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[Op-Ed] Admiral Yi Sun-shin’s Legacy

Posted May. 04, 2009 07:56,   


This year has seen brisk annual events marking the birth of legendary admiral Yi Sun-shin, which falls on April 28. Cities in a festive mood over the event include Asan in South Chungcheong Province, where the admiral spent his childhood in the 16th century, and Yeosu in South Jeolla Province, where his ironclad turtle warships were built. South Gyeongsang Province and Seoul’s Jung district collaborated to celebrate his birthday with a distinct program. They sponsored the Lee Yoon-taek-directed musical “Yi Soon-shin” whose last performance was yesterday. Rather than dispersing energy to a number of events, they chose one item to focus on. The admiral was born in Seoul’s Jung district and won battles in seas off the coast of South Gyeongsang Province.

Reflecting a growing attention to leadership, Asan chose Yi’s leadership as its theme for the festival. The leadership he exhibited is badly needed in these times of economic crisis and political division. Provincial governments with connections to the admiral say they have preemptive rights. Along with Asan and Yeosu, Jindo, Namhae and Tongyeong hold festivals honoring Yi. In these cities, people regard Yi as an absolute being because of remarkable achievements supposedly capable by those with mythical power.

This year, however, an embarrassing thing happened. The 15th generation eldest daughter-in-law of the Yi family has put up for auction the lot for admiral’s ancient house inside Hyeonchungsa, a shrine honoring the admiral, to repay debts. The government offered to buy the lot to turn Hyeonchungsa into a sanctuary in 1967, but Yi’s descendants refused the offer. Though the house lot will not be damaged by a new owner because it is inside an area designated as a cultural asset, it is a shame to put up the site for sale. Had the government nationalized the property, this would have not happened. A shocking rumor also said Yi’s legacy was nearly sold on the black market for 18 billion won (14 million U.S. dollars).

The head of the Yi family is said to have donated the admiral’s 100 relics to the Cultural Heritage Administration. They reportedly include letters from a king and books. This is a great relief in that such precious assets cannot be leaked out from the family and sold. Taking this opportunity, the government should buy the house lot to prevent another humiliating happening. Keeping the legacy of Korea’s greatest hero intact is a project to ensure the nation’s future.

Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)