The National Flag of Korea
The Korean flag (태극기) is called "Taegeukgi" in Korean. Its design symbolizes the principles of the yin and yang in Oriental philosophy. The circle in the center of the Korean flag is divided into two equal parts. The upper red section represents the proactive cosmic forces of the yang. Conversely, the lower blue section represents the responsive cosmic forces of the yin. The two forces together embody the concepts of continual movement, balance and harmony that characterize the sphere of infinity. The circle is surrounded by four trigrams, one in each corner. Each trigram symbolizes one of the four universal elements: heaven (), earth (), fire (), and water ().
Hangeul – Korean Official Alphabet
Hangeul (한글), Korean official alphabet, was first invented by King Sejong during the Joseon Dynasty. Originally called Hunminjeongeum (훈민정음), the language was conceived in 1443, and further promulgated by the King in 1446. At the time of its inception, the language consisted of 17 consonants and 11 vowels however, since then, 3 of the originally established consonants and 1 vowel have fallen into disuse bringing the total number of characters to 24. Syllables are formed by the selective combination of vowels and consonants to create words.
The official name for the Korean language was changed to 'Hangeul' in 1910. Hunminjeongeum Proclamation Day was called ‘Gagya Proclamation Day’ up until 1926, and it wasn’t until 1928 that it was changed to its current title, ‘Hangeul Proclamation Day’.
The chart below represents the 24 Hangeul characters together with their romanized equivalents. 'The Hunminjeongeum,' a historical document which provides instructions to educate people on the use of Hangeul, is registered with UNESCO. UNESCO awards a 'King Sejong Literacy Prize,' every year in memory of the inventor of Hangeul.
|Hangeul written in syllabic units made up of two, three, or four letters.|
Religion & Beliefs
Buddhism first made its way into Korea in the 2nd year (A.D. 372) of the reign of King Sosurim of the Goguryeo Kingdom. After its introduction, Buddhism exerted a powerful influence in the Baekje Kingdom and Silla Kingdom. The Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Grotto, which are designated as World Cultural Heritage sites by UNESCO, are Buddhist creations from the Silla Kingdom that are said to reflect the importance of Buddhism at this time.
Buddhism has exercised a far-reaching influence on Korean culture throughout its long history. Korea’s invaluable Buddhist heritage abides in the nation’s buildings, sculptures, paintings and handicrafts.
Protestantism & Catholicism
Protestantism came to Korea after the signing of the Korean-American Treaty in 1882. Since Christianity challenged the basic values of Joseon society, its believers were subject to persecution in the early years, but as Christians took an increasingly active role in the anti-colonial struggle against the Japanese and churches promoted more educational opportunities, Christianity gained more acceptance. Today Korean churches evangelize abroad, and approximately twenty five percent of the Korean population is Christian. Catholicism first came to Korea as a western academic theory. Korean tributary missions to the imperial court of China took an interest in Jesuit missionary books and brought them back to Korea for further study. In 1784, the first Korean was baptized in Beijing and returned to Korea to set up a house of worship. Despite considerable persecution by the government, numerous people joined the Catholic Church. Presently, over two million people in Korea belong to the Catholic church.
Confucianism was a common philosophy in ancient Korea that brought about profound changes and exerted considerable influence on the Korean people. It has become an indispensable component of the Korean moral system, way of life, and national law. Confucianism, which was the major philosophy of the Joseon Dynasty, eventually gave rise to ‘Silhak,’ or ‘practical learning.’ Confucianism has deeply permeated the consciousness of Korean people and can be seen today in many forms, including two ceremonies that continue today: ‘Jongmyo Jerye,’ the royal ancestral service at Jongmyo Shrine, and ‘Seokjeon Daeje,’ the worship rites at the Seonggyungwan in honor of Confucius, his disciples, and other celebrated Chinese and Korean Confucian scholars.
Various shamanistic practices are deeply ensconced in Korean life. Modern shamanism still remains very similar to folk beliefs from ancient times, as it has remained relatively uninfluenced by Buddhist tradition. It is closely related to the rituals of primitive cults and communal rites for the gods of heaven. Even today, Shamanism in Korea is a practice that seeks to solve human problems through a meeting between humans and the spirits. This fundamental principle can be seen in the various types of shamanistic rites which are still widely practiced today.
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