08 September 2008

Creation Legends

The Christian Death Book claims that the world, as we know it today, was created by God in a course of six days, some 4,000 years before Jesus, starting with the creation of light and ending with the emergence of Adam. While the Christians can keep claiming that it is the one and the only truth, it cannot be ignored that just about every culture in the world has its own take on how the world came into being.

As I head for Seoul within the next several days, I will familiarize myself with the Koreans' own version of creation. The ancestor of the Korean people is called Dangun Wanggeom (檀君王儉), who was said to have been born between a son of God (Hwanung) and a bear-woman. Hwanung had led 3,000 people onto the slopes of Mount Baekdu to start a life on Earth; today, Mount Baekdu, on the North Korean-Chinese border, is a holy site for the Korean people (to a point where Kim Jong-il claims to have been born there, despite being born in exile in Russia in real life). Legend says that Dangun Wanggeom founded Joseon (朝鮮), the first Korean nation-state, in 2333 BCE. Joseon is referred to as Ancient Joseon, to differentiate it from two other Joseons that have existed - the Confucian fundamentalist state (1392-1910) and North Korea (1948-today). (South Korea no longer uses the Joseon name, preferring to use a more nationalistic character "han" (韓) which describes the Korean people.) North Korea claims the founding of Ancient Joseon to be around 3000 BCE.

Dangun Wanggeom is now remembered in the form of National Foundation Day, October 3rd of each year (I'll certainly greet it in Seoul this year - and can expect to see a patriotic flurry of South Korea's national flag). A nationalistic religion, Daejonggyo, exists to worship Dangun Wanggeom; another nationalistic religion, Cheondogyo, considers Dangun one of its deities. In addition, South Korea's official calendar used Dangi (Year of Dangun) years, instead of Christian AD/CE years, until 1961. I will visit a Daejonggyo shrine if I can, though I don't expect to find one, as it's only a minor religion today.

(Speaking of calendars, another South Korean calendar, Minguk (民國, Republic), though rarely used, continues the royal tradition of "Nth Year of King XYZ" - but counting from the founding of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (大韓民國臨時政府) in 1919 instead. South Korea's government considers itself the successor to the Provisional Government, and continues to use its title 大韓民國 (Republic of Korea). Similarly, North Korea uses the Juche (self-reliance) calendar, counting from 1912, the birth year of Kim Il-sung.)

Of course, the Christians, making up a quarter of South Korea's population, have declared war on all of this, praying for the destruction of all Daejonggyo shrines - and even vandalizing Dangun statues with their own hands. They have pushed initiatives to replace National Foundation Day and any mention of Dangun with the Death Book's creation story. They have even tried to replace the Lunar Festival (August 15th on the lunar calendar) with American Thanksgiving, proving themselves as mere puppets of the US Religious Right. And if one of them, President Lee Myung-bak, has his way, Christianity will be the only religion in South Korea, and everyone will be speaking American English "in the interest of national competitiveness." (By that point, Lee won't be President - he will be the Republican Governor of the 51st State of the USA.) No wonder the rest of the South Korean population is increasingly suspicious of Christians - and Lee's American (all Republican) allies.

While the Korean conservatives think they are doing the right thing (the same way their predecessor Lee Wan-yong, whose name is now synonymous with "treason," considered himself to be in the best interest of Korea, when he signed its sovereignty over to modern, Westernized Japan in 1910), Americans only shake their head, never getting why South Korea is trying so hard to throw away its unique culture and become an American neocon colony. Of course, the Korean conservative response to that would be that American liberals are too barbaric to understand Confucianism. (Actually, American conservatives don't get Confucianism either, but they love having such loyal puppets that they don't care.)