The Sparrowhawk

In 1653, the Dutch East India Company ship Sparrowhawk hit bad weather on the way from Taiwan to Japan and was smashed onto the Korean island of Jeju. The report of their 13 year detention in Korea is a fantastic source for the life of commoners inside the 17th century Hermit Kingdom.

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk and its survivors 1653-1666.

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk and its survivors 1653-1666.

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The Black Water Dragon X

After 3 years of failed diplomacy, an enraged Hideyoshi orders his army to return to the peninsula and loot the as yet untouched province of Jeolla. A Japanese double agent succeeds in orchestrating a Korean naval disaster, while the Chinese vanguard suffers a similar fate.

Mimizuka, the "ear shrine" in Kyoto, Japan. Inside are 30-120,000 severed Korean and Chinese noses.

Mimizuka, the “ear shrine” in Kyoto, Japan. Inside are 30-120,000 severed Korean and Chinese noses.

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The Black Water Dragon IX

While Korea struggles to rebuild, one of the greatest diplomatic ruses of all time falls apart and an enraged Hideyoshi swears to destroy the Joseon Dynasty. The first European touches Korean soil and the “what-ifs?” of a Spanish shipwreck are examined. Conservative Japanese naval tactics undermine Yi Sunshin’s support at court.

Kato Kiyomasa hunts tigers in Korea (Image from Wikipedia).

Kato Kiyomasa hunts tigers to pass the time during the occupation of Korea. (Image from Wikipedia).

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The Black Water Dragon VIII

While Ming Envoys travel to the court of Hideyoshi to discuss a peace settlement, the Japanese pull back to a “Busan Perimeter” but not before taking vengeance on a place that had stubbornly held out the previous year. As 1593 comes to a close the Korean court returns to Seoul and is confronted with famine and unrest in the newly liberated countryside.

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The “Busan Perimeter” of beehive Wajo Fortresses that the Japanese established during the final months of 1593. Some of these are renovated Korean fortresses while others are totally new fortifications. This map is from Stephen Turnbull’s  fantastic survey “Japanese Castles In Korea 1592-98“. You can also see the former location of Jinju Fortress (“Chinju” in old style romanization of Korean language)

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The Black Water Dragon V

An ambitious Ming general launches an ill-conceived attack on Pyeongyang. Japanese momentum grinds to a halt in the face of fanatical Korean resistance and another stunning naval defeat at the hands of Yi Sunshin. Meetings between Ming agents and Konishi Yukinaga leave the Korean court worried.

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In this picture by artist Wayne Reynolds, the nervous defenders of Gyeongju look on as Pak Jin – the newly appointed commander of the Gyeongsang Left Army – ignites the “Flying Striking Earthquake Heaven Thunder” (the world’s first mortar-fired explosive shell). The ancient Silla capital at Gyeongju was retaken in the fall of 1592. (Image Credit Stephen Turnbull).

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The Black Water Dragon III

Hideyoshi’s army continues it’s unstoppable thrust north as Seoul, Gaeseong and Pyeongyang fall. But  600km from their base of supply and without naval support has Hideyoshi’s army gone too far, too fast?

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Despite some technical problems, Artist Wayne Reynolds’ interpretation of the Turtleship is a reasonable starting point for getting a mental image of what it looked like. As I mention in the episode, it almost certainly didn't have plated armour like this (it did have spikes) and the Dragon head was probably pointed straight forward because it had a cannon/smoke machine that could fire out of it's mouth. If angled majestically upright in the way Reynolds shows here, there's no way to shoot a cannon through it's mouth. Reynold's doesn't show the wet grass that would be placed on top of the iron spikes to conceal them and provide fireproofing. Also not depicted is the cross shaped trench running along the roof that would have allowed those inside access to the roof so that they could splash seawater on the grass. (Image Credit Stephen Turnbull)

Despite some technical problems, Artist Wayne Reynolds’ interpretation of the Turtleship is a reasonable starting point for getting a mental image of what it looked like. As I mention in the episode, it almost certainly didn’t have plated armour like this (it did have spikes) and the Dragon head was probably pointed straight forward because it had a cannon/smoke machine that could fire out of its mouth. If angled majestically upright in the way Reynolds shows here, there’s no way to shoot a cannon through its mouth. Reynold’s doesn’t show the wet grass that would be placed on top of the iron spikes to conceal them and provide fireproofing. Also not depicted is the cross shaped trench running along the roof that would have allowed those inside access to the roof so that they could splash seawater on the grass. (Image Credit Stephen Turnbull)

Click below there’s lots of great stuff!

