Professor Gari Ledyard of Columbia University has left a couple of extremely good posts on the Korean Studies Mailing List that deserve to be shared here. They also put a somewhat different perspective on the article I noted here about African mercenaries fighting alongside Ming troops during the Imjin Wars (1592-1598). His posts are in response to a question about whether Portuguese soldiers were fighting with the Chinese in late sixteenth century Korea. The first one looks at the source of the notion that Portuguese were in Chosŏn and includes an excellent translation of the relevant passage from the Sŏnjo Sillok (Veritable Records of King Sŏnjo). The second posting on the same subject deals with another passage from the Sillok regarding the ‘Sea Devils’ and also the claims about early visits to Korea by Spanish Jesuits in the late sixteenth century.
The upshot of all this is that the Sillok passage on which the article about ‘African mercenaries’ seems to have been based is rather ambiguous. While it appears unlikely that it refers to Portuguese soldiers, there is also nothing to show positively that it is talking about Africans – Gari Ledyard points out that the soldiers could be from a number of areas in south and southeast Asia as well as Africa.
Below is the translation of the passage from the Sŏnjo Sillok, reproduced with Professor Ledyard’s kind permission.