Happy Hangul Day!
Today is the officially recognized 573rd anniversary of the publication of the Hunminjeongeum (translated into English as The Correct Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People) by one of Korea’s greatest Joseon kings, Sejong. He is, in fact, often given the honorific of “the Great” (as in “Sejong the Great“). His book gave us the modern Korean alphabet, known as Hangul (sometimes spelled Hangeul).
Prior to the invention of Hangul, Koreans used the complex system of Classical Chinese characters, along with Hanja (certain Chinese characters that were assimilated into the Korean language). It was very complicated and only a small elite at any one time would master it. With the invention of Hangul, literacy was able to spread rapidly throughout the lower classes.
It’s usage eventually paved the way for both of the Koreas to be two of the most literate countries in the world. Literacy rates in North Korea are difficult to establish independently but the CIA World Factbook listed it as 100% as of 2015. That same year, South Korea’s rate was estimated to be approximately 99%.
The Hunminjeongeum has been listed as one of South Korea’s National Treasures since 1962 and on UNESCO‘s Memory of the World register since 1997. There is even a National Hangul Museum located in Seoul. So important to the Korean culture, Hangul Day is not only the recognized anniversary but is also a national holiday in South Korea!
The holiday is celebrated on January 15th in North Korea, where it is known as Chosongul Day. This is in order to commemorate an earlier announcement of the creation of Hangul (prior to its publication). The differences in the name of the holiday derive from what names the two countries use for Korea (“Hanguk” in the South and “Choson” in the North). In both cases, the name translates into English as “Korean script.”
Another interesting fact about Korea related to literacy is that the first known movable metal type occurred during the Koryo (or Goreyo) dynasty. The Sangjeong Gogeum Yemun (translated into English as The Prescribed Ritual Text of the Past and Present) was completed in 1250 C.E. Credit for this innovation is traditionally given to Choe Yun-ui (a civil minister for King Gojong), who invented the process in 1234 C.E.
— Article by Tony, Main Library