Koihime Musou Girls and Related Korean Clans, Part I: Yi (이/李) - The Second Largest Korean Clan after Kim Clan

Royal House of Jeonju Yi - Notable Kings and Emperors of Joseon and Korean Empire

Yi (이 in South Korean Format or 리 in North Korean Format/李), romanized as Lee, Rhie, Rhee or Ri is common Korean Surname which means 'plum tree' in Sino-Korean Language, similar to Li in Chinese. It is also one of the most common surnames in the world, shared by 93 million people in China, and more than 100 million worldwide. It is the fourth name listed in the Song dynasty classic text Hundred Family Surnames. As the surname of the emperors of the Tang dynasty, Li was bestowed upon or adopted by numerous people, including many foreigners, during the period, and became one of the most common Chinese surnames. Yi is one of the Korean Surnames which followed Korean Beginning Sound Rule System a.k.a Du-eum Beopchik (두음 법칙/頭音法則).

As with all Korean family names, the holders of the Yi surname are divided into different patrilineal clans, or lineages, known in Korean as bon-gwan, based on their ancestral seat. Most such clans trace their lineage back to a specific founder. This system was at its height under the yangban aristocracy of the Joseon Dynasty, but it remains in use today. There are approximately 241 such clans claimed by Koreans. Most people with surname Yi (李) in Korea belong to either the Jeonju or Gyeongju clans.

Based on the 2015 Korean Republic Census - provided by Statistics Korea (통계청/統計廳/Tonggyecheong/KOSTAT), there are 7,306,828 people who bear the surname of Yi. Hence, this clan is placed at 2nd place in Korean Surnames List after Kim Clan. The Former Royal House of Jeonju Yi is the largest among 241 clans, where this lineage consists of 2,631,643 people.

Jeonju Yi Lineage (전주 이씨/全州李氏) is the least populous, and rarest of the Yi clans, with direct imperial roots to the founding of the Joseon Dynasty. The imperial insignia of the Greater Korean Empire which known as Ihwamun depicts the plum flower, the literally meaning of this imperial household's surname in Sino-Korean Language.

The founder of this clan was Yi Han, a native of Baekje who later married a Silla princess and became a high official of Silla. His 22nd-generation descendant, King Taejo Yi Seong-gye, went on to found the Joseon Dynasty. The Royal House of Yi ruled Joseon for 518 years between 1392 and 1910, and established many of the cultural, artistic and linguistic foundations for modern-day Korea.

During its reign, the House of Yi consolidated its effective rule over the territory of current Korea, encouraged the entrenchment of Korean Confucian ideals and doctrines in Korean society, imported and adapted Chinese culture, and saw the height of classical Korean culture, trade, science, literature, and technology. The House of Yi has left a substantial legacy to modern Korea; much of modern Korean etiquette, cultural norms, societal attitudes towards current issues, and the modern Korean language and its dialects derive from the culture and traditions of their ruling period.

As of 2014, the pretender to the Korean throne was Haewon, Princess of Korea. Members of the different branches of Jeonju Yi family dominated Korean history until the formation of the current Republic of Korea. Many families claim membership in the House of Yi, but few actually descend from the royal lineage. The House of Yi, in conjunction to its royal status, has produced innumerable figures of extraordinary influences in politics, the sciences, the arts, finance and academia. Many of these descendants play key roles in world politics, the sciences, the arts, finances, and academia today. 

Notable descendants include South Korea's first president Syngman Rhee; the inventor of the modern Korean alphabet - Hangul, and renowned polymath King Sejong the Great; the founder of the Joseon dynasty, King Taejo Yi Seong-gye; Joseonese Admiral who killed in action in the Battle of Chilcheollyang during Japanese Imjin Invasion, Yi Eok-gi; Low-profile Joseonese Prime Minister, Yi Won-ik and Comedian and host, Emmanuel Lee Hwi-jae (Lee Young-jae) and his twin sons, Lee Seo-uhn and Lee Seo-joon.

  • Dark Blue = Jeonju Yi Clan (Jeonju City, Northern Jeolla - Grand Prince Yangnyeong Line on Syngman Rhee and Grand Prince Hyoryeong Line on Emmanuel Lee Hwi-jae and his twin sons)
  • Magenta = Gyeongju-Wolseong Yi Clan (Gyeongju City, Southern Gyeongsang)
  • Dark Ochre = Deoksan Yi Clan (Yesan County, Southern Chungcheong)
  • Green = Hampyeong Yi Clan (Hampyeong County, Southern Jeolla)

The Gyeongju-Wolseong Yi Lineage (경주-월성 이씨/慶州-月城李氏) is one of the oldest Yi Clans in Korea. The clan was founded by Duke of Pyoam - Yi Alpyeong (표안공 이알평/瓢巖公 李謁平), Chief of Alcheon-Yangsan (알천양산촌/閼川楊山村), one of the six chieftains in Silla during King Park Hyeokgeose-Geoseogan's reign. Together with Guryema, the forefather of Gyeongju Son Clan, six chieftains revered the young ruler, King Hyeokgeose-Geoseogan as the first King of Silla. During the 9th reigning year of King Yuri-Isageum (32CE), the descendants of Alpyeong granted the surname of YiNotable descendants include South Korea's president Lee Myung-bak and former Korean Republic Football Player, currently Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' Striker Lee Dong-gook and his two sets of twin daughters - Lee Jae-si - Lee Jae-ah, Lee Seol-ah - Lee Soo-ah and the only son, Lee Si-ahn. At the last count, Gyeongju-Wolseong Yi Clan consists of 1,597,994 people - based on the 2015 Korean Republic Census, provided by Statistics Korea.

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