[FOUNTAIN]Which bear for Korea?The crest of Pope Benedict XVI, who was elected last April, contains the odd image of a brown bear carrying a red backpack. This bear is the symbolic animal of Freising, Bayern, in Germany. Since the pope was the archbishop of the Munich and Freising district, he put this iconography in his crest.
This is how the bear came to represent Freising. Saint Corbinianus, who introduced Christianity to the region in the 8th century, was walking a loaded horse when a bear appeared suddenly and killed the horse. The legend states the saint performed a miracle and made the bear carry his luggage to his destination. According to scholars, the red pack represents Christian civilization and the bear is the metaphor for uncivilized heathens.
The bear also represented barbarism in Western society. It might be for this reason that 19th century Western editorial cartoonists drew Russia, a latecomer to modernization, as bears. The operation of quietly retreating until the last moment then startling the French army when Napoleon invaded Russia would also have made some think of the image of a bear. Bears pretend to be dead and attack suddenly when other animals come near. The Soviet Union accepted the bear as its national character by introducing the mascot Misha, a red bear, for the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics.
If the red bear represent Russia, the panda represents China. The panda is the animal Chinese regard as a symbol of power and moderation. When Mao Zedong gave a panda to U.S. President Richard Nixon when he visited China in 1972, the formula China equals panda solidified. For this reason, the panda was chosen as one of five mascots for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, along with a fish, the Olympic flame, a Tibetan antelope and a swallow.
In China, the word for panda is Xiongmao. Is it a combination of bear, xiong, and cat, which is mao in Chinese? Some biologists classify pandas as a third species, not a bear. However, to ordinary people, it seems like a kind of bear.
The bear and panda have embraced each other. China designated this year the “Year of Russia” and Russia named it the “Year of China.” From communist revolution to modern reform and opening, the two bears with much in common are trying to find their way together for the future.
Right in front of Korea, two strong bears are holding hands. In the Dangun myth, a bear became human after enduring 21 days in a cave living on garlic and sagebrush and gave birth to Dangun. With which bear should Koreans, the descendants of that bear, hold hands and seek their future?
by Chae In-taek
The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.