Yi Sunsin

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Yi Sunsin
Korean name
Hangul 이순신
Hanja 李舜臣
Revised Romanization I Sun-sin
McCune-Reischauer I Sun-sin
Pen name
Hangul 여해
Hanja 汝諧
Revised Romanization yeohae
McCune-Reischauer yŏhae

Yi Sun-sin (April 28 1545 – December 16 1598), also commonly transliterated Yi Soon-shin, earned fame as a Korean naval leader noted for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598) during the Joseon 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). Turtle ships, early armoured warships, represent the world's first metal ship. He stands as one of handfull of admirals to have emerged victorious in every naval battle (at least 23) that he commanded.[1]

A bullet killed Yi 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.

Today, Yi is widely recognized as a hero in Korea and many study him and his journals. Some Korean historians have compared his military campaigns to other well known admirals such as Lord Horatio Nelson (also killed in combat), Tōgō Heihachirō and Michiel de Ruyter.

Yi, a contemporary of Sir Francis Drake, with their dates of birth, major victories, and deaths all being within a few years of each other, yet it is unlikey they knew of each other.

Early Life

Born in Geoncheon-dong (Korean: 건천동; 乾川洞), Hanseong (present-day Seoul), Yi's family belonged to 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.

In one of the most important events of his early life, 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 provided vital to Yi's goals. As a youth, Yi played 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 reputedly 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 served on the northern border region of Korea for ten 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 their armies, capturing 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.

Accusation and imprisonment

His brilliance and accomplishments so soon in his career made his superiors jealous, and they falsely accused him of desertion during battle. General Yi Il, who would later fail to repel the Japanese invasion at the Battle of Sangju, led the conspiracy. The tendency to falsely accuse others in the Korean military and government had a long history. (Another conspiracy would deal a terrible blow to his career later.) His military life might have ended there. Stripped of his military rank, he suffered imprisonment and torture. After his release, Yi had to fight as a common soldier, climbing up through the ranks again. After a short period of time, he received the appointment as the civilian magistrate of a small county, seemingly ending his military career.

The Korean Court rewarded Yi's efforts in northern Korea by assigning 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. At this time, the coast of Korea was continually raided by Japanese pirates known as Wōkòu. Whereas previously, the Joseon court had enjoyed good diplomatic relations with the powerful Japanese, their inability to control piracy soured relations. Then Hideyoshi made a request to send his troops through the Korean peninsula in order to invade and conquer Ming China.

The Korean government went into a state of panic over the possibility of a war with Japan, now unified under the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. That became a reality two years later. The unstable situation in Manchuria, where a young Jurchen chieftain named Nurhaci gathered strength, also threatened the Korean kingdom. Nurhaci's descendants, known as the Yuan, later became masters of China as founders of the Qing Dynasty after invading Korea in 1627 and 1637.

The Korean court scrambled to place experienced military men in key positions to prepare for the war. Yi assumed his new post at Yosu on the 13th of the 2nd lunar month of 1591. From there he undertook a buildup of the regional navy, which he 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.

Japan's Korea War 1592-1598

Yi won fame for his numerous victories fighting the Japanese during the Japan's Korean War: First Invasion (1592-1596). In 1592, Toyotomi Hideyoshi gave the order to invade Korea, to sweep through the peninsula and create 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. In at least 23 major battles during the war, Admiral Yi won victories in all of them, successfully cutting the supply lines that fed the invading Japanese troops.

Hideyoshi knew the importance of controlling 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 he could easily overwhelm the Koreans in hand-to-hand fighting. Yi proved so successful fighting the Japanese fleets for several reasons. First, Yi prepared for the war he had predicted. Yi successfully planned and built the Turtle ship, which served largely in his victories. Second, the Koreans had an accurate knowledge of the South Korean coast, and Admiral Yi planned his battles using sea tides and narrow straits to his advantage. Furthermore, Yi possessed great leadership ability, and he kept Korean morale up even when news of Korean losses on land came. Third, the fleet of Korean panoksons had been better structured than Japanese ships. Korean panoksons had strong hulls and carried at least 20 cannons, compared to the Japanese one or two cannons. Korean cannons surpassed the Japanese 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. To Yi largely lay the credit for Japan's eventually retreat and the salvation of Korea from total destruction and/or colonization by Japan.

In 1593, the Korean court appointed Admiral Yi 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 cities on the southern tip of Korea. The Japanese, without encountering Korean battle ships, quickly captured those ports and launched a lightning march north. The Japanese land forces reached 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

Main article: Turtle ship

In addition to his brilliant naval leadership, Yi remembered for resurrecting and improving the Turtle ship. Yi and his naval architects creatively devised the geobukseon, or “turtle ships.” Contrary to popular belief, Admiral Yi did not invent the Turtle ship. Rather, he improved upon an older design from the Goryeo dynasty.

