The History of Korean Flag and its Special Meaning 🇰🇷

The National Liberation Day, also known as the day of gratitude has returned again this year, but with an extra special meaning: this year marks Korea’s 70th anniversary of its independence. It is very important that we pay our respects to the souls of all the fallen heroes who died fighting for Korea’s independence.


We reflect and give thanks to all the brave men and women who fought and died to give us the freedoms we have today. It is very important that we take a moment in our day to be grateful for the freedoms we have by observing a minute of silence and putting up our flag.

So who really knows about the Korean flag and its special meaning? If you are not really familiar with its history and meanings, this is the opportunity to get your things straight!



To begin with, it is known that Korea used a national flag for the first time in 1882 at a signing ceremony for the United States-Korea Treaty of 1882 (조미수호통상조약). There’s no official records in the present, but there are 2 references that help us identify how our very first flag looked like.


Korean imperial flag that was depicted in the <Flags of Maritime Nations 1882>

The former Korean imperial flag is depicted in the book written by the U.S. Navy Department called, Flags of Maritime Nations 1882. The former flag that was depicted in the book was the Flag of Korean Empire, which had a different taegeuk from that in the current South Korean flag. We can also notice that the depiction in the book is left-right reversed from the current flag, and the arrangement of the trigrams was not officially fixed until the South Korean government was established in 1948.

Taegeuki by Park YoungHyo

Taegeuki by Park YoungHyo

Secondly, the flag that Park YoungHyo used when he went to Japan after he received an order from Emperor Gojong is used as a reference as well. There is a record that says he drew 4 trigrams with a taegeuk in the center and has notified Joseon on October 3rd, 1882.

The flag of the king of the Joseon Dynasty

The flag of the king of the Joseon Dynasty

Shortly after on March 6th 1883, Gojong promulgated Taegeuki as Joseon’s national flag. It is known that the Taegeuki was made after it was modified from Taegeuk Eight Trigrams (태극팔괘도) which was a personal standard of the King of the Joseon Dynasty.


Our current national flag was adopted in October 1997 and it consists the same 3 parts as previous flags: a white background, a red and blue taegeuk in the middle, and four black trigrams on each corner of the flag.

First of all, the background is white, which is a traditional Korean colour, meaning our nation’s purity and peace.


The taegeuk mark in the center is derived from the philosophy of yin-yang and represents the balance of the universe. The blue part represents the negative cosmic forces, and the red section represents the opposing positive cosmic forces.

The 4 trigrams on each corner were selected from the original eight, which included: Earth, Thunder, Fire, Lake, Heaven, Wind, Water, and Mountain. The four trigrams that represent the most fundamental element of the universe were chosen and these are the heaven, water, fire, and earth.

Palgwae_Geon_svgFirst of all, the trigram at the top left corner is called Geon, which represents the heaven. It also represents summer, south, father, fire (for the Five Primary Substance), and vitality.

Palgwae_Ri_svg Secondly, the trigram at the bottom left corner is called Ri, which represents the fire. It also represents spring, east, son, wood (for the Five Primary Substance), and growth.

Palgwae_Gam_svg Thirdly, the trigram at the top right corner is called Gam, which represents the water. It also represents autumn, west, daughter, metal (for the Five Primary Substance), and fruition.

Palgwae_Gon_svg Lastly, the trigram at the bottom right corner is called Gon, which represents the earth. It also represents winter, north, mother, water (for the Five Primary Substance) and the beginning.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Liberation Day. Please take a moment in your day to pay your respect to all the fallen heroes who died fighting for Korea’s independence. Rest in Peace.

Categories: 2015

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