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Historiography of Yi Sun Sin and Artificial Embodiment Within


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Lee, Seung Ho
Term Paper, Seminar Historiography, December 2010



Table of Contents


I. Introduction
II. Yi Sun Sin
III. Historiography of Yi Sun Sin during the Joseon Dynasty
III.1 Recognition of Yi Sun Sin¡¯s Feat
III.1.1 Royal Recognition
III.1.2 Yangbans' Recognition
III.2 Venerated, but Not as the Most Outstanding
IV. Historiography of Yi Sun Sin during Japanese Rule
IV.1 Shin Chae Ho's
IV.1.1 A National Hero Against Japan
IV.1.2 Comparisons with Foreign Heroes
IV.2 Lee Gwang Soo's
IV.2.1 A Noble, Moral Character
IV.2.2 Call for Ethnic Renovation
V. Historiography of Yi Sun Sin during President Park Chung Hee Administration
V.1 Various Policies to Commemorate Yi Sun Sin
V.2 The Word Seongwoong (Korean: )
V.3 Elevation of Yi Sun Sin to Sacred National Hero
V.4 Reasons for Hero Making
VI. North Korea¡¯s Historiography of Yi Sun Sin
VI.1 Before 1967
VI.2 After 1967
VII. Modern Historiography of Yi Sun Sin
VII.1 Various Perspectives
VII.2 Criticisms Developed
VII.2.1 as a Historical Source
VII.2.2 The World's First Ironclad Ship
VII.2.3 Active Participant of Party Strife
VII.2.4 Obsession with Reward and Recognition
VII.2.5 Disloyalty Towards the King and the Nation
VII.2.6 Distortion of Facts about Hansan Island and Myeongnyang Battles
VII.2.7 Slandering of Won Gyun
VII.2.8 Yi's Deliberate Death ?
VII.3 In Defense of Won Gyun
VII.3.1 Conflict Between Yi Sun Sin and Won Gyun
VII.3.2 Won Gyun's "Humiliating" Defeat
VIII. Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography



I. Introduction
            "Do not let my death be known." On December 16th, 1598, Korea's great admiral Yi Sun Sin passed away with these last words. Shot in the chest while in the battle of Noryang, he could not let his men down by informing them of their commander's death. His death would dishearten the morale of his navy and ultimately affect the result of the battle. Therefore, he ordered his eldest son, Yi Hoe, and his nephew, Yi Wan to hide his corpse from the eyes of others. Moments later, he passed away. After the battle was over, Yi's men could not hail their victory against the Japanese fleet. Instead, all of them had to shed tears for the death of their well respected commander in chief.
            This is the famous story from which Admiral Yi Sun Sin's dying words originated. It has been frequently delivered from mouth to mouth and by many biographies about Yi Sun Sin. And so was the case in the recent KBS TV series . The Nevertheless, when asked about the exact historical record of such story, oftentimes people cannot make out their words. Perhaps, such story did not take place on December 16th, 1598 after all. Perhaps, it was one of many myths about Admiral Yi Sun Sin fabricated years and decades after he passed away. It is this issue regarding historiography of Yi Sun Sin that will be dealt with in this paper.
            In this paper, an analysis into the attitude in which Korean history has depicted Yi Sun Sin will be made. Through such analysis, it will be shown that the historiography of Yi Sun Sin created an artificial embodiment of him. The purpose of this paper is not to belittle his greatness as an admiral or as a historical figure. It is to show that in the process of depicting him, a full picture of his history has not been shown. By referring to books and records about Yi Sun Sin in the past, and mentioning more recent perspectives, this paper wishes to go over the past historiographies of Yi Sun Sin and envision a more ideal one.

II. Yi Sun Sin
            Prior to discussing the actual historiography of Yi Sun Sin, it is prerequisite to study basic information about Yi Sun Sin. He was a naval commander during the Japanese invasions of Joseon (Korea) that lasted from 1592 to 1598. The invasion is also known as the Seven Year War, or the Imjin War. The official name of Yi's title was "naval commander of the three provinces" as he was in charge of navies of Chungcheong, Jeolla, and Gyeongsang provinces. He is known for his exceptional leadership and naval strategies which resulted in victories in all his twenty three battles. Although he was arrested and relegated for a while, he was soon restored to lead Joseon's navy till the last battle. To mention some of important contemporaries, Won Gyun was Yi's rival in commandership. Ryu Seong Ryong was Yi's sponsor in the government, and Seonjo was the king of the Joseon Dynasty at that time. It is reported that Yi Sun Sin was in constant conflict with Won Gyun and Seonjo. (1)

III Historiography of Yi Sun Sin during the Joseon Dynasty
            Remaining historiography of Yi Sun Sin during the Joseon Dynasty was largely done by the ruling class. Although the public must have left their own records about Yi Sun Sin, they are either meager in amount or highly inaccessible. Furthermore, since the whole society and culture of the Joseon Dynasty was centered on kings and yangbans (Korean: ), the noble ruling class, it is deemed that historiography by the ruling class is acceptable as the representation of the time.

