Every country has own animal that symbolizes the country. It is a rooster for France, a panda for China, for example. In some cases, these animals were also used for a mascot for the World Cup or the Olympic Games.
The animal symbolizing Korea is a tiger. The reason is that as Korea is a mountainous country, many tigers used to inhabit in the country and also that a tiger is the strongest carnivorous animal. Therefore, a tiger appears a lot in Korean folk tales. For example…
A tiger eats a mom and approaches her son and daughter, pretending to be their mom. The kids realize that it is a tiger, not their mom and climb up the tree to escape. The tiger cuts the tree with an ax. At that point, a rope comes down from the sky and the boy and the girl hold the rope and go up to the sky. Another rope comes down for the tiger, but it is rotten, and the tiger falls to the ground and dies. The boy and the girl become the sun and the moon later.
The story does not sound so interesting at first but it can be quite fun to listen in your childhood. Loved so much by Korean people, a tiger was also used for a mascot during the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Its name was Hodori, and it was even selected by MSNBC as the Best mascot No. 3.
A tiger is also considered to be a mystical creature in Korea. It appears a lot in totemism and sometimes is even treated as the same level of position as a dragon (Whereas a dragon in the West has an evil image, it is not the case in the East). Especially, in Korea, there is a record that if someone hunted a tiger, the authorities flogged him as a mere formality before giving him prize money, on the ground that he caught the kind of mountain.
Sadly, however, tigers in the Korean Peninsula became extinct by the 20th century. It is because they were hunted a lot for tiger skin as well as for safety. Even now, it is said that tigers live in some parts of North Korea, but it is not accurate information.
Trivia : In the East, white tigers are treated the same level as legendary gods. Of course, white tiger is just a mutant.
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