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Arirang in North Korea
North Korea Victory Day 274 (9524347338).jpg
A man about to depart on a journey through a mountain pass is seen off by a woman in a scene from the Arirang Festival in North Korea.
CountryNorth Korea
RegionAsia and the Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription2014 (9th session)
Arirang in South Korea
Song So-Hee performing Arirang.jpg
Song So-hee performing "Arirang"
CountrySouth Korea
RegionAsia and the Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription2012 (7th session)

"Arirang" (아리랑; [a.ɾi.ɾaŋ]) is a Korean folk song.[1] 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)"[2] It is estimated the song is more than 600 years old.[3]

"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.[3][2] North Korea also successfully submitted the song for inclusion in 2014.[1][4] In 2015, the South Korean Cultural Heritage Administration added the song to its list of important intangible cultural assets.[5]

The song is sung today in both North and South Korea, a symbol of unity in an otherwise divided region, since the Korean War.


Origin and etymology[edit]

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".[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

Other theories on the origin of the name "Arirang" point to Lady Aryeong, wife of the first king of Silla; "arin", the Jurchen word for "hometown".[9]

According to Professor Keith Howard, "Arirang" originated in the mountainous regions of Jeongseon and the first mention of the song was found in a 1756 manuscript.[10]

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.

First recording[edit]

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".[11][12] 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. [13] Another source suggests that the singers were Korean workers who happened to be living in America during that time.[14] The recordings are currently housed in the U.S. Library of Congress.[15]

Resistance anthem[edit]

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.[16][17] 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. [16]

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.[18][16][19]

Popularity in Japan[edit]

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.[16] Some Japanese soldiers were familiar with "Arirang" from their service in Japanese Korea, or from their interactions with forcibly conscripted Korean comfort women, labourers and soldiers.

Musical score[edit]

\relative c' { \key f \major \time 9/8 \tempo "Lento" 4 = 140 \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"violin"
c4. ~ c4 d8  c4 ( d8 ) | f4. ~ f4 g8  f4 ( g8 ) | a4. g8 a g f4 ( d8 ) | c4. ~ ( c4 d8 c d ) r8 |\break
f4. ~ f4 g8  f4 ( g8 ) | a4 ( g8 ) f4 ( d8 ) c4 ( d8 ) | f4. ~ f4 g8 f4.| f4. ~ f4. r4. |\break
c'4. ~ c c | c4. a4. g4. | a4. g4 a8 f4 ( d8 ) | c4. ~ ( c4  d8 c d ) r8 |\break
f4. ~ f4 g8  f4 ( g8 ) | a4 ( g8 ) f4 ( d8 ) c4 ( d8 ) | f4. ~ f4 g8 f4.| f4. ~ f4. r4. \bar "|."}
\addlyrics {
아 리 랑 아 리 랑 아 라 - - 리 요
아 리 랑 고 개 로 넘 어 간 다
나 를 버 리 고 가 시 는 님 은
십 리 도 못 가 서 발 병 난 다}
\addlyrics {
아 리 랑 아 리 랑 아 라 - - 리 요
아 리 랑 고 개 로 넘 어 간 다
청 천 하 늘 엔 별 도 - 많 고
우 리 네 가 슴 엔 꿈 도 많 다}
\addlyrics {
아 리 랑 아 리 랑 아 라 - - 리 요
아 리 랑 고 개 로 넘 어 간 다
저 기 저 산 이 백 두 산 이라 지
동 지 섣 달 에 도 꽃 만 핀 다}


All versions of "Arirang" include a refrain similar to, "Arirang, arirang, arariyo (아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요)."[2] The word "arirang" itself is nonsensical and does not have a precise meaning in Korean.[20] 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.[4][21]

The table below includes the lyrics of "Standard Arirang" from Seoul. The first two lines are the refrain. The refrain is followed by three verses.

Hangul/Chosŏn'gŭl Hanja Romanization English translation[21][22]

아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요...
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다.

아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요...
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다.

Arirang, arirang, arariyo...
Arirang gogaero neomeoganda.

Arirang, arirang, arariyo...
You are going over Arirang hill.

나를 버리고 가시는 님은
십리도 못가서 발병난다.

나를 버리고 가시는 님은
十里도 못가서 發病난다.

Nareul beorigo gasineun nimeun
Simnido motgaseo balbyeongnanda.

My love, you are leaving me
Your feet will be sore before you go ten ri.

청천하늘엔 잔별도 많고,
우리네 가슴엔 희망도 많다.

晴天下늘엔 잔별도 많고,
우리네 가슴엔 希望도 많다.

Cheongcheonhaneuren janbyeoldo 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.

저기 저 山이 白頭山이라지,
冬至 섣달에도 꽃萬 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.


There are an estimated 3,600 variations of 60 different versions of "Arirang".[2] Titles of different versions of "Arirang" are usually prefixed by their place of origin.[9]

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.[9]

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.[23][24]

Official status[edit]

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


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.[3][2] North Korea successfully submitted the song for inclusion in 2014.[1][4]

South Korea[edit]

In 2015, the South Korean Cultural Heritage Administration added the "Arirang" to its list of important intangible cultural assets.[5]

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

U.S. Army[edit]

"Arirang", Lyrics in English Adaptation-2 by GSIT at HUFS in 2013. Adaptation of W. B. Yeats' poem, "The Falling of the Leaves", into the "Arirang" melody to convey the woe and sorrow with which Korean people sympathize when listening to the song.

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.[25]

In popular culture[edit]





Video games[edit]

See also[edit]


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  3. ^ a b c Chung, Ah-young (December 12, 2012). "'Arirang' makes it to UNESCO heritage". The Korea Times. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c "Arirang folk song in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea". Intangible Cultural Heritage. UNESCO. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
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