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The Tiger in the TrapKorean Folktales


In the following story, a trapped tiger is saved by a man but ungratefully tries to kill him, because, the tiger reasons, though it was saved by him, the entrapment was made by human beings in the first place. Two arbitrators side with the tiger, expressing that they, too, are unhappy with human beings. The third arbitrator helps the man out of danger and puts the ungrateful tiger back into the same trap.
The basic point in this story is fairness of judgment based on impartiality. Another moral point emphasized is that ingratitude is base. There is also an implicit view that an individual ought to be treated as he is rather than as a member of a group. This last point may be the most important hidden point in a society which has historically emphasized the notion of collective, as distinct from individual, responsibility.


upon a time, there was a small hamlet in the deep mountains. The people of this hamlet were always afraid of tigers that roamed in the surrounding mountains. One day, their fear and anxiety brought all the villagers together to discuss their problem and find some ways of living peacefully without this constant fear. After much discussion, they came to an agreement: they decided to dig pits here and there to trap tigers. Every able-bodied villager came out to dig deep pits around the village and, particularly, along both sides of the mountain pass leading to the village.
One day, a traveler was passing through the area and heard strange groaning sounds nearby. He approached where the sounds came from and found a large tiger trapped in a pitfall and trying to jump out. Seeing the traveler, the tiger begged him for help: "Please, help me out of this trap, and I will never forget your kindness." Out of mercy, the traveler dragged a felled tree and lowered it into the pitfall. And the tiger climbed out.
As soon as the tiger was out of the trap, he said to the traveler: "I am grateful for your help, but because humans made the trap to catch me, for that I will have to kill you." The traveler was utterly speechless and became frightened, too. Trying to be calm and mustering his courage, however, he said: "Wait a minute, Mr. Tiger. It is patently unfair and outrageous to kill me. Fairness demands that we should have a few impartial parties to judge who is right." The tiger agreed and both of them went to an ox.

After listening to their story, the ox said: "Well, it is the fault of humans. We, oxen, too, have a grudge against humans. They drive us hard for their own benefit and then they butcher us mercilessly. This is all very unfair!"
Next, they went to a pine tree. The pine tree listened to their story and said: "Humans are wrong. They cut us down for lumber and for their firewood. What have we done to them to deserve that? They just have no heart!"

Listening to the second opinion, the tiger was elated and ready to attack the traveler, when a hare was hopping toward them.

 "Phew, just in time, Mr. Hare. Please, judge our case," and the traveler told the hare what had happened. The hare, then, said: "Fine, but before I make any judgment, I must see the original scene." So, the traveler, the tiger and the hare all went to the pitfall where the tiger had been trapped. The hare said to the tiger: "I must see exactly how you were before this traveler rescued you. Where exactly were you?" Eager to show where he was, the tiger jumped right into the pitfall. The hare asked: "Was this felled tree in the pitfall when you fell into it, Mr. Tiger?" "No, it was not." So, the hare and the traveler took the tree out of the pitfall. The hare, then, said to the traveler: "Mr. Traveler, now, be on your way." And the hare, too, hopped away.

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