Why Do Asians Always Do The Peace Sign?!

I sent a few pictures to my Dad of my recent field trip with my ESL students. He said, “Why do Asians always do the peace sign in pictures? They always did it when you lived in China.”

Anji, China

In China


“When you visited Korea and Japan, they did it too. ”

Koreans Doing Peace Sign

In Korea

Japanese people doing the v

In Japan

“They do it in the US. What does it mean and why did it start?”

I was able to explain that it actually is a “v” for victory, not a peace sign. But what does it really mean, and when did it start? I wasn’t able to give an explanation. So, I thought I’d do a little research on the topic.

The V sign began to be used during World War II by Allied troops.  Victor de Laveleye, former Belgian Minister of Justice, suggested the V sign on his 1941 BBC news broadcast as a way to rally support for the war. It spread through Belgium and moved on to France and the Netherlands and eventually all of Europe. Even Winston Churchill used the V for victory sign.

US President Richard Nixon went on to use the V sign for victory in the Vietnam War. However, protesters and hippies who were against the Vietnam War, changed the v from “victory”  to “peace” by holding up the same sign but saying “peace” as they did it as a subtle protest of the war. They wanted this hand gesture to change from its meaning of war to a meaning of positivity and happiness. 

The V sign probably became popular in Asia through an ice skater named Janet Lynn, who was a peace activist. She was often photographed in the Japanese media in the 1970s doing this sign.  Although the Japanese knew the V sign as victory because of WWII, Janet Lynn often displayed this sign as peace.

Another story says that a famous Japanese actor named Jun Inoue starred in some camera commercials in the 70’s where he flashed the V sign, thinking it was popular in the West, and it caught on from those commercials.  All in all, a lot of Asia copies Japan. And more importantly, Asia copies the West. Whether or not it was from seeing this ice skater make the V sign and thinking it was a popular thing to do in the West, we may never know.

China, Taiwan, and South Korea are also well known for doing this sign in photos. They say that the symbol means “yeah!”, like they are feeling good. But, really, Asians do so many poses for photos. They have the need to do hand gestures  in almost every informal photo.

There is one that guys do in China that means handsome. They might even just throw up a fist.

Chinese guy pose for photo

My students Cole and Soul doing the handsome pose and a fist


When girls do the V sign, it is usually close to their face. My Chinese friends told me it is a good chance for them to cover up some of their fat face. (Having a fat face is a big issue that many Asian girls dread).

Asian girl doing peace sign


I had to include this photo of me and my friend Ben in a bowling alley in China. Here I am being all fierce and competitive, and he told me he was doing a pose like a flower!

bowling in China


I even started doing the V sign after living in China for 2 years and traveling there in the years after.  It just became natural. In fact, it was nice to actually have something to do in a photo instead of just standing there awkwardly with my hands down to my sides.

Americans in China

Not a single Chinese person in sight, but here we are in China doing the V sign


American and Chinese on Great Wall of China


So the general rule of thumb is for that every month you live in Asia, you are 5% more likely to throw up your V sign in a photo. And, actually, it can be kind of fun. :] So I’m still not sure I fully understand why Asians do the V sign, but hey, sometimes with cultural differences, we don’t need to and can’t fully understand certain phenomenons, and there’s a real beauty in that.

Gangnam Style Remixed

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard the crazy hit song Gangnam Style by PSY. Have you been wondering what the song is about like I have been? Gangnam is a rich neighborhood in Seoul, and PSY is basically just poking fun at it. Turns out I visited that area of Seoul this summer when I was in Korea, so now I’m even more excited about the song.

And while I like the original version of the song, I REALLY like another version by a University of California, Berkley band called Ra-On. It has over 2.3 million views on YouTube! Check it out!

I’m also loving the Pentatonix version! Wonder if they even got close with the words. They’re too funny in this video too!


Have you noticed that certain objects can hold memories for you? That certain smells can transport you through time and space? That music will take you to a different place completely?

For example, in March when I went to China, I took a certain moisturizer. Now, whenever I use it, I think of being in snowy Harbin in northern China, piling on layer after layer of clothing to keep out the numbing cold and never quite succeeding.

The new shoes I bought to take to Japan with me this summer make me think of all the walking I did in Tokyo. While those shoes bring to mind the fabulous places I’ve been, they also remind me of the blisters I suffered because of my treks. :]

And speaking of clothing, an item that I can hardly bring myself to wear is the skirt I wore on my recent 14 hour flight back from Korea. The second that skirt touches my skin, I get a feeling of impatience and anxiousness over the long flight all over again. My brain is also tricked into thinking I won’t be able to change out of that skirt for over 24 hours.

