There are many things that define Korea as a nation. Korea is considered to be one of the most patriotic countries in the world. The success of the Korean nation is based on the hard work of the Korean people because of the love for their country. Their patriotism is thought to stem from the quick development of the economy in recent decades, the ancient culture that is based on the ideals of Confucianism and the relative isolation of Korea from the rest of the world, compared to the nearby nations of Japan and China.
The Korean flag, which is also known as Taegeukgi, represents peace, light, creation, unification and eternity. It was created in 1882 and is a great source of pride to the Korean people.
Iconic Korean items can be found at many of the traditional markets in Korea but they might go unnoticed by you while walking through the market or if you go into a Korean home that has these items. Asking about these items may prove difficult if you speak limited Korean. Many of these items are part of Korean traditions that have been present in Korea for hundreds of years.
The Korean war between what is now known as North and South Korea was an on-flow from the second World War. It was based on the competing ideologies of communism and capitalism. Before the Korean War the Korean peninsula was controlled by China for thousands of years and after that it was subject to Japanese imperialism. Following this, South Korea was controlled by America, and this only ended in 1963.
The Korean War (1950-53) decimated both North and South Korea. After the Korean war, South Korea was a third world country. The traumatic events forged Korea as a nation and Koreans’ undying love for their country is one of the reasons it was able to become a first world nation with a powerhouse economy. South Korea received foreign aid after the Korean war and now they are one of the countries that provides it. South Korea’s rapid economic advancement has been called the “Miracle on the Han River.”
However, during the Asian financial crisis South Korea was on the verge of bankruptcy. Many countries in the area were affected, including Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Banks began to fail, hundreds of thousands of people lost their job and nearly $18 million was taken from the country by foreign investors. South Korea was forced to take a $58 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In order to pay this back, South Korea launched a campaign to raise funds. Koreans were estimated to have approximately $20 billion in gold as part of their family collections. Almost 3.5 million Koreans lined up at the collection points and gave their gold to the government in an astounding act of patriotism. The government gave the $2.2 billion worth of gold collected to the the IMF and the loan was paid back three years ahead of the due date.
The Korean Flag
Although the Korean flag has a simple design, the symbols have deep meanings. The most recognisable symbol is in the centre and is a variation of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’. The circle has been rotated 45 degrees and is red and blue rather than black and white. It is called 음양 in Korean. The blue represents the negative aspects of the universe while the red represents all of the positive aspects. The circle combines the symbiotic relationship of different concepts, such as heaven and hell, and good and evil.
The white background of the flag is a representation of peace. In each of the four corners of the flag are sets of lines called trigrams. The trigrams each represent an element and the harmony between these. The top left trigram symbolises heaven, the bottom left symbolises fire, the top right symbolises water and the bottom right symbolises the earth.
The land of Korea is shown by the white background, the people by the circle and the trigrams; the government. The combination of these three things make up the requisite parts of the Korean nation.
Iconic Korean Items
If you visit an area in Korea such as a palace in Seoul or the Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan, you will notice locals and tourists wandering around in traditional Korean dresses. These are known as Hanbok in Korean. This clothing originates from the Joseon Dynasty and were worn every day up until 100 years ago. They are still worn for special occasions including weddings. For women, the outfit consists of a jeogori (jacket), baji (pants) and chima (skirt). Hanbok come in a variety of bright colours and these colours represent social and marital status.
This is a seal that is used for important documents in Korea. The name is placed on the dojang and is used like a stamp instead of signatures. This is an interesting souvenir to get in Korea and if you get one you can choose how your name is placed on the seal. They are usually made of wood and use red ink.
Jukbuin – 죽부인
The Jukbuin, also known as ‘the bamboo wife’, has the shape of a woman. Korean nobleman would use this bamboo item when travelling and hug it like a pillow. Nowadays, they are used as bamboo pillows as they are cooler during the sweltering summers.
Geumjul is part of a ritual for when a child is born. On the day of the birth, a rope is hung on the front door. Paper and charcoal are intertwined in the rope to stop evil spirits from entering. Red peppers are also added if it is a baby boy. For the first three weeks after the baby is born, any visitors who see the rope will know that they should not enter the house.
Hanji is handmade paper that has been in Korea since the 1st century BCE. It can be used for writing, decorating walls and to make fans and umbrellas. Scholars wrote on the paper with calligraphy and these pages were put together to create books. It is famous throughout Asia for its texture and strength and in Korea today it can be found in specialist Korean workshops. It can also be used for painting or embroidery.
During Lunar New year, a ghost, Yagwang, was said to go to people’s houses and steal their shoes. If this happened to someone, then they would have bad luck for a whole year. To avoid the ghost stealing the shoes, members of the household would stick a Chhe outside which is made of a gauze net. The ghost would count these holes and this would distract him the whole night and thus prevent him from coming into the house and stealing a pair of shoes.
Featured Image Source: © Souvenirs and Regional Products of Korea, 2019/08/11, www.joinusworld.org
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