Wednesday, February 04, 2009


There is an inspirational story behind this 500won note which has since stopped circulation. The story is not about Admiral Lee Sun Shin (the figure head in the 500won bill) but another influential Korean - Jeong Ju-yeong (정주영, 鄭周永), the founder of Hyundai Group.

Picture of Admiral Lee and the turtle ship appearing on a 500won Korean note which is no longer in circulation. Just like the turtle ship which was victorious in all sea battles fought against invading Japanese ships, the 500won note also helped Korea to wrest the world leading shipbuilding nation status from Japan.

When the Hyundai Group decided to branch into shipbuilding business, Jeong Ju-yeong brought his plan to an English bank to ask for loan. Despite delivering an impressive presentation, the bank was not willing to facilitate his loan because Korea has no proven track record of shipbuilding. From the bank's perspective, the risk was too high to take, so they turned down his loan request. Jeong Ju-yeong's never-say-die attitude didn't allow him to give up easily. Upon being rejected, he pulled up a 500won Korean note from his wallet and showed the bank.

"See this? Who said that Korea has no proven record of shipbuilding. Korea was already building the turtle ship (거북선, 龜背船), the most advanced warship of its time, during the 16th century.", he said.

Of course, Jeong Ju-yeong didn't exactly say what I wrote above. I was just attempting to re-enact what he might have said in that situation. Anyway, whatever he said probably would not have mattered if not for the 500won note. Jeong Ju-yeong did get his way in the end. The English bank agreed to his loan and the rest is history.

Hyundai Heavy Industries, the shipbuilding arm of Hyundai Group, located in Ulsan, is now the world largest shipbuilding firm. It holds the record for building the world largest bulk carrier (a type of ship that carries raw materials in bulk). Led by Hyundai Heavy Industries, Korea became the world leading shipbuilding nation - a status they wrested from Japan in 2004. It is both enlightening and inspiring to know that the rise of Korea's shipbuilding dominance can actually be linked to a humble piece of 500won note.


  1. Hello. Because of my presentation about Jung ju young, I've been looking for the story which is related to turtle ship. (I'm studying English in Canada now.) I don't copy everything but yours might help me to make sentences in English.

  2. I forgot to say thank you =)