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(Yonhap Interview) Ex-minister-turned-advocate of Korean alphabet preaches its value, potential

All News 13:59 June 14, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, June 14 (Yonhap) -- Former agriculture minister Chang Tae-pyong has so many titles on his resume that it is hard to pin him down to one job.

Chang, who served in the government for nearly 30 years, has recently opened an agency that provides professional counseling on the administrative process, leads a foundation aimed at developing agriculture and nurturing young entrepreneurial farmers, and has a few volunteer positions at various groups ranging from a blood cancer association to the Rotary Club.

As if that isn't enough, the 67-year-old has decided to add yet another title to the list -- volunteering as director of a group that dedicates itself to promoting hangeul, the Korean alphabet.

"While going through the materials they sent me, I was instantly attracted by what the group was trying to do," Chang said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday.

Hangeul Planet is a non-profit organization run by 21 like-minded volunteers who want to promote the language to foreigners in a more fun, innovative and interactive way.

Starting as a small social gathering around popular calligrapher Park Byung-chul, it threw what it calls a "Hangeul Party" in the U.S., twice in 2015 and three times in 2016, as a "new way to explore Korea." The cultural event presented the alphabet in an aesthetic form and gave participants a chance to learn and experience it in an unconventional way.

Bigger-than-expected attention and interest among students there led to the discussion taking off in earnest on how to keep the momentum and use the alphabet to publicize the language, and by extension, the Korean culture and spirit.

For Chang, being approached by the hangeul advocacy group to join it as director wasn't something out of the blue, as he himself is a poet and is well-known for his interest in and affection for Korean literature.

Although he was thinking about cutting back on some of his volunteering work, he found himself deeply impressed by how the team presented the alphabet so beautifully.

That one of his yet-to-be-achieved goals was to write a book on King Sejong (1418-1450), the inventor of the alphabet, offered him another compelling reason to join them.

"I consider him (the king) as a great revolutionary who created things as meaningful as, say, what Leonardo da Vinci did," he said, referring to a spate of inventions during the king's reign including a water clock, a celestial globe and a musical instrument. "The creation of the Korean alphabet shows his great love for the people who suffered from not knowing Chinese characters."

Last Thursday, Hangeul Planet inked a memorandum of understanding with Soongsil University in Seoul to work together to develop various fonts and hangeul-themed products. Later this month, the group will have an official launch party.

The growing popularity and recognition of the Korean cultural products of today wouldn't have been possible had it not been for the country's long-standing cultural tradition and deeply-ingrained value in it, Chang said.

"Soft power can last long only when there are inherent value that firmly supports it," he said, adding, "I think Hangeul Planet can do something helpful on that front."


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