Tug-of-War in Asia
Cooperative projects for safeguarding common living heritage

Living Heritage Series

Tugging Rituals and Games

A Common Element, Diverse Approaches

Chapter 5

Traditional Korean Tug-of-War and Community

Yongho Heo
Research Professor, Korea University

Gijisi tug‐of‐war is one among many traditional Korean tug‐of‐war games. Playing Gijisi tug‐of‐war forms a temporary community as well as a transmission community. In exploring the formed community, this article will discuss how the communities are formed, the features they have, and the meaning such temporary communities have. In addition, this article will examine how continuous and conventional communities enable the Gijisi tug‐of‐war event to take place. While doing so, different features of the tug‐of‐war communities will be discussed by comparing the characteristics of the Gijisi tug‐of‐war community with the Jul Nanjang, a special market held for the tug-of-war. Although different and both have changed, the characteristics of contemporary traditional transmission community will be clarified. Such comparative research might give Gijisi tug‐of‐war to find its unique position among traditional tug‐of‐war games.
Based on the name, Gijisi tug‐of‐war, one may assume that the people who create such a spectacular would be residents in Gijisi‐ri or even residents of Dangjin, which includes Gijisi‐ri. However, participation in the tug‐of‐war is not restricted and is open to visitors from the whole country as well as foreigners. As such, a community for playing tug‐of‐war is temporarily formed. In other words, it is a temporary community that is formed in a specific time and space.
The community playing Gijisi tug‐of‐war consists of two competing parties: susang and suha. The susang side pulls the male rope, and the suha side pulls the female rope. The separation of susang and suha is based on region in relation to Gijisi and the nearby region, with the boundary of separation being Route 32 and Route 34. To the south is susang, and to the north is suha. In other words, two parties signify two communities based on region. Gyeonggi, Seoul, and Gangwon provinces belong to susang, and Chungcheong, Jeolla, and Gyeongsang provinces belong to suha, creating a continuous regional community that embraces outsiders as a center.
In the world of Gijisi tug‐of‐war, only susang and suha regions exist. Southern districts are reorganized with Gijisi as the center. The idea of such regional reorganization is to get rid of a binary value hierarchy such as Seoul and provinces as well as city centers and suburbs. By reorganizing with Gijisi as the center shows that the value hierarchy, which Yeolgyu Kim mentioned is the ‘cultural inheritance of evil,’ is already being broken. Readymade value hierarchy, such as city center and suburbs is not applied in Gijisi tug‐of‐war. There is no disparaging sense that a region gives itself. In the performance of Gijisi tug‐of‐war, there is no “centripetal and exclusive community that is tied to a restricted region” but rather a “wide regional and centrifugal community”.