Sejong the Great

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This article is about the 15th century Korean monarch. For other uses, see Sejong (disambiguation).
Sejong Daewang
세종대왕 - 世宗大王
Sejong the Great, the King of Joseon
Reign 1418 – 1450
Coronation September 18, 1418(1418-09-18) (aged 21)
Predecessor Taejong
Successor Munjong
Regent Taejong (1418–1422)
Issue 10 legitimate issues out of 22:
— Ps. JungSo (b. 1412),
Munjong of Joseon (b. 1414),
— Ps. JungUi (b. 1415),
Sejo of Joseon (b.1417),
— Pe. AhnPyung (b. 1418),
— Pe. ImYung (b. 1419),
— Pe. GuangPyung (b. 1425),
— Pe. GeumSung (b. 1426),
— Pe. PyungWon (b. 1427),
— Pe. YungEung (b. 1434)
House House of Lee
Father Taejong
Mother Queen-Consort Wongyeong
Born (1397-05-15)May 15, 1397
Hansung, Korea[1]
Died April 8, 1450(1450-04-08) (aged 52)
Hansung, Korea
Religion Confucianism[2]
Korean name
Revised Romanization Sejong Daewang
McCune–Reischauer Sejong Taewang
Birth name
Revised Romanization I Do
McCune–Reischauer Lee To
Childhood name
Revised Romanization Won Jeong
McCune–Reischauer Wŏn Chŏng

Sejong the Great (May 15, 1397 – April 8, 1450, r. 1418–1450) was the fourth king of Joseon-dynasty Korea. Born with family name Lee (; ), given name Do (; ), family origin Jeonju (전주; 全州), sobriquet Wonjeong (원정; 元正). Posthumous name is Sejong (세종; 世宗). Posthumous title, abbreviated, is JangHun Great King (장헌대왕; 莊憲大王),[3] and official title is Sejong Jangheon Yeongmun Yemu Inseong Myeonghyo Daewang (세종 장헌 영문 예무 인성 명효 대왕; 世宗 莊憲 英文 睿武 仁聖 明孝 大王).[4] He was the third son between King Taejong and Queen-Consort Min. He was designated as heir-apparent, Grand Prince, after his older brother Jae was stripped of his title. He ascended to the throne in 1418. During the first four years of his reign, Taejong governed as regent, and this was when his father-in-law, Shim Ohn, and his close associates were executed.

Sejong reinforced Confucian policies and executed major legal amendments (공법; 貢法). He also oversaw the creation of Hangul, encouraged advancements of scientific technology, and instituted many other efforts to stabilize and improve prosperity. He dispatched military campaigns to the north and instituted the Samin Policy (사민정책; 徙民政策) to attract new settlers to the region. To the south, he subjugated Japanese raiders and captured Tsushima Island.

During his reign from 1418 to 1450, he governed from 1418 to 1442 and governed as regent with his son Grand Prince MoonJong until his death in either 1442 or 1450.[citation needed]

Sejong is one of only two Korean rulers posthumously honored with the appellation "the Great", the other being Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo.[5]

Early life[edit]

Sejong was born on May 15, 1397, the third son of King Taejong.[5] When he was twelve, he became Grand Prince Choong-Nyung. As a young prince, Sejong excelled in various studies and was favored by King Taejong over his two older brothers.

As the third son of Taejong, Sejong's ascension to the throne was unique. Taejong's eldest son, Yangnyeong (양녕대군), was named heir apparent in 1404. However, Yangnyeong was free spirited nature as well as his preference for hunting and leisure activities resulted in Yangnyeong being removed from the position of heir apparent in June of 1418. Though it is said that Yangnyeong abdicated in favor of his younger brother there are no definitive records regarding Yangnyeong's removal. Taejong's second son Grand Prince Hyo-Ryung upon the elevation of his younger brother Sejong became a monk.[6]

Following the removal of Yangnyeong as heir apparent Taejong moved quickly to secure his youngest son's position as heir apparent. The government was purged of those officials who had disagreed with the removal of Yangnyeong as heir apparent. In August of 1418 Taejong abdicated in favor of Sejong. However, even in retirement Taejong continued to influence government policy. Sejong's surprising political savvy and creativity did not become apparent until after Taejong's death in 1422.[6]


Starting Politics Based on Confucianism[edit]

King Sejong revolutionized government by appointing people throughout different social classes to civil servants. Furthermore, he performed official government events according to Confucianism, and he encouraged people to behave according to Confucianism. As a result, Confucianism became social norm. He also published some books about Confucianism.

