“If the people prosper, how can the king not prosper with them? And if the people do not prosper, how may the king prosper without them?” These words were spoken by King Sejong, one of the most accomplished and beloved kings in Korea’s history. While King Sejong initiated developments in creating music notations and a wide range of scientific inventions, he is most well known for creating Hangul, the Korean alphabet.
King Sejong ruled from 1418-1450, after his father King Taejong chose him to succeed the throne. King Sejong placed heavy emphasis on education during his reign. He led the country through the Golden Age, a period of great cultural and intellectual accomplishments in Korea. Believing that knowledge was key, he created the Hall of Worthies, an academy of the top 20 Confucian scholars to advise him in his ruling.
King Sejong implemented many reforms to improve the lives of the common people through relief programs, food shelters, and a loan system for farmers. With the loan system, the government loaned surplus grain to farmers to be paid back with nominal interest. He also introduced a number of organizational and technological improvements to his kingdom's military forces. Under his rule, gunpowder was used in expanding weaponry available to Korea, allowing development of new types of cannons and mortars. His military legacy now lives on in the King Sejong the Great class of guided missile destroyers, first launched by the South Korean Navy in 2007. King Sejong is also remembered for his achievements with his likeness placed on the ₩10,000 bill.
Prior to King Sejong’s creation of Hangul, Koreans used Hanja - a writing system made up of traditional Chinese characters. This was difficult for many lower class Koreans to learn because in addition to restricted access to education, there was also a large number of Chinese characters to master before becoming literate. King Sejong strongly believed in the importance of literacy for all and recognized that the challenges of the current Chinese character system hindered this goal. To rectify this, in 1443, King Sejong and 8 other advisors created a written language that consisted of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. King Sejong knew he’d face resistance from the scholar elite, who thought a common written language would be too vulgar and create tensions between classes. Thus, he worked in secret with his trusted advisors for three years before announcing the new written language to the public in 1446.
King Sejong’s accomplishments have left a mark on Korean history as well as modern Koreans, who are able to communicate and learn through a common written language. This was a luxury previously afforded by only the scholar elite, but as of 2013, South Korea has reported a 97.9% literacy rate amongst its population. In our latest design for the Summer '20 collection, he is portrayed as the King of Spades — the King above all other Kings in the deck. We feel that it is the perfect way to honor King Sejong, who is one of only two kings in over 2,000 years of Korean history to have been bestowed with the epithet “the Great.” Check out the design below.
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