Haedong-myeongjang-jeon (海東名將傳 ‘Biographies of Famous Korean Generals’) is a work compiled by I Gye Hong Yangho (耳溪 洪良浩 1724-1802) in 1794. It’s noteworthy as being one of the very few works of the later Joseon dynasty to focus on military heroes which, as Hong explains in his preface, was the very purpose of the endeavor.
Below is a translation of the contents and preface. The only readily available near-complete edition of Haedong-myeongjang-jeon in South Korean bookshops is a 1996 facsimile reprint of a 1956 North Korean translation (from Classical Chinese to contemporary Korean hangul) by Gang Byeongdo. The translation of the preface I’ve made is from this edition so the language is clearly couched in the vocabulary of the time and place. As described in Lankov’s From Stalin to Kim Il Sung, 1956 was a dramatic year in North Korea when Kim Il Sung put down the last significant challenge to his totalitarian grip on power and went onto enact purges against the remaining Chinese and Soviet factions within the Party. As the Pyongyang edition keeps the use of Chinese characters to a bare minimum there is no hanja available for Gang Byeongdo’s name to help identify him.
Comparing Gang’s translation to the original Chinese text, it still successfully translates Hong’s general meaning even if there is some change of nuance.
More than the translation it is worth noting that two generals, highlighted below, were entirely omitted from the Pyongyang edition.
Dates given in the contents are culled from the internet. Where they are unknown, the ‘flourished’ (fl.) dates are taken from the source text or Samguk-sagi where indicated (SS).
Book 1 一券
Kim Yusin 金庾信 김유신 595~673
Jang Bogo 張保皐 장보고 ?~846
Jeong Nyeon 鄭年 정년 fl.828 (SS)
Simna 沈那 심나 fl.634~647 (Inpyeong 仁平 reign era of Queen Seondeok)
Sona 素那 소나 ?~675
Bubunno 扶芬奴 부분노 fl.32~6BCE (SS, legendary)
Eulji Mundeok 乙支文德 을지문덕 fl.611 (SS)
Ansi-seongju (Ansi fortress chief) 안시성주(安市城主) 안시성주 fl.645 (SS) (named elsewhere as Yang Manchun 楊萬春)
Heukchi Sangji 黑齒常之 흑치상지 ?630~689
Yu Geumpil 庾黔弼 유금필 ?~941
Gang Gamchan 姜邯贊 강감찬 948~1031
Yang Gyu 楊規 양규 ?~1011
Yun Gwan 尹瓘 윤관 ?~1111
Book 2 二券
O Yeonchong 吳延寵 오연총 1055~116
Kim Busik 金富軾 김부식 1075~1151
Jo Chung 趙冲 조충 1171~1220
Kim Chwiryeo 金就礪 김취려 1172~1234
Bak Seo 朴犀 박서
Song Munju 宋文胄 송문주
Kim Gyeongson 金慶孫 김경손 ?~1251
I Jaseong 李子晟 이자성 ?~1251
Book 3 三券
Kim Banggyeong 金方慶 김방경 1212~1300
Han Huiyu 韓希愈 한희유 ?~1306
Won Chunggap 元冲甲 원충갑
An U 安祐 안우 ?~1362
Kim Deukbae 金得培 김득배 1312~1362
I Bangsil 李芳實 이방실 ?~1362
Jeong Seun 鄭世雲 정세울 ?~1362
An U’gyeong 安遇慶 안우경 ?~1372
Jeong Ji 鄭地 정지 1347~1391
Book 4 四券
Choe Yeong 崔瑩 최영 1316~1388
I Ji’ran 李之蘭 이지란 1331~1402
Choe Yundeok 崔潤德 최윤덕 1376~1445
I Jongsaeng 李從生 이종생 1423~1495
Eo Yuso 魚有沼 어유소 1434~1489
I Sunsin 李舜臣 이순신 1545~1598
Gwon Yul 權慄 권율 1537~1599
Book 5 五券
Gwak Jae’u 郭再祐 곽재우 1552~1617
Jeong Munbu 鄭文孚 정문부 1565~1624
Hwang Jin 黃進 황진 1550~1593
Hyu Jeong 休靜 휴정 1520~1604
Yu Jyeong 惟政 유정 1544~1610
Yeong Gyu 靈圭 영규 ?~1592
Jeong Giryong 鄭起龍 정기룡 1562~1622
Kim Si’min 金時敏 김시민 1554~1592
Book 6 六券
I Jeong’am 李廷馣 이정암 1541~1600
Im Jung-ryang 林仲樑 임중량
Kim Deok-ryeong 金德齡 김덕령 1567~1596
Jeong Chungsin 鄭忠信 정충신 1576~1636
Kim Eungha 金應河 김응하 1580~1619
Kim Eunghae 金應海 김응해 1588~1666
Im Gyeong’eop 林慶業 임경업 1594~1646
Jeong Bongsu 鄭鳳壽 정봉수 1572~1645
Yu Hyeong 柳珩 유형 1566~1615
Yu Rim 柳琳 유림 1581~1643
(sourced from the 1956 translation by Gang Byeongdo)
If one is to broadly distinguish the two most important tasks of a country, it would be concluded that they are culture and national defence. According to the Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋傳), culture is what makes the masses obedient (lit. ‘follow’) whilst national defence is what makes enemies fearful. According to the Cixi commentary on the Book of Changes (周易繫辭), “The Yellow Emperor (黃帝) and emperors Yao (堯) and Shun (舜) administered their countries through culture.” And it continues, “Through military preparation they demonstrated their majesty.”
