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Many persons had gone abroad in
quest of fortune and had found it. It is on record that emigrants
from the province of Hizen had established themselves in considerable
numbers in China, and that their success induced their feudal lord,
Nabeshima, to seek the Central Government's permission for returning
his province to the latter and taking, in lieu, the district near
Ningpo, where his vassals had settled. Hideyoshi doubtless shared the
general belief that in oversea countries Japanese enterprise could
find many profitable opportunities, and it is easy to believe that
the weakened condition of China towards the close of the Ming dynasty
led him to form a not very flattering estimate of that country's
power of resistance.

The conquest of Korea had not in itself any special temptation. He
regarded the peninsula simply as a basis for an attack upon China,
and he made it quite clear to the Korean sovereign that, if the
latter suffered his territories to be converted into a stepping-stone
for that purpose, friendship with Japan might be confidently
anticipated. Korea, at that time, was under the sway of a single
ruler, whose dynasty enjoyed the protection of the Chinese Court, and
between the two sovereigns embassies were regularly exchanged. It has
already been stated in these pages that towards the middle of the
fifteenth century Japanese settlers in Korea had been assigned three
places of residence, but owing to the exactions suffered at the hands
of the local authorities, these settlers had risen in revolt and had
finally been expelled from Korea until the year 1572, when a
concession was once more set apart for Japanese use at Fusan. No
longer, however, were envoys sent from Korea to Japan, and evidence
of the outrages committed from time to time by Japanese pirates is
furnished by a decree of the Korean Government that a Japanese
subject landing anywhere except at Fusan would be treated as a
corsair.

Such were the existing conditions when, in 1587, Hideyoshi called
upon the Korean monarch to explain the cessation of the old-time
custom of exchanging envoys. To this the King of Korea replied that
he would willingly renew the ancient relations provided that the
Japanese authorities seized and handed over a number of Korean
renegades, who had been acting as guides to Japanese pirates in
descents on the Korean coast. This stipulation having been complied
with, a Korean embassy was duly despatched by Kyoto, and after some
delay its members were received by Hideyoshi in the hall of audience.
What happened on this occasion is described in Korean annals,
translated as follows by Mr. Aston*:

*Hideyoshi's Invasion of Korea, by Aston. "Transactions of the
Asiatic Society of Japan," Vol. VI.

The ambassadors were allowed to enter the palace gate borne in their
palanquins. They were preceded the whole way by a band of music. They
ascended into the hall, where they performed their obeisances.
Hideyoshi is a mean and ignoble-looking man; his complexion is dark,
and his features are wanting in distinction. But his eyeballs send
out fire in flashes--enough to pierce one through. He sat upon a
threefold cushion with his face to the south. He wore a gauze hat and
a dark-coloured robe of State. His officers were ranged round him,
each in his proper place. When the ambassadors were introduced and
had taken their seats, the refreshments offered them were of the most
frugal description. A tray was set before each, on which was one dish
containing steamed mochi (rice-cake), and sake of an inferior quality
was handed round a few times in earthenware cups and in a very
unceremonious way. The civility of drinking to one another was not
observed.

After a short interval, Hideyoshi retired behind a curtain, but all
his officers remained in their places. Soon after, a man came out
dressed in ordinary clothes, with a baby in his arms, and strolled
about the hall. This was no other than Hideyoshi himself, and
everyone present bowed down his head to the ground. Looking out
between the pillars of the hall, Hideyoshi espied the Korean
musicians. He commanded them to strike up all together as loud as
they could, and was listening to their music when he was reminded
that babies could despise ceremonies as much as princes, and
laughingly called one of his attendants to take the child and bring
him a change of clothing. He seemed to do exactly as he pleased, and
was as unconcerned as if nobody else were present. The ambassadors,
having made their obeisance, retired, and this audience was the only
occasion on which they were admitted to Hideyoshi's presence.

