King Sejong’s mighty legacy“Your Royal Majesty’s servant Chung In-ji, senior scholar at the Royal Research Institute, Jiphyeonjeon, has a report to Your Highness. There is a tribe called Cia-Cia in a remote region across the sea to the south. They have their own language but do not have letters to write their words. Therefore, they have decided to borrow the Hunminjeongeum, invented by Your Highness, to write their words.”
“Ha ha! That is wonderful. Because their native language is different from that of the rest of Indonesia, the poor Cia-Cia people could not express themselves in writing with ease. Now they have an alphabet to write their words properly.”
Even if King Sejong came back to life, this would be surprising news for him. The spirit of compassion which led him to invent Hangul has now been extended to the Cia-Cia tribe in Indonesia. Perhaps the scientific structure of Hangul, which is a computer-friendly alphabet, is the driving force that has transformed Korea into a strong country in information technology.
The Hunminjeongeum is, of course, an immortal legacy of King Sejong, but evaluating the greatness of his achievements only with Hangul is like describing that an elephant is shaped like a pestle only after touching its leg. The achievements of the king extended into various fields, including defense, diplomacy, culture, science, technology and agriculture, which was the national industry of the time. He was, indeed, a Renaissance man.
For want of space, let’s take a look at his achievements in science only. In the beginning of his reign, the nation suffered from a severe drought that lasted for 10 years, and the king tried to find a solution in science. He requested that Chang Young-sil, who was enslaved by the government, invent a rain gauge and equipment for astronomical observation. This rain gauge was invented 200 years ahead of the West. Beside Chang, there were many other prominent scientists during the rein of King Sejong, such as Lee Cheon who invented a sundial called the Angbuilgu. This is the reason why the Korean Academy of Science and Technology has selected King Sejong as the Scientist of the Year to be inducted into its Hall of Fame.
Ahead of the 563rd anniversary of Hangul Day, the statue of King Sejong has made its debut at Gwanghwamun. When I think about the fact that I can now look at his benevolently smiling face any time I want, I feel satisfied. The feeling is a little different from what I experience when I have a 10,000 won banknote, which shows the portrait of King Sejong, in my purse. There is no need to worry that the banknote will be reduced to a smaller note, even if I try my best to reduce spending, with the portrait of the Joseon Dynasty scholar Lee Toe-gye or a coin with the image of Dabotap pagoda. The statue will stay in its place with that same smile.
Now is the time of year that the winners of the Nobel prizes are announced. Around this time of year, we used to feel discouraged because the words of the winners coming from overseas. Now that we have dedicated the statue of King Sejong, who devoted himself to the renaissance of science in the Joseon Dynasty, I sincerely hope to hear good news around this time next year, thanks to the accomplished king’s virtue.
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Yeh Young-june