Who is Yi Sunsin?

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Korean name: 이순신 , Chinese notation:  李舜臣

Yi Sunsin is the greatest admiral in the world. He is also commonly transliterated Yi Sunshin. 
He was born in April 28, 1545 and killed in December 16, 1598. 
He was a Korean noted for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598) during the Josun Dynasty. He led the victories as the Commander of Combined Fleets (Samdo Sugun Tongjesa) of the Korean Naval fleet during Japan's April 1592 invasion. 
Yi is also known for his innovation of the Turtle ships (거북선 in Korean alphabet, Hangul). Turtle ships are claimed to be the world first metal clad ship. He is reputed to be one of the few admirals to have been victorious in every naval battle (at least 23) that he commanded.[1].

Yi was killed by a bullet in the Battle of Noryang Point in December, 1598. The royal court eventually bestowed various honors upon him, including a posthumous title of Chungmugong (Lord of Loyalty and Martial Brilliance), an enrollment as a Seonmu Ildeung Gongsin (First-class Merit Subject of War from the reign of Seonjo), a titular enfeoffment title of Deokpung Buwongun (Prince of the Court of Deokpung), and a posthumous office, Yeongijeong (Prime Minister). He also received the title of Yumyeong Sugun Dodok (Admiral of the Fleet of Ming China) posthumously.

Yi Sunsin statue.jpg

Today, Yi is widely recognized as the greatest hero in Korea and many study him and his well kept journals. The journals are collectively called the diary of war time. Some Korean historians have compared his military exploits to other well known admirals such as Lord Horatio Nelson (also killed in combat), Tōgō Heihachirō and Michiel de Ruyter. However, his fame is not known internationally. In terms of ingenuity, mental discipline, and achievement, he is the most prominent adminal in the human history.

Yi was a contemporary of Sir Francis Drake, with the respective dates of the two's births, major victories and deaths all being within a few years of each other - but there is no reason to assume that either one ever heard of the other.

Early life

Yi was born in Geoncheon-dong (Korean: 건천동; 乾川洞), Hanseong (present-day Seoul). His family was part of the Yi clan of Deoksu, near present-day Daejeon. In 1552, after his father, Yi Jeong, had been wrongly imprisoned and tortured by the government, the family moved from Seoul to Asan. King Seonjo later cleared Yi SunSin’s father’s name after coming to power in 1567.

One of the most important events of his early life was when Yi met and became friends with Yu Seong-ryong, a prominent scholar who became the prime minister of Korea during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598). During the war, Ryu's support of Admiral Yi was extremely important to Yi's goals.

As a young boy, Yi was involved in many mock wars between local boys, showing excellent leadership talent at an early age. Yi also constructed and fletched his own bow and arrows as a teenager.

In 1576, Yi passed the annual military examination (무과; 武科). Yi is said to have impressed the judges with his swordsmanship and archery, but failed to pass the test for several years when he broke a leg during the cavalry examination. After he passed the examination, Yi was posted to the northern border region of Korea for 10 years. There, Yi experienced battles defending the border against the Jurchens. Yi quickly became known for his strategy and leadership.

In 1583, he lured the Jurchen into battle, defeated his army, and captured their chief, Mu Pai-Nai. According to a contemporary tradition, however, Yi then spent three years out of the army after hearing of his father’s death. After his return to the front line, Yi led a string of successful campaigns against Jurchen nomads.

However, his brilliance and accomplishments so soon in his career made his superiors jealous, and they falsely accused him of desertion during battle. The conspiracy was led by General Yi Il, who would later fail to repel the Japanese invasion at the Battle of Sangju. This tendency to downplay people was very common in the Korean military and government. (Another conspiracy would deal a terrible blow to his career later.) His military life might have ended there. His military rank was stripped, and he was imprisoned and tortured. Yi was arrested and imprisoned; after his release, Yi was allowed to fight as a common soldier. Upon his release, he had to climb through the ranks again. After a short period of time, he was appointed as the civilian magistrate of a small county, seemingly ending his military career for good.