At first, he suppressed Buddhism, but he alleviated his action by building temples and accepting Buddhism by making a test to become a monk (Seung-gwa)

Foreign Policy[edit]

In relationship with Ming, he made some successful agreement that benefitted Chosun. In relationship with Jurchen people, he installed 4-goon(郡) and 6-jin(鎭) in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.

He maintained good relations with Japan by opening three ports and allowing trade with them. But he also invaded Tsushima island with military forces in order to stop pirating in the South Sea (East China Sea) since Tsushima island was a base for pirates.

Strengthening of the Korean Military[edit]

King Sejong was an effective military planner. He created various military regulations to strengthen the safety of his kingdom,[7] supported the advancement of Korean military technology, including cannon development. Different kinds of mortars and fire arrows were tested as well as the use of gunpowder.

In May 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 to remove the nuisance of Japanese pirates who had been operating out of Tsushima Island. During the expedition, 245 Japanese were killed, and another 110 were captured in combat, while 180 Korean soldiers were killed. 146 Chinese and 8 Korean kidnapped were liberated by this expedition. In September 1419 a truce was made and the Korean army returned to Korea, but the Treaty of Gyehae was signed in 1443, in which the Daimyo of Tsushima promised to pay tribute to the King of Joseon; in return, the Joseon court rewarded the Sō clan with preferential rights regarding trade between Japan and Korea.[8]

In 1433, Sejong sent Kim Jongseo (hangul: 김종서, hanja: 金宗瑞), a prominent general, north to destroy the Jurchens (later known as the Manchus). Kim's military campaign captured several castles, pushed north, and expanded Korean territory, to the Songhua River.[9][10][11] Four forts and six posts were established (hangul: 사군육진 hanja: 四郡六鎭) to safeguard the people from the Jurchen.

Science and Technology[edit]

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 jikseol (hangul: 농사직설, hanja: 農事直說)—contained information about the different farming techniques that he told scientists to gather in different regions of Korea.[12] These techniques were needed in order to maintain the newly adopted methods of intensive, continuous cultivation in Korean agriculture.[12]

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.[13] However, his most impressive invention came in 1442, the world's first rain gauge, named Cheugugi (source?); this model has not survived, since the oldest existing East Asian rain gauge is one made in 1770, during the reign period of King Yeongjo. According to the Daily Records of the Royal Secretariat (hangul: 승정원일기, hanja:承政院日記) King Yeongjo 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 Yeongjo ordered a reproduction. Since there is a mark of the Qing Dynasty ruler Qianlong (r. 1735–1796) of China, dated 1770,[14] this Korean-designed rain gauge is sometimes misunderstood as having been imported from China.

Korean celestial globe first made by the scientist Jang Yeong-Sil during the Chosŏn Dynasty under the reign of King Sejong

Sejong also wanted to reform the Korean calendar system, which was at the time based upon the longitude of the Chinese capital.[12] Sejong, for the first time in Korean history, had his astronomers create a calendar with the Korean capital of Seoul as the primary meridian.[12] This new system allowed Korean astronomers to accurately predict the timing of solar and lunar eclipses.[12][15]

In the realm of traditional Korean medicine, two important treatises were written during the reign of Sejong. These were the Hyangyak jipseongbang and the Euibang yuchwi, which historian Kim Yongsik says represents 'Koreans' efforts to develop their own system of medical knowledge, distinct from that of China.'[12]


Sejong supported literature, and encouraged high class officials and scholars to study at the court. King Sejong created the written language of hangul and announced it to the Korean people in the Hunminjeongeum (Hangul:훈민정음, Hanja: 訓民正音), 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.[16]


See also: Hunmin Jeongeum and Hangul

King Sejong the Great profoundly affected Korean history with his introduction of hangul, the native phonetic alphabet system for the Korean language.[17]

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 in grammar and sentence order.[18] While creating the alphabet, King Sejong encountered opposition of courtiers.

