Korean Textbooks over the Years: A Window into Korean Education
The national flag and national anthem of a country are among the first things to come to mind when one thinks of national symbols. A national flag symbolizes a nation's authority and dignity, and uses specific shapes and colors to represent national ideals and traditions. The body of the flag waving against a blue sky has even been described as a "silent shout" (Chihwan Yu, "A Flag"). Because it is a physical object, the national flag is a visual symbol; the national anthem, on the other hand, represents the nation’s dignity, honor, and ideals through song. Meanwhile, the national flower is a flower that symbolizes the character and emotion of a nation.
Generally, the national flower is a flower with a deep connection to that country's environment, climate, history, and culture. Although there is no special law stipulating a national flower in Korea, the Rose of Sharon, known in Korean as mugunghwa (무궁화), is widely regarded to be Korea’s national flower. In a passage from the 1946 Middle School Korean Textbook, we can find a presumption that "Our national flower is the Rose of Sharon":
We love the Rose of Sharon not because someone appointed it as our national flower, but rather because the Rose of Sharon has bloomed in every corner of Korea since very long time ago. Even foreigners recognize its beauty, and we also call our country the Garden of Rose of Sharon.
Even the chorus in Korea’s national anthem says, "Rose of Sharon throughout Korea's splendid rivers and mountains; Korean people, cherish Korea as Korean land forever!" Taegeukgi, Korea's national flag, and the Rose of Sharon, Korea's national flower, have constantly appeared in the front of Korean ethics, language, and social science textbooks over the years to impress upon students the importance of the national flag and flower. We should keep in mind that regardless of era, textbooks have been used as tools for educating the people of a nation. Textbooks are also invaluable tools for teaching democratic values to the citizenry. For example, students will be reminded by these symbols of where they belong and of the obligations they will need to fulfill as citizens. They will learn that as productive members of society, they should hold important values such as respect for the law, respect for human rights, respect for authority, justice, diversity, freedom, and fairness dear to their hearts.
YeonghyoPark (1861-1939), a Korean envoy and ambassador with plenipotentiary powers, first thought of the original design for Korea's national flag, Taegeukgi, while setting out for a trip to Japan on August 9, 1882. Taegeukgi has been used as Korea's national flag ever since. Now, Taegeukgi flies as far as the North Pacific Ocean on Korea's deep sea fishing vessels and in the Antarctic King Sejong Station.
As a national flag, Taegeukgioften carries hints of the nostalgia that lies deep in the heart of all Koreans, and because of this, the national flag has the ability to unite all of the people of a nation into one. For example, when Korean Olympic medalists stood on the victory stand and lifted their heads up to Taegeukgi, it filled the hearts of all Koreans. When these athletes were moved to tears, Koreans, too, were moved to tears. Watching Korean soccer players wearing the taeguk symbol on their uniforms, sweating and cheering in a far-off stadium, tugged at the heartstrings of every Korean.
We should keep in mind that only when a nation is independent can its national flag fly freely, because the suffering of a nation will result in the suffering of the national flag, as it will become no longer able to exert its national sovereignty. When that is the case, the national anthem, too, is no longer a song symbolizing the country, and the national flower’s status becomes devalued to that of just one of the many flowers or plants growing on the ground.