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Heraldry of Leading Families

Posted November. 17, 2010 11:42,   


Heraldry emerged in Europe to symbolize power and dignity. European heraldry originated from helmets. Because knights wearing helmets could not recognize their enemies, they drew symbols on their shields. In Europe, heraldry is mostly on shields. The French king used lily features on his military’s heraldry and the British king used lion patterns. The Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars fought in medieval England between the houses of Lancaster and Tudor, got its name from the former’s use of red roses and the latter’s use of white roses.

Japan, known for its samurai warrior tradition, also used heraldry. The Japanese emperor Meiji bestowed chrysanthemum to the famed samurai Saigo Takamori for strengthening royal authority, while Minamoto no Yoritomo, founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, gave folding fan heraldry to samurai Satake Yoshinobu. Japanese heraldry used plants such as oak trees, sunflower and rattan. Design and colors were simpler compared to European heraldry. The Japanese department store chains Takashimaya and Sumitomo use the heraldry of their founders as company logos.

Heraldry prospered in the feudal age, when royal authority was weak. Having a centralized political system, however, Korea’s Joseon Dynasty and Chinese ruling families did not have a heraldry culture. Creating heraldry was considered disloyal to the king and emperor. Now, however, Korea is seeing the creation of heraldry. In North Gyeongsang Province, where most leading families in Korea originated, heraldry is being given to these families.

A formative arts think tank at Seoul National University is carrying out this task, focusing on creating images symbolizing heirlooms and the stories of specific families. The heraldry is edged with vertical lines symbolizing the doors of their houses. The pine tree, snow and flowers embodied in the main family of Yeongju of the Yeonbok faction made images of pine tree snow. The heraldry of the Cho family in Yeongyang, where famed poet Cho Ji-hoon was born, has the image of a hawk. It comes from a story of building a house in an area where a hawk landed. The forgotten leading families and Joseon scholar culture are attracting renewed interest due to heraldry.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)