Suparna Mitra, Kolkata, West Bengal
Henry Ward Beecher said,” A thoughtful mind, when it sees a national flag, see not the flag, but the nation itself.”
The flag of Republic of South Korea is known as Taegeukgi and it embodies the vision of Korean people who like the universe, seek continuous creation and enrichment by upholding the spirit and significance of the Taegeukgi. Korean people seek to realise the unity and unification which their flag symbolises and contribute to happiness and peace of humanity. Korean people take pride in their national flag, which has an interesting history.
There are many questions that come to our mind when we talk about the history of Taegeukgi, such as: what was before this? When and why was it designed? Who designed it? Did it always look like the flag it looks in the present day? Let’s discuss all these questions one by one.
What was there before Taegeukgi?
Before 1870, South Korea or the united Korea had no official flag. Joseon dynasty and the others which ruled before, used official stamp or seal to give orders or empower any rule. The same symbol which was engraved in the seal was used as the symbol in the flag, but it was different for every dynasty.
When and why was it designed?
It’s around the time when King Go-jong was ruling Korea and he introduced a new policy of closing the doors to European powers. In 1869, Japanese envoy from Meiji government arrived in Korea carrying a letter requesting to establish a goodwill mission between the two countries. However, Joseon Government refused to receive the envoy. In 1875, the Japanese gun ship reached at Ganghwa Island, in the western coastal area of Korea, which had been a confrontation between Korea and other foreign countries, to take control over the yellow sea.
Therefore, as a result, the Korean fort fired on the Japanese gun boat. The Japanese gun boat used superior gun power and silenced the Korean guns. There was a fierce battle between the Japanese and Korean troops. Japan named this as the Gunboat diplomacy and forced Joseon Government to sign an unequal treaty, which is known as Japan Korea Treaty 1876 or The Treaty of Ganghwa.
At the event of negotiations of the treaty, Empire of Japan used their National flag, but Joseon Government had no such flag to hang. It was the first time the issue of a national flag arose. They thought of using a flag but not with priority. This issue remained unpursued for some period, remerging with the negotiations of the Shufeldt Treaty between USA and Korea in1882.
To represent the sovereignty of Korea, they used a flag which had a red and black Taeguk in the middle, proposed by Ma Jianzong, a scholar and official of the Qing Dynasty of China. But it was not the official flag of Korean government.
Who designed it?
Park Yeong-hyo, made a scale model of Taegeugki, and presented it to the Joseon Government on 22nd August, 1882. King Go-jong of Joseon officially promulgated it as the national flag of Korea on 27th February, 1883.
Did it always look like the present flag?
No, infact the national flag of South Korea has changed many times before. The color of Taeguk and shape was little bit different than how it is now. From the year it was designed in 1883, the Taeguk was more spiral in shape. The top of the Taeguk was red and the bottom was blue.
After that period up to 1893, the top of the Taeguk was blue and the bottom was red and the place of two trigrams among the four were interchanged. During the Empire of Japan, Ahn Joong-geon, a Korean independence activist, designed a flag and there was no trigram in it. He used some Chinese alphabet in place of the trigram. In the flag of the Provisional Government of Korea, the Taeguk was divided vertically into two parts. Left of the Taeguk was blue and the right of the Taeguk was red in colour, and the shape was not as spiral as it was before.
Then from 1949 to 1997, the flag of the Korean government has been used and was very similar to the present day Taegeukgi. Only the shade of red and blue was different and the 4 trigram was re-placed to its previous position when it was designed. After 1997, the colour of Taeguk was changed twice. The colour scheme of Taeguk was unspecified until 1997, when the South Korean Government decided to standardize specifications for the flag. In October 1997, a presidential ordinance on the standard specification of the South Korean flag was promulgated, and that specification was acceded by the National Flag Law in July 2007. The present structure of the national flag of The Republic of South Korea is being used since 2011.
South Korea is a country that we all love. We love their culture. We love their history too. Hope this article added something to your knowledge about the history of Korean people’s pride, their national flag, Taegeukgi. Let us know in the comments!