06/01/2020 No. 156
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Historic interactions among China, Korea and Japan (II): A new chapter to Reading the Mirrors of History
By Cheng-li Lu Translator Sheng-Wei Wang
April 1, 2011


·10th century: wars and peace of Khitan with the Song Dynasty and Goryeo


Tang had been at war since its middle period due to military separatism. Finally roving bandits were rampant; that is to say, peasants rose up for revolution which led to the extinction of the country. During that same period, similar scenes played out on the Korean peninsula. The Silla Dynasty reached its end after going through a chaotic middle and late period. Peasant uprisings took place and finally it was replaced by the Korean Goryeo Dynasty. But China in the tenth century entered into the early part of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period that in fact was a continuation of the era of military separatism, which saw no unity. At this time the Khitan tribe had risen in north China and established the Liao state. Khitan leader Yelu A Baoji eliminated the Bohai state which was jointly established by the descendants of the Goguryeo people and the Mohe people (an ancient nationality in north China). First Emperor Wang Jian of the Goryeo Dynasty regarded Bohai as a brother state and thus resented the Khitans extremely. After the death of Yelu A Baoji, Empress Dowager (Queen Mother) Shulu Ping came to power. She sent messengers to give Wang Jian fifty camels with the intent to show good will and make peace. But Wang Jian could not overcome his resentment and raged at Khitan as a ruthless state. He ordered to abandon all those camels under the Wanfu Bridge. They were all starved to death. The Wanfu Bridge Incident worsened the relations between the two countries. After Zhao Kuangyin established the Song Dynasty, Song and Goryeo became allies; together they aimed at the same enemy Liao.


But the Song Dynasty value letters and belittle arms.  Starting from Song Emperor Taizong, each war against Liao suffered defeat. In 993, Empress Dowager Xiao of Liao who had full control of the state affairs sent eight hundred thousand troops to attack Goryeo. The attack went smoothly and Liao smashed all resistance, but halted suddenly, and surprisingly signed a peace treaty with Goryeo to agree to withdraw troops and return the land. This overjoyed the Goryeo ruler and his courtiers. Using this strategy of coercion and inducement, Khitan was able to make Goryeo betray the Song Dynasty and turn into a Khitan ally. After eleven years, Empress Dowager Xiao used the same strategy again. She joined the expedition to the south in person and signed the famous Chanyuan Alliance with Song in exchange for peace between the two countries which lasted for more than one hundred years afterwards. Khitan from then on had no worries and was able to fully expand to the pasture land beyond the Great Wall and stepped into Central Asia. It eventually built a country in the north of Asia, which was twice bigger than Song.


·13th century: interactions of the Mongols with China, Japan and Korea


Jurchen was located in the far northeast of China, namely todays Heilongjiang region. Though small in population, it rose suddenly towards the end of the eleventh century. When Wan Yan A Guda established the Jin Dynasty, his army had only a little over ten thousand soldiers, but was able to quickly eliminate in twelve years Liao and Northern Song, which together were a few tens of times larger than Jurchen. During this period, Goryeo also fought a few wars with the Jurchens and was defeated each time. Emperor Renzong of the 17th monarchy of Goryeo could not help but to surrender by accepting defeat and paid tribute to the Jin state (1126 AD). But fortunately Goryeo managed to maintain a semi-independent state, free from the rule of the Jurchens.


Subsequently in the 13th century, the Mongolian Genghis Khan rose on the Mongolian grasslands. His son Ögedei Khan exterminated the Jin Dynasty and grandson Kublai Khan eliminated the Southern Song Dynasty. Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty and placed China under Yuans direct rule. Ögedei Khan also dispatched his general Saritai to lead troops to capture the capital Kaijing of Goryeo. King Gaozhong of Goryeo could only surrender. But the ruling Cui regime decided to move the capital to the Jianghua Island, this angered the Mongols and the war continued. The Mongols carried out large-scale massacres and people inside Goryeo suffered heavy casualties; numerous inside historic ruins and temples were destroyed. Finally, the faction inside Goryeo that supported reconciliation murdered the last-term ruler of the Cui regime, who was for the war, and sent the Goryeo Prince to the Mongolian camp as hostage in order to plead peace. The Mongols agreed to sign a peace treaty (1258 AD). The next year, the Prince became the successor to the throne of Goryeo. Since then, each generation of the Goryeo king had to send his prince to Mongolia as a hostage, often married the Mongolian princess as his wife, took a Mongolian name and wore Mongolian clothes. After the death of the Goryeo king, the prince would return to his home country and became the successor to the throne. Although Goryeo became a vassal state of Mongolia, what the Mongols implemented in Goryeo was an indirect rule.


