Sejong the Great - the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, creator of the native phonetic writing system Hangul (한글).

Sejong the Great was the fourth Joseon Dynasty king of Korea. He ruled from 1418 until his death in 1450. Born in 1397, he was the third son of King Taejong and grandson of King Taejo (or Taejo of Joseon) which was the founder of Joseon Dynasty. At the age of 22, he inherited the throne of his father. The most outstanding monarch in the history of Korea. Sejong the Great became famous for his amazing respect for human life, regardless of whether the person was noble or poor. He carried out many civil and social reforms aimed at improving the lives of his people.

King Sejong actively contributed to the development of science, fine arts and music. He made the biggest contribution to the development of Korea at the age of 32, when, on his instructions and direct guidance, scientists developed the national Korean alphabet, Hunminjeongeum (훈민정음) or Hangul (한글), which became the greatest cultural revolution of Koreans of all generations.

In the process of popularizing Hangul, King Sejong had to face serious opposition from his opponents, who feared that the introduction of the national alphabet would not please China, whose culture was widespread in Korea during the Joseon era. But Sejong was convinced that the people should have access to literacy, and the country should be more independent, and, therefore, it is impossible without its own written language. In September 1446, King Sejong, having overcome all obstacles, proclaimed and published the Korean alphabet.

In the early 15th century, Sejong strengthened the base of young dynasty by reorganizing the political structure and strengthening the supreme power, and thereby laid the foundation for a “golden age” in the history of the country. Sejong achievements were consistent with his philosophy and goals of ensuring national sovereignty and nurturing a constructive national spirit. Sejong said that the greatness of a ruler is determined by the happiness and wealth of his people. That is why the well-being of ordinary people was Sejong's highest priority. As a monarch, he distributed surplus food to the poor and old, often levied taxes from peasants and from entire provinces where climatic disasters or crop failures occurred. Sejong regularly held dinners in honor of the elderly, inviting everyone, regardless of social status. The king was sure that all people deserved his respect: not only his subjects, but also other tribes, scattered throughout Asia. He reorganized the punishment system to protect slaves from physical abuse by their masters. He created special storages in which rice was stored for the poor. Exempted from taxes uncultivated and flooded land.

The greatness of a ruler is determined by the happiness and wealth of his people.

-Sejong the Great

Sejong usually discussed state affairs with scientists, and expanded the territory of the kingdom through the construction of fortresses and military posts on the northern borders of Joseon. On the second year of his reign, in 1420, Sejong founded a royal research institute called Jiphyeonjeon (집현전) or the Hall of Worthies, in which he attracted talented youth. The Hall of Worthies has published many works in various fields of knowledge, including the Nongsajikseol (농사직설) Agriculture Manual and the Hyangyakjipseongbang, the Medicine Handbook. Within the walls of Jiphyeonjeon, laws on taxation, public administration and criminal prosecution were born. Sejong reorganized the system of measures and weights. Sejong ordered a series of judicial reforms, as he believed it was unfair to demand that a person comply with laws if he did not know these laws. Despite the resistance of his advisers, a complete set of Korean laws was published so that every resident could familiarize himself with it. Sejong also was against the death penalty and demanded from judges that a person can be sentenced to death in exceptional cases only.

Hall of Worthies

In 1442 one of the world's first rain gauge was invented, two centuries before the appearance of such a device in Europe. During Sejong rule a Korean engineer, scientist and inventor Jang Yeong-sil (장영실) introduced water clocks and sundials, which greatly facilitated the lives of ordinary people. The water clock, named Jagyeongnu (자격루) and having an automatic mechanism for signaling time, was located in the southern part of Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁) in Hanseong (한성) and was used as the main clock of the country, according to which the standard time was set.

Hanseong (한성) - the name of Seoul (서울특별시) in Joseon era

During the reign of Sejong, dramatic changes occurred in printing technology. He founded a foundry for the manufacture of copper and lead printing plates, which were used to produce books. Over 350 new books have been published over the years of the reign of the king.

Firearms were developed. The most famous of them was the Hwacha (화차; 火車) or the fire cart. Hwacha was a two-wheeled cart and was capable of firing dozens of arrows powered by gunpowder. Thus, inflicting serious damage to the infantry. King Sejong undertook successful military expedition to remove the nuisance of Japanese pirates who had been operating out of Tsushima Island, fought with the Jurchen people in the north to defend the northern border along the Tumen River (두만강) and Yalu River (압록강), which still remain the border between Korea and China.

Many of Sejong reign achievements and inventions became possible thanks to his remarkable philosophy; this made him the greatest of Joseon era monarchs. Thanks to him, Korea made amazing achievements in science and technology, which entailed a real revolution in the cultural development of the Korean nation. He managed to implement the ideals of Confucian ethics and ensure the prosperity of Korea. Toward the end of his life, despite impending blindness and developing diabetes, Sejong continued to engage in everyday and state affairs. Sejong died at the age of 52, on April 8, 1450.

In order to perpetuate the memory of this historical figure revered in Korea, a monument to Sejong the Great was erected in Seoul in 2009. Also the street Sejongno (세종로) and the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, both located in central Seoul, are named after King Sejong. The image of Sejong the Great can be seen on a 10,000 won bill.

Statue of King Sejong located at the Gwanghwamun Plaza