Isabu, or King Taejong of Silla, was a fourth generation descendant of King Naemul. His family name was Kim. He served as both a general and a statesman during the reign of King Jinheung of Silla. In 512, as Governor of Haseula (present-day Gangneung), Isabu set out to conquer Usan-guk (present-day Ulleungdo and Dokdo). Having decided that he would be more likely to gain control of Usan-guk with trickery than with military might because the local residents were strong and aggressive, Isabu stocked his warships with wooden lions. As he reached the shores of Usan-guk, he said, “Surrender or I’ll set these lions loose to tear you to pieces.” As the story goes, the trick worked and the people of Usan-guk dropped their arms on the spot.
At the time, Usan-guk was a small country which dominated the people of Ulleungdo and other neighboring islands. Before the Three Kingdoms Period, it was an ancient tribal walled town and its people were farmers and fishermen. As mentioned in the book Mangiyoram (Book of Ten Thousand Techniques of Governance), Usan-guk’s territory included not only Ulleungdo but also neighboring Dokdo. As Ulleungdo’s possession, Dokdo became part of Silla when Ulleungdo surrendered to Silla in 512 (13th year of King Jijeung’s reign), thereby becoming an integral part of the history and culture of the Korean peninsula.
In 541 (2nd year of King Jinheung’s reign), after he had taken control of Usan-guk, Isabu was appointed Chief Officer and Commander of the Ministry of War, a post of extraordinarily high rank that could be served as a joint appointment with two other positions, the Prime Minister as well as Chief Minister. Isabu held all three positions at the same time and continued to hold onto political power until 562. Over the years, he made a major contribution to the territorial expansion of Silla.
An Yong-bok, who lived in Dongnae, Busan, during the reign of Joseon’s King Sukjong, traveled to Japan twice, in 1693 and 1696, and played a pivotal role in making the Japanese Shogunate government officially recognize Ulleungdo and Dokdo as Joseon territory. In his youth, An Yong-bok joined the navy and served as an oarsman on a ship charged with protecting coastal areas from the raiding Japanese marauders known as waegu. He became fluent in Japanese while living in Busan, as he frequented waegwan, the settlement for Japanese merchants in Joseon.
In the spring of 1693 (19th year of King Sukjong’s reign), An Yong-bok and 40 other fishermen from Dongnae set off for Ulleungdo to catch fish but came into conflict with the Japanese fishermen they found fishing in the area. During the early 15th century, Joseon had enacted a resettlement policy under which it relocated Ulleungdo residents to other areas to protect them from ongoing waegu raids. Japanese fishermen were known to have been fishing off the coast of Ulleungdo since the early 17th century, taking advantage of the absence of people living on the island at that time. An Yong-bok and Park Eo-dun were captured by the Japanese fishermen and taken to Japan against their will. There, An Yong-bok argued before the Governor of Hokishu (present-day Tottori Prefecture) and the Edo Shogun that Ulleungdo and Dokdo were Joseon territory, and he was given an official message from the Japanese Shogun which confirmed Joseon’s claim. But, on the way back to Busan, that document was stolen from Ahn by the Governor of Tsushima in Nagasaki. The Governor of Tsushima Province, who early in the 17th century had already made known that he intended to settle Ulleungdo, sent An Yong-bok back to Joseon with an official letter demanding that the Joseon government stop its fishermen from fishing the waters around Ulleungdo, claiming it as Japanese territory.
In the spring of 1696, An Yong-bok and a group of 10 fishermen set off yet again for Ulleungdo only to find Japanese fishing boats there. He chased them off and made his second visit to Japan to protest the violation of Joseon’s fishing rights in the area of Ulleungdo and Dokdo, once again making it clear that the two islands belonged to Joseon. Upon his return, An was taken into custody and charged with having caused an international dispute without government permission. The Joseon government considered handing out the death sentence. In the end, An was sent into exile after High State Councilor Yu Sang-un and former High State Councilor Nam Gu-man made heartfelt appeals on his behalf.
Yi Gyu-wonwas born in Gangwon Province in the 3rd lunar month of 1833 (the 33rd Year of King Sunjo’s reign). He entered government service at the age of 19 and became a career military official. Yi was appointed to various government posts such as Minister of War, Army Commander-in-Chief, and Magistrate of Jeju before his death at the age of 69 in the 11th lunar month of 1901. In 1881, he was named Royal Inspector for Ulleungdo.That year, military patrols carried out under the Government Patrol System spotted Japanese men engaging in a host of trespassing and illegal logging activities on Ulleungdo despite a ban on travel by Japanese citizens to Ulleungdo in the wake of the An Yong-bok incident. The Governor of Gangwon Province reported these illegal activities to the Joseon central government. The Joseon government responded by naming Yi Gyu-won Royal Inspector of Ulleungdo, then sending him to the island to launch an investigation into the matter.
