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Revised Romanization Arirang
McCune–Reischauer Arirang
Arirang performed by the United States Army Band Strings with a tenor soloist

Arirang performed by the United States Army Band Chorus with a tenor soloist

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"Arirang" (Korean: "아리랑") is a Korean folk song, often considered the unofficial national anthem of Korea.[1]

In December 2012, the song was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity programme by UNESCO.[2][3] This was followed by an announcement by the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea of a five-year plan to promote and preserve the song. The plan is aim to support "Arirang" festivals by regional organizations, as well as building an archive for the song, exhibitions, fund research; of which it has allocated ₩33.6 billion.[4]


Many versions of the song open by describing the travails the subject of the song encounters while crossing a mountain pass. "Arirang" is one name for the pass and hence the title of the song. Some versions of "Arirang" mention Mungyeong Saejae, which is the main mountain pass on the ancient Joseon Dynasty road between Seoul and southeastern Gyeongsang Province.

There are apparently a number of passes in Korea called "Arirang Pass". One such is a pass among some hills in central-northeastern Seoul. That Arirang Pass, however, was originally called Jeongneung Pass and was only renamed in 1926, to commemorate the release of the film Arirang.[5] Older versions of the song long predate the movie.

Arirang Pass (아리랑 고개) is an imaginary rendezvous of lovers in the land of dreams, although there is a real mountain pass, called, "Arirang Gogae," outside the Small East Gate of Seoul. The heroine of the story from which the Arirang Song originated was a fair maid of Miryang. In fact, she was a modest woman killed by an unrequited lover. But as time went on, the tragic story changed to that of an unrequited lady-love who complained of her unfeeling lover. The tune is sweet and appealing. The story is recounted in "Miss Arirang" in Folk Tales of Old Korea (Korean Cultural Series, Vol. VI).


Many variations of the song exist. They can be grouped into classes based on the lyrics, when the refrain is sung, the nature of the refrain, the overall melody, and so on. Titles of different versions of the song are usually prefixed by their place of origin or some other kind of signifier.

The original form of Arirang is Jeongseon Arirang, which has been sung for more than 600 years. However the most famous version of Arirang is that of Seoul. It is the so-called Bonjo Arirang, although it is not actually "standard" (bonjo: 본조; 本調). This version is usually simply called Arirang, and is of relatively recent origin. It was first made popular by its use as the theme song of the influential early feature film Arirang (1926).[6] This version of the song is also called Sin Arirang (Shin; "new") or Gyeonggi Arirang, after its provenance, Seoul, which was formerly part of Gyeonggi Province. (The titles Bonjo Arirang and Sin Arirang are also sometimes applied to other versions of the song.)

Particularly famous folk versions of Arirang—all of which long predate the standard version—include:

Paldo Arirang is sometimes used to collectively denote all the many regional versions of the song, as sung in the far-flung regions of Korea's traditional Eight Provinces (Paldo).

The American composer John Barnes Chance based his 1967 concert band composition Variations on a Korean Folk Song on a version of Arirang which he heard in Korea in the late 1950s.


The table below gives the refrain (first two lines; the refrain precedes the first verse) and first verse (third and fourth lines) of the standard version of the song in Hangul, romanized Korean, and a literal English translation:

Korean original
English translation
아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요...
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다.
나를 버리고 가시는 님은
십리도 못가서 발병난다.
Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo...
Arirang gogaero neomeoganda.
Nareul beorigo gasineun nimeun
Simnido motgaseo balbbyeongnanda.
Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo...[7]
Crossing over Arirang Pass.[8]
Dear[9] who abandoned me [here]
Shall not walk even ten li[10] before his/her feet hurt.[11]

The standard version of Arirang (Seoul Arirang or Gyeonggi Arirang) has various verses, although other verses are not as frequently sung as the first verse. The lyrics are different from singer to singer  :

Korean original
English translation
청천하늘엔 잔별도 많고
우리네 가슴엔 희망도 많다
Cheongcheonghaneuren chanbyeoldo manko
Urine gaseumen huimangdo manta
Just as there are many stars in the clear sky,
There are also many dreams in our heart.
저기 저 산이 백두산이라지
동지 섣달에도 꽃만 핀다
Jeogi jeo sani Baekdusaniraji
Dongji seotdaredo kkonman pinda
There, over there that mountain is Baekdu Mountain,
Where, even in the middle of winter days, flowers bloom.