Yi's efforts in northern Korea were rewarded when the Korean Court assigned him as the commandant of the eastern naval sector in Jeolla Province (전라도; 全羅道). Within the span of a few months in late 1590, he received four military appointments in rapid succession, with each subsequent post carrying greater responsibility than the last--commandant of the Kosarijin Garrison in Pyongan Province, commandant of the Manpo Garrison, also in Pyongan Province, and the commandant of the Wando Garrison, in Jeolla Province, before finally receiving the appointment as the commandant of the Eastern Naval District of the Jeolla Province. Korean government was in a state of panic over the possibility of a war with Japan, now unified under the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi--which would become reality two years later--and the unstable situation in Manchuria where a young Jurchen chieftain named Nurhaci was gathering strength--Nurhaci's descendants would become masters of China as founders of the Qing Dynasty in a few decades' time, after invading Korea in 1627 and 1637--and was scrambling to place experienced military men in key positions. He assumed his new post at Yosu on the 13th of the 2nd lunar month of 1591. From there he was able to undertake a buildup of the regional navy, which was later used to confront a Japanese invasion force. He subsequently began to strengthen the nation’s navy with a series of reforms, including the construction of the turtle ship, an early ironclad warship.

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Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598)


Yi is remembered for his numerous victories fighting the Japanese during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598). In 1592, Toyotomi Hideyoshi gave the order to invade Korea, to sweep through the peninsula and use it as a forward base to conquer Ming China. After the Japanese attacked Busan, Yi began his naval operations from Yeosu, his headquarters. Quickly, he won the Battle of Okpo, Battle of Sacheon, and several others. The string of victories made the Japanese generals suddenly wary of the Korean threat at sea. Of the at least 23 major battles during the war, Admiral Yi gained victories for all of them.

Hideyoshi was fully aware of the need to control the seas during the invasion. Having failed to hire two Portuguese galleons to help him, he increased the size of his own fleet to 700 vessels, assuming that the Koreans would fight hand-to-hand and be easily overwhelmed.

There were several reasons why Yi was so successful fighting the Japanese fleets. First, Yi prepared for the war, which he predicted. Yi successfully planned and built the Turtle Ship, which was a large factor in his victories. Second, the Koreans had a secure knowledge of the territory of the South Korean coast, and Admiral Yi planned his battles using sea tides and narrow straits to his advantage. Furthermore, Yi was also a great leader, and he kept Korean morale up even when news of Korean losses on land came. Another reason why the Korean navy was overall better than the Japanese fleet was that Korean panoksons were structurally stronger than Japanese ships, as mentioned already. Korean panoksons had strong hulls and could carry at least 20 cannons, compared to the Japanese 1 or 2. Japanese cannons were also inferior to Korean cannons in range and power.

Yi's brilliance as a strategist emerged during the war and his leadership broadened. For example, at the Battle of Myeongnyang, Yi proved victorious in the battle with 13 ships, while the Japanese had over 300. Yi also rehearsed his attack moves with his fleet, making the attack on Japanese ships very smooth and coordinated.

It is largely to Yi's credit that the Japanese were eventually forced to retreat and Korea was saved from total destruction and/or colonization by Japan.

In 1593, Admiral Yi was appointed command of the entire Korean navy. (Samdosugun Tongjesa, English Translation : Lord Admiral of Three Provincial Navies, Hangul : 삼도수군통제사, Hanja :三道水軍統制使) by the Joseon government.


Four Campaigns of Admiral Yi

The Japanese invasion force landed at Busan and Tadaejin, both port city on the southern tip of Korea. The Japanese, without meeting any Korean ships, quickly captured these ports and began a lightning march north, reaching Seoul in a record nineteen days on May 2, 1592 due to the military inefficiency of the Korean army, especially at the Battle of Sangju and the failure to defend Choryang Pass.

The four campaigns of Admiral Yi included every single operation and at least 23 major battles, all of which Yi won. His four campaigns resulted in hundreds of sunken Japanese warships, transports, and supply ships and thousands of dead Japanese sailors and soldiers.


Turtle ships

TurtleShip 1415 early type Korea.jpg

TurtleShip 1415 early type Korea by Japanese artist.jpg



Yi is best remembered today for resurrecting and improving the Turtle ship. With his creative mind and the support of his subordinates, Yi was able to devise the geobukseon, or “turtle ships”. Contrary to popular belief, the Turtle Ship was not actually invented by Admiral Yi. Rather, he improved upon an older design from the Goryeo dynasty.

