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Asian Art of War

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Asian Art of War
Asian Art of War 
by Morgan Deane

The influential Western theorist Karl Von Clausewitz labeled the qualities necessary for successful leadership as "genius". Asian writers such as Sun Tzu also wrote concerning the attributes of a talented general. This included such factors such as proper moral character, proper mental preparation, the understanding and use of rewards and punishments, and the proper employment of tactics. According to Chinese writers, the proper application of these principles should accomplish the foreign policy goals of the state. This paper will judge Chinese general Li Rusong's actions during the Sino-Japanese Korean War against the rubric established by classic Chinese writers in order to determine the influence of Li's leadership in the conflict, and ultimately if he was a successful leader.

This writer examined the classic Chinese texts, with emphasis on Sun Tzu's Art of War, and then applied their criteria to Li Rusong's actions. It is expected that major deviations from the text would result in defeat and failure to reach the Emperor's goals. An exception to this assumption would come from the technological and societal changes between the ancient writers and the early modern war of Li's time.

This piece will advance chronologically through the war with special emphasis on Li Rusong's actions surrounding the Battle of Pyongyang. The events before the war will serve to focus on the proper mental attitude, access his spiritual strength in the light of charges against him, and examine if he made proper preparations for the Korean campaign. During the campaign, the focus will include Li's attitude towards the diplomats accompanying him. This paper will examine the proper use of tactical ruses, and his strategic choices in advancing against the Japanese.

The Battle itself will reveal if Li properly understood and used rewards and punishments. This essay will also examine Li's choice of attacking a city with the defender's backs against a river, and the virtue of attacking the city at all. The effects and change of doctrine due to gunpowder will also receive attention as well as the discipline of Li's troops, his use of ruses during the battle, and if he properly used the terrain available to him.

Finally, the post-battle analysis will examine the cause of Li's slow advance and failure to pursue the Japanese after his victory. It will also examine again the influence and use of the Korean terrain and the impact of Japanese firearms on Li's operations. Finally, this article will study the effects of the Battle of Pyokje and advance the argument that this battle revealed a woeful use of intelligence and poor use of terrain. This piece will conclude with a final assessment Li's generalship based on the criteria established by classic Chinese writers and his overall effect in carrying out Ming policies as compared to technological or societal factors.

Li's actions also highlight larger issues. The Sino-Japanese Korean War was called by one author as the first regional "world war". [1] It was the first war that featured armies with modern weapons, featured armies that dwarfed those of contemporary European armies and represented one of the last campaigns of the Wanli Emperor. The end of these campaigns helped signal what Peter Lorge called "the politics of Imperial collapse". [2] The effectiveness of Li's leadership had direct bearing on the strength of the Emperor in controlling his civil servants. The proper leadership of Li Rusong as judged by the military classics would have enhanced the prestige of the Emperor and strengthened his perceived mandate. Li's failures to properly prepare mentally and physically his soldiers, his penchant for costly battles, abuse of civilians, failure to attain awesomeness would indicate the waning military strength of the Ming Dynasty. Plus, the ability of the Japanese to better employ classic military principles represents the rise of Japanese power and their domination of their island, and contrasts with the increasing cultural impotence of the Chinese. Ironically, historians often see cultural strength as a result of the avoidance of war and the embrace of proper Mencian principles. But in this case, the abandonment of what classic Chinese military writers described as good generalship represented the increasing atrophy of Chinese culture.

The Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 quickly overwhelmed the Koreans. In response to losing their capital, the defeat of large parts of their army, and the flight of their Emperor to the Yalu River, the Wanli Emperor was asked to intervene. [3] At the time the bulk of his available troops were dealing with a mutiny of a powerful frontier general centered in the northern Chinese city of Ningxia. Li Rusong's actions during his command of the Emperors forces immediately preceded his Korean campaign. His tactical actions and the complaints against him reveal several criteria that have bearing upon his later actions in Korea.

