King Sejong the Great

in korea •  last month

Today I want to introduce to you the most popular king of Korea's medieval Joseon Period. He ruled from about 600 years ago between 1418 to 1450.

There is a giant statue of him in the center of a large plaza in downtown Seoul on the road between a palace and the city hall.

A few times every year, people wash him. It's an honor to bathe the king, so there is always a picture in many newspapers.


Source: Chosun Ilbo

Actually, below that statue, there is a museum for him and Hangul (한글) which is the native Korean alphabet.

Commissioned Hangul Alphabet

A very interesting fact is Hangul was made during King Sejong's reign. He wanted to give the people a script that was easy to read. Before this everyone used Chinese characters. With thousands of characters, it was difficult to use, also it was designed to be used for Chinese, not Korean. Hangul could do Korean better and all in 28 symbols (Today there are only 24). Today in his honor, there is something called the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize. It's actually the most scientific language and studied by linguists.

So why else was he great?

Treating slaves well

Now I'm sure you are thinking why didn't he just free the slaves? Well, he gave slaves childcare leave. Mothers got 1 month of pregnancy off and 3 months after the child was born and fathers got 1 month off. Also, it was feudal slavery and nothing like what went on in the Western World during the colonial ages.

Tax reform
  • He actually listened to the people and made a tax reform system that worked. Instead of beating farmers who had a bad harvest and stealing whatever food they managed to grow. He made that illegal and considered production.
  • He even asked the people for assistance in designing the system. That's why it worked.
  • He found a fellow call Jang Yeong-sil (장영실) who was really talented but lower class. King Sejong didn't care, he told his officials the guy was good.
  • Jang made a standard rain gauge, water gauge, waterclock, armillary spheres, and sundials. I think he used Islamic books for his ideas (more on that later).
  • He kicked the Japanese pirates out of Daemado (Tsukishima Island), he even gave it back to Japan a year later after they promised to behave.
  • He helped develop new weapons like cannons, gun powder, fire arrows, mortars etc.
  • He defended and expanded the Northern frontier against Jurchens / Manchus.

Here is contentious part

  • At first, he suppressed Buddism and promoted Confucianism. He threw the Buddists out of Seoul. Later, he changed this policy, it could have been because of his advisors pushed him at first, he learned it was unnecessary after.
  • He made Islam illegal and burned their books. Their mosque was closed down and they had to dress like Koreans. Basically, Joseon dynasty started after the Mongols were expelled from Korea and China. Mongols had Islamic administrators who received tribute. They had too much power and weren't really liked. Sejong solved this problem in the old fashioned way. It is also believed this is why science advanced so much during his reign. He got some books from them.
Personal Life
  • He was born on May 7, 1397, as the third son of King Taejong. His name was Yi Do originally. He was a Jeonju Lee, but was born in Hamyang which is what Seoul was called back then.
  • He became crown prince in 1404 and was named Chungnyeong. His brother's mothers fell out of favor, or maybe he was just smarter ;) Kings had a lot of wives back then. His mother was Queen Wongyeong. Actually, an interesting story is Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea was related to Sejong's father and older brother who was Sejong's half-brother.
  • Sejong became king in 1418 when his father abdicated the throne. His father was an advisor but eventually died in 1422.
  • Sejong's first son Munjong took the thrown in 1450, but was sickly and died in 1452. Munjong's eldest son, Danjong took over. However, Danjong was only 12. Sejong's second son took the throne from Danjong in 1455 and had him killed later. As we can see, in early Joseon, Sejong brought stability compared to others.
  • Sejong died of diabetes. He went blind first and was probably very overweight, but it is difficult to know for certain.
  • His body is in Yeongneung near Yeosu next to his consort queen Soheon. Although his tablet is in Seoul at Jongmyo with all the other Joseon Kings.


  • Sejong is on the 10000 KRW note
  • There is a city named after him which is the new administrative capital about 2 hours south of Seoul
  • There are lots of schools, buildings, streets, etc. named after him
  • He has that giant statue
My thoughts

I like him because he invented hangul and wasa good king. He is definitely better than most elected officials today.

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Thank you, it was interesting))) Than I love our Steemit - you come to read something and in one day you can learn news from different parts of the world and read a bit of history)))

Wonderful historical post @abitcoinskeptic. I enjoyed it.

Fascinating history. I'm embarrassed that I know little about the history of this part of the world. With respect to the thousands of Chinese characters, I too always thought it would be so hard to learn them, but a Chinese colleague of mine said that when he trying to teach his month English, she complained that it was very difficult because there were only 26 letters to form thousands of words!

Proud member of #powerhousecreatives


Most people only learn western or eastern history. Actually until recently there was very little world history anyway since they barely interacted and knew little more than place names and whatever product was sourced from there.

