by JULIE HA
We, Korean Americans, are all familiar with the beloved Korean folk song, “Arirang.” The melody to “Arirang,” often considered Korea’s unofficial national anthem, innately carries a sense of longing—that is both a lament and yet also full of hope. Recently, a group of ethnic Koreans living in China took the song to a whole new level of emotion—and a video of their defiantly moving performance is now circulating among ethnic Koreans all over the world.
It was defiant because Koreans living in China are prohibited by law to openly sing their Korean national anthem and other songs that rouse a sense of nostalgia toward their homeland. In response, a group of Korean musicians decided to unleash a flash mob on March 1 at a park in Shenzhen, where around 25,000 ethnic Koreans reside. The result is a rousing performance of “Arirang, the Spring of Our Home,” which if you listen carefully also incorporates the melody from the official South Korean national anthem, “Aegukga.”
The video of the flash mob, uploaded to YouTube, starts with a typical scene of families enjoying a beautiful park day. Several seconds later, a woman lifts her violin and bow and starts to play the familiar opening notes to “Arirang,” as passersby suddenly turn their attention toward her. A woman with a cello then joins in. Soon after, several young people carrying music stands and instruments come to the center of the field to join the pair. It doesn’t take long before the field is full of musicians playing the folk song—with flutes, saxophones, drums, violins, cellos, trumpets—as more and more onlookers stop to watch, listen and record the event with their smartphones.
Finally, the flash mob members, led by a conductor, begin to sing the lyrics to “Arirang,” as Korean members of the audience begin to sing along. As the audience erupts into loud applause at the end of the performance, the participants walk away carrying their instruments and music stands. The text in Korean at the end of the video says: “We can’t sing the ‘Aegukga’ or wave the Taegeukgi, even though there are 25,000 Korean expats and around 1,500 Korean children living in Shenzhen, China. 104 children and 50 expats, for the sole purpose of remembering our Korean identity, made ‘Arirang, the Spring of Our Home.'”
It’s a long video, but definitely worth checking out, in part, to remember how precious freedom is, and how many people around the world are still deprived of the right even to perform a song that they hold dear to their hearts and identity.