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. Each hangul letter is based on a simplified diagram of the patterns made by the mouth, tongue and teeth when making the sound related to the character. Morphemes are built by writing the characters in syllabic blocks. His intention was to establish a cultural identity for Korea through its unique script. The blocks of letters are then strung together linearly.

First published in 1446, anyone could learn Hangul in a matter of days. Persons previously unfamiliar with Hangul can typically pronounce Korean script accurately after only a few hours of study.

Death and Legacy[edit]

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

Sejong was blinded years later by diabetes complications that eventually took his life in 1450. He was buried at the Yeong Mausoleum (영릉; 英陵). 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 ministers were implicated in a plot to restore Danjong to throne, Sejo abolished the Hall of Worthies, and executed Danjong and several ministers 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.[19]

In early 2007, the Republic of Korea government decided to create a special administrative district from part of the present Chungcheongnam-do Province, near what is presently Daejeon. The district will be named Sejong Special Autonomous City.

The life of Sejong was depicted in the KBS Korean historical drama King Sejong the Great in 2008.[20] Sejong is also depicted in the 2011 SBS drama Deep Rooted Tree.

Relations with the Huihui (Korean Muslim community)[edit]

See also: Islam in Korea

Study of the Huihui Lifa[edit]

In the early Joseon period, the Islamic calendar served as a basis for calendar reform owing to its superior accuracy over the existing Chinese-based calendars.[21] A Korean translation of the Huihui Lifa, a text combining Chinese astronomy with Islamic astronomy works of Jamal ad-Din (astronomer), was studied in Korea under the Joseon Dynasty during the time of Sejong the Great in the 15th century.[22] The tradition of Chinese-Islamic astronomy survived in Korea up until the early 19th century.[23]

Decree against the Huihui (Korean Muslim community)[edit]

In the year 1427 Sejong ordered a decree against the Huihui (Korean Muslim community) community that had had special status and stipends since the Yuan dynasty. The Huihui (Korean Muslim community) community were forced to abandon their headgear, to close down their "ceremonial hall" (Mosque) and worship like everyone else. No further mention of Muslims exist during the era of the Joseon.[24]