The Turtle ship boasted eleven cannons on each side of the ship, and two each at the stern and the bow. The ship's figurehead, a dragon, supported up to four cannons, and emitted a smokescreen that, in combination with its fierce appearance, served to frighten enemy troops. Smaller holes dotted the sides of Turtle ship from which arrows, guns, and mortars fired. Hexagonal iron plates and spikes covered the roof. Two masts held two large sails. Twenty oars steered and powered the geobukseon. Two men pulled the oars during fair conditions while five provided oar power during combat.

In an on-going debate as to whether the turtle ship had two decks or three, historians still have no definitive answer. Whichever the case, the turtle ship employed multiple decks to separate the rowers from the combat compartment. That gave the Turtle ship the advantage extreme mobility since the captain could use wind and manpower simultaneously. While the turtle ships comprised the best known part of Admiral Yi Sun sin's fleet, he never deployed more than five in any one battle. Naval strategy Admiral Yi deployed called for no more than five Turtle ships. With the exception of England, only the Joseon dynasty used cannon as the main offensive naval weapon at that time. Koreans have a history of using guns and cannons against Japanese pirates Wōkòu from as early as the 1390s.

Unlike the Japanese navy which used ship-boarding strategy, the Joseon navy relied on cannon. The Korean navy had to maintain a distance between their warships and Japanese war ships. 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. He redesigned the Turtle ship to support this tactic. Yi first used Turtle ships in the Battle of Sacheon (1592) and then in nearly every battle until the devastating Battle of Chilchonryang, when the Japanese sank every Turtle ship and all but 12 Panokseons. They re-appeared in battle until the Battle of Noryang, the last naval battle of the war. Turtle Ships served mostly to spearhead attacks. They functioned best in tight areas and around islands rather than the open sea.

Japanese double agent plot

With Yi's naval victory after naval victory, Hideyoshi and his commanders became anxious as they neared Busan. They feared their supply ships would come under attack. Yi's harassing tactics delayed supply ships bringing food, weapons, and troops. At one point, the Japanese command halted the launch of the invasion of Pyongyang when supplies and troops failed to reach the First and Second Divisions.

Hideyoshi devised a counter measure. At Busan, he had the Japanese warships reinforced wood and added cannon to larger ships. He clustered ships beneath the harbor's defenses of heavy shore-mounted cannon out of range of Busan's armory. But above all, the Japanese knew that for a successful invasion of Korea, they had to eliminate Yi. Yi posed a dire threat to the Japanese fleet as long as he commanded the Korean navy.

Seeing how the internal court rivalries of the Koreans worked, the Japanese devised a plan. A Japanese double agent named Yoshira went to the Korean general Kim Eung-su, convincing 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 apparently valuable information. One day the spy told General Kim that, on a certain date, the Japanese General Katō Kiyomasa planned an attack with great Japanese fleet on another attack on Korean shores. He insisted Admiral Yi 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, who in turn sent the message to King Seonjo. King Seonjo immediately ordered the attack, desperate for victories to loosen the Japanese grip on Korea.

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 extremely dangerous. He faced unfavorable weather and the tides as well. Admiral Yi also refused because he distrusted anyone who would act as a double agent, betraying his country. Admiral Yi always studied his battle plans many times over to ensure victory and minimize casualties; he refused to act rashly.

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 and commander of the Jeolla Province Ground Forces. They advised the arrest of Admiral Yi. To worsen Admiral Yi's fate, Won Gyun claimed Admiral Yi a drunkard and idler.

Consequently, the royal court relieved Yi of his command in 1597, placed him under arrest, ordered him to Seoul in chains, then beaten, brutally tortured, and imprisoned. Yi suffered torture almost to the point of death by torture tactics such as whipping, flogging, burning, the cudgel, and the Korean classic technique of leg breaking. King Seonjo wanted 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, the court again demoted Admiral Yi 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 enjoyed a totally appropriate rank and orders. For a short time, Yi stayed 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 Japanese launched the second invasion in January 1597 with a Japanese force of 140,000 men transported to Korea in 1000 ships. Unfortunately for the Japanese, Ming China had sent south thousands of reinforcements to aid the Koreans. With the help of the Chinese, the Koreans pushed the Japanese south during the winter of 1597. The Japanese failed to reach Seoul.

But, in the naval arena, the Korean navy suffered defeat. Won Gyun again failed to respond quickly and permitted the Japanese enter Korea. Had Admiral Yi commanded the Korean Navy at that time, the Japanese would most likely never have landed. Instead, the Japanese fleet landed safely at Sosang Harbour and began their land campaign.

