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Tigers of Korea, Japan, China gather at Seoul museum.

In 1988, a friendly yellow tiger Hodori represented the Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, as a mascot representing the hospitable traditions of Korea.

Thirty years later, a white tiger popped out to promote the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. The white tiger character named Soohorang symbolizes the spirit of challenge and passion as well as the guardian of all participants of the global sporting event.

The tiger has been long associated with Korean culture. People say the shape of the Korean Peninsula resembles that of a tiger and a tiger appears in the founding myth of Korea as well. The animal is a symbol of trust, strength and protection and a popular subject of paintings and sculptures in Korea since ancient times.

An exhibition at the National Museum of Korea (NMK) sheds light on the tiger and how the auspicious animal is portrayed differently in three East Asian countries -- Korea, Japan and China.

Held in collaboration with the Tokyo National Museum of Japan and the National Museum of China, the exhibit features 150 paintings, sculptures and other crafts featuring tigers.

Bae Ki-dong, director of the NMK, said, "We were inspired by Soohorang to organize this exhibit. The tiger is one of the most familiar animals in Korea, appearing in art and literature from ancient times till today. The animal also featured frequently in Chinese and Japanese art. This exhibition will present the similarities and differences on tiger representations in each cultural area."

Huang Zhenchun, deputy director of the National Museum of China, said the exhibit showcases the close cultural exchanges between the three countries over a long time.

In Korea, the tiger is considered sacred and familiar at the same time.

In ancient days, tigers appeared as guardian deities in funerary art. A stone coffin from the 918-1392 Goryeo Kingdom is adorned with the Four Deities -- Azure Dragon, Vermilion Bird, Black Turtle and White Tiger. The tiger was also one of the 12 zodiac animal statues that guarded tombs.

Literary tiger paintings from the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom have multiple meanings. Master painter Kim Hong-do's "Tiger under a Pine Tree" serves the purpose of driving away evil spirits and wishing for the success of a nobleman, as if the tiger comes out of the forest.

Tigers in folk paintings have more practical purposes, praying for happiness and good luck in this world.

"The tiger was considered an auspicious animal throughout Asia in antiquity, but there are no indigenous tigers in Japan. So early images of tigers were taken from what came across the sea from China and Korea," said Zeniya Masami, executive director of the Tokyo National Museum.

In Japan, tigers were regarded as mythical animals and it became a popular subject as artworks from China's 960-1279 Song Dynasty were introduced to Japan during the 1336-1573 Muromachi period.

Tigers were protectors of Zen teachings along with dragons and many dragon and tiger folding screens were produced. Depictions of tigers were not very realistic as tigers are not indigenous in Japan.

China is the origin of philosophical symbols related to the tiger in Asia such as Yin-Yang and the Five Elements theory and the 12 Chinese zodiacs.

Tigers represented gallantry and war, so the tiger motif can be found in weapons and percussion instruments for war. "Ge Dagger-Ax with Tiger Design" from Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.) is an example of how Chinese people adopted the tiger as a totem.

A porcelain tiger-shaped pillow from the 1115-1234 Jin Dynasty shows how the tiger was close to everyday life.
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jan 26, 2018
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