Hangeul – The Story of a King Who Had a Vision for his People

All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

The most valuable reason for being here is to learn about and from the Korean people.

What brings you to Korea? Time and again educators, businessmen, researchers, and people simply wondering what I am doing here ask me this question

This is my answer:

I want to gain insight into your history and culture. I want to try to see reality through your eyes to have a better understanding of your values and ways of living.

 One way to gain that intercultural understanding is by visiting museums. Although these places are “static” to many, for me they are a place where I can glean at a nation’s history. Artifacts, photographs and the buildings where they are housed give me a sense of the importance a nation bestows to not only its past, but also its present and future.

So this week, I visited a museum I had been waiting to explore with great anticipation:

The National Hangeul Museum

My first reaction as I was walking along the beautifully landscaped entrance to the building was of pure pleasure. Stone pillars, different trees and shrubs, a stream running along one side of the path where a gazebo sits inviting us to rest and reflect, all leading us to a modern structure whose purpose is to teach Koreans and the rest of the world about the creation and importance of their alphabet, Hangeul.

Learning about their alphabet was a group of Kindergartners and their teachers!

What is Hangeul? What lies behind the fairytale of a king and his alphabet?

Once upon a time, more than six hundred years ago, there was a King who lived with his people in the Kingdom of Joseon, later known as Korea. His name was King Sejon.

The king was troubled because his people could communicate with each other but they could not read or write. In those times, people spoke Korean but writing was something only the noblemen and priests could do because the language that was used for writing was Chinese. China was a very powerful country that had influenced many nations around it. The use of the Chinese alphabet was one of those influences. The Chinese alphabet was extremely difficult to learn to read and write.

So King Sejong thought and thought of how he could help his people. He had a brilliant idea – to create an alphabet that would be easy enough for all of his people to learn so they could read and write.

And that is the story of how Hunminjeongeum, now known as Hangeul, was created.

The Hangeul alphabet has twenty eight letters, including five basic consonants and three basic vowels! One beautiful thing I learned about the vowels is that they reflect the idea of the sky, earth and man. They are connected by a way of thinking or philosophy of nature. They relate to the balance between sky (positive force or yang), earth (negative force or yin) and human or man (neutral force).

The king and his team added strokes or combined the basic letters together to make different characters.

King Sejong had a vision for his people, to record and preserve their culture through their language – quite a democratic way of thinking for a King in 1443!

Once the people in King Sejong’s kingdom had an alphabet to read and write with, their lives changed forever… and at times, they lived happily ever after.

At times they did not. In 1910, over 100 years ago the Japanese colonized their land. One of the things the Korean people could not do was to use their language. They had to learn to speak and write in Japanese.

However, there were many was in which people kept Hangeul alive. After Korea became independent from Japan in 1945, Hangeul was used again. Now it is a very big part of being Korean, of the Korean identity.

This is how the story begins:

“나랏말ᄊᆞ미 中國에 달아…… “because the speech of this country is different from that of China…”

Look at the photos and take a walk through the National Hangeul Museum.

 

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16 thoughts on “Hangeul – The Story of a King Who Had a Vision for his People

  1. I got a history lesson today! Thank you, Monica! I am learning so much from your posts and truly enjoy your weekly updates and pictures. Keep learning & sharing!
    *I’m not on Twitter, so I can’t follow you, but will continue to read your blog because Sharon placed a button on the Faculty Links.

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  2. Thank you, Colleen! Yes, it ended up being a history lesson – there was so much to say without making it boring, hope it worked. It makes me really happy that you are enjoying the posts and maybe you may find it useful in the future – another gorgeous boy like Jinhoh or Christopher might walk through your door tomorrow and you will be able to share what you know and show him the pictures so he does not feel so homesick!
    No worries about Twitter – it is linked to this account. As long you follow this blog – click follow- you will get the posts. I am thrilled that Sharon placed the button. Hope more teachers get to read it and follow it too. I love writing it! Be well and will try to post something else next week.

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  3. I can’t be more proud of you to learn and understand exactly how and why Hangul was created and share this for all of us! Thank you Monica! I have to bring Jinhoh and Sunhoh to this museum soon. You are so brilliant and amazing person not only as a teacher but also as an journalist.

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  4. Thank you so much for your response and lovely words. This journey is the most amazing experience one can undertake, understanding your history and culture begins with your alphabet!

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  5. I learned so many things about Hangeul that I didn’t know! King Sejong is a leader that I respect the most in Korean history, and I realize once again that he was an amazing king. I have never been to the National Hanguel Museum, and I am looking forward to do so. I feel like I am in Korea when I read your posts, learning and experiencing with you. Thank you so much and I can’t wait to hear more from you!

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    1. Thanks, Woohyun! That is the most wonderful comment coming from one of my dear students. I think King Sejong was an amazing person, a visionary and a man in tune with his people – based on this alphabet! I can’t wait till you come back to Seoul and visit it so you can send me your opinion.

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  6. Fascinating!!! I had no idea about the history behind the language and alphabet! It is so interesting to know about, and such a big part of the identity of the nation. I am learning something new each post. I look forward to your next adventure!

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  7. Thanks so much for sharing your museum visit and all you learned…As I learn more about the history of the Korean people from you, it is evident and understandable why they are such a proud, and resourceful people! Happy and healthy Rosh Hashanah to you, my friend!

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  8. Thanks, Monica! Another terrific post. It was rewarding to learn the history of Hangeul! What an incredibly versatile writing system. I wonder if your museum visit has sparked any ideas for ESL classroom activities that make connections between Hangeul and English writing systems.

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    1. Amazing system, correct! I am so inspired by it – a way to help the “common people” become literate. I have thought of many things that don’t connect but in terms of word families, yes, there are parallels we can make. Glad you are enjoying the blog!

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  9. What an inspiration! It truly speaks to the strong appreciation of education and respect for literacy that we know so well in River Edge. A great way to welcome the New Year. Thank you for sharing!
    Beth

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  10. Hi Monica!
    Wow! You are teaching us so much. I am very inspired by your knowledge of the Korean Language. I am also curious about the characters, would love for you to explain to me what a few of them mean.
    xoxo from River Edge.

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