Culture minister advocates for Hangeul signboard for Gwanghwamun

By Park Sae-jin Posted : May 17, 2024, 14:11 Updated : May 20, 2024, 15:03
This AI-generated image shows the Gwanghwamun Gate bearing a signboard written in the original form of Hangul Korean phonic characters
The imaginary image of Hangeul signboard for Gwanghwamun

SEOUL, May 17 (AJU PRESS) - Debates over the signboard of Gwanghwamun that leads to the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace in central Seoul have been reignited, coinciding with the birthday celebration of King Sejong the Great, who created Hangeul, the Korean alphabet.

During an event Tuesday in the capital to mark the 627th birth anniversary of the king (1397~1450), Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Yu In-chon stressed the importance of replacing the current Chinese-written signboard with a Hangeul version, rekindling a decades-old controversy over whether the characters on the signboard on the symbolic landmark of the historic site should be Korean or Chinese.

"Personally, I believe that the signboard of Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace, should be written in Hangeul," said the 73-year-old minister. Expressing his eagerness to change the signboard, he added, "Although the signboard was restored based on historical records following a recommendation by the Cultural Heritage Committee, I'd like to propose another round of discussion on the matter."

Koreas Minister of Culture Yoo In-chon makes a speech during an event held in central Seoul on May 14 Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism
Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Yu in-chon makes a speech during an event held in central Seoul on May 14. Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
The original signboard, dating back to the late 19th century, was inscribed in Chinese and has undergone destruction, restoration and relocation several times. A Korean calligraphy handwritten by former strongman Park Chung-hee was hung there between 1968 and 2010, but it was replaced with a board bearing the gate's name in Chinese characters, crafted based on historic records. The current plaque went through a makeover in October last year when the royal palace's front yard is restored.

This file image shows the Chinese character-based signboard hung on Gwanghwamun the main gate of the Gyeongbokgung Palace located in central Seoul on October 15 2023 Photographed by Yoo Dae-gil  dbeorlf123ajunewscom
This file image shows the Chinese-written signboard of Gwanghwamun hung on the main gate of the Gyeongbokgung Palace in central Seoul on Oct. 15, 2023. Photographed by Yoo Dae-gil =
The presence of the Chinese-written signboard in the heart of Seoul has been the center of controversy among many historians and history-aware Koreans. They claim that the iconic gate, visited by over a million foreign tourists annually, should reflect the Korean people's pride through Hangeul. Some also find it baffling that the signboard is in Chinese, as it sits just behind the statue of King Sejong, the inventor of Korean language. However, others argue that the signboard should retain its original form, as Chinese characters were the sole writing system before Hangul was invented by King Sejong in 1443 and widely distributed in 1446.

King Sejong invented Hangeul as part of his efforts to improve the livelihood of ordinary people. "The creation of Hangeul is the pinnacle of King Sejong's love for his people," Yu said. "Through this event, I hope Koreans will gain a renewed understanding of King Sejong's life, achievements, and extraordinary leadership," the minister said.

But it remains to be seen if Yu's remarks would alter the fate of the signboard once again, given that it has been less than a year since the latest installation.
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