First, during the early years of Li's career he was censored him for licentiousness and later for "inattention to proper military discipline, mismanagement of military affairs and raising his hands at his civil counterparts." [4] Of the above charges, the first seems to be the most serious. Tai Kung taught that the ruler (and by extension his generals) must "intensively cultivate…benevolence, righteousness, loyalty, credibility, sincerity, courage, and wisdom." [5] Many of these values have utilitarian purposes, such as courage inspiring the soldiers during difficult moments in a campaign; however Li's proclivities, if true, had the potential to forfeit his (and by extension the ruler's) Mandate of Heaven that is only gained through righteousness. It also left him with flaws that could be exploited by rival generals, and that should be exploited as instructed by classic military texts. [6]

The other charges had dangerous implications as well, yet their potential political origin make these charges suspect. Civil servants, jealous and fearful of military success and the increasing strength of military households could easily trump up charges against Li. In fact, historian Kenneth Swope implies this in his study of the Li family. [7] The Li family also produced many talented generals and had the support of the Wanli Emperor in opposition to his civil servants. [8] And Li Rusong's later actions and success could argue for a more jaundiced bureaucracy than any less than awesome action of the general. The only charges that seems to bear fruit, and will be discussed later, is the lack of discipline among Chinese forces, as they indiscriminately beheaded Japanese soldiers and Korean civilians in their attempts to gain greater rewards; [9] and the lack of respect for civil servants, as multiple times during his campaign he beat and disrespected his civil companions; and the possibility of Li's susceptibility to bribing. [10]

Tactically, Li's actions during the siege of Ningxia and other actions against the rebels establish a baseline of action which can be applied to his later actions in Korea. The Li family is reported to have excelled at "ambushes, forced marches and night attacks" with the intent of confusing his foes. [11] Against the mutineers, Li sought to avoid a protracted siege. [12] This corresponds to Sun Tzu's advice that "the lowest [realization of warfare] is to attack their fortified cities." [13] Hence Li Rusong tried to maintain proper harmony by choosing a higher form of warfare: he attempted to lure them out through a ruse. [14]

Upon the failure of his ruse, he progressed with a standard siege. Although one could interpret his actions as pinning them in place with an orthodox siege, and then attempting to strike the killing blow with unorthodox tactics. This mirrors the famous article by Christopher Rand, where a combination of orthodox and unorthodox tactics served to pin an enemy in place, preparing them for a devastating blow from unorthodox tactics. [15] In Li's case, he followed his siege with a daring night attack, and then flooded the land around the city, cutting it off from reinforcements, and finally he offered bogus offers of clemency to encourage fighting within their ranks. [16] However, these unconventional measures were interspersed with conventional frontal attacks that, although led courageously by Li, led to great suffering and casualties among his forces and did little to take the city, but left openings for the enemy conduct their own raids on his camps. [17]

Li's actions during the munity of Ningxia revealed a mixed record concerning Li's leadership. He faced numerous charges that called his awesomeness into question that are somewhat tempered by the hostile nature of the source, but many of the charges seem to have considerable merit. Tactically, Li attempted to capture the rebels using higher forms of warfare and unorthodox tactics. After that failed, his tactics degenerated into costly frontal attacks which exposed his forces to the night time raids of the rebels. In general, the simultaneous revolt of powerful generals in Northern China and the inability to properly protect vassals indicate the growing centrifugal tendencies in late Ming society; and Li's inability to maximize the use of his soldiers (do more with less) indicates the failure of the military class as well. Victory may imply that Li was successful, but winning a battle that should never have been necessary indicts the loss of oversight and control of the Wanli Emperor.

