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2017
11-08

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

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The Great East Asian War and the Birth of the Korean Nation. By JaHyun Kim Haboush (William J. Haboush and Jisoo M. Kin, with Sixiang Wang, Hwisang Cho, and Ksenia Chizova-Kim, eds.) (New York, Columbia University Press, 2016) 221 pp. $60.00 cloth $59.99 e-book

The author’s family, colleagues, and former students collaborated to produce this book, which lays out the major study on which she was working before her death in 2011. Haboush analyzes texts to trace the [End Page 575] early seventeenth-century Korean “discourse of nation” produced during and after the 1592–1598 Japanese invasion and the Manchu invasions of 1627 and 1636/7. “Letters of exhortation” were first issued in 1592 by local elites, the yangban, who organized volunteers to resist the invaders when the royal army collapsed. Addressed to patriots in other villages, these letters appeal to love of native place, express pride in Korea’s cultural heritage, and voice outrage against the brutal killing, raping, and looting of the “barbarians.” Breaking the state’s monopoly on coercive violence, this spontaneous grassroots patriotic movement, sparked by national crisis, peaked in the anxious months before Ming intervention in early 1593 shifted the military balance against Japan. The desire to disseminate these messages broadly caused some writers to use the vernacular and write in the Korean alphabet, Hangul (a fifteenth-century invention), instead of in literary Chinese, the prestige language and official writing style.

Attitudes toward the Japanese invasion changed after Korea’s forcible subjugation at the hands of the Manchus. Haboush examines three early seventeenth-century narratives in the “records of dream journeys” (mongyurok) genre. Two of them focus on the unburied male dead of the 1590s. The third one focuses on the corpses of court women who committed suicide to escape capture by Manchu troops. The first uses the Japanese invasion to invoke a form of closure, praising the exploits of specifically identified “national heroes,” and the second echoes the Daoist reminder that death ends all concerns, including those of the unburied (or unburiable) dead. In the third narrative, Dream Journey to Kanghwa Island, the women’s ghosts bitterly attack the ineptitude, cowardice, and hypocrisy of the men who failed to protect their families and the state. Compared with the Manchu debacle, Korean writers could look back on the Japanese invasion with “a nostalgic halo of victory” (151).

Commemoration of the war dead in the 1590s and 1630s was the vehicle for perpetuating the national discourse into the late nineteenth century, when modern nationalism emerged in Korea. Haboush explored other elite responses to the Manchu invasions in her earlier publications (a complete list is in this book), and would probably have expanded on the post-1637 discourse had she lived. This provocative book reminds us of her signal contributions to the history of early modern Korea.

Evelyn S. Rawski
University of Pittsburgh
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作者:马光
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