(Translation) 陳時務箚

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Introduction

“Risky and Urgent”: An Annotated Translation of Ryu Seong-ryong’s 柳成龍(1542-1607) “A Memorial Discussing the Crucial Tasks of the Moment” (陳時務箚)

Written by Jaeyoon Song (McMaster University)


Ryu Seong-ryong was a prolific memorial (zhouyi 奏議) writer. Throughout his long career as a highest-ranking minister of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), Ryu Seong-ryong had left more than five hundred memorials. Each of memorial offers a precious window into the official decision-making processes in the innermost circle of the royal court. To understand the roles and responsibilities Ryu Seong-ryong assumed as a wartime premier, we should carefully read his memorials and interpret their implications in historical context. In this article, I will provide an English translation of one of the memorials Ryu drafted in the eleventh month of 1592, seven months after the outbreak of the Imjin War (1592-1598). At the time, the Joseon court moved to Jeongju 定州 in refuge, more than three hundred kilometers away from the royal palace in the capital. Starting from the sixth month of 1592, Ryu was placed in charge of receiving the Ming troops. To facilitate the entry of the Ming troops to the Korean peninsula, Ryu had regularly made his rounds to the Jeongju and Anju regions in Pyeongan Province. Therefore, it would be safe to assume that Ryu Seong-ryong obtain the first-hand knowledge of those areas in question. What can we learn from this memorial drafted by Ryu in the early phase of the Imjin War? Before attempting an answer to this question, let us think about the significant place of memorial in East Asian history in general.

Memorials as State Documents in East Asian History

In traditional East Asia, statesmen and scholars routinely composed memorials (zhouyi 奏議) and submitted them to the highest authority of their countries, emperors in China or kings in Korea or Vietnam, through the official channels of bureaucratic communication. Those who wrote memorials could be ministers, administrators, scholars, educators, local literati, and even commoners. Memorials could be of many different types and in diverse forms. All these memorials have one thing in common: without an exception, the addressor of a memorial is “this minister (chen 臣)” or “your minister” and the addressee, their sovereign on top.

In memorials, the writers would generally point out chronic problems or urgent issues in government, inquire into those problems, suggest institutional alternatives, construct rational arguments in favor of their policy proposals, etc. By writing memorials, traditional intellectuals could participate in the process of building, remedying, and restructuring the basic institutions of the state. Sometimes they would also construct highly argumentative essays on purely academic, ethical, philosophical, or even cosmological questions with reference to the Confucian Classics. For such reasons, memorials could be considered the most serious, carefully written, and solemn statements Confucian literati could make in their lifetimes on the most urgent and significant issues of government. Sometimes they were called upon by the state to submit their ideas on a particular issue; sometimes they chose voluntarily to express their visions and propose their plans for the state. Formally, as noted above, the ultimate audience of memorials was the sovereign of the state; however, both in Chinese and Korean dynasties, contemporary memorials were also open to the public: they were not only circulated but also studied in-depth by the literati themselves. Obviously for this reason, a set of memorials often had the pride of place at the very beginning of their literary collections. The official histories of the traditional state in East Asia, especially the dynastic chronicles (biannian 編年), generally present a series of memorials and official responses by the sovereign and his ministers at the court. The memorials recorded were generally submitted by ministers, field administrators, and renowned scholars. Through the writing of memorials, the elite could propose their policy plans and institutional alternatives; they could thereby participate in the decision-making processes of the court. In other words, they were the institution-builders of their own states, and they influenced court politics through the means of memorial-writing.

Ma Duanlin’s 馬端臨 (ca. 1254-1323) Comprehensive Survey of Literary Remains (Wenxin tongkao 文獻通考) was one of the most important sources showing cumulative debates on state institutions throughout history down to the late Southern Song (1127-1279). This work is no more than a topically arranged systematic compilation of cumulative memorials drafted and proposed by statesmen and scholars, often ending with Ma Duanlin’s own comments on each topic. Ma Duanlin presents the long continuous process of institution-building throughout the successive dynasties in Chinese history through the prism of memorials. In this picture, statesmen and scholars who bothered to compose memorials on state institutions such as land taxes, personnel recruitment, civil examinations, assessment, monetary policy, etc., were the heroes of history because their writings made possible the institutional evolution of the state.

In Korean history, we can find another good example showing how the genre of memorial was used by a scholar for articulation of his grand political visions: though not emphasized in recent scholarship, we should not forget that Jeong Yak-yong’s 丁若鏞 (1762-1836) magnum opus, Gyeongse yupyo 經世遺表 was a systematically arranged set of memorials he had composed with the king as the ultimate audience in mind. “Yupyo” here literally means the last memorials of a minister. With the urgency of uttering the last words on earth, Jeong Yak-yong wrote a series of memorials calling on the king to initiate a fundamental reformation of state institutions.


