Yi I

Last updated
Yi I Sitting Yi I.jpg
Yi I
Yi I
Revised Romanization I I
McCune–Reischauer Yi I
Pen name
Revised Romanization Yulgok
McCune–Reischauer Yulgok
Courtesy name
Revised Romanization Sukheon
McCune–Reischauer Sukhŏn

Yi I (Korean : 이이; Hanja : 李珥, December 26, 1536 – February 27, 1584) was a Korean philosopher and writer. He was one of the two most prominent Korean Confucian scholars of the Joseon Dynasty, the other being his older contemporary, Yi Hwang (Toegye). [1] Yi I is often referred to by his pen name Yulgok ("Chestnut valley"). He is not only known as a scholar but also as a revered politician and reformer. [2] He was academical successor of Jo Gwang-jo.

Korean language Language spoken in Korea

The Korean language is an East Asian language spoken by about 77 million people. It is a member of the Koreanic language family and is the official and national language of both Koreas: North Korea and South Korea, with different standardized official forms used in each country. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture and Changbai Korean Autonomous County of Jilin province, China. It is also spoken in parts of Sakhalin, Ukraine, and Central Asia.

Hanja Korean language characters of Chinese origin

Hanja is the Korean name for Chinese characters. More specifically, it refers to the Chinese characters borrowed from Chinese and incorporated into the Korean language with Korean pronunciation. Hanja-mal or Hanja-eo refers to words that can be written with Hanja, and hanmun refers to Classical Chinese writing, although "Hanja" is sometimes used loosely to encompass these other concepts. Because Hanja never underwent major reform, they are almost entirely identical to traditional Chinese and kyūjitai characters, though the stroke orders for some characters are slightly different. For example, the characters and are written as 敎 and 硏. Only a small number of Hanja characters are modified or unique to Korean. By contrast, many of the Chinese characters currently in use in Japan and Mainland China have been simplified, and contain fewer strokes than the corresponding Hanja characters.

Korean Confucianism the form of Confucianism that emerged and developed in Korea

Korean Confucianism is the form of Confucianism that emerged and developed in Korea. One of the most substantial influences in Korean intellectual history was the introduction of Confucian thought as part of the cultural influence from China.



Master Yi I was born in Gangneung, Gangwon Province in 1537. His father was a Fourth State Councillor (jwachanseong 좌찬성) and his mother, Shin Saimdang, the accomplished artist and calligraphist. He was the grand nephew of Yi Gi, prime minister 1549 to 1551.[ citation needed ] In his early years he was a student of Baik In-geol, the successor of Jo Gwang-jo. It is said that by the age of seven he had finished his lessons in the Confucian classics, and passed the Civil Service literary examination at the age of 13. Yi I secluded himself in Kumgang-san following his mother's death when he was 16 and stayed for 3 years, studying Buddhism. He left the mountains at 20 and devoted himself to the study of Confucianism. [3] [4]

Gangneung Municipal City in Gwandong, South Korea

Gangneung is a city in the province of Gangwon-do, on the east coast of South Korea. It has a population of 213,658. Gangneung is the economic centre of the Yeongdong region of Gangwon-do. Gangneung has many tourist attractions, such as Jeongdongjin, a very popular area for watching the sun rise, and Gyeongpo Beach. There is an ROK airbase south of downtown Gangneung that formerly doubled as a civil airport.

Calligraphy visual art related to writing

Calligraphy is a visual art related to writing. It is the design and execution of lettering with a broad tip instrument, brush, or other writing instruments. A contemporary calligraphic practice can be defined as "the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious, and skillful manner".

Yi Gi was a Korean during the Joseon Dynasty. He was Prime minister or Chief State Councillor from 1549 to 1551. He was the nephew of Seong Dam su (성담수), one of the members of Saengyuksin (생육신), and grand uncle of Yi I (Yulgok).