III.1 Recognition of Yi Sun Sin's Feat

III.1.1 Royal Recognition
            Indeed, Yi Sun Sin was broadly recognized for his feat after death. Six years after the war in 1604, Seonjo entitled him the title of first-class military order of merit. Seonjo commented. "There is no match for his contribution. It seems this first-class military order is insufficient." In 1613, Yi Sun Sin was posthumously conferred the title Yeonguijeong (Korean: ), or the prime minister, by King Gwanghaegun. In 1643, King Injo conferred a posthumous title of Chungmugong (Korean: ), or Duke of Loyalty and Warfare. In 1707, King Sukjong named a memorial shrine of Yi Sun Sin as Hyonchung Shrine (Korean: ). Since then, Yi has been regularly commemorated with royal patronage. Then in 1795, King Jeongjo gave an order to publish which consists of fourteen volumes and eight books. Jeongjo set up a special department to publish the biography. He is also known for writing a memorial tablet for Yi Sun Sin, which was unprecedented since a king never wrote a tablet for his dead subordinate before then. Jeongjo remarked, "Solely owing to Yi Sun Sin, our dynasty could rise again. How can I not write the words on his memorial tablet ?" (2)

III.1.2 Yangbans' Recognition
            The attitude of yangbans was not so different from the kings. Only two years after the war, (Korean: ), a literary work by Yoon Gye Sun about the Imjin War, was published. It depicts twenty seven wartime heroes, and Yi Sun Sin plays the role of the commander-in-chief among them. In the following years, numerous other works of literature such as (Korean: ) dealt with the war. They all shared a common ground of characterizing Yi as an extraordinary hero who saved the nation (3). All in all, it is certainly true that Yi Sun Sin was generally respected by the people of Joseon.

III.2 Venerated, but Not as the Most Outstanding
            Nevertheless, the evidence shows that Yi Sun Sin was not venerated by people of Joseon as the most outstanding figure in history. For instance, it has been stated above that Yi was conferred the first-class military order of merit, but the same kind of order was conferred to Won Gyun and Kwon Yul, Yi's fellow admiral and general (4). Moreover, first-class military order is equivalent to third-class civil order. When a civilian took off the portrait of the first King Taejo from Taejo's grave, and brought it to Seonjo's refuge in Sinuiju, he was given the third-class civil order of merit. This shows that in a different point of view, the first-class military order is not that significant. Also, after Yi's death, no decent memorial shrine for him was built during Seonjo and Gwanghaegun's reign. This is in stark contrast to scholars of Joseon such as Yi Hwang and Yi I who were much venerated and even worshipped in shrines dedicated to them (5). Lastly, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries after Jeongjo's regime, no social or national interest in Yi Sun Sin is discovered (6). Therefore, it is safe to conclude that although Yi was judged to be a great general who fought and died for the nation, he was initially not the greatest historical figure in the eyes of people in the Joseon Dynasty.

IV. Historiography of Yi Sun Sin during Japanese Rule
            After about a hundred year of oblivion, Yi Sun Sin came onto surface again during the Japanese Rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Major historiographies of Yi Sun Sin were done by Shin Chae Ho's and Lee Gwang Soo's . Both works contributed to creating an artificial embodiment of Yi Sun Sin as a hero. Amusingly, despite the fact that both were published during the Japanese Rule, they differed in their perspectives and purposes. This exhibits how historiographies of the same subject can still differ according to perspectives they choose to take.

IV.1 Shin Chae Ho's

IV.1.1 A National Hero Against Japan
            Shin Chae Ho's drew Yi Sun Sin as a national and ethnic hero. Yi was no longer a hero of the Joseon Dynasty, but a hero of the entire Korean history. This is clearly shown in the words Shin uses in his book. It says that Yi Sun Sin was "both a hero and a saint." "He was a creation of God, a creation of Dangun, the father of Korea." "On the onset of the Imjin War, Dangun saw there was no right person to fight against Japan. So he sent Lee to this world," reports (7).
            The purpose of the book is straightforward; to create a national hero, inspire ethnic pride, and to resist against Japan. For Yi was the admiral who defeated thousands of Japanese in the past, he was the perfect person whom Shin could utilize to meet his purpose. In the process of delineating the great national hero, exaggerated use of words is frequent as mentioned above. It was the piece of historiography during the Japanese Rule from which artificial hero-making of Yi Sun Sin began.
            The book was published in a series of articles in a newspaper (Korean: ) for three months, but was soon banned from further publication owing to its threatening content against Japan (8).

IV.1.2 Comparison with Foreign Heroes
            What is interesting about Shin's is that it presents comparisons between Yi Sun Sin and foreign heroes such as Hannibal and Admiral Nelson. Especially about Nelson, Shin claims Yi is more significant than Nelson. The reason that Nelson is currently more widely acknowledged, however, is the fact that England is more powerful than Korea. Therefore, Shin naturally reaches the conclusion that Korea should accumulate its national power in order to have Yi Sun Sin recognized worldwide (9).

IV.2 Lee Gwang Soo's

IV.2.1 A Noble, Moral Character
            On the other hand, Lee Gwang Soo focuses on the morality of Yi Sun Sin. His is dedicated to praising the utmost nobility of Yi Sun Sin not as a commanding admiral, but as a person. In his posterior note in the book, he writes, "What I worship the most about Yi Sun Sin is his devotional, always sacrificing loyalty towards the nation. What I most wanted to depict in my novel was his moral character." He concludes that Yi led a miserable life because he had to suffer continuously from the suspicion, contempt of his immoral surroundings (10).

