National Liberation Day of Korea

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Gwangbokjeol (광복절)
Prison Release of Korean activists.JPG
Korean liberation activists are released, 1945
Official nameGwangbokjeol (South Korea)
Jogukhaebangŭi nal (North Korea)
Also calledLiberation Day of Korea
Observed byKoreans
(i.e South Korea, North Korea)
TypeNational, public
SignificanceCommemorates Victory over Japan Day, when Korea was finally liberated from Japanese colonial rule which lasted from 1910 to 1945.
Date15 August
Next time15 August 2022 (2022-08-15)
Liberation Day of Korea
South Korean name
Revised RomanizationGwangbokjeol
North Korean name
조국해방의 날
Revised RomanizationJogukhaebangui nal
McCune–ReischauerChogukhaebang'ŭi nal

The National Liberation Day of Korea is a holiday celebrated annually on 15 August in both South and North Korea. It commemorates Victory over Japan Day, when at the end of World War II, the U.S. and allied forces helped end 35 years of Japanese occupation and colonial rule of Korea that lasted from 1910–1945.


In South Korea it is known as Gwangbokjeol (광복절; literally, "the day the light returned"), and is one of the public holidays in South Korea. In North Korea it is known as Chogukhaebangŭi nal (조국해방의 날; literally Liberation of the Fatherland Day), and is also one of the public holidays in North Korea.[1]

The name 광복절 symbolizes how the day represents an end of the darkness of Japan’s rule over Korea. Its name is made from the Korean characters of ‘광’ (gwang), meaning “light”; ‘복’ (bok), meaning “restoration”; and ‘절’ (jeol), meaning “holiday”. The word “restoration” is used rather than the word for “independence”, 독립 (dongnip), in order to highlight how Korea has a long and proud history and how the Korean nation was ‘restored’ in 1948, rather than ‘founded’ because it has been a nation for thousands of years.[2]


A Japanese flag at Seoul being lowered in 1945 as U.S. soldiers watch.

The day marks the annual anniversary of the announcement that Japan would unconditionally surrender on August 15, 1945. All forces of the Imperial Japanese Army were ordered to surrender to the Allies.

Independent Korean governments were created three years later, on 15 August 1948, when the pro-U.S. Syngman Rhee was elected first President of South Korea and pro-Soviet Kim Il-sung was made first Leader of North Korea. Gwangbokjeol was officially designated a public holiday on 1 October 1949 in South Korea[3] and is known as Chogukhaebangŭi nal (조국해방의 날; literally "Liberation of Fatherland Day") in North Korea.[4]

Korea has been an independent nation for thousands of years, but the country has been invaded multiple times, with one of the worst periods being when Korea was colonized by Japan. It took 3 years after Korea became independent from Japan (in 1945) for the nation to actually establish the Republic of Korea on August 15th, when we celebrate 광복절.[2]

August 15th is celebrated by many countries as Victory Over Japan Day, the day Japan was defeated and the Second World War came to an end. America, however, celebrates this day in September when the Japanese formally signed a declaration of surrender.[2]

North Korea[edit]

Liberation day poster in Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korea currently celebrates this holiday separately from South Korea.[5] Nevertheless, Liberation Day is the only Korean holiday that is celebrated by both countries.[6][7] In North Korea, it is typical to schedule weddings on the holiday.[8][9]

On 5 August 2015, the North Korean government decided to return to UTC+08:30, effective 15 August 2015, and said the official name would be Pyongyang Time or (PYT).[10][11] The government of North Korea made this decision as a break from 'imperialism'; the time zone change went into effect on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Korea.[12]

The holiday is often celebrated with a military parade on Kim Il-sung Square on jubilee years (ex: 25th anniversary, 40th anniversary, 50th anniversary, 60th anniversary, 70th anniversary) with the attendance of the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of North Korea. The first parade was held in 1949 at Pyongyang Station. It was held again in 1953, and then conducted every year until 1960, when it took a pause until the early 2000s.[13]

South Korea[edit]

Public holiday[edit]

In South Korea, many activities and events take place on the holiday, including an official ceremony attended by the President of the Republic either at the Independence Hall of Korea in Cheonan[3] or at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.[14] During the celebration, the flags of different countries around the world hung in the middle of the road around the Jamsil area of Seoul between the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Park are taken down and replaced with Korean national flags.[2]

All buildings and homes are encouraged to display the South Korean national flag Taegukgi. Not only are most public museums and places open free of charge to the descendants of independence activists on the holiday, but they can also travel on both public transport and intercity trains for free.[3]

