a golden king keeps watch over seoul


There are many things to see in the center of the grand Gwanghawmun Square in the heart of Seoul. Gyeongbokgung Palace with Mount Bukaksan looming in the background, the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, the Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, the huge U.S. Embassy building with a giant banner that reads “2013: 60 Years of Partnership and Shared Prosperity” and of course a multi-floor mega-Starbucks.

The morning that I spent walking around the square was one of quite hideous weather; very cold with an annoying “just enough to make you miserable” rain. The weather in Seoul had generally been pleasant and crisp, but I did notice that it seemed to warm up considerably each day after 1:00pm. I was holding out hope.

After a truncated visit to the Gyeongbokgung Palace due to the potential onset of frostbite from holding my iPad, I made my way, rather quickly, to have a latte and thaw out. As I passed an impressive gold statue I wished that whomever it was had the power to bring out the sunshine. As I wasn’t yet even sure who this statue depicted, it was simply a fun thought.

After a bit of research I found that the gold statue was in fact that of King Sejong [세종대왕 동상], the enlightened king, scholar and scientist of the Choson Kingdom [1392-1910]. King Sejong promoted cultural, economic and scientific research and most importantly instituted han’gul, the Korean script.

A noted Confucian scholar, King Sejong placed great emphasis on scholarship and education. He promoted research in the cultural, economic, and political heritage of Korea, and he sponsored many new developments in the areas of science, philosophy, music, and linguistics. To encourage young scholars to devote their time to study, he established grants and other forms of government support.

The most outstanding of his achievements by far was the creation of the Korean alphabet, or han’gul. Until the invention of han’gul, Koreans did not have an appropriate script for their spoken language, instead relying on the Chinese script for literary purposes. King Sejong wanted to provide Koreans with a written means of expression other than the complicated Chinese system. With this objective in mind, he commissioned a group of scholars to devise a phonetic writing system that would correctly represent the sounds of spoken Korean and that could be easily learned by all people. The system was completed in 1443.

In August 2009, the redesigned Gwanghwamun Square opened to the public. With it, the golden statue of King Sejon began keeping watch over the square with Gyeongbokgung Palace and Mount Bukaksan behind him. As I left the coffee shop to see King Sejon up close, the rain stopped and the sun came out. As I took photos of the King I thanked him for doing so.