With regards to the translation of existing texts, King Sejong, “… commanded his palace scholars to translate various Buddhist scriptures from Chinese books into Korean hangul. “6 Its in this very instance that another cultural development for early Choson culture can be seen. In fact, since the establishment of a Confucian state in Korea, Buddhism had been facing an inevitable decline to the detriment of Choson culture.
However, thanks to King Sejong’s personal faith in the religion, Buddhism was salvaged and made available to the population as a whole. The consequence of this was a rebuilding of temples and an increase in the number of Buddhist monks. Nonetheless, it wasn’t just Buddhism that was divulged to the public. Indeed, a number of works, most of which but not exclusively so, of technical nature (in line with the Confucian notion of pragmatism) were also published: “Agricultural manuals for peasant farmers and sensitive military texts also were written in hangul. ”
7 The promulgation of this knowledge was further enhanced by yet another of King Sejong’s inventions: movable bronze (metallic) type. Indeed, not only was this significant to the cultural development of Korea but to world civilisation as a whole. Previously book printing was enacted by engraving wood blocks – a technique adopted from China. Nonetheless, “… woodblock prints were easily defaced”8 and , furthermore, texts could not be produced efficiently and on mass scale. With the advent of movable type these problems were resolved: costs of printing exponentially decreased and this together with the adoption of hangul enabled lower parts of the social pyramid to purchase texts and participate in the development of culture (something which was previously exclusive domain of the yangban).
This allowed for the emergence of a true meritocratic state, in line with Neo- Confucian meritocracy principles. Previously civil and military service examinations called “Kwago” were issued every three years to promote successful candidates to high governmental posts. However, since these examinations were in Chinese literature, as already mentioned above, only the elite could afford to send their sons to study the Chinese alphabet.
As such the successful candidates were not necessarily the brightest. With the adoption of hangul, the spread of knowledge thanks to the movable type and King Sejong’s revision of the “Kwago”, candidates could be drawn from social strata outside the elites. According to the Seijong Law of provincial recommendation: “If candidates are found in any place any persons distinguished for super-excellence in moral principles or any persons universally esteemed for uncommon accomplishments, let the Governor of each province report their findings to the throne without delay.
“9 This factor was prominent in expanding Choson culture from the confines of the yangban to the rest of Korean society. The creation of the so-called Jade Hall of Scholars (Chiphyonjon) must also be ranked as one of the main catalysts in the development of early Choson culture. Established by King Sejong, it was a royal research institute consisting of numerous facilities including a “large collection of rare books of all ages and climes. “10 Here the King assembled the best minds and talents of the country and this resulted in the introduction of a number of cultural achievements ranging from the arts and music to
science and technology. Amongst literature and music anthologies were created so as to classify and group together the best works. In 1493, the Canon of Music was published, “… a work devoted to classifying music to be played at court. “11; in 1478 Anthology of Korean Literature was created and included “… a selection from past ages of poetry and prose written by Koreans in Chinese. “12 In the scientific sphere King Sejong was particularly interested in astronomical matters. To this end a series of technological devices were invented to measure sunrise and sunset, rainfall and drought and time.
Particularly noteworthy of mention was the invention of the first automated striking clepsydra which automatically measured the hours of the day. In light of the facts outlined above it would seem that King Sejong had a truly tremendous impact upon early Choson. He helped to develop culture in a multitude of fields despite facing resistance from the yangban class. However, the most prominent amongst his achievements was the development of hangul, which according to many contemporary linguists is amongst the best structured language.
In fact, not only did it allow culture to be relayed to the whole of society but it also, for the first time in Korean history, allowed the country as a whole to develop linguistic culture independently from China (up until then linguistic traits were either imported directly or mimicked from the latter). Furthermore, it aided the creation of entirely new fields of learning such as poetry and facilitated the promulgation of existing and newly acquired knowledge alike.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: – J. B. Duncan, “The Origins of the Choson Dynasty”, 2000, University of Washington Press.- C. J. Eckert, “Korea Old and New: A History”, 1990, Harvard University Press. – Ki-Baik Lee, “A New History of Korea”, Trsl. By Edward W. Wagner, 1984, Harvard University Press. – P. H. Lee, “Sources of Korean Civilisation”, Volume I, 1993, Columbia University Press. – King Sejong Memorial Society (ed. ), “King Sejong The Great”, 1970, King Sejong Memorial Society. 1 Peter H. Lee, “Sources of Korean Civilisation”, Part 3, p. 470 2 King Sejong Memorial Society, “King Sejong the Great”, Ch. 6, p. 51 3 Carter J. Eckert, “Korea Old and New: A History”, Ch. 9, p. 124.
4 Ki-baik Lee, “A New History of Korea”, Ch. 9, p. 193 5 King Sejong Memorial Society, “King Sejong the Great”, Ch. 7, p. 68 6 King Sejong Memorial Society, “King Sejong the Great”, Ch. 6, p. 61 7 Carter J. Eckert, “Korea Old and New: A History”, Ch. 9, p. 125 8 Peter H. Lee, “Sources of Korean Civilisation”, Part 3, p. 537 9 King Sejong Memorial Society, “King Sejong the Great”, Ch. 5, p. 48 10 King Sejong Memorial Society, “King Sejong the Great”, Ch. 5, p. 45 11 Ki-baik Lee, “A New History of Korea”, Ch. 9, p. 198 12 Ki-baik Lee, “A New History of Korea”, Ch. 9, p. 199.