IV.2.2 Call for Ethnic Renovation
            Delineation of Yi's miserable life leads to Lee¡¯s purpose of writing his novel, a call for ethnic renovation. Lee was a noted pro-Japanese scholar during the Japanese Rule. He did not think that the enemy at his time was Japan. Instead, it was his fellow Koreans with underdeveloped morality. By following the steps of and learning from Japan, the ideal morality could be reached for Koreans as well. Thus, for him, the solution for Korea was not outright resistance to Japan. It was total renovation of Korean ethnicity.
            In that sense, he links his situation with Yi Sun Sin's. During the Imjin War as well, Japan was not the real enemy, but all those surrounding Yi Sun Sin were. The reason Yi's life is miserable is that the king, his subordinates, and all the people of Joseon could not be as morally upright as he was. Lee viciously criticizes Seonjo and his government by stating, "They were only moved by immediate self interests, resorting to all kinds of schemes and conspiracies to reach those." Won Gyun is also a target of similar criticism, and people of Joseon are also described as "endlessly stupid." Lee Gwang Soo hoped to point out that the cause of chaos in Joseon was in Joseon itself, and Yi Sun Sin was the only person who was ethically different from others (11).

V Historiography of Yi Sun Sin during President Park Chung Hee Administration

V.1 Various Policies to Commemorate Yi Sun Sin
            Hero-making of Yi Sun Sin took a definite form during President Park Chung Hee¡®s Administration that lasted from 1961 to 1979 (12). President Park carried out a series of policies to make a national hero out of Yi Sun Sin, the first of which was his attendance to the 417th Chungmugong Memorial Day (Korean: ) ceremony in 1962. It was the first time ever for the head of the state to take seat in the event. In 1966, President Park declared Hyonchung Shrine (Korean: ) to be sacred. In the following year, the 28th of April was officially enacted as Chungmugong Memorial Day. Another year after that, the statue of Yi Sun Sin that stands until now in front of Gwanghwamun (Korean: ) was erected. Apart from these, (Korean: ) was designated as a national treasure, brochures about Yi Sun Sin were published, many statues of him were erected in schools nationwide, and movies, essay contests, as well as various other events regarding Yi Sun Sin was newly held. (13)

V.2 The Word Seongwoong (Korean: )
            It was during President Park's hero-making business that the term, seongwoong began to be coined universally. "Seong" and "woong" indicating sacredness and heroism respectively, the word exalted Yi Sun Sin to a level in which he is "sacred" like Jesus, Buddha, or Confucius, and "heroic" like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, or Napoleon at the same time. It is truly remarkable that the use of this word is solely restricted to Yi Sun Sin, never used to describe any other historical figures in Korean history. It is safe to conclude that the word seongwoong was coined in order to glorify Yi Sun Sin as the greatest figure in the nation's history.

V.3 Elevation of Yi Sun Sin to Sacred National Hero
            Since the 1960s, plenty of studies have been done concerning Yi Sun Sin's life. Specifically, about 50 research books and 130 research papers have been published. Vast majority of them are centered on Yi's extraordinary military strategies and his exemplary morality, as painted by Shin Chae Ho and Lee Gwang Soo. Interestingly, during President Park¡¯s administration, the principal agents of the studies were the War History Compilation Committee within the Ministry of National Defense and the Naval Academy (14).
            On the other hand, minimal studies were done by professional historians at that time. The number of doctoral dissertation on Yi Sun Sin written from 1960 to 1980 was only one written by Kim Young Suk. This is in stark contrast to the many studies done by government agencies and the Naval Academy. Studies that did touch on Yi Sun Sin only dealt with Yi Sun Sin as a part of the Imjin War, to facilitate better understanding of it. Only after 1980 did historians feel free to delve into the subject of Yi Sun Sin as an individual (15). One can assume the reason for such tendency without difficulty. Because the hero-making business was in progress under the national government's supervision, historians were not given proper academic freedom to study the matter without restraint. If they were to write a thesis or publish a book about Yi Sun Sin, they knew they had to somewhat disclose the aspects of Yi Sun Sin which the government managed not to reveal. They were also faced with the difficulty of having to objectively and historically revise the public consensus towards Yi Sun Sin. It was certainly not the best time for them to let out the truth and expose the public to the exaggerations and distortions about Yi Sun Sin.

V.4 Reasons for Heroification
            The fundamental cause of the government sponsored hero-making business is also not difficult to understand. First of all, it is in accordance with President Park's policy of "renovation". Running a military dictatorship, he emphasized discipline and devotion of Korean people in order to renovate Korea economically and politically (16). Yi Sun Sin was an ideal historical figure to foster such values for he was easily painted as a seongwoong who does not have "I" but only "we" in his mind. By underlining Yi's efforts to protect his nation despite absence of the king's support, his excellent contribution to the well being of the nation, and his dramatic death, President Park was able to draw the admirations of people and thereby instigating people's love and devotion towards their nation.
            Secondly, the years of President Park Chung Hee¡¯s administration was characterized by increased public interest in independence fighters during the Japanese Rule. After independence, people were naturally fascinated and impressed by those who died to fight for their country's independence. In order to divert similar public reverence towards independence activists and utilize it for national benefit, North Korea was already undergoing a hero making of its "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung who had a history of fighting for Korea's independence. President Park, who during Japanese rule had not precisely been an independence fighter, diverted such attention to somewhere else, Yi Sun Sin. (17)

VI. North Korea's Historiography of Yi Sun Sin
            As mentioned briefly above, North Korea's historiography quite differs from South Korea's; while South Korea underwent the hero making of Yi Sun Sin, North Korea did the same with its leader Kim Il Sung. So, by looking into North Koreans' perspective towards Yi Sun Sin, one can take a rather objective, or a different perspective on Yi Sun Sin.
            North Korea's perspective on Yi Sun Sin can be largely divided into two sets of period; one before 1967 and one after 1967 when Kim Il Sung officially established his solitary reign over the country and started promoting Juche (Korean: ) variant of communist national organization (18). Juche, which literally means "main body" or "subject", indicates "independent stand" and "self-reliance" in North Korean context. It is the official state ideology of North Korea which teaches that "man is the master of everything and decides everything," and that the Korean people are the masters of North Korea's revolution. One remarkable aspect of Juche is the heroification of Kim Il Sung (19).

