Controversial 50,000-won bill will begin circulation in South Korea in June
A billfold bursting with Benjamins can make you look like a rock star, but sitting on a fat stack of low-value bills is just a pain in the … you know.
In South Korea, where the highest denomination of bank note is the 10,000-won bill — worth around $6.50 on Friday — a night out on the town means a wallet stuffed to the seams. Paying your rent by cash? Better bring an armored car.
But the weighty situation will improve in June, when the Bank of Korea begins circulating 50,000-won notes.
The bank unveiled the final design of the new bill on Wednesday. It will be slightly longer than the 10,000-won note and predominantly yellow.
The new bill has been in the works for some time but has been delayed by controversy. Proponents argued that Korean currency hadn’t kept pace with rising prices and incomes in the country, but opponents of large bills feared they could lead to increased corruption, spiraling costs and excessive spending.
Those concerns forced Bank of Korea to scuttle a proposed 100,000-won note.
The portrait on the new bill is another source of ongoing controversy. The bank selected Shin Saim-dang — a renowned writer, artist and calligrapher and mother of Lee Yulgok, a scholar whose face is on the 5,000-won bill. She is the first woman to be featured on Korean currency.
Bank of Korea officials said she was selected for her talent and because she embodied the cultural ideals of being dutiful to her parents, devoted to her husband, and dedicated to educating her children. But not all Koreans are happy with the choice.
Um Wu-joo, 21, a college student majoring musical composition, was critical.
"I don’t really understand why she is picked up," she said. "Who on earth made this choice? There is no doubt that she is a great figure, but she is not well matched to the modern age. She is just a symbolic figure of a good wife and wise mother."