Nature, Technology, and Daily Life in a Wartime Borderland

Nature, Technology, and Daily Life in a Wartime Borderland

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Late sixteenth-century map of east China and the Korean peninsula, viewed from the north. Song Yingchang, Jinglüe fugue yaobian [Summary of the restitution of Korea by the Military Commissioner] (Taipei: Huawen shuju, 1968), 1:28-29.

Late sixteenth-century map of east China and the Korean peninsula, viewed from the north. Song Yingchang, Jinglüe fugue yaobian [Summary of the restitution of Korea by the Military Commissioner] (Taipei: Huawen shuju, 1968), 1:28-29.

This project examines the seldom-studied intersection of the environment, technology, society, and war in the Sino-Korean borderland from the late sixteenth to the early seventeenth century. The term “borderland” often evokes the image of a sparsely populated land between political entities, largely detached from political, commercial, and cultural centers. In terms of cultural and commercial interactions, however, communities in such areas are no less vibrant than those at the center of political and commercial power. Local residents and merchants travel regularly across boundaries; their daily life inevitably involves negotiating with disparate groups and communities. Borderlands are also where tensions can arise between groups who hold different and competing interests. Occasionally, or repeatedly in some areas, such tensions develop into military conflict and wreak havoc on the life of local residents. At the same time, armed confrontation can act as a catalyst for increased—or forced—regional mobility, triggering considerable fluctuations in the movement of goods and people across boundaries. Such fluidity was observed in the Sino-Korean borderland of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, when the region was afflicted by successive war mobilizations. Focusing on the logistics of transporting food, money, and animals in times of war, this study investigates how the cross-border wars involving Korea from the late sixteenth to the early seventeenth century were conditioned by local terrain, climate, and technologies in the Sino-Korean borderland, and how the logistical demands of these wars profoundly disrupted the region’s agricultural cycle and the daily life of local residents.