Academic Claims Korean Script Invented in China

king sejong

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.

From Naver:

Chinese 'money knives'

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!!

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  • Digitalsoju

    Pretty absurd claim. Pretty sure 3,600 years ago “돈” wasn’t even the Korean word for money.

    I also see 돋 not 돈.

    Not to mention it would have to be a hell of a coincidence that the same word from 3,600 is still written the same way with the same characters.

  • mark

    just googled ‘knife money’ for other pictures and they have all kinds of crazy characters on them. None of them look like hangul characters. As one commenter stated, he’s just trying to sell a book.

  • anne

    Ouch, one does not mess with the Korean cultural identity. As if their inferiority complex towards towards their cultural identity wasn’t strong enough thanks to being in the shadow of Japan and China, don’t even bring up the theory that HANGUL was from China. The results would be worse than suggesting to a Korean that Kimbap originated from sushi.

    • C84

      Is there not a “ILoveJapanRoom” website that you would be better served posting, troll?

      • Anne

        I don’t love Japan at all, although I have witnessed several Korean children throwing a rage about about Japanese stealing the idea of kimbaps to create the sushi more than several times (taught to them by their parents? I hope not). It was an analogy, it just so happened that sushi is from Japan. Koreans have a insecurity towards the origins of their culture and like to blow things up to instill national pride.

        • C84

          Is this troll really this dense? Little Korean children who don’t know any better threw a rage about kimbap/sushi/whatever, so it now serves as the primary “personal experience” example of how Koreans as a WHOLE have such an inferiority complex? Any other brilliant personal examples you have to share? “It just so happened that sushi is from Japan.” WOW, no one knew that before. Any other brilliant observations?

          • Digitalsoju

            C84 I don’t think she’s trolling. Koreans themselves admit to having an inferiority complex, this isn’t news.

        • Cleo

          uh the transparent slicing technique of uncooked freshly caught seafood is Chinese but it was Korean before it became Japanese – it is definitely not a Japanese original

          • Johannes

            Cleo, you’re talking about SASHIMI/ HWE 膾 — which IS an ancient Chinese technique of preparation, but SUSHI was originally fish preserved in vinegar.
            The modern meaning of SUSHI is fish (or other ingredients) on/ or rolled with vinegared rice.
            The aesthetics & presentation of kimbab definitely comes from the maki (sushi) ROLL type.

  • Eddie

    HAHAHA is it really so hard to admit that Korea was once part of China? Their culture is clearly derived from Chinese culture and yet they fight tooth and nail denying it. This inferiority complex is really laughable. Look at America. They were once part of the British Empire. You don’t see them trying to deny it. In fact they celebrate their colonial roots as well as their present-day autonomy. Koreans need to move past this.

    • TheNoob

      You make a good point but I think the main reason why they can’t move pass their acceptance is because Korea has always been a part of another empires vassal state or a colony of another country. They have never fought off their oppresses (so to speak) where as US celebrates it as a day of independence. A crude way of comparison would be like a rebellious middle child being ignored in the family who is trying to find its own identity by denying that they have the attributes of their siblings.

      • Alexei

        “They have never fought off their oppressors.”
        Thousands of Koreans died both in peaceful protests and in armed struggle against the Japanese occupation. De Gaulle did not singlehandedly defeat the Nazis, and his partisans would’ve been crushed if it weren’t for Allied help, but this does not mean the French never fought back.

    • Chucky3176

      You are confusing cultural influence with colonial rules. Korea was heavily influenced from China culturally which most Koreans do not deny, but Korea was never part of the Chinese rule.

      It’s a typical mistake often made by the Chinese who are stuck up in their heads about how much they are so better because of their history. We Koreans call this phenomenon Joonghwa sasang, or simply Chinese arrogance about themselves and their history. With all that history behind China’s history and culture, why are you so behind so much of the world, in 2012? What have you done for us lately, other then spewing Yellow dust all over Asia and sending thousands of violent fish poaching pirates?

