The music: South Korea once had the world’s greatest anthem: Auld Lang Syne. Scottish missionaries introduced the drinking tune to the country, and the Korean government bizarrely chose it as their anthem in 1919 (giving it Korean lyrics, obviously).
Unfortunately, some Koreans felt a tune normally sung on New Year’s Eve wasn’t likely to command respect on the world stage, and one of those was composer Ahn Eak-tai (pictured).
In 1930, while living in San Francisco, he heard it at a church service and decided it was so bad he was going to write a new anthem there and then. He didn’t even wait to get home; he borrowed a pen off the vicar. His final anthem, unsurprisingly, has a lot more pomp to it.
As much as you have to admire Ahn’s patriotism, it should be pointed out that the tune to Auld Lang Syne is known globally; the tune to the Korean anthem is only known in South Korea.
The lyrics: Like a lot of anthems, the lyrics to Korea’s are a tourist brochure’s list of the country’s highlights. Mount Baekdu, the East Sea, hibiscus flowers and autumn skies all get a mention. The wonders it conjures will be slightly lost on anyone who hasn’t visited the country, but it’s evocative nonetheless.
What does it say about a country? They have little respect for Scottish folk music.
Will you hear it at the Games: Many times. Korea won 13 golds at Beijing and can be expected to do well this time too. Archery may be their sure thing. The Korean women are defending champions, and twentysomething Dasomi Jung is the talk of the world’s archery press. Although that might only be because she’s a twentysomething woman.