The Korean flag is called "Taegeukgi" in Korean. Its design symbolizes the principles of the yin and yang in Oriental philosophy. The circle in the center of the flag is divided into two equal parts. The upper red section represents the proactive cosmic forces of the yang. Conversely, the lower blue section represents the responsive cosmic forces of the yin. Together, the 2 forces embody the concepts of continual movement, balance and harmony that characterize the sphere of infinity. The circle is surrounded by four trigrams, one in each corner. Each trigram symbolizes one of the four universal elements: heaven, earth, fire, and water.
The national flower of Korea is the mugunghwa (Rose of Sharon). Every year from July to October, a profusion of mugunghwa blossoms graces the entire country. Unlike most flowers, mugunghwa is remarkably tenacious and able to withstand both blight and insects. The flower’s symbolic significance stems from the Korean word mugung, meaning immortality. This word accurately reflects the enduring nature of Korean culture, and the determination and perseverance of the Korean people.
Our national anthem is "Aegukga," which means "Love the Country". In 1896, the Dongnip Sinmun (Independence News) published various versions of lyrics for this song. It is not known exactly what music it was sung to in its early days. Records show that a Western-style military band was formed during the time of the Dae-han Empire (1897-1910) and that the "Dae-han Empire Aegukga" was composed in 1902 and played at important national functions.
The original words of Aegukga appeared in a written form around 1907 to inculcate allegiance to the nation and foster the spirit of independence as the country faced threats of foreign annexation. Over the years, the lyrics have gone through several versions until it was adopted as the national anthem in the present form in 1948.
Before the birth of the Republic in 1948, the words were often sung to the tune of the Scottish folk song, Auld Lang Syne. Maestro Ahn Eak-tay (1905-1965), then living in Spain, felt that it was inappropriate to sing this patriotic song to the tune of another country's folk song. He composed new music to go with the lyrics in 1935, and the Korean Provisional Government in exile adopted it as the national anthem. While Koreans outside the country sang the anthem to the new tune, those at home continued to use Auld Lang Syne until Korea was liberated in 1945.
The Republic of Korea Government in 1948 officially adopted the new version as the national anthem and began to use it at all schools and official functions.
The Korea Language: Hangeul
Koreans have developed and use a unique alphabet called Hangeul. It is considered to be one of the most efficient alphabets in the world and has garnered unanimous praise from language experts for its scientific design and excellence.
Hangeul was created under King Sejong during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). In 1446, the first Korean alphabet was proclaimed under the name Hunminjeongeum, which literally meant "the Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People."
King Sejong, the motivating force behind Hangeul, is considered one of the greatest rulers in the history of Korea. Highly respected for his benevolent disposition and diligence, King Sejong was also a passionate scholar whose knowledge and natural talent in all fields of study astounded even the most learned experts.
When King Sejong was not performing his official duties, he enjoyed reading and meditating. He could also be very tenacious at times and would never yield on what he thought was right. Love for the people was the cornerstone of his reign (1418-1450), and he was always ready to listen to the voices of the common folk. He was a ruler of virtue, with the welfare of the people dictating his administrationic policies.
King Sejong established the Jiphyeonjeon, an academic research institute, inside the palace. Noted scholars from all academic disciplines gathered there to engage in lively discussions and to publish scholarly books.
During his reign, King Sejong deplored the fact that the common people, unable to understand the complicated Chinese characters that were being used by the educated, were not able to read and write. He was sympathetic to their frustration at not being able to read or to communicate their thoughts and feelings in written words.
The Chinese script was used by the intelligentsia of the country, but being of foreign origin, it could not fully express the words and meaning of Korean thoughts. Common people with legitimate complaints had no way of submitting their grievances to the appropriate authorities, other than through oral communication, and they had no way to record for posterity the agricultural wisdom and knowledge they had gained through years of experience.
King Sejong felt great sympathy for the people. As a wise ruler strongly dedicated to national identity and cultural independence, he immediately searched for solutions. What he envisioned was an alphabet that was uniquely Korean and easy to learn, rendering it accessible and usable for the common people.
Thus, the Hunminjeongeum was born. In the preface of its proclamation, King Sejong states as follows:
"Being of foreign origin, Chinese characters are incapable of capturing uniquely Korean meanings. Therefore, many common people have no way to express their thoughts and feelings. Out of my sympathy for their difficulties, I have invented a set of 28 letters. The letters are very easy to learn, and it is my fervent hope that they improve the quality of life of all people." The statement captures the essence of King Sejong's determination and dedication to cultural independence and hos commitment to the welfare of the people.
When first proclaimed by King Sejong, Hunminjeongeum had 28 letters but only 24 are in use today. 'The Hunminjeongeum,' a historical document which provides instructions to educate people on the use of Hangeul, is registered with UNESCO. UNESCO awards a 'King Sejong Literacy Prize,' every year in memory of the inventor of Hangeul.
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