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Seong Sam-mun, the Loyal Subject with Integrity of Bambo


<strong>Seong Sam-mun,</strong> the Loyal Subject with Integrity of Bambo
Sayuksin (Six Martyred Loyalists), the Symbol of Faithfulness

Danjong was the sixth king of the Joseon Dynasty. As the son of King Munjong, Danjong became king when he was very young. Unfortunately, his uncle Prince Suyang took the throne from him. Later, a group of officials attempted to restore Danjong to the throne. But the plan failed and those implicated in the plot were all executed or killed themselves. These six loyal subjects are known as sayuksin, meaning six martyred ministers, and have been considered a symbol of faithfulness since the mid-Joseon period. Respected scholar official Seong Sam-mun was one of the sayuksin.

Great Contribution to Creation of Hunminjeongeum

Seong Sam-mun was born in Hongseong, South Chungcheong Province. There is a legendary story about his birth. It is said that a strange voice saying “Born, born, born?” was heard from the air when he was born. The story explains why he was named Sam-mun, which means “ask three times.”

Seong passed the state-administered exam in 1435 when he was 18 years old. Three years later, he was appointed to the Hall of Worthies, which was a royal research center. King Sejong selected Seong himself after he heard about the scholar’s great erudition and noble character. Other scholars who were selected with Seong at the time include Park Paeng-nyeon(박팽년), Ha Wi-ji(하위지) and Yi Gae(이개), who all became sayuksin later.

Seong devoted himself to his studies at the Hall of Worthies and gained the favor of King Sejong.

Seong helped the king invent 28 letters for Hunminjeongeum, which is the original manuscript of the Korean alphabet of Hangeul, in cooperation with other scholars such as Jeong In-ji(정인지), Choi Hang(최항), Park Paeng-nyeon, Shin Suk-ju(신숙주) and Yi Gae.

Icon of Loyalty

When Prince Suyang forced his young nephew King Danjong to abdicate the throne in 1454, Seong embraced the Seal of State, the symbol of royal authority, and wept bitterly. Because of this, Seong fell out of favor with the new king, King Sejo.

Afterwards, Seong secretly plotted to reinstate King Danjong, under the clandestine instructions of his father. Several other officials, including Park Jung-rim(박중림), Park Paeng-nyeon, Yu Eung-bu(유응부), Kwon Ja-shin(권자신) and Yi Gae, joined the scheme.

King Sejo planned on holding a banquet at Changdeok Palace for envoys from the Ming Dynasty of China on June 1st, 1456. Seong thought this occasion was an important opportunity to restore the dethroned king. One day before the royal feast, he convened a secret meeting at the Hall of Worthies and discussed the plan with his colleagues. But the banquet was abruptly canceled on the morning the event was scheduled, and they had to abort the plan.

As the scheme hit a snag, one of the collaborators divulged the conspiracy to King Sejo. Those who had prepared for the plan, including Seong, were all arrested.

Despite severe torture, Seong criticized the king for injustice and severely reprimanded betrayer Shin Suk-ju for abandoning the earnest requests of King Sejong and King Munjong.

His attitude infuriated the king even more. The king kept torturing him brutally but Seong’s spirit remained as strong as a rock. He was eventually put to death along with those who joined the plot.

After Seong’s execution, officials inspected his house. They found that the rice Seong had received as a stipend since the king usurped the throne remained untouched.

Seong assisted King Sejong and made a significant contribution to inventing Hunminjeongeum. He remained loyal to his king to the very end. He was branded as a traitor by King Sejo, but 200 years later, during the reign of King Sukjong, he was cleared of treason.

The Joseon-era scholar official is still respected by Korean people today.

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