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Korean Folktale: the legend of Arang

4 min read

Look at me, look at me, look at me
As you look at a flower in the middle of winter, please look at me
Although my sweetheart has arrived I cannot say a word of welcome
Just opening my mouth without a word, stuffed my mouth with flap of my skirt
Sound of flute played by a bachelor at the next door by the fence
Sighing of a virgin at the well as she pumps water
Are you better than others? Am I better than you? Who is better than whom?
The best one is gu-ri-bak-tong ji-jun

(one with power and money)
Variation of Miryang Arirang folk song

This is one of the most famous ghost stories in Korea.
Until she got revenge on her murderer, she kept haunting the entire town in search of the one who could help her find the truth.
This is the tragic story of Arang (아랑), the daughter of a magistrate (busa) working for the government in Miryang, southeast in Korea.
Her legend is one of the more important stories about wongwi ( 원귀 ), spirits seeking justice by revenge, and it is from the Joseon Dynasty, sometime between 1400 to 1900.

Arang is said lived in the mid 1500s.
According to the legend her real name was Yun Dong-ok ( 윤동옥 /尹東玉), she had lost her mother when she was very young and she was basically brought up by a nanny.
But her nanny was mean, she hated her, and wanted her punished.
She even colluded with the servant Baekga to take her at night and rape her, but Arang resisted and he ended up stabbing her to death.
Eventually her body was taken into the woods and buried for no one to know.
In some versions, Arang is said to have gone out to have looked at the moon when a man approached her which she turned down, leading to him killing her, but there are also the versions where a low ranking officer bribed her nanny to bring her to him.
Either way her father, the magistrate, was distraught as they all thought that she had eloped and ran off with a stranger.
In shame he resigned from his position and the whole family took a backseat.

But this wasn’t the last they heard of her, as whenever a new magistrate was appointed in Miryang, the spirit of Arang appeared before him and asked for his help to restore her honor and avenge her.
Problem was that the appointed magistrates were so afraid of her that they all resigned and in the end, no one wanted to take the position out of fear for the ghost haunting the place.
In some versions of the legend, they died after not helping her, but that all changed when the man named Yi Sang-sa was appointed to the position.
The man saw past the scary ghost and promised the spirit of Arang to avenge her so she could have justice.
In some version she just tells the name of the killer, in others, she comes back as a butterfly to mark the murderer.
In any case the murderer is found out and the young magistrate arrested Baekga and had him executed.
After this, her spirit was able to move on and she no longer haunted the town.

Still today there is a shrine, called the Aranggak Shrine, in honor of Arang’s spirit where she is venerated, standing on a cliff in Miryang on the Yeongnamnu pavilion, facing the Miryang River.
Even the popular folk song Arirang has its own local version which is said to may or may not be about the legend of Arang, but there are also movies and TV series inspired by the legend, like the 2006 movie, Arang and the 2012 drama series Arang and the Magistrate.

Images from web – Google Research

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