Introduction to our website

"Your Highness, I still have twelve battleships!"

This is what Yi Sun-shin told the Korean King during a war against Japan in the Joseon Dynasty period, showing his determination to go on to war, despite overwhelmingly unfavorable conditions, with hope and without fear. With strong willpower, Yi rescued the endangered country of Korea and protected the peace in East Asia by achieving tremendous victories over Japan that would go down in world naval history. For Koreans, Yi always comes out on top of the most respected heroes in the 5000 years of Korean history. His sayings have long been used as Korean political campaign slogans, corporate CEO business philosophies, ways to stimulate the imagination of entertainers, and inspiring motivational quotes in the textbooks of Korean students. These instances show clearly that Yi has immense influence over Korean society. But, what do six billion foreigners think about our greatest hero Admiral Yi Sun-shin This very question was the seed of this website.

In January of 2008, Korea’s Cyber Diplomatic Mission VANK (Voluntary Agency Network of Korea) and the Korean province of Gyeongsangnam-do, found out through extensive research that information about Yi Sun-shin and the Imjin War is seldom included in foreign history textbooks, encyclopedias and popular websites. Many Koreans are surprised to learn that Yi’s leadership and bravery, which can help to inspire youth in the world beyond Korea, are often neglected in educational resources available for foreign students to study. Even more surprising is that the few resources that do have 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. It also contributes to presenting the Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi as a hero in Japanese history. As previously mentioned, most foreign textbooks and websites in general fail to introduce Yi Sun-shin and the Imjin War. Even the limited contents in these foreign sources are presented inaccurately or unfairly in favor of Chinese and Japanese perspectives.

There is some common agreement among people, whether Koreans or foreigners, who have an appreciation for Yi. They regard it as accurate to compare the Korean naval hero Yi Sun-shin to the British naval hero Horatio Nelson (1758-1805). Especially laudatory was a statement about Yi from Japanese Admiral Togo Heihachiro (1848-1934), the greatest of all Japanese naval heroes, a man who led the Japanese to victory in the Russo-Japanese War, said, “You may compare me with Lord Nelson, but not with Yi Sun-shin. Next to him, I am only a petty officer.” Also, British Admiral George Alexander Ballard (1892-1948) wrote in his book that “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 the Asiatic race who never knew defeat and died in the presence of the enemy” (The Influence of the Sea on the Political History of Japan, 1921).

Yi’s leadership and accomplishments are worth receiving such an international reputation, impressive as they have been to an admiral of the Japanese Navy and an admiral of the British Royal Navy, especially since Britain is known internationally and historically as a strong naval power. Yi Sun-shin’s battle at Hansando can also be compared with Horatio Nelson’s battle at Trafalgar, in that both battles played a critical role in saving their respective countries and both became significant records in world naval history. However, there is a significant difference between Yi and Nelson in terms of international recognition. Whereas Nelson is well known across the world because of his achievement at the battle of Trafalgar, Yi’s influence resides mostly in the hearts of only Koreans.

In recognition of this problem, VANK has decided to build this website to inform international audiences about Yi Sun-shin, a man who changed the destiny of Korea and became one of the greatest heroes in 5000 years of Korean history. For this website, we put considerable effort into reflecting international perspectives, rather than only a Korean perspective, in our descriptions of Yi’s life and accomplishments during the Imjin War. World naval history and examples of leadership to save a country are familiar and inspiring topics for people across the world. Thus, we approach Yi Sun-shin in the context of “Yi Sun-shin and world naval heroes” and “the Imjin War and the world’s four greatest naval battles”. The four battles included are the Battle of Hansando, the Battle of Salamis, the Battle of Calais, and the Battle of Trafalgar.

We provide a balanced perspective by introducing the battle of Hansando along with these three other naval battles that westerners are more familiar with. All of these battles are described in detail in our website for foreign students, to help them learn about world naval battles in their history classes. Even though the battle of Hansando has great importance in world history because it is adequately considered as one of the world’s four greatest naval battles, it is still relatively unfamiliar among foreigners who are used to perceiving world naval battles from within a Western oriented historical perspective. This calls for efforts to promote the importance and contribution to the world of the battle of Hansando.

When you visit this website and begin to understand Korea’s most respected hero Yi Sun-shin, his accomplishments and leadership, as well as his great battle at Hansando, it will be a great help to your future. The primary reason we want to promote Yi Sun-shin to the world through this website, is not merely because he is Korea’s greatest naval commander, never defeated in battle, but more importantly, because he devotedly loved the people and the community to which he belonged, and served them even at the cost of his own life. The spirit that he showed can serve as a moral guide for the lives of contemporary people all around the world. The life and philosophy of a great hero who saved a country in crisis can be the seed that produces more heroes among future generations. We hope that through this website, you too can become heroes someday and change the world!