The Great King, Sejong is a South Korean historical television series that aired in 2008, chronicling the life of one of the most revered kings in Korean history, Sejong the Great. Played by actor Kim Sang-kyung, the series delves into the remarkable journey of Sejong, the fourth monarch of the Joseon Dynasty, and his crowning achievement: the creation of Hangul, the Korean alphabet. The series was broadcast on KBS from January 5 to December 7, 2008, with episodes 1 to 26 airing on KBS1 and episodes 27 to 86 airing on KBS2.
Early Life and Ascension
The Third Son
Born with the name Chungnyeong, Sejong was far from the first in line for the throne. He was the third son in the royal family, and in a time where political and social order often determined one’s fate, his prospects of becoming king were initially slim.
Turbulent Times in Joseon
During his early years, Joseon was a nation rife with political tensions. The young kingdom faced internal strife and external threats, making Chungnyeong’s childhood far from peaceful. The volatile environment was not conducive for a young prince to grow up in the palace; thus, he spent much of his early life in a private residence outside the royal grounds.
Life Among Commoners
Separated from the palace, Chungnyeong was exposed to the everyday life of commoners. This experience profoundly shaped his worldview and would later influence his policies as king. Living among the people, he developed a deep understanding of their struggles, aspirations, and the systemic issues they faced.
Ascension to the Throne
As fate would have it, Chungnyeong eventually ascended to the throne, taking the royal name King Sejong. He inherited a kingdom in need of stability and direction. With his unique background and empathetic outlook, he was poised to become one of the most transformative leaders in Korean history.
Reign and Achievements
One of Sejong’s first tasks was to bring stability to Joseon. His policies focused on strengthening the central government, improving the military, and promoting Confucianism as the guiding philosophy of the state. These changes helped solidify the foundation of the young nation.
King Sejong was not just a political leader; he was a patron of the arts and sciences. Under his rule, Joseon experienced a cultural renaissance. He initiated various scholarly projects and supported the advancement of technology, literature, and arts.
The Creation of Hangul
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of King Sejong is the creation of Hangul, the Korean writing system. Before Hangul, the Korean people used Classical Chinese characters, which were difficult to learn and use, especially for commoners. Recognizing the need for a more accessible writing system, Sejong assembled a team of scholars to develop Hangul. This new alphabet was designed to be easy to learn and use, opening doors to literacy and education for the entire population.
Legacy and Cultural Impact
A King for the People
King Sejong’s reign is often cited as one of the golden eras of Korean history. His leadership brought about social, political, and cultural changes that had a lasting impact on Korea. His invention of Hangul alone revolutionized the Korean language and made literacy accessible for all, a legacy that endures to this day.
The Great King, Sejong TV Series
The 2008 TV series The Great King, Sejong brought the story of this extraordinary king to a new generation. The show was a critical and commercial success, shining a light on a vital chapter of Korean history and culture. Its 86 episodes were a testament to Sejong’s enduring appeal and the depth of his contributions to Korean society.
Today, King Sejong is celebrated as a national hero in South Korea. His statue prominently stands in Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul, a daily reminder of his enduring contributions. Annual events and educational programs continue to honor his legacy, making sure that the story of this great king is not forgotten.
The Great King, Sejong is not just a historical television series but a dramatic retelling of the life of a monarch who shaped the destiny of a nation. King Sejong’s life journey—from a third son living among commoners to a king who revolutionized Korean society—is a narrative filled with challenges, triumphs, and enduring legacies. His creation of Hangul stands as a monumental achievement, a testament to his vision for a more inclusive and educated society. Through his actions, King Sejong forever left his imprint on Korean history, an imprint that continues to be celebrated and studied today.
Whether through the lens of the acclaimed TV series or the pages of history books, the story of King Sejong the Great serves as an inspiring lesson in leadership, innovation, and the power of empathy.