‘Myoho’ was a posthumous name given to a king who practiced good deeds during his life. Kings who were entitled to the name got either ‘Jo’ or ‘Jong.’ The former was for the kings who made significant contributions, including founding the dynasty anew or overcoming a national crisis. King Seonjo was given ‘Jo’ for his successful achievement of overcoming the Japanese Invasion of Korea in 1592.
People’s conception of King Seonjo nowadays, however, is so bad that they even think he was the worst king ever in history. The king had a good reputation before Japan’s Invasion in 1592. Even during the fight against Japan at the time, he was a person of sound judgment. Some may argue that he escaped Seoul leaving his people behind, but in fact, there were so many kings who fled from the capital. Even though King Seonjo made some mistakes, we have to admit that he had shown great performances in some parts. He was the one to bring Admiral Yi Sun-sin to his cabinet.
As soon as King Seonjo dismissed Admiral Yi, things started to get messed up. Due to his decision to remove Yi from his post, Joseon’s naval forces were wiped out and the southwestern area was completely devastated. The greatest tragedies during the fight against Japan all occurred at this time. Meanwhile, Yi kept the worst from happening by beating the Japanese forces in the battle of Myeongnyang. Then, what should have King Seonjo done? As he could not take his mistake back, he should have admitted his fault and made it up to him. That was the only way to recover his lost honor.
King Seonjo went in the opposite direction, however. Admirals of the Ming Dynasty praised Yi in surprise. Ming’s Commander-in-Chief Yangho came to the Joseon king to ask if he gave a reward to Yi, and, if not, he would like to give Yi a reward by himself. When Admiral Yi died on the battlefield, Hyeonggae, the chief of Ming’s forces, held a funeral for Yi in the fullness of his grief and said to King Seonjo to hold a special rite to commemorate his death. But the king was still putting up his sour face. He might have thought that if he admitted Yi’s achievements, it would further reveal his mistake, and this gave an irreversible blow to his reputation.
Politicians in South Korea barely admit their faults. Just like King Seonjo, Korean politicians think that if they admit their mistake, they will fall behind. They don’t seem to realize that they are doing politics, not a tug-of-war.