If there is one word to capture the essence of the Korean diaspora, it would be “Arirang.” Arirang is a Korean folk song that is often considered the unofficial national anthem of Korea. It is believed that the first mention of the song dates back to 1756. In an 1896 essay, Homer B. Hulbert, an American missionary in Korea, wrote: “To the average Korean, this one song holds the same place in music that rice does in his food — all else is mere appendage. You hear it everywhere and at all times.” Over the years, the song has absorbed varied cultural meanings, whether at home or among the diaspora. During the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945, Arirang became a resistance anthem against imperial Japanese rule. If there ever was a song to encapsulate the Korean diaspora, it would be Arirang. Simply put, Arirang captures the heart of Korea and it’s synonymous in many ways with what it means to be Korean, no matter where they live in this world.
The word “arirang” itself is nonsensical and does not have a precise meaning in Korean. While there are many versions of the song, the themes of sorrow, separation, reunion, and love appear in most versions. As the music historian E. Taylor Atkins wrote: “ ‘Arirangs’ have articulated the sorrow of lovers parting, the injustices of life for common people, the nostalgia for one’s hometown, the disorientation experienced during periods of dramatic change or the resolve to persevere and conquer oppression.” In other words, what Arirang articulates is the history of Korea and its people.
Arirang – as a song, as a concept, as a name – is omnipresent. There are many products and brands in Korea that are named “Arirang.” Arirang TV (which produced some of the documentaries and TV specials related to the Korean Diaspora featured on our website) is a global, English-language television network based in Seoul, Korea. Arirang TV began airing on February 3, 1997. It is operated by the non-profit Korean International Broadcasting Foundation and is financially supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Korean government. The channel airs different programming in different countries, but generally airs news, cultural programs, educational shows and documentaries.