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Year of Tiger: Vigorous, fearless year full of adventure unfolding

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Tiger / gettyimagesbank
Tiger / gettyimagesbank

By Park Ji-won

The year 2022 is the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese zodiac. In Korea, the tiger has been portrayed as an animal representing a brave and fearless spirit. An apex predator, the tiger also instills both fear and awe among Koreans.

The tiger is one of the two animals featured in the nation's founding myth. It revolves around a tiger and a bear that are advised to eat only mugwort and garlic for 100 days in order to become human. The impatient tiger, however, gives up on the rite of passage.

Due to its symbolic significance as an animal deeply associated with Korean culture, the tiger has become the most popular animal mascot for key national events: a tiger mascots featured at both the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

"For Koreans, tigers are one of the most familiar and, at the same time, feared animals," Cheon Jin-gi, former director of the National Folk Museum of Korea, told The Korea Times over the phone. "There are numerous folk tales with stories of tigers. The animal is represented in many different ways. In some stories, tigers are depicted as scary and fearsome creatures, while in other folkloric tales, they are portrayed as funny and friendly animals. Tigers are also used in some stories with a sarcastic tone as well."

Cheon went on to say that Koreans have perceived the tiger as a sacred creature that wards off evil spirits, and thus Koreans of old believed they bring good luck. "All in all, Koreans feel that tigers are part of their culture and that the animal is still alive in their hearts," he said.

The tiger is the third of twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac. This year is the Year of the Black Tiger. According to experts, black tigers are known for being energetic, vigorous, brave and adventurous. Because of these traits, experts predict that 2022 will be a year full of positive energy and adventure.

There are several celebrities who were born in the Year of the Tiger. Singer BoA, TVXQ member U-Know Yunho and actors Yoo Ah-in and Choi Min-soo are some of the stars who were born in the Year of the Tiger.

"Tiger" by Hwang Jong-ha (1887-1952) / Courtesy of National Folk Museum of Korea

To celebrate the Year of the Tiger, the National Folk Museum of Korea has been holding a special exhibition titled "Land of Tigers" to showcase tiger-related objects and documents. The exhibition, which will run through March 1, aims to present various aspects of the animal through cultural images included in many stories and in the lives of the Korean people.

From ancient times, tigers were a popular subject for artists. They were painted or drawn on talismans and were used as a tool for defeating "aek" (evil) through their bravery and strength. For example, people painted tigers on New Year's Day to put on their walls and made the shape of a tiger with mugwort on Dano, the fifth day of the fifth month in the Lunar calendar.

Books and recordings including "Yeolyangsesigi" in the exhibition will show customs while showcasing charming images of tigers.

There are more than 1,000 folk tales in the book "The Comprehensive Collection of Korean Folklore and more than 700 articles in the official "Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty."

The tiger has been worshipped as a deity known as sansin or sangun (mountain spirit), being considered to protect mountains. The exhibition will showcase paintings and photographs such as "Sansindo" used during "Eunsan Byeolsinje," a rite praying for wellness by paying tribute to the dead, which was designated as National Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Products and goods as well as games inspired by tigers after the late 1980s will be presented, including the Olympic mascots and the tiger emblem on the uniform of Korea's national soccer team.

The National Jeongdong Theater will also open its 2022 season with its New Year's concert called "Aura of Tiger" to mark the Year of the Tiger. It adopted various images from folk paintings, and created videos from them so that audiences can enjoy them together with music. Forte di Quattro, a crossover vocal quartet, and pansori singers and musicians such as JUL Hz will be performing in the traditional music-based show.

Park Ji-won


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