As many of you got interested in history of South Korea because of Hallyu wave, I’m sure you’d know that right now is airing drama “You’re The Best, Lee Sun-shin" and you’d also know that it managed to set off some criticism due to the name “Lee Soon Shin” involved in the title as well as it being the main character’s (IU) name. I thought I would start writing small bios about famous people with Lee Sun-Shin, because I’m sure many of aren’t familiar with him.
Yi Sun-shin (April 28, 1545 – December 16, 1598, Korean: 이순신) was a Korean naval commander, famed for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Imjin war in the Joseon Dynasty, and is well-respected for his exemplary conduct on and off the battlefield not only by Koreans, but by Japanese Admirals as well.
In 1576, Yi passed the military examination (무과; 武科). Yi is said to have impressed the judges with his swordsmanship and archery, but failed to pass the test when he broke a leg during the cavalry examination. After he re-entered and passed the examination, Yi was posted to the Bukbyeong (Northern Frontier Army) military district in Hamgyeong province. There, Yi experienced battles defending the border settlements and quickly became known for his strategic skills and leadership.
However, his brilliance and accomplishments so soon in his career made his superiors jealous, and they falsely accused him of desertion during battle. Yi was stripped of his officer rank, imprisoned, and tortured. After his release, Yi was allowed to fight as an enlisted soldier. After a short period of time, however, he was appointed as the commander of the Seoul Hunryeonwon (a military training center) and was later transferred to a small county, to be its military magistrate.
Yi’s efforts in northern Korea was rewarded when Yi was assigned as Commander of the Left Jeolla Province (전라 좌도; 全羅左道) Naval District. 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.
The royal court was in a state of confusion over the possibility of a war with Japan, now unified under the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1592, Toyotomi Hideyoshi gave the order to invade Korea. After the Japanese attacked Busan, Yi began his naval operations from his headquarters at Yeosu. Despite never having commanded a naval battle in his life, he won the Battle of Okpo, Battle of Sacheon, and several others in quick succession. His string of victories made the Japanese generals suddenly wary of the threat at sea. Twenty-three battles took place during the war, with Admiral Yi taking victory in all of them.
There were numerous reasons why Yi was so successful against the Japanese fleets. Yi had prepared for the war by checking the status of his soldiers, granaries, and supplies, replacing them when it was necessary. As part of this preparation, Yi resurrected and built the turtle ship, which was a considerable factor in his victories. Yi also had a great deal of information about the southern Korean coast and he planned his battles using the sea tides and narrow straits to his advantage.
A Japanese invasion force landed at Busan and Dadaejin and they reached Seoul in just nineteen days, on May 2, 1592. After capturing Hanseong and Pyongyang, the Japanese planned to cross the Yalu River into Chinese territory, and use the waters west of the Korean peninsula to supply the invasion. However, Yi Sun-sin was able to stay informed on all his enemy’s activities and to prevent that there were battles of Okpo, Sacheon (1592) (in which admiral Yi was shot by a bullet in his left shoulder), Hansan Island and Battle of Busan (1592). Yi was victorious in every single operation (at least 15 battles) of the four campaigns of 1592.
As Yi won battle after battle, Hideyoshi and his commanders became anxious as they neared Busan. Japanese knew for a successful invasion of Joseon, Yi had to be eliminated. Not a single Japanese ship would be safe for as long as he was commanding the sea. Taking advantage of the many internal court rivalries of the Joseon Dynasty, the Japanese devised a plan. They sent in double-spy and made it so that Yi would be relieved of command. Yi was taken to Seoul in chains to be imprisoned and tortured. After that he was again demoted to the rank of a common infantry soldier under General Gwon Yul. This penalty was worse than death for Joseon generals at that time, since they lived by honor. However, Yi responded to this humiliation as a most obedient subject.
Yi’s successor Won Gyun failed to win battle against Japanese. The Battle of Chilchonryang was the only naval victory for the Japanese during the war against Joseon. When King Seonjo and the royal court learned of the catastrophic defeat, they hurriedly pardoned and reinstated Admiral Yi as commander of the greatly reduced Joseon fleet.
Perhaps Yi’s most remarkable military achievement occurred at the Battle of Myeongnyang. He outnumbered 333 ships to 13, and forced into a last stand with only his minimal fleet standing between the Japanese Army and Seoul, Yi delivered one of the most astonishing defeats in military history.Admiral Yi’s miraculous victory at the Battle of Myeongnyang turned the tide of the entire war against the Japanese; their ground forces on the verge of invading Hanseong were cut off from steady flow of supplies and reinforcements, and forced to pull back. Today, the battle is celebrated in Korea as one of Admiral Yi’s greatest victories. No other engagement involving such an outnumbered fleet has resulted in such a disproportionate victory, making it one of the greatest achievements in naval warfare.
On December 16, 1598 began another battle ( Battle of Noryang) with Japan. Like Admiral Yi’s previous battles, the Japanese were unable to respond effectively to the Korean’s tactics. As the Japanese retreated, Admiral Yi ordered a vigorous pursuit. During this time, a stray arquebus bullet from an enemy ship struck Admiral Yi, near his left armpit. Sensing that the wound was fatal, and fearing a repeat of the Battle of Chilchonryang, the admiral uttered, “The war is at its height — wear my armor and beat my war drums. Do not announce my death." He died moments later.
Yi was a charismatic leader, and was able to maintain his soldiers’ morale despite constantly being low on supplies and food, and continuous news of countless Korean losses in ground battles. In some records, it is stated that he went as far as to personally fulfill some of his soldiers’ dying wishes. He demonstrated his loyalty to the people by treating them with respect and fighting amongst them even when endangered. Because of this, Admiral Yi became immensely popular among his soldiers and the Korean people, who often provided him with intelligence reports at great risk to themselves.
One of Yi’s greatest accomplishments was resurrecting and improving the turtle ship. Contrary to popular belief, the turtle ship was not actually invented by Admiral Yi; rather, he improved upon an older design that had been suggested during the reign of King Taejong. The ship’s figurehead was in the shape of a dragon. The figurehead itself held up to four cannons, and emitted a smokescreen that, in combination with its fierce appearance, was meant to be used as psychological warfare. The sides of the turtle ship were dotted with smaller holes from which arrows, guns, and mortars could be fired. The roof was covered with planks and spikes.
Today, Admiral Yi is considered one of Korea’s greatest heroes of all time. Koreans look upon Yi as a man of courage, perseverance, strength, self-sacrifice, intellect, and loyalty to his country.
Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yi_Sun-sin