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Who was Dangun?
Lee Dong Hee, Ph.D.

Dangun Sites

Exactly one hundred South Korean were cleared by the Unification Ministry to attend the ceremony in North Korea. A North Korean plane picked them up at Inchon on October 1. About one hour later, they landed at Sunahn near Pyongyang and checked in at the Botong-gang Hotel. All expenses were paid by Pyongyang.

The Dangun Mausoleum was restored in 1994. The huge complex occupies about 450 acres on the slope of Mt. Daebaik. The complex is divided into three major sections: restoration work area, stone statue area and the burial site. Dangun's grave is shaped like a pyramid, about 22 m high and 50 m on each side.

The burial chamber is located inside this pyramid: a large Dangun portrait hangs by the entrance. The remains of Dangun and his wife are preserved in a glass case. Their bone fragments were collected and put together by the restorers after years of hard work.

The Foundation Day ceremony on October 3 was attended by a large number of North Korean students clad in the traditional attires - colorful chima-jogori. They were also celebrants from overseas. After the official notes and a traditional worship, a music and dance festival was held. The ceremony participants danced joyfully en mass. People from North, South and overseas freely commingled and celebrated the founding of the Korean nation.

Later that day, Dangun scholars from North and South presented academic papers on Dangun at the People's Palace of Culture. Yung Nae Han, head of the Dangun Research Institute in South Korea, and Huh Jong Ho, head of the Korean History Academy, were the principal speakers at this symposium. Until recently, the Dangun researchers from North and South had no way of sharing their research materials on Dangun, but they were unanimous in their conclusion that Dangun was a real person.

On October 4, the celebrants went to the Samsung Temple on Mt. Guwol, Hwang-hae-do. This temple, which symbolizes the Korean nation, was burned by the Japanese in 1911. This burning was the very first move by the Japanese to erase all traces of Korea as an independent people.

The temple was rebuilt in 2001 and honors the memory of Dangun, his father (Hwan Woon), and his grandfather (Hwan Inn). Hence the name Samsung - the Three Saints.

The celebrants shared a dinner that night and socialized late into the night. Early in the following morning, the delegates from South Korea were flown back to Inchon in a North Korean plane.

Who was Dangun?

Was he a human or a deity or a bear?

Was he really a person? Was he a son of a man or of a god? Or was he an offspring of an angel and a bear as a mythology claims? Are we descendants of a bear?

Very little is known of the founding father of the Old Korea. Many Koreans don't know for sure if Dangun was a person, a deity or an animal. Some historians claim that Dangun is a myth. Some people claim Dangun is a mere fable. Some Christian leaders in Korea have destroyed Dangun statues fearing idolatry. Unbelievably, most Koreans don't care either way.

The sad fact of the matter is that the Korean people pay little attention to their origin. It is no wonder then that Korea was annexed by Japan, divided by foreign powers and even worse, it remains divided. People who don't care about their founding father don't deserve to be independent.

Where did we come from? Who are we? Who am I? Where did I come from and where is my root? If we cannot answer these questions, how can we call ourselves humans or Koreans? We would be no different from the beasts or savages.

The Three Saints did exist. The story of the three saints - Dangun, his father and grandfather - is recorded in the ancient Samsung Chronicle and also in the Three-Nation Chronicle, familiar to all students of history in Korea. The story of Dangun is clearly stated in these ancient archives but until recently, the Dangun was not taken seriously.

Dangun's grave does exist and this is no myth. It was restored after centuries of neglect. Dangun's remains do exist and have been scientifically identified. What do the grave and remains of Dangun mean?

It means that Dangun was a real person. He was not a mythical figure or a god or a bear. He was a normal human being. It means that he lived in Korea and was buried in Korea. The remains of Dangun and his wife do exist and can be examined by any skeptic.

The Foundation Day (gae-chun-jul) is celebrated in South Korea and everyone knows about it. It honors the day Dangun founded the Old Korea. Dangun's ancestors founded an earlier Korean nation 1,565 years before Dangun. Dangun founded the Korean nation in 2333 BC. Originally, October 3rd was by Lunar calendar but it was later accepted as the normal calendar date for simplicity. Kim Gu's Provisional Government in Shanghai made it an official holiday of Korea.

The date of Dangun's death is remembered on the Uhchun-jul. It is lunar March 15. Various organizations hold commemorative services on this day to honor the founding father of Korea. Sadly, few Koreans know of this day. If you don't believe in Dangun, then you must believe that Dangun's grave and remains are fakes and must discard the Dangun Memorial Day which has been honored for centuries in Korea. With the gradual opening of North Korea, it is expected that more scientific evidence of Dangun will become available.

Professor Lee Dong Hee's article is featured on Korea WebWeekly. It is an excerpt from 'Are we descendents of Dangun?'

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