The official "Gwangbokjeol song" (광복절 노래) is sung at official ceremonies. The song's lyrics were written by Jeong Inbo (정인보) and the melody by Yoon Yongha (윤용하).[3] The lyrics speak of "to touch the earth again" and how "the sea dances", how "this day is the remaining trace of 40 years of passionate blood solidified" and to "guard this forever and ever".[15]

The government traditionally issues special pardons on Gwangbokjeol.[16][17]

Assassination attempt[edit]

At 10:23 a.m., 15 August 1974, Mun Se-gwang, a Zainichi Korean and North Korean sympathizer, attempted to assassinate President Park Chung-hee at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul during a Gwangbokjeol ceremony; Park was unharmed but his wife Yuk Young-soo, First Lady of South Korea, was killed.[18][19]

Popular culture[edit]

  • The Peak aka Life of Lee Youk-sa, the Poet who Embraced Epoch, starring Kim Dong-wan of boyband Shinhwa is a two-part special drama broadcast on MBC to commemorate Gwangbokjeol. It is on the life of poet and independence activist, Lee Youk-sa, who lived during the Japanese colonial period, and died in prison at 40 leaving behind some 40 pieces of poetry.[20]
  • The third drama rendition of Park Gyeong-ni's epic novel Toji (literally "The Land"), is a 52-episode historical drama which aired from 27 November 2004 to 22 May 2005, was broadcast by South Korean broadcaster SBS as commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Gwangbokjeol; and the only drama rendition after all 21 volumes were completed.[21]
  • The ability to pardon prisoners on this day was the theme for a comedy film that was released in 2002, called 광복절특사, where the main characters escape from prison, only to find out that they are going to be pardoned the next day on 광복절.

Learn more[edit]


  1. ^ Seol Song Ah (7 December 2015). "Kim Jong Un's birthday still not a holiday". Daily NK. Retrieved 13 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d "National Liberation Day of Korea (Gwangbokjeol) – Celebration of Independence". 22 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d (in Korean) Gwangbokjeol at Doosan Encyclopedia
  4. ^ (in Korean) Thinking of reunification through Gwangbokjeol, official blog of the Ministry of Unification
  5. ^ Defector from North Korea describes (in Japanese) differences in attitudes and emphasis. 金, 柱聖. "反日沸騰の韓国と大違い?北の8月15日". YouTube. Fuji News Network. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  6. ^ "8월 15일 한국만 독립한 거 아냐…또 어디? – 머니투데이". 15 August 2013.
  7. ^ "北, 공화국 창건 역사 살펴보기". 통일뉴스. 7 September 2014.
  8. ^ Toimela, Markku; Aalto, Kaj (2017). Salakahvilla Pohjois-Koreassa: Markku Toimelan jännittävä tie Pohjois-Korean luottomieheksi (in Finnish). Jyväskylä: Docendo. p. 40. ISBN 978-952-291-369-2.
  9. ^ "North Korea Liberation Day".
  10. ^ "North Korea to introduce new timezone this month". BNO News. 7 August 2015. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 7 August 2015.
  11. ^ "North Korea's new time zone to break from 'imperialism'". BBC News. 7 August 2015. Retrieved 7 August 2015.
  12. ^ Mathis-Lilley, Ben (7 August 2015). "North Korea Invents New Time Zone, 'Pyongyang Time'". Slate.
  13. ^ Sep. 8, Associated Press; Pt, 2018 3 Am (8 September 2018). "North Korean military parades: 70 years of propaganda, intimidation and unity". Los Angeles Times.
  14. ^ (in Korean) Gwangbokjeol ceremony, Yonhap News, 15 August 2009. Retrieved 19 June 2010
  15. ^ (in Korean) Gwangbokjeol Song Archived 10 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine at the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs
  16. ^ (in Korean) Gwangbokjeol pardons, Asia Today 11 August 2009. Retrieved 19 June 2010
  17. ^ (in Korean) Gwangbokjeol pardons, YTN 11 August 2009.Retrieved 19 June 2010
  18. ^ Keon, Michael (1977). Korean Phoenix: A Nation from the Ashes (Hardback). Prentice-Hall International. p. 199. ISBN 978-013-516823-3.
  19. ^ Jager, Sheila Miyoshi (2013). Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea (Hardback). London: Profile Books. p. 415. ISBN 978-1-84668-067-0.
  20. ^ Ho, Stewart (24 April 2012). "Kim Dong Wan's MBC Drama Receives Award at Houston International Film Festival". enewsWorld. CJ E&M. Archived from the original on 29 January 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
  21. ^ "List of Korean Historical Dramas (1981–2002) – Chicago Korean Drama Fan Club".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]