The story of South Korea’s national flower is a beautiful one. And boy do I love a good story. Hibiscus syriacus. The Rose of Sharon. The mugunghwa. A flower known for its beauty and tenacity. Blooming from summer to autumn. Closing its petals every evening, to burst back as the sun rises.
The word mugunghwa (무궁화) combines two words, ‘mugung’ (무궁) meaning ‘eternity’, and ‘hwa’ (화) meaning ‘flower’. This concept of eternal strength and perseverance is especially meaningful to the people of Korea, with a long history of invasion and war.
During Japan’s colonial era, the mugunghwa was chosen as Korea’s national flower. In opposition to Japan’s racial assimilation policies in annexing Korea, mugunghwas were planted throughout the nation as emblems of resistance. Symbols of the Korean people’s unwavering dream of independence. Of their unbreakable spirit.
After 35 years of pain and turmoil, Korea gained its independence from Japanese rule in 1945, following the end of World War II. Korea was agreed to be temporarily split between Soviet and US occupancy. North Korea invaded South Korea soon afterwards, beginning the Korean War, and solidifying the divide between the two nations.
It’s ironic how a country so unified against oppression, so determined for independence is now divided. The two Koreas’ cultures and economies are worlds apart now. South Korea has developed quite well, so much that most South Koreans don’t find any semblance in their Northern counterparts. The refugees who successfully escape to South Korean communities are often ostracized. Pitied and discriminated against. Despite Korea being one nation striving for autonomy just 60 years ago.
In Song of Solomon, the Rose of Sharon has incredibly beautiful and poetic elements of love and hope and unity. That central theme of unbridled love is as relevant as ever with Korea. The nation’s division. Separated families between borders. North Korea’s hostility and threats to South Korea. Lingering animosity by South Korea towards the North and Japanese.
Time heals all wounds. Or so they say. Here’s to hoping for a unified Korea. A unified world.
The day when winter is past.
my beloved speaks and says to me…
arise my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
the flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come.