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Historical Figures of Dokdo

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Isabu
The exact years of Isabu’s life are not recorded in history, but Isabu is described in Samguksagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) as a fourth generation descendent of King Naemul. Isabu’s real name was Taejong, but Danyang-jeoksoengbi (The Monument of Danyang) refers to him as Isabu, while Samgukyusa (Legend and History of the Three Kingdoms) calls him Ijong, and Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan) has him as Ijilburye.
Mention of Isabu first appears in Korean historical documents from the 6th year of King Jijeung (505). According to Samguksaki, at this time, the Kingdom of Silla instituted a system of local administration based on Ju (Provinces), Gun (Counties) and Hyeon (Villages), and Isabu was appointed as Governor of Siljik Province in the present-day region of Samcheok. In 512 (the 13th year of King Jijeung), Isabu became the Governor of Haseulla Province (currently Gangneung). Governors of this time wielded both administrative and military power in their localities, and with this strong military power, Isabu secured the acquiescence of the neighboring states of Gaya and Usan, and brought them under the control of Silla.
Isabu gained control over Usan-guk (currently Ulleungdo and Dokdo) in the 13th year of King Jijeung (512) in two attempts. Upon orders from King Jijeung, Isabu tried to take over Usan-guk in 511, but failed because of his unfamiliarity with the ragged topography of Usan-guk and intense resistance by the residents. In his second attempt, Isabu loaded his ships with wood sculptures of lions, and intimidated the residents of Usan-guk into surrender.
The story of Isabu’s conquest of Usan-guk is recorded in Samguksaki, Samgukyusa, Sejongsillok-jiriji, Sinjeung-dongguk-yeoji-seungnam, Imhapilgi (Jottings in retirement by Yi Yu-won) and many other historical documents.

Volume 44 "Yeoljeon" of Samguksagi tells the following story about Isabu:
In the 13th year of King Jijeung, he became the Governor of Haseulla Province and planned to annex Usan-guk. He determined that the stubborn and ferocious nature of the people of Usan-guk would make it difficult to expect a surrender, but thought of a strategy that could work. He carved wood lions and loaded them onto his warships which sailed to the coast of Usan-guk. He tricked the people of Usan-guk by saying, “If you do not surrender, I will set these lions upon you to kill you.” The people of Usan-guk were afraid and immediately surrendered.

Usan-guk was placed under the control of Silla by Isabu in this manner. Records in Samguksagi tell us that from then onwards, the people of Usan-guk brought local goods as an annual tribute to the King of Silla, and maintained its status as an ally of Silla. Although Silla did subjugate Usan-guk, it did not seek to directly govern the people of Usan. This indirect governance over Usan-guk continued into the Goryeo dynasty until King Deokjong, the 9th king of Goryeo, changed the policy into one of direct governance. The records of the inaugural year of King Deokjong as written in Volume 5 of Goryeosa (The History of Goryeo) tell us that Ulleungdo was called Ureung Province, the head of which was called the Lord of Ureung.
In the 2nd year of King Jinheung (541), Isabu was appointed Chief Officer and Commander of the Ministry of War, a post of extraordinarily high rank that could be served in a joint appointment with two other positions, the Prime Minister as well as Chief Minister. In this position, Isabu took overall responsibility for all central and local military affairs.
In the 6thyear of King Jinheung (545), Isabu made a proposal for the compilation of national history, and in 549 he led Dumi and Bichabu in attacks on the Upper Han River.
In the 23rd year of King Jinheung (541), Isabu carried out royal orders together with Sadaham to oppress a revolt in the Gaya region, which resulted in Silla’s full conquest over the Lower Nakdong River area.
As a person who contributed tremendously to the territorial expansion of Silla, Isabu is recorded in history as a truly great strategist.
An Yong-bok
An Yong-bok was from Dongnae, Busan and worked as an oarsman on a naval ship in the Gyeongsang Left Naval Fleet. An was quite fluent in Japanese as he had, from a young age, frequently visited Waegwan, the settlement for Japanese merchants in Dongnae.
At the time, Joseon had enacted a resettlement policy under which the residents of Ulleung were relocated to the mainland in order to protect island residents from plunderous attacks by the Japanese. Fishermen, however, still sneaked into the waters of Ulleungdo and Dokdo to take advantage of the abundant fisheries resources - which, of course, must also have looked very attractive to fishermen from Japan.