Yi's successor, Won Gyun decided to attack with the entire Korean navy consisting of 160 battleships and 30,000 men, the navy carefully built up by Admiral Yi. Won Gyun left his headquarters at Yosu with plans. He decided to look for the Japanese near Busan, encountering them the next morning. The Japanese decimated Won Gyun's navy in the Chilchon Straits on Aug. 28, 1597. As the exhausted Korean sailors rested, the Japanese launched a surprise attack.

Japanese sailors tossed grappling hooks, boarding the Korean ships, and engaged the Korean sailors in close-quarters combat. The Japanese, experienced and trained in on-ship combat, slaughtered the Koreans. Yi had always won battles thorough careful anticipation of the enemy's movements and strategic counter moves, but Won Gyun allowed the Japanese to gain the upper hand by boarding the Korean ships. Won Gyun had permitted the Japanese to fight hand to hand combat, which was their primary strategy.

At the end of the battle, the Japanese had completely annihilated Joseon Navy with the exception of twelve 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 of the navy, Won Gyun and Yi Ok-ki, another Korean commander fled to an island with a straggling band of survivors during the battle. Japanese soldiers waiting in ambush from the nearby fort killed them. Japan won the battle of Chilchon Straits, their only naval victory during the war.

King Seonjo heard the terrible news and quickly recommissioned Admiral Yi the commander of the Joseon Navy. Admiral Yi found the surviving 12 battleships and rallied the 200 surviving sailors.

Including his flagship, Admiral Yi's entire naval force comprised 13 ships. King Seonjo judged that the Joseon Navy had lost their power and would become a fighting force 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 Yi's command 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. Admiral Yi crushed the Japanese Navy, which suffered the staggering loss of at least 120 battleships (31 battleships completely destroyed and more than 90 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 died from Korean arrows. Archers killed the Japanese general Kurushima Michifusa. Admiral Yi's victory at the Battle of Myeongnyang demonstrated, once again, his effectiveness as a strategic commander. The Battle of Myeongnyang is celebrated in Korea as one of Yi's greatest victories.

Joseon Government Reaction

Admiral Yi annihilated the Japanese invasion forces while preserving and respecting his soldiers and their families. Many peasants supported Yi not only for his victories in battle but, also, for his kindness and gratitude towards citizens who suffered from the war. They had much faith in Admiral Yi, regarding him as more than just a Admiral of the Joseon Fleet.

On the other hand, King Seonjo had accomplished little in his attempts 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, abandoning his palace as well as his capital city, left his reputation in ruins. King Seonjo and his royal court considered Admiral Yi's victories and rising support as the foundation for a revolt against their rule. King Seonjo, who feared that Yi may hold political power and instigate a revolt against him, arrested and tortured Admiral Yi again. Defended by his loyal friend Yu Sung Ryong, the king spared Admiral Yi the death sentence a second time. Admiral Yi received nearly all his awards posthumously.

Many of the King's royal advisors played an important part in manipulating the King's opinion of Admiral Yi. Long plagued by factional fighting, jealousy and hatred reared their ugly heads in the Joseon government. 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. The conspiracies against Yi Sun Shin succeeded in restricting Admiral Yi's determination to completely shred the Japanese invasion forces and block enemy supply routes. According to a recent Chosun Ilbo (Japanese newspaper) article, historians have discovered government documents of the Joseon 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. The Joseon Dynasty continued to suffer from extreme factional fighting among the elite families for the next three hundred years, that prevented any possible peace and stability of the nation, resulting in its eventual collapse to Imperial Japan in 1910.

Modern Depiction

Seong-ung Yi Soon Shin (“The Saintly Hero Yi Soon Shin”). Yi'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, filmed in 1971 and in 2004.

Age of Empires 2. Yi and his turtle ships appear in the Microsoft computer game Age of Empires 2. The Turtle ships were incorrectly depicted in two ways. First, they move slowly. In reality they moved incredibly quickly. Second, they can only fire the cannon out of the dragon's mouth on the bow. The turtle ships actually fired broadsides and used the front mostly as a flamethrower and ram.

Cheon gun (천군; 天軍) or "Heaven's Soldiers. 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. The North and South Korean soldiers had traveled in time from the year 2005 back to 1572, triggered by the passing of Halley's Comet. The film portrayed Yi as a cunning, slightly eccentric young man a couple of decades before Hideyoshi's Invasions of Korea. That conflicts with the historical record of Yi as a distinguished austere hero. The film distorted some historical events, most notably Yi's campaign against the Jurchens. That campaign did not take place in 1572 but, rather, a few years after his 1576 military examination. The film, financed with a comfortable budget by Korean standards (US$7-8 million), enjoyed 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.

