The Diary of 1636 is a collection of the translated diary entries of Na Man’gap during the Manchu invasion of the same year. Through the translations by George Kallander, we are introduced to Na Man'gap. Na was a scholar who most notably wrote about the Chosŏn war against the Manchu in 1636. His first-person account was in the form of a diary where he chronicled the war and the events around him. Although his work is an unofficial account, it is the longest surviving record of the events, spanning around 43,000 characters in length.
Na came from a distinguished family with a history of court service, thus he was part of the Korean elite society known as yangban. His father Na Kup was the first tutor in the Crown Prince Tutorial Office and his grandfather Nam Yuunchi’im was the third proctor at the Royal Confuncian Academy. Na also married the daughter of Chong Yop, who was well respected as an official by King Injo himself. Na’s social and political ties allowed him a familiarity with the inner workings of the military, and the politics of court.
The Manchu invaded in order to force the Chosŏn dynasty to abide by the oath of allegiance from 1627. Na Mangap's diaries described the Chosŏn resistance, King’s Injo’s retreat, the siege at Namhan fortress, and the psychological damage of the Choson people during and after the Chosŏn defeat. Written in two parts, the diary is riddled with both praise and criticism of the political figures involved in the war.
As the son of the highly praised poet Na Kup, Na Man'gap possessed a literary talent which he employed in documenting his diaries. His career during his time at court however was quite turbulent. For example, he renounced his first official post as a sign of protest against King Kwanghaegun's violent coup that resulted in the death of the King’s half brother, Prince Young
Ch’ang, and what Na considered the abhorrent treatment of Queen Inmok. It would not be until King Injo came into power that he returned to court and trained as a court diarist. Na’s career would do well under King Injo and he would receive multiple promotions.
His close relationship with the king would grant him familiarity with the goings-on of court life and political influence, but also enemies. Na grew too comfortable in his closeness with King Injo, which would prove to be his undoing. During his time at court he dared to criticize those around him, going so far as to write up a petition highlighting what he perceived to be the flaws not only with the court itself, but the dynasty as well. This heinous breach of royal decorum would lead to his second exile from court. Although he would return, Na’s enemies, such as Official Kim Yu and other high ranking bureaucrats, would again conspire to have Na exiled from court until 1631.
By the time the Manchu invasion erupted, Na (who was once again in King Injo’s good graces) would find himself back in court and serving as the Chief Commissary official overseeing the distribution of army rations. It was during this harrowing time of the second
Manchu invasion that Na would begin chronicling his accounts of the war and its toll on the
Chosŏn people. While he maintained privilege and access to great power and influence during this time, Na’s career and life would unfortunately end with him disgraced from court. Kallander explains Na’s ultimate fate: “After the peace agreement with the Manchu, Na was accused of misdeeds – while traveling to his mother’s funeral in Sosan, Na and his slave purchased a military boat from a corrupt navy officer – for which he was exiled to Yonghae.” (Kallander, xxi) Na was released from this final exile in 1639, but he did not return to court, and he died in Yongju in 1642. Na used his experiences to write unabashedly about what he saw during the war, criticizing officials such as Ch’oe Myonggil with seething contempt. “As for the rat-like cunningness of Myonggil, it is worthless to mention.” (Na, 86) He would also go on to criticize other members of the court such as envoys, saying: “However the court had to select such weak, spineless people. Each time they are dispatched to the enemy camp as envoys, it can be said that they are not the appropriate persons for the job.” (Na, 30)
Na often used metaphorical language in his works to evoke the confusion, despair, and fear that comes with war, having witnessed these firsthand. For example, he says “At this time, natural disasters and unusual events took place. The rocks of Pup’young and Ansan shifted. The mallards of Yongnam and Kwanso fought each other. The cranes of Taegu grouped for battle. . . . The streams of Yean ran dry." (Na, 5) Na used the imagery of great unnatural occurrences taking place to emphasize the concurrent “unnaturalness” of the Manchu invasion.Similarly, Na touched on the desperation of Chosŏn's subjects as they began to realize their defeat. For example, he praises the many “chastity-suicides” of women who chose to end their lives and preserve their sexual purity rather than be captured by the enemy. “There were countless numbers of women who died to maintain their chastity . . . These were all women who made the correct decision.” (Na, 122–3) Additionally, towards the end of his diaries, he recounts the scene of a grief-stricken grandmother publically lamenting the loss of her entire family due to the war. Na took great pains to record all of the major events of the Manchu invasion, and the heart wrenching impact the war had on the personal lives of the Chosŏn subjects. These are but a few incidents which describe the collective mental and emotional anguish suffered by the Chosŏn as they were made to surrender to the Manchu.