Upon the defeat of the rebels Li turned his attention to the situation in Korea. From sources it appears that he prepared what he thought was the proper amount of supplies for his expedition. [18] This matches the admonition of Sun Tzu to employ the military only after the ruler has gathered the necessary supplies. [19] Sun Tzu also stressed the need for proper mental preparation, yet the actions of the Ming civil and military leaders seem to have acted in ignorance of proper intelligence. In making their "initial estimations", [20] the Ming ignored the signs of an imminent invasion of one of their tributaries, perhaps the same way they ignored the growing signs of rebellion in Ningxia. [21] Then, after the invasion they misread the intelligence and some even assumed the Koreans were actively aiding the Japanese in their conquest. [22] Then, the first expedition ignored the warning of the Koreans concerning the deadly disciplined fire of Japanese muskets. [23] After that expeditions defeat, Li Rusong seemed to ignore the same warnings concerning Japanese musketeers. [24] As the campaign progressed we will examine the effects of his decision further.

Upon entering Korea, Li's army had a modest amount of supplies. [25] The army may have expected to receive additional supplies from the Koreans. If they did, Li possessed an unrealistic assumption based on incomplete intelligence. The army itself was reported to contain large numbers of untrained conscripts with far fewer disciplined veterans. [26] The demands of other frontiers absorbed many of the newly seasoned forces that had just fought at Ningxia. And this revealed one of the sapping qualities associated with Ming foreign policy: the increasing demands of multiple frontiers coupled with the increasing military impotence of Chinese armies. The lack of disciplined soldiers within Li's army could slow him down, cause unnecessary casualties, and invite attacks from frontier enemies later on.

In addition to causing the pragmatic problems detailed above, these issues contradict two basic premises presented by Sun Tzu. "The basic principle is ‘go forth where they do not expect it; attack where they are not prepared.' This principle can only be realized through…strict discipline." [27] Thus the undisciplined army is not only harmful to civilians and degrading upon the abilities of the army, it contradicts the basic premise that success is built upon: the concept of being "unfathomable". [28] But "the collorary to being unknowable is seeking out and gaining detailed knowledge of the enemy." Li seemed to lack the discipline within his forces to prevent Japanese intelligence but also seemed to misread or ignore the intelligence coming into him concerning the inability of the Koreans to supplement Chinese supplies, the effects of terrain upon their cavalry forces, and the deadly discipline of Japanese muskets. Additionally, marching forward to the nearest city showed a lack of imagination and "vacuity of substance" that Sun Tzu advised having. [29]

Mentally the army seemed unprepared, but the army was supplied with a good number of cannon. These cannon would prove difficult to move through the rough terrain of Korea. Likewise, the cavalry forces of the Chinese would repeatedly bog down in the muddy valleys they attempted to pass through. The first expeditionary army was soundly defeated due to this factor, [30] and Li's horses would later suffer the same fate at the Battle of Pyojke. [31] However, the strong artillery detachment allowed Li to invest fortified cities with greater ease than in Sun Tzu's time. And his cavalry detachments gave him the capability for pursuit, and increased his potential ambush power.

During the advance towards the Japanese at Pyongyang, Li had several revealing encounters with his diplomatic corps and civil servants accompanying him. Lending weight to previous charges against him, Li severely beat one of his diplomats and was barely convinced to keep him for later ruses. [32] One such ruse included advancing towards Pyongyang under the guise of advancing for a negotiation. [33] Additionally, upon arriving close to the city Li Rusong invited a Japanese delegation for what they thought was a parley. But some of the Japanese fought their way out of the trap, and managed to alert the Japanese general Konishi Yukinaga at Pyongyang. [34]

In addition to Li's civil servant problem and his ruses, some complained about his slow advance towards Pyongyang. [35] This presents several issues that bear further study. His slow advance could be the product of bias within the Korean sources, since they wished for swift retribution from their "father" in the form of Chinese armies, and could have vented their frustration of the apparent lack of process by complaining about Li's delay. It could further signify the preparations that Li made, and bolsters his case that he followed Sun Tzu's standard for proper preparation. Plus, Li may have wished for his ruses to have greater effect. Since "subjugation without battle is the pinnacle of excellence", [36] Li's slow advance would have given his attempts enough time to win without a bloody and lower form of battle.

