Did Toyotomi Hideyoshi have any chance at conquering China and Korea?
Not China and Korea, but quite possibly Korea, or at least part of it. You see, during the war, which henceforth I will call the Imjin War (which is the Korean name for it), Japan had pretty much conquered 70% of the peninsula before the Chinese could even arrive, where they managed to stop the Japanese at Pyongyang. There, the Chinese and Japanese held negotiations of a ceasefire, allowing the Japanese basically keep its control over the southern half of the peninsula. Though historians disagree to how much the Ming were actually willing to allow the Japanese to stay in Korea, especially with the Koreans, a long time ally to the Chinese, sitting right there around the negotiations listening in. To be sure, the Koreans were absolutely not willing to accept any sort of treaty besides the absolute expulsion of the Japanese, but the Ming's intentions were a little ambiguous. But, the real deal breaker was when Toyotomi Hideyoshi, in his arrogance, demanded that the Chinese send a princess to marry him, which, especially in Asian politics and tradition at the time, basically symbolized China's subservience to the Japanese or, at the very least, its acceptance of Japan as its equal. That, of course, was an absolute no-no to the Chinese, considering in the eyes of the mainlanders, the Japanese were nothing more than a bunch of self-righteous pirate dwarves (yes, the Japanese had a reputation of being short even in Asian standards), whose barbaric blood lust threatened to throw off the balance of civilization.
So, negotiations fell through. The war continued on land while Yi Sun-shin continued his obliteration of the Japanese navy at sea. Point must be made that thanks to Yi and his fleet, the Japanese could never gain access to the Yellow Sea. Had they been able to, the Japanese could not only reinforce and supply their troops in Korea, but also launch an invasion directly against China. But because they were blocked, the Chinese and Koreans knew that the Japanese weren't in a position of power at the negotiations table.
Never China, but maybe Korea, though the logistician in me doubts it highly. The poor Japanese logistics system (if it could even be called that) may have doomed them from the start even with an open passage into the Yellow Sea. And no matter what happened on the peninsula, Hideyoshi would still have lost interest once a true heir was born in 1593. As well, not all of his generals on the ground in Korea really seemed all that enthused to be there in the first place and likely would have continued scheming to get home with as many of their personal troops (that's who they commanded in Korea--representing their families' powerbase back home in Japan) as possible.
While the Japanese invaded and moved rapidly up the peninsula in 1592, they did so with a traditional Japanese army's complete lack of concern for flank security, constantly seeking out the one decisive battle that would win the war for them. They'd never find it in spite of defeating multiple Joseon and then Ming armies in 1592-93. I don't think Japan ever truly controlled--or "secured" in modern parlance--as much of the peninsula with which they're often credited, the actual secure area limited to the main road leading north and the immediate areas surrounding the larger Japanese garrisons. The effect of roaming, largely uncoordinated guerilla bands against these narrow corridors of supply and communication were thus disproportionate to their size, allowing them to choke off the narrow strip of Japanese control time and again.
If Japan had, instead, fanned out and sought to truly secure the southern provinces before moving north, it would have taken time and they might then have faced an army large enough to truly defend any of the garrisons in their way. Seoul comes to mind. Instead they drove like a rapier, straight to Seoul and then on to Pyongyang, creating a narrow but deep cut into Korea that bled a lot, but turned out not to be fatal.
The "Japanese Navy"--if a collection of feudal ships levied from across the recently unified nation could really be given such a grand title--weren't exactly built to execute expeditionary logistics. They weren't designed to move the great amount of foodstuffs, replacement equipment, gunpowder, etc. that would have been required to logistically propel Japanese forces far beyond where they halted at Pyongyang. Part of me wonders--had Yi Sun-shin not stopped the seaborne logistics attempt cold--whether the Japanese would have faced a situation similar to Paulus' 6th Army at Stalingrad; receiving far too few supplies for what was operationally required in spite of the best efforts of the "Japanese Navy."