Kublai Kahn almost unified the entire Asian continent and was also ambitious by setting his sights for overseas. The envoys of Kublai Khan were ignored in Japan, since the Japanese thought their own culture was derived from the Tang and Song heritages that they felt very proud of; they regarded the Mongols as barbarians and particularly resented Mongols obliteration of the Southern Song Dynasty (of China). Finally, Kublai Kahn was at the end of his tether and in 1274 decided to attack Japan. He commanded thirty-two thousand Goryeo people, Han people and Mongols to separately take nine hundred warships from Goryeo to Japan. Unexpectedly, a typhoon suddenly struck in the middle of the night. More than half of the Yuan (Kublai Kahn established the Yuan Dynasty in China) warships sunk and the rest fled in panic back to Goryeo. Kublai Khan still did not want to give up. In 1281 he again sent an expedition fleet to Japan, which was composed of forty thousand Goryeo people, Han people and Mongols, and also embarked from Goryeo; in addition, one hundred and ten thousand surrendered soldiers of the Southern Song Dynasty embarked from Ningbo, China. Unexpectedly, another typhoon struck and instantly broke thousands of warships across the ocean. After the typhoon, the Japanese killed all the Goryeo people, Han people and Mongols, but did not kill people from the Southern Song Dynasty. Almost overnight, nearly one hundred thousand people from the Southern Song Dynasty were converted into Japanese. And the kinship between Japanese and Chinese became more intimate.


·The Wo Kou issue


The failed expeditions of Kublai Khan to Japan were already two major disasters on their own, they led to yet a serious side effect, namely the intensified activities of the Wo Kou (Wo means Woguo or Japan, Kou means bandits; Wo Kou means Japanese pirates). Wo Kou activities had already begun in the twelfth century. During the Yuanping Civil War of Japan, some defeated Japanese samurai (members of the military caste in feudal Japan), also known as Ronin, lost their Lords and became unemployed. Out of desperation, they could only take boats out to the sea and looted along the southern coast of Goryeo. But after Yuan Kou (Kublai Khans troops) twice invaded Japan, Wo Kou increased significantly; their means became increasingly sinister and their range expanded from the southern Goryeo to the entire Goryeo and the eastern waters of China. Among these new pirates, some were residents who originally lived on the Duima Island (Tsushima Island) and Pinghu Island (Hirado Island) where the Yuan Kou had landed. Because of suffering direct injury, they vowed to avenge by any means. Others were ordinary Japanese samurai who hated the invasion of the Yuan troops.


Not long after the collapse of the Hojo regime that held the executive power of the Kamakura shoguns in Japan, the Northern and Southern Dynasties (Japan) started (1336 AD). The country was more chaotic and many more Ronin joined the Wo Kou. Their looting became more rampant than ever. The Goryeo Dynasty after exhausting all its financial, material and human resources still could not solve the pirate problem and the country plunged into famine and violence. In China, Zhu Yuanzhang expelled the Mongols out of the Great Wall and established the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD). Alerted by the Wo Kou issue, Zhu Yuanzhang used the “licensed trade" as bait and conferred Ashikaga Yoshimitsu who had unified Japan as the King of Japan, then asked him to help solve the Wo Kou problem. But it still was of no avail. After Li Chenggui established a new Korean Dynasty (the Korean Yi Dynasty) in 1392, he also consulted with the Ashikagas, but still was unable to eradicate the pirate problem. The pirate issue was finally and completely resolved when the son of Li Chenggui, Emperor Taizong of Korea, Li Fangyuan, resolutely launched the Gihae Eastern Expedition (Gihae of the Chinese sexagenary cycle in this case referring to 1419) by sending seventeen thousand troops on warships to head straight to the Duima Island. They completely destroyed the Wo Kou base and renegotiated the terms of trade with the local leaders of the Duima Island.


