The samurai were mighty warriors who are still admired and talked about today. With a country full of such strong, elite fighters, it’s a wonder they didn’t invade and conquer other surrounding countries in Asia. However, except for their brief control of Korea, they didn’t.
Samurai never invaded China. Samurai leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi planned to invade China by way of Korea, but the attempt was unsuccessful. They did, however, invade and briefly control Korea, and they fought against Chinese armies there before being defeated and retreating.
This article will outline why and how the samurai warriors fought against the Chinese. It will also explore the samurai invasion of Korea and the outcome of that ultimately failed attempt at Japanese expansion.
Also see Did Samurai Kill Civilians? to learn more.
Why Did Samurai Fight the Chinese?
Eventually, Japan would successfully invade China during the First and then again in the Second Sino-Japanese War.  However, that was a few decades after the last true samurai died.
The samurai themselves did fight the Chinese, but other than potential raids or samurai mercenaries making individualized attacks on landowners, they never did so on Chinese soil. 
Samurai fought the Chinese because China sent its armies to aid Korea when Japanese samurai invaded the country in 1592. Initially, the samurai attack on Korea was successful, but China, realizing they’d be the samurais’ next target, interceded by sending aid to the Koreans.
One of the primary goals of the invasion of Korea was eventually to attack China. Under the leadership of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the samurai warriors were sent first to Korea; after conquering Korea, the plan was to move into China with the ultimate intention of subjugating all of Asia.
Also see Did Samurai Fight Ninjas? to learn more.
How Did Samurai Fight the Chinese?
Samurai primarily fought the Chinese – as well as the Korean navy – using naval vessels, as that’s how they traveled to Korea. They also fought off both armies’ guerilla warfare tactics on land in the areas they had conquered initially and set up semi-permanent camps.
While on land, it’s likely that the samurai fought in their usual way, which meant from horseback, using ranged weapons like longbows, spears, and throwing stars.
A typical samurai battle formation looked something like this: The samurai, usually on horseback in their fearsome red, bearded masks, took the rear of any battle formation, leaving their archers and foot soldiers to man the front lines.  Like most armies, they had standard-bearers, drummers, and soldiers to blow horns (most likely conch shells for samurai) to signal critical moments in the attack.
Once the battle began, the archers and foot soldiers would split to either side, making room for the samurai to charge down the center. Archers would cover the samurai with their arrow fire, and the foot soldiers would stay close to the archers, protecting them at all costs.
Samurai remained on horseback unless forcibly dismounted by their opponents. From horseback, they’d fire arrows, throw spears and shuriken, and – in later years – shoot guns.
If they lost their horses in battle, they’d use their katanas, daggers, and other Japanese blades to fight in close combat.
Assuming the samurai were victorious – which they were in the first invasion of Korea but not in the second – they would spend time hunting down and finishing off enemy soldiers who were injured, hiding, or fleeing from the battle. They killed most of them; they took some as slaves.
If the samurai were defeated, many would commit seppuku rather than be taken alive. They’d do this by stabbing and slashing themselves in the abdomen; sometimes, they’d enlist help from their squires or another soldier who would behead the defeated samurai.
Also see Did Samurai Know Martial Arts? to learn more.
What Was the Outcome When Samurai Fought China?
Either way, the samurai were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempts to hold Korea once the Chinese joined forces with the Korean navy. Together, they were a foe the samurai could not overcome. The Japanese warriors officially retreated in 1598, and by 1607, things were somewhat back to normal, with trade and diplomatic relations being reinstated.
Ultimately, the loss of life from the samurai’s battle with China and Korea was senseless, as nothing really changed for any of the countries involved, and the death toll was significant. Korea lost an estimated one million people – both civilians and soldiers – while Japan lost over 100 thousand.
If Japan had agreed to China’s terms after the first round of invasions, China would have made Japan a “tributary state of China” and bestowed the title of “King of Japan” on Toyotomi Hideyoshi. However, this wasn’t enough for Japan or Toyotomi; he’d had his own list of demands, which included the following:
- The Japanese emperor would marry one of the Chinese emperor’s daughters.
- Japan would receive and control Korea’s four southern provinces.
- Korea would send hostages to Japan, including a Korean prince and other prominent Korean government officials. 
When word came back that none of his conditions had been met, Toyotomi Hideyoshi began the second round of attacks on Korea. These were an utter failure and resulted in Japan’s complete withdrawal from the country as the clear losers of the battle.
Also see Did Samurai Have Tattoos? to learn more.
Did Samurai Invade Other Countries?
Other than their invasion of Korea, samurai didn’t invade other countries. They reserved most of their fighting for one another; various samurai clans feuded in near-constant bids for power. This period of civil unrest lasted until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
Some of the most notable samurai battles that took place during the samurai’s time in power include:
- The Battle of Ichi-no-Tani in 1184
- The Battle of Dan-no-Ura in 1185
- The Siege of Chihaya in 1333
- The Battle of Minatogawa in 1336
- The Five Battles of Battles of Kawanakajima: Began in 1553 and ended in 1564
- The Battle of Okehazama in 1560
- The Battle of Mikata ga Hara in 1572
- The Battle of Sendaigawa in 1587
- The Siege of Odawara in 1590 
These were only a handful of the many battles fought between warring samurai clans in feudal Japan.
Although the samurai fought against Chinese soldiers in Korea, they never actually invaded China. That would happen decades later in the Sino-Japanese Wars.