Admiral Yi Sun-shin (1545-1598), was a Korean naval commander, who is famously known for his victories against the Japanese navy, during the Imjin War (1592-1598) in the Joseon dynasty.
*Joseon was a Korean kingdom that lasted for approximately five centuries. It was the last dynasty of Korean history and the longest-ruling Confucian dynasty.
He is well-respected for his achievements in numerous naval battles. He was undefeated in up to 23 battles despite the odds, such as being outnumbered and out supplied. His great leadership, bravery, clever tactics and effort made him to become highly respected, even among Japanese forces.
The Battle of Myeongryang in 1597, was his most remarkable military achievement. During this war, the Japanese army was armed with the latest weaponry. Joseon, however, had a disadvantage in the scale of ships, troops, and weaponry. The Joseon navy was completely outnumbered whilst being under the command of Won Gyun during the Battle of Chilchonryang. Yi Sun-sin was appointed as the commander, with only 13 ships remaining against a Japanese fleet of 133. Without giving up, Joseon won the War against the Japanese navy. Despite the inevitable conditions, Admiral Yi was brave and passionate about not giving up and led the navy to victory in every single battle.
A depiction of the Battle of Myeongryang
At that time, naval battles mainly involved combat by colliding with another ship and then boarding the enemy’s ships. However, Admiral Yi used many wise techniques to defeat the Japanese navy, including the crane wing formation, called HakIkjin. Joseon’s fleet could concentrate the attack on enemy’s fleet in the crane wing formation. This tactic is used by today’s navy.
Another great achievement by Admiral Yi was the design of the Geobukseon (Turtle ship). It was used along side the Panoksoen warships. The name of the ship is related to the shell-like covering as seen on top of the ship. The ships were first used long before but were not used as much during a long period of peace. However, these turtle ships were used in the war against Japanese naval forces during the Imjin War, in Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s attempts to conquer Korea. The feature that stands out the most is the dragon-shaped head at the front of the ship that can launch cannon fire from the mouth of the dragon. Each ship had fully covered decks to stop arrow fire and shots attacking people on board. Also, the deck was covered with iron spikes to discourage the enemy from attempting to board the ship.
A little background history on Admiral Yi Sun-shin
Yi Sun-shin was born in Geoncheon-dong Street, Hanseong (then capital, but today a place in Seoul) but spent a normal life before passing the military examination. Yi experienced battles defending the border and had shown his talent in strategic skills and leadership. His great accomplishments made his superiors jealous, and they falsely accused him of various misconducts during battle. When he was not in command, the Joseon navy was failing to perform their best.
At his new post at Yeosu, Admiral Yi was able to conduct the navy, using his exceptional war tactics that were later used to win against Japanese invasion force. He began to strengthen the province’s navy with a series of changes, including the construction of the turtle ship. He trained elite naval forces, despite not having naval training himself or participating in combats before the war.
Admiral Yi Sun-shin’s victories in naval battles affected Korean people at the time, because without his bravery and showings of hope despite the odds, Joseon would have been defeated by the Japanese navy. His patriotism remained strong in times of difficulty and he tried his best to protect his country and people and succeeded. I think that is why he is so well-known, respected and celebrated for his couragous character.
He is a big inspiration to all, as he continued to pursue what he was interested in and passionate about, despite the difficulties and succeeded. This show that you can succeed in anything in life, if you try your best. Unlike others, he confronted the fear of his country’s defeat and encouraged the Joseon army to overcome their fear, which led them to defeat Japan. Also, he faced many hardships, as he was demoted many times for actions he was accused of but did not do. The navy could not cope without his help, but he did not let his ego or the betrayal of seniors get in his way of using his knowledge and great skills to protect his country.
In 1598, Admiral Yi died at the Battle of Noryang. He was wounded by a single bullet and before dying, he said “The battle is at its height…beat my war drums…do not announce my death.”
His legacy lives on as there have been many dramas, films and books, depicting the life and victories of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, to pay tribute to his efforts in protecting the country and winning victoriously in every battle.
Admiral Yi was given the posthumous title, Chungmugong, and is South Korea’s third highest military honor. He was also granted the title of Prince of Deokpung Chungmuro. Also, there is a street in Seoul, which is named after him, and the Yi Sun-sin Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Korea, was built near Yeosu. An image of Admiral Yi is featured on the front of the 100 South Korean Won coin and in the 1973-1979 series, an image of him was featured on the ₩500 note.
A festival called The Asan Great Admiral Yi Sun-shin Festival is celebrated in the time around Admiral Yi’s birthday on April 28, to commemorate his achievements. Different events occur such as a play to reenact the parade when they went off to war, displays are shown with replicas of the famous ship, Geobukseon (거북선) and many more different events.
