Example of Classical Chinese Use Today in Korea – Decal On Fighter Jet


(Source – South Korean Air Force)

Although Korean writing today is almost entirely Hangul exclusive (–專用, 한글전용), examples of Hanja (漢字, 한자) and Classical Chinese (漢文, 한문) occasionally still pop up in popular press. Above is a photo that has been spreading of a F-15K “Slam Eagle” fighter jet taken after a joint US-Korea exercise on November 19. The fighter jet is decorated with the phrase, “枕戈待敵 刻骨延坪(침과대적 각골연평).” It translates to “Lying with a spear and waiting for the enemy, never forget Yeongpyeong Island!” (Or literally, “carve on the bone, ‘Yeongpyeong.'”) The phrase was composed by Choi Chagyu (崔且圭, 최차규, 1956-), the current Air Force Chief of Staff. It is in reference to the shelling of Yeongpyeong Island, an island off the western coast of the peninsula, that occurred four years ago on November 23, 2010. The shelling resulted in the four deaths and twenty-one casualties, some of whom were civilians. The first four characters are taken out of Book of the Southern Qi Dynasty (南齊書, 남제서).

A few of the comments on Korean social media complained that non-Koreans will confuse the airplane for that of the Chinese Air Force or that Hangul should have been used. Fortunately, others have rebutted that the Chinese Air Force would have used simplified, that Hanja is just as part of Korean culture, or that it would take a lot longer to write the same meaning in Hangul. Regarding the first assertion, I would like to add that most non-East Asians will confuse the Yin-Yang (陰陽, 음양), which appears prominently on the Korean flag and is in the roundel of the Korean Air Force along with the tetragram for heaven ☰ (乾, 건) as seen in the photo, for a Chinese-only symbol anyway. Therefore, such arguments are pointless and nothing more than a sign of insecurity.


  1. Michael Tan said:

    A very strong phrase of lying in wait, prepared and armed, ready to strike at the enemy. Thanks, I learnt something new today.

  2. riroriro said:

    Hi , I am Vietnamese , French – and Vietnamese speaking and living in Paris . My English is a little bit clumsy
    枕 in sino – viet means head cushion . I would translate : ( lying ) , spear under head cushion waiting for the enemy
    Using characters 刻 骨 for ” never forget ” is most talented , I do appreciate very much . It’s ” Han ” Classical writing 文 言( wen yan ) at its best ; its falling into obsolescence is a most grevious loss for Asian countires

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