Ryu Seong-ryong’s Call for State-Making in War “A Memorial Discussing the Crucial Tasks of the Moment” was written in refuge by one of the highest-ranking ministers who had witnessed the total collapse of order. It is a striking example showing how court decisions were made at an extreme moment of crisis. At the time, the sweeping invasion of the country by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s (豊臣秀吉, 1537-1598) troops “had completely depleted the energy of the state organization and the populace alike from Sun’an to Yongcheon,” according to Ryu Seong-ryong. The two urgent things undermining the state’s power to fight the war were the loss of grains to the Japanese troops and the moral hazards of the Joseon troops. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Ryu Seong-ryong called on the king to do three things at once: to explain the situation to the Ming generals, to procure military provisions for their troops, and, most importantly, to appease the minds of the people struggling for survival during the devastating war.

Based on a close observation of the local social-economic conditions, Ryu Seong-ryong proposes to abolish all the ill-conceived practices of the government. He argues that the most important task for the court in war was to muster popular support for the dynasty. The chronic problems of the Joseon state, which had been hidden from view in times of peace, erupted all at once when hard hit by the war. Oddly enough, even those who fought and captured alive the enemies were sometimes imprisoned because of the discrepancy in the number of captives reported. Without abolishing the impractical customs of the Joseon state, Ryu Seong-ryong laments, the dynastic altar could not be protected. In this memorial, we can see that Ryu Seong-ryong follows the long-standing tradition of memorial writings: he diagnoses the root causes of the Joseon state in war based on a close survey of the real conditions of society, analyzes the reasons for the rampancy of ill-conceived practices, and proposes the hands-on solutions for those problems.

Ryu Seong-ryong proposes that the king should win “the people’s hearts (insim 人心)” through the official recognition of their heroic behaviors and contributions. “The people’s hearts,” employed by Ryu, does not simply mean the popular sentiment of the time, but their sense of belonging to the state and their loyalty toward the dynasty. How the state conceived of them did not matter as much as how they thought of the state.

As is generally known, a large number of people in the Korean peninsula at the time were not the legitimate members of the Josen state. This was the period in which 30-40 % of the whole population were registered as nobi 奴婢 (slaves) of Yangban families. In other words, they were treated as properties or chattels of other people; through the lawful transactions certified by the state, slaves could be purchased, bartered, inherited, and yielded. In world historical perspective, Joseon slavery was of the worst form of deterior conducio: according this principle, when either of the parents is a slave, a child inherits the slave status. By gaining “the people’s hearts,” Ryu Seong-ryong suggests that the state should recognize those people in bondage not as properties of other people but as the legitimate population of the state. Although he does not go so far as to call for the abolition of the nobi system itself, Ryu considers it necessary to enroll the unregistered population such as a large group of hunters living in the mountains in Gangwon Province as the people of the Josen state. In war with the Japanese troops, Ryu Seong-ryong found it inevitable to expediate the process of state-making. In this light, this memorial in question is an invaluable source that shows not only the real conditions of people living in Joseon society, but also the level of statehood achieved at the time. Without further ado, let us venture into the wartime archipelago of the late fifteen century Joseon state, as described by the hands of a most skilled memorial writer based on a close observation of the most destructive war in the whole of Korean history up to that point.

Original Script

Classical Chinese English

1-1. [豊原府院君臣, 伏以]今日事勢。已到十分危迫。無復着手處。惟日望唐兵。而遷延不來。已迫歲暮。夫我國爲中國致忠。亦已至矣。今此受禍。亦惟中國之故。而中國不急相救。以階天下之亂。使中國有人。謀事必不如此矣。


1-2. 今自順安至龍川。竭公私之儲積。聚糧料幾數萬餘石。惟恐一朝倭兵猝下而更爲餌賊。况我軍之坐食者。日費甚廣。男負女戴。連絡道路。而一道事力。無復有毫髮之餘。若此之勢。其可遷延乎。


1-3. 臣故願以此等事情。明白說與唐將。得其決語。而指揮羣帥。以一軍情。使無遷延等待之意。爲死中求生之計可也。


1-4. 且臣又有所達。國事危急至此。所賴而有萬一之望者。人心也。人心若解。則益無可爲。


1-5. 凡軍功爵賞及免賤免役等事。皆爲畫一之規。有司卽日施行。以應古人賞不踰時之義。又軍民之捕賊所獲者。勿論多少。雖金玉錦繡牛馬。卽與捕賊之人。官不得推。人不得奪。愚民知一身之利在於殺賊。爭起射賊。則賊勢庶幾少衰矣。


1-6. 竊聞方伯之臣。或有捕賊所得者。如常時賊贓之例。必令上使。若不滿元報之數。則囚次知督徵。民或以己物代之。故傳相戒勑。不復捕賊云。臣願速爲下諭諸邑如向所陳。定爲恒式可也。


1-7. 江原一道。介於慶尙,咸鏡二道之間。山林險澁。而道中軍丁雖不甚多。山峒之間。射獵爲生。名爲山尺者。其數不少。若能以重賞購集。優恤其妻屬。而散處伏兵。或晝或夜。出沒勦捕。則賊兵之往來北路者。首尾斷絶。而東南形勢。可以相通矣。