Although the Wo Kou problem of Korea was solved, it still persisted in China. Chinas pirate issue, to be more specific, was rooted in the progenitor system formulated by the Ming Emperor Taizu (the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty). He was extremely authoritative, conservative and anti-business. He ordered that the "board not be allowed into the sea", in essence, he banned free trade; instead, the state undertook all the tasks and had the exclusive trading rights. The Ming Dynasty engaged in licensed trade with Japan, which, in principle, took place once in a decade. When Ming Admiral Zheng He took seven voyages across the western Pacific, he also engaged in licensed trade; and these were all of a special tributary trade.  Although this kind of trade could not fully meet the market demand but was able to control smuggling. But during the 2nd year of the Jiajing era of Ming Emperor Shizhong (1523 AD), the Hakata merchants supported by the local Japanese power of the Ouchis and the Osaka merchants supported by the shogun vassals of the Hosokawas broke out in serious fight at Ningbo for the licensed trade preference. Ming Emperor Shizhong unexpectedly ordered to stop the licensed trade with Japan. A new disaster started; smuggling became rampant and could not be stopped. Through annexation, the smuggling rings became the “Wo Kou of the later period,” which were even worse than the “Wo Kou of the earlier period" during the late Yuan and early Ming Dynasties. All the people in five provinces along Chinas coastal areas suffered looting. The most notable aspect was that pirates of the earlier period were entirely Japanese, while pirates of the later period, with their masterminds being actually all Chinese, included the Portuguese who came to the Orient and a minority number of Japanese pirates who basically were employed.


Ming Emperor Shizhong reigned for forty five years, during which the pirates were always active. Despite the full efforts of famous generals like Yu Dayou and Qi Jiguang, the pirates could not be eliminated. After Ming Emperor Shizhong died, Emperor Muzhong succeeded to the throne and put Zhang Juzheng in an important position. Zhang proposed to abolish the ban on maritime trade and the Wo Kou disappeared immediately. We can see how a wrong national policy rooted in a wrong progenitor system could inflict serious damage to the country and its people. This is a clear example.


·Late 16th century: wars and peace in Korea between Japan and the Ming Dynasty


The Warring States period of Japan started with the Onin War (1467 AD) between factions of the Ashikaga shoguns. Local military forces thronged into the capital Kyoto and caused the outbreak of a civil war which lasted seven years but ended inconclusively. The Ashikagas of the Muromachi shogunate lost prestige; subsequently the three warlords Mitsuo Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu of the Warring States rose to power one after the other. In fact, in the period of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Japan was already unified. Although Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born poor, lowly and with a wretched appearance, his ambition was huge. After the reunification of Japan, he decided to dispatch troops to Korea and openly challenged the Ming Dynasty. In 1592, Hideyoshi sent major generals including Konishi Yukinaga and Kato Kiyomasa to lead one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers across the sea for an eastern expedition. The Ming Dynasty was the suzerain state of Korea. So, Ming Emperor Shenzhong also sent his famous general Li Rusong to lead troops to Korea for support. The Chinese and Japanese land armies were evenly matched; the outcome of the war was finally determined by the sea battle. Korean chief navy coach Admiral Li Shunchen (Yi Sun-sin) was the new factor changing the situation. With his invented "turtle ships", his troops sank Japanese warships by winning four times in four wars. Toyotomi Hideyoshi had to accept the recommendation of a peace negotiation and recalled his army.


But the peace talks between the two sides hit the rock. Japan once again sent troops in 1597 and the Ming troops rushed to Korea to rescue it once again. However, the troops faced more defeats than victories. In the sea battles, the Japanese initially won and then were defeated; the key was still Li Shunchen. Originally, Li Shunchen was imprisoned and banished to become a civilian after the first war with Japan due to serious internal party struggles in Korea. But because the Korean navy was totally annihilated by the Japanese navy, the court had to reinstate his position. Li Shunchen rebuilt the Korean navy and cooperated with the Ming navy general Chen Lin; together they defeated the Japanese navy again and regained control of the sea. At that moment, Hideyoshi suddenly died. He left a testament to withdraw troops from Korea. However, the national hero Li Shunchen, who saved Korea, was unfortunately shot and killed during the process of blocking the withdrawal of the Japanese troops.


The Japanese army twice reached Korea during the war time and the retreating period. They burned, killed and plundered, even the elderly, the infirm, the children, the women and the innocent people were not exempt from the atrocities. They were extremely cruel and left a very bad impression in the hearts of the Korean people, which has been indelible ever since.


·Early 17th century: interactions of Korea with the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty


During the late sixteenth century, Jurchen rose for the second time in northeast China; precisely speaking, this was an uprising of the Jurchens forced out by the harsh local Ming officials. In order to exact revenge for his ancestors, Nurhaci of Jurchen mustered the remnants of the troops with thirteen sets of armors left by his ancestors. After more than thirty years of struggle, he called himself Khan and openly declared war on the Ming Dynasty. Ming dispatched general Yang Gao to lead troops to Liaodong to battle against Nurhachi and also asked Korea to send troops to help out. The Koreans and the Jurchens had a standoff in front of the Yalu River; each thought that the existence of the other would restrict the expansion of their own and was deeply hostile to each other. But twenty years before, Yang Gao led the Ming troops to fight against the Japanese army at Ulsan in Korea and when was surrounded, he actually fled without a fight. The Korean people knew it all and looked down upon Yang Gao. It was unbelievable that such a kind of general was not even punished and still be ordered to lead troops. The Korean people were not optimistic about the Ming army. King Guanghaijun of Korea instructed his chief general to act as the situation demanded. Yang Gao indeed was defeated. The Korean people immediately made peace with Nurhachi and took a neutral position.