VI.1 Before 1967
            In North Korea before 1967, many studies were done regarding Yi Sun Sin and they had similar tendencies as those of South Korea. Generally, Yi was respected by the public as one of the greatest historical figure who died devoting his life to his nation. (Korean: 1592-1598) quotes, "In mentioning the Seven Year War, we have to recognize the role of Admiral Yi Sun Sin ... He was the most faithful patriot at the time, and his wizardly leadership played a significant role in securing victories ... As the most passionate patriot not only in Korea but in the whole Eastern World, he showed himself to be a genius of military strategies. His efforts exhibit a model of excellence and his strategies became glorious symbols of patriotism." Similar evaluations were offered by another historical book (Korean: ). (20)
            The fact that both North and South Korea perceived Yi Sun Sin with intense admiration is notable. This proves that Admiral Yi does indeed have substantial aspects to be venerated. Regardless of the eyes people observe him with, the fact that he was one of the greatest admirals in Korean history does not change.

VI.2 After 1967
            What is interesting is the historiography of Yi Sun Sin after 1967. First introduced in the mid 1950s, the idea of Juche took real effect after 1967. One of marked characteristics of the period is the stoppage of any sort of publication regarding Yi Sun Sin. Ever since Choi Gil Sung's was published in 1964, not a single book or a research paper about Yi Sun Sin was published until 1989 (21). What must have brought the change ?
            First of all, the abruptly altered attitude of Kim Il Sung towards Yi Sun Sin influenced the public significantly. Basically, Kim started to viciously derogate Yi Sun Sin publicly. Kim Il Sung¡¯s Writings (Korean: ) quotes some of these derogating remarks as following. "People now describe Yi Sun Sin as if he were greater than any other heroes of our time. Although there were much greater ancestors who fought for our independence, people frequently mention Yi ahead of them." In 1968, Kim also claims, "If we do not perceive Yi Sun Sin without any criticism, we are only promoting aristocracy and the cult of success. We should rather be respecting our contemporaries who teach us the morals of communism." As such, due to heroification of Kim Il Sung himself and the idea of Juche which condemned social stratification as a whole, Kim led his people to turn away from idolization of Yi Sun Sin. (22)
            After the disparaging remarks delivered by Kim Il Sung, North Korea's official historical recounts devaluated Yi Sun Sin for his classist shortcomings. This was due to the fact that according to Juche, mass public, not noble and privileged aristocrats, should be the subject of resistance. 1977's (Korea: ) writes, "Despite the fact that Yi Sun Sin fought bravely to protect his nation, the shortcomings of Yi are substantial in that he was still a yangban who was loyal to and fought for a feudal dynasty. Joseon was not a country for its people but for yangbans and their self-interest. Therefore, the patriotism and fidelity of notable heroes during the Imjin War cannot be free from their classist limits." Similar comments continue in 1980's (Korean: ) and 1986's (Korean: ). (23)
            But still, history books of North Korea do recognize noteworthy contributions Yi Sun Sin has made. recounts, "Yi Sun Sin played a significant role in the war. He constructed the turtle ship (Korean: ) and was able to fight off the Japanese with outstanding maneuvers and reinforcement of the whole navy. For his deeds, he is now widely recognized not only in our history, but also in naval war history of the world." (24) From this, it can be assumed that North Korea has presented a perspective that was different from and rather more objective than that of South Korea. One can also learn the influence a government can have in historical accounts by observing the differences between South Korea's and North Korea's description of Yi Sun Sin in history books of each country.

VII. Modern Historiography of Yi Sun Sin
            Today¡¯s historiography of Yi Sun Sin largely differs from that in the past. Finally, it is becoming closer to the true meaning of historiography in which historians, scholars, authors and ordinary people enjoy much freer atmosphere in depicting Yi Sun Sin. Books, research papers, doctoral dissertations and so forth are being published to draw a different picture of Yi Sun Sin.

