In Beijing, Hangul hotshots compete to study at SKKU

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In Beijing, Hangul hotshots compete to study at SKKU

BEIJING - Du Wenxin, a 23-year-old senior at China’s Peking University, won the 10th China Sungkyun Writing Contest held here last Monday.

Du is majoring in Korean and she’s fluent enough in Hangul, the Korean writing system, to take readers down memory lane in her winning essay, which was about her late grandmother’s leisurely lifestyle. The theme of the contest was “Overspeed.”

“It applies to life as well,” she wrote. “Live too fast or too busily and the beauty of life will speed away from you.”

“I became interested in Korea by talking with Korean residents in my hometown of Jinan in Shandong province,” said Du. “I must say I love Korean food. The people radiate affection. I am enamored with Korea and I’m so glad to have won the writing contest.”

Some 91 Chinese students, none ethnic Koreans, took part in this year’s contest, all of them Korean majors at 56 universities throughout China.

The event was established in 2007 by Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) with the goal of “expanding pro-Korean communities” and “helping the proliferation of Hangul”. The university offers full master’s degree scholarships to gold, silver and bronze winners. So far, 18 Chinese students have accepted scholarships to study for their master’s at SKKU.

“Most of the contestants were able to compare Korea’s ‘pali pali’ or ‘hurry up’ culture with China’s more relaxed one, showing a profound understanding of both countries,” said Kim Ho, a professor in the college of Chinese language and literature at SKKU and head of the judging panel. “I believe these young talents will help build bridges between the two nations.”

Liang Lili, 22, a junior at Guangxi Normal University, had to take a 20-hour train journey to attend the contest. “I love watching Korean TV shows and I’m also a fan of the actress Song Hye-kyo. I just wanted to test my fluency in Korean in this contest. I don’t really care about winning,” she said with an easygoing laugh.

Some contestants have studied the language more deeply than the average Korean. “I was touched after reading the Hunmin Chongum Manuscript and the Wolinseokbo,” Wang Yixuan, a 23-year-old senior from the Ocean University of China, said, “so I want to study the Korean language of the middle ages in graduate school.” Wang won an honorary mention.

The Hunmin Chongum (The Proper Sounds to Educate the People) Manuscript is a promulgation of Hangul, which was invented by King Sejong the Great (fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty) and his scholars in the 15th century. The manuscript outlines the development of the phonetic alphabet and its purpose: to make the common people’s lives easier and assist them articulating their thoughts, because only aristocrats could become fluent in the much more difficult Chinese.

The Wolinseokbo is a collection of Buddhist hymns written in Hangul and contains vocabulary of the 15th century, making it an invaluable reference for researchers.

“I started practicing last month, writing essays on three different themes every day,” Zhao Xuechun, 22, winner of the 2nd prize, said. “My professor helped me by reviewing them. I’m going to become an interpreter after I’m done with my master’s degree.”

An alumni association for participants was founded Monday, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the event. Luo Yuan, 31, silver winner of the 2007 contest, was chosen president.

“It was a turning point in my life,” said Luo. “I got the chance to study in graduate school and work in Korea.” She currently works in Samsung Electronics’ mobile communication division.

The contest is also held in Europe, Southeast Asia and Central Asia. 1,476 students worldwide have participated until now. The SKKU plans to host the 3rd Europe Sungkyun Writing Contest in Vienna this October.

BY CHO HAN-DAE [lee.dongeun@joongang.co.kr]

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