Korean Currency Note Series

50000 Won - Shin Saimdang

Shin Saimdang (申師任堂, 신사임당, 1504-1551) was a Chosun dynasty artist, calligrapher, and poet. She is the mother of Yi I (李珥, 이이, 1536-1584), who appears on the 5,000 won note. She was of the Pyeongsan Shin clan (平山申氏, 평산신씨); her courtesy name (字, 자 or 堂號, 당호) was Inseon (仁善, 인선); and her pen name (號, 호) was Saimdang (師任堂, 사임당).  Shinsaimdang is viewed as the model of Confucian motherhood, and is called a “benevolent mother and good wife” (賢母良妻, 현모양처,Hyeonmoyangcheo), for being not only fulfilling household duties but also being well versed in Confucian Classics.

She first appeared on Korean currency in 2006 on the 50,000 Won note, making her the first woman to appear on a Korean currency note. This decision was not without controversy, as Korean feminists criticized the addition. It should be noted, however, that women writers in Classical Chinese do not start appearing until the Ming Dynasty in China and Chosun Dynasty in Korea, at the same time that Neo-Confucianism became the adopted philosophy. There was indeed a movement by Chosun Neo-Confucianist scholars to educate women.

思親 사친

Longing for Parents

千里家山萬疊峯 천리가산만첩봉
歸心長在夢魂中 귀심장재몽혼중
寒松亭畔孤輪月 한송정반고윤월
鏡浦臺前一陣風 경포대전일진풍
沙上白鷗恒聚散 사상백구항취산
海門漁艇任西東 해문어정임서동
何時重踏臨瀛路 하시중답임영로
更着斑衣藤下縫 경착반의등하봉

Thousand Li away my hometown’s mountains and the ten-thousand layered peaks
Return to my mind and remains long within my dreaming soul.
On the ridge of the Hansong Pavilion, the lonely wheeled moon shines;
In front of the Gyeongpo Gazebo, one sudden wind blows.
Above the sands, the white gulls always gather and scatter;
At the sea gate, the fishing boats ably go West and east.
At what time may I again walk the roads of Imyeong
And again wearing my colorful dress and below the wisteria tree sew?


  • Hansong Pavilion (寒松亭, 한송정, Hansongjeong) is a pavilion located in Hashidongri (下詩洞里, 하시동리) in Gangreung (江陵, 강릉). It is one of the oldest structures in Korea.
  • Gyeongpodae Gazebo (鏡浦臺, 경포대, Gyeongpodae) is a storied structured located in Jeodong (苧洞, 저동) in Gangreung.
  • Imyeong (臨瀛, 임영) is the old name for Gangreung.


  • 疊(첩) – To be layered (첩첩하다).
  • 畔(반) – Ridge (밭두둑).
  • 白鷗(백구) – White gull.
  • 艇(정) – Small boat.
  • 斑衣(반의) – Colorful dress.

10000 Won - King Sejong

King Sejong (世宗大王, 세종대왕, 1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) was the fourth monarch of the Chosun dynasty. He is famous for many deeds, including expanding Korea’s borders, renewing the sciences, and promulgating the Hangul alphabet. One of the first works in Hangul was the “Songs of Dragons Flying to Heaven.” Even today, many Koreans know at least the first line of one of this song in Korean (“뿌리 깊은 나무는…”). What most Koreans do not know is that this was a translation of Classical Chinese poems written by the Chosun court. King Sejong first appeared on the 100 Won note in 1962 and has been on the 10,000 Won note since 1973.

龍飛御天歌 용비어천가

Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven

根深之木 風亦不扤 근심지목 풍역불올
有灼其華 有蕡其實 유작기화 유분기실
源遠之水 旱亦不竭 원원지수 한역불갈
有斯爲川 于海必達 유사위천 우해필달

A tree with deep roots in the wind also does not shake.
Flourishing are its blossoms; Many are its fruits.
A water with a distant fountainhead in drought does not dry.
This becomes a stream and to the sea it surely reaches.


  • 扤(올) – To shake (흔들리다).
  • 灼(작) – To be flourishing (성하다).
  • 蕡(분) – To have many fruits.

5000 Won - Yi I

Yi I (李珥, 이이, 1536-1584) was a Chosun dynasty literati bureaucrat and a Neo-Confucian scholar. He was of the Deoksu Yi Clan (德水李氏, 덕수이씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Sukheon (叔獻, 숙헌); his pen name (號, 호) was Yulgok (栗谷, 율곡). He is revered as not only a Neo-Confucian scholar who wrote many treatises but also as a political reformer. One of his notable proposed reforms but that was ultimately rejected was strengthening the military, in response to the threat of an imminent Japanese invasion, which occurred some eight years after his death. He first appeared on the 5000 Won note in 1972 and still appears on Korean currency today.

