It’s Saturday October 1, 2011, and yesterday I learned how Korea was founded. The Korean creation myth begins with a bastard Dragon Prince, a bear and the want of two animals of the Korean peninsula to become human.
Nate began by telling us what he had heard from our Korean managers.
“They claim the son of the Dragon king came down and found a bear and a tiger,” he began.
“Okay, I’m with you,” I said taking off both of my headphones and turning away from my worksheets and game of Bubble Spinner.
“All the animals had heard about people…”
“So, the animals could talk?” I asked cutting in.
“And there were no people in the world?”
“No, there were people, just no people in Korea,” Nate said putting down his iPhone and turning towards me. “The Dragon king and his illegitimate son are like Zeus and the Greek gods, they come down to Earth and turn into humans and what not.”
“That makes sense,” I said.
“The Dragon king’s bastard son found a bear and a tiger that wanted to be human and they went to a cave together. The bastard prince waited for one of them to turn into a woman, and the tiger gave up. So, he had sex with the bear and that’s where the Korean people come from.”
“That’s awesome,” I said. The rest of the office began asking questions, such as, “Koreans believe they are the progeny of a bastard?” and “Was the bear a woman before it changed, or did it become a woman after it changed?” and “How could the animals talk?” We all began asking students who either smiled at our interest in their history, or just shrugged at our questions. After piecing together what I found on the internet with what I could learn at work, this is what I came up with:
In ancient Korea there were five family names and if you were born without one of these names you were considered a bastard because you had no legitimate ties to any of the ruling and aristocratic families. As a bastard you were unable to hold any government office, you couldn’t hold land; you couldn’t inherit money or have any power. Only the nobility of Korean society had these names, which meant large masses were bastards. The masses argument against the ruling class claiming they were all bastards was that the country was founded by the bastard son of the Dragon King. The Dragon Prince’s son became the first ruler of Korea, and his kingdom was near modern Pyongyang. This story’s importance can be found in the fact that Kim Jong Il claims that Tan’gun’s (the Dragon Prince’s son) bones were found in a cave near his father’s village. The myth became a source of pride and was central to the Korean shamanistic religion. The importance of the masses is remembered each year on Foundation Day, October 3rd.