This is a painting of the Namhan Mountain Fortress (Namhan sansŏng),), which is the fortress where King Injo of Chosŏn and his soldiers took refuge during Second Manchu Invasion of Korea in 1636. The white snow against the dark tinted background evokes the cold and desolate winter, the time of year the invasion is taking place. This dark tone also represents feelings of despair and uncertainty as the future of the kingdom is under threat. The fortress is very quiet, and there are no soldiers preparing to fight, which depicts how the leaders of the Korean army had neglected prior warnings of war. While chaos consumes other parts of Korea, Naman fortress is unmoving and calm because the King was not notified about the Manchu invasion until it was too late. Chosŏn’s military leaders were reluctant to believe that their enemies would succeed, leaving their forces unprepared to fight against the Manchu invasion.
This depiction of the Namhan Fortress was inspired by Na Mangap’s diary written during the war, which was translated into English by George Kallander in Diary of 1636: The Second Manchu Invasion of Korea. Na, a former court member, recounted the events and his opinions of the invasion. One key aspect of Joseon’s military readiness, or lack thereof, lies within the hands of Kim Chajŏm, commander-in-chief of the Korean army. Na quotes him to say that the “enemy is certainly not coming this winter”, and he became furious if anyone told him that they thought otherwise (Na 8). Although the torches used to signal the approach of the enemy were being lit continuously, Kim ignored all these signs of warning. Even after one of his men had directly witnessed the enemy’s approach, Kim simply called his words “nonsense” (Na 9). By the time news of the Manchu invasion reached the court, the Manchu army had already infiltrated Korea’s frontier. If Kim had been willing to listen to his men, he could have been more prepared to meet the Manchu invaders. Furthermore, even after King Injo had sent troops to battle, the Military Guard Officer Yi Hungop and his cavalry chose to drink the wine that the king had given them. As a result, “from the guard officer on down, there was no one who was not intoxicated them”, which led them to be “annihilated” by the Manchus (Na 11). The lighting of the torches to signal the enemy’s approach shows that Korea’s military system was relatively well organized and was capable of being more prepared to fight; however, Kim’s dismissal of warnings, as well as the irresponsibility of men like Yi, ultimately endangered the court, the commoners, and thus the entire kingdom of Chosŏn.