1-8. 京城收復之勢。臣意亦當分爲三道。楊州,抱川,積城,永平,加平等邑之軍。則屬於一將。如高彦伯者。遮蔽東方。


1-9. 喬桐,江華,高陽,交河等邑之軍。又屬於一將。遮蔽西方。漢江以南廣州,果川,水原等諸邑之軍。又屬於一將。遮蔽南面。


1-10. 三面合勢。迭爲掎角。賊少則分兵設伏。賊多則合兵攻勦。又使重臣通行節制。義兵官軍不相渙散。進退遲速。不爲異同。然後形勢壯盛而賊始可圖也。


1-11. 仍使江原道軍。與東面之軍合。江華義兵與西面之軍合。忠淸全羅之軍與南面之軍合。或引其前。或推其後。相機乘便。齊心一力。四方雲合。賊如罝中之兔。


1-12.而京城之中。亦必有內應相屠者矣。今聞諸處義兵。各戀鄕里。各自屯聚。惟日捕數三零賊。


1-13. 騰書告捷。而未嘗一犯大賊。且官軍與義兵。判爲二物。進不同進。敗不相救。以此聲勢孤弱。日就散亡。終無滅賊之期。


2-1. 昔唐時起義之人如巡,遠之類。固將聽其節制於李,郭無疑。豈義兵自爲義兵。官軍自爲官軍乎。今時患無李,郭耳。然其渙散難合之勢。不可以不爲之區處也。自生變以來。無一死難之臣。皆以奔竄爲得計。甚者聚道內精兵。


2-2. 自衛其身。纔聞賊報。遠遠逃避。[勁兵猛士, 召集牙下, 閒坐無事之地, 扼腕歎息]. 此亦急急戒勅, 而賞罰加焉。然後人心庶可肅厲也。慶尙道爲賊兵淵藪。聞"其處人心。頗奮厲討賊。而只年穀大無。軍糧民食。蕩然無餘。"


2-3. 若慶尙左道潰。則右道不可保。右道潰則湖南不可保。湖南潰則忠淸道次第受兵。而八方無一寸乾淨地矣。今年全羅道頗稔。願令湖南之粟。次次輸賑於嶺南右道。且與左道相資。又別設募粟之官。急急區處。以救塡壑之急。然後南方庶可保矣。


2-4. 四方邊報應酬之事。一刻急於一刻。昔秦時。報事之人留司馬門三日。而識者知秦之亡。臣願今日邊報。亦劃卽施行。不出一二日。日不足則繼之以夜可也。且賊剽悍輕生。善於突鬪。鐵丸槍劍。皆爲利器。我軍不能當。而四方主兵之人。


2-5. 不能因勢利導。每聚烏合之卒。以多爲貴。約日徐趨。而瞭望不審。斥候不遠。賊之間諜甚多。耳目四布。我之動靜。彼皆先知。故我軍每戰每敗。 臣之愚意。當精抄銳軍。混其服色。自相誌別。散布遠近。潛相約束。或晝或夜。出沒無定。隨其所遇而輒爲攻勦。又不定處所。


2-6. 使賊莫測多少。如京城四面數十里之內。無不如此。至於城內。亦設計焚刦。使賊騷然。晝夜不得休息。則不過十餘日而賊氣大挫矣。計不出此。如江華義兵官軍。入處海中。虛費糧餉。而已成老師。以至歲暮。曾不得出一步與之廝殺。


2-7. 此乃避亂之兵。非恢復之計。且崔遠之軍。身負藁草。面無人色。累月飢凍。僵屍相望。如遠庸劣。固不可望其有爲。而朝廷亦不區處。使無辜之兵。自至澌盡而莫之顧恤。四方傳聞。豈有更以勤王爲心。


2-8. 且京城之賊。亦必有聞而笑侮者。臣竊痛焉。前聞全羅監司權慄亦屯兵牙山已久。聞水原有賊。不能前進。近聞移師向西。監司以主道之官。離任遠來。固亦非計。然旣爲上來。亦當如臣所陳先抄精兵。分配猛將。勦殺京城之賊。以壯軍聲。則亦勤王之一助也。而似與前日擧措。無大相遠。此不知形勢與兵事之過也。


2-9. 臣觀諸將中惟高彦伯頗有爲國之心。且有心計。而權任不重。所掌只楊州一邑之軍。故終無所成矣。今武將中已在高位者。多惜身占便。不肯爲國任事。惟當勿拘常規。如古人所謂拔卒爲將。若洪季男者。旣爲堂上。亦借助防將之號。使之合力擊賊。恐無不可也。賊與我民雜處城中。幾與相忘。


2-10. 此勢可乘。若能設計。乘夜勦擊。內外相應。數郡俱發。則如咸興巢穴所在。可以蕩覆。而枝葉次第可平。今不能然。先捕零賊。使賊知而預爲之備。而各處官軍。相環坐視。不爲力戰。殊可痛也。


