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Asia-Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)

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Republic of Korea

Bukcheong Saja-nori

Lion Dance of Bukcheong


The lions dancing by two performers inside.

A group of dancers perform various kind of dances including that of lion to ward off evil spirits.

Reasons for selection

Bukcheong Saja-nori is the representative Lion Dance-drama of Korea. Although there are several other lion dances as part of Korean mask plays, Bukcheong Saja-nori is peculiar in the point that it is mainly composed of lion dance unlike other items. In addition, it requires special attention because it contains not a few similarities in shape and technique with those of other Asian countries like China and Japan.

Area where performed

Bukcheong Saja-nori has been kept up in the whole country of Bukcheong-gun, Hamgyungnam-do located in the northern end of Korea until the 1930's. Around the Korean War in 1950, some performers came down to south and endeavored to preserve it. Now it was assigned as Korean Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 15.

Essential elements of the performing art

Music, Dance, Theatre

Detailed explanation

From the fact that there existed no lions around Korea, it seems reliable that the lion dance was brought in along with Buddhism. As a clue, there is a historical record of Shinra period that refers to the lion dance ( Sanye )and its origin from the west probably including India and Central Asia. Like the tiger that had been worshiped by Korean as a magical animal that has the ability to ward off all evils, lion was regarded as a mean to drive away any kind of ominous spirits. As a result, the lion dance became popular in ceremonies and rituals and naturally was accommodated into many mask dance dramas of Korea.

On every night of first fifteen nights of the lunar New Year, the village people of Bukcheong region used to perform the lion dance. The dance troupe in lion masks and costumes would visit every houses in the village and look into every corner of the house, even into the barn and privy as if to eat up all malicious spirits hidden in the house. When the exorcising rite was over, the house owner would donate rice and filled sacks of rice were utilized as the communal fund to support the village festival, public affairs, scholarships, needy neighbours and old people. The owner would have his children ride on the lion's back and would attach threads of five colors to it make wishes for their health and longevity. Around midnight the performers would place the masks and props in the provincial office and the next evening would continue the same process from house to house. However, this kind of rite has almost disappeared these days.

Bukcheong lion dance is performed by two dancers under the same cloth. Its main sequence is courtyard circling, the imploring song, the shaman's dance and benediction, the hunchback's dance, the child's dance, the monk's dance, the sword dance and the lion dance. When the lion collapses after vigorous movements, a monk performs an incantation over the lion to revive it. As it proves no effect, an acupuncturist appears and cures it with a needle. When the lion recovers his vigor, another lion joins the energetic dance to arouse festive moods among the people.

Publication and textual documentation

already available

Audio documentation

already available

Visual documentation

no information at present

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

Society for Preservation of Bukcheong Saja-nori

Data provider

Ms. Young-Il Heo
Professor, Department of Dance
Korean National University of Arts (Korean National Institute of Cultural Properties)
Address: N/A