Yi I

Yi I

Infobox Korean name
rr=I I
mr=Yi I

Yi I (December 26, 1536-1584) was one of the two most prominent Korean Confucian scholars of the Joseon Dynasty, the other being his older contemporary, Yi Hwang (Toegye). Yi I is often referred to by his pen name Yulgok ("Chestnut valley"). His mother was Sin Saimdang, an accomplished artist and calligraphist.

Yi I was born on December 26, 1536, in Bukpyeong, in Gangwon Province. He was a child prodigy who knew Chinese script at the age of three and composed poems in Classical Chinese before he had reached his seventh birthday. By the age of seven, he had finished his lessons in the Confucian Classics, and he passed the Civil Service literary examination at the age of 13.

At the age of 29, Yi I passed a higher Civil Service examination—with full marks—and he started government service. His winning thesis, titled "Cheondochaek", 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.

At 34, Yi I authored "Dongho Mundap", an eleven-article treatise devoted to clarifying his conviction that righteous government could be achieved even within his own lifetime, showing his aspirations and also measures to achieve it.

Yi I temporarily renounced the world by secluding himself in the Diamond Mountain following his mother's death when he was 36. It is not known why he did this, although it is thought that either: he sought three years of lamentation until the Buddhist phrase, "life is transient", eased his sorrow; he may have understood that the Confucian teaching, "preserve your mind and nurture your nature", was synonymous with the Buddhist teaching, "open your mind and see your nature"; or he may have regarded it as a pleasure simply to retire to the countryside to rest.

Following his return to society, he authored "The Essentials of Confucianism" in 1576, which was considered to be a most valuable book, showing examples for a good Confucian life.

Yi I died in 1584, and the "Yulgok Jeonjip" ("The Complete Works of Yulgok") was compiled after his death on the basis of the writings he bequeathed.

won note
Yulgongno—a street in central Seoul—is named after him, and he is depicted on the South Korean 5,000 won note. The Taekwondo pattern Yul-Gok was also named in his honor.

He is also well-known for his foresight about the national security of Joseon Dynasty. He proposed to draft and raise 100,000 men against possible Japanese attack. Rejected by central government, his worry was found to be well-founded soon after his death, when Hideyoshi Toyotomi's Japanese forces invaded Korea in 1592. The "Yulgok Project", a recent modernization project for the South Korean military, was named after him.

According to a legend, he had a villa 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 Battle of the Imjin River (1592).


* Haboush, JaHyun Kim, and Martina Deuchler, eds. "Culture and the State in Late Choson Korea." Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

ee also

* Korean philosophy
* List of Korea-related topics
* List of Joseon Dynasty people
* History of Korea
* Korean Confucianism

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