7:53 pm - 07/09/2012

The Greatest Alphabet in The World Invented by...China?

The Korean Alphabet known as ‘Hangul’ is widely believed to have been invented by the fourth King of the Joseon Dynasty, Sejong the Great. The project was completed by around 1444 and first published in 1446 in a text known as the ‘Hunmin jeong-eum’ [훈민정음 해] or ‘The Proper Sounds for the Education of the People’.

King Sejong is said to have created the script fearing that the majority of his population were illiterate, as the national language was based on Chinese characters and therefore restricted to aristocratic males. ‘Hangul’ was designed to allow the masses the pleasure to read and write.

As Sejong states in the preface to his work, “A wise man can acquaint himself with it before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn it in the space of ten days.” After his death King Sejong left a great legacy and is still revered today for providing the nation with a greater sense of national identity, away from the clutches of the Chinese cultural sphere.

However, with Dr Lee’s new claims surfacing that Sejong’s script was based on ancient findings inscribed on Chinese ‘knife money’, will his legacy be shattered or will the nation reject the scholars findings? This topic has sparked hot debate across Korea and indeed China, featuring heavily on this week’s news sites and blogs. Much online controversy has stemmed from the national identity debate, with the Chinese revelling in these findings and claiming once more that Korea is a part of China.

Dr Lee Chan Gu: Hangul discovered on Ancient Knife Money.

It has been claimed that the Korean Alphabet ‘Hangul’ has been discovered in use from 3000 years ago. A leading expert in ancient writing Dr Lee Chan Gu has found examples of the ‘Hangul’ script on an ancient form of Chinese currency known as ‘knife money’. In his new study, Dr Lee claims that ‘knife money’ dated from the middle or end of the Spring and Autumn Period in China have examples of ‘Hangul’ on the pointed head of the knives. Dr Lee is said to have made the discovery of an inscription of ‘Hangul’ on Chinese Knife money in two ancient Chinese texts and an article ‘Xu Quan Hui’, published in 1875.

However, at the time of discovery, the scholars of ancient Chinese classified these characters as ‘unidentifiable’. Lee notes that they cannot be treated as the Chinese charcters ‘Hanzi’ and are clearly identifiable as part of the Korean script ‘Hangul’. Dr Lee estimates that the characters ‘돈’ and ‘노’ were inscribed on ‘money knives’ cast in the State of Guzhu some 3,600 years ago by pre-ancestors of the Korean tribe.

In his findings, Dr Lee refers to a Chinese language document which gave a slight explanation of the new Korean writing system. He notes that there “is a passage in the introduction to the Hunminjeongeum that notes that Hangul is an imitation of ancient Korean characters; a confession from King Sejong, who states that his creation of the Korean alphabet was modelled on existing letters used by his Korean forefathers.” Lee, however, is adamant that his findings are in no way intended to discredit the work of King Sejong. He is resolute that his findings will finally prove that the Korean alphabet system were made through the restoration of Ancient Korean and not related to Mongolian or the scripts of other Ancient States.

Comments from Naver:


Sejong, You bastard! Such plagiarism!


You’re just writing this stuff to sell a book- give me a break!


Sejong would reincarnate himself just from looking at this article!!


Seems like he didnt go to elementary school! A Doctor without any common sense!!


Whether this is true or not, it seems like a mistake to make such a decision based on just 2 characters!!


Because of collaborators in the late Choson Dynasty who stole our culture, it seems like history of 21st Century Korea will also be stolen!!

arka**** :

Why is our history so short, when we only lived as a Japanese colony for 30 years???!


A few markings are really the ‘Hangul’ of our ancestors?!


How do we know if that even means ‘money’. I want to go and ask someone from that time!!


HAHA Bollocks!!


Then Sejong is just one of our nations imposters?!


Sejong is a crook!!


Didn’t 15th Century Joseon also claim to have created the alphabet?!


Seems a bit far fetched!!


3000 years.. Let us not try and distort history! Let us not be like China!!


HAHA you Chinks from Koryŏ! See that Hangul is really just ours now!

Comments from Wenxue City (in Chinese):


So now it’s clear that King Sejong didn’t invent Hangul and just copied the script from an Ancient Chinese text to deceive people!


Look at Korea ten years ago; they had clearly inherited China’s qualities: subtlety, patience and stubbornness. So 3000 years ago Korea must have been a part of China!


If it really is Korean, then its fair to say that at that time Korea was just a subsidiary of China. They didn’t have their own money, they used China’s! Its just like today, where the script of ‘minorities’ is written on Chinese bank notes!


Didn’t the American Mars Rover also find Korean script?!


This just goes to show that Koreans have always been a Chinese ethnic minority!


Koreans say: One day we will land on the sun! Americans will respond: Its far too hot- you wont be able to land! Koreans will respond with: We’ll land there at night!!

