Dangun Myth: Memory of Mixing?
Some readers will recall a recent dispute about the meaning of Korea's Dangun legend in the comments to a blog entry on Gypsy Scholar. In that blog entry, "Priceless Pureblood," I referred to an earlier post:
Over two years ago, on April 24, 2006, I posted a blog entry on "The Very First Half-Korean," in which I noted some of the prejudice encountered here in Korea by my children -- who are half-Korean from their mother's side and various mixed-other-ethnicities-adding-up-to-half from my side.One individual left a number of comments disputing my remark about "the very first Korean" as mixed, including this representative comment:
In that same post, I noted that Koreans generally place great emphasis upon their being a "pure-blooded race" despite the irony of the very first Korean having reputedly been half-divine and half-bear-woman, and I asked, "So . . . what's the big deal about Korean purity of blood, anyway?"
The story of Dangun has absolutely nothing to do with mixing -- you misunderstand / distort the main elements of the story. Just ask any Korean, they will explain it to you (without any kind of 'mixing'!).In a response, I wrote (among other things):
I assume that you know the story of the god Hwanung's descent from heaven by way of Mt. Baekdu, the transformation of a female bear into the woman Ungnyeo, and the marriage of these two very different beings, resulting in the fruit [of] their union, Dangun.But the anonymous commenter, in a further response to my points and those of my friend Charles La Shure, would have none of that:
Most Koreans, of course, do regard themselves as a "pure" race. That's precisely why I point out that the Dangun myth is, ironically, a myth of mixing.
I've never met a single Korean who considers himself mixed, go explain that!! The irony, therefore, is that you desperately distort the myth to make it fit your biased persepective! All Koreans are descendants of that union, according to the myth: therefore they see themselves as all belonging to the same race. So you can't say that Koreans are 'mixed'...The anonymous commenter was abusively certain that all Koreans consider themselves 'pureblood' descendents of Dangun and that the original story was definitely not about mixing. I wouldn't be bringing this up again except for the appearance of Kang Shin-who's interesting article, "Is Korea Homogeneous Country?," in a recent issue of the Korea Times (12/22/2008). Among its intriguing points are the following remarks by two Koreans:
Some anthropology professors say the saying "pure Korean blood" doesn't make sense at all. "It is crazy to say Koreans are homogeneous people. You are mixed, so am I, all Koreans are mixed," said Chun Kyung-soo, professor of Seoul National University. "The term 'homogenous people' should disappear. It is a superficial term."Taken together, the remarks of this anthropology professor at SNU, Chun Kyung-soo, and this chairwoman for an immigrant center, Han Kook-yeom, tend to confirm something that I also wrote to the anonymous commenter:
Han Kook-yeom, chairwoman of the Korean immigrant women center, also echoed professor Chun's views. "Originally, we were not homogeneous people. The [Dangun] myth of the foundation of Korea also shows that we are a mix of different people," she said.
From an anthropological perspective, the Dangun myth likely reflects an intermixing of two tribes -- an invading tribe, to which Dangun's father belongs, and a local tribe with the bear as totem animal, to which Dangun's mother belongs.Perhaps the anonymous commenter will see today's blog entry, read the Korea Times article, and reconsider my point about the Dangun myth.