VII.1 Various Perspectives
            Recently, Yi Sun Sin is not just a self-sacrificing hero or a morally flawless character. In fact, historians now view him with different perspectives. For instance, Huh Seon Do, in his , asserts that in studying Yi Sun Sin, a historical view centered on hero-making and patriotism should be abandoned. written by Lee Chung Il argues Won Gyun should be subject to a comprehensive reevaluation since the excessive focus on Yi Sun Sin has belittled Won Gyun's contribution to the war. (25)
            The most popular of the perspectives is humanistic approach to Yi's life. Literary works and other research works are now focusing on Yi Sun Sin as a person, not as a hero. In the past, Yi Sun Sin was depicted as a flawless character who permitted no blunders in every aspect. Recently, the trend is witnessing a change. Through (Korean: ), Kim Hun depicts Yi Sun Sin as a weak person who had to contemplate about life and death, and fear about his failure. He is no longer a brave admiral who would forever take on the world, but an ordinary person who led a suffering life thinking about himself, his family and his nation.
            Jang Si Gwang also presented this historical perspective in his . Jang attempted to do so by looking into Yi's wartime journal . According to Jang, "Yi makes honest confessions in his journal, . They are confessions we cannot commonly witness from an authoritative admiral. In that sense, through the journal we can understand Yi as a person with humanistic emotions." (26)
            His research paper focuses on the personal aspects of Yi Sun Sin delineated in his journal. First of the aspects is his longing for his family. He recounts his visit to his ailing mother by saying, "In tears, we held each other, and I tried to console and delight my mother all night." Also, when he hears of his son Myun's death, he displays a burst of emotion. "Informed of Myun's death, I burst out in tears and tears. My son, where have you gone ? I wish I could follow you to your death ... My heart is no longer alive ... A day feels like a year," writes Yi. (27) Surely, these specific parts of the journal were not underlined in the past, but are brought to light recently.
            Second is his resentment towards Won Gyun. In thirty occasions, displays insults towards Won Gyun. To name a few, it reads, "the hideous and insincere remarks of Won Gyun cannot be expressed in words" (1593). "Won Gyun's constant contradictions in his words are preposterous" (1593). "Won Gyun is the cause of all faults" (1597). (28) Here, Yi Sun Sin is a person like any other person, who is emotionally aroused by conflicts with his colleague.
            Thirdly, Jang sheds light on Yi's physical weakness. Yi was constantly tormented by frequent ailments. He mentions in his journal about his illness for over 100 times, much more than the number of times he mentions longing for his family. It can be deduced that Yi was very much conscious of and sensitive about his infirmity. For instance, he had to "groan in pain all night", "wake up in a cold sweat", "suffer from intestinal convulsion", "worry about his future condition", and "forgo his business due to severe illness." These are certainly not heroic aspects of Yi Sun Sin.
            Lastly, has frequent references to drinking and leisure. He recounts drinking alcohol in about 80 occasions and playing Go (baduk, Korean: ), Oriental Chess (janggi, Korean: ), wrestling and other pastime games. Especially, Yi shows a rather ravenous drinking habit. He was ¡°severely drunk¡± many times, even had to "vomit all night long", "stay inside all day due to hangover", "fall down due to intoxication", and "drink for three consecutive nights." (29)
            What is important is that finally these aspects of Yi Sun Sin are becoming studied and publicized. Not quite the archetypical traits desired by a hero, these characteristics have been neglected in describing Yi Sun Sin. The result of such negligence was a distorted and an incomplete picture of the most revered historical figure in our history. Therefore, today's historiography of Yi Sun Sin is moving in a hopeful direction for it attempts to bring into surface the previously overlooked qualities of Yi Sun Sin.

VII.2 Criticism Developed
            In drawing a full picture of Yi Sun Sin, criticisms of Yi Sun Sin have been inevitably developed since until now the historiography has been only focused on depicting Yi as a hero. The following are some points of criticisms regarding Yi Sun Sin or his historiography that do not entirely make Yi an infallible and a sacred hero.

VII.2.1 as a Historical Source
            An objective and a correct reevaluation of as a historical source should be made. is Yi Sun Sin's wartime journal in which Yi Sun Sin wrote about his daily life during the seven years of war. Until now, it has been the foremost source of historiography of Yi Sun Sin since there exists no more comparable and more comprehensive source than during the seven years. However, it is highly problematic that a personal journal is relied on as a trustworthy historical source. Of course, a person is not going to write about facts that would degrade him in the eyes of his descendents, especially in a journal like , a recount of a famous admiral in times of a notable war that will be studied by many historians and the general public. Therefore, in considering as a historical source, one should also consider its subjectivity and partiality.

VII.2.2 The World's First Ironclad Ship
            Many history books of Korea tend to exalt Yi's ingenuity by teaching that the turtle ship constructed by Yi Sun Sin was the world's first ironclad ship. However, two points of contention take place. First, some argue that the turtle ship was not an ironclad ship in the first place. In no place do our historical records write that the ship was "ironclad." They show that the top of the ship was covered with a "board" and "spikes," with no reference to iron. Furthermore, Yi¡¯s report to the government and his do not describe the turtle ship as ironclad. Some records even explicitly recounts that the ship was topped with a woodblock, not an iron plate. It is also maintained that the turtle ship must have been better off with woodblocks in terms of practicality. Since the turtle ship played the role of charging towards the enemies and throwing their line into disarray, the lighter the better (30). And woodblocks are certainly much lighter than iron plates. As such, the argument that the turtle ship was not ironclad does hold reasonable validity.
            Secondly, even if the turtle ship does qualify for an ironclad battleship, Yi¡¯s ironclad ship would not be the first one to be built worldwide. Before anything, Yi did not invent the turtle ship himself. It was rather a renovated version of the turtle ship during King Taejong's reign about 200 years earlier (31). Moreover, world encyclopedias clearly show that the first ironclad ship was built in Japan (32). Although it was not yet a form of a battleship, the notion that Yi¡¯s turtle ship was the first ironclad ship is truly misleading. It is one of many misleading results led by incorrect historiography of Yi Sun Sin.

