The pine is a tall, needle-leaved tree which makes a moderate demand on soil. The species grows in the vast areas of Korea under 800 m above sea level—except the alpine regions in the northern part of the country. From olden times the Koreans used it for building materials, and its seeds, leaves, barks, resin, sap, sprouts and pollen to make foods and medicines.
The Koreans’ special attachment to the tree does not come from its utility alone. They have regarded it as symbol of their national spirit and mettle, because it stands staunchly despite all rigors of nature while preserving its green foliage in all seasons. Many poets and painters of Korea chose the tree for the subject of their poems, songs, murals and other works of arts. According to old records, Solgo, a renowned painter in the 8th century, painted an old pine tree on the wall of the Hwangryong Temple so wonderfully that it was enough to make birds fall down from the wall when they tried to alight on it. Many masterpieces by the Korean artists like Kim Hong Do, Ri In Mun and Kim Jong Hui show pine trees. And many of the names of mountains and places in the country are associated with the pine. Wang Kon, founder king of Koryo (918–1392), saw to it that pine trees were planted all about Kaesong to make it the befitting capital city of the dynasty, and named a mountain in it Mt. Songak meaning mountain of pine trees.
The poem “Green Pine on Nam Hill” composed by Kim Hyong Jik, outstanding leader of the anti-Japanese national liberation movement of Korea, became a famous song widely chanted by the Korean people. During the Japanese imperialists’ military occupation of Korea (1905–1945) he devoted all his life to the struggle to win back the country’s independence and sovereignty. He put forth the idea of “Jiwon” (Aim High), which maintained that it was necessary to cultivate national strength if they were to repulse the Japanese imperialists and achieve independence of the country, and that, if so, it was essential to keep an aim high. In the autumn of 1918 he made a poem entitled “Green Pine on Nam Hill”, which reflected his faith and determination.
Now the Korean people love to sing pine-themed songs to show their spirit, while vigorously advancing forward along the road of independence and socialism and resolutely frustrating the imperialists’ moves of isolation and suffocation. The song “I Think, Looking at You” produced in 1994 gives an emotional and profound depiction of the spirit of Korea by the description of the staunch appearance of the pine tree which sways invariably with green foliage even in the stormy winter or leaf-fallen autumn. The pine is the national tree of the DPRK. The custom of planting the pine on holidays, at wedding ceremonies and on other significant occasions is carried on continuously.