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Hangeul Day as a holiday

Publication Date : 08-10-2012


If Psy’s “Gangnam Style” tops the Billboard Hot 100 chart this week after ranking second for two consecutive weeks, the Korean singer will have set another record for his country’s language. It would become the first song written in Korean to climb to the top of the pop music chart.

No doubt his horsey dance moves helped make the song’s music video a global sensation after its July release on YouTube. But the excited audiences around the world would certainly have felt more attracted to the song if they had understood its meaning. Perhaps some of them began or considered learning the Korean language and its letters, Hangeul.

In an inadvertent effect, the enthusiastic response to the wacky song, the latest and most phenomenal success of Korean pop culture across the globe, makes the theme adopted to mark this year’s Hangeul Day ― “Hangeul, Sharing with the World” ― sound not so exaggerated.

Hangeul Day, which falls on October 9, observes the promulgation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong in 1446. Hangeul helped the Korean people keep their national identity thorough Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule. It has since remained a symbol of national pride.

The popularity of Korean pop music, or K-pop, and TV dramas abroad, coupled with the country’s growing economic power, has led to rising demand for learning the Korean language. The number of people who took the Test of Proficiency in Korean rose from about 34,000 in 2006 to more than 450,000 last year. Reflecting the growing interest in the unique and efficient writing system, Google has added Hangeul Day to the list of holidays and memorable days honored with creative logos.

To commemorate the 566th anniversary of the Hangeul proclamation, which falls on Tuesday, the government designated Hangeul Week that started last Friday, during which about 120 events will be held at home and abroad. In a bid to further spread Hangeul across the globe, it plans to set up 14 additional Korean language education facilities, known as Sejong Institutes, by the end of this year, bringing the total number to 90 in 43 countries.

Serious consideration should now be given to designating Hangeul Day as a national holiday again. The measure is needed not only to fully mark the invention of the most treasured cultural asset but help spread Korean culture and arts based on it across the world. It would be meaningful to let expatriates here as well as the Korean public have a full day of experiencing traditional and modern culture in the country and getting knowledge of Hangeul as its icon by attending various events and programmes.

Hangeul Day was excluded from the list of public holidays in 1990 on the grounds that there were too many days off. It cannot be said that Korea has more holidays than other advanced nations. A report recently released by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance showed an average Korean worker worked 44.6 hours per week last year, the second longest among the 30 countries surveyed. One additional holiday spent amid a variety of cultural experiences would help boost productivity more than enough to offset a lost working day.

According to figures from the Culture Ministry, the proportion of Koreans in support of Hangeul Day as holiday increased from 68 per cent in 2009 to 83.6 per cent this year. We hope Psy will hold a concert similar to the one that drew more than 80,000 fans last week at Seoul Plaza on next year’s Hangeul Day red-lettered on the calendar.


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