Japanese soldiers invade, and a woman of firsts

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Japanese soldiers invade, and a woman of firsts

April 13, 1592
Korea and Japan have long been enemies, the two countries having fought each other in a number of wars. One of the major battles was Imjin Waeran, or the Japanese Invasion in the Year of Imjin, which began on this date when more than 210,000 Japanese soldiers landed at Busan.
After unifying Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi embarked on his next plan, invading the continent, with Korea lined up as the first victim. He hoped his rivals at home would join him in taking on a big military conquest.
Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, on the other hand, was helpless, with a power struggle among political factions taking place inside the court.
Toyotomi first wrote to the king of Joseon and proposed an alliance with Japan. He wanted to invade China’s Ming Dynasty and wanted Korea’s cooperation. The letter, however, was allegedly written in an arrogant and impolite manner.
The king of Joseon sent a group of officials from each political faction to visit Japan and investigate the matter.
Once home, the diplomats continued bickering, and the king and his followers concluded that nothing would happen. This turned out to be a costly decision.
Toyotomi soon launched a series of surprise attacks (including the one on this date) to start the war, which was remembered as one of the biggest in that period of Korean history.
The Japanese Army was armed with superior weaponry and gained an advantage on the battlefield. After a few years of war, however, the legendary Admiral Yi Sun-shin reversed the situation and beat the Japanese in the South Sea with his famous turtle ship.
China subsequently allied with Joseon, and Toyotomi died of an illness in 1598. Having no leader, the Japanese army retreated, and the war came to an end, but not before it left deep scars in all three countries. It eventually led to the fall of the Ming Dynasty in China.

April 18, 1896
Korean history remembers Na Hye-seok as the first for more than a few things ― the first feminist, the first Korean female to paint Western-style fine art and the first woman who announced her divorce in public. Her life as a pioneer, however, was not easy, and was accompanied by a number of sacrifices.
Born on this date as a daughter to a wealthy bureaucratic family, Ms. Na had her eyes opened to the new influx of Western culture from an early age. Being the first Korean woman to study fine art in Tokyo, Ms. Na also cut a conspicuous figure in literature.
Ms. Na’s primary concern, however, was to liberate her fellow women. In one of her poems, Ms. Na writes: “I was a doll. I was their puppet. Wake up, girls and follow me. Wake up and show your strength.”
Another first Ms. Na has behind her name was entering into a prenuptial agreement before she got married to Kim U-yeong, a young and promising diplomat in the Japanese colonial government.
In following her husband, Ms. Na realized her dream of going to Europe. Determined to make the most of her situation, Ms. Na indulged in many pleasures, including an extramarital affair.
With her husband often away on business, Ms. Na stayed alone in Paris. It was here she met Choi Rin, a Korean national fighting for independence from Japan. Ms. Na fell madly in love with Mr. Choi while he was visiting the city.
The happiness, however, did not last long and the fallout was severe. Her husband could not stand the idea of his wife having an affair and divorced her.
Back home, even those who once supported Ms. Na turned their backs on her. Driven into a corner, Ms. Na released the “Confession of a Divorce” to justify her actions. She also filed a suit against Mr. Choi, asking for compensation.
This only made matters worse, as it served to confirm the rumors. Korean society in the early 20th century was not ready to accept new ideas.
Branded a social outcast, Ms. Na’s life went steeply downhill. Embroiled in financial difficulties, Ms. Na had a nervous breakdown that paralyzed half of her body. In 1948, she was found dead and alone, in a shabby municipal hospital.

by Chun Su-jin
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