YI SUN-SIN: AN EXAMPLE OF A CONFUCIAN WARRIOR GRADES ... on the teachings of Confucius (Kung Fu-tze)
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YI SUN-SIN: AN EXAMPLE OF A CONFUCIAN WARRIOR
GRADES: 6-12 AUTHOR: Kevin Richins
TIME REQUIRED: 90-120 minutes
1. Students will understand the narrative of Yi Sun-sin’s life by reading and analyzing primary and secondary source documents.
2. Students will be able to explain how Yi Sun-sin is an example of Confucian virtues by citing evidence from primary and secondary sources.
3. Students will be able to create an original answer to a question using primary source evidence.
Standard 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
Standard 4: Individual Development and Identity
Standard 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
Common Core Standards:
RH 1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis or primary and secondary sources
RH 2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source
RH 7 Integrate visual information with other information in print and digital texts
SL 1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions
An overhead projection of the photo for photo analysis (transparency or LCD Projection)
Copies of handout 1 (Background Essay and photos of kŏbuksŏn )for each student
2-3 Copies of handout 2 (Primary source analysis worksheets) for each student
1 set of handout 3 (Primary source information) for each team of students
Before teaching this lesson it may be helpful to familiarize students with Confucian values.
There are many lessons that would help teach these concepts, but I will offer an overview here.
One of the concluding activities in this lesson will ask students to look at why someone is a hero
in America and in Korea. An understanding of Confucian values will make this
discussion/analysis much easier.
During the medieval period of Japan Toyotomi Hideyoshi sought to unite all of the warlords
under his rule. He successfully brought them under his control, but found that he could not
control these nobles in absence of the threat of war. His ambition became to subject all of Asia to
his rule. Thus Hideyoshi launched an invasion of the mainland of Asia. This brought him into
direct conflict with Korea in 1592. 1
The tale of this conquest is often told from the Japanese side, and is an episode in the story of
unifying Japan. However in Korea this story of the Japanese invasion has a much different place
in the national history. The destruction that was wrought upon the Korean people still echoes in
the collective memory of Koreans.
The invasion, which lasted from 1592-1598, was a disaster for Korea. The battle hardened
Japanese armies won victory after victory and brought humiliation, death, and destruction to the
Korean peninsula. From this invasion tales of bravery, cowardice, valor, and vice have all
entered into the Korean library of tales and history.
The Chosŏn Kingdom that ruled Korea from 1392-1910, had established itself on the virtues of
Neo-Confucianism. The values of Neo-Confucianism were advanced during this time period. In
general Neo-Confucians valued scholars and government officials over military men. This served
a beneficial purpose in that it kept the military under civilian control to a large degree. Ambitious
individuals saw the bureaucracy as the path to power, and not military conquest or coup. This
allowed Korean government to be very stable. Unfortunately it also allowed Korea to be ill
prepared for a determined invasion.
Korea’s relationship with China as a “little brother” to her larger neighbor also put Korea in a
poor position to repel the Japanese invasion. The Chinese offered Korea protection militarily, so
there was little need for Korea to have a large and highly developed military. The distance for
Chinese troops to travel in order to repel the Japanese invasion was another major cause for
Korea’s defeats during Hideyoshi’s invasions.
Admiral Yi Sun-sin stands as a shining example during this dark time in Korea’s history. He was
able to score consistent victories against the Japanese against tremendous odds. Because of this
Yi Sun-sin has been elevated in Korean consciousness to a nearly godlike level. He is revered as
a savior of the nation in a time of terrible trial. He is a warrior, not a scholar, but when looking at
his life and character one finds that his Confucian traits are emphasized as much as his military
A note on pronouncing Yi Sun-sin. Sometimes Romanization of Korean words does not make it
easy to know exactly how to pronounce a word. For the name Yi Sun-sin it is pronounced “EE”
(like the letter “e”) “soon” “sheen”. I make special mention of that because Yi Sun-sin is the
center of this lesson.
1. Introduce the lesson with the Yi Sun-sin photo analysis. In this activity engage students in
analyzing the photograph of a statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin that is located in downtown Seoul
Korea. (instructions are included with the photograph). As students analyze the photograph
1 Hooker, Richard. "Toyotomi Hideyoshi." Washington State University - Pullman, Washington. 1996.
Web. 04 Sept. 2010. .
check that they are noting details of scale and the attitude of the statue. Also note the smaller
statue that is located at the base of the pillar.
2. Debrief the student’s photo analysis and solicit questions that the students may have about this
statue. Some questions may include:
1. Why is this statue in the center of the city?
2. What did this person do to deserve a statue?
3. Why is his sword so big?
4. What do the Chinese words mean?
5. What is the thing at the base of the statue?
Students should draw some conclusions about him as well
1. He is probably an important military leader
2. An admiral from a long time ago
3. Someone who is still important to Korea today
4. Probably seen as a hero.
3. Discussion: Have students work with one or two others to brainstorm who are heroes in
America. Have students answer the following questions about the heroes they think of.
A. Is this hero a real person?
B. What did this person do to make him or her a hero?
C. What is it about this person that people should try to follow?
4. Lead the students in a discussion about what makes one a hero. Guide students to an
understanding that heroes have “virtues” that people would like to emulate. These virtues are
often revealed through stories of heroic deeds. These stories have a purpose, which is to show an
example of what a righteous person should do, believe, and be. Use the examples students gave
about heroes to illustrate this point.
5. Explain that in Korea there are also heroes. These people demonstrated virtues that many
people in America would recognize as heroic. Such as:
Overcoming tremendous odds
However, some Korean heroes also are examples of Confucian virtues. These virtues are based
on the teachings of Confucius (Kung Fu-tze) who taught in China. His teachings spread to Korea
and were adopted as the standard of righteous living. These virtues stressed
Honoring family relationships
Loyalty to one’s leader
Study and scholarship
Following the traditions and ceremonies of the past
Fulfilling one’s duty in every situation
6. Explain to students that Admiral Yi Sun-sin was involved in a war to defend Korea from a
Japanese Invasion form 1592-1598. Admiral Yi became unstoppable as he brought victory after
victory to the Korea forces at sea. Through his accomplishments he became a hero, and one who
was seen as an example of heroic and Confucian virtues.
7. Give students the background essay about the war. Read with students, or independently.
8. Yi Sun-sin inventions, battles, stories, and personality sort activity:
Divide students into teams of 3 or 4. Each team will get a collection of primary sources about Yi
Sun-sin. Have students analyze the sources. (use the analysis worksheet attached)The students
should be looking for what makes Yi Sun-sin a hero during his time period. (Use the attached
handout for this activity) Students should read the sources more than once, and work as a team to
make sure that every source is examined.
1. Students use the “Yi Sun-sin Primary Source Analysis Worksheet” to answer the question,
“How was Yi Sun-sin a hero to Korea and an example of Confucian virtues?” Answers can take
many forms. Students could:
A. Write an essay answering the question
B. Draw a graphic representation of Yi Sun-sin’s virtues
C. Act out a play of the various episodes in Yi Sun-sin’s live that demonstrate these
D. Create a poster that answers the question usin