VII.2.3 Active Participant of Party Strife
            Yi Sun Sin is often depicted as the victim of severe party strife that took place in Joseon's government during the war. This is also a mistaken view for Yi was not just the victim of party strife. In fact, he was also an active participant and in many cases a beneficiary of party strife. To begin with, he kept a stout sponsor, Ryu Seong Ryong, in the king's court. Ryu was the very person who recommended Yi as an admiral to the king. Other than Ryu were the rest of Namins (Korean: ) such as Lee Deok Hyung and Jeong Tak. Thanks to his party's support, Yi could be abruptly appointed as an admiral, a 3 pum (Korean: ) governmental office. Pum is a system of Joseon's bureaucracy, and the lower one¡¯s pum, the higher in bureaucratic rank. In the case of Yi Sun Sin, it took no longer than a year for him to be promoted to 6 pum and then to 3 pum - certainly not a common rate of promotion. (33)
            It is illogical to contend that just because his party Namin was not as powerful as other political parties, he was the victim of party strife. Since he was also a member of a political party and benefited from his party identification, Yi Sun Sin was rather a part of the power struggle among political parties.

VII.2.4 Obsession with Reward and Recognition
            During the Joseon Dynasty, generals, admirals, and other government officials all worked to be rewarded and recognized by the king. It was a typical culture of Joseon's bureaucracy. In that process of receiving rewards, conflicts among those people who achieved similar deeds occurred frequently. Although Yi seems to be of a noble and a moral character indifferent to rewards, he was not an exception in this struggle to be rewarded. He also worked to be recognized by the king by often resorting to methods unanticipated of him.
            The rewards at the time were given according to the reports that generals, admirals, and officials send to the government. Especially, for military battles, the king gave graded rewards in proportion to the number of enemy heads each commander decapitated. After Battles of Okpo, Hapo, and Jeokjinpo in the beginning of the war, Yi Sun Sin also had to file a report to the king. However, Yi realized that if he files a joint report with Won Gyun, he would be less rewarded than Won Gyun since he always fought battles as the spearhead, leading the navy in the front. Naturally, Won Gyun could collect much more enemy heads than Yi Sun Sin. Consequently, although he initially agreed with Won Gyun to file a report with joint signatures, he instead sent an exclusive one only for himself (34). It can be assumed from this incident that Yi Sun Sin was not so different from any other military officials of the time.
            Official document verifies the truth of the incident. , the official historical record written at the time reads, "Yi Sun Sin, along with Won Gyun, defeated about 50 enemy ships during the battles in 1592 ... Won Gyun coordinated the strategies of the battles and played the leading role himself ... Won Gyun wanted to file a joint report, and Yi agreed. However, under the cover of night, Yi sent an exaggerated and a biased report of his own by himself." (35)
            In another incident, Admiral Yi filed a false report to the government. In 1597, Yi claimed that some of his men infiltrated into Japanese camp in Busan and set the military provisions, weapons, and some of enemy soldiers on fire (36). Nevertheless, a person named Kim Sin Guk filed another report that revealed it was Lee Won Ik and Chung Hee Won who should be rewarded by the feat instead. Yi later claimed the report might have been fraudulent since he only relied on the words of his subordinates who reported to Yi. Still, false report to the king was considered a heavy crime in the Joseon Dynasty, and Seonjo reacted furiously by saying, "The head of the enemy's commander in chief would not be enough to forgive Yi Sun Sin." His long held sponsors Ryu Seong Ryong and Jeong Tak also acknowledged his crime by referring to Yi's "arrogance" and "indolence." (37)

VII.2.5 Disloyalty Towards the King and the Nation
            Yi's battle history reveals an interesting fact. Out of the 23 battles he fought, 15 took place in 1592, 1 in 1593, 3 in 1594, 3 in 1597, and the last one in 1598. Vast majority of them took place in the first year of the war, and Yi Sun Sin actually did not fight many battles during the following years. This was because Yi refused to obey the king's order to wage battles owing to "unfavorable circumstances." A report to the king on the issue at the time explains as the following: "Yi Sun Sin is ungrateful of the king's favor now that he has been exalted to a high status. For five years, he has been hiding in an island without any notable victories. His crime is hefty and calls for severe punishment." (38)
            This sort of accusation was compounded with Yi's refusal to respond to crown prince's call. As Yi continuously refrained from fighting battles, Seonjo sent his crown prince, Gwanghaegun, to deliver his order face to face. Yet, Yi impertinently refused to even meet him. Seonjo Sillok recounts, "It is highly suspicious that Yi is not moving his fleets to fight against the Japanese anymore. What is more, he refused to meet with the crown prince even though the prince himself visited south and called on Yi several times. (39) This refusal was completely unacceptable according to the laws then. It is a blatant evident that Yi was disrespectful and disloyal to the king and the nation.

