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Battle of Byeokjegwan

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Battle of Byeokjegwan

Battle of Byeokjegwan
Part of the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598)
Date January 27, 1593
Location Byeokjegwan, a lodging house along the main road to China
Result Decisive Japanese victory [1]
Fleet of Toyotomi Hideyoshi Ming Dynasty
Joseon Navy
Commanders and leaders
Tachibana Muneshige
Ukita Hideie
Kobayakawa Takakage
Li Rusong
30,000 to 40,000[2] including infantry, cavalry and arquebus squads 20,000[3]
Casualties and losses
unknown 6,000 killed[4]

The Battle of Byeokjegwan (or Pyŏkje) (Chinese: 碧蹄館大戰; Bì tí guǎn dàzhàn) was a battle fought on January 27, 1593 (January 26 according to the Japanese calendar of the time), between the armies of the Ming Dynasty led by Li Rusong, and the Japanese forces under Tachibana Muneshige, Ukita Hideie, and Kobayakawa Takakage. As part of the Japanese Invasion of Korea (Imjin War), it was the first field battle fought during the war between the two sides.


Li Rusong and the Ming army of 36,000 set out from Liaodong on December 25, 1592, in an effort of the Ming army to aid the Joseon Dynasty, which had already largely been overrun by Japanese forces. Li was initially successful, and he retook Pyongyang in a one-day direct assault on January 8. He recaptured the major city of Kaesong not long after.

The capital city of Seoul was the Ming force's next target. Li began to send early scouting parties towards Seoul in late January. A few skirmishes occurred between the two sides. Li left behind a few thousand men to defend Pyeongyang and Kaesong and set out for Seoul with his main force.


Soon after retaking Pyongyang, Li also succeeded in retaking the major city of Kaesong on 19 January [5] and met only minor resistance from the Japanese defenders. Overconfident with his recent success and possibly misled by false reports,[6] Li Rusong advanced towards the capital city of Seoul with his allied army of 20,000[7] on January 21 of 1592. On January 26, the force ran into an unexpected confrontation at Byeokjegwan by a large Japanese formation of about 30,000.

On the same morning, Li's advance party, under General Zha Dashou (查大受) along with the Korean general Go Eon-baek (고언백(高彦伯)) approached the Byeokjewan area north of Seoul. The Japanese force became aware of the advance and Tachibana Muneshige sent out a small party of 500 to 600 men to lure the Ming army forward. The Ming party took the bait and attacked the Japanese party.[8] The Ming advance party was soon met by Muneshige's main force (3000 strong) coming in from the flanks and was forced to pull back, becoming trapped in the nearby hills.

Li Rusong, upon hearing of the plight of his advance party, moved forward and tried to relieve his besieged scouts. He managed to meet up with his scouts around noon, only to be met with an even larger relief army from the Japanese side as other daimyo's forces from the area also converged on Byeokjegwan.

Li Rusong was now trapped with his forces facing a Japanese army of between 30,000 to 40,000 men. They were again forced to try to defend themselves on a hill. The muddy field conditions and narrow nature of the area made it difficult for them to utilize their horses, so the force mostly dismounted and fought on foot.

The Japanese forces advanced on the Ming position around 10 am. The initial attack by Ukita Hideie's forces was pushed back by the Ming, and then came an all out advance with Muneshige's force coming in from the right, Ukita Hideie's force coming in from the front, and Kobayakawa Takakage's force coming in from the left. Muneshige's forces fired off a volley of teppō before charging head on into the Ming forces.

The Ming forces were without their heavy equipment or infantry support, but were made up almost entirely of their most elite retinue warriors. The two sides clashed and the Ming generals themselves were forced to fight in hand-to-hand combat for most of the battle. Li Rusong's brother, Li Rumei, shot a samurai warrior (Ono Nariyuki) at point blank range as he was about to duel with his brother. One of the Ming officers, Li Yousheng (李有聲), was killed while trying to defend Li Rusong.[9] Several samurai of note also perished in the battle.

