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Refugees in the Joseon Dynasty

Posted December. 10, 2019 07:25,   

Updated December. 10, 2019 07:25


Wars produce refugees and policies on refugees bring our conscience to the test. A similar case can be found in our history. When Nurhaci, founder of Later Jin, seized the Liaodong Peninsula, some of the troops and refugees there fled to Joseon. After occupying the Kado Island and its neighboring islands, Gen. Mao Wenlong of the Ming Dynasty sought assistance from Joseon. At that time, Joseon was indebted to the Ming military and thought Mao Wenlong’s army would be helpful in keeping Later Jin in check.

But the situation started to deteriorate. Mao Wenlong was confident that he would rebuild his army with 200,000-300,000 refugees from Liaodong and attack Later Jin. He asked Joseon for more and more supplies. When the islands got too crowded, he sent some of the refugees to the land. Wenlong demanded supplies to local governors and even plundered and invaded towns if he thought the supplies were not enough. Wenlong was so harsh and cruel that people said it was because of him that Joseon could not properly prepare for the Chinese invasion of Joseon in 1627. Later, he even killed Joseon people and lied that it was Later Jin soldiers whom he killed. There was a rumor that he even plotted to conquer Joseon.

Refugees are pitiful but Mao Wenlong and his violent people became a nuisance to Joseon. It was Yuan Chonghuan of the Ming Dynasty, who eliminated the problem for Joseon. To connect Liaodong, Kado Island, and Joseon to fight against Later Jin, Chonghuan killed Mao Wenlong and attempted to bring Wenlong’s army under his control. But when his plan did not fall through and Chonghuan was executed eventually, the rest of Wenlong’s army surrendered to Later Jin. The refugees later played a pivotal role in destroying the Namhansanseong Fortress during the second Manchu invasion of Joseon in 1636.

Although it is an almost impossible assumption considering the circumstances in and outside the country at that time, what would have happened if Joseon had made Wenlong’s army its own through aggressive accepting the refugees? The army could have either fight upon our side during the second Manchu invasion of Joseon or created a bigger problem by causing greater damage. Life is not easy because there is no such thing as perfect policy that produces only good results. In all ages, there are no solutions without conflicts and dilemmas.