湖堂夜坐 호당야좌

At Hodang, Sitting Throughout the Night

湖堂久不寐 호당구불매
夜氣著人淸 야기저인청
葉盡知秋老 엽진지추로
江明見月生 강명견월생
疎松搖榻影 소송요탑영
塞鴈落沙聲 새응락사성
自愧紅塵客 자괴홍진객
臨流未濯纓 림류미탁영

In Hodang (湖堂, 호당), as for a long time I have been unable to sleep,
The energy of the night appears to me vividly.
The leaves have all fallen and know the Autumn’s elderliness;
And the river is clear and see the Moon’s liveliness.
The loose pine tree shakes its shadow atop the stool;
And the frontier wild goose drops its voice on the sand.
I naturally become ashamed: the red dust’s guest
Faces the flowing waters, but has not yet washed his hat string.


  • Hodang (湖堂, 호당) is a library first established in 1426 by King Sejong (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418–1450) where renowned scholars and literati bureaucrats would be sent to study and cultivate their knowledge. In 1491, King Seongjong (成宗, 성종, 1457-1494, r. 1469-1494) renovated a dilapidated Buddhist temple that is now located in Yongsan (龍山, 용산) and made it into a Hodang. King Jeongjo (正祖, 정조, 1752-1800, r. 1776-1800) abolished the Hodang, and expanded the Gyujanggak Royal Library (奎章閣, 규장각).
  • “Has not yet washed his hat string” (未濯纓, 미탁영) is a reference to Qu Yuan’s (屈原, 굴원, Gul Weon, 343-278 BC) Fisherman’s Song (漁父辭, 어부사):

滄浪之水淸兮 可以濯吾纓
창랑지수청혜 가이탁오영
滄浪之水濁兮 可以濯吾足
창랑지수탁혜 가이탁오족

“If the waters of the ocean waves are clean, I can wash my hat-string.
If the waters of the ocean waves are muddy, I can wash my feet.”


  • 榻(탑) – Stool (걸상).
  • 紅塵(홍진) – Literally means “red dust” and refers to the secular mundane world.
  • 纓(영) – Hat string (갓끈).

1000 Won - Yi Hwang

Yi Hwang (李滉, 이황, 1501-1570) was a Chosun dynasty Neo-Confucian scholar and literati bureaucrat. He was of the Jinbo Yi Clan (眞寶李氏, 진보이씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Gyeongho (景浩, 경호); his pen name (號, 호) was Toegye (退溪, 퇴계); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munsun (文純, 문순). As a Neo-Confucian Scholar, he is famous for writing several treatises on Neo-Confucianism and establishing the Dosan Seoweon (陶山書院, 도산서원), a private Confucian academy. As a literati bureaucrat, he was appointed various offices and served four kings of the Chosun dynasty. Upon his death, he was posthumously promoted to the highest ministerial office and bestowed a posthumous name. Yi Hwang first appeared on the 1000 Won note in 1983, when the Bank of Korea started printing Korean Confucian scholars on all of its currency notes.

陶山月夜詠梅 도산원야영매

At Mount Do in the Moonlit Night a Poem on the Plum Tree

獨倚山窓夜色寒 독기산창야색한
梅梢月上正團團 매초월상정단단
不須更喚微風至 불수갱환미풍지
自有淸香滿院間 자유청향만원간

Alone I lean on the window to the mountain; the night hue becomes cold.
At the tip of the plum tree, the moon rises, perfectly round and circular.
Even if I should not again call the winds to arrive,
Naturally, there is pure fragrance filling the space of my house.

步屧中庭月趁人 보섭중정월진인
梅邊行繞幾回巡 매변행요기회순
夜深坐久渾忘起 야심좌구혼망기
香滿衣布影滿身 향만의포영만신

Walking in my wooden shoes in the courtyard, the moon follows me.
At the edges of the plum tree, I travel around; how many times did I revolve around?
As the night grows deep, sitting for awhile, it becomes blurry and I forget to stand up.
The fragrance fills my clothes and the shadow fills my body.

晩發梅兄更識眞 만발매형갱식진
故應知我怯寒辰 고은지아겁한신
可憐此夜宜蘇病 가련차양의소병
能作終宵對月人 능작종소대월인

The late-blossoming plum is magnificent and still more recognizes the truth.
Therefore, it certainly knows me and that I fear the cold season.
What a pity! If this night justly revives me from my illness,
Then I can make me the entire night a man facing the moon.


  • Mount Do (陶山, 도산, Do San) is a mountain north of Andong (安東, 안동).


  • 梢(초) – The end tip of a tree branch (나뭇가지의 끝).
  • 喚(환) – To call (부르다).
  • 屧(섭) – Wooden shoes (나막신).
  • 趁(진) – To follow (쫓다).
  • 繞(요) – To cover (두르다).
  • 渾(훈) – To be blurry (흐리다).
  • 兄(형) – Here, to be excellent (훌륭하다).
  • 宵(소) – Night (밤).