Source: nate via koreabang

This is blowing my mind, tbh. Kind of like those theorists who say Black people invented Kung Fu, were the first Samurai...except less crazy. anyone else heard those theories? Also, is October 9 going to be burned off of calendars all over SK?
asnindie 10th-Jul-2012 12:19 pm (UTC)
On Mars? Trololo
chunsakuma 10th-Jul-2012 03:54 am (UTC)
As Sejong states in the preface to his work, “A wise man can acquaint himself with it before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn it in the space of ten days.”

There is a lot of truth to this statement and yet there are people (including some K-pop fans, which I don't think I'll ever understand) who refuse to even attempt to learn it... SMH.
encyclopedicace 10th-Jul-2012 03:59 am (UTC)
Korean script is so damn easy to learn. I can read/write it now without even thinking - although, I can't actually speak/converse in Korean.

People who struggle with Korean script should try Chinese, or even Japanese.
oldwillow_brook 10th-Jul-2012 03:54 am (UTC)
Koreans say: One day we will land on the sun! Americans will respond: Its far too hot- you wont be able to land! Koreans will respond with: We’ll land there at night!!

I probably shouldn't laugh but loooooool, what does that even mean!
kingalexarnold 10th-Jul-2012 04:37 am (UTC)
lol mte
amandaplan 10th-Jul-2012 03:59 am (UTC)
Wow, this is so weird. I wonder how big of a deal it is there if this turns out to be true. Also can I now say I'm learning Chinese then?
love_allure 10th-Jul-2012 04:00 am (UTC)
curious to seeing how this all plays out.
coffeebang 10th-Jul-2012 04:03 am (UTC)
Korea would never except this even if it's true.
neoreulwonhae 10th-Jul-2012 04:11 am (UTC)
"Koreans say: One day we will land on the sun! Americans will respond: Its far too hot- you wont be able to land! Koreans will respond with: We’ll land there at night!!"

Okay that's just fucking funny, negl.

I love how obviously biased the Chinese are, makes me lol.
uglypricetag 10th-Jul-2012 04:12 am (UTC)
the last paragraph kinda clears it up though. if King Sejong admitted it himself that he was inspired by existing orthography, i don't see this controversy as anything more than political fuel for the Chinese to claim that everything belongs to them.
asnindie 10th-Jul-2012 12:30 pm (UTC)
They really are acting ridiculous, esp since the Island issue with the Philippines.
tsuyoi_hikari 10th-Jul-2012 04:17 am (UTC)
tbh, black people invented Kungfu & were the first samurai are more mind-blowing to me. Is it true such theories exist?

I don't find it is shocking if this is true after all -- since when you learn history, lots of inventions surprisingly coming from China.
uledy 10th-Jul-2012 04:31 am (UTC)
I saw it all in this insane documentary at the hair salon, lmao. Those were two theories I'd never heard of before, but I looked it up and there were cases for it. They had some other common theories and some extreme one too.

One fairly common one was that the Statue of Liberty was original a freed African slave and was meant to represent the abolition of slavery in the US. There was another theory (that they also used to support the Kung Fu and Samurai theories) the Blacks/Africans were some of the first non-Asians to explore...well Asia and were revered by the people there, which is why Buddha is depicted with African features... O.o

ugh, I wish I could find it for you...
akaich0u 10th-Jul-2012 04:40 am (UTC)
Lee, however, is adamant that his findings are in no way intended to discredit the work of King Sejong. He is resolute that his findings will finally prove that the Korean alphabet system were made through the restoration of Ancient Korean and not related to Mongolian or the scripts of other Ancient States.
Well that's nice at least. I was worried this was gonna be another "China created everything" thing. Though the Sinosphere DID reach far and is still felt today. Everything was part of China 'cause they pillaged and stuff far and wide.

Along the line of crazy theories, some similar ones are how the Chinese actually discovered the Americas and/or actually invented pizza. lol.
erisinia 10th-Jul-2012 04:44 am (UTC)
Is russian invention. >:(

uledy 10th-Jul-2012 04:49 am (UTC)
you are perfect for this.

"scotch? was invented by a little old lady from Leningrad"

deerlike 10th-Jul-2012 04:45 am (UTC)
Those comments... what a trolly mess.

Although, now that I've read through them, they're kind of hilarious.

Edited at 2012-07-10 04:49 am (UTC)
lobotronic 10th-Jul-2012 04:53 am (UTC)
I'm going to keep tracking this as a linguistics geek, but I hope people don't flip out over it too much.

