Soldier, Hostage, Diplomat: The Odyssey of Mao Guoke and the End of the Sixteenth-Century Korea War

In: China and Asia
Wing Kin Puk Department of History, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, PRC

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This paper explores the potentially scandalous truce between the front-line Ming and Japanese commanders in the last days of the sixteenth-century Korea War. Mao Guoke, a Ming officer, was “dressed up” as the younger brother of his senior commander Mao Guoqi and sent to Japan as a hostage. He returned after almost two years (1598–1600) expecting to be received as a hero but was dismissed as more of a “self-made hero.” This was because the Ming court preferred the “correct” version of the war: that it was ended not by negotiation but by the military victory of the Ming and Chosŏn Korea. Mao Guoke’s odyssey is an illuminating case of the interflow and mixture of information, true and false, amid the fog of war. The case also highlights the unique pattern of war and diplomacy in premodern times wherein front-line agents enjoyed and exercised autonomy to an extent that is unthinkable to modern minds.

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