      • 미대협

        They’ve produced 50% of the rare earth metal components for electronic devices the rest of the world uses? That’s just one, though. ;)

        Seriously, though, there was a time when PART of the Korean peninsula was under direct Chinese occupation/rule/whatever you wanna call it. Not the whole peninsula, but they definitely didn’t stop at the Yalu River. Chinese try to be arrogant now, at least to Asians, to show themselves “breaking out” of the poor communist days and entering into the world market. Yes, they look stupid, but to answer your first of the last three questions, China has always been slow to change, with a couple of exceptions. Hell, I could make the same comparison to Korea and the treatment of women, or like several posts on this site have proven with overall sexual abuse of those “without a voice.” It could be said you’re still “behind” the modern world in that respect.

        Chinese still have fresh memories of Korean “scholars” trying to make Confucius Korean, etc. and now they see their chance to “strike back” at what they once saw as “hanguk sasang” (to use your Korean romanization).

        And here’s a map of the limits of the Han Dynasty (whose clothes Korean style most nearly represents) taken from Wikipedia, though it is also represented in multiple sources.

        Oh, and the Wei Dynasty from the Three Kingdoms Period:

        The Yuan Dynasty (the shaded part being the vassal Goryeo, but there is still area south of the Yalu not shaded):

        And the Liao Dynasty, which appeared around the same time as the Song Dynasty, which is included in Chinese histories:

      • vetomon

        There are more Koreans living in North/East China than there are Koreans living in South Korea.

        Really, they just don’t want to show it.

        • Brett Sanbon

          Oh really? Care to enlighten us with links and proof? 50 million Koreans in China? Doubt it.

        • Korean

          Exact numbers is Many.

  • Chucky3176

    Sorry guys, just because one character that looks vaguely like Hangul, doesn’t make it a proof that Hangul came from China.

    There are always some idiot in Korea that claim some outrageous things about the origin of Koreans, and China (usually they rile up the Chinese, but in this case, it’s giving the Chinese satisfaction), and he’s another one of those kooks that nobody takes seriously.

    We just respond with a chuckle, with a WTF moment, and then ignore and forget.

    • egujei

      Definitely. This is a load of bull, but great stuff for Chinese trolls to roll with. Some lunatics claim that Confucius, The Great Wall of China, and Chinese characters are Korean = Koreans believe Confucius, The Great Wall of China, and Chinese characters are Korean to Chinese netizens.

  • Yorgo

    Seems a bit far-fetched. Just like the usual,Korean scholar trying to show Korean culture going back to the Bronze Age, Sumeria, even the Stone Age.

    But Hangul was influenced by Mongol and Manchu scripts. Sejong’s scholars, just coming out from the rule of the Mongols, didn’t just pull the alphabet out of their ass,so to speak. Perhaps it was the Samsung Galaxy of its time?

    • Dan

      Many linguistic experts around the world have tried to link Mongol Phags Pa and Korean Hangul characters due to some resembles between two scripts but they could not find the actual evidences, namely because the sounds are completely different. There are many essays and journals have been published.

      And LG Prada preceded the iPhone.

      • Yorgo

        ah, you are referring to the ol’ face-saving rumoured (but never to be lawsuit) by LG.

        in any case, Korean products are notorious for this. it’s even more blatant in auto-industry. it isn’t necessarily a bad thing always, just like hangul being influenced by mongolian and manchu scripts aren’t bad things. after all, greek was influenced by phoenician, and latin by greek alphabet. it doesn’t matter that their sounds were different, the similarities are undeniable.

        • Dave Park

          Ok, I don’t know how I just stumbled on this four years later. But, you need to learn.

          I know this because I used to work for the automotive industry.
          When Samsung (they make cars for the Korean market), Hyundai, and KIA are able to poach automotive designers from let’s say Audi, BMW, and Nissan, you’re going to have similar looking cars.

  • William F.

    Well, this particular claim might be a bit far-fetched, but there are plenty of Korean “historians” out there who revise history in really creepy ways on a regular basis. What is needed in China, Japan, AND Korea is scholarship that is committed to be blind to the emotional and blind jingoistic claims that might have some truth mixed in — but in the end are the products of nationalists who want to make themselves feel good. Truly, there is not much confidence in historical “scholarship” that comes out of these countries as they all fight each other to be the king of the “history hill.”