VII.2.6 Distortion of Facts about Hansan Island and Myeongnyang Battles
            Battles of Hansan Island and Myeongnyang are the two most revered battles of Yi Sun Sin. Although they by themselves are one of the greatest battles of Korean history, historiographies of the two battles have unnecessarily exaggerated facts about the war in order to glorify Yi's feat even more.
            For instance, historical accounts state that over ten thousand Japanese perished during each battle. They claim that because about a hundred Japanese ships were sunk and each ship consisted of over a hundred men, the number adds up to more than ten thousand. Nevertheless, this is because early hero makers chose to use our navy's standard on Japanese fleets. Indeed, each of Joseon's ship's crew consisted of over a hundred men, but that was not the case with Japanese ship's crews. The largest Japanese ship had about 140 men, the middle-sized ship about 70 and the smallest ship about 30 men. The largest kind was only used by a few navy officials who had to command the navy. Majority of Japanese ships were characterized by their small size and higher speed in contrast to Joseon's. Men standing on a Japanese battleship were only in tens, which suggests about a thousand Japanese ships should have sunk during each battle if we were to believe over ten thousand Japanese died in each battle - not a feasible statistic. (40)

VII.2.7 Slandering of Won Gyun
            Won Gyun is often accused of falsely slandering and accusing Yi Sun Sin, yet slandering was also true vice versa. In 1594, Yi accused Won of adding the name of Won¡¯s 12-year-old son on his report to the king in order to receive more rewards. However, Lee Deok Hyung's investigation revealed Won Gyun did not make such report. In fact, it was Won Gyun¡¯s 18-year-old son Won Sa Woong whose name was on the report, and Sa Woong was indeed one of the best soldiers in the navy (41). One can infer from this incident that Yi Sun Sin was not the sole victim in the conflict between him and Won Gyun.

VII.2.8 Yi's Deliberate Death ?
            To further dramatize Yi's death, many literary works and studies on Yi Sun Sin suggest Yi meant to die in his last battle on purpose. Now, many people take it for granted that Yi deliberately took off his armor which would protect him from bullets and moved to the front so that he can be exposed to death. Such description was to draw a picture of a hero who had to endure the suspicions of the king, strive till the end to protect his nation despite the many hardships, and take the path to be a true hero by putting himself to death after his task was over.
            A different perspective is presented with regard to Yi Sun Sin¡¯s death. It is not that Yi deliberately exposed himself to great risk of dying in the last battle, but that he had to do so since the Battle of Noryang was so much different from other battles he had experienced. Looking at the casualties alone, the number of death in Noryang well surpasses that of previous battles. This indicates that Admiral Yi could not just stand in the back with his heavy armor on and shout at his men as he did in the past. The battle was so fierce that as the navy commander, he had to inspire his men to fight bravely. Unfortunately, his bravery eventually led to his death. (42)

VII.3 In Defense of Won Gyun
            As another part of today's innovative historiography of Yi Sun Sin, a theory that Won Gyun was actually a competent admiral and not so bad a person is gaining popularity. The following are some facts regarding Won Gyun that people have so far misunderstood or overlooked.

VII.3.1 Conflict Between Yi Sun Sin and Won Gyun
            As mentioned above, Won Gyun did not unilaterally disparage Yi Sun Sin and tried to be more acknowledged by the king. The kind of conflict was very natural in the Joseon Dynasty. In fact, Yi Sun Sin himself also resorted to similar devious schemes in order to assume more recognition than Won Gyun.
            Furthermore, Won Gyun had nothing to do with Yi¡¯s arrest and relegation. Yi was accused by the government for four crimes - deceiving the king, refusing to fight battles, assuming credits for others¡¯ deeds, and acting arrogantly. All of these categories were related to Yi's own attitudes and behavior as explicitly listed above. Won Gyun did once deliver a strategic advice to the government concerning Yi's navy, but such was highly common in Joseon since any government officials were free to deliver their appeals and reports on any issues inside the country.
            Even if Won Gyun had been a malcontent slanderer, it is senseless to think that a government in times of war would get rid of its commanding admiral solely relying on the words of another admiral. (43) Therefore, it is safe to conclude that Won Gyun did not maliciously slander Yi Sun Sin in order to assume his position, and even if he did, the sort of "slanders" was common in the Joseon Dynasty among generals.

VII.3.2 Won Gyun's "Humiliating" Defeat
            Won Gyun is often criticized for his humiliating defeat in the Battle of Chilchon Straits. After Yi Sun Sin was relegated, Won Gyun gained control of the navy. However, he suffered a great loss in the battle and virtually lost the entire fleet. Recent studies argue that the result would have been the same even if Yi had been the one fighting the battle instead of Won.
            Let's look into the details. One of the four reasons Yi was relegated was that he refused to send troops to attack Busan, where Japanese army set up its base. Yi maintained that it was suicidal for his navy to go into Busan since his navy was not designed to fight in an open sea. If he had to attack Busan, he said he would only do it as a part of an amphibious operation, an attack both on land and sea. For his firm refusal, he was arrested and Won Gyun was appointed instead.
            Arriving in Hansan Island naval base, Won also understood why Yi called so desperately for amphibious operation. And the time given to Won Gyun was too short for him to restructure the whole navy so that it could fight in an open sea. So, Won also had no choice but to refuse the order from the king and Kwon Yul, the commander-in-chief of Joseon. Won Gyun also demanded an amphibious operation just as Yi did when he was in office. The consequence of his refusal was Kwon Yul's gonjang punishment, a corporal punishment spanking one's buttocks. Highly unwillingly, Won had to lead his navy to Busan even though he knew he would suffer a huge defeat. This explicitly verifies that Won Gyun had to make the undesirable decision that Yi also refused to make, and that he cannot be solely responsible for the defeat of Joseon's navy.