The tasks of culture and national defence must go side by side; either one must not be stopped. The prosperous Three Dynasties (the Xia 夏, Yin/Shang 殷/商 and Zhou 周) implemented this policy and so over a long period were able to maintain levels of peace and stability which were hard to find in subsequent eras. Since [or ‘except for’] the Han (漢) and Tang (唐), I have not heard of a country that abandoned these two policies but maintained itself.
Even though [our] territory and talent could not compare with that of China, our ancestors imported Chinese culture and received much help. During the period of the Three Han (三韓) [our] culture was not very high, but from Silla and Goguryeo onwards, [we] became skillful in methods of national administration and accordingly [our] national defence [also] strengthened and [our] art of war became developed. As a consequence when repulsing invasions and faced with unexpected mishap, [our country] has not been short of talented men. Kim Gakgan (金角干 – refers to Kim Yusin 金庾信) of Silla and Eulji Mundeok (乙支文德) of Goguryeo [both] suppressed great national disturbances and so their exploits occupy the highest position in the [history of the] Three Kingdoms (三國). Even famous Chinese generals could not match them.
Afterwards, during the five hundred years of Goryeo, Korean territory (국토) was invaded and the Korean people massacred almost every year by such foreign enemies as the Khitan, Mongols and Red Turbans (紅巾賊). But each time illustrious generals (령장) would come forward who would surmount difficulties and overthrow the enemies. Generals such as Gang Gamchan and Kim Sangnak (金上洛) were particularly outstanding; their soldiers never once surrendered and never lost territory. On account of this foreigners feared Goryeo and called it a strong country.
Entering the Joseon dynasty, history remained long and the people did not lessen, but military strength and exploits have been greatly diminished than in previous times. Because of this when experiencing the Imjin [Japanese] invasion, the nation could not help but fall into a dangerous position. If at that time [we] had not had the assistance of China, it cannot be known what would have become of [us]. During the Byeongja [Manchu] invasion, intruders with no strength poured in as though it was uninhabited territory and for a time [Korea] was in a gruesome situation.
On what account was this? It was because [we] only esteemed culture whilst neglecting national defence and military preparedness was extremely poor.
Further, how pathetic is it that even after the disturbances had been calmed, [our] warriors carried on nonchalantly just as though nothing had happened?!
Worried about this situation, I have compiled the biographies of famous generals from Silla and Goguryeo up until the Joseon dynasty and aim to raise the [level of our] caution by showing the experiences of the past. Another objective is for the administrators within the country to all realise that the tasks of culture and national defence are originally of equal importance [but] that according to [times of] peace or war [we] must pay attention with [appropriate] balance.
Looking back, such famous Joseon dynasty generals as Prince Chungmu [aka Yi Sunsin], Gwon Wonsu and Gwak Hong’ui (郭紅衣) appear with such heroism and distinguished deeds (공훈) that they do not fall behind [even] the famous generals of Silla and Goguryeo.
In that case it cannot be said that the country domestically lacks men of talent (인물). [But] to experience war without any preparation or training and [yet] successfully handle [such a] difficult task, this has only been possible through luck. Of course, this cannot be said [to be the same as] repelling [potential] invaders outside of the nation’s borders and raising the country’s prestige [such that] they will be fearful and not dare to consider [attacking].
Truly, it can be said that the talented men of the Joseon dynasty have accomplished prosperous circumstances. In learning, literature and loyalty they are comparable to the Tang and Song dynasty whilst no other country would dare rival (lit. ‘follow’) them. On this front, [we] can stand proud in the world and future historians will have no need to be ashamed.
However, only in national defence, it is a fact that [we] have fallen behind the Three Kingdoms period. On what account? Is it because the topography (lit. ‘mountains and streams’) or climate has changed? Or is it because at that time heaven’s will was vast but now is miserly?
That [Joseon] has fortunately grown strong alongside the Qing and Japan and maintained peace for several centuries without war represents (lit. ‘is’) the accumulated virtue (적덕) of our ancestors and happiness of the nation. However, [we] cannot sleep peacefully believing in only this as the nation’s hundred year plan. Confucius said that in the task of peace there must definitely be military preparedness, are the sage’s words not profound in meaning?
I hope that those who read this text will understand my intentions.
Third month of the Gab’in year (甲寅年, 1794)
I Gye Hong Yangho (耳溪 洪良浩)