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The Black Water Dragon I

The events leading up to and opening shots of the First Great Asian War – Japanese Lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s ambitious plan to conquer Ming China via Joseon Korea.

Panorama of Busan on a spring day in 2012. Now the Republic of Korea’s second city, 420 years ago the sea was black with ships, the vanguard of Toyotomi Hideoyoshi’s great thrust into China. The first division landed at the pink arrow, near what is now Busan’s main train station. This picture was taken from Geumjeong Mountain, facing northeast. Close to where I took this picture – on the southwest side of the mountain – are the remains of Dongnae Fortress where Magistrate Song Sanghyeon made his last stand.

On today’s show, the lead up to and opening shots of the First Great Asian War.

There are so many pictures and maps to see! Click “Continue Reading”

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VI IX – Goryeo – “The Rising Flood”

Goryeo Deployment at the outbreak of the Red Turban Rebellion (click for big). Map adapted from David Robinson’s deployment map in “Empire’s Twilight”

In Episode VI Part XI, bad omens prove accurate as secret societies in China begin plotting to overthrow the Mongols, leading to a civil war that spills across the Yalu river and onto the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile, the Koreans attempt to stay on the winning side of the Chinese conflict while grappling with giant raids by pirates based on Japan’s outlying islands.

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VI VII – Goryeo – “We Cannot Go Back Now”

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Click for big

On today’s very special episode, the Korean people become unwilling participants in the Mongol’s greatest military disaster – the invasion of mainland Japan – while everyone involved in the affair falls victim to this podcaster’s butchered pronunciation. Apologies in advance!

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VI VI – Goryeo – “I have begun from the rising sun…”

“The Battle of Choein Fortress” in a painting from the War Memorial of Korea.

Facing towards the old Goryeo capitol of Kaeseong in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from Ganghwa Island in the Republic of Korea. In the 13th century, the Mongols and the Goryeo nobility stared at each other across this narrow piece of water. Today, the ROK and DPRK do the same.

In Episode VI Part VI, the elites of Goryeo abandon ship and hide on an island while the Mongols use their newly acquired siege skills to crack open Goryeo fortresses and pillage the land again and again.

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Staying Together, Staying Warm.

Some specialized villages and their products.

Some famous Goryeo era Koreans and their Bongwan (clans). Note the Gyeongju Kims, the Haeju Chois, the Naju Ohs and the Incheon Yis.

The third episode in the Tangent series explores how the rulers of Goryeo used and reinforced pre-existing clan structures to maintain order and nation build. We also take a look inside a typical rural home.

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VI V – Goryeo – “Great Men Are Those Who Do Well”

Map of peasant resistance during the Goryeo Dynasty.  In this show I talked about Manjeok, Choi Gwang-su (General Choi’s brother), Jeong Bang-ui at Jinju, and Nogun in Chungju. I also talked about the Jeju island peasants throwing out the governor but Jeju island is not shown on this map. The city of Seogyeong is Pyongyang and Gaegyeong is Kaesong.

In Episode VI Part V, the shockwaves caused by the rise of the Jin continue as conflict between opposing interests – Buddhist and Confucian, military and civilian come to a head at court.

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VI IV – Goryeo – “A Bridge to Bind”

Diagram of the main palace and principal gates in the Goryeo capital of Kaesong.

The tragedy of Goryeo’s history. The shell of Manwoldae Palace in Kaesong. Locked away and neglected in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In Episode VI Part IV, Hyeonjeong and his successors try to repair the devastated northern territories while grappling with political instability at home and the rise of the Jurchen people as the dominant force in the Liao river basin.

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VI III – Goryeo – “The Khitan Wars”

The 6 red dots represent the fortresses Goryeo built near the mouth of the Yalu River after the first Khitan Invasion in 993. White dots are forts built at other times. The fortified northern wall is 천리장성 which means “Thousand Li Wall” and was not built until the conclusion of the Khitan Wars. 거란 is the Khitan Empire, 여진 are the Jurchen tribes and  고려 is Goryeo. The Yalu River starts at that little sliver of water above 흥화진 fortress.

Episode VI Part III is about the three invasions launched by the Khitan Empire against Goryeo in the late 10th and early 11th centuries.

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VI I – Goryeo – “If You Want Their Hearts”

Wang Gun, founder of the Goryeo Dynasty, as Buddha.  Statue recovered near his tomb at Kaeseong and currently housed at a museum in Pyongyang. From late 10th-early 11th century.