A Turtle Ship held eleven cannons on each side of the ship, and two each at the stern and the bow. The ship's figurehead was in the shape of a dragon. The figurehead held up to four cannons, and emitted a smokescreen that, in combination with its fierce appearance, was meant to shock enemy troops. The sides of Turtle Ship was dotted with smaller holes from which could be fired arrows, guns, and mortars. The roof was covered with hexagonal iron plates and spikes. There were two masts that held two large sails. The geobukseon was also steered and powered by twenty oars, which were pulled by two men during fair conditions and five in combat situations.

There is an on-going debate as to whether the turtle ship had two decks or three; historians still have no definitive answer. Whichever is the case, it is clear that the turtle ship employed multiple decks to separate the rowers from the combat compartment. This enabled the Turtle Ship to be very mobile since wind and manpower could be used simultaneously.

While the turtle ships are the most famous part of Admiral Yi Sun sin's fleet, despite popular belief the Admiral never deployed more than five in any one battle. This was not necessarily because of the cost or construction time of the ship being prohibitive; rather it was due to the naval strategy employed at the time. Unlike anywhere else in the globe except England, the Joseon dynasty used cannon as the main offensive naval weapon. This is not a surprising choice for them, as they had a history of using guns and cannons against Japanese pirates from as early as the 1390s.

As the Josun navy was not the ship-boarding navy that Japanese navy was, it was imperative that their warships remain separated from Japanese vessels. Admiral Yi warned his sailors to avoid hand-to-hand combat against the Japanese at all costs, and to fire at enemies from a distance. The turtle ship was developed to support this tactic.

Turtle Ships were first used in the Battle of Sacheon (1592) and were used in nearly every battle until the devastating Battle of Chilchonryang, when every Turtle Ship and all but 12 Panokseons were sunk. They did not re-appear in battle until the Battle of Noryang, which was the last naval battle of the war.

Turtle Ships were used mostly to spearhead attacks. They were best used in tight areas and around islands rather than the open sea. 
Although turtleship was a dramatic tool to smash into enemy boats and became a deity in Japan for its fiercesome image and the memory of defeat, the main battleship of Yi Sunsin was Pansoksun. Panoksun was the flagship of Korean navy. It was heavily built warship that hosted heavy cannons.

Panoksun 2.png 

Japanese double agent plot

As Yi won battle after battle, Hideyoshi and his commanders became anxious as he neared Busan. They feared their supply ships would come under attack. Also, Yi delayed supply ships bringing food and weapons to Japanese soldiers. Ships also brought reinforcements. At one point, the entire invasion was halted just before attacking Pyongyang when supplies and troops failed to reach the First and Second Divisions.

But, Hideyoshi soon adjusted. At Busan, the Japanese warships were added with reinforced wood and some cannons to larger ships, and clustered beneath the harbour's defences of heavy shore-mounted cannon that were acquired from Busan's armory. But above all, the Japanese knew that for a successful invasion of Korea, Yi had to be eliminated. No Japanese fleet would be safe as long as his presence was commanding the sea.

Seeing how the internal court rivalries of the Koreans worked, the Japanese devised a plan. A Japanese double agent named Yoshira was sent to the Korean general Kim Eung-su, and convinced the general that he would spy on the Japanese for the Koreans. Yoshira spent a long time acting as a spy and giving the Koreans what appeared to be valuable information.

One day he told General Kim that the Japanese General Katō Kiyomasa would be coming on a certain date with great Japanese fleet on another attack on Korean shores, and insisted that Admiral Yi be sent to lay an ambush. General Kim agreed and sent the message to Field Marshal Gwon Yul, Commander-in-Chief(導元帥 Dowonsu) of the Korean military, in turn sent the message to King Seonjo. King Seonjo immediately ordered the attack, desperate for victories to loosen the Japanese grip on Korea, and gave permission for the attack. When General Kim gave Admiral Yi his orders, the admiral declined, for he knew that the location given by the spy was studded with sunken rocks and was extremely dangerous. The weather and the tides of the water were unfavorable as well. Admiral Yi also refused because he did not trust a single letter of a spy. Admiral Yi always studied his battle plans many times over to ensure victory and minimize casualties.

