First performed in 1896, it was well-known by all Koreans by 1910. (It was not the national anthem at this time however, as an imperial anthem was in use at the time.) At this time, the song was usually sung to a Scottish folk song, “Auld Lang Syne”, as well as occasionally to other music. In that year, the Japanese invaded Korea, and banned the song. However, it was still popular with Koreans abroad as a yearning for national independence.
In 1935 composer Ahn Eaktay wrote the music that’s currently in use for the anthem (he wanted the song to have a Korean melody and not that of a folk song of a foreign nation). It was adopted by the government in exile and then, when South Korea was founded in 1948, three years after the Japanese occupation ended, it was officially adopted by that government.
The anthem shares a title with that of the anthem of North Korea, as well as that of the Korean Empire, the music is also somewhat reminiscent of that of North Korea’s anthem. There has also been a “united Korean anthem” created by blending the melodies of the two nations’ anthems seamlessly, used by some to promote Korean re-unification.