Sungkyunkwan stood at the hub of the Joseon Kingdom (1392 - 1910) from its beginning. Hence, it is impossible to introduce all of the distinguished people in its history here. Those listed here were selected to show historical diversity.
A master of Confucian learning, King Sejong's contributions to Korean life ranged from academic studies to practical advice for the peasantry. During his reign, Sejong achieved remarkable advances in many fields, including medicine, astronomy, music, and printing. He invented Hunminjungum; 'the right sounds for the people,' later known as Hangul; the Korean alphabet. He is revered as the greatest king in Korean history.
Cho Kwang-jo entered the Old Sungkyunkwan in 1510 at age 29, during a time full of hope for political reform. Under the patronage of King Chongjong, who took the throne away from the tyrannical ruler Yonsan, Cho was a pioneer in breaking away from superstitions and in correcting the previous government's wrongdoings. He sought to put into effect a "village code" that encouraged Confucians manners, such as mutual assistance in time of need. Although many of his plans were obstructed, historians consider him the most revolutionary reformer in the 500-year history of the Chosun Dynasty.
As one of the foremost Confucian scholars in Korean history, Toegye is often called Korea's Chu Xi (1130 - 1200), the great Confucians of China. In 1523, Toegye entered the Old Sungkyunkwan at the age of 22. In 1534, he began his long successful career by achieving the highest score on the government examination. His lifelong devotion to Confucianism is culminated in his theory Chugiron, in which he emphasized the importance of human volition and self-cultivation as the essence of learning
Along with Toegye, Yulgok was revered as one of the two great masters of Confucianism. Even so, his theory differed from that of Toegye. In his theory Chugiron, he denied Chu Xi's dualism and stressed external experience and breadth of learning. His pragmatism greatly influenced national policy, bringing about substantial progress in the life of the Korean people. The University has established scholarships named after Toegye and Yulgok to commemorate their great achievements in Confucianism.
Yi Hang-bok is the subject of many famous anecdotes about his exploits as a prodigy. He entered the Old Sungkyunkwan in 1574, and began his career in 1580. Serving in almost every important post, he eventually became prime minister. His greatest fame came as the minister of finance, in which he reformed the practices of financial institutes and made them more efficient.
A forerunner in the Silhak movement, Chong Yag-yong entered Old Sungkyunkwan in 1783, and won the King's full trust. Though inspired by Catholicism, which was studied by scholars of the time and had spread among them Silhak, or 'Practical Study', was very much a Korea-centered Neo-Confucian ideology. Chong's utilitarian, innovative ideas brought improvements in many fields. He was a prolific writer, and one of his books Mongminsimso ('Admonitions on Governing the People'), is still widely read, providing today's intellectuals with a meaningful message.
A Silhak scholar, and a renowned calligrapher and epigraphist, Kim Choong-hui served as Daesasung, the president of the Old Sungkyunkwan. Respected as an inspired calligrapher both within and outside the country, his unique style established a new paradigm of calligraphy, called Chusache after him. At the age twenty-four, he went to China and studied epigraphy. Later he researched the old stone monuments scattered over the entire Korean peninsula and published books which became the cornerstone of the Chosun School of epigraphy.
Kim Chang-suk, the first president of the University, was a liberation movement leader and educator. In the whirlwind of the Korean Independence Movement, which started in March 1919, he united Confucian scholars and sent a joint petition to the International Peace Conference, which was in session in Paris. After the Korean liberation in 1945, he organized a foundation which ultimately revived the Old Sungkyunkwan as an institute of higher education. The Highest National Medal was given to him after his death. In May 1997, the Korean government held commemorative programs in his honor after selecting him as the Historical Personage of the Month.