Sejong the Great

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Sejong Daewang
세종대왕 - 世宗大王
조선 세종.jpg
Reign 1418 – 1450
Coronation September 18, 1418(1418-09-18) (aged 21)
Predecessor Taejong
Successor Munjong
Regent Taejong (1418–1422)
Born (1397-05-15)May 15, 1397
Hansung, Korea[1]
Died April 8, 1450(1450-04-08) (aged 52)
Hansung, Korea
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
Religion Confucianism; later, Buddhism[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 Jang Heon 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 of King Taejong and Queen-Consort Min. He was designated as heir-apparent, Crown 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, after which his father-in-law, Sim On, and his close associates were executed.

Sejong reinforced Confucian policies and executed major legal amendments (공법; 貢法). He also created the Korean alphabet 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 1422 to 1442 and governed as regent with his son Crown Prince MoonJong until his death in either 1442 or 1450.[citation needed]

Although the appellation "the Great" / "大王" was given posthumously to almost every ruler of Goryeo and Joseon, this title is usually associated to Gwanggaeto, and Sejong.[5]

Early life

Sejong was born on May 15, 1397, the third son of King Taejong.[6] 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's free spirited nature as well as his preference for hunting and leisure activities resulted in his removal 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 became a monk upon the elevation of his younger brother Sejong.[7]

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 officials who disagreed with the removal of Yangnyeong. 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.[7]


Starting Politics Based on Confucianism

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 by banning all Buddhist monks from Seoul, drastically reducing the power and wealth of the Buddhist hierarchy,[8] but later he alleviated his action by building temples and accepting Buddhism by making a test to become a monk (Seung-gwa)

Foreign Policy

In relationship with the Chinese Ming, he made some successful agreements that benefitted Chosun. In relationship with Jurchen people, he installed 10 military posts - 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.

The Yongle Emperor observing court subjects playing cuju, an ancient Chinese sport also played in Korea during the reign of Sejong the Great.

Strengthening of the Korean Military

King Sejong was an effective military planner. He created various military regulations to strengthen the safety of his kingdom,[9] 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.[10]

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.[11][12][13] Four forts and six posts were established (hangul: 사군육진 hanja: 四郡六鎭) to safeguard the people from the Jurchen.

Science and Technology

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.[14] These techniques were needed in order to maintain the newly adopted methods of intensive, continuous cultivation in Korean agriculture.[14]

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.[15] However, his most impressive invention came in 1442, the world's first rain gauge[citation needed], named Cheugugi; 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,[16] 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.[14] Sejong, for the first time in Korean history, had his astronomers create a calendar with the Korean capital of Seoul as the primary meridian.[14] This new system allowed Korean astronomers to accurately predict the timing of solar and lunar eclipses.[14][17]

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.'[14]


Sejong supported literature, 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.[18]


King Sejong the Great profoundly affected Korean history with his introduction of hangul, the native phonetic alphabet system for the Korean language.[19]

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 structures.[20] 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 human speech organs (the mouth, tongue and teeth) when producing 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.

The Hangul alphabet was completed in 1443 and published in 1446 along with a 33-page manual titled Hunmin Jeong-um, explaining what the letters are as well as the philosophical theories and motives behind them.[21] The Hunmin Jeong-um purported that 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

File:Sejong tomb 1.jpg
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.[22]

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.[23] Sejong is also depicted in the 2011 SBS drama Deep Rooted Tree.


  • 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 Sim clan (소헌왕후 심씨, September 28, 1395 – March 24, 1446)[24][25]
    1. Yi Hyang, Munjong of Joseon, 1st son
    2. Yi Yu, Sejo of Joseon, 2nd son
    3. Yi Yong, Grand Prince Anpyeong (이용 안평대군, October 18, 1418 – November 18, 1453), 3rd son
    4. Yi Gu, Grand Prince Imyeong (이구 임영대군, January 7, 1420 – January 21, 1469), 4th son
    5. Yi Yeo, Grand Prince Gwangpyeong (이여 광평대군, 1425–1444), 5th son
    6. Yi Yu, Grand Prince Geumseong (이유 금성대군, March 28, 1426 – October 21, 1457), 6th son
    7. Yi Im, Grand Prince Pyeong-won (이임 평원대군, 1427–1445), 7th son
    8. Yi Yeom, Grand Prince Yeong-eung (이염 영응대군, 1434–1467), 8th son
    9. Princess Jeongso (정소공주, 1412–1424), 1st daughter[26]
    10. Princess Jeong-ui (정의공주, 1415–1477), 2nd daughter[27]
  2. Royal Noble Consort Hye of the Cheongju Yang clan (혜빈 양씨, ? – November 9, 1455)[28][29]
    1. Yi Eo, Prince Hannam (이어 한남군 1429-1459), 1st son
    2. Yi Hyeon, Prince Suchun (이현 수춘군 1431-1455), 2nd son
    3. Yi Jeon, Prince Yeongpung (이전 영풍군, August 15, 1434 – June 20, 1456), 3rd son
  3. Royal Noble Consort Yeong of the Jinju Gang clan (영빈 강씨)[30]
    1. Yi Yeong, Prince Hwa-ui (이영 화의군, 1425-1460), Only son
  4. Royal Noble Consort Sin of the Cheongju Kim clan (신빈 김씨, 1406 – September 4, 1464)[31][32]
    1. Yi Jeung, Prince Gyeyang (이증 계양군, 1427–1464), 1st son[33]
    2. Yi Gong, Prince Uichang (이공 의창군, 1428–1460), 2nd son
    3. Yi Chim, Prince Milseong (이침 밀성군, 1430–1479), 3rd son
    4. Yi Yeon, Prince Ikhyeon (이연 익현군, 1431–1463), 4th son
    5. Yi Dang, Prince Yeonghae (이당 영해군, 1435–1477), 5th son
    6. Yi Geo, Prince Damyang (이거 담양군, 1439–1450), 6th son
    7. 2 Unnamed daughters who died at childbirth
  5. Bak Gwi-in (귀인 박씨)
    1. No issue.[34]
  6. Choe Gwi-in (귀인 최씨)
    1. No issue[35]
  7. Jo Suk-ui (숙의 조씨)
    1. No issue
  8. Hong So-yong (소용 홍씨)
    1. No issue
  9. Yi Suk-won (숙원 이씨)
    1. Princess Jeong-an (정안옹주, 1438–1461), Only daughter[36]
  10. Song Sang-chim (상침 송씨)
    1. Princess Jeonghyeon (정현옹주, 1424–1480), Only daughter[37]
  11. Cha Sa-gi (사기 차씨, ? – July 10, 1444)
    1. An unnamed daughter (1430–1431)

