King Sejong's Vision

long-term-vision

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Intelligent fanatics always have vision. They also have the capacity to see through the eyes of others; their employees, customers, suppliers, communities and governments. This is a great example of a leader with vision and seeing through the eyes of others in history.

I lived in Korea for two years and was able to experience King Sejong’s vision.

In 1443 King Sejong noted that using Chinese characters for Korean was “like trying to fit a square handle into a round hole”. He disliked the fact that so few of his subjects could express their concerns to him.

-The Economist

Before the creation of Hangul (한글), people in Korea [the educated elite] primarily wrote using Classical Chinese [Hanja] alongside native phonetic writing systems that predate Hangul by hundreds of years… However, due to the fundamental differences between the Korean and Chinese languages, and the large number of characters needed to be learned, there was much difficulty in learning how to write [Korean] using Chinese characters for the lower classes, who often didn’t have the privilege of education.

-Wikipedia

The king’s vision was to make a language as simple as possible so that a commoner, with zero education, could learn to read and write very quickly. He wanted to hear the concerns of all of his people. Prior iterations of written Korean language had been only useful to the the educated elite. How could they do something that seemed almost impossible?

The Hall of Worthies, a group of Sejong’s best scholars, executed the king’s vision. Unlike other languages that have evolved from pictographs or imitating other writing languages, they decided to create a new one. The scholars exploited the human eye’s tendency to focus on clusters of data to create a syllabary language and focused on creating a phonetic system. It has been said that “A wise man can acquaint himself with [Hangul] before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn [Hangul] in the space of ten days.”

566 years later, a young man, with average intelligence, from a small town 6,500 miles away would be able to learn and master the writing system in a weekend. That was me. I lived in Korea for two years and it was odd to have 100% reading and writing fluency but limited understanding. Don’t get me wrong, learning Korean is extremely difficult. Although, my six hour investment of time opened a whole world of experiences that every other expat I knew, who cared not to learn Hangul, was closed off to.

And you wonder why Korea has one of the top literacy and numeracy rates in the OECD? Sejong had a vision that was properly executed by his scholars and the writing system.


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