Korean Language Blog

The Year of the Tiger Posted by on Feb 13, 2010 in Culture

This February 14th will be the start of the New Year according to the lunar calendar. Every year a different animal is assigned to the new year. This year it will be the year of the tiger, but more specifically the 백호 호랑이. The 백호 호랑이 is a white colored tiger, and currently extinct in South Korea, but available for viewing at some zoos. Even before the white tiger became extinct in Korea, white tigers were much rarer than the usual orange colored tigers. A recessive color gene in white tigers causes the tiger to bear a whitish pigmentation.

In general, white tigers have been noted to be larger and heavier than orange colored tigers. The significance of assigning white tigers to this year may indicate that this year will be an especially difficult year. Some Korean astrologers have even commented specifically about the meaning of the white tiger on current events. For example, some have predicted that North Korea will undergo a change in leadership. In fact there are rumors circulating in some political circles about Kim Jong Il’s son as being named a potential successor. I guess we’ll have to see if this comes true.

In the old days, tigers have held a very symbolic place in Korean history. Unfortunately, the iconic status of the tiger have not always been positive. In the story of how the moon and stars were formed, the tiger is considered a trickster and a villain. To make a long story short, there were two children named 해식 and 달순. The tiger devoured 해식 and 딜순‘s mother and attempted to devour the children as well. In the end the tiger was punished by the gods through a bloody death. The carnivorous nature of the tiger is one aspect of why tigers were so disliked by Korean people.

Depsite this dislike, tigers were respected as powerful creatures. Some parents have named their sons with the character for tiger. You may have heard some male names such as, 호동 or 호철, which are names that reflect the parent’s desire to have strong, healthy male children. Before the 1900s, some Koreans would inscribe the ancient character , which meant tiger, on tassels that were attached to clothing. The tassels were meant to ward off evil spirits. As such, depending on how you view the tiger, this year could be the year of difficult trials or the year where you will be able to overcome those trials.

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