Episode VI Part I tells the story of Wang Gun, the man who re-unified Korea under the Goryeo Dynasty.

 

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V III – Unified Silla

The Korean Peninsula ~900AD. (Image from Thomas Lessman’s World History Maps). Note the rump state of Silla after the rebellions of warlords. The Chinese Tang Dynasty will fall in 907 and Balhae will be overrun by the Khitans in 926.

In Episode V Part III, Unified Silla collapses in the face of peasant rebellions and aristocratic infighting.

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V I – Unified Silla

Episode V Part I explores the middle years of the Kingdom of Silla and the new challenges it faced as a result of its victory over Baekje and Goguryeo in the Unification Wars.

Unified Silla at its height, with the northern border just above the Taedong River. Tamna (modern name: Jeju Island) and Usan (likely the modern Ulleung Island, but this is heavily debated) were tributary states of Silla.  of ~800CE (Image from Thomas Lessman’s “World History Maps”)

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Early Buddhism in Korea

The second episode of our “Tangent” series where topics that fit outside the narrative history of Korea get their fair shake. Today – early Buddhism in Korea and why it matters.

Correction: An embarassing typo on my script led me to give the date of King Jinheung of Silla as ruling during the 5th century, but actually it was the 6th century.

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Musings from the National Museum of Korea in Seoul.

So I visited the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan-gu Seoul. Korea really does museums right. There are a staggering number of items on display at any one time (over 13,000), and most have interpretive displays in several languages. Admission is free although they happily accept donations.

The museum is organized according to period and Kingdom. Prehistory, Gojoseon, Samhan, Goguryeo, Baekje, Gaya, Silla, Goryeo and Joseon. It houses many items which are listed on Korea’s registry of National Treasures. Of particular interest were (and I apologize for the photo quality – flash photography and tripods were not permitted):

The prime attraction of the museum. Silla Gold Crown With Pendants. Treasure #191

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Gogouli

This is the first episode in the Tangent series, where topics that don’t fit into the structure of the narrative episodes can get their fair shake.

TIKH explores the brewing historical controversy over the nature of the Kingdom of Goguryeo. Is it really part of Chinese history or Korean history?

A Korean nationalist ad that ran in the New York Times in 2008 featuring a very generous interpretation of the extent of Goguryeo territory as well as greatly overstating the foothold of Baekje in China proper.

Salon article – “The ‘history war’ in Northeast Asia”
Andrei Lankov’s article
Wikipedia Talk Page – Goguryeo controversies

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IV I – The Three Kingdoms

Episode IV part I explores two centuries in the political and military history of the Kingdom of Goguryeo from where we left off in Episode III (about the year 100CE) to the death of King Micheon in 331. In the Episode IV part I there’s going to be cloak and dagger diplomacy, foreign interventions, secret alliances and treachery at the highest levels.

Map of the three kingdoms with Goguryeo at its height of power in 476CE. (from Wikipedia)

note: I was really intent on doing all my own maps for every episode but it is proving to be too daunting of a task that is taking away from work on the podcast itself. “If its not broken don’t fix it” definitely applies here, there’s no reason for me to redo all these maps when other people have already done such a better job than I could ever do. So for at least the near future I’m just going to be using wiki’s maps which are based on Thomas Lessman’s fantastic “World History Maps”

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III – The Period of Confederated Kingdoms

In Episode III the defeated Yemaek tribes of the Gojoseon reform and reorganize as the kingdom of Goguryeo and quickly become the dominant player in Manchuria. We also explore important places and events in the southern Korean peninsula. The stage is set for a golden age in Korean history – The Three Kingdoms Period.

Map for III

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A Note About Maps

All maps used in the Topics in Korean History website have been produced by me using information from many different sources. Please visit the Sourcebook page to learn more. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Thomas Lessman’s World History Maps project which I had to reference more than a few times to get “the big picture” of northeast Asia. Many of the maps found in Korean history texts don’t give much information about Korea’s neighbours and I feel like that is a shame because you really need to understand the full context of the region to make sense of Korea’s complex history.

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Introduction!

Hello, my name is Alex and this blog is the home of the Topics in Korean History Podcast. This podcast will tackle any and all topics in Korean history from ancient times through the twentieth century. This podcast is intended for an English speaking audience with no prior knowledge of Korean or East Asian history.

There are two types of episodes. Episodes marked Narrative are numbered with Roman numerals and will trace Korean history from prehistoric Korea through the twentieth century. Episodes marked Tangent are just that – they are episodes about whatever side topics I find interesting that don’t necessarily fit well into a narrative episode.