When General Kim informed the king of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin’s declination, Admiral Yi’s enemies at court quickly insisted on his replacement by General Won Gyun, former commander of the Gyeongsang Province Western Fleet & commander of the Jeolla Province Ground Forces. They advised that Admiral Yi be arrested. To worsen Admiral Yi's fate, Won Gyun claimed Admiral Yi was drinking and idling.

As a result, in 1597 Yi was relieved of command, placed under arrest, taken to Seoul in chains, then beaten, brutally tortured, and imprisoned. Yi was tortured almost to the point of death, by using simple torture tactics such as whipping, flogging, burning, the cudgel, or even the Korean classic technique of leg breaking torture[citation needed]. King Seonjo wanted to have Admiral Yi killed but the admiral’s supporters at court, chiefly Prime minister Ryu Sung-Ryong, Admiral Yi's childhood friend, convinced the king to spare him due to his past service record. Spared the death penalty, Admiral Yi was again demoted to the rank of a common infantry soldier under the general Gwon Yul. Yi Sun-sin responded to this humiliation as a most obedient subject, going quietly about his work as if his rank and orders were totally appropriate. For a short time, Yi would stay under Gwon Yul's command until Won Kyun's death at the Battle of Chilchonryang and his reinstatement.


Reinstatement and the Final Campaign

With Yi stripped of any influence, and negotiations breaking down in 1596, Hideyoshi again ordered his army to attack Korea. The second invasion came in the first month of 1597 with a Japanese force of 140,000 men transported to Korea in 1000 ships. Unfortunately for the Japanese, Ming China had sent down thousands of reinforcements to aid the Koreans. With the help of the Chinese, the Koreans were able to push the Japanese south during the winter of 1597. The Japanese failed to reach Seoul.

But, at the naval arena, the Korean navy was doomed. Won Gyun again failed to respond quickly and let the Japanese enter Korea. Had Admiral Yi been in command of the Korean Navy at that time, the Japanese would most likely never have landed on any shore again. Instead, the Japanese fleet landed safely at Sosang Harbour and began their activities.

Yi's successor, Won Gyun decided to attack with the entire navy of Korea: 160 battleships and a crew of 30,000 men; a navy carefully built up by Admiral Yi. Won Gyun left his headquarters at Yeosu with few apparent plans. He decided to look for the Japanese near Busan. Next morning, Won Gyun then met the Japanese near Busan. At the Chilchon Straits on Aug. 28, 1597, Won Gyun's navy was massacred. As the tired-from-rowing Korean soldiers stumbled, the Japanese launched a surprise attack. Japanese soldiers pursued the Koreans. Grappling hooks were thrown and Japanese sailors jumped aboard the Korean ships, engaged in melee combat, and began a wholesale slaughter.

It was the kind of battle Yi had always won at, which was careful coordination of enemy movements and strategic moves, but Won Gyun allowed the Japanese to gain the upper hand and board the Korean ships and fight hand to hand combat, which was their primary strategy.

At the end of the battle, the Joseon Navy was completely annihilated except for 12 battleships under control of an officer named Bae Sol. Bae Sol fled before the battle to save the ships because he predicted the outcome of the battle. After the destruction, Won Gyun and Yi Ok-gi, another Korean commander fled to an island with a straggling band of survivors during the battle but were killed by waiting Japanese soldiers from the nearby fort. The battle of Chilchon Straits was the only naval battle the Japanese ever won during the war.

King Seonjo heard the terrible news and quickly reassigned Admiral Yi as the commander of the Joseon Navy. Admiral Yi found the abandoned 12 battleships and rallied the 200 surviving sailors. Adding his flagship, Admiral Yi's entire naval force was 13 ships, which would be the number for a time. At that time, King Seonjo who judged that the Joseon Navy had lost their power and would never be restored again, sent a letter to abolish the Navy and fight with General Gwon Yul on land. Admiral Yi responded with a letter written "...I still own twelve ships... As I am alive, the enemies will never gain the Western Sea (a.k.a., the Yellow Sea, the closest sea to Hansung, or Seoul)." The Japanese Navy made up their mind to eliminate the 12 battleships under command of Yi on their way to the capital city of Joseon. Encouraged by their great victory, Kurushima Michifusa, Todo Takatora, Kato Yoshiaki, and Wakisaka Yasuharu hopefully sailed out of Busan harbor to squash this minor annoyance.