Pre-ancestors of the Korean people are still related to the Korean people, and it's no secret that Korean has been influence by Chinese in the past. Even if Sejong didn't create the whole alphabet from scratch, he drew inspiration and pushed the alphabet's use to all the people of his country, changing literacy forever. He still deserves props as one of the great kings.
chunsakuma 10th-Jul-2012 05:51 am (UTC)
Linguistics geeks unite~
age_ofconsent 10th-Jul-2012 05:54 am (UTC)
Not surprised at the Chinese comments haha, Chinese people have said before that Korea was a part of China, is highly influenced by China, etc. Will be interesting to see what happens with this.
tarantye_no 10th-Jul-2012 07:34 am (UTC)
Personally I wouldn't be surprised if the alphabet would come from China... My girlfriend learns for her Japanese History exam right now and the japanese also have their alphabet from the chinese (which really can't be unseen). China was very advanced in their development and other asian countries used it as a model for their country structure.
aurelyne 12th-Jul-2012 01:25 am (UTC)
Are you referring to just kanji or hiragana & katagana as well? If its the latter then that's pretty cool! Do you happen to know of any online resources that discuss this?
mjspice 10th-Jul-2012 07:49 am (UTC)
es2pido 10th-Jul-2012 09:21 am (UTC)
I... to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised. Kings/royalties/heads of state have the habit of taking the credit when it wasn't really their handiwork in order to provide good legacy in their regime/tenure/dynasty etc. It practically applies to most kingdoms/governments even in modern times.

It's kinda similar to our country where local heroes who were Sultans/datus/chief captains where portrayed as hunky sekshi handsome oppars on the frontline killing Spaniards while in fact they were actually tubs of lard who'd rather sit in their comfortable bamboo+rattan+silk chair while sexy slaves are dancing in front of them with their actual soldiers doing the bloody job.

I kinda researched on the Japanese writing system in highschool and it was astonishing to know that their hiragana, altho it looked rather so un-Chinese to many, was the shorthand version of some Chinese characters. It was mindblowing how it evolved into squiggles and stuff. The Chinese influence across East Asia in ancient history cannot be denied. But I think there are still some more evidentiary support that needs to be handed over in order to prove the possibility of these knife money theory claims.

Seems like China is again have something to claim as their own apart from our islands who are practically a few hundred kms away from our territorial line.
lee_chikin 10th-Jul-2012 11:22 am (UTC)
Sejong, You bastard! Such plagiarism!
OP, we need the plagiarism tag!
k0dama 10th-Jul-2012 11:23 am (UTC)
Modern Korean is so standardized and cleaned up from what it used to be like that I don't know if I'd say it has any roots in anything.

What are the chances that the word for "money" hasn't changed for 3600 years?
soramai 10th-Jul-2012 01:09 pm (UTC)
why do chinese people want Korea to be part of China ? I don't get it.
jia_zhang 10th-Jul-2012 02:33 pm (UTC)
Hegemony, power, the same old political BS. Which in this day and age is stupid.
mycorrhizoid 10th-Jul-2012 02:26 pm (UTC)
Well, hangul is mostly simple circles and lines. Nothing groundbreaking to look at, I'm not surprised that the shapes have been used before.

The cool thing about King Sejong is that he matched sounds to letters so that every feature meant something.

Copying from wiki since I don't know it off the top of my head:

For instance, the consonant ㅌ t [tʰ] is composed of three strokes, each one meaningful: the top stroke indicates ㅌ is a plosive, like ㆆ ’, ㄱ g, ㄷ d, ㅈ j, which have the same stroke (the last is an affricate, a plosive–fricative sequence); the middle stroke indicates that ㅌ is aspirated, like ㅎ h, ㅋ k, ㅊ ch, which also have this stroke; and the curved bottom stroke indicates that ㅌ is alveolar, like ㄴ n, ㄷ d, and ㄹ l. (This element is said to represent the shape of the tongue when pronouncing coronal consonants, though this is not certain.) Two consonants, ㆁ and ㅱ, have dual pronunciations, and appear to be composed of two elements corresponding to these two pronunciations: [ŋ]~silence for ㆁ and [m]~[w] for obsolete ㅱ.

It's like there's IPA built into the script itself.
jia_zhang 10th-Jul-2012 02:32 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of Korean script DID come from China like a lot of the Japanese Hiragana came from Chinese script as well. That's how written languages go. Just look at ancient Greek and Roman, both were the basis for many Western languages.

I'm sure there's a lot of basis for the idea that Korea was once part of "China" (heavy emphasis on the quotes) considering it's proximity to its neighbour. But people have to realize that Asiatic history is retardedly long and complicated and full of wars, so territory wasn't determined concretely for a long time. Korean culture and history DOES exist independent of China, influences aside. Rome and Greece had a lot of commonalities, histories, and shared cultural aspects. Doesn't mean they are the same, just similar. Same goes for China and Korea, similar not the same.
modestgoddess79 10th-Jul-2012 07:46 pm (UTC)
I plan on learning Hangul, just been lazy/easily distracted lately so haven't gotten around to it.
Learn to read Korean in 15 minutes

I also bought the "Korean Grammar in Use - Beginning to Early Intermediate" book off of ebay since I watch so many dramas, seems a shame not to try when I already have so much built in listening practice
nissy_angel 12th-Jul-2012 02:19 am (UTC)
As a Chinese, I find this really intresting.
This page was loaded Feb 24th 2017, 1:06 pm GMT.