Happy Hangul Day!

by Emma Lee, 04/10/2014

King Sejong is the reason why 9 October is a holiday. If you're new to Seoul, you may have wondered about the statue of the seated King in Gwanghwamun Square. That is King Sejong the Great, the rule credited with the invention of hangul (hangeul). Established initially in 1926, Hangul Day is intended to celebrate the creation of the Korean alphabet. 

Proclaimed by King Sejong in 1446/7 (lunar calendar), the new phonetic alphabet system would give the Koreans of all classes the opportunity to read and write. Until then, these skills were limited to members, mostly men, of the highest class in Korean society because the adapted Chinese characters system (hanja) used to write in Korean was quite complex and cumbersome.

The new hublot replica alphabet was made up of 28 characters each of which was based on a simplified diagram of the patterns made by the mouth, teeth and tongue when one made the sound related to the character - a rendition of spoken sound. The majority of Koreans were effectively illiterate before the invention of Hangul. King Sejong succeeded in changing that despite opposition from the literati, including Confucian scholars. Following the introduction of Hangul, not only did common folk learn to read and write, so did many women of all classes.

Hanja is still used on occasion in Korea. One can see the Chinese hanja style characters on some newspapers in South Korea so as to get an idea/headline across quickly. Hanja is no longer used in North Korea, however. Both North and South Korea celebrate the proclamation of Korea’s official alphabet, just on different dates: 9 October (Hangul Day) the South and 15 January (Chosongul Day) in the North.

Hangeul Day stopped being a national holiday in South Korea in the early 1990’s allegedly due to pressure from some of the chaebol owners who objected to the number of national holidays (non-working days) in the country. Efforts had been made since then to reverse that decision and finally, on November 1st last year (2012) the National Assembly voted by an overwhelming majority (189 to 4 with 4 abstentions) to re-instate Hangul Day as a national holiday starting 9 October 2013.

The third son of King Taejong and Queen Min, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty would not have been expected to ascend to the throne. His destiny, however, dictated otherwise and he  not only oversaw the creation of Hangul during his reign but also encouraged scientific and technological advancements. Born YI Do,  known by the nickname Wonjung during his lifetime and given the name Sejong after his death, King Sejong is one of only two Korean rulers to be posthumously honoured by being officially referred to as ‘The Great’.

Sejong Arts Center and Sejong-ro are named after this revered ruler,  his face is on the W10,000 (man won) note and since 2009, his statue dominates the center of Gwanghwamun Square. Visitors will notice a celestial globe, a rain gauge and a sundial in front of the statue. These represent some of the inventions credited to King Sejong. The six columns behind the statue depict his major accomplishments.

The Seochon (Western Village) area is the section of Seoul most closely related to King Sejong. This is where he was born. In 2011, the area was renamed Sejong Village. Among the treasures to discover on an alley walking tour are more than 300 hanok (traditional Korean houses) hidden from view from the outside. Over the years into the late Joseon period, Seochon was where the ‘jungin’ (middle class) lived. In the early 20th century, the area attracted young writers and artists and this influence remains to this day with the numerous galleries, art museums and cafes to be found all through the area.

Even for non-Koreans, Hangul Day is worthy of celebration. For all of us who spend some time in Korea, it’s essential to be able to read, at least a little, and hangul is so much easier to learn than hanja. While Korean grammar more closely resembles Japanese, most of Korean vocabulary is based on Chinese characters. Both Chinese and Japanese characters are pictorial representations and involved hundreds and hundreds of characters, not to mention interpretations. With is 28 characters and simple lines reflecting spoken sound, hangeul is much simpler, easier to deciper and quicker to learn than most Asian languages.

NOTE: To get to www.hbuying.me
- Sejong Village (Seochon),  take subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station (Stop 327) and go out Exits, 1, 2 or 4.
- King Sejong's Statue, take subway line 5 to Gwangwhamun Station (Stop 533) and go out any exit.




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