early seventeenth-century registers for evidence of the war. The most obvious finding is that, even with the characteristic population omission of those under 20 years of age, the percentage of the recorded population under 40 was relatively lower than the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. This is a result of the impact of the war. Secondly, the registers include households that show the scars of the war. For instance, household heads reported to the local government the numbers of dead and captured family members and the same for nobi in their households. Finally, after the war, escaped captives from the Japanese islands reported themselves as returnees to receive tax and corvee exemptions. The household registers provide ample evidence of the impact of the war.

Using the household registers, we can obtain a picture of the demographic impacts and population changes that resulted from the war, and this is a first step to understanding the long-term changes to Korean society triggered by the Imjin War and the following Manchu invasions.

Yang Liu, PhD candidate in East Asian History, University of Oxford. “Slavery in East Asia and the Imjin War.”

This paper explores the relationship between slavery and the Imjin War. Studies of the connection between the Imjin War and slavery are not completely novel. A large number of scholars, mostly Japanese and Korean scholars, have so far focused on the tens of thousands of Korean captives who were forcibly taken to Japan. According to previous studies, many Korean captives were treated as slaves and numbers of them were sold to Europeans, such as Portuguese merchants, and taken to Southeast Asia and even to Europe. However, many historians have overlooked the fact that slaves were not only the result of the Imjin War but were also present before the onset of the war.
Since the late Yuan and early Ming dynastic periods, many ordinary Chinese and Koreans had been kidnapped by Japanese pirates (Ch. Wōkòu; J. Wakō, and K. Waegu) and taken to Japan. Among them, some intellectuals had knowledge of Confucianism or medicine, and after being sold as slaves in Japan, they were often favoured by the local daimyo and eventually came to serve them as vassals. According to Chinese and Japanese historical documents, some of the slaves and vassals who had the opportunity to access intelligence in Japan on Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasion plans sent warnings to Ming China and assisted Chinese military spies before and during the war. On the other hand, there were also many Chinese soldiers who were conscripted by the Japanese daimyo and fought for Japanese armies in the Imjin War. Many of these men were former slaves who had been sold to Japan before the war began. Besides these cases, we can also see that there were black soldiers and even Siamese soldiers in the Ming army, some of whom had been or were slaves. In this paper, I will attempt to look into the links between East Asian slavery and the Imjin war by analysing the experiences of a Chinese man, Su Ba, who was captured by the Japanese and sold into slavery in Japan. Ultimately, this study points to the presence and role of the slave trade in the early-modern maritime world of East Asia.

Giuseppe Marino, Marie Curie Research Fellow, Autonomous University of Barcelona (Aftermath postdoctoral researcher). “Traces of the Imjin Waeran in Spanish Historiographic Literature of the Golden Age.”

The Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598), one of the most important international events in East Asia with more than 500,000 soldiers involved, has not received the attention it deserves from contemporary researchers. To date, only East Asian views on this war have been available to us, however, thanks to the vast information left behind by Western chroniclers in handwritten reports and heterogeneous printed books during the end of the sixteenth century, we are now able to compile an extensive and long required Western view on this Asian confrontation. What impact did the so-called Imjin Waeran, one of the most important Asian conflicts in world history, have on Spanish peninsular literature during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? This presentation attempts to answer this question as well as examine what modern Hispanic historiography has to say about the Imjin confrontation and the complicated situations that the war unleashed. The objective is to provide a first-hand view of the event using Hispanic texts, which provide a vision not strictly empirical, but analogous and symbolic.

The conference program may be downloaded, here.