Study Your Korean Money

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As we head out each day to do our daily routine in Korea, we usually carry around a case filled with colorful paper. In addition to being lovely colors to admire, they can also be exchanged for goods and services all throughout the country. Pretty cool, right?

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably glanced down at the assortment of Korean won bills in your wallet, but never gave much thought to the actual meaning of them. But can they help you study Korean? It likely won’t help you pass the Korean proficiency test, but every bit helps. It may also help you want to study Korean since you’ll recognize more words and the everyday life content will be more familiar to you.

If you want to impress your Korean friends with fun facts while also being prepared to dominate any trivia game that mentions Korean money, then read on!

As we head out each day to do our daily routine in Korea, we usually carry around a case filled with colorful paper. In addition to being lovely colors to admire, they can also be exchanged for goods and services all throughout the country. Pretty cool, right?

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably glanced down at the assortment of Korean won bills in your wallet, but never gave much thought to the actual meaning of them. But can they help you study Korean? It likely won’t help you pass the Korean proficiency test, but every bit helps. It may also help you want to study Korean since you’ll recognize more words and the everyday life content will be more familiar to you.

If you want to impress your Korean friends with fun facts while also being prepared to dominate any trivia game that mentions Korean money, then read on!

There are 4 different Korean won bills. They are 50,000 won, 10,000 won, 5,000 won, and 1,000 won. The bills get larger in size as they go up. The 5,000 won bill is slightly larger than the 1,000 won bill, and the 10,000 won bill is slightly larger than the 5,000 won bill.

We will start small and work our way up. Let the fun facts begin!

If you don’t study Korean and you can’t read Korean characters yet, you can learn them free in about one hour here.

 

₩1,000 (won)

Color: Blue

Size: 136 x 68mm

Front: 퇴계이황 Toegye Yi Hwang (1501 – 1570)

Yi Hwang was a famous Confucian scholar from the Joseon Dynasty (That’s the 500 year Confucian dynasty in Korea!) who was big into calligraphy and poetry. If you’re wondering who Toegye is, great question! That was his pen name. Yi Hwang was a busy guy.

Back: 계상정거도Gyesangjeonggeodo

In addition to being an impressively long name for a painting, the back side of the 1,000 won bill also represents a painting of Yi Hwang in Dosan Seowon (area of Korea). If you’ve ever visited Andong in Korea, then you were actually at present day Dosan Seowon!

 

₩5,000 (won)

Color: Orange

Size: 142 x 68mm

Front: 율곡이이 Yulgok Yi I (1536 – 1584)

Like Yi Hwang, Yi I (pronounced “yee-ee”) was also a mover and a shaker back in the 1500s. He attained fame as a Confucian scholar, and also flew under the radar with his pen name Yulgok.

Back: 초충도Chochungdo

On the back side of the 5,000 won note, you’ll see a painting by Shin Saimdang (Yi I’s mother) called “Insects and Plants” ( “Chochungdo” is the name of the painting). More on her in a bit.

₩10,000 (won)

Color: Green

Size: 146 x 68mm

Front: 세종대왕 Sejong the Great (1397 – 1450)

If you haven’t heard this 4th king of the Joseon Dynasty, then consider this the first of many times that you will! He is the one responsible for introducing Hangeul into Korean society.

Back: 혼천의Honcheonsigye

Since “sigye” means “clock” in Korean, we can call the picture on the back of this note the “Hocheon Clock”. HC is an astronomical clock that was made in 1669 and is still in existence today. If you’re ever sitting in your house and wondering what the position of the universe at any given time, then you’ll want to stop by Korea University to consult with the Hocehon Clock.

 

₩50,000 (won)

Color: Yellow

Size: 154 x 68mm

Front: 신사임당 Shin Saimdang (1504 – 1551)

Try saying that name 4 times fast! Shin Saimdang was mother of Yi I, as well as a writer and a poet. People liked her because she was a model of Confucian ideals.

Back: 월매도Wolmaedo

Fairly simple; this is a painting of a bamboo and a plum tree.

 

There you have it, the big four in Korean currency. Hopefully it will give you a boost in motivation when you study Korean. Time to try out some of your newfound Korean knowledge and watch for some surprised responses!

 

Which Korean bill is your favorite? Please feel free to leave a comment below!

 

Photo credit: Karl Baron



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