VIII. Conclusion
            Exhibited in this paper were trends in the historiography of Yi Sun Sin that differed in each time period. In the Joseon Dynasty, the Japanese Rule, and President Park Chung Hee's administration, Yi Sun Sin's historiographies gradually shaped an artificial embodiment of him. By distorting and omitting certain portions of history about Yi Sun Sin, by emphasizing and exaggerating other portions, Yi was effectively painted as the greatest hero in Korean history. A frustrating fact is that a full picture of Yi Sun Sin was not drawn in these pieces of historical writing.
            Today's historiography of Yi Sun Sin is attempting to correct this problem. By introducing new perspectives, new pieces of information, and paradigms of historiography, people are now exposed to a correct and an unadulterated version of Yi Sun Sin. Now, people do not just try to understand Yi Sun Sin as an exceptional hero, but also as a person who had similar characteristic flaws as others do, and a person who was full of emotions. This paper has looked extensively through possible shortcomings in Yi Sun Sin himself and also in describing Yi Sun Sin. But as mentioned at first, the point of enumerating these criticisms is not to argue that they are entirely correct and that Yi is not worthy of recognition. It is rather to show that in today¡¯s historiography of Yi Sun Sin, a comprehensive discussion of many aspects of Yi Sun Sin is in progress.
            Historiography wields significant influence on people¡¯s understanding and perception of a history. As in the case of Yi Sun Sin, historiography can be readily manipulated to serve a particular purpose. Perhaps unattainable in reality, a true historiography takes place when it offers a comprehensive and impartial picture. Its conclusion is for the historians and the general public to reach.


Notes

1.      Article : Yi Sun Sin from Wikipedia
2.      Kim 2004 pp.35-36
3.      Song 2004 p.26
4.      Seonjo Sujeong Sillok of Annals of the Joseon Dynasty. Entry of 25th Jun. 1604.
5.      Yoo 2005 pp.217-218
6.      Kim 2004 pp.35-36
7.      ibid. p.43
8.      ibid. pp.42, 47
9.      ibid. pp.45-46
10.      ibid. p.48
11.      ibid. pp.49-51
12.      Article : History of South Korea from Wikipedia
13.      Yoo 2005 p.12
14.      Kim 2004 p.38
15.      ibid. pp.38-39
16.      Yoo 2005 p.12
17.      obid.
18.      Article : Kim Il Sung from Wikipedia
19.      Article : Juche from Wikipedia
20.      Kwon 2006 p.2
21.      ibid. p.63
22.      ibid. pp.66-67
23.      ibid. p.69
24.      ibid. pp.70-71
25.      Kim 2004 p.40
26.      Jang 2008 p.36
27.      ibid. pp.39, 42
28.      ibid. pp.44-46
29.      ibid. pp.47-52
30.      Lee 2004
31.      Article : Yi Sun Sin from Wikipedia
32.      Yoo 2005 p.46
33.      Article : Yi Sun Sin from Wikipedia
34.      Yoo 2005 pp.164-165
35.      Seonjo Sillok of Annals of the Joseon Dynasty. Entry of 21st Apr. 1603
36.      ibid. Entry of 1st Jan. 1597.
37.      Lee 2006 pp.109-112
38.      Yoo 2005 p.176
39.      Lee 2006 p.101
40.      Yoo 2005 pp.209-211
41.      Seonjo Sillok of Annals of the Joseon Dynasty. Entry of 12th Nov. 1594
42.      Yoo 2005 pp.205-207
43.      Lee 2006 pp.123-130


Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in December 2010.
Seonjo Sillok of Annals of the Joseon Dynasty (Korean: ).
1.      for 1594, http://sillok.history.go.kr/inspection/insp_king.jsp?id=kna_127&tabid=k
2.      for 1597, http://sillok.history.go.kr/inspection/insp_king.jsp?id=kna_130&tabid=k
3.      for 1603, http://sillok.history.go.kr/inspection/insp_king.jsp?id=kna_136&tabid=k
Seonjo Sujeong Sillok of Annals of the Joseon Dynasty (Korean: ). 4.      for 1604, http://sillok.history.go.kr/inspection/insp_king.jsp?id=knb_137
5.      Article : Yi Sun-sin from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yi_Sun_Sin
6.      Article : History of South Korea from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_South_Korea
7.      Article : Kim Il Sung from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Il_Sung
8.      Article : Juche from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juche
9.      (Study of Yi Sun Sin in Terms of Historiography). Gi Seung Kim. 2004. Soon Chun Hyang University Yi Sun Sin Research Institute
10.      (Slandering of Yi Sun Sin in Literature Works). Woo Hye Song. 2004. Soon Chun Hyang University Yi Sun Sin Research Institute
11.      (Yi Sun Sin and Toyotomi Hideyoshi). Yoo Gil Man. 2005. Kyunghyang Media
12.      (Great Historical Figures of Joseon). Shin Chae Ho (1908). 2004.
13.      (Yi Sun Sin). Lee Gwang Soo (1931). 2004
14.      (Understanding and Evaluation of Admiral Yi Sun Sin through Understanding of North Korea History). Jun Suk Kwon. 2006. Yonsei Graduate School Master's Thesis.
15.      (Song of the Sword). Hun Kim. 2006
16.      (Literature : An Individual Picture of Yi Sun Sin on Nanjung Ilgi). Si Gwang Jang. 2008. Onji Academic Society.
17.      (How Joseon Won the Imjin War). Jong Ho Lee. 2004. Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism.
18.      (An Excuse for Won Gyun). Jae Bum Lee. 1996


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