2-11.且臣聞宋言愼自入南道。民聞巡察使之至。遠近俱集。其數甚多。不久以罪遞免。道內民心。無所係屬。相與號呼涕泣。至於旬日然後乃散云。言愼處事能否。臣不能知。但北路之民。久淪賊中。一聞朝廷之官在境。其勢將合。而遽卽遞罷。又無代之者。雖有防禦等官。名位不重。不足以鎭壓民心。臣竊歎焉。


2-12. 言愼前在熙川。遲徊累月。固不無其罪。然其遞免。當在於遲留熙川之時。不當在於已在其道之後。時難得而易失。事易去而難追。得失之幾。相去日遠。此等處置。朝廷十分量察。毋失機會。此又臣之所望也。


2-13. 臣以無狀。曾忝大臣。使國事至此。萬死無惜。今之所陳瞽說。俱不合宜。朝廷必已施行。而臣未及聞知。但觀時事。一日危於一日。摧心切骨。日夜流涕。零碎者不及盡。陳謹撮其大槩。仰備採擇。區區之忱。伏希少加憐察。取進止(則如咸興。一本作如咸興則。)


<A new translation by Jaeyoon Song>


1-1. [The Great Lord of Pungwon, your Minister humbly considers] the state-of-affairs today has already become extremely dangerous and urgent. There is nothing more we can do. Every day we look towards the Ming Army [lit. Tang troops], but they procrastinate and do not come. The year is coming closer to the end. Our country has expressed the utmost loyalty toward the Central Country. The reason why we had to undergo this catastrophe is partly because of the Central Country. The Central Country does not swiftly come to our rescue; as a result, it intensifies the chaos of the world. If there are [talented] people in the Central Country who can cope with these matters, things would not have become like this for sure. [豊原府院君臣, 伏以]今日事勢, 已到十分危迫, 無復着手處. 惟日望唐兵, 而遷延不來, 已迫歲暮. 夫我國爲中國致忠, 亦已至矣. 今此受禍, 亦惟中國之故, 而中國不急相救, 以階天下之亂, 使中國有人, 謀事必不如此矣。

1-2. Now from the Sunan to Yongcheon regions, tens of thousand seok of grains collected in both official and private coffers have been all but depleted. This minister is afraid that the Japanese invaders will attack us and take all our grains overnight. Needlessly to say that our troops just sit and eat up an enormous amount of grain every day. Although men carrying [military provisions] on their backs and women on their heads line up in the streets, in this one province only, not even a modicum of power is left. In these circumstances, how can they [the Ming army] procrastinate anymore? 今自順安至龍川, 竭公私之儲積, 聚糧料幾數萬餘石, 惟恐一朝倭兵猝下而更爲餌賊, 况我軍之坐食者, 日費甚廣, 男負女戴, 連絡道路, 而一道事力, 無復有毫髮之餘, 若此之勢, 其可遷延乎.

1-3. Therefore, I wish I could clarify this situation to the Ming general and obtain his words of determination that he should supervise the group of officials under his command to oversee the military conditions without delay. Likewise, the strategy of saving lives from death would be made possible. 臣故願以此等事情, 明白說與唐將, 得其決語, 而指揮羣帥, 以一軍情, 使無遷延等待之意, 爲死中求生之計可也.

1-4. Moreover, this minister has some other words to say. The conditions of the state are now so risky and urgent as this situation. The only thing we can rely upon and hope for is the people’s hearts. If people's hearts are dissipated, then nothing could be done. 且臣又有所達, 國事危急至此, 所賴而有萬一之望者, 人心也. 人心若解, 則益無可爲.

1-5. In general, we should unify the rules of conferring official titles for and awarding the meritorious acts of war as well as elevating the social status of the base and exempting military service obligations. The government officials in charge should immediately implement such rules in accordance with the ancient saying: “Awards should be given at the right time.” Military or civilian, whoever catches enemies, regardless of the number of prisoners captured, should be rewarded profusely with gold, jade, silk, and livestock. If officials cannot treat them roughly, and other people cannot take their shares, the common people will realize that it will be profitable for them to kill the enemies. They will rise up in hurry and shoot the enemies. Then the enemies should decline and perish. 凡軍功爵賞及免賤免役等事, 皆爲畫一之規, 有司卽日施行, 以應古人賞不踰時之義, 又軍民之捕賊所獲者, 勿論多少, 雖金玉錦繡牛馬, 卽與捕賊之人, 官不得推, 人不得奪, 愚民知一身之利在於殺賊, 爭起射賊, 則賊勢庶幾少衰矣.

1-6. This minister has heard that some provincial governors order that the bandits captured be sent to the higher authority in accordance with the peacetime regulation of banditry and theft. If the number of the bandits does not meet the original number reported, then those in charge will be put to jail and extorted. Sometimes people are forced to pay with their own properties. For this reason, people spread the words of caution amongst themselves not to catch the bandits anymore. This minister implores your majesty to accept this minister’s proposal and send your instruction below to all locals, and let it be established as a permanent rule. 竊聞方伯之臣, 或有捕賊所得者, 如常時賊贓之例, 必令上使, 若不滿元報之數, 則囚次知督徵, 民或以己物代之, 故傳相戒勑, 不復捕賊云. 臣願速爲下諭諸邑如向所陳, 定爲恒式可也.