The internal party struggles also affected the political line of Korea and later a coup took place. The victorious Tutsi Party separately established a new King Injo of Korea and immediately changed the foreign policy by allying itself with the Ming Dynasty to combat the post-Jin Dynasty of the Jurchens. Nurhacis son Huang Taiji led in person thirty thousand soldiers and crossed the Yalu River. With the North People Party who failed in the previous domestic party struggles as counselors and guides, the troops reached Pyongyang. Korea was forced to seek peace. The two sides signed an agreement to become states of brotherhood with each other.


Huang Taiji later conquered Mongolia and his attitude towards Korea turned harsh. He demanded the relationship with Korea change from brotherhood to a relationship between a ruler and his courtier. The Korean hawks were the majority and they decided to take no insult. Huang Taiji then personally led one hundred thousand soldiers. They crossed the Yalu River again with irresistible force and captured the Korean capital Seoul. The Korean King Injo was helpless and had to sign a treaty under coercion to become Huang Taijis subject and agreed to sever relations with the Ming Dynasty (1637 AD). This was only seven years before Jurchen conquered China and established the Qing Dynasty. The relationship of Korea toward the Qing Dynasty as its suzerain state was established at this time and was not changed for more than two hundred years.


·Relations among modern China, Japan and South Korea


Towards the end of the 15th century, Christopher Columbus discovered the American continent during his voyages; Vasco da Gama also doubled the Cape of Good Hope and the southern tip of Africa by boat, and reached India. These two major events marked the arrival of the era of sea power. Starting from the beginning of the 16th century, the western countries already reached the Orient; and from the middle of the 19th century onwards, through "guns and boats" they brought unprecedented threats to the Orient. Facing this crisis, China, Japan and Korea responded totally differently in their directions and speeds. China refused to adjust with the changes in the outside world; gradually it sank, fell prey to the western countries and allowed itself to be trampled upon. Japan struggled for a short time between the two routes of opening the door and resisting the foreigners and finally decided to rapidly learn to adapt to changes in the outside world. It ended the shogunate, developed the Meiji Restoration and rose suddenly into a strong new power in East Asia. But Japans ambition of expansion began to rise. It also joined the western nations to launch aggression against its neighbors. So China and Korea, which also refused to change, both became victims of the development of Japanese militarism. As a result, there were the first Sino-Japanese War, the Treaty of Shimonoseki (between China and Japan), the Russo-Japanese War, Korea being forced to open the door and the Gapsin Coup (in the late Joseon Dynasty of Korea; "gapsin" refers, in the traditional sexagenary cycle system of dating, to the year 1884). Taiwan was ceded by the Qing Dynasty to Japan in 1905 and Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910; each became a colony of Japan. And only in 1945, when Japan lost the Pacific war (between Japan and the US) and surrendered, did they become free from Japans rule. Most readers are familiar with this part of modern history and I will not describe it in detail here.


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Cheng-li Lu was born in 1950 in Da Shi, a small town of Taoyuan County, Taiwan. He graduated from the Department of Chemistry of Tsinghua University in Hsinchu and received both BS and MS degrees. He then spent 23 years in the chemical industry, of which 18 years were with the ICI Group, a multi-national conglomerate and the biggest foreign chemical group in Taiwan, which has six major local manufacturing operations. Before he left ICI in 1998, he was the general manager of ICI Taiwan Ltd. and the managing director of ICI China Ltd. Lu then became a consultant to several Taiwanese companies until 2003 when he established his own company, the INSIGHTS Consulting Inc., which focuses on providing services of business development, management of changes, organizational re-structuring, etc. to client companies. His clients are mostly in the manufacturing business, including chemicals, materials, opto-electronics, display devices, IC designs, medical devices, new generation energy technology, etc. Throughout his career so far, Lu has been mainly responsible for or deeply involved in establishing at least 8 new companies. Mr. Lu is currently the chairman of the Alumni Association of the Chemistry Department, Tsinghua University. Reading the Mirrors of History is his first book about history, which has won the 2011 Taipei International Book Fair Award.
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