Well, in term of battle Japan usually had upper hands, apparently.
Here is actual contemporary Chinese source from Ming.
Contemporary history written in China says, "despite hundreds of thousands of casualty and million of silver spent, Ming and its tributary Korea had no chance of wining but death of Hideyoshi resulted in the end of this misfortune".
If you drink Korean Kool aid, the whole saga is brave Korean freedom fighters rising up and kicking butts of Japanese oppressor (with some minor help from Ming). If you drink Chinese Kool aid, Chinese "rescued" Korea. If you drink Japanese Kool Aid, Japan rarely lost battles but decided to end the campaign after the death of Hideyoshi because, aside from now-dead head honcho, they weren't really into it. ("So called" naval victory by Korea/Ming actually happened when the decision was made in Japan to pull the troop out from Korea, and mission was actually a success!).
Anyway, subsequent negotiation for truce required both Korean and Japanese daimyo from north Kyushu to basically lie to their respective head honcho. So each side received fake documents and tribute admitting defeat. In truth, neither side thought they lost.
In my view, yeah, Hideyoshi did have a "chance". Ming was essentially bankrupt at the time (and it fall soon after Hideyoshi's campaign and was replaced by another external dynasty from Manchuria.) Ming was founded by a peasant who rose to the position of emperor. And that did factored into Hideyoshi's thinking who were also from a peasantry background. The reason Japan side doesn't think they lost it was because the whole campanine had no noticeable effect in Japanese side. They were never under threat from Korea or China. Hardly any daimyo lost their lives and they goes on to settle their internal dispute until Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged as the victor. Then, Japan enter Edo period which is seen as 2 centuries of peace and prosperity, while the history of continent is seen as history of chaos and decline.
Anyway, even if Hideyoshi had been successful, I wouldn't think Hideyoshi and other Japanese daimyos would have been able to establish any meaningful administrative control in China like Manchurian did. So one way or another, it would ended up as a retreat.
Yes, he had a chance. But that doesn't mean that Toyotomi Hideyoshi or his army had anything special, because anyone had a chance to conquer China at that time.
The real threat to Ming was never foreign armies but domestic finance. The Ming-Japanese War was but one of many wars Ming was involved at that time. There were at least 5 major wars/revolts during those decades: the Mongolian revolt in Ningxia; the Hmong revolt in Bozhou; the Ming-Japanese War; the Ming-Burmese War; and the Ming-Manchurian War. The other four consumed no less money and troops than the Ming-Japanese War. And from the military perspective, the Mongolians and the Manchurians were much worse threat to Ming than the Japanese. If Ming had been dealing with only one war at a time, as Toyotomi did, things would have been much easier for Ming. But sadly, Ming had to face all five and many other minor ones. So, there was actually a huge financial crisis for the Ming government.
The Ming government had run on deficits for many years. Sooner or later, there would be a time when they could not hold it anymore. Eventually, they didn't have money to pay salaries to some government employees and thus decided to fire them all. One of those being fired was Li Zicheng. And he started a peasant revolt which put Ming to its end. Despite the magnificent military capability of the Manchurians, they had never successfully conquered Ming, not even close. I'd like to give many credits to Ming for its efficient national defense. But Ming, with such an unbreakable national defense, was destroyed by gangs of untrained peasants (they were not even a professional army) from the inside. And this is back to my point: The real threat to Ming was never foreign armies but domestic finance.
So, did Toyotomi had a chance? Yes, the Ming empire had been bearing too heavy burdens on its shoulders for too long. Anyone who was lucky enough to be the last straw could have conquered the Ming Empire, even though in a one on one fight, Ming could beat his ass.
Yes he did.
He had a chance, not because his army was strong but because the Chinese could be manipulated.
He had attempted to attack China during the Ming era. Though the Chinese had a strong defense on paper, people in key positions did not refrain from bribery. It was this very era during most of The Great Wall of China was built. Though the wall was an architectural and strategic marvel, and the fact that it never truly fell in that it was never physically taken down, the invaders form the north, to avoid whom the wall was built in the first place, had entered the wall via bribery on multiple occasions.
