[Newsmaker] Hangeul advocates oppose Hanja classes

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 3, 2013 - 20:23
  • Updated : Jul 3, 2013 - 20:52

The government’s plan to enhance Hanja, or Chinese character, classes sparked backlash from civic groups and advocates for Hangeul, or the Korean writing system, who claim it would hamper efforts to defend the purity of the Korean language and further burden students.

They launched a sit-in protest in front of Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education in Jongno demanding the authority cancel the plan which would “revive an old-fashioned and unnecessary” education program.

The plan could impose academic stress on students and they would end up relying more on hagwon, or private education institutes, in order to get good marks at schools, they claimed. 
Students look at the original copy of “Dongui Bogam,” a book about traditional Korean medicine published 400 years ago, at the National Museum of Korea on Monday. (Yonhap News)

The protest came a week after the Seoul education office’s plan to encourage all primary and secondary schools to teach written Chinese starting in the second semester this year. Learning Chinese characters could enhance students’ Korean language proficiency as school textbooks use many Korean words based on Chinese characters, officials said. Many students find it hard to memorize the words even though they don’t know the meaning, they added.

The education office said it will hire retired teachers and parents for the classes. The program is not a mandatory course and will be operated as part of after-school programs, it added.

The Hangeul supporters, however, said that the plan was made unilaterally by Seoul education chief Moon Yong-lin. The former conservative-leaning education minister has been pushing ahead with the plan which contradicts the nation’s decades of efforts to develop and distribute Hangeul-only textbooks, they said.

Since 1970, the government has been encouraging all sectors, including schools, offices and news media, to stop using script mixing Hangeul with Chinese characters to describe Sino-Korean words and replace them with native Korean words, if possible. Sino-Korean refers to vocabulary that originated from the Chinese language pronounced and written in Hangeul.

“Moon is just trying to justify (the purpose of) the plan saying it would help students understand words (based on Chinese characters) used for textbooks. But it is just his personal idea,” a protestor said.

Education authorities also criticized the group saying they are overreacting and that they have no intention to promote the use of Chinese characters in schools.

“If students have better understanding of Chinese letters, it will help them follow school classes. We don’t encourage schools to teach Chinese characters or idioms that go beyond the level of textbooks,” officials said.

Some argue that teaching Chinese letters is inevitable because over sixty percent of Korean vocabulary is Sino-Korean.

By Cho Chung-un (