1-7. Gangwon Province is located between Gyeongsang and Hamgyeong Provinces. Its forests are deep and wild. Although Gangwon Province does not have many soldiers, there is not a small number of highlanders who make a living by shooting games in the deep of the mountains. If we could recruit them with a profuse amount of award and benignly relieve their families, they could be scattered in many places, lying in ambush day and night, and furtively catch the enemies off-guard. Then the northern routes where the enemies come and go would be severed from head to tail, and the conditions of the southern and eastern regions could be mutually linked. 江原一道, 介於慶尙,咸鏡二道之間. 山林險澁, 而道中軍丁雖不甚多. 山峒之間, 射獵爲生, 名爲山尺者, 其數不少. 若能以重賞購集, 優恤其妻屬, 而散處伏兵. 或晝或夜, 出沒勦捕, 則賊兵之往來北路者, 首尾斷絶, 而東南形勢, 可以相通矣。

1-8. This minister thinks that the military forces for retrieval of the capital should be divided into three routes. The troops of Yangju, Pocheon, Jeokseon, Yongpyeong, Gapyeong and other counties would be under the command of one general. Like General Go Eonbaek, they will block the eastern frontiers. 京城收復之勢, 臣意亦當分爲三道. 楊州,抱川,積城,永平,加平等邑之軍, 則屬於一將,如高彦伯者, 遮蔽東方.

1-9. The military garrisons in Gyodong, Ganghwa, Goyang, Gyoha, and others should also under the command of one general so that they can surround and guard [the capital] from four different directions. The military garrisons to the south of the Han River such as Gwangju, Gwachoen, Suwoen and other places should also be under the command of one general so that they can block [the roads] from the south. 喬桐,江華,高陽,交河等邑之軍, 又屬於一將, 遮蔽西方. 漢江以南廣州,果川,水原等諸邑之軍, 又屬於一將, 遮蔽南面.

1-10. These troops of the three regions should be merged to subdue the enemies in alternation. When the number of the bandits is small, we should divide the troops and have some lie in ambush. When they are in large numbers, we should fight with all our troops in unison. Moreover, the high-ranking officials should routinely patrol and inspect the situation so that the righteous army [private militia] and the official troops would not dissipate in conflict with each other. Whether they advance or retreat, they would be united as one. Only by then, the conditions of our troops would be vibrant and magnificent, and we should defeat the enemies.

三面合勢, 迭爲掎角. 賊少則分兵設伏, 賊多則合兵攻勦. 又使重臣通行節制, 義兵官軍不相渙散, 進退遲速, 不爲異同. 然後形勢壯盛而賊始可圖也.

1-11. Thereafter, we should merge the Gangwon troops with the eastern troops, join the Ganghwa troops with the western troops, and unite the Chungcheong troops with the southern troops. Sometimes pulling from the front and sometimes pushing from the back, they could observe circumstances and take opportunities together, making efforts with one united mind. Like the clouds gathering togethers, our troops will converge from all directions. Then the enemies will be like a rabbit caught in a snare.

仍使江原道軍, 與東面之軍合. 江華義兵與西面之軍合. 忠淸全羅之軍與南面之軍合. 或引其前, 或推其後, 相機乘便, 齊心一力. 四方雲合, 賊如罝中之兔.


1-12. And within the capital, there must also those who communicate secretly with the enemies and butcher our troops. This minister has heard that the righteous troops in various areas all love their home places and form their own garrisons in separation. Each day they can at best capture two to three scattered bandits. 而京城之中, 亦必有內應相屠者矣. 今聞諸處義兵, 各戀鄕里, 各自屯聚, 惟日捕數三零賊.

1-13. They write in excitement and report on their victories, but they have never confronted the bandits in large numbers. In addition, the government troops and the righteous army are visibly distinct from each other. When they advance, they do not advance in coordination; when one side is defeated, they do not come to each other’s rescue. For such reasons, their conditions are isolated and weak. Day by day, they get dissipated. In the end, there is no guarantee that we can annihilate the bandits. 騰書告捷, 而未嘗一犯大賊, 且官軍與義兵, 判爲二物. 進不同進, 敗不相救, 以此聲勢孤弱, 日就散亡, 終無滅賊之期.

