OWL Magazine Korea

“Ryu Sung-ryong’s ‘Jingbirok (懲毖錄): The Hellish War of the Imjin War, a Record of Reflection'”

Jingbirok (懲毖錄) is a book written by Ryu Sung-ryong during the Joseon Dynasty, when the author retired from office and wrote it, completing it in 1604 (the 37th year of King Seonjo’s reign). It was designated as National Treasure No. 132 of South Korea on November 12, 1969.

The term ‘Jingbi’ is derived from a phrase in the ‘Shijing (詩經)’ called ‘Xiaobi Pian (小毖篇)’, which means “to warn of future calamities by punishing in advance (豫其懲而毖後患).” Jingbirok is a record of the Imjin War, a seven-year war from 1592 (the 25th year of King Seonjo’s reign) to 1598, recording the causes and circumstances of the war.

“Jingbirok: The Hellish War of the Imjin War, and a Record of Reflection”

Since Jingbirok was written during the Joseon Dynasty by Ryu Sung-ryong, the original text is written in Chinese characters. Moreover, since the original text is designated as a national treasure, most of the books available in bookstores or libraries are translated into Korean.

As I’m not proficient in Chinese characters, I had no choice but to read the translated version, translated by “Kim Hong-sik.” It’s a book with the subtitle “Imjin War: The Hellish War, and a Record of Reflection.”

“A Book for a More Detailed Record of the Imjin War”

The Imjin War is a topic of great historical significance. It was a war of invasion led by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified Japan, and gave birth to the hero of the era, Admiral Yi Sun-sin. The naval battles won by Yi Sun-sin’s overwhelming tactics have been made into movies and even used as naval doctrines.

Thanks to Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s victories at sea, the war eventually ended in victory for Joseon. However, it’s a bitter fact that immense damage occurred during the process. Despite the victory in the war, it was a victory akin to Pyrrhic victory, yielding no real gains.

In Jingbirok, written by Ryu Sung-ryong, one can delve deeper into the horror and absurdity of the Imjin War. Even though I didn’t live in that era, the detailed descriptions in the book made me feel like I was witnessing those scenes from the Joseon Dynasty.

Especially, scenes depicting the familiar faces of officials at the beginning of the war and the heartbreaking sight of soldiers fleeing at the sight of the enemy made me feel a sense of sadness. Some generals fled upon seeing the enemy before even engaging in battle, while others, too fearless, failed to devise strategies and fell victim to enemy attacks.

“The Execution of the General Who Achieved the First Land Victory in the Imjin War by Joseon”

Amidst repeated victories and defeats, the first land victory of the Imjin War came to Joseon. The general who achieved the first land victory in the Imjin War was a general named “Shin Gak,” under Kim Myeong-won. However, due to a false report from Kim Myeong-won claiming that “Shin Gak did not obey my orders and went elsewhere as he pleased,” despite achieving victory in battle, Shin Gak was executed by the court.

It was disheartening to see generals blinded by personal interests even in such a critical situation for the country, and the execution of the general who achieved the first land victory in the Imjin War.

The war continued with repeated victories and defeats, and King Seonjo of Joseon eventually fled. Even Admiral Yi Sun-sin, who barely won in naval battles, faced execution due to a false accusation by Won Gyun, showing a scene of him barely avoiding execution and appearing as a loyal subject. There are also scenes describing Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s leadership from Ryu Sung-ryong’s perspective. I couldn’t help but wonder how our country’s history would have unfolded without Admiral Yi Sun-sin.

“Admiral Yi Sun-sin, a Visionary Figure of the Era”

The depiction of Admiral Yi Sun-sin in the book portrays him as a figure with visionary leadership. He had an open-minded attitude that allowed even soldiers to consult with him if they had a plan, without asserting authority.

Ultimately, it was Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s leadership that allowed Joseon to achieve repeated victories despite being at a numerical disadvantage. 

Moreover, scenes of him rescuing the army’s provisions by issuing travel passes evoke images of Zhuge Liang in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, who procured 100,000 arrows in a single day. Admiral Yi Sun-sin also exhibited similar strategies to the legendary strategist Zhuge Liang.

“Learning Lessons: Advising Future Generations Not to Repeat Mistakes”

In the section of Jingbirok titled ‘Learning Lessons,’ there are also parts advising future generations not to repeat such mistakes. It also details how to efficiently command the military for defense.

The author, Ryu Sung-ryong, also wrote about signs of impending major events before they occurred, which is an interesting theory that can still be applied today. Admiral Yi Sun-sin may be considered a figure ahead of his time, but Ryu Sung-ryong, the author of Jingbirok, could also be considered a visionary figure.

“A Book Covering the Tragedy of the Imjin War”

As you read the book, which vividly describes the tragedy of the Imjin War, you may often feel a sense of sadness. However, because there were individuals who left behind records of the tragedy at that time and passed it on to future generations, our country has been able to persevere and continue to develop socially.

In the current era of peace that has lasted until recently, after COVID-19, the world is once again divided into extremes, entering a new era of cold war. While the past was characterized by the cold war between the United States and Russia, the current situation is characterized by a new cold war between the United States and China. Conflicts such as the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas war are erupting in various places, and the international situation is becoming more and more uncertain.

South Korea cannot avoid the threat of such wars. Once again, it seems like a time when efforts should be made to avoid the tragedy of war.

“Jingbirok (懲毖錄): The Hellish War of the Imjin War, a Record of Reflection”

  • Author: Ryu Sung-ryong (Translated by Kim Hong-sik)
  • Publication Date: November 20, 2014
  • ISBN13: 9788974831745
  • Yes24: http://app.ac/DErC3US33