These actions match one of Sun Tzu's greatest themes: "warfare is the way of deception." [37] And "when such deception is imaginatively created and effectively implemented, the enemy will neither know where to attack nor what formations to employ and thus be condemned to making fatal errors." In this case the Japanese generals seemed un- fazed by Chinese machinations. Konishi dug into the city of Pyongyang and properly placed his forces to defend the city walls. [38] Overall, the Japanese forces seemed more paralyzed by combat fatigue, sickness, and supply problems than by Chinese formlessness.

The ineffectiveness of Li's deception could mean three things. First, it could mean that Chinese forces simply moved slowly. Second, it could have resulted from the lack of discipline among Li's forces. Third, the Japanese were resistant to this form of warfare due to a shared (or borrowed) cultural heritage. In a sense, the Japanese could fight fire with fire, and thus did not get burned by Chinese manipulations. Plus, the Japanese forces were known for their discipline, thus they had the presence of mind to fight their out of Li's ambush, perceive possible deception in Li's peace overtures and planned accordingly. It also brings to mind this reader's reaction to discussion of unorthodox tactics: namely, if unorthodox tactics are used so much, do they not become the new orthodoxy? And if unorthodox tactics are used so much that they become orthodox, then they become that much easier to counter, as shown by the Japanese in the events before the Battle of Pyongyang. And it could lead to such things as the Chinese presenting a fake feint in order to maximize the effect of a real feint, while the Japanese fake surprise at the fake feint in order to counter the real feint. Finally, this serves to highlight the mental preparation required of an Asian general as they navigate the maze of mirrors that accompany their campaigns.

The failure of Li's ruses left him with few options. He could outflank the Japanese position at Pyongyang. With proper preparation he could have accomplished this maneuver, but with the small army that he possessed, the lack of supplies, and the difficulty of the terrain made an attack on Pyongyang the best remaining option. Yet this was a less than stellar alternative when viewed by the standard of military theorists. Sun Tzu said the "lowest [realization of warfare] is to attack their fortified cities." [39] He also adds that it is only supposed to happen when unavoidable. [40] Yet, it seems the failure to muster the proper number of forces which would allow Li to invest and flank the city while protecting their supply lines, compose the army of men suitable to operate in the rough Korean terrain, and the failure to properly provision his army made the task of a direct assault against Pyongyang avoidably unavoidable.

Li, and his Korean allies, may have felt their cannon could overcome the thousand year old advice of Sun Tzu. The Koreans felt very confident in the prowess of the Chinese army. [41] Yet, while the Chinese had cannon that could blast in walls during a siege, the Japanese had well trained soldiers armed with muskets. As Kenneth Chase points out, the significant disadvantages of muskets are negated behind a fortification, and their advantages are increased. [42] Thus, many nations, the Japanese included, adopted the fortified wagon approach to allow their gunpowder forces proper cover as they reloaded; the cover offered by fortifications made the enemy approach into the muskets' effective range, and sometimes even funneled the enemy into a deadly funnel of small arms fire.

Finally, as David Graff points out, the Japanese occupied what military writers called "fatal terrain." As Sun Tzu said, "throw them into a place from which there is nowhere to go, and they will rather die than flee. When they are facing death, how could one not obtain the utmost strength from the officers and men?" [43] According to Graff, the occupation of fatal terrain had a galvanizing effect on the defending army and was seen as a "psychological trigger" used to stimulate greater effort for the fight. [44] Thus, Li not only pursued the lowest form of warfare due to his earlier failings, but he also activated a psychological trigger for Japanese forces by attacking them while in fatal terrain. Finally, his cannon had great effect in the battle, but were offset by the superior small arms fire of the Japanese. Even though his conduct during the Battle will reveal several outstanding traits advocated by classic military writers, based on this study he failed through having to fight the battle under those circumstances in the first place.

