“I will send you face powder and six needles. Weeping sadly, I wish I could return home.”
If King Sejong (1397-1450) had not created the Korean alphabet Hangul, a military officer would not have been able to send such a letter to his wife from a remote area in Hamgyong Province in the 1490s. On Thursday, the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) announced that the Hangul-written letter by Na Shin-geol, known to be the oldest of its kind, will be designated as a national treasure.
This two-page letter written in Hangul, sent by the military officer during the early Joseon era to his wife, Shin Chang-maeng, was found in 2011 by their descendants in Shin’s grave located in Geumgo-dong, Daejeon, while they worked to move it to a new place. Folded several times, it was discovered close to the head part in the coffin with no container around. With narrow margins left on every side of the pages, Na left a message of longing and love toward his mother and children while asking his wife to take good care of his family until he returned.
Joseon Dynasty, unlike the conventionally accepted belief that Hangul was only for women. Na’s letter, known as the oldest Hangul-written letter, holds a historical significance as it hints at how honorifics and appellations were used in the 15th century.