Smells are what really hold memories for me. Smells can transport me back to a place in an instant. For example, I took a certain perfume with me to Puerto Rico to wear as I made my way from city to city on that island. I recently bought a new bottle of that perfume so that every morning when I put it on, I feel like I’m heading out into the tropical sunshine of that Caribbean island to go exploring.

If I smell sesame oil, I feel like I’m taking my lunch break from teaching in China and eating dumplings at my favorite little food stall on campus.

Hearing a certain song can remind me exactly where I was when I heard the song for the first time. It might have been with my best friends in junior high swimming in the back yard, or it might have been in a church building in Mexico.

It’s strange how our brains use objects and smells to remind us of our past, but I’m glad it does. I can travel in my mind over and over again just by eating a certain food or even hearing a particular song. Next time you take a trip, take a new album and make it your anthem. Take a new perfume, so that when you return, your nose will always be able to take you back. Eat foods there and then find then here. Your heart will thank you later.

What song, smell, or object transports you to a different place or time?

That One Time I Saw North Korea…

While I was disappointed to leave Japan, I knew I had the excitement of visiting yet another new-to-me country: South Korea. My flight from Tokyo to Seoul was only about 2.5 hours, and since my last flight was 12 hours, that flight was a breeze! My flight didn’t arrive in Seoul until 9 pm, so after my contact, Sang, picked me up from the airport and took me to where I was staying, I called it an early night.

The next day, Sang picked me up to do a little sight-seeing. After going to a park by the river, Sang said, “Hey, do you want to see North Korea? The DMZ is only about 45 minutes from here.” I wasn’t expecting that, but I absolutely wanted to!

In the US, the Korean War is sometimes called “The Forgotten War” because this war’s issues were deemed as a little more unclear than previous wars and people today tend to forget about this war. In South Korea, it’s known as “625”, which refers to the date the war started (June 25th). In North Korea, they call it the “Fatherland Liberation War”, and in China (because China aided North Korea in this war), it’s known as the “War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea”. Wow! Everyone has some different viewpoints on this conflict.

The war, which took place between 1950 and 1953, erupted because at the end of World War II, Korea ceased to be a Japanese colony after Japan’s defeat. Who would help this newly freed nation? The Soviets would assist in the north, while American troops would help in the south. The Soviets ended up bringing communism to the North, and the situation turned into the first military act of the Cold War. Harry Truman, US president at the time, said that the US had to intervene because if not “the Soviet[s] will keep right on going and swallow up one [place] after another.” Nearly 5 million people died during these 3 years, and, as you know, North Korea is still communist.

Now the DMZ, the demilitarized zone,  exists. It’s a 150 mile area that serves as a large border between North and South Korea. It is the most heavily fortified border in the world with soldiers on the edges of it always standing guard, barbed-wire fences everywhere, and the knowledge that anyone that tries to cross illegally will be shot on site with no questions asked. The part of the DMZ that I went to was just right at the edge of it-still on the South Korean side.

People on the South Korean side decorate the fences with ribbons that have wishes written on them-wishes to be reunited with their loved ones. Can you imagine if someone suddenly cut your country in half and you were never allowed to see or hear from your friends and loved ones on the other side? North Koreans aren’t allowed to leave their country. They can’t make a phone call to family. They aren’t permitted to even use the internet. They are completely isolated. Sang translated some of the messages on the ribbons for me, and they made me so sad. One of the most touching was one that simply said, “Grandma. Grandpa. I miss you.” There was also a birthday card that said something like this, “I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again or if you’re even still alive, but happy birthday.” That’s when I just started crying. I just can’t even fathom how hard that must be on the Korean people on both sides.


North Korean Border

North Korean Border

North Korean Border

North Korea

There is also an official border crossing that is really only for South Koreans to cross. South Korea built a great deal of factories that give 100’s of 1,000’s of North Koreans jobs and many South Koreans cross that border daily to work there as well. I was allowed to take pictures from the car, but I wasn’t allowed to get out of the car.

North Korea

Going to the DMZ was an eye-opening experience for me. I knew a few things about the Korean conflict, but this made it real to me. It is a sad situation that I hope can be fixed sooner rather than later.

When we were leaving, I asked Sang, “Do you have any family in North Korea?”

He said, “I do. But I try not to think about them. I don’t know if they’re living or dead. I can’t think about it, or I’d be sad every day of my life. I must put it out of my mind.”