A-ri-rang is a renowned South Korean folk song

Line Original Script Phonetic Script Translation
1 아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요… A-ri-rang, A-ri-rang, Arariyo…A-ri-rang gogaero neomeoganda


A-ri-rang, A-ri-rang, Arariyo…You are going over A-ri-rang hill


2 아리랑 고개로 넘어간다  A-ri-rang go-gae-ro neom-eo-gan-da  You are going over A-ri-rang hill 
3 나를 버리고 가시는 님은  Na-reul beo-ri-go ga-shi-neun nim-eun  My love, you are leaving me 
4 십리도 못가서 발병난다. Shim-ri-do mot-ga-seo bal-byeong-nan-da. Your feet will be sore before you go ten li.
5 청천하늘엔 잔별도 많고 Cheong-cheon-han-eur-en jan-byeol-do man-ko Just as there are many stars in the clear sky,
6 우리네 가슴엔 희망도 많다. Uri ne ga-seum-en hui-mang-do man-ta.  There are also many dreams in our heart. 
7 저기 저 산이 백두산이라지 Jeo-gi jeo san-i Baek-du-san-i-ra-ji There, over there, that mountain is Baekdu Mountain,
8 동지 섣달에도 꽃만 핀다. Dong-ji seot-dar-e-do kkot-man- pin-da. Where, even in the middle of winter days, flowers bloom.





The performer, my mother, heard of A-ri-rang the same way as I did: through the mother singing it to the child since youth. Despite many beliefs of the origin of the song, for my mother, the song was learnt through my grandmother, who lived through the Korean war in the Gangwon province as a child. My mother told me that A-ri-rang has special significance for my maternal side of the family as during the fearful times of the war, my then young grandmother would sing the song with others in order to feel hopeful and feel the bond with those in the same dreadful situation.

During my studies in Shanghai, China, my grandmother visited during the Chinese New Year period. During these times, those celebrating the holiday sets off tremendous amounts of fireworks. In the evening, while the rest of the family were enjoying the sight of the fireworks in the sky, my grandmother told us that the sound of the fireworks reminded her of the times of the Korean War.




According to The Dual Career of “A-ri-rang”: The Korean Resistance Anthem That Became a Japanese Pop Hit by E. Taylor Atkins, A-ri-rang was a resistance anthem during the Japanese Colonization of South Korea of 1910 to 1945. It is famous for being sang during the famous March 1st demonstration against Japan in 1919 (known as 삼일절/ Sam-il Jeol/ Three-one day).

When looking into the meaning of the song, it can be clearly seen as why it was chosen as the resistance anthem. In the second line, “You are going over A-ri-rang hill” symbolizes one going through hardship, which in this case is Japan colonizing South Korea. Those “Leaving” in the third line refers to those leaving the South Korean side to the Japanese. “Your feet will be sore before you go ten li” means that they will not go far and “ten li” here is four kilometers in distance. The sixth line mentions having “dreams in the heart” while dream in this case is more close to hope in literal translation. This hope is the hope of one day being free from the Japanese oppression. And Finally, the eighth line, “Where, even in the middle of winter days, flowers bloom” refers that even during the struggle, they will fight through and they will succeed.

Although I had heard the song many times before, my mother mentioning this context that was relevant not only to my grandmother, but everyone in her generation, made the performance of the song in my opinion more poignant.