2-1. In the past, during the Tang dynasty, there were those like Xun [3] and Yuan [4] who righteously rebelled, but they were undoubtedly under the control of Li [5] and Guo [6]. How could the righteous troops be righteous by themselves? How the government troops be government troops by themselves? The problem today is none other than the fact that we have neither Li nor Guo. Yet we cannot but cope with the conditions under which they dissipate and failed to unite. Since the outbreak of the war, not a single minister has died a martyr. All think of fleeing as a good strategy; what is worse, the elite forces of the provinces are assembled in their command. 昔唐時起義之人如巡,遠之類, 固將聽其節制於李,郭無疑. 豈義兵自爲義兵, 官軍自爲官軍乎. 今時患無李,郭耳. 然其渙散難合之勢, 不可以不爲之區處也. 自生變以來, 無一死難之臣, 皆以奔竄爲得計, 甚者聚道內精兵.

2-2. They only care for their own bodies. As soon as they get wind of the enemies approaching, they run off to a remote place. [Those strong and courageous soldiers who have gathered under the general's command just sit around doing nothing but lamenting with their two arms folded.] We should guard against this immediately. Only when award and punishment are properly applied, could the people’s hearts be sharpened and whetted. Enemies are swarming in Gyongsang Province. The people’s hearts in that region are known to be so stout and sharp as to defeat the enemies. Due to the bad harvest of the year, grains for soldiers and civilians are woefully insufficient. 自衛其身, 纔聞賊報。遠遠逃避。[勁兵猛士, 召集牙下, 閒坐無事之地, 扼腕歎息]. 此亦急急戒勅, 而賞罰加焉, 然後人心庶可肅厲也. 慶尙道爲賊兵淵藪. 聞其處人心, 頗奮厲討賊, 而只年穀大無, 軍糧民食, 蕩然無餘.

2-3. If the eastern half of Gyeongsang Province collapses, then the western half cannot sustain itself. If the western half of Geongsang Province falls, then the Honam region cannot be protected. If the Honam region collapses, then Chungcheong Province is subsequently be invaded, and there will be no single inch of land uninvaded in the Eight Provinces. Thankfully, Jeolla Province had a good harvest this year. [This Minister] wishes that the crops of the Honan region be gradually transported to the western side of the Yeongnam region for relief, and eventually relieve the eastern half of the Yeongnam region. In addition, by appointing special officials whose duties are to collect grains, we should cope with the situation to salvage those in the critical conditions. Only by then could the south be protected. 若慶尙左道潰, 則右道不可保. 右道潰則湖南不可保, 湖南潰則忠淸道次第受兵, 而八方無一寸乾淨地矣. 今年全羅道頗稔, 願令湖南之粟, 次次輸賑於嶺南右道, 且與左道相資. 又別設募粟之官, 急急區處, 以救塡壑之急, 然後南方庶可保矣.

2-4. Reports from the front lines are getting more urgent minute by minute. In the ancient Qin (221 BC- AD 206), a reporter had to wait at the Sima Gate for three days. Just by this new, some prescient people could foresee the imminent collapse of the Qin. Upon the arrival of the frontier news, we should immediately take action in response. The whole process should not take more than a day or two. If the daytime is not enough, we should work into the night. Moreover, the bandits are fierce, aggressive, and cruel. They are good at surprise attack. They use iron cannons, lances, and swords, which are all sharp weapons. Our troops cannot match them. 四方邊報應酬之事, 一刻急於一刻. 昔秦時, 報事之人留司馬門三日, 而識者知秦之亡. 臣願今日邊報, 亦劃卽施行, 不出一二日, 日不足則繼之以夜可也. 且賊剽悍輕生, 善於突鬪, 鐵丸槍劍, 皆爲利器, 我軍不能當.

2-5. Moreover, the commanders of all different regions are unable to lead according to the conditions of time. They never fail to assemble disorderly mobs, just thinking the more the better. They proceed slowly all day long without closely observing the enemies or further investigating their movements. The spies of the enemies are quite numerous. Their ears and eyes are all over in the four directions. The enemies figure out our movements in advance. As a result, we always get defeated by the enemies. In my humble opinion, we should select our best troops, have them wear the enemy’s clothes but be able detect one another. We should send them all over the country, far and near. Following the secret plans, they could irregularly appear and disappear, sometimes in daylight and sometimes in the dead of night; wherever they meet the enemies, they can suddenly attack them at any random places. 而四方主兵之人, 不能因勢利導, 每聚烏合之卒, 以多爲貴, 約日徐趨, 而瞭望不審, 斥候不遠, 賊之間諜甚多, 耳目四布. 我之動靜, 彼皆先知, 故我軍每戰每敗. 臣之愚意, 當精抄銳軍, 混其服色, 自相誌別, 散布遠近, 潛相約束, 或晝或夜, 出沒無定, 隨其所遇而輒爲攻勦, 又不定處所.

2-6. Then the enemies would not be able to estimate the number of our troops. If the areas several tens of li from the capital city in the four directions were all like this, and we make plans to burn and loot the capital city [occupied by the enemies], the enemies would be greatly disturbed without a moment of rest. In less than ten days, the morale of the enemies would be seriously damaged. Our plan should not go beyond this. If the righteous army combined with the official troops of the Ganghua Island go into the ocean, they would squander the provisions; as they are already aged troops, by the end of the year, they would not able to take one step out of the island and fight the enemies. 使賊莫測多少, 如京城四面數十里之內, 無不如此, 至於城內, 亦設計焚刦, 使賊騷然, 晝夜不得休息, 則不過十餘日而賊氣大挫矣. 計不出此. 如江華義兵官軍, 入處海中, 虛費糧餉, 而已成老師, 以至歲暮, 曾不得出一步與之廝殺.