He married at 22 and a half, and went to visit Yi Hwang at Dosan the following year. He passed special exams with top honors with a winning thesis titled Cheondochaek (hangul:천도책, hanja: 天道策, "Book on the Way of Heaven"), which was widely regarded as a literary masterpiece, displaying his knowledge of history and the Confucian philosophy of politics, and also reflecting his profound knowledge of Taoism. [5] He continuously received top honors on civil exams for a consecutive 9 times. His father died when he was 26. [2] He served in various positions in government from the age of 29, and visited the Ming Dynasty as seojanggwan (hangul: 서장관, hanja: 書狀官, document officer) in 1568. He also participated in the writing of the Myeongjong Annals and at 34, authored Dongho Mundap, an eleven-article political memorial devoted to clarifying his conviction that a righteous government could be achieved. [6]

Yi Hwang Korean Confucianism scholar

Yi Hwang (1501–1570) was a Korean philosopher and writer. He was one of the two most prominent Korean Confucian scholars of the Joseon Dynasty, the other being his younger contemporary Yi I (Yulgok). A key figure of the Neo-Confucian literati, he established the Yeongnam School and set up the Dosan Seowon, a private Confucian academy. Yi Hwang is often referred to by his pen name Toegye. His courtesy name was Gyeongho.

Dosan Seowon Historical site

Dosan Seowon was established in 1574 in what is present day Andong, South Korea, in memory of and four years after the death of Korean Confucian scholar Yi Hwang by some of his disciples and other Korean Confucian authorities. Yi Hwang had retired to the location in 1549 and begun construction on the facility, a private Korean Confucian academy offering instruction in the classics and honouring the sages with regular memorial rites.

Philosophy The rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Due to his vast experience in different offices over the years, Yi I was able to garner a wide vision of politics and with the deep trust of the king, became one of the central figures of politics by the time he was 40. His many documents and theses were presented to the royal court but when political conflicts escalated in 1576, his efforts proved fruitless and he returned home. Following his return, he devoted his time to studies and education of his disciples and authored several books. [2]

He returned to office at 45 and while holding various minister positions, produced many writings which recorded crucial political events and showed his efforts to ease the political conflicts that were rampant at that time. However, King Seonjo was noncommittal in his attitude and it became difficult for Yi I to remain in a neutral position in the conflicts. He left office in 1583 and died the following year. [2]

Seonjo of Joseon was the fourteenth king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea from 1567 to 1608. Known for encouraging Confucianism and renovating state affairs at the beginning of his reign, political chaos and his incompetent leadership during the Japanese invasions of Korea marred his later years.

According to legend, he had a pavilion built near the ford of the Imjin River in his lifetime and instructed his heirs to set it ablaze when the king had to flee northward from Seoul, to provide a guiding beacon. This took place during Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea at the Imjin war. [7]

Imjin River River in Korea

The Imjin River or Rimjin River is the 7th largest river in Korea. It flows from north to south, crossing the Demilitarized Zone and joining the Han River downstream of Seoul, near the Yellow Sea. The river is not the namesake of the Imjin Waeran Japanese invasions of Korea in the late 16th century.


Master Yi I was not only known as a philosopher but also as a social reformer. He did not completely agree with the dualistic Neo-Confucianism teachings followed by Yi Hwang. His school of Neo-Confucianism placed emphasis on the more concrete, material elements; rather than inner spiritual perception, this practical and pragmatic approach valued external experience and learning. [8] Unlike Yi Hwang, who suffered through tumultuous times and did not enjoy being in politics, Yi I was an active official who thought it important to implement Confucian values and principles to government administration. He emphasized sage learning and self-cultivation as the base of proper administration. [3] [4]

Yi I is also well known for his foresight about national security. He proposed to draft and reinforce the army against a possible Japanese attack. His proposal was rejected by the central government, his worry was found to be well-founded soon after his death, during the Imjin war. [4]

Selected works

Yi I's published writings encompass 193 works in 276 publications in 6 languages and 2,236 library holdings. [9]


Yi I on the currently circulating 5,000 won note 5000 won serieV obverse.jpeg
Yi I on the currently circulating 5,000 won note

Yulgongno, a street in central Seoul, is named after him, [15] and he is depicted on the South Korean 5,000 won note. [16] The Taekwondo pattern Yul-Gok was also named in his honor. This is the pattern required to advance from 5th Kup Green Belt with Blue Tag to 4th Kup Blue Belt. The 38 movements of this pattern refer to his birthplace on the 38th degree latitude. [17] The "Yulgok Project", a modernization project for the South Korean military, is named after him as well. [18]

