How the Korean flag came from Chinese

The symbols used on the Korean flag (태극기 / taegukgi) hark back to an old Chinese divination text called I Ching (or Yijing). In I Ching yin and yang create harmony among all opposites. They are female and male, space and time, dark and light, soft and hard, open and closed, earth and heaven. But these opposites also wholly depend on each other to define themselves because one must have “light” to know what is “dark”. At their purest abstraction Yang is represented as a whole line and yin is represented as a broken line. Three of these lines create a trigram (괘 / kwae).

Yang Yin Trigram

There are eight trigrams in total which were all used in the 1883 version of the taegukgi (태극기). Each kwae (괘) has various sets of meanings that apply to various uses from the zodiac to feng shui. There is a name for each kwae (괘) and below is a diagram that shows the Chinese name, image, color, and symbol for each.

Eight Kwae

These eight kwae (괘)  are in the first taegukgi (태극기) design below. I assume the concentric circles represent the various yin and yangs that make up the world because of how yin and yang elements intertwine, however, that’s just my guess.

1883 Taegukgi

In I Ching, each trigram pairs with another to create a hexagram. This is where I Ching begins to get complicated. Traditionally, one would have a question about a difficulty he/she is facing in life or has a tough decision to make and would read a hexagram for answers. The process is to first ask the question, then toss sticks or coins to create the hexagram, and then read the hexagram for direction. Think of it as something similar to tea readings. There are 64 answers in total, and each one has a specific meaning. There are some fun simulations that you can use online which you can see here.


But let’s revert back to the taegukgi (태극기), as years passed by, the design of the flag went through many iterations until reaching the current design in 1948. In this design, only four of the eight kwae (괘) remain: heaven, fire, water, and earth. The center has also been simplified to a red yang, and blue yin representing earth and heaven. And lastly, the white background represents purity.

Current Taegukgi

Taegukgi Breakdown

Have we demystified the Korean flag for you? Let us know what was most surprising or what you’re still curious about in the comments!


  • PegasusFANTASY

    very interesting