First of all, those Chinese characters are called hanmoon in Korea. They are the same, but with a few variations from what is used in China and Japan. They are still in use in S. Korea, but not like before. The hangul (the Korean alphabet) is what the main part of the population focuses upon, but Hanmoon is still being used by certain sectors of the population.
King Sejeong decided to invent hangul because the hanmoon was so difficult. It takes years of study to master the hamoon. There was a time when little boys from noble families began studying the hanmoon as early as possible and studied them for years and years. They wanted good government positions and jobs high up in society. They couldn’t get those jobs without knowing hanmoon. This meant that most of the population couldn’t read because they didn’t have the time to study for years. As the boys grew, they had to work. Boys from poorer families couldn’t read because they were too busy working to help feed the family. Girls were studying things like cooking and sewing. They didn’t have time to study the hanmoon either. Most of the population was illiterate. King Sejeong realized his population was illiterate, but wished they could read books because he knew the good of books. If you can read, you can learn anything, so King Sejeong rounded up a large group of scholars, and they all worked together to invent an alphabet that fit the Korean language. He lived from 1397-1450. Since that time, using his alphabet, the hangul, there has been a complete change in the Korean population. They have almost 100% literacy now. Everyone can read. His dream has been fulfilled. This is one major change in the population of Korea because of the invention of the hangul.
The Koreans didn’t completely throw the hanmoon away. Now a days, there are still very elite scholars studying the hanmoon in Korea. The men who study hanmoon now a days are still not the regular workman, but university professors, philosophers, and preachers. Some of the others study the hanmoon some, but the scholars are the ones who actually put the hanmoon to good use.
My Korean son in law has a masters, but has always thought he would like a doctorate in Chinese philosophy. However, you have to know a lot of hanmoon to be able to read the old Chinese philosophy books. He has been studying the hanmoon his whole life because his dad is a hanmoon professors. Since my Korean son in law was a little boy, he has always sat in his father’s classes and studied the hanmoon. He feels like his father is the smartest man he knows and has undying respect for him. My Korean son in law can pick up the Chinese philosophy books and kind of understand, but he still feels a lack, and he is still studying. One day, he may fulfill his dream, but modern life takes a hold of him. He had to go to the military like every young Korean man and couldn’t study during that time. He went to college and to graduate school, and none of it included those hanmoon, but he hasn’t given the hanmoon up. He still goes to his father’s classes hoping to understand those Chinese philosophy books better. He goes to work, but when he gets a break, he is right back at his father’s feet. He and his father are carrying on a family tradition that has taken place for centuries and centuries. Their family has always been hanmoon professors. They can trace their family history back when the emperor of China sent their relative to teach hanmoon in the emperor of Korea’s court.
In S. Korea, you are treated like a prize if you know the hanmoon as well as my son in law’s father does. He teaches at a university, and the students that study under him are Chinese philosophy majors, history majors, future professors, and Theology majors. If they want to understand the old books, they have to understand the hanmoon. The Theology majors think that the hanmoon helps them understand the Bible better. You see, the hanmoon are not letters, but pictures with meaning. The Theology majors much prefer studying the Bibles written in hanmoon than in hangul. The average man reads the Bible with hangul (the Korean alphabet), but the Theology majors are going to become preacher and Bible scholars. They want to understand the Bible better than everyone else so they can help the others. They say the hanmoon gives the scriptures a deeper meaning. Many of them consider studying the hanmoon more important than studying Greek and Hebrew like American Theology majors study. If those Bibles written in hanmoon were translated directly from Greek or Hebrew into Korean hanmoon, they are getting more than the people who study the Bible in the regular hangul (alphabet).
Korea has a very modern, educated society. More people go to the university and have masters and doctorates than in any country I have seen. That is a result of King Sejeong’s dream of every Korean being able to read. He has helped the Korean people immensely! In the last little while since the Korean war, Korea has come from being one of the poorest countries on the plant to one of the richest. They couldn’t have done it without hangul (their alphabet). However, there is still a portion of the Korean who use the hanmoon. They are more scholarly than the rest. Inventing the hangul (the alphabet) didn’t get rid of the hanmoon. It is still very prestigious to be able to understand the hanmoon. However, if you don’t understand it, you can still get a good job because everyone can read the hangul.