King Sejong, the fourth King of the Choson Dynasty from 1418 to 1450, is regarded by most Koreans as one of the greatest figures in their country’s history. Along with his strong love and enthusiasm for the nation, he enforced many significant reforms, laying the foundation for the Confucian state dynasty that was to rule for more than 500 years.
One of the King’s ruling feature which I admire the most is his passion for education. He believed that everyone had a right to learn, which is the ultimate way for improving the nation to the greater extent. He founded a state research institute, the Hall of Worthies (Chiphyonjon), at the beginning of his reign, staffing it with talented officials who were encouraged to conduct a variety of research activities required for monarchical rule. The direction of government was thus set and the quality of governance enhanced. King Sejong was able to provide an environment for the nations development and prosperity.
The invention of ‘han-gul’, the Korean alphabet, planned and directed by the king, is an achievement that no Korean can overlook. Koreans should show appreciation to him that they can express their language with an effective writing system. The invention of han-gul alone is enough to place Sejong as a historical figure for the nation. Sejong moreover believed that a king was morally obligated to ensure the common people’s basic lives. He also thought that he should refine their lifestyle through Confucian enlightenment. After his tenth year in power, he came up with methods to promote agriculture as a means of providing adequate food and clothing for his people.
Agricultural policies were at the heart of King Sejong’s rule. He focused on two areas: the development of agricultural technology and the implementation of an equitable taxation system for agricultural products. In terms of technology, Sejong wanted to transfer the advanced agricultural techniques used in the southern provinces to other parts of Korea and to develop and distribute medical services as a means of bolstering labor efficiency in agriculture.
In addition to the agricultural achievements, several comprehensive medical texts were published including the compiled in 1431. Moreover, he published a manual for the general public entitled as part of the efforts to promote population growth. Later in the 12th year of his reign, King Sejong began looking into reform of the land tax problem. After painstaking consideration, the Tribute Tax Law ‘(kongpop)’ was promulgated in 1444; it was in the 26th year of his reign.
King Sejong’s reign was also a time of great developments in science and technology. Advancements in astronomical science, one of Sejong’s major achievements, along with the invention of han-gul, originated during this time. Sejong mobilized scholars to invent astronomical instruments, including armillary spheres for celestial observations and to determine the latitude of Kyongbokkung. Korean monarchs had long been interested in this field because it was thought to offer a window into the future. The development of a rain gauge during Sejong’s reign was a significant development because it allowed scientists to accurately measure rainfall and therefore better predict the outcome of the year’s harvest, a crucial piece of information for the ruling government. Two years later, he ordered the development of various clocks, notably an automatically striking clepsydra ‘(chagyongnu)’.
As his policies for the improvement of living standards began to show results, he gradually introduced other policies aimed at popular enlightenment. I especially admire the creation of Korean alphabet, which I think is an important result of King Sejong’s practical humanitarianism and became an access even for the common people to learn. With his Confucian philosophy that regarded the people as “the foundation of the state,” King Sejong contributed to the improvement of living conditions for the common people and to the development of Korean culture.