Dangun (단군; 檀君; [tan.ɡun]) or Dangun Wanggeom (단군왕검; 檀君王儉; [tan.ɡun waŋ.ɡʌm]) was the legendary[note 1] founder and god-king of Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom, around present-day Liaoning, Manchuria, and the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. He is said to be the "grandson of heaven"[1] and "son of a bear",[2] 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 (lit. 'Ancient Record') (고기, 古記).[3] There are around seventeen religious groups that focus on the worship of Dangun.

Dangun Wanggeom.jpg
Portrait of Dangun
Korean name
Revised RomanizationDangun Wanggeom
McCune–ReischauerTan'gun Wanggŏm
IPA[tan.ɡun waŋ.ɡʌm]

Koreans regard the day when Dangun founded Gojoseon, Korea's first dynasty, as a national holiday and call it Gaecheonjeol(개천절 開天節). The Gaecheonjeol is October 3rd. It is a religious anniversary started by Daejonggyo(대종교) worshiping Dangun. Gaecheonjeol is a day to commemorate Dangun's founding of Gojoseon, but October 3rd is not actually the date when Gojoseon was founded.

The mythical record and its interpretationEdit

Dangun's ancestry legend begins with his grandfather Hwanin (환인/桓因), the "Lord of Heaven". Hwanin had a son, Hwanung (환웅/ Hanja: 桓雄), 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 the Sinsi (신시/ Hanja: 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.[4] Legend attributes the development of acupuncture and moxibustion to Dangun.[5]

A tiger and a bear prayed to Hwanung that they might become human. Upon hearing their prayers, Hwanung gave them twenty 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 persevered 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.[6]

The bear-woman (Ungnyeo; 웅녀/ Hanja: 熊女) was grateful and made offerings to Hwanung. However, she lacked a husband, and soon became sad and prayed beneath a "divine birch" tree (Korean신단수; Hanja神檀樹; RRshindansu) to be blessed with a child. Hwanung, moved by her prayers, took her for his wife and soon she gave birth to a son named Dangun Wanggeom.[7]

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 Gojoseon "Old/Ancient Joseon" (고조선, Hanja: 古朝鮮) so as not to be confused with the later kingdom of Joseon (조선, Hanja: 朝鮮) that was established much later. He then moved his capital to Asadal on Mount Paegak or Mount Gunghol.[8]

Dangun's biography reflected the consciousness of the people of Dangun Joseon(Gojoseon) at the time to establish the legitimacy of the kingship of Gojoseon and the dignity of the country. The king of Gojoseon would have made a ritual to his ancestral god, the heavenly god every year. Soon, the myth of Dangun was the political ideology of the Gojoseon period, and the ritual had a function of political assembly.


Emperor Dangun's rule is usually calculated to begin in 2333 BCE, based on the description of the Dongguk Tonggam (1485) contrary to the 40th year of the reign of the legendary Chinese Emperor Yao.[9] Other sources vary somewhat, but also put it during Yao's reign (traditional dates: 2357 BC-2256 BC). The Samguk Yusa states Dangun ascended to the throne in the 50th year of Yao's reign, while Annals of the Joseon Dynasty says the first year and Dongguk Tonggam says the 25th year.[10]

A South Korean postage stamp in 1956 (Dangi 4289)

Until 1961, the official South Korean era (for numbering years) was called the Dangi (Korean단기; Hanja檀紀), which began in 2333 BC. Followers of Daejongism considered October 3 in the Korean calendar as Gaecheonjeol (Korean개천절; Hanja開天節 "Festival of the Opening of Heaven").[11] This day is now a public holiday in South Korea in the Gregorian calendar called "National Foundation Day". North Korea dates Dangun's founding of Gojoseon to the early 30th century BC.[12]

15 March in the year 4340 of the Dangun Era is called "Royal Day Festival" (hangul: 어천절 hanja: 御天節 romaja: eo-cheon-jeol), the day that the semi-legendary founder Dangun returned to the heavens.

Historical perceptionEdit

Dangun began to attract attention during the late Goryeo Dynasty, when Koreans fought war against Mongolian Yuan Dynasty, and from the Joseon Dynasty, they were worshiped as the ancestor of the nation in earnest. In the Joseon Dynasty, a shrine dedicated to Dangun of Gojoseon and King Dongmyeong of Goguryeo was built in Pyongyang, and the Samseongdang(삼성당/三聖堂) dedicated to the gods of Hwanin, Hwanung, and Dangun was also built.

In Korea at the end of the 19th century, it was greatly emphasized as the central point of the Joseon people against Imperialist invasion of the powers, and it developed into a religion such as Dangunkyo(단군교/檀君敎). Dangun, which emerged as the center of nationalism, played a large role in the spiritual foundation of the independence movement during the Japanese colonial period. In addition, the history of the Dangun era was compiled by Daejonggyo(대종교) powers such as 'Daedong Sagang(대동사강)' and 'Gyuwon Sahwa(규원사화)' and the independence movement, emphasizing the history of the Dangun period.

The study of Dangun in South Korea focused on the historical significance of the Gojoseon society. In South Korea, it is interpreted that Dangun Wanggeom is the head of the Gojoseon society, Dangun has a lot of character of high priest, and Wanggeom has the meaning of an overlord who governs the country.

In North Korea, it was a previous position to see the Dangun and Dangun myths as the founding myth to justify the process of establishing the Gojoseon regime. However, after the excavation of the Mausoleum of Tangun in 1994, he changed his position and claimed that the Dangun myth reflects historical facts and that Dangun is a real person. Also, Dangun claims that the first king of Gojoseon, founded by the Korean people, had all of his birth, founding, and tombs in Pyongyang. There is a tomb of Dangun that North Korea excavated and reconstructed near the city directly under Pyongyang, but South Korean academia is criticizing North Korea's claim.