Hideyoshi had the military capabilities to defeat Korea in battle, which he did in most part, but not China. The only hindrance in defeating Korea was their alliance with the Ming rulers of China.
This alliance was why he had to attack Korea in the first place, after many deliberations over several years with Korea failed to get Korea to allow Japanese troops march through Korea and attack China.
Korea had 2 reasons to refuse - The Chinese were allies, and that if Japanese soldiers marched through Korea into China, They would first battle Chinese troops on Korean soil, posing a serious threat to Korean security.
After his invasion of Korea and subduing Seoul, Hideyoshi planned a very sophisticated attack into Korea toward China. The Korean ruler at the time, who initially ruled from Seoul, fled to Uiju and requested the Chinese for military intervention. The ruler agreed, and the 43,000 men strong Chinese army, led by Li Ru-song defeated the Japanese forces and surrounded Seoul. Though Hideyoshi's men defended Seoul, his death on the 18th of September 1598, though initially kept secret from the Japanese forces to preserve morale, eventually resulted in the Japanese from the Korean peninsula indefinitely.
Although his strategy to take on the Chinese forces did not work, if he had used bribery (a tool in war he was well acquainted with), he could have had a good chance to defeat the Chinese.
They could have because of their sheer experience and the lack of control the Ming and the Korean dynasties had over their lands.
The reason they lost was because of the assaults of their supply lines by Yi sun-Shin. The invasion compromised by 9 contingents of 150,000 men. The vanguard contingents were three. One was led by Kiyomasa Kato from the island of Kyushu and had 22,000 men. The third was Yukinaga Konishi and was also from Kyushu with 18,700 men. And the third contingent which was also from Kyushu 11,000. which was led by Nagamasa Kuroda, the reason he served as van was because of his close relationship with Hideyoshi Toyotomi is because he served as his hostage. The reason why the Vanguard of the invasion was from Kyushu is because they were geographically the closest, the Daimyo in Kyushu had to give 6 men for every hundred koku their domain produced, not accounting for tax exemptions. In Chugoku every 5 men per 100 koku not accounting for tax exemptions. In central Honshu it came down to 2 men per koku not accounting for tax. What I mean tax exemptions is that their domain that is exempted means that a percentage of their domain is tax free. For example: Kiyomasa Kato gave 10,000 men from his 200,000 koku domain in Higo, but the Shimazu clan gave 10,000 men from his 560,000 koku domain in Satsuma and Osumi, which means they had a tax exemption of over 70 percent.
Korea was very unprepared for the invasion, this was because their envoys to Korea told King Sonjo that the Japanese were not going to declare war. So this led to the generals of Korea wasting time in preparing for battle. Only in the last week did they start, the king administered each province this way, each province would have a right commander of the navy and land and a left commander for navy and land. Also, they had many fortifications, but were not all completed and also they had drafted soldiers which led to low morale. The Ming Dynasty from the outside looked impenetrable, but from the inside they were very vulnerable. Each garrison which should hold 10,000 soldiers in China would have barely hundreds of soldiers due to mass desertions and the generals that were supposed to write a report on this but would lie. So, they would get money for the soldiers upkeep cost. Also, many revolts were happening across the country by soldiers, because they were not getting paid. Their salary given to them by the dynasty was stolen by their generals. The only way they could bring these revolts down was by labeling them as Mongol raids. These revolts had the Ming Dynasty occupied for most of the war and due to this in 1623 it was taken down by only 60,000 Jurchen soldiers. So, what this shows is how the Koreans and the Chinese were very weakened politically and did not have control over their lands.