From the time of his arrival on the 30th day of the 4th lunar month, until his departure on the 11th day of the 5th lunar month of 1882, Yi conducted a comprehensive survey of the island that included its topography, fertility, and habitability in addition to a detailed list of Ulleungdo’s fisheries products. According to his account, a number of mountain peaks that surrounded the island rose steeply above the clouds, as if to form natural barricades, and huge trees stretched up to the sky, nearly blocking out the sun. People from all over Joseon came to the island each spring to cut down trees for lumber to be used in boat building, while others came to fish or gather various seaweeds. Others pitched their tents on the island and collected herbs. On top of the mountain in Nari-dong, he noted that a plateau stretching about 4 kilometers across was quite fertile so that once cleared for farming, the area might be able to sustain a population of about a thousand. His report also mentioned that some Japanese had posted a demarcation sign of their own and were actively logging the island as if it were their property.
Yi’s survey prompted the Korean government to immediately lodge a formal protest against the Japanese and to resurrect its plans to establish a settlement on the island. The first authorized settlers, 16 households comprising 54 people, hailed from various regions of the country. The population continued to grow and, in October 1990, the Great Han Empire issued Imperial Ordinance No. 41 which elevated the administrative status of Ulleungdo to that of an independent county (gun) and placed Ulleungdo and Dokdo under the jurisdiction of the County Magistracy. Over the years, there had been periodic talks about installing a military base on the island and encouraging migration of people from the mainland to Ulleungdo, but the pro-settlement side never won the day. Yi Gyu-won’s exploration had turned the tide of the debate and helped lift restrictions that had been enforced on the island for four centuries under the Island Vacating Policy, thereby creating the need for the government to institute a radical new policy to manage the island.
Hong Sun-chil,leader of the Dokdo Volunteer Guards, was born on Ulleungdo, Gyeongsang Province on January 23, 1929. His grandfather, Hong Jae-hyeon, moved from Gangneung, Gangwon Province to Ulleungdo in 1883 (20th year of King Gojong’s reign) at a time when the Joseon government had allowed immigration to the island to resume, and went on to dedicate his life to the island. From his childhood, he had heard his grandfather talk about the rich and fertile land on Dokdo and how the island was part of Ulleungdo. With the outbreak of the Korean War, Hong joined the Armed Forces. His unit was instrumental in defeating the North Korean forces, pushing them all the way back to Cheongjin, Hamgyeong-bukdo province, but he was wounded in battle near Wonsan and received an honorable discharge from the Army as Sergeant Major in July 1952. Hong returned to his hometown on Ulleungdo where, one day, he found a Japanese territorial marker that had been removed from Dokdo. The marker read “Takeshima, Oki Magistracy, Shimane Prefecture.” From that moment on, Hong was determined to guard the sovereignty of Dokdo. Earlier, in January that year, the Rhee Syngman administration had published its “Peace Line,” a boundary line encompassing all Korean territory, the Korean peninsula and its adjacent islands, reinforcing Korea’s claim to Dokdo. The Japanese government issued a strong protest and deployed patrol boats to monitor the island. Japan went so far as to trespass on Dokdo in order to place territorial markers.
In his village, Hong organized the young men who had military experience to form the Dokdo Volunteer Guards. He outfitted the men with weapons and supplies he had paid for out of his own pocket. From the time of his first landing on the island in April 1953, Hong led the Dokdo Volunteer Guards’ vigilante activities, which included engaging in multiple exchanges of gunfire with Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats. There can be no doubt that his actions in defending Dokdo despite threats and harsh conditions significantly contributed to Korea’s de facto control of the island today.
In December 1959, though responsibility for protecting Dokdo had been handed over to the Korean police, Hong assumed the position of President of the Society of Friends of the Dokdo Volunteer Guards and continued to play an active role in various Dokdo-related events. Hong led what became known as the Green Dokdo campaign, which continued until his death in February 1986, with initiatives ranging from creating a small waterworks in a sea trough on Seodo in September 1966, to programs from the 1970s where Ulleungdo’s younger residents planted trees on the island’s rocky mountainous terrain, and the installation of a gigantic Korean national flag, or Taegeuki, on Dokdo in 1983. As early as 1957, Hong had planned to establish Dokdo Development Company, Inc. He had a vision of Dokdo as not merely a place to protect but as a productive region that could be nurtured into a community with a vibrant commercial fishing industry. In recognition of his dedication to protecting the sovereignty of Dokdo and for his Green Dokdo initiative, Hong was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal of the fifth rank and the Samil Medal of Merit of the Order of National Security in 1966 and 1996 respectively. Hong wrote “Dokdo Voluntary Guard” which appeared in A Medal for a Unknown Veteran, a compilation of prize-winning works from a memoir writing competition for state-honored patriots and veterans, as well as Whose Land Is This, a memoir, an excerpt of which appeared in a magazine during his lifetime as part of an ongoing series, and then was published in its entirety after his death in 1997.