These days it is uncommon for national flags to have a deep philosophical meaning behind them. In this day and age, countries tend to have flags that incorporate symbols that signify geographical or political divison, historical events or even native flora and fauna. This is not so when it comes to the South Korean flag, or as the people of South Korea call it, Taegeukgi.

A brief History
Taegeukgi was created by a man called Pak Yeong-Hyo, who also happened to be the first to raise it. The flag made it's debut in 1882 when it was hoisted on ships that were part of Korea's first foreign envoy to Japan, at the request of King Gojong. For many years a rumour has been circulating that King Gojong created the flag himself in the early 1880's, however there is no evidence to back this claim up. Proclaimed the national flag in 1883, the design originally consisted of eight trigams instead of four. The number was reduced when a British captain complained about the design's complexity. Other slight alterations include the yin-yang symbol being rotated ninety degrees so it rests on it's side.

But what does it all mean?
Some Chinese people find it ironic that the Korean people use a Chinese symbol on the Korean flag. Although the Chinese lay claim to the symbol, the earliest yin-yang symbol was found inscribed in stone in Korea. Apart from this, Korean people believed heavily in confuscianism and it reflected their beliefs.

The concept of yin-yang represents opposing forces in the universe. The red upper half, yang, traditionally represents the sky, masculine, brightness, etc. whereas yin depicts earth, feminism and darkness. The white background on the flag signifies purity, peace and light. The line patterns on the flag are known as trigams, and also follow the oriental philosophy behind yin yang. If you have ever seen the flag you would notice that the line patterns are made up of complete and broken lines; here yang portrays the complete lines and yin represents the broken.

The four trigams:

IIIIIIIIIIII
IIIIIIIIIIII  = Kun / Geon = Heaven or Justice
IIIIIIIIIIII

IIIIIIIIIIII
IIIII  IIIII  = Yi / i = Fire or Wisdom
IIIIIIIIIIII

IIIII  IIIII  
IIIIIIIIIIII  = Kam / Gam = Water or Life
IIIII  IIIII  

IIIII  IIIII  
IIIII  IIIII  = Kon / Gon = Earth or Fertility
IIIII  IIIII  

As was previously mentioned, four other line patterns were dropped from the flag to simplify the design. The ones that were kept are seen to hold most meaning as they express the basic elements of our world.

Days on which the flag is flown
It is expected that schools, military installations, public organisations and both national and local government offices fly the flag on their property. While the flag can be flown during all 24 hours of the day, schools and military installations only need to have the flag raised during daylight. If one was to fly the flag at night, it must be illuminated. The flag may be taken down during bad weather, eg. rain.

  • 1st January - New Years Day
  • 1st March - Independance Movement Day
  • 17th July - Constitution Day
  • 15th August - Liberation Day
  • 1st October - Armed Forces Day
  • 3rd October - National Foundation Day
  • 9th October - Hanguel Day

    The flag should also be raised on local holidays. On June 6th, Memorial Day, the flag is raised at half mast. This is also done during state and public funerals and national mourning periods.

    References cited:
    http://www.sogang.ac.kr/~burns/cult96/s900165.html
    http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2001/10/26/200110260072.asp
    http://www.rrb.net/Chungs/Flag%20History.htm
    http://www.korea.net/koreanet/national/taegeukgi.asp