The soldiers of the regent, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, were very experienced from the 100 year sengoku Jidai period that engulfed their country. Even though only 150,000 forces were led to Korea, only 50,000 soldiers pushed forward gathering new territories. The rest of 100,000 men occupied captured territory, therefor they won't revolt. A staggering 335,000 men were mobilized nation wide for the coming invasion. 235,000 were sent to Nagoya, the headquarters for the invasion of Korea, and 100,000 were shifted nationwide in case the Ming dynasty counter-attacked. The regent also built over 600 battleships. Japan had experience in war and had the numbers. The Japanese at first just wanted to move across Korea and invade China, but Korea wouldn't let them which led to the invasion. They also had veteran commanders that have seen first level experience in the battle and have witnessed death and have grown accustomed to it. Another reason was the samurai style, they lived to battle and that was one of the regents point for the invasion was to block the revolts that might take place from the samurai. Another reason was their weapon, the arquebus, this weapon was unknown to the Koreans and they had not used muskets, but they used gunpowder for explosive weapons. Such as cannons that they outfitted on their ships, for which when used by a competent admiral could do some damage with. However without Yi sun-Shin the Korean navy would be lose. The Japanese were a country accustomed to war and had experience and weapons to back them up. lets see how the Koreans first reacted to the invasion by Japanese forces.
When the three vanguard contingents leaders came to Nagoya, they were hungry for glory. This led to Yukinaga Konishi leaving for Pusan with only transport ships, which could have been destroyed by the Korean navy but weren't due to their incompetence. As soon as they first landed 19,000 men swarmed into Korea, which was very unprepared for war, the left commander immediately surrendered and disbanded his army and left. The right commander attempted to make a stand at Pusan, but was defeated. The commanders of the navy mistook the transports as battleships and torched down their ships, and 2/3 of the Korean navy was already destroyed and one province taken in less than one day of the Japanese invasion. Yukinaga, because of the plan, should have waited at Pusan for the second and third contingents but did not and left fearing a counter assault. Yukinaga was advancing tremendously fast to the capital, and the Korean supreme commander of the military of Korea tried to stop him with 30,000 men but failed, and the fall of Korea was imminent. When Kiyomasa arrived he led his contingent to the capital as well, facing merely no resistance except for some government soldiers left. Remember that the vanguards job was only to get to the capital as soon as possible and this meant they couldn't stop to put down any revolts this was left to the other 6 contingents. Yukinaga took Seoul but failed to kill the emperor, which fled, but he did administer the province by taking their swords away and counting how much rice they produced. And the Koreans gladly did trade with the Japanese, because the king would tax them harshly and this led them for wanting change. An less than two months 3/4 of Korea had fallen to Japan.
This where they could succeed, because Yi sun-shin was not their to destroy their navy carrying tens of thousands of fresh troops and supplies. When all the 150,000 troops that put down all the revolts finally landed at Seoul they would head on as a whole army, which was Hideyoshi's plan, to China which would counter attack with only 40,000 troops because that was all they could muster. This army would be crushed due to the Japanese size and muskets which the Chinese were unaccustomed to. As the Japanese troops would capture each province of China they would also get troops from Korea and another 50,000 standing in reserve with the head being Ieyasu Tokugawa. The Chinese people would welcome the Japanese as they were tired of having the Chinese government overtax them.
When Hideyoshi would take China, the emperor of Japan would go to China and be the emperor their and his son would be the emperor of Japan. His heir, Hidetsugu would because the kampaku of China, Hidie Ukita or Hidenaga Toyotomi would become the kapmaku of Japan and Hideyoshi would retire at Najin. This really was how Hideyoshi would rule his new empire he would create. He projected this would be completed in one year, which does not seem that far fetched when only 50,000 troops captured 3/4 of Korea in 1 and a half month. Then in 1594 he would leave the invasion of India to his daimyo. This would have been the new Asian empire if Yi sun-Shin did not attack the navy and destroy the supply routes.
If it is very badly written, I liteally wrote this in 15 minutes and I am only 13 years old and its 11:30 p.m. and I need to go to sleep, and I know all of this info from school and books