Why did Korea switch to Hangul?

The foundation of the Hangul script in Korea was a historic shift that revolutionized literacy and communication in the peninsula. This blog post will delve into the reasons for this shift and the reverberating impacts of Hangul that are still felt today.

The Before: Strong reliance on Classical Chinese

Before the development of Hangul, Koreans used Classical Chinese as the primary means of written communication. Classical Chinese was a complex system, replete with thousands of characters. Being used by the educated elite, it posed a considerable challenge for commoners to understand or use.

The Shift: King Sejong the Great and the creation of Hangul

The monumental shift was instigated by King Sejong the Great in the 15th century during the Joseon Dynasty. Recognizing the difficulty the common people had with Classical Chinese, he commissioned the creation of an easy-to-learn phonetic system. This led to the birth of Hangul, a uniquely Korean script.

Hangul: An alphabet for the people

Hangul is unique as each symbol represents a specific sound, much like an alphabet, making it far easier to learn than Chinese characters. This allowed the vast majority of Koreans, even those with little to no education, to become literate. The democratization of literacy led to greater cultural and social development in Korea.

The Controversy and Acceptance of Hangul

Though initial reception was mixed, with Confucian scholars resisting early adoption due to their affinity for Chinese script, Hangul gradually gained acceptance. Today, it is the dominant script in both North and South Korea, symbolizing Korean identity and illustrating the nation’s commitment to education and equality.

In conclusion, the shift to Hangul from Classical Chinese was driven by the desire to improve literacy among the common people. Despite initial reluctance, Hangul has fundamentally shaped Korean society and has become an irreplaceable part of the Korean cultural identity.