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Revised RomanizationDangun Wanggeom
McCune–ReischauerTan'gun Wanggŏm
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Revised RomanizationDangun Wanggeom
McCune–ReischauerTan'gun Wanggŏm

Dangun Wanggeom, or Tangun, was the legendary founder of Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom, around present-day Liaoning, Manchuria, and the Korean Peninsula. He is said to be the "grandson of heaven", and to have founded the kingdom in 2333 BC. The earliest recorded version of the Dangun legend appears in the 13th century Samguk Yusa, which cites China's Book of Wei and Korea's lost historical record Gogi (古記).


Dangun's ancestry legend begins with his grandfather Hwanin (환인; 桓因), the "Lord of Heaven". Hwanin had a son, Hwanung, who yearned to live on the earth among the valleys and the mountains. Hwanin permitted Hwanung and 3,000 followers to descend onto Baekdu Mountain, where Hwanung founded Sinsi (신시; 神市, "City of God"). Along with his ministers of clouds, rain, and wind, he instituted laws and moral codes and taught humans various arts, medicine, and agriculture.[1] Legend attributes the development of acupuncture and moxibustion to Dangun.[2]

A tiger and a bear prayed to Hwanung that they might become human. Upon hearing their prayers, Hwanung gave them 20 cloves of garlic and a bundle of mugwort, ordering them to eat only this sacred food and remain out of the sunlight for 100 days. The tiger gave up after about twenty days and left the cave. However, the bear remained and was transformed into a woman. The bear and the tiger are said to represent two tribes that sought the favor of the heavenly prince.[3]

The bear-woman (Ungnyeo; 웅녀; 熊女) was grateful and made offerings to Hwanung. However, she lacked a husband, and soon became sad and prayed beneath a "Sindansu" (신단수; 神檀樹, "Divine Betula") tree to be blessed with a child. Hwanung, moved by her prayers, took her for his wife and soon she gave birth to a son, who was named Dangun Wanggeom.

Dangun ascended to the throne, built the walled city of Asadal, situated near Pyongyang (the location is disputed) and called the kingdom Joseon—referred to today as "Old/Ancient Joseon" (Korean: "Gojoseon") so as not to be confused with the Joseon kingdom which occurred much later. He then moved his capital to Asadal on Mount Baegak (or Mount Gunghol).


Emperor Dangun's rule is usually calculated to begin in 2333 BC, based on the description of the Dongguk Tonggam (1485) contemporary to the 40th year of the reign of the legendary Chinese Emperor Yao. Other sources vary somewhat, but also put it during Yao's reign (traditional dates: 2357 BC-2256 BC). Samguk Yusa states Dangun ascended to the throne in the 50th year of Yao's reign, while Sejong Sillok says the first year and Dongguk Tonggam says the 25th year.

A South Korean postage stamp in 1956 (Dangi 4289)

Until 1961, the official South Korean era (for numbering years) was called the Dangi (단기, 檀紀), which began in 2333 BC. Daejonggyo considered October 3 in the Korean calendar as Gaecheonjeol (개천절, 開天節, "Festival of the Opening of Heaven"). This day is now a national holiday in the Gregorian calendar, called National Foundation Day.

North Korea dates Dangun's founding of Gojoseon to early 30th century BC.[4]

15 March in the year 4340 of the Dangun Era is called Eocheonjeol Ceremonies (어천절,御天節), the day that the semi-legendary founder Dangun returned to the heavens, continuing a tradition that has been passed down through the generations without interruption.


The earliest recorded version of the Dangun legend appears in the 13th century Samguk Yusa, which cites China's Book of Wei and Korea's lost history text Gogi (古記). This is the best known and most studied version, but similar versions are recorded in the Jewang Un-gi by the late Goryeo scholar Yi Seung-hyu (이승휴, 李承休, 1224-1300), as well as the Eungje Siju and Sejong Sillok of the early Joseon dynasty.

Scholars today regard the legend as reflecting the sun-worship and totemism common in the origin myths of Northeast Asia. The bear is often found in origin myths of Manchuria and Russian Far East. The legend therefore may hint at the relationships among various tribes that worshipped the sun, bear, and tiger.

Simply re-interpreted, the legend can become this:

" Around the time of Emperor Yao's reign in China, a tribal nation which worshipped the sun grew strong and began to incorporate other primitive Korean tribes and began to build a confederacy of tribes. One group, worshipping the bear as its totem, was incorporated. Another, which worshipped the tiger, was excluded from this union. From the union of the Sun tribe (in the legend, Shinshi) and the Bear tribe, Dangun Wanggeom was born, and Dangun later founded a nation, and named it Joseon. His descendants ruled Joseon until the rebellion of Wiman, or, despite controversy, until the arrival of Gija."

It is widely accepted by present-day historians that at the time of Dangun's reign, his status was deified by placing him in the position of the Grandson of Heaven, and thus, strengthened Dangun's position as the head of a confederacy.

The story further illustrates the importance of knowledge of weather to the early agricultural peoples of Korea.

In Korean shamanism[edit]

During the late Goryeo era, the Dangun legend is thought to have played an important role in national unity and patriotic mobilization against the invaders. Gosindo (고신도; 古神道), a version of Korean shamanism that considered Dangun a god, had a small following, but had largely died out by the 15th century.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with a resurgence in Korean nationalism after repeated outside foreign incursions and the beginning of colonial rule in 1910 to 1945, the movement was revived in Daejonggyo (대종교; 大宗敎). It was promoted by Na Cheol (1864-1916), but could not survive the repression under the occupation (Taejonggyo (1999)/Tangun), since it conflicted with the Japanese cultural imperialism policy. After the liberation of Korea, Daejonggyo was revived, although it remains a minor religion.[5]

Dangun is worshipped today as a deity by the followers of Cheondogyo, and Daejonggyo.

In Taekwondo[edit]

Dangun is the second pattern or tul in the ITF form of the Korean martial art taekwon-do. Students learn that the tul represents "the holy legendary founder of Korea in the year 2333 BC." Unusually for a tul, all the punches in Dangun are high section (eye level) symbolising Dangun scaling a mountain. see Dan-Gun Hyung.

Mausoleum of Dangun[edit]

According to a publication by North Korea, the Mausoleum of Dangun is the alleged burial site of the legendary Dangun. The site occupies about 1.8 km² (.70 mi²) on the slope of Taebaek Mountain in Kangdong, not to be confused with the Taebaek Mountain in South Korea. Dangun's grave is shaped like a pyramid, about 22 m (72 ft) high and 50 m (164 ft) on each side. Many observers and historians outside of North Korea, including South Korea, consider the site controversial.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Story of Dan-gun
  2. ^ Needham, J; Lu GD (2002). Celestial lancets: a history and rationale of acupuncture and moxa. Routledge. pp. 262. ISBN 0-7007-1458-8. 
  3. ^ http://www.san-shin.org/Dan-gun_Myth.html
  4. ^ KCNA
  5. ^ Adherents

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Rulers of Gojoseon
2333 BC2240 BC
Succeeded by
King Buru