Hangul Even after Hangul was invented, most Korean intellectuals continued to write in hanmun. Only in the twentieth century did Hangul effectively supplant Hanja.
Before the advent of print culture in Korea, scholars and monks wrote using a mixture of hanja and syllabic characters. The invention of johngyengnok (the precursor to korean) around the fourth century AD brought an end to this hybrid system and started the development of a purer form of writing, known as hangul. By the ninth century all important documents were being written in hangul only. By the late fifteenth century, when Japan opened its doors to foreign trade, almost all Korean texts were being printed in hangul.
The creation and adoption of hangul was not without controversy. During the reign of King Jinheung (924-976), several competing systems were proposed for selecting letters to compose new words. Eventually, a system called "49 letters" was adopted by the king. This system assigned each sound to one of the 49 available brush types and used these brushes to write poems and stories. This process is still used by modern poets when they want to create a unique word.
After King Jinheung, no other monarch showed much interest in poetry or literature.
Since June 1949, hanja has not been officially utilized in North Korea, and most writings are now written horizontally rather than vertically. Many terms taken from Chinese have been replaced with local Korean ones in the north. In South Korea, however, many institutions and organizations continue to utilize hanja as their primary means of communication.
In addition to being used in personal names, hanja are also used to write literary works, newspapers articles, academic papers, and even films scripts. Although the government promotes the use of Hangul, it allows hanja to be used alongside it for educational purposes. Today, approximately 95% of all written material in South Korea is composed of hanja. However, the actual percentage may be higher since many ordinary people cannot read or write hanja. Instead, they hire someone who can write them a rough draft in exchange for money.
Until the mid-19th century, almost every aspect of life in Korea was written in hanja. The Japanese authorities began to introduce modern writing systems into Korea in order to better control the country's economy and society. They created new characters to replace those deemed obsolete or difficult to learn. Today, only about 200 words are still written in hanja exclusively. Most other items that were previously handwritten are now typed on computers.
Koreans employed Hanja in two ways prior to the invention of Hangul. First, they utilized the characters exactly as they were. Many members of the aristocracy could communicate and write in Chinese. However, the Korean language developed and coexisted with Chinese. There were also languages spoken in Korea that were not related to Chinese.
The second way in which Koreans used Hanja is somewhat controversial among scholars. Some believe that they made use of a form of logographic writing where each character represented a word. Other scholars believe this system existed but it was more semigraphic than graphic. In other words, some words were composed of several characters placed next to each other.
In any case, the introduction of Hangul altered how Koreans wrote. Before its advent, there were only about 57,000 characters in use today. But after the development of this new script, the number of available characters increased to over 100,000.
Even though Hangul was invented later than Hanja, it became popular among the elites first. This is probably because it was designed by famous scholars who wanted to make the process of learning characters easier. Also, the fact that it was based on Chinese characters made it seem more modern and relevant than doing things the old-fashioned way.
After Hangul came into use, many people started using it instead of Hanja.
Hanja Koreans employed Hanja in two ways prior to the invention of Hangul. Thus, it is possible to say that Chinese was used for communication between people who spoke different varieties of Chinese, but Korean was used among the Koreans themselves.
Second, during specific periods in history, some kings and princes adopted Chinese customs and habits. For example, King Seongdeok (r. 992-1020) introduced Buddhism from China into Korea. However, the majority of Koreans continued to live according to their own traditional values. They used Hanja because it was convenient and effective for them to write down words and ideas instead of using their voices.
After the introduction of Hanja, poets began to compose poems and songs using the characters. They also wrote fiction stories that included characters and scenes that had nothing to do with reality or myth. Finally, historians recorded events that had happened in their country by writing down letters from officials to the central government in Beijing.
Korea's early writers may have known no other way of communicating except through the use of Hanja. But this does not mean that they were limited to expressing themselves only in terms of what was written in these books.