    • 미대협

      Hence my preference of Western historians’ scholarship on the matters. I get into arguments with my fiancee about Asian history, and she, being Korean, eventually boils down the argument to “history is only told by the winners, there are a hundred sides to every story” to which I respond “BUT there is still one side that tells it all” and the argument ends in a stalemate…

  • bultak

    oh god so stupid, just look at the tibetan script closely. korean is related to the phagpa seal script. this is related to uyghur. korean like every other alphabet is descendant from another. your denial of the truth does not change the facts.

    • Johannes

      Actually, no it’s not.
      It has NOTHING to do with the Tibetan or Uighur scripts.
      Sejong and his group of scholars created a truly unique script (not copied) for his people. This is a fact that’s been studied by linguists in the WEST for ages.
      It is based on the principles of Sanskrit phonology (phonetics/ the mapping of sounds) & the shape of the alphabet was influenced by Taoist philosophies (Yin, Yang, Heaven, Earth, Man) as well as the aesthetics of the Chinese script, of course. But it is an ORIGINAL script.

      A unique scientific script from scratch is truly a remarkable human cultural achievement.
      We’re talking about the SCRIPT here (written language has nothing to do with spoken language)
      (Latin/ Cylliric alphabet, the Arabic script, Indian devanagari, even Thai–ultimately stems from Egyptian/Phoenician; Japanese kana is derived from Chinese script).
      The shapes & formation patterns of Hangul was completely invented FROM SCRATCH. Koreans should be proud of this king & his band of linguists/literarti, who dared to defy Imperial China & create a script of their own to represent their own language. Truly innovative for their time. 세존왕천세! 한글 만세!

      • Johannes

        Oops. Hangul booboo.
        A thousand pardons to King Sejong.
        세종왕 천세!

      • bultak23

        you distort the truth to fit your own world nationalistic world view. there is no writing system created from scratch, none. a writing system is just an approximation of speech, it is not the language itself. however, you are welcome to maintain whatever fantasy that makes you feel better about yourself.

  • Bruce Tutty

    “Academic Claims Korean Script Invented in China.”

    “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.”

    Pardon?…did anyone making comments here actually read the article?

    The headline does not equal what is written in the article, so perhaps this articale should be about people’s inability to read, rather than what language its in or where it comes from.

    • 미대협

      YES! Thank you, sir. I was wondering if I was the only one who caught that line. Also the line he had from Sejong’s preface

      “…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.”

      So this is apparently a part of the Hangul book already?

  • Chris

    that’s fuckin hangman you fuckin dummies

  • Paul

    The first thing that comes to mind when I read this is that the ‘Hangul’ markings on this ancient Chinese money would still operate as logograms, just as Hanja or Chinese characters. I’m guessing each of these ancient ‘Hangul’ characters represented an idea. Unlike Hangul as we know it, where each character is part of an alphabet that combine to make phonemes.

    I think it is possible that Hangul incorporated Chinese characters into the Korean alphabet, as well as making their own (based on mouth positions). But isn’t that what the history says? I dunno, just sayin’

  • Spenglish

    China called, they want their language back.

  • lonetrey

    I feel like the main focus of this article isn’t anything related to alphabets and forms of written communication, but rather the inferiority complex displayed by a lot of Korean netizens…

    • chucky3176

      Where do you see the inferiority of the Korean netizens? They’re laughing at the study, joking Sejong was a copy catter.

      The ones more serious are the people here commenting, who are using this as an example of Koreans are this and Koreans are that. It looks like to me, they’re more mature than the people here.

      Some people just like to see what they want to see. good lord..

      • I’m with Chucky on this one – the netizens are joking around a bit, it’s just hard to convey that in translation. I’m tempted to say the Chinese comments display more of a complex in this case.

      • Digitalsoju

        “Some people just like to see what they want to see. good lord..”

        Chuck씨, ironic you say that when you’re one of the most biased and one of the biggest apologists on this site. Some people just like to see what they want to see indeed.

    • canadabang

      I like how the new way of insulting people has come in the passive aggressive form of saying they have an inferiority complex. Not only does it assert the premise is true, but it goes further to say they are insecure about it. It’s a one-two punch for disses nowadays.