Interesting you bring up that anecdote on trying to learn chinese vs english.

Whether Hangul makes it easier for people who don't know Korean to learn compared to the Chinese script is harder to measure.

Koreans still use Chinese to determine if two Kims are related or not and for place names, traditional poetry, and temples.

For highly literate natives, its a matter of opinion which is better.

In the case of teaching natives who already speak it to read and write, both the English Roman Alphabet and Korean Hangul are far superior to Chinese script.

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Huh.. interesting guy! I don't know much about Asian history, so a quick history lesson was quite interesting! I didn't see that statue when I was in Seoul, but it is a huge city and we were really in one small part of it near one of the concert halls!


Oh I didn't know you went to Seoul. If you did the standard tourist coarse you would have seen him unless your visit was over a decade ago, since it is quite new.
You are right about it being a big city and concert hall doesn't sufficiently narrow it down. There are a few theatres nearby.

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It was a few years ago... Lotte concert hall (Philharmonic?). I loved the food over there!


Ah ha, Lotte hall is closer to the Olympics site which is quite far from the palaces in the central area. There is an indoor amusement park and small lake nearby. It should be extremely crowded this weekend for cherry blossoms.
The food is great all over.

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Thanks for the facts and the detail. Cheers

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Oh, quite an interesting historical figure :) I didn't know it was this king that had invented Hangul! Fascinating <3

I really love history, and yours is written so well and it makes the article easy to read :D Really lovely !


He is really popular herefor that reason. Actually we get a day off work on October 9th to celebrate the day it was proclaimed.

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The perspective makes it appear as if the man washing the statue is a giant 😆

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Haha yeah, just noticed that. There are lots of pictures of them washing him

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I love world history didn't know about King Sejong the Great though, will be reading more about him, seems like he was a fair king! He is Taurus like myself, Feeling like a King already lol.

Great to learn about the king, and that there can be some good rulers sometimes. By formulating a written language and improving the culture he has left a good legacy. Korea is a major leader in cryptocurrency today. We just need to reunite the two Koreas now.


They thing about hereditary kings is most of them don't have an insane desire to rule like self made dictators. So occasionally you get good ones.

Unification is a whole other topic. Maybe I'll post about it again if there is another key meeting soon.

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Yes do post more updates. The current hereditary king Kim of N Korea is difficult to understand by us in the west. Maybe he has a reason to be so defensive against the US and her provinces like S Korea when they were the oppressor in the Korean War.


There is rumor he may bring russia back in to negotiations because USA and china have too many other issues to discuss.

I don't don't think either should trust the other. Actually north korea attacked South Korea first. Conveniently it happened just as USSR developed nuclear weapons. Provoking America when they were the only ones nuking people would have been foolish.
South korea was set up to prevent russia and china from taking Korea. If you notice China doesn't exactly liberate their neighbors they consume them. Korea would have likely become another Tibet without US interventionism. Neither Korea would want that.

It isn't an easy situation to solve, Russia, China and America don't want a unified Korea unless it is unified on terms they can tolerate. Kim can't respect human rights while his economy is so undeveloped and America won't allow development until he denuclearizes. If he does that, he will lose his edge in negotiations. A nuclear north korea is the only way korea unifies on north korean terms. South korea is divided but most people want a south korean solution or are distracted by materialism and dont care as long as that isn't affected.

In my opinion the best solution is avoid conflict and slowly improve human rights. People looking for a quick solution are nuts.

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Good to hear your insights. I have little experience of info on Korea so am happy to be informed. Yes I can see how China is quite a colonizer. I stayed in Taipei city once for 6 weeks. Modernized Asia is very materialistic as you say, and hard working. Not much time for philosophy, meditation or inner development. Buddhism would be a good addition to any culture.

An interesting take on Sejong. I agree that as far as rulers go, he was alright - I only wonder what atrocities we may not be privy to.. history is written by the victors, after all. In any case, good write up, I’m off to learn more about him now!


Well he did attack people on both fronts. He also surpressed religion. Unfortunately there arent a lot of sources that arent heavily biased since it wasn't wise to offend the king.

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A good king then; but do we need a king these days?


No, absolutely not. But back then the alternative was pretty much tribe until you became part of an empire or kingdom.
The only king I ever paid homage to was Burger King and I haven't even honored him recently.

OUt of curiousity, why is it a great honor to bathe this statue?


Well these is not exactly a scientific reason for this, but if you have a Confucius spiritual attitude, it will bring you great honor to clean the monument of the best Confucius king.

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This article it's pretty good redacted to learn history! Thank you so much for sharing it. I bet he was a better ruler than the most of the politics elected in the world hahaha . it looks like he left a good legacy for his country, not just implemented politics , he also implemented new forms to rule for the people. Make their lifestyle better. That's what governments have to do. The main goal it's make the life of your citizens better

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