The Legend of Dan-gun
A long, long time ago, Hwan-In was ruling over the kingdom of Heaven. He had a son, whose name was Hwan-Ung. Hwan-Ung was a clever, compassionate, and constructive man and Hwan-In treated his son lovingly. One day, Hwan-Ung looked down into the world of mortals and became interested in them. He asked his father to let him go to the beautiful Peninsula of Korea to govern. Hwan In granted his sons request and sent him along with Pung-Beg (the Earl of Wind), U-Sa (the Chancellor of Rain), and Un-Sa (The Chancellor of Clouds) to supervise the world of mortals, and help maintain their livelihood. The ministers were able to control rain, wind, clouds, and all natural elements so that grain could grow, life would prosper and good and evil would be judged. Hwan-Ung and his ministers ruled wisely.
At that time, a bear and a tiger lived on the earth in a cave near a sandalwood tree. They both wanted to become human. When Hawn-Ung discovered their sincere desire he wanted to grant their wish. Hawn-Ung called them and told them, "If you endure 100 days in a dark cave eating only garlic and mugwort, you will become a human."
The bear and the tiger took the mugwort and the garlic into the cave and began their ordeal. They prayed that their wish might be granted. But the tiger was extremely restless and dissatisfied, as it could not control its energy. The tiger said, "I cant endure these days of sitting quietly in the cave." And the tiger ran away. But the bear held fast to the end, and after 21 days her wish was granted and she became a beautiful woman.
The bear-woman was overjoyed and visited the sandalwood tree, where she prayed that she might have a child. Hwan-Ung married the beautiful bear-woman and made her Queen. Soon she gave birth to a prince, which they named Dan-gun, or the Sandalwood King. When Dan-gun grew up, he reigned as the first human king of the peninsula. He established a new capital at Pyongyang (now in North Korea) and named the kingdom Zoson (ChosonLand of the Morning Calm). This all happened 4,283 years ago.1
Even today, there is a monument in the Taebaek Mountains near the 48th parallel of the Korean Peninsula where Dan-Gun was believed to be born. All Koreans know that the tiger still roams the mountains. While bears are known to have the patience and fortitude to sleep in caves for long periods of time, the dramatic, active tiger is not. Though the poor tiger was not turned into a human, its plight has vibrated in the Korean peoples hearts and even today their affection for the tiger is special. The Korean tiger is depicted as frightening, yet familiar; brave and almost sacred, but at the same time rather slow-witted. He sometimes repays debts, and scolds the hypocrisy of human society; but other times he is the thief and hypocrite himself, as in the following story: