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Birth of Dangun, legendary founder of Korea

This Day in World History

October 3, 2333 BCE

Birth of Dangun, legendary founder of Korea

According to Korean tradition, Dangun, the founder of Korea’s first dynasty, was born on October 3, more than 4,000 years ago. The legend of his birth indicates why this king is so important.

Hwanung, the son of the king of heaven, wanted to live among men rather than among the gods. He came down the earth with 3,000 followers and settled in what is now North Korea, ruling the humans who lived in the area. Two animals—a bear and a tiger—wished to become human and asked Hwanung to change them. He gave them food and told them they had to avoid the sun for 100 days. They hid in a cave, but the tiger could not sustain the effort and left the cave. The bear preserved, however, and was rewarded by being changed into a beautiful woman. She then prayed to have a son, and Hwanung did his part in helping that wish become true. The son, of course, was Dangun.

When he reached adulthood, Dangun became the first human king of the Korean people. He named his kingdom Choson and ruled—the legend says—for 1,211 years. Koreans now celebrate his birthday as National Foundation Day. The day is marked by ceremonies giving thanks to Dangun and to the traditional Korean gods. In recent years, North Korea has claimed to find the tomb of Dangun. That claim is viewed with skepticism, as outside scholars have not been able to visit the site.

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