The modern history is full of deep, dark tragedies. And, my intention, as I sat down to write of those tragedies for a FB page I look after for a Macquarie University student society, was to tell the story of these very dark contemporary events. But East Asia history is complex and I think its helpful to try to have an overview of that history to understand what has happened in the recent past.
A Korean Tragedy.
The Back Story. 1. The Mongols, Korea, China and Japan
In the first decade of the 13th century, Chingiis Khan and his armies commenced small scale raids into one of the smaller Northern Dynasties of China, but it was not until 1271 that Kublai Khan had conquered sufficient territory to declare himself the Emperor of China.
While attempting to subdue Chinese opposition, the Mongol army first invaded Korea, *in 1231) there was strong resistance and only in 1259 did the King sue for peace with the Mongols. However, some army units continued resistance until 1273. The Mongols, having achieved control of most of East Asia, now sought to invade Japan, using Chinese and Korean resources. In 1274, a combined army of Mongols, Chinese and Korean troops sailed on some 800 ships on the first of two ill-fated invasions. Despite having superior weapons (e.g. poisoned arrows, fire arrows, bow-launched arrows with small rocket engines attached and gunpowder-packed exploding arrows and grenades with ceramic shells thrown by slings to terrify the enemy's horses), the invaders were defeated.
The Mongol military machine was not about to give up. They organised a second invasion force. According to some sources, as many as 100,000 highly skilled warriors and near to 4,500 ships took part in the second invasion. This time the Mongols nearly succeeded. Legend has it that as battle seemed lost, the Emperor prayed to his ancestors who sent a ‘divine wind’ (kamikaze) that destroyed much of the invasion force and drowned near 100,000 men.
The Mongol era in East Asia was not all doom and spilt blood. This was the East Asia that Marco Polo described in glowing terms. With a unified political authority stretching across Asia, East-West trade surged and there were many cultural exchanges.
Yet, in China, the Mongols began to lose control with various peasant uprisings demonstrating the dynasty’s growing weakness. Two native rivals fought for political control of China, and in 1363, in a naval battle known as the 'Battle of Lake Poyang' (termed by some historians as the largest naval battle in history) Zhu Yuanzhang eliminated his opponent, and by 1368, his armies were able to control much of China as the Ming (Bright) Dynasty.