The best books on the Great East Asian War of 1592-1598

Kenneth M. Swope Author Of Dragon's Head and A Serpent's Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598
By Kenneth M. Swope

The Books I Picked & Why

The Book of Corrections: Reflections on the National Crisis During the Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598

By Yu Song-Nyong, Choi Byonghyon

The Book of Corrections: Reflections on the National Crisis During the Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598

Why this book?

This book is a very solid translation of the personal account of the man who was Korea’s prime minister during the Japanese invasion. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the state of Korean society at the time, particularly the factionalism and backbiting that characterized the political scene. One also gets in interesting takes on how the Koreans viewed both the Japanese invaders and their Chinese allies, who often bullied the Koreans they were ostensibly there to help. Finally, it provides a good sense of the style of Korean literati of the age, providing real insight on worldviews, values, and prejudices.


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The Great East Asian War and the Birth of the Korean Nation

By JaHyun Kim Haboush

The Great East Asian War and the Birth of the Korean Nation

Why this book?

This book argues that the Japanese invasion of the 1590s was the single most significant event in creating the idea of a Korean “nation,” as opposed to a kingdom ruled by one family with the help of powerful noble families. The author highlights the government’s use of vernacular proclamations and notices (rather than the literary Chinese normally used by the court), to show how people were mobilized to resist the Japanese invaders. In the process, she discusses the emergence of guerrilla bands known as uibyong and how the memory of these groups and their exploits, often exaggerated, help create a sense of national identity that grew and intensified in subsequent centuries.  For example, Koreans who resisted Japanese imperialists in the early twentieth century took the moniker of uibyong.


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Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War 1592 -1598

By Stephen Turnbull, Peter Dennis

Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War 1592 -1598

Why this book?

This is a lavishly illustrated popular account by a prolific author of books about the samurai. It is written from the Japanese perspective in a very accessible style. The author tends to be somewhat uncritical about Japanese accounts and the book is not nearly as academic as some others on this list, but he presents a clear narrative that is easy to follow and could serve as a useful introduction for readers before moving on to more academic studies.


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China, Korea & Japan at War, 1592-1598: Eyewitness Accounts

By J. Marshall Craig

China, Korea & Japan at War, 1592-1598: Eyewitness Accounts

Why this book?

This book is valuable because it combines the first-person perspective of Yu Songnyong’s account with deft historical analysis. Craig chooses a number of interesting subjects for his work, including a Japanese Buddhist monk who accompanied the armies, a Korean scholar who became a war refugee, a Chinese doctor-spy, a samurai warrior, and a Korean diplomat. He translates excerpts from their works and adds historical context. This gives readers the opportunity to see the varying views of the belligerents side by side and it also offers a broader perspective on the effects of the war on different levels of the populace.


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The East Asian War, 1592-1598: International Relations, Violence and Memory

By James B. Lewis

The East Asian War, 1592-1598: International Relations, Violence and Memory

Why this book?

This is a valuable edited collection that brings together scholarship from experts in Korea, Japan, Europe, and the United States. The translation of works by East Asian scholars is particularly useful as these materials are largely inaccessible to Western readers. The book spans events from before the war to various memories of the war in the countries involved, touching on specialized topics including Hideyoshi’s planning process, guerrilla warfare in Korea, how the war figured in the grand strategy of the Ming dynasty, and how the war impacted subsequent cultural exchanges between the countries involved.  However, note that this book assumes a basic level of knowledge about the war, so readers are advised to check out one or more of the books above first.


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