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Scouts BSA Scouts are quite familiar with the flag that they wear on their right shoulder: a stripe for each of the 13 colonies, a star for each of the 50 states, and colors signifying hardiness & valor (red), purity & innocence (white), vigilance, perseverance & justice (blue). However, with an eye towards the upcoming Jamboree in South Korea, we thought it might be fun to look into the meaning behind the flag of our hosts:

The flags of the United States (left) and the Republic of Korea (right). (Wikimedia Commons)

The idea of a national flag for Korea first came up in the 1870s when, during negotiations of a peace treaty with Japan, the Japanese delegation was represented by their national flag while the Korean delegates had no similar national symbol. The need for a flag was again noted in 1882, this time because of diplomatic negotiations with the United States. This time, king Kojong of the Joseon dynasty ordered a flag to be designed, and just a few months later in January 1883, the flag was approved with a very similar design to the one still used today. While outlawed during the years of Japanese occupation in the early 1900s, the flag was quickly reinstated during U.S. occupation and has remained unchanged since the 1950s.

Historical depictions of the taegukgi from 1882 (left) and 1919 (right). (Wikimedia Commons)

At the center of the flag is a circular design known as a taeguk, which has existed in Korean culture since the 5th century AD. The symbol traces to ancient China, and symbolizes harmony or balance in the form of equal amounts of negative and positive cosmic forces (yin and yang). In this form, the colors represent balance between land (red) and sky (blue). The symbol is common in multiple Korean religions, and is the source of the flag’s name, taeguki.

The flag is on a white background, which is a common color for traditional Korean clothing and represents peace and purity.

Finally, the four black symbols are trigrams known as gwae, and represent the four classic elements (clockwise from top left): sky, water, earth, and fire. Other things represented by the gwae include the four seasons, the cardinal directions, the historical celestial bodies (heaven, moon, earth, and sun), and the four roles of a traditional family (father, son, mother, and daughter).

As with many gatherings of people from multiple nations, flags will likely be a common site at the Jamboree. Now you can share with your troop the history of the Korean flag; we also encourage you to ask Scouts from other countries about the meanings of their flag designs!

A display of unity spotted near the end of the 2019 World Scout Jamboree, featuring the flags of multiple nations.

Source: I couldn’t find a higher quality picture, so I pulled this from a friend’s Facebook page.