See also


  1. Daehwan, Noh. "The Eclectic Development of Neo-Confucianism and Statecraft from the 18th to the 19th Century," Archived June 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Korea Journal. Winter 2003.
  2. 1 2 3 4 (in Korean) Yi I at Doosan Encyclopedia
  3. 1 2 (in Korean) Yi I at The Academy of Korean Studies
  4. 1 2 3 (in Korean) Archived 2011-06-10 at the Wayback Machine at Encyclopedia of Korean Culture
  5. Lee Eunjik(이은직) translated by Jeong Hongjun(정홍준), Great Joseon Masters Vol.2 (조선명인전 2) p35, Ilbit Publishing, Seoul, 2005. ISBN   89-5645-087-0
  6. 1 2 (in Korean) Dongho Mundap at Doosan Encyclopedia
  7. Choi Beomseo (최범서), Unofficial History of Joseon Vol. 2 p52, Garam Publishing, Seoul, 2003. ISBN   89-8435-143-1
  8. Lee Hyun-hee, Park Sung-soo, Yoon Nae-hyun, translated by The Academy of Korean Studies, New History of Korea p393, Jimoondang, Paju, 2005. ISBN   89-88095-85-5
  9. "WorldCat Identities". www.oclc.org.
  10. (in Korean) Maneon Bongsa at Doosan Encyclopedia
  11. (in Korean) Seonhak Jibyo at Doosan Encyclopedia
  12. (in Korean) Gyeokmong Yogyel at Doosan Encyclopedia
  13. (in Korean) Gyeongyeon Ilgi at Doosan Encyclopedia
  14. (in Korean) Yulgok Jeonseo at Doosan Encyclopedia
  15. (in Korean) Yulgongno at Doosan Encyclopedia
  16. (in Korean) Money bill designs at Naver dictionary
  17. "Yulgok Taekwondo pattern". Archived from the original on 2010-06-02.
  18. Cha Yeonggu (차영구), Theory and Actuality of National Defense Policies (국방정책의 이론과 실제) p86, Oruem, Seoul, 2002. ISBN   89-7778-156-6.

Related Research Articles

Sejong the Great Fourth king of Joseon

Sejong the Great was the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. He was the third son of King Taejong and Queen consort Min. He was designated as heir-apparent, Crown Prince, after his older brother Prince Yangnyeong was stripped of his title. He ascended to the throne in 1418. During the first four years of his reign, Taejong governed as regent, after which his father-in-law, Sim On, and his close associates were executed.

Neo-Confucianism Chinese philosophy

Neo-Confucianism is a moral, ethical, and metaphysical Chinese philosophy influenced by Confucianism, and originated with Han Yu and Li Ao (772–841) in the Tang Dynasty, and became prominent during the Song and Ming dynasties.

Sin Saimdang calligraphist and noted poet

Shin Saimdang was a Korean artist, writer, calligraphist, and poet. She was born in Gangwondo Gangneungbu jugheonli bugpyeongchon on 29 October 1504. Her birth home, Ojukheon, which is also her mother's side home, is well-preserved to this day. She was the mother of the Korean Confucian scholar Yi I. Often held up as a model of Confucian ideals, her respectful nickname was Eojin Eomeoni. Her real name was Shin In Seon(신인선). Her pen names were Saim, Saimdang, Inimdang, and Imsajae. She was a contemporary of the poet Heo Nansseolheon, and the two women were considered rivals.

Korean philosophy

Korean philosophy focused on a totality of world view. Some aspects of Shamanism, Buddhism, and Neo-Confucianism were integrated into Korean philosophy. Traditional Korean thought has been influenced by a number of religious and philosophical thought-systems over the years. As the main influences on life in Korea, often Korean Shamanism, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Silhak movements have shaped Korean life and thought.

Yi Su-gwang or Sugwang (1563–1628), also known as Lee Soo-kwang, was a Korean sarim, a military official, and a diplomat of the Joseon Dynasty. He was also an academic and an encyclopedist who compiled the Jibong Yuseol, the earliest Korean encyclopedia.


