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Big Heads, Bird Guns and Gunpowder Bellicosity: Revolutionizing the Choson Military in Seventeenth Century Korea

Kang, Hyeok Hweon (2013)
Honors Thesis (134 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Andrade, Tonio
Committee Members: Ravina, Mark ; Lee, Tong-Soon ; Kim, Sun-Chul
Research Fields: History, Asia, Australia, and Oceania; History, Military; History, General
Keywords: Korea; Gun; Musket; Military Revolution; Choson; Joseon; Big Heads; Bird Guns
Program: College Honors Program, History
Permanent url: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/d8f2k

Abstract

Choson Dynasty of Korea (1392-1910) underwent a Military Revolution during the seventeenth century. Pressured by repeated foreign invasions, Choson revolutionized its military around firearms and infantry drill. As in Western Europe, Korea raised musketeers as the mainstay of its army, produced military manuals, revamped the line-of-command, and manufactured firearms. This crescendo of military strengthening was tested too early in the Manchu invasions of 1627 and 1636 but reached a pinnacle around the reign of Hyojong (1649-1659) when Korean musketeers gained recognition as excellent marksmen from their Manchu and Russian counterparts. Dubbed Big Heads (daeduin), Korean musketeers became recognized in continental East Asia for their excellence in the use of Bird Guns (cho'chong), fowling pieces introduced to Koreans via the Imjin War of 1592-1598.

The Korean Military Revolution replaced the traditional cavalry-based system with an infantry-based system based on en masse musketry tactics. The growing fiscal and logistical demands of sustaining this way of war challenged the late Choson state to adapt institutionally through new military surtaxes and centralized methods of census-taking. However, the Korean Military Revolution fell short of culminating because excessive military spending without proper fiscal and logistical backing reined back on impetuses of reform. This trend in reducing military expenditures was reinforced by the combination of yangban resistance to tax reforms, diminishing base of taxable commoners, consolidation of the pax manjurica and the lack of interstate warfare in eighteenth and nineteenth century East Asia. Nonetheless, bolstered by the Korean Military Revolution, Choson was clearly an active gunpowder state during the seventeenth century. The Korean variation on the theme of gunpowder revolution produced professional bodies of firearms military units, innovations in military tactics and vibrant commercial and manufacturing activities, contributing to cumulative processes of political integration and consolidation in Korea.

Table of Contents

Illustrations page x

Preface 1

Chapter 1: The Korean Military Revolution 5

The First Spark: The Imjin War of 1592-1598 13

Gunpowder Bellicosity, Choson Style 18

Chapter 2: The Korean Drill Ethos 32

Musketry Volley Fire in Choson Korea 37

Divergence in Drill: Volley, Tactics and Formations 49

Chapter 3: The Manchu Juggernaut: Reading Lost Battles 57

Prince Kwanghae's Military Strategy: Firearms and Fortifications 59

The Invasion of 1637 and The Siege of Namhan Fortress 68

The Supreme Test of Battle: Musketeers Versus Cavalry 71

Chapter 4: Giving Wings to the Manchu Tiger: Frustrated Dreams of Northern Conquest 79

Buddhist Demons Salivate For Amuria 82

The Northern Expeditions of 1654 and 1658 87

Unfinished Stories: Siege of Albazin (1685-1688) and the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689) 99

Conclusions 103

Appendix: Tables 110

Bibliography 114

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