Podcast Series 1: Yi Sun-Sin

Podcast Series 1: Yi Sun-Sin

Dramatis Personae

Principle characters mentioned in the Yi Sun-sin series of this podcast (I may expand the list):


Joseon (Korean):

Yi Sun-Sin – The main character of the story.  A man born in Hanyang (present day Seoul) who rises from an army officer on the northern frontier to command the entire Korean navy as the Supreme Naval Commander.  A post that he is the first to hold for his kingdom. His undefeated string of naval victories are unparalleled.

King Seonjo – The Joseon King during the Imjin War.  According the literature he holds traditional Korean values, but is indecisive.  Much of this lack of confident leadership is due to the powerful Yangban (Korean nobles) factions wielding a lot of political power and using it to sabotage each other.

Prince Gwanghae – The crown prince of Joseon dynasty, he does not play an important role in the outcome, and is too young to lead.  Mostly he needs to be kept safe from the invaders and his position as a prize to be protected or negotiated for is significant.

Gwon Yul – A general hailing from Andong, I believe his name is pronounced “Kwon” and his family was well-respected.  Many of Korea’s generals were unprepared or fled the battlefield, but Gwon Yul won one of the greatest Korean army victories of the war.  He struck out from Jeollanam-do through the mountains as Yi Sun-shin attacked by sea.

Yi Eokgi – When the Eastern part of the Korean navy collapsed in front of the Japanese onslaught, Yi Eokgi was in command of half the Jeollanam Navy despite being only 32 (15 years younger than Yi Sun-shin).  He participated in many of Yi Sun-shin’s battles as a respected capable commander.

Ryu Seong-ryong – The First Minister, elected by Seonju and part of the Eastern faction.  He was a long time friend of Yi Sun-shin and secured him his promotions.  He attempted to prepare Korea for an invasion, but was mostly blocked by his rival politicians in the Western faction.  Once the war began he was in charge of administration and organization, especially when it became necessary for the Royal family to flee the capital.

Won Gyun – An admiral of the Gyeongsang-do Korean fleet who burned, sank or scullied all but four of his ships when he retreated from the Japanese invasion of Busan.  He was a rival of Yi Sun-shin and is often painted as a conniving jealous commander as he eventually played a part in jailing Yi Sun-shin and taking the now vacant post of Supreme Naval Commander.  However, his tenure would not last, it would end in the disastrous battle Chilcheonryang (I will not try to pronounce that!) and pave the way for Yi Sun-shin’s comeback.

Japanese:

Hideyoshi Toyotomi – In some ways since Yi Sun-Shin is our hero, Toyotomi will be our villain, but he is really more of the architect of villainy as he never sets foot on the Korean peninsula.  The Kampaku (A Japanese Emperor’s regent).  A remarkable man who is born a commoner, but rises through the ranks of the military and nobility to end the Sengoku (Warring states) period and unify Japan. He then sets his sights on conquering foreign territory by preparing an invasion of the Middle Kingdom (China) via the Korean peninsula.  He is a shrewd and ambitious leader, respected and feared by the Japanese and notorious in both Korea and China.  He would never become emperor, as he was not born into the upper class, but would rule Japan as the de facto leader driving it forward.  The Imjin War, the invasion and occupation would end within weeks of his death.

Oda Nobunaga – An excellent general and an ambitious, ruthless intimidating man.  He is a Daimyo, one of the Japanese Warlords, and he helped pioneer the Japanese military’s adaptation of the Portuguese musket.  He would win battle after battle with his aggressive, disciplined, well-equiped army, defeating all the other Daimyo in his region.  However, his ruthless, often disrespectful, insulting and violent attitude eventually led to his assassination by one of his vassals.  At that point Hideyoshi Toyotomi wrested control of Nobunaga’s forces from the other officers and completed his plan to conquer and unify the archipelago with a combination of military might and diplomacy.

Tokugawa Ieyasu – This man was a very powerful Daimyo and agreed to support Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He joined by alliance, rather than through coercion.  However, after Toyotomi’s death he would battle for the imperial throne, depose Toyotomi’s heir and establish his own dynasty, which would last several hundred years. 

Kato Kiyomasa – Perhaps the most fierce General in the Japanese invasion force. Kato always remained loyal to Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s original plan; conquering China, even when it seemed obvious that vision would not become reality. In every situation he would be aggressive, merciless and driven.  The man supposedly enjoyed tiger hunting in his spare time.

Konishi Yukinaga – Alongside Kato, his bitter rival, Konishi Yukinaga was one of the most famous and powerful Daimyo generals. Interestingly, Konishi was Christian while the Kampaku actively persecuted Christian missionaries and converts. Nonetheless, despite the mutual hatred between Kato Kiyomasa and himself, and his choice of religion, he was very close to Toyotomi Hideyoshi and had his complete trust. He is somewhat notorious for negotiating with Chinese and Koreans and softening the demands of his leader in order to end the conflict, but his efforts were in vain and were spoiled by Kato Kiyomasa’s aggressive demands and interventions.

Shimazu Yoshihiro – Was a skilled general who was instrumental in the unification of Japan, and was of the best Generals in Toyotomi’s invasion force.  He would survive all the battles he fought throughout the Sengoku period and the Imjin War on land and on the sea.  He withdrew from Korea with the Japanese army in 1598 following the battle of Noryang.

Wakizaka Yasuharu – Was the Daimyo leading the Japanese fleet when they fought Yi Sun-shin at the battle of Hansando. Being from Awaji island he was one of the few Japanese leaders with naval command experience.  He was soundly defeated at Hansando, but later crushed the entire Korean fleet led by Won Gyun at the battle of Chilcheonryung.

Kurushima Michifusa – I mention this Daimyo commander because he was leading the Japanese fleet when it engaged Yi Sun-shin in the Battle of Myeongnyang where he was killed by the Korean forces.

Chinese (Ming):

Emperor Wanli – Born Zhi Yijun, the Wanli Emperor ruled Ming China during a tumultuous time.  He is often criticized for contributing to the decline of the Ming, but considering all the problems erupting across his empire, it is impressive how powerful the Chinese intervention was.  He had the longest reign (48 years) of any of the Ming rulers. During his rule and for most of its existence the Joseon kingdom was a tributary state sanctioned by the Ming Emperor.  Thus, he responded to the invasion by sending the Chinese expeditionary force that rescued the Korean kingdom and bolstered Korean resistance.  It took nearly seven years to expel the Japanese, but it would not have been possible without the Wanli Emperor’s aid.

Song Yingchang – Was appointed Vice Minister of Defense just as the Chinese learned of the real extent of the Japanese invasion.  He oversaw the whole operation in 1592-93, but was dismissed and replaced because of political maneuvering in Beijing and disagreements over how best to deal with the Japanese occupation.

Li Rusong – Was the Ming General in charge of the Chinese expeditionary force.  He succeeded in forcing the Japanese to retreat from Pyongyang down the the south-eastern province of Gyeonsang.  One of his ancestors was from North Korea and he was hailed as a hero, but ultimately he left his task unfinished as diplomats on both sides negotiated a ceasefire.  During the stalemate he returned with the majority of the Ming army to Chinese territory and would not return.

Deng Zilong – This Ming commander was an Admiral in the Chinese fleet and he arrived in Korean waters in 1598 to assist the Korean navy.  He was given particular respect and honored by the grateful Koreans as he lost his life in final Battle of Noryang alongside Yi Sun-shin.

Chen Lin – There are many Chen Lins, but do not be confused!  This Chen Lin was dispatched to Korea after negotiations failed and hostilities resumed. He commanded the Ming forces facing against the Japanese at the end of the war.