Monarchs of Korea
Joseon dynasty
  1. Taejo 1392–1398
  2. Jeongjong 1398–1400
  3. Taejong 1400–1418
  4. Sejong the Great 1418–1450
  5. Munjong 1450–1452
  6. Danjong 1452–1455
  7. Sejo 1455–1468
  8. Yejong 1468–1469
  9. Seongjong 1469–1494
  10. Yeonsangun 1494–1506
  11. Jungjong 1506–1544
  12. Injong 1544–1545
  13. Myeongjong 1545–1567
  14. Seonjo 1567–1608
  15. Gwanghaegun 1608–1623
  16. Injo 1623–1649
  17. Hyojong 1649–1659
  18. Hyeonjong 1659–1674
  19. Sukjong 1674–1720
  20. Gyeongjong 1720–1724
  21. Yeongjo 1724–1776
  22. Jeongjo 1776–1800
  23. Sunjo 1800–1834
  24. Heonjong 1834–1849
  25. Cheoljong 1849–1863
  26. Gojong 1863–1907
  27. Sunjong 1907–1910
  • Father: King Taejong (태종)
  • Mother: Queen Wongyeong of the Yeoheung Min clan (원경왕후 민씨, July 11, 1365 – July 10, 1420)
  • Consorts and their Respective Issue:
  1. Queen Soheon of the Cheongsong Shim clan (소헌왕후 심씨, September 28, 1395 – March 24, 1446)[25][26]
    1. Lee Hyang, Munjong of Joseon, 1st son
    2. Lee Yoo, Sejo of Joseon, 2nd son
    3. Lee Yong, Grand Prince Anpyeong (이용 안평대군, October 18, 1418 – November 18, 1453), 3rd son
    4. Lee Gu, Grand Prince Imyeong (이구 임영대군, January 7, 1420 – January 21, 1469), 4th son
    5. Lee Yeo, Grand Prince Gwangpyeong (이여 광평대군, 1425–1444), 5th son
    6. Lee Yoo, Grand Prince Geumseong (이유 금성대군, March 28, 1426 – October 21, 1457), 6th son
    7. Lee Im, Grand Prince Pyeong-won (이임 평원대군, 1427–1445), 7th son
    8. Lee Yeom, Grand Prince Yeong-eung (이염 영응대군, 1434–1467), 8th son
    9. Princess Jeongso (정소공주, 1412–1424), 1st daughter[27]
    10. Princess Jeong-ui (정의공주, 1415–1477), 2nd daughter[28]
  2. Royal Noble Consort Hye of the Cheongju Yang clan (혜빈 양씨, ? – November 9, 1455)[29][30]
    1. Lee Eo, Prince Hannam (이어 한남군 1429-1459), 1st son
    2. Lee Hyeon, Prince Suchun (이현 수춘군 1431-1455), 2nd son
    3. Lee Jeon, Prince Yeongpung (이전 영풍군, August 15, 1434 – June 20, 1456), 3rd son
  3. Royal Noble Consort Yeong of the Jinju Kang clan (영빈 강씨)[31]
    1. Lee Yeong, Prince Hwa-ui (이영 화의군, 1425-1460), Only son
  4. Royal Noble Consort Shin of the Cheongju Kim clan (신빈 김씨, 1406 – September 4, 1464)[32][33]
    1. Lee Jeung, Prince Gyeyang (이증 계양군, 1427–1464), 1st son[34]
    2. Lee Gong, Prince Uichang (이공 의창군, 1428–1460), 2nd son
    3. Lee Chim, Prince Milseong (이침 밀성군, 1430–1479), 3rd son
    4. Lee Yeon, Prince Ikhyeon (이연 익현군, 1431–1463), 4th son
    5. Lee Dang, Prince Yeonghae (이당 영해군, 1435–1477), 5th son
    6. Lee Geo, Prince Damyang (이거 담양군, 1439–1450), 6th son
    7. 2 Unnamed daughters who died at childbirth
  5. Park Gwi-in (귀인 박씨)
    1. No issue.[35]
  6. Choi Gwi-in (귀인 최씨)
    1. No issue[36]
  7. Jo Suk-ui (숙의 조씨)
    1. No issue
  8. Hong So-yong (소용 홍씨)
    1. No issue
  9. Lee Suk-won (숙원 이씨)
    1. Princess Jeong-an (정안옹주, 1438–1461), Only daughter[37]
  10. Song Sang-chim (상침 송씨)
    1. Princess Jeonghyeon (정현옹주, 1424–1480), Only daughter[38]
  11. Cha Sa-gi (사기 차씨, ? – July 10, 1444)
    1. An unnamed daughter (1430–1431)

Official Posthumous Titles[edit]

10000 won serieVI obverse.jpeg
  • Hanja : 世宗莊憲英文睿武仁聖明孝大王
  • Hangul : 세종장헌영문예무인성명효대왕
  • English : King Sejong Jangheon Yeongmun Yemu Inseong Myeonghyo the Great

Depiction in Arts and Media[edit]

Depiction in Video Games[edit]

Portrait in Korean Currency Notes[edit]