Munmyo is Korea's primary temple of Confucius. It is located in central Seoul, South Korea, at 53 Myeongnyun-dong 3(sam)-ga, Jongno District, on the campus of Sungkyunkwan University.

Joseon white porcelain

Joseon white porcelain or Joseon baekja refers to the white porcelains produced during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).


Gugyeol is a system for rendering texts written in Classical Chinese into understandable Korean. It was chiefly used during the Joseon Dynasty, when readings of the Chinese classics were of paramount social importance. Thus, in gugyeol, the original text in classical Chinese was not modified, and the additional markers were simply inserted between phrases. The Korean reader would then read the parts of the Chinese sentence out of sequence to approximate Korean (SOV) rather than Chinese (SVO) word order. A similar system for reading classical Chinese is used to this day in Japan and is known as Kanbun.

Sosu Seowon

Sosu Seowon is the oldest seowon, private Neo-Confucian academy in Korea which was established during the Joseon Dynasty period. It was found at the entrance of Suksusa Temple, in Sunheung-myeon, Yeongju City, Gyeongsangbuk-do South Korea. Sosu Seowon was founded by Ju Sebung, who was serving as magistrate of Pungseong county.

Gwon Geun (1352–1409) was a Korean Neo-Confucian scholar at the dawn of the Joseon Dynasty, and a student of Yi Saek. He was one of the first Neo-Confucian scholars of the Joseon dynasty, and had a lasting influence on the rise of Neo-Confucianism in Korea.

Gim Jangsaeng Korean Neo-Confucian scholar, politician, educator, and writer of Koreas Joseon period

Gim Jangsaeng was a Neo-Confucian scholar, politician, educator, and writer of Korea's Joseon period.

Gim Jip Scholar and writer

Gim Jip (1574–1656) was a Korean Joseon Neo-Confucian scholar, politician, educator and writer. He was from the Gwangsan Kim clan. He was the son of Sagye Kim Jang-saeng and the grand uncle of Kim Man-jung. His mother was from the Chang-nyeong Jo clan, the daughter of Jo Dae-geon He was also the teacher of Song Si-yeol and Song Jun-gil, great Korean Neo-Confucian scholars. He was granted the honor of Munmyo Bae-hyang (문묘배향) sage-scholar and was put in the Confucian shrine. Thus, making him one of the 18 sages of Korea. He also married the daughter of famous scholar Yi I from the Deoksu Yi clan.

Seong Hon was a Neo-Confucian scholar, politician, and educator of Korea's Joseon Dynasty. He was a close friend of the scholar Yi I (Yulgok) and an older contemporary of Yi Hwang (Toegye), leader of the country's "western faction" of the period.

Yun Doo-su Joseon Dynasty politician and writer

Yun Doo-su(윤두수, 尹斗壽, 1533–1601) was Joseon Dynasty Politician, Poet, Writer, and Neo-Confucian philosophic scholar. He served as the Yeonguijeong during the reign of King Seonjo. His pen name was Oheum(오음, 梧陰), courtesy name was Jaang. He was follower of Yi Hwang school among Westerners.

Choe Ik-hyeon Korean Joseon Dynasty scholar

Choi Ik-hyeon was a Korean Joseon Dynasty scholar, politician, philosopher, and general of the Korean Righteous Army guerrilla forces. He was a strong supporter of Neo-Confucianism and a very vocal nationalist, who defended Korean Sovereignty in the face of Japanese Imperialism.

Choe Myeong-gil was a Korean Joseon Dynasty politician and Neo-Confucian scholar of the Yangmingist school. He served as the Joseon prime minister from 1638 to 1640 and 1642 to 1644.

Ha Ryun Korea politicians and Neo-Confucian scholars

Ha Ryun, also spelled Ha Yun, was a Joseon Dynasty politician and Neo-Confucian scholar, educator, and writer.He served as Prime Minister or Chief State Councillor during the reign of King Taejong from 1408 to 1409, from 1409 to 1412 and again from 1414-1415.

Hongik Ingan is the unofficial national motto of South Korea. The phrase is English translated as "To broadly Benefit Humanity/Devotion to Human Welfare".