Statue near Daecheong Dam in Daejeon, South Korea

The earliest recorded version of the Dangun legend appears in the 13th century Samguk Yusa (삼국유사/ Hanja: 三國遺事), which cites China's Book of Wei and Korea's lost history text Gogi (고기/ Hanja: 古記).[13] This is the best known and most studied version, but similar versions are recorded in the Jewang Un-gi (제왕운기/ Hanja: 帝王韻紀) by the late Goryeo scholar Yi Seunghyu (이승휴/ Hanja: 李承休, 1224-1300), as well as the Eungje Siju (응제시주/ Hanja: 應製詩註) and Sejong Sillok (세종실록; commonly known as "Annals of the Joseon Dynasty", Sejong Jang-heon Dae-wang Shil-lok 세종장헌대왕실록/ Hanja: 世宗莊憲大王實錄) of the early Joseon. Dangun is worshipped today as a deity by the followers of Cheondoism and Daejongism.[14]

In TaekwondoEdit

Dangun is the second pattern or hyeong in the International Taekwon-Do Federation form of the Korean martial art taekwondo. Students learn that the hyeong represents "the holy legendary founder of Korea in the year 2333 BC."[15] Unusually for a hyeong, all the punches in Dan Gun are high section (eye level) symbolising Dangun scaling a mountain (see Dangun Hyeung).

Mausoleum of DangunEdit

North Korea's leader Kim Il-sung insisted that Dangun was not merely a legend but a real historical person. As consequence, North Korean archaeologists were compelled to locate the purported remains and grave of Dangun.[16]

According to a publication by North Korea, the Mausoleum of Dangun is the alleged burial site of the legendary Dangun.[17] The site occupies about 1.8 km² (0.70 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.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Melton, J. Gordon (2014). Faiths Across Time: 5,000 Years of Religious History. 1. ABC-Clio. pp. [1]. ISBN 978-1610690263.
  2. ^ Kang, Chae-ŏn (2006). The Land of Scholars: Two Thousand Years of Korean Confucianism. Homa & Sekey. pp. [2]. ISBN 1931907374.
  3. ^ 한국 브리태니커 온라인 ‘단군’ Encyclopædia Britannica online Korea ‘단군 Dangun’
  4. ^ The Story of Dan-gun Archived 2011-09-03 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Needham, J; Lu GD (2002). Celestial lancets: a history and rationale of acupuncture and moxa. Routledge. pp. 262. ISBN 0-7007-1458-8.
  6. ^ http://www.san-shin.org/Dan-gun_Myth.html
  7. ^ Tudor, Daniel (2013). Korea: The Impossible Country: The Impossible Country. Tuttle Publishing. pp. [3]. ISBN 978-1462910229.
  8. ^ Tudor, Daniel (2013). Korea: The Impossible Country: The Impossible Country. Tuttle Publishing. pp. [4]. ISBN 978-1462910229.
  9. ^ Richmond, Simon; Yu-Mei Balasingamchow (2010). Lonely Planet Korea. Lonely Planet. p. 25. ISBN 978-1742203560.
  10. ^ Hong, Sung-wook (2008). Naming God in Korea: The Case of Protestant Christianity. OCMS. p. 56. ISBN 978-1870345668.
  11. ^ Lim, SK (2011). Asia Civilizations: Ancient to 1800 AD. Asiapac Books Pte Ltd. p. 76. ISBN 978-9812295941.
  12. ^ KCNA
  13. ^ Hong, Sung-wook (2008). Naming God in Korea: The Case of Protestant Christianity. OCMS. pp. [5]. ISBN 978-1870345668.
  14. ^ Mason, David A. (1999). Spirit of the Mountains: Korea's San-Shin and Traditions of Mountain-worship. Hallim Publishing. pp. [6]. ISBN 1565911075.
  15. ^ Kemerly, Tony; Steve Snyder (2013). Taekwondo Grappling Techniques: Hone Your Competitive Edge for Mixed Martial Arts. Tuttle Publishing. pp. [7]. ISBN 978-1462909919.
  16. ^ Tertitskiy, Fyodor (6 June 2016). "The good things in North Korea". NK News. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  17. ^ G. John, Ikenberry; Chung-in Moon (2008). The United States and Northeast Asia: debates, issues, and new order Asia in world politics. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 204 [8]. ISBN 978-0742556393.
  1. ^
    "The continuing popularity of Tan'gun studies (Yun I-hum et al. 1994) clearly reflects the progressively ultra-nationalistic trend in Korean historical and archaeological scholarship today."
    "Consequently, Korean studies that address topics such as the emergence of ancient Korean civilization, statehood, religion, and identity are inexplicable without reference to a complex jumble of contradictory narratives filled with Tan'gun fiction, competing dynastic myths, and hypothetical invasions of tribes, as well as unaccountable archaeological data. This state of confusion has rendered it virtually impossible to distinguish fact from fiction in studies on ancient Korea."
    "Although Kija may have truly existed as a historical figure, Tangun is more problematical."
    "Most [Korean historians] treat the [Tangun] myth as a later creation."
    "If a choice is to be made between them, one is faced with the fact that the Tangun, with his supernatural origin, is more clearly a mythological figure than Kija."
    "An extreme manifestation of nationalism and the family cult was the revival of interest in Tangun, the mythical founder of the first Korean state... Most textbooks and professional historians, however, treat him as a myth."
    "The Tangun myth became more popular with groups that wanted Korea to be independent; the Kija myth was more useful to those who wanted to show that Korea had a strong affinity to China."

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

Dangun Wanggeom
Regnal titles
New creation King of Gojseon
c. 2333 BC – c. 2240 BC
Next known title holder: