"Arirang" (아리랑; [a.ɾi.ɾaŋ]) is a Korean folk song that is often considered to be the anthem of Korea. There are about 3,600 variations of 60 different versions of the song, all of which include a refrain similar to, "Arirang, arirang, arariyo (아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요)" It is estimated the song is more than 600 years old.
|Arirang in North Korea|
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|Arirang in South Korea|
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"Arirang" is included twice on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. South Korea successfully submitted the song for inclusion on the UNESCO list in 2012. North Korea also successfully submitted the song for inclusion in 2014. In 2015, the South Korean Cultural Heritage Administration added the song to its list of important intangible cultural assets.
The song is sung today in both North and South Korea, a symbol of unity in an otherwise divided region, since the Korean War.
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It is believed that "Arirang" originated in Jeongseon, Gangwon Province. "Arirang" as a term today is ambiguous in meaning, but some linguists have hypothesized that "ari" (아리) might have meant "beautiful" in ancient Korean and that "rang" (랑) might have been a way of referring to a "groom." According to a legend, the name is derived from the story of a bachelor and a maiden who fell in love while picking Camellia blossoms near the wharf at Auraji (아우라지) — a body of water which derives its name from the Korean word "eoureojida" (어우러지다) that translates to something close to "be in harmony" or "to meet," like Auraji connects the waters of Pyeongchang and Samcheok to the Han River. There are two versions of this story. In the first one, the bachelor cannot cross the Auraji to meet the maiden because the water is too high and so, they sing a song to express their sorrow. In the second version, the bachelor attempts to cross the Auraji and drowns, singing the sorrowful song after he dies.
According to Pete Seeger, who sang the song in concert in the 1960s, the song goes back to the 1600s when a despotic emperor was imprisoning people right and left who had opposed him. He hung these prisoners from tall pine trees on top of the hill of Arirang, located outside Seoul. Legend states that one of the prisoners condemned to death, walked his final miles singing of how much he loved his country, and how much he hated to say goodbye to it. It was soon picked up by the other prisoners, where it became a Korean tradition that any man had the right to sing this song before his execution.
The first known recording of "Arirang" was made in 1896 by American ethnologist Alice C. Fletcher. At her home in Washington, D.C., Fletcher recorded three Korean students singing a song she called "Love Song: Ar-ra-rang." One source suggests that the students belonged to noble Korean families and were studying abroad at Howard University during the period in which the recording was made.  Another source suggests that the singers were Korean workers who happened to be living in America during that time. The recordings are currently housed in the U.S. Library of Congress.
During the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945, when singing was censored heavily and it became a criminal offense for anyone to be singing any patriotic song including the national anthem of Korea, Arirang became an unofficial anthem. "Arirang" became a resistance anthem against Imperial Japanese rule. Korean protesters sang "Arirang" during the March 1 Movement, a Korean demonstration against the Japanese Empire in 1919. Many of the variations of "Arirang" that were written during the occupation contain themes of injustice, the plight of labourers, and guerrilla warfare. It was also sung by the mountain guerrillas who were fighting against the fascists. 
The most well-known lyrics to "Arirang" first appeared in the 1926 silent film Arirang, directed by Na Woon-gyu. Arirang is now considered a lost film but various accounts say the film was about a Korean student who became mentally ill after being imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese. The film was a hit upon its release and is considered the first Korean nationalist film.
Popularity in JapanEdit
During the Japanese occupation of Korea, Japan experienced a craze for Korean culture and for "Arirang", in particular. Over 50 Japanese versions of "Arirang" were released between 1931 and 1943, in genres including pop, jazz, and mambo. Some of the former Japanese Imperial soldiers remember and sing "Arirang" from the memories they recollect from their service in Japanese Korea, or from the Korean comfort women (sex slaves) or the Korean forcefully-inscripted labourers and soldiers.
All versions of "Arirang" include a refrain similar to, "Arirang, arirang, arariyo (아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요)." The word "arirang" itself is nonsensical and does not have a precise meaning in Korean. It is, however, a palindrome in hangul. While the other lyrics vary from version to version, the themes of sorrow, separation, reunion, and love appear in most versions.
While "Jeongseon Arirang" is generally considered to be the original version of the song, "Bonjo Arirang" (literally: Standard Arirang) from Seoul is one of the most famous versions. This version was first made popular when it was used as the theme song of the influential 1926 film Arirang.
Other famous variations include "Jindo Arirang" from South Jeolla Province, a region known for being the birthplace of Korean folk music genres pansori and sinawi; and "Miryang Arirang" from South Gyeongsang Province.
Both South Korea and North Korea submitted "Arirang" to be included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. South Korea successfully submitted the song for inclusion in 2012. North Korea successfully submitted the song for inclusion in 2014.
The U.S. Army's 7th Infantry Division adopted "Arirang" as its official march song in May 1956, after receiving permission from Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea. The division had been stationed in Korea from 1950 to 1953, during the Korean War.
In popular cultureEdit
- American composer John Barnes Chance based his 1962-63 concert band composition Variations on a Korean Folk Song on a version of "Arirang" that he heard in Korea in the late 1950s.
- The New York Philharmonic performed "Arirang" for an encore during its trip to North Korea on February 26, 2008.
- In November 2013, the student choir at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies performed "Arirang" in English, Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic and Korean.
- Arirang is the title of early Korean filmmaker Na Woon-gyu's influential 1926 film, which popularized the song "Arirang" in the 20th century.
- Arirang is also the title of a 2011 South Korean documentary. The film won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard category at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
- Arirang TV and Arirang Radio are international English-language media stations run by the Korea International Broadcasting Foundation.
- North Korea's mass gymnastics and performance festival is commonly known as the Arirang Festival.
- At the 2000 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Sydney, Australia, South Korean and North Korean athletes marched into the stadium together carrying the Korean Unification Flag while "Arirang" played.
- South Korean fans used "Arirang" as a cheering song during the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
- South Korean figure skater Yuna Kim performed to "Arirang" during her free skate in the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships, where she placed second.
- Parts of "Arirang" were used many times during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, especially during the Opening Ceremony and in the Olympic Broadcasting Services TV Intro. During the gala show of figure skating, Choi Da-bin skated to "Arirang".
- At the 2018 Asian Games "Arirang" was played when the Korea Unification Team won the gold medal in canoeing
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