King Sejong is a celebrated Korean ruler who can literally say he invented the alphabet.
He was also one of two rulers in the country’s history awarded the titles “the Great.”
Sejong the Great was the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, and ruled from 1418 – 1450. During that time there was evolution of Korean Confucianism in politics, accomplishments in the science, arts and other areas of Korean society.
One of his greatest achievements is writing “Hunminjeongeum,” the publication that created Hangul, the Korean alphabet (celebrated every year on Oct. 9 as Hangul day).
The manuscript begins by explaining why a new script is needed.
In the preface, Sejong the Great writes that the Korean language (originally adapted from Chinese characters) is very different from Chinese characters. The adapted characters were difficult for people to learn, and only aristocrats could use them well. He also says common people could not make themselves clear enough to be understood, leading to illiteracy.
He created 28 letters for a Korean alphabet. As time went on, revisions were made. Currently, 24 characters are used and are still under ongoing studies.
Government officials and aristocrats opposed the spread of “Hunminjeongeum,” but they were outnumbered. The publication was completed in 1443 and approved in 1446. It spread among lower-class citizens, who were finally able to read and write.
After the publication of “Hunminjeongeum,” longer documents followed. The next volume was called “Hunminjeongeum Haerye.”
“A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days,” the “Hunminjeongeum Haerye” says.
Many scholars value the project because of its originality, creativity and practical use of language.
It is designated as National Treasure No. 70 in Korea and was honored by the United Nations in 1997.