Culture History

Who’s on Korean money? Why Koreans were called ‘white-clothes people’?

RELATED : Where did the name ‘Korea’ originate? Korea in different times – Goryeo, Joseon, and The Korean Empire. Yi Sun-Shin 이순신 – The legendary Korean war hero and his “turtle ship”.


Toegye Yi Hwang 퇴계이황 (1501-1570) was a leading thinker, educator, painter, and Neo-Confucianist scholar of Joseon. The painting on the back of the ₩1,000-won note is Gyesangjeonggeodo 계상정거도, a work by Gyeomjae Jeongseon 겸재 정선, a master of landscape painting. The painting, created in 1746, depicts the surrounding landscape of Dosan Seodang 도산서당, where Toegye Yi Hwang stayed during his lifetime.

100 Icons of Korean Culture Ep53C01 Toegye Yi Hwang

Yulgok Yi I 율곡이이 (1536 – 1584) was a prominent Confucian scholar of the Joseon Dynasty. If Toegye fully understood Neo-Confucianism, Yi I successfully indigenized it. On the back of the ₩5,000-won note is Chochungdo 초충도 (painting of grass and insects) painted by Sin Saimdang 신사임당, his mother. It was originally painted on eight folding screens, and on the note are a “Watermelon and Grasshopper” and a “Cockscomb and Frog.”


King Sejong The Great 세종대왕 (1397-1450) is one of the most beloved and respected figures in Korea. Known as the King of humanity, he tried to develop and improve all the daily aspects of his people, including education, history, geography, politics, economy, agriculture, medicine, music, and religion.  To predict nature to prevent damage to farming, King Sejong worked hard with scientists such as Jang Yeong-sil, Park Yeon, and Jeong Cho to create a device called Honcheonui 혼천의, which was able to measure the location of the sun, moon, and the five planets, and it is featured on the back of the ₩10,000-won note.

RELATED : Who invented hangul 한글 the Korean alphabet?

We strongly recommend that you watch Bburigipeun Namu 뿌리깊은 나무 (Deep Rooted Tree, 2011, SBS) the story of King Sejong The Great and hangul creation!

Bburigipeun Namu 뿌리깊은 나무 (Deep Rooted Tree, 2011, SBS)

Or, for you Civilization fans out there you can play the Korean civilization featuring King Sejong The Great!

King Sejong the Great, sitting on the Phoenix Throne at Gyeongbokgung Palace is the leader of the Koreans in Sid Meier’s Civilization V!

Sid Meier’s Civilization V: The Complete Edition – PC

Or, check out this new novel KING SEJONG THE GREAT by Joe Menosky writer of the “Star Trek” (한글판)

Sin Saimdang 신사임당 (1504 – 1551) was a genius painter and a poet of the early Joseon period. As the mother of Yulgok Yi I, she was revered as a model for a good wife and a wise mother. Sin Saimdang loved Sagunja 사군자, or the “Four Gracious Plants (plum, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo).”The painting on the back of the note, called Wolmaedo 월매도 is not a painting by Sin Saimdang, but it is said to be the most famous and outstanding painting of plum blossoms painted during the mid-Joseon period.

Saimdang, Memoir of Colors 사임당, 빛의 일기 (SBS, 2017)

Some useful resources on Korean painting –

Court Paintings from the Joseon Dynasty (Visual Korean Heritage) [Amazon]

Traditional Painting: Window on the Korean Mind [Amazon]

Folk Painting: Handbook of Korean Art [Amazon]


Hwacha 화차 was a Joseon Dynasty weapon that could fire hundreds of rocket-powered arrows or iron-headed arrows out of a gun barrel at the same time!

Mythbusters – Hwacha – The super rocket pod
Shingijeon 신기전 (The Divine Weapon, 2008)


Oppert, a Jewish businessman from Germany, wrote during his visit to Joseon in a book titled Ein verschlossenes land, reisen nach Corea, that, “Men and women, their clothes are white,” and Laguerie, a Far East correspondent from France, also wrote, “Everyone is dressed in white.” (1832) Koreans often enjoy using the word baekeuiminjok 백의민족, which literally means “white-clothes people (white-clad people)” when referring to themselves. But the fact that such an expression isn’t found in old historical records makes it likely that it wasn’t a long-held tradition and that the nickname comes from how Koreans were viewed in the eyes of the foreigners who visited Korea during the late Joseon Dynasty when the popularity of white clothes rose significantly. Quite convincing! Then why did Koreans enjoy wearing white clothes? There are many theories about the reason, but opinions are divided. First, there is a theory that Koreans have long been fond of wearing white as a symbol of worshiping the sun. The second theory is an economic reason. Clothes with colors (court costumes were colorful and commoners also wore colorful costumes when there were special events such as weddings) were relatively expensive, so commoners could not afford them, and white would naturally have been worn by the majority of the population. During the Japanese occupation, it became a symbol of the anti-Japanese resistance movement when the Japanese encouraged Koreans to wear colored clothes instead of white clothes, and Koreans saw it as an attempt to suppress national spirit.

RELATED : Do Koreans wear kimono? HANBOK 한복 – Traditional Korean Clothes : Hanbok in different times – History of Hanbok

Check out beautiful hanbok products on Amazon

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