Arirang and the Korean Nation

Arirang arirang arariyo

I Cross over Arirang Pass

… … …

Arirang is a typical folk song of the Korean nation. The Korean people are still fond of singing Arirang, despite the elapse of long ages since its birth.

The song began to be sung among the locals of western region of the Korean peninsula in the late 14th century. As a simple song about romantic story of a couple, it reflects the unanimous aspiration and desire of the then people who wanted to lead a happy life in a bright world.

With its gentle and graceful melody the song is run through with the ideological sentiments of the Korean people who love their native place and country. For this reason its ideological and thematic scope has been broadened over a long historical period, and the song spawned many local varieties like Kosong Arirang and Tanchon Arirang.


Arirang was sung as a song to express the resistance of the Korean people against the Japanese imperialists during their military occupation (1905-1945) of Korea. In 1929 the Japanese imperialists issued a decree on banning singing the song under the pretext that it disturbed public security. Besides they removed the lyric of the song from the Korean song albums and prohibited the production and sales of records on which the song was stored. However, the Korean people sang Arirang more loudly as a demonstration of their resistance against the Japanese imperialist police who forced them to sing Japanese songs. They dreamed of the day of national liberation singing the song.

In August 1936 Son Ki Jong took the men’s marathon gold medal at the Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany. When he entered the stadium ahead of all other runners, wearing a Japanese national flag on his chest, the Korean spectators cheered him singing Arirang. This demonstrated the national identity of the Korean people.

After the liberation of their country the Korean people built a new democratic country and promoted the postwar rehabilitation and socialist construction, dancing to the tune of Arirang.

Arirang has been the mental companion of the Korean people, good times and bad. It changed into a song with various forms of melodies and emotions for a long period of time.

3615491605_5159c0c80d The social climate of army-people unity—both treasuring and helping each other—finds expression in the song related to Arirang. And described in the song Arirang of Prosperity is the laughter of the Korean people who enjoy happiness in their socialist country. In those days the Korean people created the songSongun Arirang which highly praises the revolutionary exploits of Chairman Kim Jong Il who safeguarded the destiny of the country and nation on the strength of Songun politics.

Arirang symbolizes and represents the Korean nation.

That’s why Koreans from north, south and abroad sang Arirang of Reunification as a display of their aspiration for reunification and agony caused by national division on several occasions including pan-national reunification concerts. Members of unified teams of north and south of Korea cheered and played in international games, singing Arirang. Players from the north and the south sang Arirang when they jointly took part in the opening ceremony of the 27th Sydney Olympic Games. Today many brands, restaurants and shops named after Arirang can be seen wherever Koreans live in the world.

Arirang has been adapted to various forms of orchestral music, songs, symphonies, instrumental ensembles, theme music of films, dances, etc.

Silent film Arirang produced in 1926, symphonic concert composed on the basis of Arirang in 1976, story Arirang, song Arirang which plays an important descriptive role in the multi-part film The Nation and Destiny and mass gymnastic and artistic performance Arirang, winner of Kim Il Sung Prize, which was registered in the Guinness Book of World Records in August 2007…

The folk song Arirang is indeed a precious cultural heritage of the Korean nation with a history of several thousands of years.

It was registered on the typical list of intangible cultural heritage of humankind in the 9th session of UNESCO inter-governmental commission for protection of intangible cultural heritage, which was held in Paris, France between November 24 and 28, 2014.

The Ancient Story of Arirang

Rirang is the name of a man loved by a girl named Songbu. They were both slaves. They promised each other that they would one day get married, but there was a conflict. Their master liked the very sweet and beautiful Songbu. One day, the master sent Rirang to a far off place on an errand, and later that night the master entered Songbu’s room. Songbu resisted. Rirang came home from his errand and was shocked to find Songbu together with their master.

Rirang misunderstood the whole situation, and out of rage killed their master. Furious and upset, Rirang decided to leave Songbu forever.

Songbu tried to explain and appealed to him not to leave her alone, but Rirang did not listen and left.

Songbu, sorrowful and grieved, decided to commit suicide. She made a song, now called “Ah Rirang!” right before she killed herself.

The text of the song, as sung in the Arirang Mass Games, is translated as:

Ah Rirang, Ah Rirang, Ah my dear Rirang.
Ah Rirang, why do you cross over the hill alone?
If you leave me and go alone.
Your feet will get tired after walking only 1 mile.