When I watched the Kdrama KINGDOM and they hinted at the mysterious TIGER HUNTING background of one character, a total badass peasant dude called Young shin, I became a little fixated on the idea.

I wanted to know more!!!

I am no history expert, but when I am fascinated by something, I do end up doing a little bit of reading about it, and I decided to collate some interesting info and quotes I found on the topic of ancient Korean Tiger Hunters here on my blog:

Korean Tiger Hunters

Here is an excerpt from an article written in 2007 by Robert Neff:

The article begins by stating that in modern Korea, tigers are extinct. However, it goes on to say:

Yet little over a century ago, Korea was a land covered with great swaths of forest and filled with wild beasts — and chief among them was the tiger. In the past, when they became too numerous and troublesome, tiger hunters were summoned.

The Korean tiger hunters were expert trackers and guides in the wilderness, much like the Native Americans, and were renowned for their bravery. They were armed with old muskets that carried only a single bullet and had to be used at close range. This required the hunter to be extremely close to the tiger. Those who missed or failed to kill the beast rarely lived to regret it. 

Robert Neff

Apparently the last tiger in Korea was killed in the 1920s, and the tigers largely went extinct because of Japanese hunters during the occupation of Korea n the lead up to that time.

Here is an excerpt from another article about the extinction of Korean tigers:

In the foreword of his book [A Japanese man named Mr. Endo Kimio] he made a sincerely apology to Korean folks for the mass killing of the Korean tigers by the Japanese hunters and explorers at the turn of the century and thereafter.

“Behind the extinction of Korean tigers are terrible violence and ruthlessness of the Imperial Japanese,” he wrote at the start of his volume. “I just want to apology to the Koreans”

Mr. Endo Kimio also tells of the last Korean tiger captured on Mt. Daedeok in Gyeongju in 1921.

Endo Kimio – taken from this article

And I found this excerpt very interesting:

One Western diplomat visiting from Japan in 1912 noted:

“The occupation of tiger-hunting is hereditary, and those born to it are supposed to be of a fiercer disposition and more martial instincts than the everyday Korean, who is a very mild and peaceable individual.”

The tiger hunters were generally from the northern provinces of Korea, were fiercely loyal to the government and were the backbone of the army. They composed the paramilitary force that fought alongside the regular Korean army against the French in 1866, and the Americans in 1871. They were respected by both Western armies for their intense bravery and toughness. 

In the 1890s, the hunters wore blue uniforms — the higher ranks wore tiger skins as insignia while the lower ranks wore leopard skins. Some of them were given single gold earrings by King (later Emperor) Kojong for their “prowess” as hunters. 

Nearly every Westerner who wrote about the tiger hunters, spoke glowingly of their unbelievable bravery — a trait greatly needed when confronting these giant cats. 

Tigers played a key role in Korea’s history and mythology, especially in the legend of Tan’gun, the founder of Korea. They were also viewed as nearly mystical beasts with supernatural powers. Not only were they honored for their part in Tan’gun, but they were also respected because they were one of the only two animals that offered sacrifices to heaven, the other was the otter. 

Taken from Oh My News Article

I hope you found this interesting, I just love the amount of history to be learned from Kdramas and sageuks particularly!

What to watch:

I think if you want to know a little more about tiger hunters, you could watch the following Korean Drama and movie. Please note though, that I haven’t seen the movie yet myself (but its on my list to watch!). Hopefully they will give you a slightly better idea about tiger hunters in Korean history:

  • Kingdom Kdrama
  • The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale – Korean movie

If you know anything about tiger hunters, or know of any other kdramas to watch starring tiger hunters, I would LOVE to know!

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