Sejong the Great is one of the six linguistic scholars, with Samuel Johnson,[39] Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm,[40] Elias Lönnrot,[41] and Vuk Stefanović Karadžić depicted as a portrait in a national currency.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ in JoonSoo Room(준수방; 俊秀坊)
  2. ^ ko:세종
  3. ^ transliteration or King ... the Great
  4. ^ ibid
  5. ^ a b Encyclopedia of World History, Vol II, P362 Sejong, Edited by Marsha E. Ackermann, Michael J. Schroeder, Janice J. Terry, Jiu-Hwa Lo Upshur, Mark F. Whitters, ISBN 978-0-8160-6386-4
  6. ^ a b Yǒng-gyu, Pak (2004). Han'gwǒn ǔro ingnǔn Chosǒn Wangjo sillok (Ch'op'an. ed.). Seoul: Tǔllyǒk. p. 55. ISBN 89-7527-029-7. 
  7. ^ <<책 한권으로 읽는 세종대왕실록>>(Learning Sejong Silok in one book) ISBN 890107754X
  8. ^ (Korean)계해조약
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ <<책한권으로 읽는 세종대왕실록>>(Learning Sejong Silok in one book) ISBN 890107754X
  12. ^ a b c d e f Kim (1998), 57.
  13. ^ (Korean)장영실 蔣英實
  14. ^ Kim (1998), 51.
  15. ^ (Korean)Science and Technology during Sejong the Great of Joseon
  16. ^ (Korean)Introduction to Sejong the Great
  17. ^ Kim Jeong Su(1990), <<한글의 역사와 미래>>(History and Future of Hangul) ISBN 8930107230
  18. ^ Hunmin Jeongeum Haerye, postface of Jeong Inji, p. 27a, translation from Gari K. Ledyard, The Korean Language Reform of 1446, p. 258
  19. ^ (Korean)Tourguide – Tomb of Sejong the Great
  20. ^ Official website of the drama King Sejong the Great
  21. ^ Baker, Don (Winter 2006). "Islam Struggles for a Toehold in Korea". Harvard Asia Quarterly. Retrieved 2007-04-23. 
  22. ^ Yunli Shi (January 2003). "The Korean Adaptation of the Chinese-Islamic Astronomical Tables". Archive for History of Exact Sciences (Springer) 57 (1): 25–60 [26–7]. doi:10.1007/s00407-002-0060-z. ISSN 1432-0657. 
  23. ^ Yunli Shi (January 2003). "The Korean Adaptation of the Chinese-Islamic Astronomical Tables". Archive for History of Exact Sciences (Springer) 57 (1): 25–60 [30]. doi:10.1007/s00407-002-0060-z. ISSN 1432-0657. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ Daughter of Shim On (심온, 1375 – December 25, 1418), Lord Anhyo (안효공), Internal Prince Cheongcheon (청천부원군); and Lady Sunheung, Princess Consort to the Internal Prince, of the Ahn clan (순흥부부인 안씨). Granddaughter of Shim Deok-bu (심덕부, 1328–1401)
  26. ^ Her uncle Shim Jong (Shim On's brother) is Taejo's son-in-law (created Prince Consort Cheongwon) thru his marriage to Princess Gyeongseon
  27. ^ Eldest offspring
  28. ^ Later married Ahn Maeng-dam (안맹담, ?-1469), son of Ahn Mang-ji (안망지); created Military Officer Yeonchang (연창위)
  29. ^ Daughter of Yang Gyeong (양경) and Lady Lee (이씨). Granddaughter of Yang Cheom-shik (양첨식) & great-granddaughter of Yang Ji-soo (양지수)
  30. ^ Given the temple name "Lady Minjeong" (민정) in 1791
  31. ^ Daughter of Kang Seok-deok (강석덕) and Shim On's 2nd daughter (심씨; Queen Soheon's younger sister), making her Queen Soheon's niece
  32. ^ Daughter of Kim Won (김원)
  33. ^ Originally a slave of Naega Temple (내자시 內資寺), and became a palace girl in 1418, under Queen Wongyeong, and later under Queen Soheon
  34. ^ Later married Han Hwak (한확)'s 2nd daughter (Lady Jeongseon, Princess Consort (정선군부인)), elder sister to the future Queen Sohye
  35. ^ Also known by her lesser title "Lady Jang-ui" (장의궁주), granted in 1424. Gwi-in status was granted in 1428
  36. ^ Also known by her lesser title "Lady Myeong-ui" (명의궁주), granted in 1424. Gwi-in status was granted in 1428
  37. ^ Later married Shim An-ui (심안의), created Military Officer Cheongseong (청성위)
  38. ^ Later married Yoon Sa-ro (윤사로, 1423–1463), son of Yoon Eun (윤은); created Internal Prince Yeongcheon (영천부원군)
  39. ^ More linguistic numismatics
  40. ^ Brothers Grimm
  41. ^ Elias Lönnrot


  • 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]

Sejong the Great
Born: 6 May 1397 Died: 18 May 1450
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Korea
with Taejong (1418–1422)
Munjong (1442–1450)
Succeeded by