The battle itself presents numerous lessons for study. They include the proper use of soldiers relative to their operation terrain, the use of rewards and punishments during the fight, the ability to lead from the front, lead through hardships, a ruse using Koreans troops, using incendiary attacks, the lack of harmonious conduct by the troops, and the question of whether superior numbers, and not superior leadership won the battle for Li. In approaching the city Li needed to clear the hill top fort just to the north of the city. This would secure his flank as well as protect their rear as Chinese forces attacked. Perhaps conserving the strength of his troops, or maybe taking advantage of a dispossessed people, he attacked with Korean warrior monks. After taking the hill and softening the city with his cannon, Li begin the frontal assault on the city proper. Again, it seems Li did not attempt any additional ruses to secure the city without a conventional assault. One could call his use of smoke and incendiary attacks as unconventional, yet its inclusion in one of the oldest military tracts suggests it is not an unexpected event on the battlefield. Save the unorthodox tactics after the battle commenced, Li pursued the lowest form of battle without any additional effort at securing victory without fighting.

As the battle of the city proper commenced, Li began with a feint attack from the south as Li personally led an attack from the west. [45] As Sun Tzu said, "The location where we will engage the enemy must not become know to them." [46] As his army began to falter, Li shot the first man who fled, and then offered a reward to the first man to scale the wall. [47] And if "by executing one man the entire army will quake, kill him. If by rewarding one man the masses will be pleased, reward him…then your awesomeness has been effected." [48] In the desperate moments before the city walls Li seemed to rely upon the classic Chinese technique of instilling discipline through rewards and punishments.

In addition to proper rewards and punishments, Li commanded his men from the front, through a hail of bullets, and his lieutenants even led after getting hit from musket fire. [49] The factor of leading from the front combined with rewards and punishments to properly harness an army's Chi. "[Chinese theorist] Wei Liao believed that by nurturing the people's allegiance [through sharing their suffering]…and combining… [that with] fear of harsh, certain punishment, a powerful well disciplined army could be formed."[50] Judging from their fierce victory against the Japanese, and their forcing them from the city, in this case the two factors combined to form a disciplined force. Although, the army of Li Rusong did not show great discipline with concern to the surviving population; in the chaos of the city fighting many of Li's troops beheaded anybody they could find. The system of rewards (beyond the special one instituted by Li in front of the gates) was based upon the number of heads a soldier could present as evidence of his effectiveness in combat. In this instance, the tendency of Li to lead from the front, combined with a largely green army, spurred on by an exploitable reward system, led to an abuse upon the civilian population. Thus, the combination of rewards and punishments, in combination with a general that leads from the front, actually hurt the population as much as it won the battle designed to save the population.

Li also used incendiary attacks to mask his attack against the city. [51] Again, this resulted in mixed blessing and curses; as Sun Tzu said, "If the attack can be launched from outside without relying on inside [assistance], initiate it at an appropriate time." [52] While the fire could effectively mask the advance of Li towards the city, the post battle analysis reveals that the use of fire could have burned the grass and stores needed for the feeding of Chinese cavalry. And the indiscriminate use of cannon fire, and incendiary attacks belies that fact that the Chinese were liberating a major Korean city. The city was already in ruinous condition before the battle, and the withering artillery fire made the returning condition even worse for the Koreans.

The last three cases, rewards and punishments, leading from the front, and fire attacks, won the battle and eventually the war, but they made life incredibly difficult for surviving Koreans, and took the lives of many as well. This stands in stark contrast to the ruler's supposed purpose in going to war. Tai Kung taught that a ruler (and extension his generals) should lead with Confucian values of benevolence and virtue with policies that benefit the average man. [53] This would bind the people in loving harmony with their ruler, and allow him to recruit the motivated populace into his army. This also represented the harmonious goal of many classic writers. Under Taoist influence, many writers viewed war as an evil but necessary last resort in order to restore harmony to the realm. [54] While winning the battle would seem to fulfill the goal of restoring order, the untold suffering of the Korean population perpetrated by their supposed protectors seemed to lead to great friction between the civilian population and the ruling dynasty. [55] It also led to greater friction between the Korean leadership and the Chinese leadership. [56] So instead of restoring harmony through a higher form of battle, Li escalated tensions through the lower form.