During episode 7 of EXO’s ShowTime, the Chinese members were taken to tourist attraction sites around Seoul, to show them various aspects of Korea, and the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin was mentioned.
I have seen photos of Gwanghwamun Square but I never knew the name of him or what he did, until I saw this episode. I have seen his statue in many variety shows, films, and dramas, such as in episode 1 of City Hunter.
In episode 7 of I GOT7, they were at a temply stay and the Korean members had to teach the non-Korean members different aspects of the Korean language and history. Mark and Jr were a pair in this activity, and there was a question about Yi Sun-shin.
The question was: Chungmugong (Duke of Loyalty and Warfare) General Yi Sun-shin made a ship that defeated the Japanese Army. What is the name of this ship?
The answer is Geobukseon (Turtle ship).
This was the first time I had heard of this type of ship.
In Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul, South Korea, there is a statue of Yi Sun-shin, the overlooks the square. This was to honour his great bravery and leadership. I hope to visit Gwanghwamun Square some day, to witness this beautiful statue.
There are also many other notable historical figures who have achieved great things, with their achievements having a positive effect on the people at the time, and are being celebrated today. Without their contributions to society, Korea wouldn’t be as it is today.
These people include Yi Hwang (Toegye), Yi I (Yulgok), Shin Saimdang, Jang Young Sil.
Yi Hwang (1501-1570) was one of two prominent Neo-Confucian scholars. He taught that studying is not for making money, but for learning how to live a moral life. His way of life and actions were the same as his teachings, which is quite rare today, as people tend to do differently from what they learn. His life and teachings can be of help and used by people of today. Also, despite his high status, he demanded for his status to not be mentioned on his tombstome, so there is no social standing.
Yi I (1536-1584), was the younger and other prominent Neo-Confucian scholar and government official. He loved his nation and worked hard to reform it. He was well known to have forsighted events, so hee had proposed for soldiers to be recruited and train, with the wise and competent people appointed throughout the country in case of a sudden breakout of war, but his proposal was rejected and eight years after his death, the Japanese tried to invade Korea, which devastated the country. He was very passionate about national defense, and he insisted that national defenses must be strengthened in order to maintain peace. In 2008, the Korean navy commissioned its second Aegis destroyer, the Yulgok Yi I, which honors his insistence. This vision is applicable today, as although many countries of the world are at peace, in case of sudden attack, it is always best to be well-prepared in any circumstance, to protect the welfare and safety of the people.
Shin Saimdang (1504-1551) was a Korean artist, writer, poet, calligraphist and mother of Yi I. Her real name is Yinsun and she is often referred to as 어진 어머니 or “Wise Mother”. Her grandfather gave her an education by teaching her and as a result she received an education that was not common in that period. Having had no brothers, she received an education that would have only been given to a son. Saimdang was able to nurture her talents given that she was from an unconventional household and had an understanding husband. This background greatly influenced the way she was and how she educated her son, Yi I.
Jang Young Sil (1418-1450) was a Korean scientist, astronomer and also from a low-class background but with the great support of the King Sejong the Great, who wanted to eradicate class barriers in society and had a policy of selecting officials based on their talent, rather than social status or wealth, allowed him to work at the royal palace. Many government officials did not approve of his work due to his class and were jealous of his achievements. He invented many things such as Cheugugi (the rain gauge), and the water clock which were great inventions.
Jang quoted that “The fruit of technology shall return to the people. The technological achievements shall not be mine but all people of the world.” This statement is very inspiring and generous, as some people today do not want to share their discoveries for the advancement of human knowledsge but for money and power. He seemed like a genuine, honest and clever man, who contributed to the technological advancements of the Joseon Dynasty. He is inspiring as he was from a low-class background, but proved to the high-class people that anybody, of any class or status, can achieve great things.
Last but not least, King Sejong the Great who ruled during the Joseon dynasty from 1418 – 1450. One of his most great achievements in Korean history, which is hugely celebrated today, is the invention of the Korean alphabet, Hangul.
These historical figures are celebrated today, with statues of them being around the country in different cities and also being featured on the South Korean Won notes to show their impact on the country’s history etc.
Also, it is thought that Talhae of Silla (Talhae Isageum/ Seok Talhae), the fourth king of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, brought Tamil customs and traditions to Korea from India. These customs are still being practiced today.
The word ‘thalae’ in Tamil means head and the name Seok, is thought to be a shortened form of the Hindu-Tamil name of one of Lord Siva’s many names, Seokalingam.
Here is a link to a video, where Jang Nam Kim, a Korean-Tamil researcher, who attended an event in Tamil Nadu, South India talks about the connection and similarities between the Tamil and Korean languages and traditions. Part 1 starts at 2:44:
There are also many other notable historical figures who have achieved great things for Korea. Learning about new places, the history and culture interests me a lot and I enjoyed learning about a few of Korea’s historical people.