Question: What do Korean King Sejong and Leonardo da Vinci have in common?
Answer: Both are men of many talents and great inventors.
Leonardo da Vinci is well-known as a painter but he is also an inventor, sculptor, mathematician and engineer. Like da Vinci, Korean King Sejong also had talents in many fields and with the help of his subordinates, had introduced a large number of inventions with huge impact on the society not only during his reign but even today.
King Sejong is a well-respected king and is called 세종대왕 (King Sejong the Great) in South Korea. King Sejong was the 4th king of the Joseon Dynasty, ruling from 1418 to 1450. During his reign, he had many significant achievements including the following:
Invention of the Korean alphabet, 한글(Hangeul), should be the most well-known achievement of King Sejong. Before the invention of Hangeul, the Koreans adopted Chinese characters as the written form. However, as the Chinese language and the Korean language belong to different linguistic families, Korean was not ideally expressed in Chinese characters. With the help of some scholars, King Sejong invented Hangeul which was promulgated in 1446. The scientific and easy-to-learn nature of Hangeul has contributed to the high literacy rate in South Korea. Hangeul was included in the UNESCO list of Memory of the World Heritage in 1997.
Reform of the Land Tax System
During King Sejong’s reign, the land tax system underwent several major reforms but the most revolutionary aspect of these reforms is the review process before their implementation – before the new system was implemented, King Sejong conducted a nationwide survey to gauge public opinion on the new system. At that time, kings usually regarded themselves well above the people and it was rare that a king would listen to the views of the people before implementation of policies.
As King Sejong was a great lover of music, he instructed the most talented musician, Pak Yon, to find a method of tuning all musical instruments to improve the existing ones and invented new ones so that a complete Korean orchestra could be assembled (like the Western classical music). Pak Yon succeeded in establishing the twelve standard notes by creating a pitch-pipe, improving 56 musical instruments and inventing 9 new ones.
Under the direction of King Sejong, the rain gauge (providing a more precise method of measuring precipitation), four types of sundial (measuring the time of the day and the 24 solar-terms accurately), water-clock (having the capacity to display and announce the time) and new forms of weapons like fire arrows (helping territorial expansion which marked the boundaries of the Korean peninsula) were invented.
With so many great achievements, King Sejong is well-respected by the Koreans and his portrait is printed on the 10,000 won banknotes of South Korea. Moreover, next to “The Story of Admiral Yi Sun-shin (충무공이야기)” exhibition hall at the Gwanghwamun Square (which is mentioned in my blog post dated 1 December 2014), there is “The Story of King Sejong (세종이야기)” exhibition hall where you can find information, objects and interactive games relating to his achievements.
Next time when you visit Seoul, you may visit the two national heroes (King Sejong the Great and Admiral Yi Sun-shin) in one go!
Reminder: The next blog post will be published on 19 January 2015. Watch this space!
Arirang TV, “King Sejong“, 100 Icons of Korean Culture, 2014-10-20
Korean Spirit and Culture Promotion Project, King Sejong the Great: the everlasting light of Korea: thoughts and achievements of King Sejong, the most enlightened ruler in five thousand years of Korean history (2nd ed.), Seoul: Diamond Sutra Recitation Group, 2010
董向榮著，《南韓創造奇跡》，香港: 香港城市大學出版社，2009年版, 112-115頁
“King Sejong Story“, Korea Tourism Organization – more detail on “The Story of King Sejong” exhibition Hall
Website of “The Story of King Sejong (세종이야기)” and “The Story of Admiral Yi Sun-shin (충무공이야기)” exhibition halls – more detail on the two exhibition halls
“Hangeul (Korean Language)“, Korea Tourism Organization