This brings our discussion to the Korean ruse employed by Li during the battle outside of the gates. While Li sent a feint against the south of the city as he attacked from the West while leading from the front and employing special rewards and punishments, the Japanese tried to break out from the southwest against the supposedly unreliable Korean forces. [57] The Korean forces turned out to be Chinese in disguise; according to sources this caused the Japanese to retreat back into the city in a panic. [58] There is no word on how the Koreans felt at being used as a shock force north of the city, and as the subject of a ruse to the southwest of the city. But the arrogance of Li does appear paramount in the narrative. In fact, it sounds to this reader as though the Chinese sources detailing the battle (from which Swope takes much of his account) simply went down a check list of instructions from the classic military writers, yet the unpleasant side effects, such as the massacre of Korean civilians, and the raiding of the Chinese camp before the battle, and the larger issues, such as why Li was even fighting a lower form of battle against an opponent occupying fatal terrain, are not covered by Chinese historians. This seems to imply a revisionism among the contemporary Chinese historians, as they skip the deleterious effects of Li's actions but try to insert his text book attempts at gaining awesomeness.

The ability of the Japanese to escape does receive a good amount of attention. Korean writers claim that Li accepted a bribe, thus allowing the Japanese to cross the river and not exploiting his victory. [59] When we remember Li's character flaws that he was censured for earlier, this could be an instance of his flaws being exploited by the Japanese commander. After seeing his determination in battle, the Japanese could have expected to receive a reprieve for the proper price. If the bribe occurred, it could have represented an attempt for Li to win the battle without further bloodshed. So Li could gain complete control of the city without further fighting, and drain the treasury of the Japanese at the same time. All this assumes that the Korean account is correct.

Other accounts suggest that the Japanese retreated under the cover of darkness across a frozen river. [60] If true, this would show the Japanese were also properly acquainted with the Chinese texts as well. Sun Tzu taught that "avoiding a strong force is not cowardice but indicates wisdom because it is self-defeating to fight when and where it is not advantageous." [61] And the darkness allowed the Japanese an unknowable retreat, which also allowed them to feign their holding of a strong defensive position in the inner city; and this created distance between their smaller army and the dangerous Chinese cavalry. The bribery scandal could have evolved from Korean frustration with Li's slow pursuit of the Japanese. But the alternative explanation suggests that the Japanese were better at following Sun Tzu than the Chinese general Li Rusong. And reflect the strength of the Japanese leadership and mandate compared to the waning of the Chinese.

As mentioned earlier, Li followed up his victory at Pyongyang with no pursuit. This stands in stark contrast to Sun Tzu's advice that "if someone is victorious in battle…but does not exploit the achievement, it is disastrous, and his fate should be termed ‘wasteful and tarrying.'" [62] If the Li Rusong did accept a bribe, his inaction was simply his part of "the deal". But assuming Li was not bribed to allow a Japanese retreat, there are several other possible reasons for his delay. First, he may have been short on supplies. [63] This recalls the need for proper preparation before a campaign begins, and suggests Li's failure in that regard. Alternatively, Li's army could have been decimated by disease (perhaps the same disease the exhausted Japanese combat power). [64] This could also reflect the limits of the even the best leaders and show that even the best preparations and the most discipline general are undone by outside factors. Although, if this epidemic sapped the spirit of Li and his army, that would still reflect poorly on the leadership of Li Rusong. Since "the chi of the…[army] can be snatched away [and] the general's mind can be seized", the excellent leader must be able to "manipulate" his armies' spirits. [65] A failure to operate despite his army's fatigue, disease, and casualties still reflects poorly on Li's leadership despite mitigating circumstances.

