Looking for Truth

Yi Sun-shin and the Imjin War in foreign textbooks and websites

■ Analysis of descriptions about Yi Sun-shin and the Imjin War in foreign textbooks and websites
A major issue we found in analyzing descriptions of Yi Sun-shin and the Imjin War in foreign resources is that often these descriptions are simply neglected in foreign history textbooks, encyclopedias and popular websites. Although Yi’s leadership and bravery are useful educational contents to inspire youth in the world beyond Korea, they are not even mentioned in reference books and websites that foreign students use for studying purposes.

Another significant issue we found is that even those few foreign resources with limited content about Yi often provide incorrect information. For example, Yi’s last battle in the Noryang Strait is described as an illegitimate attack on Japanese retreating forces because it broke an armistice agreement. However, there was no armistice agreement between Korea and Japan, and so this description gives readers the wrong impression that Yi won the battle by resorting to foul play. The dissemination of such misinformation gives some cover to Japan that had engaged in an aggressive war of invasion against Korea, and degrades Yi’s character and accomplishments during the Imjin War.

The way the Imjin War is described is also problematic. Foreign history textbooks and websites represent the Imjin War only from the historical perspectives of China and Japan. This absence of a Korean perspective is consistent with the common fallacy that Korea is only a shrimp caught between the two whales of China and Japan. An example of a description of the Imjin war from a Chinese perspective is the mistaken belief that Korea was only able to escape from the threat of Japanese occupation due to the arrival of Chinese relief forces because Korea had no modern weapons to defend against the Japanese forces. This perspective reduces the conditions of the Korean victories during the Imjin War to the presence of Chinese assistance, downplaying the accomplishments of the Korean Navy under the command of Yi Sun-shin.

An example from a Japanese perspective is that the Japanese invasion of Korea was only to use Korea as a stepping stone or passage to China. This perspective assumes that the Imjin War was a conflict between China and Japan for hegemony in Asia, ignoring Korea’s stance and role as a regional player in Asian geopolitics.