Friday, April 3, 2009

NYT on bullfighting's resurgence in South Korea

Some Koreans and international residents I know in South Korea have been talking about going to see the bullfights in Chinju (진주/晉州; Revised Romanization: Jinju), a traditional pastime that had been losing popularity to electronic entertainment, but which may be making a comeback as local tourism boards work to promote it.

So it was of interest to me that Choe Sang-hun of the New York Times did a piece on bullfighting's resurgence:
Unlike Spanish bullfighting, there is no matador. In South Korea, bull fights bull. Tons of muscle charge at each other, and clumps of bloody hair fly as the animals bang heads, their horns clashing like sabers.

That may sound brutal, but bulls rarely die in the ring. The fight is over when one turns tail. Some matches stretch on for hours. Others end before they start: the bulls stare each other down, and one walks away.

Popular interest in bullfighting, once regular village entertainment in South Korea, has waned in recent decades, a victim of television, the Internet and more-global spectator sports, like soccer and baseball. But in the last few years, some cities have begun promoting bullfighting as a tourist attraction and the government now hopes to reignite the old passion by legalizing ringside gambling, starting in July.
I suppose it's no more cruel than factory farming hamburger. Anyway, the rest is worth a read.


  1. I brought this up at my latest teachers' workshop, and all but one (out of 8) said it was cruel.

    I will say that the NYT/IHP piece didi a good job arguing why it's not a cruel event, though. I don't like animal fights, but it and a Joongang Ilbo article from last year brought up a few good points that the teachers missed when trying to debate the pros and cons:

    (a) It's not cruel because these bulls live longer than the ones that would otherwise be slaughtered for food.
    (b) It's natural for bulls to fight over females; this is just letting people watch.
    (c) Bullfights were made illegal under Japan because they didn't want Koreans gathering in one place. Having bullfights harkens back to sentiments from the independence movement.

  2. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this. If it really is part of a tradition here in Korea (which I believe it is), then I have much less of a problem with it than if they created a new animal-abusive tradition out of whole cloth.

    What would be the difference between this and cock fighting or dog fighting, I wonder. I guess the bulls are not fighting to the death, for one, and if (IF!) it really is a natural thing they do, then again I find it less problematic.

    It's true that the Japanese did many things to curtail large groups from gathering where authorities were not in control of them, so if that's really a reason why the tradition started to die, then maybe it's not a bad thing to bring it back.

    Anyway, I'm divided about this. I do find it less cruel than one where a matador goes off and cruelly kills the bull, but like you said (and I alluded to before), these bulls are treated considerably better than many of the farmed cows used for meat (but maybe not for dairy).


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