Yi Ji-ham

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Korean name
Revised RomanizationI Ji-ham
McCune–ReischauerYi Chi-ham

Yi Ji-ham, also written Lee Ji-ham (Hangul: 이지함, RR: I Ji-ham, McCune–Reischauer: Yi Chi-ham, 1517–1578), honorifically called Tojeung Yi Ji-ham, was a Korean (Joseon Dynasty) scholar and seer, famous as the alleged author of Tojeong Bigyeol, a compilation of predictions based on birthdates and trigrams from the Book of Changes.[1][2] He is also known as a rare example of a public official who worked for the welfare of the people.[3]:228

Early life[edit]

Yi Ji-ham was born in Boryeong in Chungcheong Province in 1517, during the reign of Jungjong of Joseon. He was a sixth-generation descendant of Korean writer and poet Yi Saek who had served the Goryeo dynasty, the predecessor to the Joseon dynasty.[1] Ji-ham's father died when he was fourteen. After that, he studied under his elder brother as well as Seo Gyeongdeok, a neo-Confucian naturalistic philosopher, who taught him medicine, mathematics, astronomy, geography, and many other subjects.[1]

When his 10-foot mud hut remained intact even after a big flood, Yi earned the moniker of Tojeung, meaning "a person who lives in an earthen pavilion."[1]


Yi Ji-ham is claimed to be the author of Tojeong Bigyeol, a compilation of predictions based on birthdates and trigrams from the Book of Changes. However, some scholars claim that the book was written in the late 19th century by somebody using Yi's name.[1]

Some example predictions that have been taken as evidence of his predictive power were:

While some narratives of his predictive ability show him as using his predictive abilities to escape danger and plan better, others portray him as accepting human fate.[3]


Yi Ji-ham believed in the importance of building simple skills that would allow people to produce goods (such as making straw ropes and catching fish). He also toured the country to educate farmers on improving agricultural productivity. He also believed in the value of markets and trade, both within the country and overseas trade, to improve people's standard of living, an uncommon view at a time when merchants were generally frowned upon. This is attributed to his teacher Seo Gyeongdeok, who held similar views and had many merchants in his following.[1]

Political career[edit]

Yi Ji-ham entered politics in his 50s.[1] He served as magistrate of Pocheon and Asan, and was praised by the people as an exemplary public official for maintaining simple ways and caring about the people. In Joseon-era Korea, his name would often be cited as an exemplar of the ideal for a public official, a mongmingwan (Hangul: 목민관, true shepherd of people).[3][1]

While in office, he established an agency for vagrants, which trained the elderly and sick in simple tasks that could fetch some money in the market, such as making straw ropes (for the elderly) and catching fish (for the young). Rather than just a charity organization, the agency was a job training and rehabilitation center, a novel concept for that time and place.[1]


Yi Ji-ham died three months into his career as the magistrate of Asan.[1] One account of his death is that a clerk, who was offended when Yi refused to share a gold nugget with him, replaced his chestnut antidote with willow bark, causing Yi to die due to the centipede juice he drank.[3]

Upon his death, people of Asan cried on the streets.[1]


Yi Ji-ham's legacy was as an exemplar of what a public official, a mongmingwan (Hangul: 목민관, true shepherd of people) could be, in terms of caring for the people and pushing through practical reforms and improvements.[3] His legend gained currency at a time when there was increasing resistance in Joseon Korea against neo-Confucianism and a rise of Silhak (practical learning).[3] His alleged powers of foresight gained currency against a backdrop of increased interest in divination.[3]

In fiction[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Lee Ji-ham, a far-seeing sage for the people". KBS World Radio. Retrieved December 25, 2016.
  2. ^ "Legends of Otherworldly and Renowned Figures, Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture". November 30, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Literature. Retrieved October 22, 2017.