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[Opinion] Sejong: Korea’s Special Self-Governing City

Posted May. 23, 2007 03:19,   


A Korean 10,000 won bill contains the picture of King Sejong. Sejong is the only king whose face is printed on South Korean bills.

Sejong was a great king who, seeking to realize the ideals of Confucian politics, established Jibhyeonjeon to create Hangeul (the Korean alphabet) and built 4 libraries for the preservation of chronicles. He appointed Jang Yeong-sil and led him to invent the pluviometer, the sundial and the water clock. The pluviometer Jang invented was the first one in the history of the world, and this reflects the great scientific progresses made during the Joseon Dynasty.

One of the results of the fact that King Sejong is well respected and loved by the Korean people is that the name “Sejong” has become a very popular “brand.” This name is used as the appellation of a university, legal corporations, the hotel, naval vessels, enterprises, private education centers, and all sorts of other social entities. The name of the road that stretches from Gwanghwamun, the front gate of Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul, with a length of 500 meters and a breadth of 100 meters, is Sejong Road as well. It is a road of massive importance and a political, economical, social and cultural symbol of South Korea. The Sejong Center for the Performing Arts that stands on the right side of the road has been the main stage for South Korea’s art and culture since its establishment in 1978. The name of the South Korean camp in the South Pole is also Sejong.

On the other hand, controversies have also arisen due to the name “Sejong.” The Il-hae Foundation, which was known as the exemplary outcome of the corruption in the Fifth Republic, is the mother-body of Sejong Institute. Il-hea is the penname of former President Jeon Du-hwan, and this led people to question whether he wasn’t intending to use the institute as a means to exercise power after his resignation. It was also proved that coercive methods were involved in raising funds for the foundation and in the course of investment by Jeon. During the liquidation of the Fifth Republic all the possessions of Il-hae Foundation were appropriated by the government, and the Sejong Institute only inherited the research function.

Sejong was chosen as the name of the multifunctional administrative city (MAC). It seems that the controversy over this naming will take a long time to cool down, since counter-arguments continue to be made against the strategy of balanced national development, the theoretical background of the division of the capital, and since the provinces of Chungnam, Chungbuk and Cheongwon are complaining that the MAC will make little contribution toward balanced national development. The MAC was the alternative choice to move the capital partially that was chosen when the plan to move the capital city was found unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.

King Sejong is the king who built the 4 provinces and 6 districts by cultivating the northern area. Perhaps King Sejong would feel unhappy if the new functional city to be established in the southern part was named after him.

Editorial Writer Heo Seung-ho, tigera@donga.com