2-7. This was the fleeing troops, and it was not the right strategy of restoration. Moreover, as to the troops under the command of Choi Won 崔遠 (active 1580-1600), they were carrying haystacks [to feed the horses]. As they have starved and shivered with cold for months, their faces have lost vitality. Like the frozen corpses they looked at one another. As Choi Won was mediocre and incompetent, the soldiers could not expect him to do anything. And the court also did not take any measures, causing the innocent soldiers to die off without taking care of or relieving one another. With the word of mouth, the news was spread all over. So how could they have the will to be loyal to the king? 此乃避亂之兵, 非恢復之計. 且崔遠之軍, 身負藁草, 面無人色, 累月飢凍, 僵屍相望, 如遠庸劣, 固不可望其有爲, 而朝廷亦不區處, 使無辜之兵. 自至澌盡而莫之顧恤, 四方傳聞, 豈有更以勤王爲心.

2-8. Moreover, the enemies at the capital must also have heard this news and scoffed at it. This minister is deeply grieved to learn that Jeolla Inspector Kwon Yul 權慄 (1537-1599) have already stationed troops at Asan for a long time. I have also heard that because the enemies have occupied Suwon, our troops cannot advance upward, and have recently moved westward. The inspector in charge of province has neglected his duties and left far away: this is undoubtedly an ill-conceived strategy. However, now that it has already come this far, we should, as I have proposed, select the best troops and assign them under the command of brave generals, and have exterminate the bandits occupying the capital and elevate their military reputations. Then it would be help in terms of garnering popular support for the king. However, it seems to be not much different from the previous measures. This is the disaster of not knowing the conditions of time and military strategies. 且京城之賊, 亦必有聞而笑侮者. 臣竊痛焉, 前聞全羅監司權慄亦屯兵牙山已久. 聞水原有賊, 不能前進, 近聞移師向西, 監司以主道之官, 離任遠來, 固亦非計. 然旣爲上來, 亦當如臣所陳先抄精兵, 分配猛將, 勦殺京城之賊, 以壯軍聲, 則亦勤王之一助也. 而似與前日擧措, 無大相遠, 此不知形勢與兵事之過也。

2-9. This minister thinks that among the generals, only Go Eonbaek has the will to serve the country. Even though he has the will and strategies, the roles and responsibilities he assumes are insignificant. He is military in charge of only one county, Yangju. Therefore, he has not yet achieved anything. Now among the military generals who have already held the high posts, many only think about themselves and occupy convenient posts. They are not willing to undertake difficult tasks for their country. [Your Majesty] should not stick to the regulations of ordinary times, but should be willing to “select a soldier as a general” as the old saying goes. For example, Hong Kyenam (1564-1597) has already become a high-ranking official. By conferring the title of the auxiliary defense officer on him, we can motivate [Go Eonbaek] unite military forces to strike the bandits. Then nothing would be impossible. 臣觀諸將中惟高彦伯頗有爲國之心, 且有心計, 而權任不重, 所掌只楊州一邑之軍, 故終無所成矣. 今武將中已在高位者, 多惜身占便, 不肯爲國任事, 惟當勿拘常規, 如古人所謂拔卒爲將. 若洪季男者, 旣爲堂上, 亦借助防將之號, 使之合力擊賊, 恐無不可也.

2-10. The bandits and our people are blended inside the walled city so that they have mutually forgotten who they really are. We can take advantage of this conditions. If we could make a plan to launch a surprise attack in the middle of the night, those within and without would correspond to each other. Several prefectures would all rise up against the enemies simultaneously. For example, if the nests and caves [where the enemies stay] in Hamhung could be shaken and overturned, all other minor issues will be ordered. However, for the moment, this seems impossible. We have already captured a few enemies left behind so that they could know of our situation and be prepared in advance. Our government troops surrounded them in circle, merely sat and watched the situation. How lamentable it is! 賊與我民雜處城中, 幾與相忘. 此勢可乘, 若能設計, 乘夜勦擊, 內外相應. 數郡俱發, 則如咸興巢穴所在, 可以蕩覆, 而枝葉次第可平. 今不能然, 先捕零賊, 使賊知而預爲之備, 而各處官軍, 相環坐視, 不爲力戰, 殊可痛也.

