Traditional Tug-of-war Ceremony At Ewha Daedong Festival Stirs Controversy
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Traditional Tug-of-war Ceremony At Ewha Daedong Festival Stirs Controversy
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  • 승인 2003.06.04 00:00
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A few weeks ago, posters from an unidentified group who called themselves "Ham-mong" appeared in the hallway of the Student Union Building. They condemned the traditional climax of Ewha"s Spring Daedong festival, the Young-san tug-of-war as a waste of students money and as an act demeaning women. This, and a related controversy over the festival"s purification ceremony have lately been causing more debate than ever over the role of the festival as part of Ewha"s cultural life.
The Young-san tug-of-war, Korea"s 25th Intangible Cultural Asset, is one of the traditional games of Korea. It originally started as a way of getting rid of leftover straw from the year"s farming by braiding the straw into a rope and using it in the tug-of-war. The activity was a way of celebrating the past and praying for future fertility. The process of braiding the straw symbolized community spirit and cooperation, so many universities took up this activity in the 1980"s as an alternative to their previously more commercial and hedonistic festivals. But due to students lack of participation, most schools have abandoned the activity except Ewha. Ewha is the only place where the tradition of Young-san tug-of-war has still been kept intact, since 1983 when it was first brought into our school.
The controversy began with posters revealing a surprising detail about this tradition. According to the book A Pictorial History of the Young-san Tug-of-war In The Universities which was cited in those posters, in the year 1997 the Ewha Student Government Association (SGA) used 13 million won in preparing for the event. This excessive cost, they argued, must have doubled in the last few years when adjusted for inflation. The SGA soon posted wall posters of their own, arguing that their whole budget for the Daedong festival in 1997 was 16 million won and that those figures were groundless. This was the start of the still continuing controversy over keeping or discarding Ewha"s Young-san tug-of-war.
Disputes over the tug-of-war event were not limited to high costs problems.
Soon after the initial controversy, other groups of students partook in condemning the activity as well, but for a totally different reason. Their argument was that this tug-of-war had a "lewd" meaning underneath its surface innocence. They pointed out that the straw ropes on each side of the tug-of-war are referred to as the "male" and "female" ropes, and that, together, they symbolized sexual behavior. Opinions on this matter vary. "I had no idea that this activity had such sexual connotations. If I had known, I would never have participated in such an activity," says a student who wises to remain anonymous. Others disagree. "I agree that the traditional meaning of this activity may have been "lewd" or "vulgar." It may even have been degrading to women. But the important thing is, we have given it a new meaning," says Sparkle, a member of the Ewha Women"s Committee. "Young-san tug-of-war has already marked its place at Ewha as a whole new tradition," she adds.
Another issue that has been stirring controversy for similar reasons is the annual purification ceremony (called Ko-sa in Korean) that takes place before the Young-san tug-of-war. Many Christian students and faculty oppose the idea because they see it as worshipping an idol. "Our school is a mission school. We should not let such pagan activity take place here, especially not by the SGA who is supposed to represent the whole student body of the school," says Lee Jin-ju (Educational Technology, 2). This year, again, numerous anonymous persons and groups have voiced their opinions on the subject through wall posters. In an attempt to provide an opportunity for more productive discussions on the subject, the SGA organized a panel discussion session, under the title of "Making Our 117th Daedong Festival Together." Heated comments traveled back and forth for over 4 hours, but the attendees failed to reach an agreement. The SGA also posted an online ballot asking students opinions and opened up a temporary Internet message board for discussion on the subject. Results were 54.84 percent in favor of continuing the ceremony.
Nevertheless the Yong-san-tug-of-war took place this year. The SGA, though, decided to replace the purification ceremony with torch bearing in order to do away with the religious color incorporated in the previous ritual.

espirit0121@ewha.ac.kr

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