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Prison Release of Korean activists
Korean independence activists are released, 1945
Official name Gwangbokjeol (South Korea)
Jogukhaebangŭi nal (North Korea)
Also called Liberation Day of Korea
Observed by Koreans
Type National, public
Significance Commemorates Victory over Japan Day, in which the United States and the Soviet Union liberated Korea from Imperial Japanese colonial rule which lasted from 1910 to 1945.
Date August 15
Next time 15 August 2019 (2019-08-15)
Liberation Day of Korea
South Korean name
Revised Romanization Gwangbokjeol
McCune–Reischauer Kwangbokchŏl
North Korean name
Hangul 조국해방의 날
Hanja 의 날
Revised Romanization Jogukhaebangui nal
McCune–Reischauer Chogukhaebang'ŭi nal

The National Liberation Day of Korea, is celebrated annually on August 15 in both North and South Korea. It commemorates Victory over Japan Day, in which the Korean Peninsula was liberated from Imperial Japanese colonial rule by the United States and the Soviet Union.[1]


In South Korea it is known as Gwangbokjeol (transliteration of Korean: literally, "the day the light returned"), and is one of the public holidays in South Korea. In North Korea it is known as Chogukhaebangŭi nal (literally Liberation of the Fatherland Day).


Surrender of Japanese Forces in Southern Korea

A Japanese flag at Seoul being lowered in 1945 as American soldiers watch.

After the Korean Peninsula was liberated by the Allies in 1945, independent Korean governments were created three years later, on August 15, 1948, when the pro-U.S. Syngman Rhee was elected first President of South Korea and pro-Soviet Kim Il-sung was made first Leader of North Korea. Gwangbokjeol was officially designated a public holiday on October 1, 1949 in South Korea[2] and is known as Chogukhaebangŭi nal (조국해방의 날; literally "Liberation of Fatherland Day") in North Korea.[3]

North KoreaEdit

Laika ac Pyongyang (7968795672)

Liberation day poster in Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korea currently celebrates this holiday along with South Korea. Liberation Day is the only Korean holiday that is celebrated by both countries.[citation needed]

On 5 August 2015, the North Korean government decided to return to UTC+08:30, effective 15 August 2015, and said the official name would be Pyongyang Time or (PYT).[4][5] The government of North Korea made this decision as a break from 'imperialism'; the time zone change went into effect on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Korea.[6]

South KoreaEdit

Public holidayEdit

In South Korea, many activities and events happen during the day, including an official ceremony with the president in attendance that takes place at the Independence Hall of Korea in Cheonan[2] or at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.[7]

All buildings and homes are encouraged to display the South Korean national flag Taegukgi. Not only are most public museums and places open free of charge to the descendants of independence activists on the holiday, but they can also travel on both public transport and intercity trains for free.[2]

The official "Gwangbokjeol song" (광복절 노래) is sung at official ceremonies. The song's lyrics were written by Jeong Inbo (정인보) and the melody by Yoon Yongha (윤용하).[2] The lyrics speak of "to touch the earth again" and how "the sea dances", how "this day is the remaining trace of 40 years of passionate blood solidified" and to "guard this forever and ever".[8]

The government traditionally issues special pardons on Gwangbokjeol.[9][10]

In 1974, Yuk Young-soo, First Lady of South Korea and spouse of Park Chung-hee, was assassinated by Mun Se-gwang at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul during a Gwangbokjeol ceremony.

Historical negationismEdit

In South Korea this holiday focuses more on the failed Korean independence movement, while deemphasizing the rolls of the United States and the Soviet Union in Korean independence.

Popular cultureEdit

  • The special pardons given out on Gwangbokjeol are the subject of a South Korean comedy, Jail Breakers (Korean title Gwangbokjeol Teuksa 광복절특사, literally "Gwangbokjeol special pardon"), where the two main characters break out of prison only to find out later that they were already on the special pardon list.
  • The Peak aka Life of Lee Youk-sa, the Poet who Embraced Epoch, starring Kim Dong-wan of boyband Shinhwa is a two-part special drama broadcast on MBC to commemorate Gwangbokjeol. It is on the life of poet and independence activist, Lee Youk-sa, who lived during the Japanese Colonial Period, and died in prison at 40 leaving behind some 40 pieces of poetry.[11]
  • The third drama rendition of Park Gyeong-ni's epic novel Toji (literally "The Land"), is a 52-episode historical drama which aired from 27 November 2004 to 22 May 2005, was broadcast by South Korean broadcaster SBS as commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Gwangbokjeol; and the only drama rendition after all 21 volumes were completed.[12] Starring Kim Hyun-joo & Yoo Jun-sang, it is set mainly in Pyeongsa Village, Agyang Town, Hadong County, South Gyeongsang Province, and it depicts the various lives centered around the multi-hectare land of the Choi House, spanning three generations from 1894 to 15 August 1945; with the last part of the last episode depicting part of the Gyokuon-hōsō.


  1. Park, Joo-hee (2014). "Performing Modernization of the Fatherland: Nationalism and School Theatre in South Korea during the Park Regime (1960–1979)". New York: Taylor & Francis. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-415-73910-8. Retrieved March 24, 2016. "Korea was liberated in 1945 through active intervention of 'world powers, not by the efforts of independence fighters or the Korean provisional government in China.'" 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 (Korean) Gwangbokjeol at Doosan Encyclopedia
  3. (Korean) Thinking of reunification through Gwangbokjeol, official blog of the Ministry of Unification
  4. "North Korea to introduce new timezone this month". BNO News. 7 August 2015. 
  5. "North Korea's new time zone to break from 'imperialism'". BBC News. 7 August 2015. 
  6. Mathis-Lilley, Ben (7 August 2015). "North Korea Invents New Time Zone, 'Pyongyang Time'". Slate. 
  7. (Korean) Gwangbokjeol ceremony, Yonhap News, 2009-08-15. Retrieved 2010-06-19
  8. (Korean) Gwangbokjeol Song at the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs
  9. (Korean) Gwangbokjeol pardons, Asia Today 2009-08-11. Retrieved 2010-06-19
  10. (Korean) Gwangbokjeol pardons, YTN 2009-08-11.Retrieved 2010-06-19
  11. Ho, Stewart (24 April 2012). "Kim Dong Wan’s MBC Drama Receives Award at Houston International Film Festival". enewsWorld. CJ E&M. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

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