      Unless of course the term inferiority complex is not supposed to be pejorative. But does it not pretty much say that the receiver is inferior first?

    • KoreanPeninsulaKP

      Who has most inferiority complex displayed are Taiwan and Overseas Chinese. Not Koreans.

      • Dan

        …. And you just made my point for me.

        Embarrassing… 😰

        • Korean

          You perfect example……. self inferiority complex. Like Chinese invented everything.

          • Dan

            Haha, see? There you go again, embarrassing yourself by continually proving me correct, even 2 months later.

          • Peninsula

            YOU ARE TYPICAL ” CHINA CAKE”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          • Dan

            Cake? I think your grasp of English is a tad too incompetent to effectively insult me… instead, it’s just making you look embarrassing. Which also adds to my original point.

  • Noori

    There’s no secret about the fact that Koreans used to live in China, just like we all used to live in Africa. Back in BC 1600, China wasn’t a giant monolithic nation as many people imagine; it was a huge land without the binding power, i.e. anyone could’ve lived there without the ‘Chinese identity’. Besides, I think ‘One China’ is a myth, just like Korea’s ‘One-Race’ myth.

    • KP

      Manchuria belong to Koreans. Not china.

  • tim

    It may very well be so, and Korea surely took a lot form Chinese culture, after all, even the Name of Korea (both in the north and in the south) is derived from Chinese texts and language. But it will surely be ignored by the nationalistic mass-consciousness, and unquestionably accepted by the Chinese one.

    On a side note, this historic stuff doesn’t contribute a thing to the greatness of the people. Only their own achievements and work do.

  • egujei

    Hmmm… some of the Korean netizens’ comments have been mistranslated.

    Why is our history so short, when we only lived as a Japanese colony for 30 years???!
    ^ Why did we live as a colony of Japan, which has a short history, for 30 years?
    This is a really random comment.

    HAHA you Chinks from Koryŏ! See that Hangul is really just ours now!
    ^ Since the Chinks are saying Koguryo is theirs, I bet they’ll claim Hangeul is theirs now.

  • sojubang

    Probably just a coincidence

  • Cleo

    The Japanese are seeking right of abode in the Pearl River Delta where the Southern Chinese are considered too self centered and mercenary to resist such a Hakka.

    Are the Cantonese so despised by fellow Chinese for being Blood Elves or for being fortunate enough to have had the earliest opportunity at immigration so that now we are being given up totally – our food, our language and probably our ancestral region is going to be co-opted by the Japanese because Beijing doesn’t care about us:

    Japanese are even now repackaging Cantonese phrases as Japanese IMPROVING the Chinese language:

    • Johannes

      What do you mean by “Blood Elves”?
      Please clarify.

  • runningduckyliciousrub

    what they don’t teach in the korean public school textbooks is that king sejong invented hangul to teach the yangban how to pronounce CHINESE CHARACTERS, it was only until westernized korean progressives wanted to create “an independent nation” that they highlighted this from koreas miserable history to say oh look this is our own unique independent hangul!!

  • bultak23

    Drogön Chögyal Phagpa created the ‘Phags-pa script for Kublai Khan. This shows the strongest link to Hangul. In Chinese it is called, 蒙古篆字 and it is cited in the the Hunmin Jeong-eum Eonhae as one source of the script.

  • KP

    Invented by Korean King in Korean Peninsula. Not China.

  • KoreanPeninsulaKP

    Korean Language was not invented in China. Anyone who believes in it are IDIOTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • John

    “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.”
    If possible China will take the Korean peninsula by force like they are doing with the South China Sea.

  • Korean

    Korean and Chinese ( language) unrelated.

  • Korean

    Like Chinese created everything that flies except for airplane, Chinese created everything four legs except for table. Right?!

  • Peninsula

    민주당 색이들!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • JohnL33

    Korean Language is King Sejong Invention. Not China or Chinese.

  • East Sea

    Why is Korean language grammar unrelated to Chinese??? Why is Korean language Writing, Speaking, Listening, Reading unrelated to Chinese language??? Only thing is related is ” Derived Vocabulary words” like saying Latin, Greek, French, German, related to Current day English language. Answer is No.

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