Korea celebrates its 4300-year-plus history
The history of national foundation day
It's happy birthday to Korea! This year Korea celebrates its 4,341st anniversary of founding, dating back to 2333 B.C.
The Korean term for national foundation day is “Gaecheon-jeol” meaning “the Opening of Sky/Heaven.” Such a title is derived from the legend of Dangun Wanggeom, popularly known as the founder of “Gojoseon” (2333–108 B.C.), the first kingdom of Korea.
Dangun's story begins with his father, Hwanung, the son of heaven, who opened up the sky to descend to earth with 3,000 followers, including the god of wind, rain and cloud. Hwanung ruled the land peacefully and the land prospered under his leadership.
One day a tiger and a bear came before Hwanung, begging to become human. Hwanung gave them sacred garlic and onions and asked them to eat only these and stay away from sunlight for 100 days. The two hid themselves inside a cave.
It was the tiger who gave up first, less then a month later, and the bear who persevered to the end. After the promised 100 days the bear found herself changed into a beautiful woman. She was called “Ungnyeo” meaning “bear woman” but was not accepted by villagers due to her past as an animal. Hwanung took pity on her, made her his wife and she bore a son who was Dangun Wanggeom, founder of Korea.
The story has been passed down consistently through historical records and various religious rituals of the kingdom of Buyeo (239 B.C.–A.D. 494), the confederacy of Mahan (1st century B.C.–A.D. 3rd century), Goguryeo (37 B.C.-A.D. 668), Baekje (18 B.C.–A.D. 660), Silla (57 B.C.–A.D. 935) and the subsequent two dynasties Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910).
It was Na Chol (1863-1916), the founder of Daejonggyo, who tried to keep up the tradition. Daejonggyo is a national religion that worships Dangun and his progenitors. It was his idea to designate Oct. 3 (by the lunar calendar) as foundation day in 1909. The date was based on the record of the Comprehensive Mirror of the Eastern Kingdom (Dongguk Tonggam) written in 1458.
During Japan's annexation of Korea (1910-1945), the Korean provisional government in Shanghai honored the day together with the members of Daejonggyo. After national liberation, the Republic of Korea in 1949 decided to lock in the date Oct. 3 as foundation day, instead of moving it around every year according to the lunar calendar.