Yi responded powerfully. In October, 1597 (September, according to Chinese Lunar Calendar), Yi lured the Japanese fleet consisting of 333 ships (133 battle ships, 200 logistical support ships) and a crew of 100,000 within the Myongryang Straits and defeated them with only 13 battleships he had. Admiral Yi crushed the Japanese Navy, which lost a staggering amount of at least 120 battleships (31 battleships were completely destroyed and more than 90 were damaged beyond repair). Using his traditional tactics of peppering cannonballs and fire arrows into Japanese ships, Admiral Yi kept the Japanese fleet at a distance giving no chance to board. Thousands of Japanese sailors drowned and many more were killed by Korean arrows. The Japanese general Kurushima Michifusa was inevitably killed by archers who got close enough to his flagship. Admiral Yi's victory at the Battle of Myeongnyang demonstrated his effectiveness as a strategic commander. Today, the Battle of Myeongnyang is celebrated in Korea as one of Yi's greatest victories.


Joseon government reaction

Admiral Yi was annihilating Japanese invasion forces, while preserving and respecting his soldiers and their families. Yi was supported by many peasants for not only his victories, but his kindness and gratitude towards citizens, negatively affected by the war. They had much faith in Admiral Yi, and he was regarded as more than just a Admiral of the Joseon Fleet.

On the other hand, King Seonjo had accomplished nothing to save his kingdom. At her greatest need, the Joseon Dynasty's King had failed to defend the kingdom, and his rapid retreat to Uiju left his reputation in ruins. It is feasible to believe that King Seonjo and his royal court looked towards Admiral Yi's victories and rising support as the foundations for a revolt. King Seonjo, who feared that Yi may hold political power and instigate a revolt against him, arrested and tortured Admiral Yi. Defended by his loyal friend Yu Sung Ryong, Admiral Yi was spared the death sentence twice.

Nearly all awards to Admiral Yi and his deeds were awarded posthumously.

Many royal advisors of the King played an important part in manipulating the King's opinion to Admiral Yi. Long plagued by factional fighting, the Josun government reared its ugly head in terms of jealousy and hatred. The advisors feared and hated the lone Admiral who fought his heart out for his nation, while the royal court sulked in despair and ingratitude. Along with other jealous contemporaries, the sporadic conspiracies against Yi Sun Shin succeeded in restricting Admiral Yi's true capabilities to completely shred Japanese invasion forces and enemy supply routes.

It should also be noted that according to a recent Chosun Ilbo article, historians have discovered written government recordings of the Josun government's reaction to Admiral Yi's death. The records show that King Seonjo expressed a 'blank expression', offering no signs of sadness or shock.

Entwined with the history of the Josun Dynasty, extreme factional fighting eventually disrupted the peace and stability of the government, resulting in its eventual collapse to Imperial Japan in 1910.



"Those willing to fight to the death shall live, those that do not will die." --Admiral Yi.
"Those willing to fight to the death shall live, those that do not will die." --Admiral Yi.

Today, Yi Sunsin is one of Korea's greatest admirals of all time. Koreans look upon Yi as a man of courage, perseverance, strength, self-sacrifice, and loyalty to his country.

Admiral George Alexander Ballard of the Royal Navy considered Yi Sun-sin a great naval commander, and compared him to Lord Nelson of England:

It is always difficult for Englishmen to admit that Nelson ever had an equal in his profession, but if any man is entitled to be so regarded, it should be this great naval commander of Asiatic race who never knew defeat and died in the presence of the enemy; of whose movements a track-chart might be compiled from the wrecks of hundreds of Japanese ships lying with their valiant crews at the bottom of the sea, off the coasts of the Korean peninsula... and it seems, in truth, no exaggeration to assert that from first to last he never made a mistake, for his work was so complete under each variety of circumstances as to defy criticism... His whole career might be summarized by saying that, although he had no lessons from past history to serve as a guide, he waged war on the sea as it should be waged if it is to produce definite results, and ended by making the supreme sacrifice of a defender of his country. (The Influence of the Sea on The Political History of Japan, pp. 66–67.)