Official Posthumous Titles

King Sejong the Great, as depicted on the Bank of Korea's 10,000 won banknote (Series VI).
  • 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

Depiction in Video Games

Portrait in Korean Currency Notes

Sejong the Great is one of the six linguistic scholars, with Samuel Johnson,[38] Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm,[39] Elias Lönnrot,[40] and Vuk Stefanović Karadžić depicted as a portrait in a national currency.

Statue and Museum Exhibit

A 9.5 meter high bronze statue of King Sejong was placed in 2009 on a concrete pedestal on the boulevard of Gwanghwamun Square and directly in front of the Sejong Centre for the Performing Arts in Seoul.[41] The sculptor was Kim Young-won.[42] The pedestal contains one of several entrances to the 3,200 square meter, underground museum exhibit entitled "The Story of King Sejong".[43]

See also


  1. in JoonSoo Room(준수방; 俊秀坊)
  2. ko:세종
  3. transliteration or King ... the Great
  4. ibid
  5. ko:문무왕
  6. 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
  7. 7.0 7.1 Yǒng-gyu, Pak (2004). Han'gwǒn ǔro ingnǔn Chosǒn Wangjo sillok (Ch'op'an. ed.). Seoul: Tǔllyǒk. p. 55. ISBN 89-7527-029-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Pratt, Keith (2006). Everlasting Flower: A History of Korea.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. <<책 한권으로 읽는 세종대왕실록>>(Learning Sejong Silok in one book) ISBN 890107754X
  10. (Korean)계해조약
  13. <<책한권으로 읽는 세종대왕실록>>(Learning Sejong Silok in one book) ISBN 890107754X
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 Kim (1998), 57.
  15. (Korean)장영실 蔣英實
  16. Kim (1998), 51.
  17. (Korean)Science and Technology during Sejong the Great of Joseon
  18. (Korean)Introduction to Sejong the Great
  19. Kim Jeong Su(1990), <<한글의 역사와 미래>>(History and Future of Hangul) ISBN 8930107230
  20. Hunmin Jeongeum Haerye, postface of Jeong Inji, p. 27a, translation from Gari K. Ledyard, The Korean Language Reform of 1446, p. 258
  21. Korean Spirit and Culture Promotion Project. Fifty Wonders of Korea Volume I: Culture and Art. 2nd ed. Seoul: Samjung Munhwasa, 2009. 28-35.
  22. (Korean)Tourguide – Tomb of Sejong the Great
  23. Official website of the drama King Sejong the Great
  24. Daughter of Sim 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 Sim Deok-bu (심덕부, 1328–1401)
  25. Her uncle Sim Jong (Sim On's brother) is Taejo's son-in-law (created Prince Consort Cheongwon) thru his marriage to Princess Gyeongseon
  26. Eldest offspring
  27. Later married Ahn Maeng-dam (안맹담, ?-1469), son of Ahn Mang-ji (안망지); created Military Officer Yeonchang (연창위)
  28. Daughter of Yang Gyeong (양경) and Lady Lee (이씨). Granddaughter of Yang Cheom-sik (양첨식) and great-granddaughter of Yang Ji-su (양지수)
  29. Given the temple name "Lady Minjeong" (민정) in 1791
  30. Daughter of Gang Seok-deok (강석덕) and Sim On's 2nd daughter (심씨; Queen Soheon's younger sister), making her Queen Soheon's niece
  31. Daughter of Kim Won (김원)
  32. Originally a slave of Naeja Temple (내자사 內資寺), and became a palace girl in 1418, under Queen Wong-yeong, and later under Queen So-heon
  33. Later married Han Hwak (한확)'s 2nd daughter (Lady Jeongseon, Princess Consort (정선군 부인)), elder sister to the future Queen So-hye
  34. Also known by her lesser title "Lady Jang-ui" (장의궁주), granted in 1424. Gwi-in status was granted in 1428
  35. Also known by her lesser title "Lady Myeong-ui" (명의궁주), granted in 1424. Gwi-in status was granted in 1428
  36. Later married Sim An-ui (심안의), created Military Officer Cheongseong (청성위)
  37. Later married Yun Sa-ro (윤사로, 1423–1463), son of Yun Eun (윤은); created Internal Prince Yeongcheon (영천부원군)
  38. More linguistic numismatics
  39. Brothers Grimm
  40. 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

  • 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

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