Meanwhile, in 1625, the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan had taken this opportunity to issue a ‘Jukdo (currently Ulleungdo) travel license’ to two merchant families so that they could travel to Ulleungdo to fish and log. (The Shogunate only required merchants to apply for a license when a Japanese boat traveled in foreign seas.) The Joseon government was not informed of this licensure.
With increased traffic in the seas of Ulleungdo and Dokdo from Japanese fishing boats, conflict started to arise between Korean and Japanese fishermen.
In the spring of 1693 (the 19th year of King Sukjong), An Yong-bok, who was fishing with a group of fishermen from Ulsan, was abducted together with Park Eo-dun by Japanese fishermen. This incident, in which An Yong-bok was lured and abducted to Japan and then in which he ended up arguing against Japanese fishermen in Ulleungdo waters, is recorded in part in such significant historical documents as Sukjong-sillok (The Annals of King Sukjong), Seungjeongwon-ilgi (Diaries of the Royal Secretariat) and Bibyeonsadeungrok (Records of the Border Defense Council).
An Yong-bok went before the Lord of Hokishu (currently Tottori Prefecture) and the Tokugawa Shogunate and argued that Ulleungdo and Dokdo belonged to Joseon, and was even able to get a letter from the Shogunate confirming his claim. On his way back to Joseon, however, An Yong-bok and his party were captured by the Lord of Tsushima, who took away the letter of confirmation and repatriated An Yong-bok to Dongnae, Busan.
On the 10th day of the 12th lunar month of 1693, An Yong-bok explained the circumstances of his abduction to the magistrate of Dongnae and appealed to the magistrate that the Lord of Tsushima had forcefully taken away his letter. An Yong-bok and Park Eo-dun were, however, interned for crossing the border without authorization.
In the spring of 1696 (the 22nd year of King Sukjong), An Yong-bok gathered a group of people and set off again for Japan. The party left Ulsan and first reached Ulleungdo. There, An Yong-bok chased out Japanese fishing boats, and then went the next day to Jasando (currently Dokdo), which was called Mastushima (Songdo) by the Japanese, and again chased out all the Japanese fishing boats.
An Yong-bok’s party then arrived at the Island of Oki and met with the Lord of Oki Island to complain that Japanese fisherman had once again encroached Joseon’s waters. The Lord of Hokishu (currently Tottori Prefecture) reaffirmed Joseon ownership of Takeshima (Jukdo, currently Ulleungdo) and Matsushima (Songdo, currently Dokdo) and promised that if the Japanese, including the Lord of Tsushima, encroached upon the islands, they would be heavily punished.
An Yong-bok returned to Yangyang in Gangwon province in the 8th lunar month of 1696, but was arrested upon arrival by Joseon authorities. In 1697, the Lord of Tsushima notified the Joseon government of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s decision regarding Ulleungdo and Dokdo, and in 1699, Japan sent a diplomatic document confirming once again that Takeshima and Matsushima belonged to Joseon. An Yong-bok’s death sentence was thereby commuted to a sentence of life in exile.
It was, in fact, thanks to the efforts of An Yong-Bok that the Tokugawa Shogunate prohibited Japanese fishermen from traveling to Ulleungdo, thereby eliminating the problem of Japanese fishing in the seas Ulleungdo and Dokdo. An Yong-bok’s work in the late 17th century to gain confirmation from Japan that Ulleungdo and Dokdo were indeed part of Joseon territory served as an important basis for the reconfirmation by the Japanese Meiji government in 1877 that Ulleungdo and Dokdo were not related to Japan in any way and did indeed belong to Joseon.
Yi Gyu-won
Yi Gyu-won was born in Gangwon Province in the 3rd lunar month of 1833 (the 33rd year of King Sunjo) and died in 1901. He entered government service at the age of 19, and had a keen understanding of defense forts. Throughout his life, he held public offices that put him very close to the lives of the people. To the south, he served as Governor of Jeju, to the north as Governor of Hamgyeongnambuk Province, and for a while he also served as a military officer defending the capital area.