Admiral Tetsutaro Sato of the Imperial Japanese Navy mentioned the Korean Admiral in his book published 1908:

Throughout history there have been few generals accomplished at the tactics of frontal attack, sudden attack, concentration and dilation. Napoleon, who mastered the art of conquering the part with the whole, can be held to have been such a general, and among admirals, two further tactical geniuses may be named: in the East, Yi Sun-sin of Korea, and in the West, Horatio Nelson of England. Undoubtedly, Yi is a supreme naval commander even on the basis of the limited literature of the Seven-Year War, and despite the fact that his bravery and brilliance are not known to the West, since he had the misfortune to be born in Joseon Dynasty. Anyone who can be compared to Yi should be better than Michiel de Ruyter from Netherlands. Nelson is far behind Yi in terms of personal character and integrity. Yi was the inventor of the iron-clad warship known as the Turtle Ship (Geobukseon). He was a truly great commander and a master of the naval tactics of three hundred years ago. (A Military History of the Emperor (Japanese: 帝國國防史論), p. 399)

During the time of the invasion, it was up to the admiral to supply his fleet. Yi’s navy was cut off from any helping hand from the king’s court and had to fend for itself. Yi often wrote in his war diary how concerned he was about the food supply during winters. His enemy was fully supplied, and always outnumbered him.

Yi himself had never been trained as a naval commander. Korea, called Joseon at the time, did not have any naval training facilities. Although Yi passed the military exams when he was young, he was never trained at an academy. Yi's only military experiences came from fighting foreign Jurchen tribes invading from Manchuria. In fact, the Battle of Okpo, his first victory against the Japanese fleet, was also his first sea battle ever. None of his subordinates, including his own staff, had ever fought at sea before.

One reason Yi won was because his cannons and guns had longer range and power than the enemy's cannons, the Japanese heavily favoring troop transport over naval combat. His turtle ship, which had first set sail the day before the invasion, was very effective in leading the attack and breaking the enemy’s formation. Yi won all of at least 23 naval battles fought while suffering very minimal losses, destroying over a thousand Japanese ships and killing thousands of Japanese soldiers.

Yi Sunsin also wrote numerous poems and diaries, including his most famous Nanjung Ilgi. Most of what we know about Yi comes from his writings. Also, much information about the Turtle Ships are written in the diaries.

He used many different formations according to the situation, and capitalized on tides and ocean currents. Admiral Yi also took advantage of his knowledge of the surrounding sea. Many times he lured the enemy to a place where his fleet would have the upper hand.

At the Battle of Hansando, the Japanese commander broke ranks and routed his fleet. Yi’s expertise on naval strategy is apparent in the fact that his successor Won Gyun, even with all of Yi’s ships and trained crew, could not defeat an enemy fleet of similar might. One of the greatest legacies of the Admiral was the disruption of the Japanese supply line. Through his calculated attacks, he successfully burdened the Japanese navy and the supplies trying to reach their lines near the Chinese border.

Yi's naval reforms did not persist and disappeared soon after his death. The turtle ships faded in the annals of Korean history, reaching iconic legendary status today. The Joseon court decided on a reduced military, especially after the Manchu invasions in the 1630s.

Yi kept a careful record of daily events in his diary, and it is from these entries, along with the reports he sent to the throne during the war, that much about the man has been learned. These works have been published in English as Nanjung Ilgi: War Diary of Admiral Yi Soon Sin, and Imjin Jangcho: Admiral Yi Soon Shin’s Memorials to Court.

Among his direct male descendants, more than two hundred passed the military examination and pursued military careers, hence constituting a prominent family or military "yangban" of late Joseon. Although many of his male descendants did not play the kind of a vital role in the tumultuous factional politics of late Joseon as did those of the Pyeosan Sin and Neungseong Gu military yangban lines, the court seems to have treated them with respect and care. Many attained important high-level posts in the officialdom. Moreover, at the end of the Joseon period, at least several descendants are known to have become anti-Japanese independence activists. Today, most of Yi's descendants live in or nearby Seoul and Asan.

