From the late Chosŏn Dynasty to the present day in both North and South Korea, General Im Kyŏngŏp (1594–1646) has been honored for his loyal service against the Manchus in the early seventeenth century. A close reading of official accounts, literati essays, legal cases, and historical fiction reveals, however, that Im was a deserter and a suspected traitor at the time of his death. Yet by the late eighteenth century, the Chosŏn state had promoted Im, presented him as an ideal subject, and honored his loyalty through state-sanctioned commemoration. Today, the memory of Im remains largely positive; twenty-first century Koreans predominantly know him as a Chosŏn hero or as the object of shamanic supplication. This article suggests that Im’s posthumous rehabilitation attests to the growing power of a reading public and the influence of popular culture on political discourse in an early modern public sphere.

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