Filed Under Fiction

The Diary of King Injo

Before the Second Attack

In class, we read a diary of Na Man’gap, a demoted member of the court who was with king Injo and the court when the Manchus attacked Korea. After reading his personal account of the second Manchu invasion, I was inspired to create my own rendition that took the perspective of Chosŏn’s king, Injo, who initially kept the Ming as an ally because of their help against the invasion from Japan. However, this act of defending left the Ming weak, which gave the Manchus an opportunity to invade Korea. This first invasion forced Korea to ally with the Manchus instead, but king Injo openly disobeyed this promise. Eventually, the Manchus invaded Korea again, forcing King Injo to surrender. When I initially learned about this subject, I couldn't help but sympathize with the king because of the difficult choices he had to make. With him being king, it would have been difficult for him to swallow his pride by surrendering to the Manchus and facing the political backlash after. In order to write the king’s diary, I had to put myself into his shoes. After doing so, I imagined King Injo would have felt many complicated emotions. These were anger, disappointment, embarrassment, and possibly motivation. Overall, I am delighted to have had the experience of writing through another person’s emotional lens. It made me feel as though I was a king for a day, even a terrible one.

The following is inspired by the historical events of The Diary of 1636 (the second Manchu invasion). It is a work of historical fiction.

The Diary of Na Man’gap King Injo

Before the Second Attack

This has been an extremely difficult decision because I am ever so grateful towards the Ming. They have done so much for Chosŏn by defending us from the Japanese invasion but unfortunately, they have been left weak. I feel like the bad guy in this situation but I have come to a decision. After consulting with the Westerners faction, I have decided to tell the Manchus I will keep the promise I made to them in 1627. This is the best action I can do as of now considering the Ming cannot defend us again and Chosŏn is not as strong as the Manchus. If only those barbaric Manchus could leave my land alone… I will show them who the best land is and use this as motivation to gain power. Who do they think they are to control MY Chosŏn?! I will begin by improving the military because looking back at the 1627 attack, our key defenses were not best, to say the least. Our archers kept on missing the target! They’re supposed to go through a two-week training camp but maybe that is not enough…

Despite saying that I’ll keep my promise to the Manchus, I haven't been doing that. I’ve been letting Ming generals enter the territory and allowing Ming envoys at my court. I know this may lead to war with the Manchus so perhaps I should not be doing all of this but how could I not? The Ming were there for Korea when we needed them the most and if they hadn’t helped us out, who knows what Japan would have done to my land?!

Winter of 1637 (The Second Attack)

I am now seeking safety in the Namhan Mountain Fortress because the Manchus invaded Korea again. The Manchu khan has declared himself emperor of the Qing dynasty and is sending his army against us. I’m surprised by how quickly they reached Seoul (in 4 days) but I believe this is all commander Kim Chajŏm’s fault! I am definitely going to execute him because how on earth could he fail to heed the fire beacons?! Not only that but I just found out that we had received a letter from the Manchu prince a while ago about wanting to keep the peace between us! I angrily asked why I did not find out about this earlier and was told the prince broke protocol by sending the letter directly to me. I don’t care if the Qing envoys were mistreated, those filthy barbarians simply have no manners!

It has been several weeks since the invasion and I sense our military resistance is weakening. Qing troops have surrounded the fortress. Our supplies dwindle. My court and I have been talking about the best method of surrendering. I REALLY don’t want to do that. I am THE king, so why should I stoop that low by doing something so embarrassing? How could my officials ask their sovereign to debase himself like this? I have to admit, doing this will hurt my pride but I do not want my people to suffer any longer!

The Surrender

After days of debating to surrender, we have been forced to do that. On the bright side, I didn't have to exit the fortress with jade in my mouth while carrying an empty coffin. But kneeling before a barbarian ruler was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my life! What kind of king does something as humiliating as that! Not only that but those barbarians want me to erect a stele to show off Korea’s defeat.

The Aftermath

After shaming myself before my subjects, do I still deserve the title of king? Although the people I am surrounded by are not allowed to speak ill of me, I know for a fact they are questioning my authority in their heads. Since the surrender, many high-ranking people have been taken hostage by the Qing soldiers. A lot of them have been forced to marry into Manchu clans while others have suffered in prison or have died in captivity. Whenever I see that damned stele, it is like torture. I am reminded constantly by our defeat but I will use this as motivation to make a better Korea.

Images

The Diary of 1636, translated by George Kallander Source: https://cup.columbia.edu/book/the-diary-of-1636/9780231197571 Creator: Columbia University Press

Location

Metadata

Jessica Arellano, “The Diary of King Injo,” UCLA Korean History and Culture Digital Museum, accessed July 12, 2024, https://koreanhistory.humspace.ucla.edu/items/show/27.