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The other red, white, and blue (The South Korean Flag)

태극기. 

Not the brilliant movie made back in 2004, but the national flag of South Korea. The name comes from the 태국 circle found in the middle of the flag. Take note of the yin-yang circle and how it flows counterclockwise and is horizontally aligned; as opposed to the vertically aligned clockwise Taoist symbol. Koreans have a unique interpretation of the symbol, in particular. However, one unifying theme between the Chinese and Korean symbol is “balance”. Below is a specific breakdown and interpretation of symbols:

Flag Meaning

Below is a collection of previous versions of the flag. Note the eight trigrams instead of the modern four. I guess even back then Koreans were cutting corners in the name of efficiency (joking!). It is interesting to see the change in number of trigrams, color, and yin-yang alignment. The flag on the bottom right is supposedly what was flown during the filming of M*A*S*H.

Korean Flag collection
While the history of the Korean flag is somewhat debated, a few facts can be mutually agreed upon. The flag that we know of today is commonly attributed to Korean ambassador to Japan 박영효 (Park Yeong-Hyo) in 1882. March 6 1883 is the official day that 고종 광무제 (King Gojong) declared it the national flag.

However, during the Japanese occupation of Korea, specifically from 1910 to 1948, the flag was banned. This didn’t stop Koreans from creating makeshift flags in the name of nationalism. To unify these flags under a single standard, a national flag code was penned June 29, 1942. From that point on, a specific distance ratio and size perspective had to be followed. However, due to the ruling being made in exile, the new code went largely unknown to the general population. Afterwards, the flag was re-codified officially and in Korea in October of 1949. However, a few small changes were made in 1950 and again in 1984 at which time the present version of the flag was finalized.

South Korean national flag

My first encounter with this flag was in junior high. My friend was enrolled in a taekowndo class and in his room, he had the Korean flag pinned to his wall. I recall that his older brother came into the room one day while we were hanging out and corrected him by pointing out that the flag was upside down. I can remember the few of us in the room stopped talking and stared intently on the flag. I’m sure I looked like a Cocker Spaniel with my head tilted trying in vain to figure out if he was just being a jerk or if he was serious. I remember thinking, “How can you even tell?”. Call it ethnocentrism at its finest, but perhaps I should have paid more attention. I suppose I would offended if someone flew the American flag upside down and then blew off a simple correction. This brings me to my question for the day: How serious do Koreans take their flag? Is it a big deal or just decoration? How do Koreans feel about the Unification Flag?

I can say with confidence that the American flag is one of great importance to most Americans. Don’t even get me started on the Texas flag. To prove that point, I’ll leave you with this image.

Texan Pride

Thoughts?