New: A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598

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It’s always a pleasure to receive a book about military history that’s a bit outside of my primary focus because invariably I learn something that informs my study. The good folks at the University of Oklahoma Press sent me a review copy of a new book by Kenneth M. Swope, A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598. The book becomes Volume 20 of the Campaigns & Commanders Series edited by Gregory J. W. Urwin from Temple University.

A Dragon's Head

Professor Swope (left) has labeled this conflict, which included Japan, China, and Korea, as “the first great Asian War.” His is the first full-length scholarly study in English of a six year military event was pivotal to the history of warfare, drove advancement in military technologies, and produced naval battles that rivaled any in Europe.

Impressive is an extremely rich Bibliography, solid Notes, and a “Selected Chinese Character List. Swope also provides a “Dramatis Personae” section to assist with keeping the long list of players straight, a table of “Chinese Weights and Measures,” and a “Timeline of the War.” Eleven maps and fifteen illustrations are also included, the latter not for the squeamish.

I’ll be making time to read. Here’s a snippet from the Introduction…

Tucked away in a back alley of Kyoto, largely ignored amid the temples, pagodas, castles, and teahouses, stands a curious monument to the cold, calculating callousness of war in early modern East Asia. Called “Kyoto‘s least mentioned and most-often-avoided tourist attractions” by one scholar, the Mimizuka (Mound of Ears) and children’s playground actually contains what is left of thousands of severed and pickled Chines and Korean noses sent back to Japan’s overlord and instigator of the First Great East Asian War of 1592-98, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98).

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Because heads, the normal proof offered to gain rewards for one’s deeds in battle in Japan, were too large and unwieldy to ship overseas, the Japanese resorted to severing the noses of slain foes and sending them home to satisfy the kampaku’s thirst for revenge against those who refused to accept his primacy in East Asia. Hideyoshi‘s men were assigned a quota of three Korean (or Chinese) noses per soldier. Although modern estimates vary, it is generally accepted that 100,000-200,000 noses eventually reached Japan, though some Koreans apparently survived the ordeal and spent the rest of their days without noses.

A photo of a Mimizuka shrine. Used with the permission of Nils Ferry (planetkyoto.com). {{CopyrightedFreeUse}})

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