The opening of heaven
Legend has it that the first Korean kingdom was created by Dangun, whose heavenly father, Hwan-ung, wanted to live on earth. Hwan-ung’s father, the Lord of Heaven, eventually let his son descend upon Mount Taebaek with three ministers – the ministers of rain, wind and clouds. Hwang-ung established “the city of god” on earth. One day, a bear and a tiger came to Hwan-ung and asked him to make them human. Hwan-ung gave them a bundle of mugwort and 20 garlic cloves and told them to eat them and stay in a cave out of the sunlight for 100 days if they wanted to become humans. The tiger gave up after several days, while the bear endured the hardship and became a woman. She became Hwang-ung’s wife and gave birth to a son named Dangun, who is regarded as the founder of the Korean nation.
5000-year history of Korean nation
The above description of the origin of the Korean nation is included in the ancient historic document “Samguk Yusa,” or the Memorabilia of Three Kingdoms. Like many other nations, Korea is said to have been created by a heavenly figure. But that does not mean that Dangun was a fictional character. The Memorabilia of Three Kingdoms says that Dangun lived in Pyeongyang Province and founded the ancient Korean kingdom of Gojoseon during the 50th year of Emperor Yao’s reign in China. Many other historic documents in Korea and China also say that Gojoseon was founded in 2333 B.C. That’s why in Korea October 3 is National Foundation Day, or “gaecheonjeol,” which literally translates to “the day heaven opened.”
After founding the first Korean kingdom, Dangun Wanggeom relocated the capital to the city of Asadal. He dug ditches, created fields and promoted the silkworm industry. Dangun enacted a national law and established public order. Murderers were executed, while thieves were forced to live as slaves. Dangun also promoted humanitarianism and worshipped heaven every October. His people enjoyed a life of abundance and happiness. Gojoseon left a rich cultural legacy of ironware to Korean people of today. Even after its collapse in 108 B.C., the first kingdom continued to have a profound impact on the Korean Peninsula. Perhaps that’s why the Memorabilia of Three Kingdoms says that Dangun Wanggeom, who ruled his kingdom for 1500 years, returned to Asadal and became a mountain spirit.
Understanding the Legend of Dangun
Some people say that Dangun Wanggeom was a real person, while others think that he was a legendary and religious figure. During the Japanese colonial rule, Dangun was regarded as a myth, but history made him a legend. Though finding ancient historic facts is not easy due to the lack of historic documents, the legend of Dangun stands out from the legends in other countries about gods. The legend of Dangun emphasizes harmony between heaven and earth achieved through the birth of a human being between a heavenly father and a bear-woman. It represents the peaceful mindset of the Korean nation, which helped the country achieve prosperity during its many kingdoms: Buyeo, Samhan, Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje.
Dangun Wanggeom was more than legend. Rather, he was large historic figure. To prove his existence and clarify facts about Gojoseon, South and North Korean historians launched a joint research project in 2002. Archeological research into the northern areas of the Korean Peninsula, where Gojoseon was situated, as well as nearby Manchurian areas has been carried out vigorously. Proving historic facts about Dangun is crucial to discovering the ethnic roots of Koreans and correcting historic distortions.