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Dangun Wanggeom was the legendary founder of Gojoseon, the first Koreanmarker kingdom, around present-day Liaoningmarker, Manchuria, and the Korean Peninsula. He is said to be the grandson of heaven, and to have founded the kingdom in 2333 BC. Although the term Dangun commonly refers to the founder, some believe it was a title meaning "high priest" used by all rulers of Gojoseon, and that Wanggeom was the proper name of the founder. The earliest recorded version of the Dangun legend appears in the 13th century Samguk Yusa, which cites China's Book of Wei and Korea's lost history text Gogi (古記).

Story

Dangun's ancestry legend begins with his grandfather Hwanin or Hwaneen (환인; 桓因), the "Lord of Heaven". Hwanin had a son Hwanung who yearned to live on the earth among the valleys and the mountains. Hwanin permitted Hwanung and 3,000 followers to descend onto Baekdu Mountainmarker, where Hwanung founded Sinsi (신시; 神市, "City of God"). Along with his ministers of clouds, rain, and wind, he instituted laws and moral codes and taught humans various arts, medicine, and agriculture.

A tiger and a bear prayed to Hwanung that they may become human. Upon hearing their prayers, Hwanung gave them 20 cloves of garlic and a bundle of mugwort, ordering them to eat only this sacred food and remain out of the sunlight for 100 days. The tiger gave up after about twenty days and left the cave. However, the bear remained and was transformed into a woman.

The bear-woman (Ungnyeo; 웅녀; 熊女) was grateful and made offerings to Hwanung. However, she lacked a husband, and soon became sad and prayed beneath a Sindansu (신단수; 神檀樹, "Divine Betula") tree to be blessed with a child. Hwanung, moved by her prayers, took her for his wife and soon she gave birth to a son, who was named Dangun Wanggeom.

Dangun ascended to the throne, built the walled city of Asadal, situated near Pyongyangmarker (present capital of North Koreamarker), and called the kingdom Joseon—referred to today as "Old/Ancient Joseon" (Korean: "Gojoseon") so as not to be confused with the Joseonmarker kingdom which occurred much later. He then moved his capital to Asadal on Mount Baegak (or Mount Gunghol). Fifteen hundred years later, in the year Kimyo, King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty enfeoffed Jizi to Joseon, and Dangun moved his capital to Jangdangyeong. Finally, he returned to Asadal and became a mountain god at the age of 1,908.

Dating

Emperor Dangun's rule is usually calculated to begin in 2333 BC, based on the description of the Dongguk Tonggam (1485) as the 50th year of the reign of the legendary Chinesemarker Emperor Yao. Other sources vary somewhat, but also put it during Yao's reign (traditional dates: 2357 BC-2256 BC). Samguk Yusa states Dangun ascended to the throne in the 50th year of Yao's reign, while Sejong Sillok says the first year and Dongguk Tonggam says the 25th year.

Until 1961, the official South Koreanmarker era (for numbering years) was called the Dangi (단기, 檀紀), which began in 2333 BC. Daejonggyo considered October 3 in the Korean calendar as Gaecheonjeol (개천절, 開天節, "Festival of the Opening of Heaven"). This day is now a national holiday in the Gregorian calendar, called National Foundation Day.

North Koreamarker dates Dangun's founding of Gojoseon to early 30th century BCE.

Interpretation

The earliest recorded version of the Dangun legend appears in the 13th century Samguk Yusa, which cites China's Book of Wei and Korea's lost history text Gogi (古記). This is the best known and most studied version, but similar versions are recorded in the Jewang Un-gi by the late Goryeo scholar Yi Seunghyu 李承休 (1224­-1300), as well as the Eungje Siju and Sejong Sillok of the early Joseon dynastymarker.

Scholars today regard the legend as reflecting the sun-worship and totemism common in the origin myths of Northeast Asia. The bear is often found in origin myths of Manchuria and Russian Far East. The legend therefore may hint at the relationships among various tribes that worshipped the sun, bear, and tiger.

Simply re-interpreted, the legend can become this:



" Around the time of Emperor Yao's reign in China, a tribal nation which worshipped the sun grew strong and began to incorporate other primitive Korean tribes and began to build a confederacy of tribes. One group, worshipping the bear as its totem, was incorporated. Another, which worshipped the tiger, was excluded from this union. From the union of the Sun tribe (in the legend, Shinshi) and the Bear tribe, Dangun Wanggeom was born, and Dangun later founded a nation, and named it Joseonmarker. His descendants ruled Joseon until the rebellion of Wiman, or, despite controversy, until the arrival of Jizi."

It is widely accepted by present-day historians that at the time of Dangun's reign, his status was deified by placing him in the position of the Grandson of Heaven, and thus, strengthened Dangun's position as the head of a confederacy.

The story further illustrates the importance of knowledge of weather to the early agricultural peoples of Korea.

Archaeological site

In the 1990s, North Koreamarker claimed it had found and excavated parts of the Mausoleum of Dangunmarker. Scholars outside of North Korea are generally skeptical of the dating methods and the extent of renovations, since the government has not permitted independent access and testing.

Dangun as religion

During the Mongol invasions of Korea, the Dangun legend is thought to have played an important role in national unity and patriotic mobilization against the invaders. Gosindo (고신도; 古神道), a version of Korean shamanism that considered Dangun a god, had a small following, but had largely died out by the 15th century.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with a resurgence in Korean nationalism after repeated Japanesemarker invasions and the beginning of Japanese rule (1910-1945), the movement was revived in Daejonggyo (대종교; 大宗敎). It was promoted by Na Cheol (1864-1916), but could not survive the repression under the occupation ( Taejonggyo (1999)/Tangun), since it conflicted with the Japanese cultural imperialism policy. After the surrender of Japan and Korean liberation, Daejonggyo was revived, although it remains a minor religion.

Dangun is worshipped today as a deity by the followers of Cheondogyo.

Dangun in Taekwondo

Dangun is the second pattern or tul in the ITF form of the Korean martial art taekwon-do. Students learn that the tul represents "the holy legendary founder of Korea in the year 2333 BC." Unusually for a tul, all the punches in Dangun are high section (at eye level), symbolising Dangun scaling a mountain. see Dan-Gun Hyung.

See also



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