2-11. This minister has also heard that when Song Eonsin 宋言愼 (1542-1612) entered the southern region of Hamgyeong Province by himself, a large number of people who had heard of the inspector's arrival voluntarily traveled from far and near to see him. Not long after, Song Eonsin was cashiered for a mistake he had made. As to the people in the province, having nothing to rely upon, cried out loud and shed tears without dispersing until ten days thereafter. This minister is not able to judge whether or not Song Eonsin was able to manage state affairs appropriately. However, the people in the norther regions have been under the control of the enemies for a long time. Once they heard that the inspector from the court was at the border, their forces would be united; however, once he was abruptly cashiered, not to be replaced by anyone. Although there are defender officers [in the frontier], their reputation is low and their status unimportant. They are not enough to pacify the people’s hearts. How deplorable! 2-11.且臣聞宋言愼自入南道。民聞巡察使之至。遠近俱集。其數甚多。不久以罪遞免。道內民心。無所係屬。相與號呼涕泣。至於旬日然後乃散云。言愼處事能否。臣不能知。但北路之民。久淪賊中。一聞朝廷之官在境。其勢將合。而遽卽遞罷。又無代之者。雖有防禦等官。名位不重。不足以鎭壓民心。臣竊歎焉。

2-12. When Song Eonsin was stationed in Huicheon, he procrastinated for several months. Certainly, he was not without guilt. However, his dismissal and replacement should have taken place when he was stationed in Huicheon, not after he entered the province. The right moment is hard to come by and easy to lose. An opportunity is easy to slip through, yet difficult to seize. The slight difference between gain and loss get wider day by day. To handle such matters properly, the court should carefully observe and investigate the situation, and should not miss any opportunities. That is also what this minister wishes for. 2-12. 言愼前在熙川, 遲徊累月, 固不無其罪, 然其遞免. 當在於遲留熙川之時, 不當在於已在其道之後, 時難得而易失, 事易去而難追. 得失之幾., 相去日遠, 此等處置, 朝廷十分量察, 毋失機會, 此又臣之所望也。

2-13. Unmerited as this minister is, he has already been appointed as the grand minister, and let the state affairs become so critical as the present. I should have no grievances even if I should die ten thousand times over. What I have proposed so far might not be appropriate, but this minister has not heard that the court have already implemented them. However, looking at the current affairs, it becomes more dangerous day by day. This minister breaks his heart and carves his bones, crying out loud and shedding tears day and night. Although this minister is unable to list all the details, he has cautiously pointed out the general outlines. He wishes with all his heart that your majesty will consider these proposals with some sympathy. This minister prostrates and asks for Your Majesty’s gracious consideration. Please decide whether or not to accept this proposal! 臣以無狀, 曾忝大臣, 使國事至此, 萬死無惜. 今之所陳瞽說, 俱不合宜, 朝廷必已施行, 而臣未及聞知. 但觀時事, 一日危於一日, 摧心切骨, 日夜流涕, 零碎者不及盡, 陳謹撮其大槩. 仰備採擇, 區區之忱. 伏希少加憐察. 取進止.

Discussion Questions

  1. As a civil official Ryu Seong-ryong is providing detailed knowledge of military and organizational matters, from where does his insight originate? In an utmost national crisis, what kind of roles did Neo-Confucian scholars like Ryu Seong-ryong play in Imjin war? Furthermore, how the conventional distinctions between 문 and 무 changed in the Joseon society?
  2. It sounds the Joseon people that time are so extremely demoralized. What are the causes which led their attitude to be such a way? Or is this the author's personal expression of despair?
  3. Throughout Ryu Seong-ryong's memorial, the question of administering the righteous / private army seems to be a matter of critical concern. What are Ryu Seongryong's suggestions for using the righteous army to the maximum effect? How are we to fully understand the rise and role of the righteous army during the Imjin War?
  4. In his memorial, Ryu Seong-ryong recommends some capable officials to the king and criticizes inept ones. What are the criteria for his judgment on officials, and what rhetoric does he use to promote capable officials to the king?
  5. Ryu Seong-ryong gives different roles to people of each province to help with the war effort. What does his instructions tell us about the nature of this war and the role of common people in it? From reading this memorial, what can we gather about the characteristics of each province (ex. Gangwon, Jeolla, Pyeong'an, etc.) as they were understood at the time?
  6. Ryu Seong-ryong's memorial is deeply concerned about food supply for the troops. What does it tell us about the nature of pre-modern warfare? Would it be possible to imagine that for every troop of soldiers, a significant number of people were drafted solely to carry the food supply for that troop?
  7. How does the memorial reflect on the personalities and strategies of the generals and military leaders at the time? What is Ryu Seong-ryong's criticism? Judging from the memorial's content would the military leaders had had access to it?
  8. Scholars often attribute Joseon's failure of preventing/defending itself from the Japanese invasions to its long-lasting factional stripe. Is there any part in this document that reflects the influence of factionalism?
  9. Some argue that nationalism (or proto-nationalism) in Korea was shaped during the Hideyoshi Invasion in its collective process of fending off Japanese. Is there any part in this document that evidences the existence of (proto-)nationalism in Korea?
  10. Scholars like JaHyun Kim Haboush have argued that the spontaneous resistance organized by the righteous army marked the beginning of a prototype Korean nationalism. How is Ryu Seong-ryong’s assessment of the righteous army compare to this view?

References