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

Song of the Sword. Yi also inspired literary works. In 2001, Kim Hoon's first novel, Song of the Sword, proved 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.


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

Yi 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 British 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, 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), 399)

During the time of the invasion, the admiral had the responsibility to supply his fleet. Cut off from any helping hand from the king’s court, Yi’s navy had to fend for itself. Yi often wrote in his war diary about his concern for the food supply during winters. Japan fully supplied their forces and always outnumbered him. Yi himself had never been trained as a naval commander. Korea, called Joseon at the time, lacked naval training facilities. Although Yi passed the military exams as a youth, he never received training at an academy. Yi's only military experience came from fighting foreign Jurchen tribes invading from Manchuria. His first victory against the Japanese fleet, the Battle of Okpo, was also his first sea battle ever. None of his subordinates, including his own staff, had ever fought at sea before.

Yi's cannons' and guns' long range and power provided an edge over Japan which built ships to serve as troop transports rather than battleships. His turtle ship, which first set sail the day before the invasion, proved very effective in leading the attack and breaking the enemy’s formation. Yi wrote numerous poems and diaries, including his most famous Nanjung Ilgi. Most of our knowledge about Yi comes from his writings. He provided extensive information about the Turtle ships in the diaries, too. He used a variety of naval formations according to the situation, while capitalizing on tides and ocean currents. Admiral Yi took advantage of his knowledge of the sea around Korea. Many times he lured the enemy to a place that gave his fleet had the upper hand. At the Battle of Hansando, the Japanese commander broke ranks under Yi's attack, resulting in the routing of his fleet.

Yi's successor Won Gyun, even with all of Yi’s ships and trained crew, failed to defeat an enemy fleet of similar might. That highlight's both Yi's skill and the loyal bond he forged with his sailors. The Admiral's ability to disrupt Japanese supply lines stands as one of his lasting legacies. Through his calculated attacks, he successfully hindered the Japanese navy delivering supplies for their forces near the Chinese border. Yi's naval reforms disappeared soon after his death. The turtle ships faded in the annals of Korean history, reaching iconic legendary status today. The Joseon court decided to reduce the military, especially after the Manchu invasions in the 1630s. Yi kept a careful record of daily events in his diary, from those entries, along with the reports he sent to the throne during the war, that much about the man has been learned. Those 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. Yi's male descendants played little role in the tumultuous factional politics of late Joseon, unlike the Pyeosan Sin and Neungseong Gu military yangban lines. The royal court apparently 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 participated in 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 finished to avoid demoralizing his men in the midst of battle. "Do not let my death be known" ("나의 죽음을 알리지마라") constitute his last spoken words. After winning the battle, the sailors rejoiced until they learned of the death of their admiral.

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. Posthumously he has been honored with the title of Prince of Deokpoong. Chungmuro (충무로; 忠武路), a major street in downtown Seoul, has been named after him. The city Chungmu on the southern coast of Korea, renamed Tongyeong, bears his posthumous title and is the site of his headquarters. A majestic statue of Admiral Yi Sunsin stands prominently in the middle of Sejongno in central Seoul. Korea's new KDX-II naval destroyer bears the name Chungmugong Yi Sunsin. Those honors clearly demonstrate the imprint of Yi Sunsin upon the Korean psyche.


  1. Admiral Yi Sun-sin - A Korean Hero koreanhero.net. Retrieved July 23, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Ballard, G. A. 1972. The influence of the sea on the political history of Japan. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0837154359
  • Hulbert, Homer B., and Clarence Norwood Weems. 1962. History of Korea. New York: Hillary House Publishers. OCLC: 412893
  • Jho, Sung-do. 1992. Yi Sun-shin; a national hero of Korea. Chinhae, Korea: Choongmoo-kong Society, Naval Academy. OCLC: 29439325
  • Park, Yune-hee. 1978. Admiral Yi Sun-shin and his turtleboat armada. Seoul, Korea: Hanjin Pub. Co. OCLC: 8305191
  • Yi, Sun-sin. 1981. Imjin changch'o: Admiral Yi Sun-sin's memorials to court, Translated by Ha Tae Hung, Edited by Lee Chong Young. Seoul, Korea: Yonsei University Press. OCLC: 9207260
  • Yi, Sun-sin. 1977. Nanjung ilgi: war diary of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, Translated by Ha Tae Hung, Edited by Sohn Pow Key. Seoul, Korea: Yonsei University Press. OCLC: 3483127
  • Choson Joong-Gi, Noon-Eu-Ro Bo-Nen Han-Gook-Yuk-Sa #7. Joong-Ang-Gyo-Yook-Yun-Goo-Won, Ltd. Copyright 1998. (in Korean)

External links

All links retrieved May 24, 2023.


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