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Sejong Daewang
King of Joseon
Sejong the Great.jpg
Reign September 18, 1418 - May 18, 1450
Coronation September 18, 1418
Born May 7, 1397(1397-05-07)
Died May 18, 1450 (aged 53)
Predecessor Taejong of Joseon
Successor Munjong of Joseon
Consort Queen Soheon
Offspring Munjong of Joseon,
Sejo of Joseon
Royal House House of Yi
Father Taejong of Joseon
Mother Queen Wongyeong
Korean name
Hangul 세종대왕
Hanja 世宗大王
Revised Romanization Sejong Daewang
McCune–Reischauer Sejong Taewang
Birth name
Hangul 이도
Hanja 李裪
Revised Romanization I Do
McCune–Reischauer I To
Childhood name
Hangul 원정
Hanja 元正
Revised Romanization Won Jeong
McCune–Reischauer Wŏn Chŏng

Sejong the Great (May 7, 1397 – May 18, 1450, r. 1418 - 1450) was the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea. He is best remembered for creating the Korean alphabet Hangul, despite strong opposition from the scholars educated in hanja (Chinese script). Sejong is one of only two Korean rulers posthumously honored with the appellation "the Great," the other being Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo.


Early life

Sejong was the third son of King Taejong. When he was twelve, he became Grand Prince Chungnyeong' (충녕대군; 忠寧大君) and married a daughter of Shim On (심온; 沈溫) of Cheongsong (청송; 靑松), commonly known as Lady Shim (심씨; 沈氏), who later was given the title Queen Consort Soheon (소헌왕후; 昭憲王后).

As a young prince, Sejong excelled in various studies and was favored by King Taejong over his two older brothers.

Sejong's ascension to the throne was different from those of most other kings. The eldest son, Yangnyeong (양녕대군), viewing himself as lacking in the requisite skills for kingship, believed that Sejong was destined to become king. Together with the second son, Grand Prince Hyoryeong (효령대군), he believed it was their duty to place Sejong as king. So they acted extremely rudely in the court, and soon were banished from Seoul. This plot of the two princes ultimately brought Sejong to the throne. The eldest prince became a wandering traveler and lived in the mountains. The second son traveled to a Buddhist temple, where he became a monk.

In August of 1418, following Taejong's abdication two months earlier, Sejong ascended the throne. However, Taejong still retained certain powers at court particularly regarding military matters until he died in 1422.

Strengthening of Korean Military

King Sejong was an effective military planner. In May of 1419, King Sejong, under the advice and guidance of his father Taejong, embarked upon the Gihae Eastern Expedition, the ultimate goal of this military expedition was to remove the nuisance of Japanese pirates who had been operating out of Tsushima. During the expedition, 243 Japanese were killed, and another 110 were captured in combat, while 4 Korean soldiers were killed. At least 140 kidnapped Chinese were liberated by this expedition. In September of 1419 the Daimyo of Tsushima, Sadamori, capitulated to the Joseon court.

The Treaty of Gyehae was signed in 1443, in which the Daimyo of Tsushima recognized and obeyed the suzerainty of the King of Joseon; in return, the Joseon court rewarded the Sō clan preferential rights regarding trade between Japan and Korea.[1]

On the northern border, Sejong established four forts and six posts (hangul: 사군육진 hanja: 四郡六鎭) to safeguard his people from the hostile Chinese and Manchurian nomads living in Manchuria. He also created various military regulations to strengthen the safety of his kingdom.[2] King Sejong supported the advancement of Korean military technology and cannon development increased. Different kinds of mortars and fire arrows were tested as well using gunpowder.

In 1433, Sejong sent Kim Jong-seo (hangul: 김종서, hanja: 金宗瑞), a prominent general, north to destroy the Manchu. Kim's military campaign captured several castles, pushed north, and restored Korean territory, roughly the present-day border between North Korea and China.[3]

Science and technology

A modern reconstruction and scaled down model of Jang Yeong-sil's self-striking water clock.

Sejong is credited with technological advances during his reign. He wanted to help farmers so he decided to create a farmer's handbook. The book—the Nongsa chiksŏl—contained information about the different farming techniques that he told scientists to gather in different regions of Korea.[4] These techniques were needed in order to maintain the newly-adopted methods of intensive, continuous cultivation in Korean agriculture.[4]

During his rule, Jang Yeong-sil (hangul: 장영실, hanja: 蔣英實) became known as a prominent inventor. Jang was naturally a creative and smart thinker as a young person. However, Jang was at the bottom of the social class. Taejong, the father of Sejong, noticed Jang's skill and immediately called him to his court in Seoul. Upon giving Jang a government position and funding for his inventions, officials protested, believing a person from the lower classes should not rise to power among nobles. Sejong instead believed Jang merited support because of his ability. Jang created new significant designs for water clocks, armillary spheres, and sundials.[5] However, his most impressive invention came in 1442, the world's first rain gauge (source?); this model has not survived, since the oldest existent East Asian rain gauge is one made in 1770, during the reign period of King Youngjo. According to Daily Records of the Royal Secretariat(hanja:承政院日記]]) King Youngjo wanted to revive the glorious times of King Sejong the Great, and so read chronicles of Sejong's era. When he came across mention of a rain-gauge, King Youngjo ordered a reproduction. Since there is a mark of the Qing Dynasty ruler Qianlong (r. 1735–1796) of China, dated 1770[6], this Korean designed rain-gauge is sometimes misunderstood as having been imported from China.

