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[Opinion] Re-Emergence of King Sejong

Posted December. 26, 2007 04:14,   


In 1418 when King Sejong (1418-1450) assumed power, the Joseon Dynasty of Korea fell into a 7-year drought. Young Sejong, 22 years old then, ordered food supplies and distributed bowls of free soup to people at the center of the capital. After building a choga (straw-roofed house) at the east corner of Gyeonghoiru Palace, he stayed there. Despite the queen and his subjects’ persuading him to come back to the palace, Sejong denied their request, saying, “How can I sleep comfortably when my people are suffering such poverty?”

King Sejong’s life was ridden with pain. During his tenure, he lost his parents, uncle, wife, and a daughter. When suffering from fatal diseases, such as beriberi and skin diseases, he wasn’t able to move at all. Right before declaring Korean Letter Hangeul, he couldn’t see anything two meters away from him because of complications from diabetes. His subjects recommended black goat stew as a medicine, Sejong refused, saying, “I can’t allow an imported animal to be exterminated for my own sake.” Shin Bong-seung, a writer of the soap opera, “500 Years of Joseon Dynasty,” and film, “Sejong the Great (1978), said that, “Sejong was a holy man rather than a good king. I feel sorry that people are searching for a model of the great leadership from other countries without considering King Sejong.”

Following published books dealing with Sejong, such as ‘Sejong’s Protective and Successful Leadership’; ‘Sejong Described by Nine Politicians of Joseon’; and ‘Creative CEO Sejong’; new books, including ‘I am a Joseon’ and ‘Struggle of a King’ were recently released. The TV historical soap opera ‘The Great King Sejong’ is also set to be broadcast from next month.

Despite his impressive achievements during his 32-year tenure, TV programs have not covered a story about Sejong for more than 30 years. It may be because of his relative “calm life” compared with other kings.

This sudden attention to Sejong’s leadership may imply the contemporary hope to see this kind of leadership again. The heart of Sejong’s leadership is ‘true love for people.’ Sejong’s historical achievements, such as the invention of the Korean alphabet, the development of farming methods, which resulted in two times more crop yield, and the invention of the Korean Jagyeokru (watch) by low-born Jang Young-sil, was credited to Sejong’s love for people. Such love provided him with the essential power to struggle against diseases and to develop a rich scholarship. This was also fundamental grounds for equal treatment of his subjects. Korea’s future leaders should first take a look at the historical record of Sejong and try to find out ideas from his leadership before searching for models in other places.

Heo Mun-myeong, Editorial Writer, angelhuh@donga.com