A final explanation or Li's sluggish pace after his victory could reflect the maze of mirrors that accompanied Asian warfare. For instance, Sun Tzu said "if the enemy opens the door, you must race in." [66] But Li Ching says that the enemy may be feigning a retreat and preparing an unorthodox strategy, such as an ambush. [67] Hence, Li could have advanced slowly in trying to avoid a possible ambush. This position has some merit, since the Japanese possibly used classic Asian tactics to cover their retreat and had already ambushed an earlier Chinese expeditionary force. But this position holds even less weight when one considers that Li Rusong was later ambushed in the exact manner as the previous expeditionary force. It is hard to argue he moved slowly to avoid an ambush when he later got ambushed anyway.

The ambush at Pyokje reveals several leadership factors where Li Rusong was deficient. First, as mentioned previously, this argues against the explanation that Li was moving slowly due to caution against a possible Japanese ambush. In fact, after a brief period, (that was annoyingly long to the Koreans) Li actually moved with great haste against the remaining Japanese forces. Li also failed to properly take into account the terrain he was moving through. The ambushed occurred along a narrow valley during the early spring. The valley allowed the Japanese to quickly close and engage in hand to hand combat, while the early spring had thawed the road into a muddy mess. [68] This negated the Chinese advantage in cavalry and combat power, and played into the superior ability of Japanese small arms and melee combat. Only the timely intervention of Li's remaining force prevented total disaster. [69]

This defeat understandably shook Li Rusong. Some sources say this completely broke his spirit.[70] Yet the inherent bias in the work suggests against that conclusion. Li Rusong already had a mixed record concerning the success of his campaign and maybe he was content to allow the diplomats to handle the rest as he reorganized his army. Since Li had a great amount of disrespect for civilians and even had charges against him for the same, the probable cause of Li's actions was a sagging spirit. This would suggest an ability of Li to operate despite setbacks and does indicate a weakening spirit.

But this does bring to close our examination of Li's actions. After this battle the Japanese and Chinese settled into their respective perimeters to await further negotiations. It is at this point we can examine the larger picture of politics, supplies, technology, and society against the smaller picture concerning Li's battles tactics and character.

First, it seems that Li's overall strategy amounted to little more than closing with Japanese forces and engaging them in battle. This amounted to what one historian said was a lack of a plan for total victory. [71] Yet, one must remember that Li's goal was not necessarily total victory, but simply to restore the country of Korea through smashing the Japanese army. Also, Li was not the official in charge of the entire war effort, but simply commanded the expeditionary force. [72] And Li had to request the necessary supplies from civilian officials. Judging from his lack of preparedness and goods later in the campaign, perhaps Li had a good reason to disrespect civilian officials. They were jealous of his power and perhaps got him charged before his campaign; they could have also dragged their feet on supplying him with the resources Li requested. [73] This also could have fed into Li's lack of respect for civilian officials and represented the lack of the Ming Emperors in mustering the strength to plan, prepare, and conduct campaigns against an increasingly corrupt and useless bureaucracy.

Thirdly, there is a possibility that Li won the Battle of Pyongyang only due to his superior numbers. As previously mentioned, the Japanese attempted ruses to try and counteract the ruses that Li attempted. And Li was fighting an enemy on fatal terrain with the lowest form of battle. Contrary to the instructions of Sun Tzu, Li's forces and strategic power did not roll as boulders "down a thousand fathom mountain." [74] Instead, Li had to personally lead his men, threaten strict punishment, cajole with rewards and went back and forth with the Japanese in a bitter multi day battle that ended with the Japanese forces escaping in decent order. With Li Rusong commanding about 40,000 men against an estimated 12,000 Japanese men, one should expect more. Thus, one could argue that it was not Li's excellent use of military classics but his superior numbers that won the battle for him. And against a large number of mounted and disciplined foes, even the usually large numbers of Ming soldiers could not guarantee victory.

Li was helped out immensely by his superiority in cannon, which allowed him to better break down the walls in his siege. Although the Japanese seemed to counter the Chinese advantage in cannon by fighting behind walls and focusing on ambush and nightly raids. And finally, the Ming Dynasty had many other difficulties governing their wide realm, and the Japanese were coming off a recent unification of their country. Thus Li was fighting with an ad hoc army of largely green troops against the veterans of the unification wars of Japan. So Li had larger issues outside of his immediate control that affected his army, strategy, and his leadership.