After the efforts of An Yong-bok in the late 17th century that led to confirmation by the Tokugawa Shogunate that Ulleungdo and Dokdo belonged to Joseon and the prohibition of any Japanese fishing operations in Jukdo, for a while, there was no illegal trespassing or fishing by the Japanese. From the mid-19th century, however, the Japanese started once again to engage in illegal fishing activities, and in 1881 (the 18th year of King Gojong), this issue gained the attention of the Joseon government.
In the 5th lunar month of the year, King Gojong appointed Yi Gyu-won as the Royal Inspector in charge of Ulleungdo and dispatched him to the island to investigate the situation with the Japanese on the island and also to survey the island and its smaller neighboring islands.
Yi Gyu-won left for Ulleungdo on the 10th day of the 4th lunar month of 1882 and arrived in Ulleungdo on the 30th day of the same month. His party performed a detailed survey of the island until the 10th day of the 5th lunar month, when they departed for the mainland.
Yi Gyu-won recorded his detailed findings on the topography of the island, the fertility of the soil and its fisheries products in the Ulleungdo-geomchal-ilgi (Diary of an Inspection of Ulleungdo).
According to Yi’s records, 140 people from Joseon and 78 people from Japan were residing in Ulleungdo at the time. People from Joseon mostly lived in screened huts near the inlet. They had come in spring from all over the country to make boats, collect seaweed, catch fish or collect mountain greens.
The Japanese were all in Ulleungdo for logging purposes. According to written answers collected by Yi Gyu-won, the Japanese had started to come to Ulleungdo from about two years prior for logging purposes. Most of them claimed to have no knowledge of the ban on travel to Jukdo, and some even asserted that they had thought that the island belonged to Japan. Yi Gyu-won also discovered some demarcation signposts that the Japanese had erected on the island, which pointed to the Japanese government’s inattention to Japanese travelling to Ulleungdo.
Yi Gyu-won returned to King Gojong with his detailed report and a map of Ulleungdo, and proposed for a settlement to be established on the island. King Gojong accepted the proposal and ordered the government to immediately lodge a formal protest with the Japanese and to start developing a settlement on Ulleungdo.
The first settlers started leaving for Ulleungdo in the 4th lunar month of 1883. 16 households comprising 54 people hailed from various regions of the country and set sail for Ulleungdo in two groups. The government provided the settlers with 4 ships manned by 40 sailors, carpenters and blacksmiths, and also sent seeds for rice, beans and millet, along with more than 300 bushels of rice, 1 bull and 1 cow.
As the population on Ulleungdo continued to increase, the government engaged in proactive management of the territory. In October 1990, the Greater Korean Empire issued Imperial Ordinance No. 41 which provided the legal grounds for elevating Ulleungdo to an independent county and for placing Ulleungdo and Dokdo under the jurisdiction of the county magistrate.
It was Yi Gyu-won’s report that ultimately changed the direction of policies on Ulleungdo and led to the establishment of proactive central government policies to manage the island territories.
Sim Heung-taek
In 1905 Japan illegally incorporated Dokdo into its territory through Shimane Prefecture Notice 40, a notice made public only through the government gazette of Shimane Prefecture without any public notification procedures at the central government.
In 1906, Japan dispatched a team to survey Dokdo, and this team visited Ulleungdo and informed Joseon officials of Japan’s incorporation of Dokdo. Sim Heung-taek, who was county magistrate of Uldo (currently Ulleungdo), realized the gravity of the situation and immediately sent a report to Yi Myeong-nae, the county magistrate of Chuncheon who was also the acting Provincial Governor of Gangwon. Yi Myeong-nae submitted a ‘special report’ on this issue to the State Council Minister on April 29, 1906, which was received at the Foreign Affairs Bureau on May 7. Through a directive (No.3) issued on May 20, the State Council Minister instructed officials that, “although it is absolutely groundless that Dokdo has become Japanese territory, a survey on the situation of Dokdo and the actions of the Japanese should be compiled into a report”. Unfortunately, however, because the Greater Korean Empire was under the control of the Japanese Resident-General, it was, in fact, impossible for Korea to protest the actions of the Japanese. Still, Sim Heung-taek’s actions were significant in that they prompted speedy action from the central government in response to the situation on Dokdo.