Dog of Silla royalty gets heritage designation

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Dog of Silla royalty gets heritage designation

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A breed of hunting dog indigenous to Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, will soon be a state-designated heritage monument.

The Cultural Heritage Administration announced last Wednesday that it plans to register the Donggyeong breed on its list of natural monuments, which is a state-designated heritage classification for animals, plants and biological and geological features carrying exceptional historical, cultural, scientific, aesthetic or academic value.

The Donggyeong isn’t the first Korean canine to win this designation - it’s the third. The list already includes the Jindo (Natural Monument No. 53), a breed with origins in Jindo, South Jeolla, and the Sapsal (Natural Monument No. 368), which originated in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang.

“We found that the Donggyeong has a wide tail, which is consistent with the description of the dog’s appearance in ancient documents, and our DNA analysis also found that the Donggyeong falls within the category of dogs indigenous to Korea,” the CHA said in a statement.

The CHA added that the name of the dog is also recognized as an official term, saying that it can be found in a Korean dictionary published in 1982. There, the Donggyeong is defined as “a dog that used to be common in the ancient Gyeongju area.”

The oldest reference to the Donggyeong in ancient documents can be found in “The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms,” which is a book about Korea’s Three Kingdoms era, a period between the fourth and seventh centuries, and written during the subsequent Goryeo period (918-1392). One of the chapters of the book, “Assorted Information on the Donggyeong,” is dedicated to the dog.

But the Donggyeong was also a model for dogs appearing on earthenware made by citizens of the Silla Dynasty (B.C. 57-935).

The earthenware from this period is known in the Korean academic community for its explicit and forthright portrayal of the daily lives and intimate details of the Silla people (including portrayals of people making love).

At a glance, the Donggyeong looks very similar to the Jindo. However, the key distinction is in the tail: While the Jindo’s tail is long and curved, the Donggyeong has either a bobtail or none at all.

In addition, the Donggyeong is thought to be more docile and gentle than the Jindo, which is known for its loyalty and perseverance, not to mention its aggression to strangers. The Donggyeong is also slightly smaller.

Prior to its CHA designation, the Donggyeong was almost on the verge of being endangered. It was only in 2006 that locals initiated a project to preserve the breed. An organization called the Korea Preservation Association for Gyeongju Dog Donggyeong started breeding the dog in 2007 at some 60 animal farms in Gyeongju and had some success. Today, there are some 306 Donggyeong dogs which are officially recognized by the CHA.

“Based on the portrayals from the Silla earthenware, we believe that the Donggyeong was the dog of the Silla royalty,” said Choi Seok-gyu, the head of the association and a professor at Dongguk University’s ecology center.

The registration will be finalized sometime in May, the CHA said. Once registered as a state-designated heritage, the CHA will provide support, financial and otherwise, for breeding the dog.


By Kim Hyung-eun, Kim Hyo-eun [hkim@joongang.co.kr]
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