Syracuse University Magazine


Pyongjarok, the diary by Na Man’gap (1592-1642) of the 1636 Manchu invasion.

Research Snapshot

Project: Works of Late Choson Dynasty Korea

Investigator: George Kallander

Department: History

Sponsor: Academy of Korean Studies

Amount Awarded: $290,000 (2013-16)

Background: This project introduces English-language readers to Korea’s early modern era through the translation and annotation of important works from the 17th to the 19th centuries. As project director, Professor Kallander oversees three other North American scholars. Each will translate, annotate, and write a scholarly introduction for a primary source written in literary Chinese, the script of the educated elite during Korea’s premodern era, resulting in four books in this series.

Professor Kallander is working on Pyongjarok, or Record of the Year 1636, a diary by Na Man’gap (1592-1642), an elite scholar and government official, which records the second Manchu attack on Korea. The Manchu invasion of 1636 was a key date in Korean history, as it served as the dividing line for the Choson dynasty (1392-1910). While many scholars identify the Japanese invasion (1592-1598) as the break between early and late Choson, it can also be argued that the Manchu attacks and their aftermath resulted in major developments that marked the start of Korea’s early modern era. During the 1592 invasion, Korea was unified in the face of Japanese aggression and did not experience the same political dissention or reconsideration of its identity that followed the Manchu period. Upon the Manchu attack of 1636, Korean leaders were divided on the issue of accepting the Manchu or continuing their support of Ming dynasty China. While the invasion and its aftermath was an extremely difficult time when many Koreans suffered tremendously, the dynasty recovered and began to rebuild following the Manchu defeat of the Chinese a decade later.  

Impact: The project will result in four books that undermine stereotypes of Korea that persist today. Each work challenges the misunderstanding that Korea’s Choson dynasty was “stagnant,” an imitator of China, or served merely as transmitter of Chinese culture to Japan. Indeed, the texts reflect the complex and vibrant nature of Korean society, a time of realignment of Korean identity in the aftermath of the Manchu conquests of Northeast Asia in 1644, followed by economic, social, bureaucratic, and artistic developments over two centuries of growth and steady change. In particular, Pyongjarok, the diary of the 1636 invasion, provides insight into the threat the nation faced, the challenges that the royal court addressed, and the decisions political and military leaders struggled to make in times of national crisis. Pyongjarok offers insight into the complex debates over such issues as loyalty, Confucian statecraft, military decision-making, and identity politics in 17th-century Korea. These annotated translations, and the scholarly studies that will accompany them, will allow the English-language world access to historical and artistic developments in Korea long before the country became familiar to the West. They will provide readers with insight into late Choson dynasty thought, politics, society, and culture, while making available compelling translations of important source materials, translated here into English for the first time, that can be taught in a wide variety of courses on Korean, East Asian, and world history.


Namhan sansong, or Mountain Fortress South of the Capital, is located a little more than 20 miles southeast of Seoul. The Korean king and his supporters retreated to this well-defended fortress during the 1636 Manchu invasion, as narrated in Pyongjarok and other sources.


Hyonjolsa, or Shrine to Conspicuous Loyalty, at Namhan sansong, is a temple dedicated in 1688 to patriots who opposed surrender to the Manchu during the 1636 invasion.