Hangeul is an art, completely different from any other usual letter system
Professor Han Jae-joon, Art and Design School, Seoul Women’s University
Q: You majored in visual design. How did you become interested in Hangeul?
A: Interest in abstraction of letters led me to Hangeul, and I realized that Hangeul was a key problem in Korean society. I realized that Hangeul is not simply a collection of letters, but a design and art with deep philosophical meaning. The 28-letter system of Hunminjeongeum and the various symbols and metaphors in the book Hunminjeongeum Haeryebon (literally: “Explanations and Examples of the Correct/Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People,” a commentary on Hunminjeongeum) were newly seen to me. They represented huge aesthetic significance to me. Since then, I have met with King Sejong again as a designer and artist Yi Do.
Q: Please tell us about your current activities.
A: I have been fascinated by the essential value of Hunminjeongeum, that is, its minimalism and infinite expandability, and its integrated communication system beyond its function and role simply as letters. Hangeul is an art, which is completely different from any other usual letter system in the world.
Q: There seems to have been a reason why King Sejong created Hangeul and named it Hunminjeongeum. Please tell us about it.
A: Hunminjeongeum literally means “a right sound to teach the people.” The name of the communication system created by Yi Do, King Sejong is “(Hunmin)Jeongeum,” and the book summarizing the content is HunminJeongeum. Hunminjeongeum is also interpreted as a “Word.” It is the word of enlightenment for the world, a kind of gospel overflowing with love and affection. If you look into it closely, you will feel what I mean.
Q: You said that Hunminjeongeum has a deep philosophical meaning beyond just a letter system. Tell us about its philosophical meaning and value.
A: The idea of the harmony of Samjae or heaven, earth, and man, is the most important and fundamental. “Jejahae,” the first chapter of Hunminjeongeum Haeryebon begins with “The principal of heaven and earth is only based on yin and yang (two opposite energies that compose the world’s truth) and five elements composing the universe (天地之道 一陰陽五行而已).” There’s also the statements that sounds and shapes are not separated (理旣不二) and that Hunminjeongeum is a communication system to share the hearts of heaven and earth (則何得不與天地鬼神同其用也). King Sejong emphasized that Huminjeongeum is not a communication system only for people, but for all creatures in the world. Moreover, the combination structure of initial, medial, and final sounds contains the philosophy of harmony between heaven, earth, and man. The initial sounds or consonants represent the heaven; the medial sounds or vowels, people; the final sounds or consonants, the earth. It means that the heaven and the earth give a lot of things to people, but everything depends on people themselves. These philosophical thoughts, in which a letter cannot be completed without a medial sound, are in line with humanism emphasizing the role and value of man.
Q: I hear that you emphasize the problem of “arae-a or “low a,” which was in the 28 letters in Hunminjeongeum, but generally known as missing in modern Korean. What is it about?
A: It’s also a matter of their names. Hunminjeongeum is based on 28 letters, but 4 letters are missing in modern Hangeul. Their names and content have all been changed. Moreover, the term “arae-a” is a wrong and bad name. I think the letter “arae-a” should not have been thrown away. It was abandoned by mistake. I firmly believe that we should revive its original value and appropriate name. Hunminjeongeum explained that this letter arae-a was a letter modeling the heaven and emphasized the value and role of people. This letter doesn’t represent a low or the bottom but the above or the top symbolizing the heaven, and also the letter of prime importance among the medial sounds.
I interpret that this arae-a represents the heaven as a letter of revolution to drive out old-fashioned and wrong systems and corrupted power. This is the core philosophy of Hunminjeongeum. Therefore, to abandon this letter of arae-a lowers Hunminjeongeum leads to giving up the profound philosophy and basic principles embedded in Hunminjeongeum, and eventually makes its ultimate goal, the revolution of enlightenment impossible to achieve.
Q: What do you want to say to the young generation, especially with regard to Hangeul or their career path?
A: Just as China and Joseon are different, Joseon and Korea are different, we are different from one other. Please remember the value of differences and the importance of communication once again. Try to find the value of difference deep inside yourselves. You may be able to come up with new ideas that no one has ever imagined. Listen to the sounds of all things and people closely. Share your innermost thoughts with one another and you will accomplish things or goals easier, more comfortably, and more meaningfully, one by one. You can overcome fears and carry out your thoughts in time.” This is actually what I try to bear in mind studying Hunminjeongeum of King Sejong, Yi Do.
<저작권자 ⓒ 먼데이타임스 무단전재 및 재배포 금지>
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