Do you know ‘THE WHITE-CLAD FOLK’?
By Cho Se-hee
There are so many meanings of white color. Generally, white represents positive things like pure, true, peace and modesty. On this account, a lot of countries use it in their national flags. Most famous country is France. In France’s national flag, white stands for equality. Then, how about in Korea? White is very familiar color in Korea. Many people like white color and this custom has a long history.
Traditionally, the Korean people were call as ‘the white-clad folk’ due to their usual white clothes.
In the 19th century, a lot of foreigners who visited Korea were very impressed with ‘the white-clad folk’. In their eyes, all Korean people were wearing white clothes. For example, Ernst Jacob Oppert said in his book <Ein Verschlossenes Land: Reisen nach Korea>, “Everyone male and female are in all white fabric”. In addition, Choi Nam-sun, who is typical modern poet said in his book, “Korean people’s respect of white clothes is an old tradition. From about thousands years ago, dynasity of Buyeo, Silla, Goryeo and Joseon were known to be dressed white clothes.” He emphasized the long history. Besides, the usage of white clothes honor was recorded in the chapter of Dongyi in the Book of Wei, the Records of Three Kingdoms which was compiled at third century in China. As seen from these historical documents, wearing white clothes is an very old custom from Samhan and Proto-Three Kingdoms of Korea.
Why Korean people chose ‘white’ clothes?
However, the reason why Korean people wear white clothes is not well known. Many people understand that there was no money and technique. They just think Korean people were uncivilized so they put on white clothes in old times.
However, that is not an only reason. White is called the color of immortality and heaven earth in Korea. Therefore, wearing white clothes was not selected accidentally. This custom has the origin of a popular folk religion. Korean people have worshipped heaven and earth for a long time. For instance, Korean dress white clothes and use white rice cake, alcohol and rice when they hold a memorial service for their ancestors. Accordingly, dressing white clothes convention in Korea is one expression of worship.
The objection and distortion of ‘the white-clad folk’
Some intellectuals insisted that wearing white clothes an custom from the past. They said “Dressing white clothes at religious and ceremony can be understandable, but in daily life, this behavior is ridiculous.” They argued to have Koreans to take off the white clothes. Nevertheless, the public refused wear black clothes. One example of this is ‘The ban of white clothes’. In the late 13th century, King Chung Yeol in Goryeo issued the embargo. However, people didn’t obey this rule. After that, in the Joseon Dynasty period, a lot of kings including Sejong imposed the ban. Still the result was the same. People kept their white clothes.
During the Japanese colonial period, some people criticised the reason of Korean people about putting on white clothes in various ways. For example, some Japanese said Goryeo was attacked by Mongol Empire and perished, so Koreans start to wear white clothes due to the sorrow of national ruin. They phrased Korean people’s white clothes like mourning dress. This expression was calculated in order to hurt Korean people’s racial spirit.
Despite all the difficulties, Korean people kept their own fashion. Thus, we can find the fact the Korean people have been dominated by wearing white clothes convention. Furthermore, Koreans wear white clothes from cradle to grave. In other words, a baby and a dead person wears white clothes in Korea.
‘The white-clad folk’ doesn’t mean just wearing white clothes. It connotes a strong national spirit which holds Korean together. These days, there is a rising interest on the nation like globalization of Korean food and Dok-do conflict. Like this, we have to arouse national consciousness and love for Korea. Furthermore, let’s express and practice our heart even for the small things. < 저작권자 © 중앙헤럴드 무단전재 및 재배포금지 >