History of Arirang

Traditional music of the korea Arirang

  • Arirang has achieved great social success, so to speak. Once a friend of those living in traditional rural areas, it was introduced to the capital city by travelling entertainers and sung by workers building Gyeongbokgung Palace in the mid-19th century. As such, Arirang went from being enjoyed in rural areas, to part of the mainstream culture and was widely enjoyed by the general public between the mid-19th to the early 20th century.
  • It was the workers who first fell in love with Arirang as they sang the melody while helping to construct the palace. But soon, Arirang became known to the king, the queen and court maids and further across the country beyond the capital. Arirang became a powerful force of urban culture.
  • After gaining a reputation among the general public, Arirang began to expand its scope thanks to collaborations with other fields. The first such collaboration was the filming of the song into a movie directed by Na Un-gyu. The movie with the same title, <Arirang>, created a huge sensation, and Arirang was able to further spread into other fields including poetry, novels, plays, dances, popular songs and new folk songs and was even used as the name of businesses.
  • In particular, the title song of the film, ‘Arirang’ struck a chord with the general public who was suffering under Japan’s occupation of Korea, and their love for Arirang went from a passing preference to a strong loyalty to the song. All Korean nationals, not simply the general public, developed a loyalty to the folk song, creating a cultural phenomenon.
  • The power of Arirang has been proved to be steadfast and long lasting. Today, efforts are made in almost all cultural areas to reflect the Korean people’s love and loyalty for Arirang. Arirang has become the subject of festivals, photography, paintings, calligraphy and other visual arts. In other words, Arirang is now universally found.
  • Arirang has played a powerful role in society as well. During the 2002 World Cup, people sang the song in unison to empower the players. When athletes of South Korea and North Korea played together as one team, Arirang was sung to unify the players and the peoples. More recently, Arirang lent its name to events held for social solidarity, including the Migrants’ Arirang Multicultural Festival in Changwon and the Marriage Immigrant Family Festival in Hwaseong.
  • Also, the fact that Arirang was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage suggests its international scope has expanded. While Arirang has been played by many foreign musicians, it now has a new mission as a cultural heritage that has a value for all of humanity. Arirang is expected to enhance its global initiative and continue to evolve.
  • Arirang, if it were a person, would be very impressed with what it has accomplished so far. It would have mixed feelings as it recalls old memories in rustic villages and considers its current status as a cultural phenomenon with unparalleled power.
  • <From ‘The Historic Development and Songs of Arirang’>