The all-out brawl continued from 10 am to midday, while Japanese forces sent several waves up against the Ming position and both sides took significant casualties. Around noon it started to rain, and the broken ground began to resemble a swamp, making the melee fighting difficult. Changing tactics, Kobayakawa drew back his samurai to allow a field of fire for his arquebus squads, which shot bullets into the mass of Chinese and Koreans. The Japanese then pursued the defeated Ming army back up the pass to its highest point, and after a few more hours of fighting, Kobayakawa ordered the advance to cease as darkness fell. The Japanese forces, not ready to commit to an all-out field battle with the Ming's main force, pulled back towards Seoul, and the Ming army, having taken heavy losses among their elite warriors, also pulled back towards Kaesong.[10]


As with many battles in the Imjin war, the casualty figure is wildly different depending on the source. Li Rusong first reported a casualty figure of 264 against a kill of 167 enemies to the chief overseer Song Yingchang,[11] though it was later blasted by other Ming officials back home of being faulty. An investigation concluded that the actual casualty figure was closer to the 2,000 range (as many of the retinue soldiers killed were off-the-record soldiers, the on-record soldiers casualty was indeed in the 200s). The first Korean report on the battle relayed a story from a different Ming general that was not directly involved in the battle that the Ming lost 1,500 men while only killing a little more than a hundred foe,[12] while the Japanese records seem to suggest that they lost 2,000-3,000 men while killing 6,000 men[13] of the Ming force. One source in particular suggests that the Ming lost 20,000 men,[14] (which would have been around 60% of the entire Ming army in Korea at that time).

Given the nature of the battle and the maneuvers of both sides in the days and months after the battle, it could be estimated both sides lost between 2,000 to 5,000 men, though the Ming casualties were almost entirely among their elite retinues, which made the number more significant than it would appear.

Other controversies

Although the official version of the story was that Li Rusong and the Ming forces were misled by faulty Korean intelligence, some of the other Ming generals (especially those that originated from the South) claimed that in fact it was Zha Dashou who misled Li and the other Ming forces. Zha thought that the Japanese forces were on the verge of collapse, and thus a fast and sudden advance on their position would cause them to pull out of Seoul, and as the vanguard of the group, he would gain the largest share of the glory. The generals cited that almost all of them were caught by surprise by Li's sudden departure the day before the battle, and scrambled to catch him.[15]

The battle and other disputes at Pyongyang and elsewhere led to an ever increasing friction between the Ming officers of different origins.


  1. ^ 中国——朝鲜·韩国关系史 author:杨昭全 pp.486
  2. ^ Turnbull, Stephen; Samurai Invasions of Korea 1592-1598, p.145.
  3. ^ Turnbull, Stephen; Samurai Invasions of Korea 1592-1598, p.145.
  4. ^ Turnbull, Stephen; Samurai Invasions of Korea 1592-1598, p.148.
  5. ^ The history of Ming Chapter 238 十九日,如柏(Li Rusong)遂複開城
  6. ^ The history of Ming Chapter 238 官軍既連勝,有輕敵心 二十七日再進師。朝鮮人以賊棄王京告。如松信之,將輕騎趨碧蹄館。
  7. ^ Turnbull, Stephen; Samurai Invasions of Korea 1592-1598, p.145.
  8. ^ entry on February 6, 1593Annals of Seonjo 體察使右議政兪泓馳啓曰: “本月二十七日, 李提督領兵發行, 聞査副揔ㆍ高彦伯, 同往體探, 適逢賊六七百名, 斬獲四百餘級
  9. ^ chapter 238History of Ming 一金甲倭搏如松急,指揮李有聲殊死救,被殺
  10. ^ chapter 238History of Ming 官軍乃退駐開城
  11. ^ Letters by Song Yingchang on February 8th 1593 to the Minister of Military affairs Shi Shin in 經略復國要編
  12. ^ entry on February 5, 1593Annals of Seonjo 當日南兵千戶吳惟珊, 以調兵事過去言: ‘前月二十七日, 晌午, 天兵爲我國哨兵瞞報所誤, 謂「倭賊已退, 京畿已空」, 領兵前進, 倭賊曾已埋伏, 反被中截圍掩,斬倭僅一百二十餘, 天兵死傷一千五百
  13. ^ 日本戰史‧朝鮮役
  14. ^ 日本外史
  15. ^ 錢世楨 所著之 "征東實錄"所記 (The accounts of the southern Ming general Qian Shizhen in his memoir Records of the Eastern expedition)


  • Annals of King Seonjo
  • 《日本戰史‧朝鮮役》[1]
  • 《明史‧李如松傳》 E5.AD.90_.E5.A6.82.E6.9D.BE
  • 朝鮮壬辰倭禍史料 李光濤編 中央研究院歷史語言研究所刊行
  • 經略復國要編 宋應昌 著 臺北 : 京華出版 : 華文發行, 1968
  • Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War 1592–1598 by Stephen Turnbull, p. 143-148
  • 征東實錄 錢世楨 著 (The Records of the Eastern Expedition by Qian Shizhen)
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