King Sejong is a Rebel With a Cause


King Sejong argues with his subjects over whether his alphabet upholds Confucian ideals.

King Sejong argues with his subjects over whether his alphabet upholds Confucian ideals.

Tree With Deep Roots’ depicts the intense blowback King Sejong received when he created the Korean alphabet. The glory and prideful representation of his counter arguments, unusual personality, and “victory” over the scholars demonstrates the rebellious and nationalist nature of Korea today.

This statement is evident in the depiction of King Sejong when he interacts with the scholars, and verbally argues with them, which can be seen 18 minutes into episode 16. In this scene, one of the notably older scholars argues that the Chinese characters embrace Confucian ideals through the way that each word or concept combines many other strokes that have relevance, whilst Sejong’s alphabet is comprised solely of 28 characters that can be utilized to create any sound. In order to counter this point, Sejong argues that Confucian ideals call for the king to answer to his people, and that with the current system the common people can not communicate effectively with him; therefore, this system of writing is not Confucian in nature (Young). Sejong’s call for the people to be involved and also have a place within the discourse of the nation demonstrates a strong sense of rebellion against the elite that he represents. Sejong could have easily stopped work on the alphabet and left the discussion around Joseon only to himself, the beauraucrats and the scholars; however, he rebelled again the traditional view of Confucian influence on language and embraced a more inclusive version. Furthermore, by retaining Confucian influence in his new language, Sejong demonstrates a strong sense of nationalism for the thought that Korea was built on.

The nationalism and rebellion are even more present in this show by the overall depiction of King Sejong. He is vey easily the most sympathetic character in the show. This is evidenced by his desire to create a language that allows his people to communicate effectively with the elite when this decision was not integral to his rule. Furthermore, he will not accept his alphabet until he receives the approval of his most important subject, Chae-yoon, who had been attempting to assassinate him. It is very possible that he could have either been killed by Chae-yoon or that he would never have received his blessing and the entire project would have been stopped (Young). This demonstrates not only his faith in the ability for his people to rise up and take control of their place in society, but also demonstrates his rebellious nature. He is also very fond of using unorthodox language, which further demonstrates how little he cares about social conventions which he doesn’t feel furthers Korea or the lives of his people. In addition, he is willing to do whatever it takes to create change in his nation. He even goes out to work in the fields just to force his council to actually determine the most efficient amount of fertilizer to use on their plants (Young). Sejong is a rebel with a cause, the betterment of his people’s lives.

Overall, the combination of King Sejong’s progressive decisions and actions, which present a more creative application of Confucianism, and his complete faith in the ability of his people, demonstrates a rebellious and nationalistic attitude. Therefore, Tree With Deep Roots proves that Korean culture embraces the independence of their nation as well as the possibility to reinvent the way it is implemented to allow for more mobility and agency.

Works Cited

Young-hyun, Kim, and Park Sang-yeon. Tree With Deep Roots. 2011. Dramafever. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

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