After long delay Hideyoshi replied to the letter carried by the above
envoys, and his language is important as clearly indicating the part
which he designed for Korea in the pending war. The document is thus
translated by Mr. Aston:

This empire has of late years been brought to ruin by internal
dissensions which allowed no opportunity for laying aside armour.
This state of things roused me to indignation, and in a few years I
restored peace to the country. I am the only remaining scion of a
humble stock, but my mother once had a dream in which she saw the sun
enter her bosom, after which she gave birth to me. There was then a
soothsayer who said: "Wherever the sun shines, there will be no place
which shall not be subject to him. It may not be doubted that one day
his power will overspread the empire." It has therefore been my boast
to lose no favourable opportunity, and taking wings like a dragon, I
have subdued the east, chastised the west, punished the south, and
smitten the north. Speedy and great success has attended my career,
which has been like the rising sun illuminating the whole earth.

When I reflect that the life of man is less than one hundred years,
why should I spend my days in sorrow for one thing only? I will
assemble a mighty host, and, invading the country of the great Ming,
I will fill with the hoar-frost from my sword the whole sky over the
four hundred provinces. Should I carry out this purpose, I hope that
Korea will be my vanguard. Let her not fail to do so, for my
friendship with your honourable country depends solely on your
conduct when I lead my army against China.

The Korean envoys entrusted with the delivery of the above despatch
were accompanied by one of the chief vassals of the Tsushima baron,
and a monk, named Genso, who acted in the capacity of interpreter. By
these two Japanese the Korean Government was clearly informed that
nothing was required of Korea beyond throwing open the roads to
China, and that she would not be asked to give any other assistance
whatever in the war against her northern neighbour. In the context of
this explanation, the Seoul Government was reminded that, three
centuries previously, Korea had permitted her territory to be made a
basis of Mongolian operations against Japan, and therefore the
peninsula might well allow itself to be now used as a basis of
Japanese operations against China. From Korean annals we learn that
the following despatch was ultimately sent by the Korean sovereign to
Hideyoshi*:

*Hulbert's History of Korea.

Two letters have already passed between us, and the matter has been
sufficiently discussed. What talk is this of our joining you against
China? From the earliest times we have followed law and right. From
within and from without all lands are subject to China. If you have
desired to send your envoys to China, how much more should we? When
we have been unfortunate she has helped us. The relations which
subsist between us are those of parent and child. This you know well.
Can we desert both Emperor and parent and join with you? You
doubtless will be angry at this, and it is because you have not been
admitted to the Court of China. Why is it that you are not willing to
admit the suzerainty of the Emperor, instead of harbouring such
hostile intents against him? This truly passes our comprehension.

The bitterness of this language was intensified by a comment made to
the Japanese envoys when handing them the above despatch. His Majesty
said that Japan's programme of conquering China resembled an attempt
to bail out the ocean with a cockle-shell. From Korea's point of view
her attitude was perfectly justifiable. The dynasty by which the
peninsula was then ruled owed its very existence to China's aid, and
during two centuries the peninsula had enjoyed peace and a certain
measure of prosperity under that dynasty. On the other hand, Korea
was not in a position to think of resisting Japan on the
battle-field. The only army which the former could boast of
possessing consisted of men who were too indigent to purchase
exemption from service with the colours, and thus she may be said to
have been practically without any efficient military organization.
Moreover, her troops were not equipped with either artillery or
match-locks. The only advantage which she possessed may be said to
have been exceedingly difficult topographical features, which were
practically unknown to the Japanese. Japan had not at that time even
the elements of the organization which she was ultimately destined to
carry to such a high point of perfection. She had no secret-service
agents or any cartographers to furnish her generals with information
essential to the success of an invasion, and from the moment that her
troops landed in Korea, their environment would be absolutely
strange.

JAPAN'S PREPARATIONS

These considerations did not, however, deter Hideyoshi. Immediately
on receipt of the above despatch from the Korean Court, preparations
were commenced for an oversea expedition on a colossal scale. Nagoya,
in the province of Hizen, was chosen for the home-basis of
operations. It has been observed by several critics that if
Hideyoshi, instead of moving by Korea, had struck at China direct
oversea, he would in all probability have seen his flag waving over
Peking in a few months, and the whole history of the Orient would
have been altered. That may possibly be true. But we have to remember
that the Korean peninsula lies almost within sight of the shores of
Japan, whereas to reach China direct by water involves a voyage of
several hundred miles over seas proverbially tempestuous and
dangerous.



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