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Can You Guess? The Hat of the Korean Kings Symbolizes THIS Insect.

Korean King Hat

If you are an avid fan of Korean historical drama, you might have noticed that the kings of olden days Korea (during the Joseon Dynasty period, 1392-1897, to be chronologically correct) wore a fancy bulbous hat and thought that they knew a thing or two about fashion.

The hat, which was wore along with gollyongpo, the king’s official attire (silk!) embroidered with the majestic golden dragon, is named ikseongwan, where ik stands for “wings”, seon for “cicada” and gwan for “hat”.

It is composed of low front and high back, and is a fine masterpiece of super craftsmanship. Here is how it is made.

First, thin bamboo strips and horsetail are carefully woven together around the dome-shaped wood, setting the initial body of the hat. After that, it is thoroughly lacquered with great care. Finally, the two flaps are attached to the back in a curved shape. The thick threads are then sewn onto the front make sure that the wings stay together.

Oh, so what does the hat symbolize? I believe I already gave away the answer. The two flaps represent the wings of a cicada. But why? Here is the answer.

  1. Integrity – Cicadas only eat dew.*
  2. Decency – Cicadas never indulge in or damage grains grown by farmers.
  3. Modesty – Cicadas do not
    build homes.
  4. Credibility – Cicadas always come out in summer and leave in fall.

*This is a misconception people had back then – they suck sap from the various species of trees, including oak, cypress, willow, ash, and maple, using their sucking mouthparts.

That’s why the kings of the Joseon Dynasty always wore the hat. While it originally came from the Ming Dynasty, the Kings of the Joseon Dynasty gave it a new meaning and It served a symbol of the king’s resolve for his people, and a sincere effort to not forget and emulate the many great virtues of the cicadas. The court officials also worn a slightly different version of the headgear. While the flaps of the king’s hat point upward to the sky, their flaps are placed to point toward the earth. The difference was used to distinguish the king and his retainers.

Well, aren’t the cicadas and ikseongwan awesome? Maybe that’s something today’s leaders should put on their head as a daily reminder.

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