In all versions of the song, the refrain and each verse are of equal length. In some versions, such as the standard version and Jindo Arirang, the first refrain precedes the first verse, while in other versions, including Miryang Arirang, the first refrain follows the first verse. Perhaps the easiest way to classify versions—apart from melody, which can vary widely between different versions—is the lyrics of the refrain. In the standard and some other versions, the first line of the refrain is "Arirang, Arirang, arariyo...," while in both the Jindo Arirang and Miryang Arirang (which are otherwise quite different from each other), the first line of the refrain begins with "Ari arirang, seuri seurirang...." ("Arariyo" and "seurirang")

Korean original
아리랑 아리랑 아라리요
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다

Bonjo Arirang[edit]

English translation
If you leave and forsake me, my own,
Ere three miles you go, lame you'll have grown.
Wondrous time, happy time—let us delay;
Till night is over, go not away.
Arirang Mount is my Tear-Falling Hill,
So seeking my love, I cannot stay still.
The brightest of stars stud the sky so blue;
Deep in my bosom burns bitterest rue.
Man's heart is like water streaming downhill;
Woman's heart is well water—so deep and still.
Young men's love is like pinecones seeming sound,
But when the wind blows, they fall to the ground.
Birds in the morning sing simply to eat;
Birds in the evening sing for love sweet.
When man has attained to the age of a score,
The mind of a woman should be his love.
The trees and the flowers will bloom for aye,
But the glories of youth will soon fade away.

Miryang Arirang[edit]

Korean original
English translation
Look on me! Look on me! Look on me!
In midwinter, when you see a flower, please think of me!
Chorus: Ari-arirang! Ssuri-Ssurirang! Arariga nanne!
O'er Arirang Pass I long to cross today.
Moonkyung Bird Pass has too many curves
Winding up, winding down, in tears I go.
Carry me, carry me, carry me and go!
When flowers bloom in Hanyang, carry me and go.

Bird Pass or "Saejae" is the summit of a high mountain, rising north of Moonkyung in the ancient highway, linking Seoul with Miryang and Tongnae (Pusan). Its sky-kissing heights are so rugged that in their eyes. This is a love song of a dancing girl from Miryang who was left behind by her lover from Seoul (Hanyang). She is calling him to take her with him to Hanyang. She believed that her own beauty was above all flowers in Hanyang. The words in the first line of the chorus are sounds of bitter sorrow at parting. This song was composed by Kim Dong Jin.

Gangwon Arirang[edit]

Korean original
English translation
Castor and camellia, bear no beans!
Deep mountain fair maidens would go a-flirting.
Chorus: Ari-Ari, Ssuri-Ssuri, Arariyo!
Ari-Ari Pass I cross and go.
Though I pray, my soya field yet will bear no beans;
Castor and camellia, why should you bear beans?
When I broke the hedge bush stem, you said you'd come away;
At your doorway I stamp my feet, why do you delay?
Precious in the mountains are darae and moroo;
Honey sweet to you and me would be our love so true.
Come to me! Come to me! Come and join me!
In a castor and camellia garden we'll meet, my love!

The highland maids would like to make up their hair with castor and camellia oils and go flirting instead working in the soybean fields. The mountain grape moroo and banana-shaped darae were precious foods to mountain folk. The song is sarcastic, but emotional to comfort the fair solitary reapers who go about gathering the wild fruits in the deep mountains of Kangwon-do.

Association with the United States[edit]

The South Korean government designated Arirang as the official march of the U.S. Army's 7th Infantry Division since 26 May 1956,[12] after its service in Korea during the Korean War, though the official Division song was the "New Arirang March," an American-style march arrangement of Arirang (the 7th Infantry Division is currently inactive; however, it will be reactivated as an administrative headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington on October 1, 2012 to provide more oversight and guidance for the base’s five combat brigades).[13]

On February 26, 2008, the New York Philharmonic performed Arirang for an encore during its unprecedented trip to North Korea.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

  • An orchestral reference to "Arirang" can be heard in the film Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins and at one point Chiun, the Korean martial arts master played by Joel Grey, can be heard singing it, upon which Remo sarcastically asks, "Is it painful?" Chiun replies "I was singing old Korean love song."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stout, Mira (1998). One Thousand Chestnut Trees. New York: Riverhead Books. p. 278. ISBN 1-57322-738-2. 
  2. ^ "Arirang, lyrical folk song in the Republic of Korea". Intangible Heritage. UNESCO. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  3. ^ Chung, Ah-young (12 December 2012). "'Arirang' makes it to UNESCO heritage". Korea Times. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  4. ^ "UNESCO Puts 'Arirang' on Intangible Heritage List". Chosun Ilbo. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  5. ^ According to an article on the pass from the Seoul city government's website ([1]; in Korean only).
  6. ^ See Yonhap News's article ([2]) for a discussion of the song's history and its connection to the film.
  7. ^ "Arariyo" ("아라리요") has no meaning and simply helps the flow of the song.
  8. ^ Pronouns are often omitted in Korean, but this refers to "nim" of line 3.
  9. ^ Grammatical gender is often not conveyed in Korean sentences, so the gender of the singer and of the "dear" is not specified.
  10. ^ Ten li are equivalent to about 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles.
  11. ^ "His/her feet hurt" ("balbyeong nanda"; "발병 난다") could be translated literally as "he/she develops a foot disease," but the sense being conveyed is that of having hurt feet after trudging over a mountain pass.
  12. ^ 7th Infantry Division Assn (English)
  13. ^ Fort Carson - 7th Infantry Division - Arirang; see also
  14. ^ "New York Philharmonic Performs in North Korea", NY Times, February 26, 2008 [3]

External links[edit]