No evidence 16th-century Korean naval hero wrote discriminatory quote

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Social media posts share a quote disparaging the people of a province in South Korea alongside a claim that the words are taken from the 16th-century war diary of revered naval hero Admiral Yi Sun-sin. The claim is misleading; a historian and expert in Yi's chronicles said no such comments exist in the diary or in his official correspondence; the quote also does not appear in modern translations of the diary.

"What else can we say? These are the words of Admiral Yi Sun-sin!" reads a Korean-language Facebook post from November 14.

Text alongside a portrait of the admiral reads: "From Lord Chungmu Yi Sun-sin's war diary: 'The people of Honam cannot be trusted for they neglect the meek and bend to the strong. [The people of] Jeolla province act with guile, like pretending to be honest, and are not truthful".

Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on Facebook taken on November 15, 2021. ( AFP)

Yi Sun-sin is renowned for his naval victories against the Japanese during the 1592-1598 Imjin War, also known as the Japanese invasions of Korea. He kept a meticulous handwritten diary during the war, known as 'Nanjung Ilgi' in Korean, which is recognised as part of UNESCO's Memory of the World Register to protect valuable documentary heritage.

"Honam" refers to a region in the southwest of the Korean Peninsula that includes the provinces of North and South Jeolla. Yi carried out his wartime campaigns from Jeolla province, having occupied the post of commander of the Jeolla Left Navy at the war's onset.

The same quote attributed to Yi's war diary was shared on Facebook here and here, and on Twitter here and here.

However, the posts are misleading.

Dr. Roh Seung-seok, director of the Yeohae Classics Research Institute, a research organisation dedicated to studying historical records of Yi, said: "There is absolutely no trace of any such quote criticising people from Honam in [Yi's] war diary or his official reports to the court."

Roh said he has checked the manuscripts multiple times over the years after hearing the claim circulate repeatedly.

"On the contrary, [the admiral] repeatedly stressed the importance of Honam in the war effort through his official and private writings," he told AFP. "The quote [disparaging Honam] has been falsely attributed to the diary."

AFP checked multiple versions of Yi's diary translated into modern Korean, including one here on an online database of original Korean-language literature, but found no passages similar to the quote, nor any critical references to Jeolla province or its people.

In fact, as Roh mentioned, an entry from Yi's diary dated August 1592 reads, "It is of great fortune that Honam has been preserved [from Japanese invasion] out of the eight provinces of our country. Training the military and moving supplies is all dependent on Jeolla province while defeating the enemy and regaining our sovereignty all hinge on the strategy of this province."

AFP also examined copies of other published versions of the diary such as here and here, but was unable to find any quotes similar to the one shared on Facebook.

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