Since ancient times, the Korean traditional color scheme was inspired by the concept of Eumyang-Ohaeng, yin and yang, and the five elements. This color scheme presents a belief that the world originated from two forces, yin and yang, and these forces created the five elements or Ohaeng, namely wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Based on Ohaeng, the basic, traditional Korean colors are the Obang colors, which literally mean “the five directions of color”. The five directions are center, north, south, east, and west, and five colors are assigned to these directions, namely yellow (center), blue (east), white (west), red (south), and black (north). When we look into the meaning of Obang colors based on the Eumyang-Ohaeng theory, yellow symbolizes the earth, which corresponds to the center of the universe. Yellow was mostly used on kings’ clothes because it was considered as one of the noblest colors. Blue, which means wood and east, symbolizes spring when everything comes alive. It signifies the creation and life and when wishing for good luck. White is the symbol of metal, fall, and west. Red stands for fervor, affection, and initiative such as the sun, fire, and blood. It’s the color that exorcises evil spirits. Black, which represents water and the north, controls human wisdom.
Obang colors are closely related to our daily lives. The color red is believed to drive away bad luck and harm. A bride on her wedding day wears rouge on her cheeks. Red peppers are threaded on a gold string and placed around the crock for soy sauce on the wedding day. In addition, a red talisman was attached on the gatepost and Patjuk (red adzuki-bean porridge) was sprinkled on every corner of the house during the winter solstice. The idea of Ohaeng in wishing good health and long life can also be shown in the rainbow-colored Hanbok that children wear on their first birthday and during holidays. The same goes for the five-colored garnishes on noodles served during traditional feasts. The bright and colorful Obang colors were often used in the daily traditional necessities. In particular, Korean patchworks represent the beauty of Obang colors. Our ancestors made good use of Obang colors as a symbol of the thought of Eumyang-Ohaeng, not to mention the pursuit of beauty. Obang colors are considered not simply as colors, but as tokens to wish good fortune and to drive out evil spirits.