[KS] North Korean Flag & national emblem

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Wed Dec 26 09:44:36 EST 2012

Happy Holidays to Everyone.

Just an additional detail (not about some statue but the more 
meaningful, more symbolic North Korean flag).
Professor Yong-ho Choe wrote:

> Also, for the creation of the National Flag of North Korea, this is
> what Mr. Pak told me. On another occasion, he was asked by Chistiakov
> and Shstykov to explain the meaning of the old Korean national
> flag--now the T'aegukki of South Korea. When he explained to them the
> yin-yang principle of the T'aeguk and the hexagrams, the Soviet
> leaders were very upset, saying that's a superstition. Not long after
> that, the Russian authorities came up with a new flag, and that is the
> present North Korean national flag.

That makes sense. Let me add here that the person who was given the 
commission to design both, the new 1948 DPRK flag as well as the 
national emblem, was the well-known painter Kim Chu-gyŏng 金周經 
(1902-1981). As for yin-yang (resp. ŭm-yang) and the Russian aversion 
against that, please have a second closer look at that flag: the flag, 
in Korea mostly referred to by its short form "in'gonggi," does not 
show the overlapping hammer and sickle (☭) symbol as the Soviet flag 
and countless national flags of nations under the Soviet umbrella did, 
and not the later Korean hammer, sickle, and writing brush version 
either. It shows a five-pointed star (⁎) sitting on two legs (like the 
asterisk), colored solidly in red. Such a red star as such was 
certainly a typical symbol used by the Soviets to symbolize socialism, 
no doubt about that, no doubt that Kim Chu-gyŏng was somewhat limited 
by his new--at the time entirely Soviet--toolbox. But look again a bit 
closer and note that this red five-pointed star on two legs sits on (or 
within) a white colored circle, and the arms touch that circle. Note 
that this is often in more recent, imprecise fag reproductions not the 
case. But they should touch according to the original design--please 
see e.g. its depiction in following photo of the North Korean Arirang 
mass games (middle of page):
That gets us to a pentacle! In European and Middle Eastern history you 
will find pentacles with both, stars on one leg and on two legs (as 
here). Now, before you might look this up on and get directed to 
'strange' places, let us recall that Kim Chu-gyŏng was trained in 
Western oil painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, and that he was 
more than familiar with Western art history and symbolism. Someone like 
Kim would most certainly not want to produce a Soviet-style red star 
and coincidentally end up with a pentacle--that is completely 
unthinkable if you know a little more about the man and his work during 
the colonial period, where he had been one of the leading Western-style 
painters, since the 1930s very successful with his Post-Impressionist 
style, and in the later 1930s and early 40s someone who had found his 
individual experimental style, often using stark colors as they came 
out the tube (likely also being influenced by Surrealism). Kim is 
someone who prepared his landscape paintings like an architect would 
plan the construction of military barracks; in other words, they all 
look a bit like a depiction of Stanford U campus, just with surreal 
coloring schemes applied. There is a flood of information on how an 
ideogram such as the pentacle was used, but if you reduce that to art 
it all boils down to symbolizing the elements earth, fire, water, air, 
and spirit--a magical diagram of the Universe, or however you want to 
entitle it. Leonardo da Vinci has played with it in his "Vitruvian Man" 
(1487)--maybe you have that on your mouse pad, T-shirt, or coffee 
mug--and almost every other Renaissance artist has. I suggest we do not 
concentrate too much on the various interpretations around the pentacle 
over history and cultural region: important is that Kim Chu-gyŏng was a 
talented as well as head-strong painter trained in Western painting and 
modernism, and that he choose the pentacle because it is at its base 
just the same as what we read in the Yi Jing 易經 (better known in its 
Wade-Giles transcription as I Ching, the Book of Changes) with its 
hexagrams. I would say that this was a clever and appropriate way to 
circumvent Soviet criticism while not changing the essential yin-yang 
symbolism the historically older t'aegŭkki (today still the ROK flag) 

As also mentioned, Kim Chu-gyŏng also designed the DPRK national emblem 
(국장, Coat of Arms). For those not familiar with it, here a link:
Click on the "Emblem" (middle) itself for a larger reproduction.
As an elected member of the drafting committee of the first DPRK 
constitution it seems almost natural that Kim Chu-gyŏn was being asked 
to design flag and national emblem. He also became the first director 
of P'yŏngyang Art School, later to become P'yŏngyang Art University. As 
I had mentioned before, to me the design of the national emblem with 
its hydroelectric power plant and the shining red start over Paektu-san 
in the center, and with the crops on the sides, that looks to me like a 
perfect symbiosis of other socialist nations' emblems (Bulgaria, etc.) 
with the particular constructed, geometrically and mechanically 
calculated style Kim had painted his desolate landscapes all through 
the 1940s (and even into the later, North Korean period). So, apart 
from all the hype about impersonal socialist art styles--and for 
something like a national flag and a national emblem that can be 
expected--I still see a lot of personal stylistic expression here, and 
personal solutions also (in case of the flag) to express traditional 
symbolism within an otherwise clearly Soviet dominated period. 

 [NOTE to Korean bloggers and 'researchers' who kindly copied similar 
notes I made years earlier: please at least be so considerate to 
mention the source of your wisdom when reproducing this. I'll otherwise 
name your names and send you an invoice. Many thanks.]

All the best for 2013!

Frank Hoffmann

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