Korean celestial globe first made by the scientist Jang Yeongsil during the Joseon Dynasty under the reign of King Sejong

Sejong also wanted to reform the Korean calendar system which was at the time based upon the latitude of the Chinese capital.[4] Sejong, for the first time in Korean history, had his astronomers create a calendar with the Korean capital of Seoul as the primary position of latitude.[4] This new system allowed Korean astronomers to accurately predict the timing of solar and lunar eclipses.[4][7]

In the realm of traditional Korean medicine, two important treatises were written during the reign of Sejong. These were the Hyangyak chipsŏngbang and the Ŭibang yuch'wi, which historian Yung Sik Kim says represents "Koreans' efforts to develop their own system of medical knowledge, distinct from that of China."[4]


Sejong supported literature, and encouraged high class officials and scholars to study at the court. King Sejong also oversaw, and perhaps participated himself, in the creation of the written language of hangul and announced it to the Korean people in the Hunminjeongeum (훈민정음), meaning "The verbally right sounds meant to teach the people."

Sejong depended on the agricultural produce of Joseon's farmers, so he allowed them to pay more or less tax according to fluctuations of economic prosperity or hard times. Because of this, farmers could worry less about tax quotas and work instead at surviving and selling their crops. Once the palace had a significant surplus of food, King Sejong then distributed food to poor peasants or farmers who needed it. In 1429 Nongsa-jikseol (hangul: 농사직설, hanja: 農事直說) was compiled under the supervision of King Sejong. It was the first book about Korean farming, dealing with agricultural subjects such as planting, harvesting, and soil treatment.

Although most government officials and aristocrats opposed usage of hangul, lower classes embraced it, became literate, and were able to communicate with one another in writing.

Sejong's personal writings are also highly regarded. He composed the famous Yongbi Eocheon Ga ("Songs of Flying Dragons", 1445), Seokbo Sangjeol ("Episodes from the Life of Buddha", July 1447), Worin Cheon-gang Jigok ("Songs of the Moon Shining on a Thousand Rivers", July 1447), and the reference Dongguk Jeong-un ("Dictionary of Proper Sino-Korean Pronunciation", September 1447).

In 1420 Sejong established the Hall of Worthies (집현전; 集賢殿; Jiphyeonjeon) at the Gyeongbokgung Palace. It consisted of scholars selected by the king. The Hall participated in various scholarly endeavors, of which the best-known may be the compilation of the Hunmin Jeongeum, in which the hangul writing system was first formulated.[8]


King Sejong the Great profoundly impacted Korean history with his introduction of hangul, the native phonetic alphabet system for the Korean language.[9]

Before the creation of Hangul, only members of the highest class were literate (hanja was typically used to write Korean by using adapted Chinese characters while Hanmun was sometimes used to write court documents in classical Chinese). One would have to learn the quite complex hanja characters in order to read and write Korean. Further, despite modifications to the Chinese characters, hanja could prove cumbersome when transcribing the Korean language due to considerable differences grammar and sentence order.[10]

King Sejong presided over the introduction of the 28 letter Korean alphabet, with the explicit goal being that Koreans from all classes would read and write. He also attempted to establish a cultural identity for his people through its unique script. First published in 1446, anyone could learn Hangul in a matter of days. Persons unfamiliar with Hangul can typically pronounce Korean script accurately after only a few hours study. He created the Hangul characters from scratch, and based each one on a simplified diagram of the patterns made by the mouth, tongue and teeth when making the sound related to the character. Words are built by writing the characters in a syllabic blocks. The blocks of letters are then strung together linearly.

Death and legacy

The tomb of Sejong the Great located in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea.

Sejong died at the age of 54 and was buried at the Yeong Mausoleum (영릉; 英陵) in 1450. His successor was his first son, Munjong. Sejong judged that his sickly son Munjong was unlikely to live long and on his deathbed asked the Hall of Worthies scholars to look after his young grandson Danjong. As predicted, Munjong died two years after his accession and political stability enjoyed under Sejong disintegrated when Danjong became the sixth king of Joseon at the age of twelve. Eventually, Sejong's second son Sejo usurped the throne from Danjong in 1455. When six martyred scholars were implicated in a plot to restore Danjong to throne, Sejo abolished the Hall of Worthies and executed Danjong and many scholars who served during Sejong's reign.

The street Sejongno and the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts– both located in central Seoul– are named after King Sejong, and he is depicted on the South Korean 10,000-Won note.[11]

In early 2007, the Republic of Korea government has decided to create a special administrative district out of part of the present Chungcheongnam-do Province, near what is presently Daejeon. The new district will be named Sejong Special Autonomous City, and is to replace Seoul as the future capital of the Republic of Korea.

