Development of Korea in the Era of King Se-jong

Suparna Mitra, Kolkata, West Bengal

      According to Holmes, “A page of history is worth a pound of logic.”

Every culture has its history behind it that tells us how it comes to a modern phase from ancient ages and how it developed. The development of South Korea started mainly from the ruling of King Se-jong, the Great. Yes, King Se-jong, who invented the Korean lettering system, Hangeul (한글). Other than this, he had many contributions to the advancement of science and technology and welfare policies. Let’s dig into those developments.

Picture Credits: Asia Society

Talent Management: (익재 경영)

The Hall of Worthies (집현전- Jibhyeonjeon)

King Se-jong created study institutions that were not earlier for the genius students so that they could get proper and quality education. These students also helped the King for making decisions in political and military affairs. He made this institute within the palace so that he could keep eye on their progress. The students had got many facilities than other palace workers. The position of study institute was near Gyeonghaeru, so that scholars could enjoy beautiful views of nature. It was to invest in talented people to establish the foundation of Confucian countries and to promote the trend of studying. Jibhyeonjeon was used as a national advisory committee.

Picture Credits: 나무위키

Organize Debates

Se-jong arranged more than 2000 debate contests in his 32 years of reign. What was the importance of debate contests? Se-jong thought, in pursuit of strengthening the kingship, it was important to compete with the subordinates to exchange opinions.

Merit-Based Politics:

Traditionally, only the aristocrats (Yangban-양반) served in government posts. Before his reign, the son of a servant (노비) and an aristocrat (양반) were treated as servants. King Se-jong revolutionised the government by appointing people from different social classes as civil servants based on their merit. For example, Jang Yeong-sil was born as a peasant, but Se-jong allowed him to work at the royal palace because he was a genius. He was the engineer, scientist, and inventor who helped in the development of technology.

Advancement of Education, Science, and Technology

The writing system at the ancient time was based on Chinese characters which was difficult to learn for common citizens. At that time, literacy was a privilege granted only to the intellectual class. Hangeul was created in 1443 by King Se-jong. It was called Heungminjeongeum before. So language could be used by the general public to gain access to literacy.

Astronomical observation instruments:  (간의대)

In Se-jong’s era, Jang Yeong-sil invented the astronomical observation device in the early Joseon Period. It was designed to compile a ‘calendar’ that fits the situation of the country. Because at that time, Joseon Dynasty was using a calendar that was usually from Ming Dynasty (China). But due to the different geographical locations of China and Korea, the error was severe. So Se-jong tried to correct this and created a more localised calendar using Ganeuidae. It is also used to precisely measure the position of planets and stars, the measurement of time, altitude, and direction.

Picture Credits:

Sun Clock & Water clock : (해시게 & 물시게)

There was no clock to measure the time. Se-jong set up in the middle of Jongmo, Seoul, the first Sundial of the Joseon Dynasty.  12 animals were installed on the streets of Jongmo, so that many people learned about time and season. Water clock (자격루) was made to measure the time during the rainy season or when the weather was cloudy. So using a water clock they could measure the time all year. Jagyeogru played a large role as a standard watch in Joseon. The Sun clock and water clock was invented in 1434.

Picture Credits:

Celestial Globe: (혼천의)

It was invented to know the change of season. The celestial globe was a big sphere (혼- round ball). It is an astronomical clock that allows us to observe the changes in the seasons by observing the movement of the stars. This instrument helped a lot in farming which was the foundation of Joseon Dynasty. It was very important to know exactly the changes in season and weather and to plan the farming schedule accordingly. It was printed behind the currency note of 10000 won.

Picture Credits: Korea University

Rain Gauge: (축우기) It was invented to measure the quantity of rainfall.

Humanitarianism & Welfare Policy

King Se-jong made an extraordinary welfare policy at that time. When a female servant gave birth to a child, she received seven days off, but Se-jong increased the maternity leave to 100 days and in the fifth year of his reign, it was lengthened by 130 days before and after childbirth. In addition, he gave their husbands 30 days off to take care of the mother. 

In the 12th year of his reign (1430), wage struggles were there so there was a need to create a rational system in the process of reforming land tax. Se-jong conducted the first voting in the history of Korea to know the opinion of the common people before implementing the new law.

Se-jong’s welfare was applied to the disabled. He created ‘Gwanghyeon blind man’ system for the visually impaired who made divination a profession. Usually, they had been given the post of drummer for a living.

King Se-jong’s welfare policy for the elderly is an expression of a spirit of affection and respect for the elders. Those who were 90 years old, regardless of status, were given two sacks of rice (rice was very expensive then). Other than these, he started providing free food, tax cuts, and exemptions from labor to the low people.

Now the well-developed Korea we see has started to grow its sprouts from the reign of King Se-jong. That’s why he is called King Se-jong, the Great.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow, King Se-jeong really contributed so much to what South Korea is right now.

  2. Moumita Mondal says:

    The great King Sejong was born to be a ruler . Not just a ruler but he was also a great human being. He did a lot for his country . Even Koreans respect him a lot. He played a important role in Korean History . Thanks for sharing such informative article♥️

  3. Mamoni says:

    I’m glad to know about the great king, King Se-jong😇❤ I know that he was the great ruler and inventor of Hangul🙌 But the other facts are new to me, thanks to the article😍❤

  4. Tirna says:

    Reading this article, makes me realise that King Sejong’s ideas were so ahead in time. He was an amazing ruler who treated his subjects equally. Wonderful article.

  5. ThatMoleGirl says:

    Very Informative article.

  6. Very informative article. Loved reading it

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