May 15, 1397 CE: Birthday of Sejong the Great

May 15, 1397 CE: Birthday of Sejong the Great

On May 15, 1397, the prince who would become King Sejong the Great was born in the Kingdom of Joseon (today, the Koreas).


9 - 12


English Language Arts, Social Studies, World History

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On May 15, 1397, the prince who would become King Sejong the Great was born in Jeonju, part of the Kingdom of Joseon (today, the Koreas). Sejong is one of the most remarkable leaders in history. He was among the first leaders to hire people from different social classes as civil servants, improved foreign policy by expanding trade with Japan, and encouraged scientific innovation in agricultural, medical, and technological sectors. Sejong’s most powerful legacy, however, is hangul, the Korean alphabet. Chinese and Japanese scripts, the dominant written languages of East Asia, are not alphabets. They use stand-alone characters that represent entire concepts. Sejong wanted a distinct language for his kingdom, one that adapted Koreans’ spoken language and could be more easily learned by everyday people. Although scholars were wary about the new script, it became very, very popular with millions of Koreans. Hangul, written in grouped syllables, has been called “the most beautiful alphabet in the world.” Korea has continued to honor Sejong’s contribution to literacy by creating the UNESCO King Sejong Literary Prize, which awards organizations “displaying merit and achieving particularly effective results in contributing to the promotion of literacy,” especially indigenous languages in developing countries. A 2013 recipient of the King Sejong Literary Prize, for instance, focused on increasing literacy in the Guera languages of Chad.

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National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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