The life of Sejong was depicted in the KBS Korean historical drama King Sejong the Great (TV series) in 2008.[12]


  • Father: King Taejong (태종)
  • Mother: Queen Wongyeong of the Yeoheung Min clan (원경왕후 민씨)
  • Consorts:
  1. Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan (소헌왕후 심씨)
  2. Royal Noble Consort Yeong of the Kang clan (영빈 강씨)
  3. Royal Noble Consort Shin of the Kim clan (신빈 김씨)
  4. Royal Noble Consort Hye of the Yang clan (혜빈 양씨)
  5. Park Gwi-in (귀인 박씨)
  6. Choi Gwi-in (귀인 최씨)
  7. Hong So-yong (소용 홍씨)
  8. Lee Suk-won (숙원 이씨)
  9. Song Sang-chim (상침 송씨)
  10. Cha Sa-gi (사기 차씨)
  • Issue:
  1. Royal Crown Prince (왕세자), 1st Son of Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan.
  2. Grand Prince Suyang (수양대군), 2nd Son of Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan.
  3. Grand Prince Anpyeong (안평대군), 3rd Son of Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan.
  4. Grand Prince Imyeong (임영대군), 4th Son of Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan.
  5. Grand Prince Gwangpyeong (광평대군), 5th Son of Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan.
  6. Grand Prince Geumseong (금성대군), 6th Son of Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan.
  7. Grand Prince Pyeongwon (평원대군), 7th son of Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan.
  8. Grand Prince Yeongeung (영응대군), 8th Son of Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan.
  9. Prince Hwaui (화의군), Only Son of Royal Noble Consort Yeong of the Kang clan.
  10. Prince Gyeyang (계양군), 1st Son of Royal Noble Consort Shin of the Kim clan.
  11. Prince Uichang (의창군), 2nd Son of Royal Noble Consort Shin of the Kim clan.
  12. Prince Milseong (밀성군), 3rd Son of Royal Noble Consort Shin of the Kim clan.
  13. Prince Ikhyang (익현군), 4th Son of Royal Noble Consort Shin of the Kim clan.
  14. Prince Yeonghae (영해군), 5th Son of Royal Noble Consort Shin of the Kim clan.
  15. Prince Damyang (담양군), 6th Son of Royal Noble Consort Shin of the Kim clan.
  16. Prince Hannam (한남군), 1st Son of Royal Noble Consort Hye of the Yang clan.
  17. Prince Suchun (수춘군), 2nd Son of Royal Noble Consort Hye of the Yang clan.
  18. Prince Yeongpung (영풍군), 3rd Son of Royal Noble Consort Hye of the Yang clan.
  19. Princess Jeongso (정소공주), 1st Daughter of Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan.
  20. Princess Jeongui (정의공주), 2nd Daughter of Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan.
  21. 2 Daughters of Royal Noble Consort Shin of the Kim clan.
  22. Princess Jeongan (정안옹주), Only Daughter of Lee Suk-won.
  23. Princess Jeonghyeon (정현옹주), Only Daughter of Song Sang-chim.
  24. A Daughter of Cha Sa-gi.

His full posthumous name

  • King Sejong Jangheon Yeongmun Yemu Inseong Myeonghyo
  • 세종장헌영문예무인성명효대왕
  • 世宗莊憲英文睿武仁聖明孝大王

See also


  1. ^ (Korean)계해조약
  2. ^ <<책한권으로 읽는 세종대왕실록>>(Learning Sejong Silok in one book) ISBN 10 - 890107754X
  3. ^ <<책한권으로 읽는 세종대왕실록>>(Learning Sejong Silok in one book) ISBN 10 - 890107754X
  4. ^ a b c d e f Kim (1998), 57.
  5. ^ (Korean)장영실 蔣英實
  6. ^ Kim (1998), 51.
  7. ^ (Korean)Science and Technology during Sejong the Great of Joseon
  8. ^ (Korean)Introduction to Sejong the Great
  9. ^ Kim Jeong Su(1990), <<한글의 역사와 미래>>(History and Future of Hangul) ISBN 10 - 8930107230
  10. ^ Hunmin Jeongeum Haerye, postface of Jeong Inji, p. 27a, translation from Gari K. Ledyard, The Korean Language Reform of 1446, p. 258
  11. ^ (Korean)Tourguide - Tomb of Sejong the Great
  12. ^ Official website of the drama King Sejong the Great


  • Kim, Yung Sik. (1998). "Problems and Possibilities in the Study of the History of Korean Science," Osiris (2nd series, Volume 13, 1998): 48–79.

Further reading

  • King Sejong the Great: the Light of Fifteenth Century Korea, Young-Key Kim-Renaud, International Circle of Korean Linguistics, 1992, softcover, 119 pages, ISBN 1-882177-00-2
  • Kim-Renaud, Young-Key. 2000. Sejong's theory of literacy and writing. Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30.1:13-46.
  • Gale, James Scarth. History of the Korean People Annotated and introduction by Richard Rutt. Seoul: Royal Asiatic Society, 1972..

External links

Preceded by
Rulers of Korea
(Joseon Dynasty)
Succeeded by


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