In Korea Yi is not only famous for the turtle ship but also for his last words before death. He told his son to wear his armour and to hide his death until the battle is over to avoid demoralizing his men in the middle of battle. His last words were, "Do not let my death be known" ("나의 죽음을 알리지마라"). After the battle was won, the people were rejoicing until they heard the death of their general/leader. He was praised by the king personally and was given many honors.

Yi's posthumous title, Lord of Loyalty and Chivalry (Chungmu-gong, 충무공; 忠武公) is used in Korea’s third highest military honor, the Cordon of Chungmu of the Order of Military Merit and Valour. He was posthumously granted the title of Prince of Deokpoong. Chungmuro (충무로; 忠武路) — a street in downtown Seoul — is also named after him. The city Chungmu, now renamed Tongyeong, on the southern coast of Korea is named in honour of his posthumous title and the site of his headquarters. There is a prominent statue of Admiral Yi Sunsin in the middle of Sejongno in central Seoul. Korea's new KDX-II naval destroyer is named "Chungmugong Yi Sunsin".


Modern depiction

Yi Sunsin's life has been depicted in two motion pictures, both entitled Seong-ung Yi Soon Shin (“The Saintly Hero Yi Soon Shin”), the first a 1962 black & white movie, and the second, based upon his war diaries, in color in 1971 and in 2004.

Yi and his turtle ships appear in the game Age of Empires 2. However, for the purposes of balance, the turtle ships are wrong in two areas of the game: They are slow (in reality they were incredibly quick) and they can only fire the cannon out of the dragon's mouth/bow (the turtle ships actually fired broadsides and used the front mostly as a flamethrower and ram).

A 2005 Korean film, Cheon gun (천군; 天軍) or "Heaven's Soldiers", directed by Min Joon Gi, portrayed a young Yi Soon Shin, played by Park Joong-hoon, fighting the Jurchen tribes, along with local villagers and North and South Korean soldiers who traveled in time, from 2005 to 1572, with Halley's Comet. Unusually, the film presented Yi as a cunning, slightly eccentric young man, rather than a distinguished austere hero, a couple of decades before Hideyoshi's Invasions of Korea. Some historical events were also distorted: most notably Yi's campaign against the Jurchens, which did not happen in 1572 but a few years later, after his 1576 military examination. The film, financed with a comfortable budget by Korean standards ($7-8 million), was a relative commercial success in 2005. The film's theme clearly uses the figure of Yi, venerated as a hero in both parts of contemporary Korea, to plead for Korean Reunification.

From September 4 2004 to August 28 2005, a 104-episode drama series was aired on KBS. The show, titled Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-shin(불멸의 이순신) in English, dealt mostly with the events related to the Japanese invasions of Korea, as well as the life of the admiral, played by Kim Myung-min. It became a popular drama in China and was re-aired in certain ethnic channels in the United States as well. The drama was criticized for the many artistic licenses taken, such as depicting Yi as weak and lonely in his early life and taking liberties with the events surrounding his death.

Yi also inspired literary works. In 2001, Kim Hoon's first novel, Song of the Sword, was a commercial and critical success in South Korea. For this poetic first-person narrative written from Yi's perspective, he received the Dongin Literature Award, the most prestigious literary prize in that nation.

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See also

  • List of Korea-related topics
  • List of Koreans
  • History of Korea
  • Hwacha
  • Singijeon
  • Undefeated Military Commanders



  • The Influence of the Sea on The Political History of Japan (1921) ISBN 0-8371-5435-978e9caae14728313c1edadf9673d19db_cfcd208495d565ef66e7dff9f98764da
  • War Diary (Nan Jung Il Gi), the autobiographical diary of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin
  • Choson Joong-Gi, Noon-Eu-Ro Bo-Nen Han-Gook-Yuk-Sa #7. Joong-Ang-Gyo-Yook-Yun-Goo-Won, Ltd. Copyright 1998.


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