This study has examined the pre campaign, campaign, and finishing phases Li Rusong's actions in Korea. Before the campaign Li was censured for several proclivities, including licentiousness and disrespect for civilian officials. This could be a circular scenario, where the civilians fail to properly supply the army due to jealousy or fear; and then the generals naturally abuse the civil servants in return. Due to lack of sources, it is difficult to tell if Li was justifiably censured, or appropriate in venting against the cause of his frustrations. Due to latter events, we can reasonably suggest that Li did not prepare sufficiently for his campaign. After winning at the Battle of Pyongyang, it is suggested that Li did not advance due to his lack of supplies. Li was also ambushed in the same fashion as previous Chinese forces; both supply problems and his getting ambushed suggest a failure to properly use pre campaign intelligence.

During the campaign, Li did not show the proper respect for civilian officials, yet he still adopted several ruses that allowed him to advance towards the Japanese position unharrassed, and almost allowed him to capture important Japanese leaders. Upon reaching the city, Li Rusong adopted the lowest form of battle with an enemy on galvanizing terrain and used his Korean allies in a callous way. He also failed to take into account the effects of his actions and his system of rewards upon the Korean civilian population. Although he led from the front, adopted ruses during the battle, and proper broadcast a system of punishments and rewards, this writer cannot help but feel the battle was unnecessary. With proper preparation, such as having fewer cannon, better supplies and more soldiers to protect his supply line, Li could have outflanked the already beleaguered garrison at Pyongyang; and forced the Japanese to retreat or face starvation in a city invested by Chinese troops, surrounded by a hostile population, and with an enemy army operating in their rear.

But Li fought a costly battle, in terms of the men lost and the damage done to the city and its civilian population. After the battle Li was either bribed into allowing the Japanese escape, or negligent in pursuing a fleeing enemy. The possible explanations outside of being bribed point to other failures of leadership, either he had a dearth of supplies due to lack of preparation, or he was cautious of a possible ambush. The former suggest incomplete preparation against the commands of Sun Tzu, the latter is unlikely due to the subsequent ambush at the hands of Japanese forces.

Upon the evidence available, the leadership of Li Rusong did have a direct effect upon the successful completion of the campaign and the winning the Battle of Pyongyang. Yet there are serious questions as to the efficiency of the campaign, and the necessity of even fighting the Battle of Pyongyang; some people called it the "Midway" of the war, [75] yet with proper preparation the battle could have been won without firing a shot, damaging the city or hurting its population. Based upon criteria from within the classic Chinese military texts, Li was a mildly successful general due to his victory at Pyongyang through clever ruses, and his partial completion of the state Chinese goal of evicting the Japanese from Korea. By the end of Li's campaign in Korea the Japanese had retreated to the southern most tip of the peninsula. Yet this is almost overshadowed by the failure to properly prepare for the campaign, Li's character flaws, his tendency to rely on his cannon regardless of the terrain he is in, his proclivity for the lowest form of battle, failure to pursue a defeated enemy and his foolishness in allowing himself to be ambushed.

Within a short period of time after Li Rusong's campaigns the Ming Dynasty entered an almost "catontic" state. [76] In many respects, the lack of harmonistic and higher military maneuvers mirrors the decline of Ming military effectiveness. And it signified a lack of military ability to adequately defend the Empire, and in the minds of many Chinese helped represented the loss of the Mandate of Heaven for the Emperors. Thus, not only is a military study of Li Rusong siginificant in highlighting classic Chinese texts in action, but it also shows how the inability to follow texts often resulted in or stemmed from the atrophy of the state.

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2009 Morgan Deane.


Written by Morgan Deane. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Morgan Deane at:
morgan.deane@yahoo.com.

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Published online: 06/21/2009.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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