One question we often get is “Who is on Korean money?”.
It’s a good question, since we carry around these colorful bills with us and see those friendly faces all the time. But who are they, and why are they significant in Korea? After all, if they’re on the Korean Won bills, they must be important!
We’ll fill you in on everything you need to know about the friendly faces on money in South Korea.
Not only is it great to know the symbolism of the Korean money, but it can help you learn some bonus vocabulary words for your study flash cards as well. It’s a great way to spice up your Korean study plan!
Korean Money: Paper Bills
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 can’t read Korean characters yet, you can learn them free in about one hour here.
Korean Money #1: ₩1,000 (won)
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: 계상정거도 Gyesangjeonggeodo
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!
Korean Money #2: ₩5,000 (won)
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: 초충도 Chochungdo
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.
Korean Money #3: ₩10,000 (won)
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. Hangeul is really important to Korean society, it even has its own holiday!
Back: 혼천시계 Honcheonsigye
Since “sigye” means “clock” in Korean, we can call the picture on the back of this note the “Hocheon Clock”. 혼천시계 (honcheonsigye) 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 in person!
Korean Money #4: ₩50,000 (won)
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, artist, calligraphist, and a poet. Her artwork captured beautiful and delicate images of insects, flowers, fish, and landscapes. People liked her because she was a model of Confucian ideals.
Back: 월매도 Wolmaedo
Fairly simple; this is a painting of a bamboo and a plum tree.
There you have it, the big four in Korean currency. Lets move onto the coins!
Korean Money: Coins
Crack open your piggy banks, we’re about to give you the need-to-know information for each of those famous coins you see so often. Your trips to the vending machine will take on a whole new dimension of fun!
|10 won||다보탑 (Dabotap Pagoda)||Famous temple in Gyeongju|
|50 won||stalk of rice||rice is tasty!|
|100 won||이순신 (Yi Sun-sin)||Korea's favorite navy admiral|
|500 won||두루미 (Red-crowned crane)||Beautiful crane you can find in Korea|
One Hundred Korean Won Coin (Front & Back)
Five Hundred Korean Won Coin (Front)
Five Hundred Korean Won Coin (Back)
Hopefully you know a bit more about famous faces in Korea and their cultural significance, as well as some bonus vocabulary words. You can see by the number of scholars and artists that education is quite important to Koreans. You may also notice it in some classic Korean proverbs that some of these famous faces are responsible for! Time to try out some of your newfound Korean knowledge and watch for some surprised responses!
Which Korean bill or coin is your favorite? Please feel free to leave a comment below!