North Korean 'Unicorn' Claim Lost in Translation
An apparent North Korean claim to have uncovered a "unicorn's lair" that created an Internet storm was partly the result of mistranslation by Pyongyang's much-mocked propaganda machine.
In a report carried on its English service last week, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) cited archaeologists who "reconfirmed" the discovery of "a lair of the unicorn" ridden by King Tongmyong.
Tongmyong is a quasi-mythical figure -- similar to the legend of King Arthur -- credited with founding Kokuryo, one of the three ancient kingdoms of Korea, in 37BC.
The KCNA item was reported by sections of the foreign media as a claim by North Korea to have proved the existence of unicorns.
But the original Korean text of the report suggests the archaeologists were trumpeting the discovery of a site associated with the Tongmyong legend -- not proving its factual base in history.
In Korean, the site is known as Kiringul. The Kirin is a mythical chimerical creature depicted in various forms and sometimes with large antlers -- a characteristic that may have prompted the "unicorn" translation.
"Gul" simply means cave.
"An ancient poem says that is the place where King Tongmyong's unicorn lived and where the king is said to have ascended to the heaven on the unicorn's back," said Noh Tae-Don, a history professor at Seoul National University.
"What they are saying is that they have found a site associated with this legend," Noh said.
North Korea's state media is renowned for making bold claims, especially when it comes to embellishing the personality cults of the ruling Kim dynasty.
The late Kim Jong-Il, who died a year ago, reportedly carded a 38-under par in his maiden round of golf, striking between five and 11 holes-in-one depending on various accounts of the feat.
When Kim died, state radio and newspapers reported a series of "natural" phenomena, including owls that flew through condolence venues, a Manchurian crane that bowed its head in grief, and a "thunderous" cracking of ice around Kim's supposed birthplace at the revered Mount Paekdu.
Like others before it, the KCNA "unicorn" report served a distinct propaganda purpose.
The discovery of the site, it concluded, "proves that Pyongyang was a capital city of ancient Korea."
North Korea has always argued that Pyongyang, and not South Korea's Seoul, is the true historical capital of Korea and cradle of Korean civilization.
In 1993, the regime claimed to have excavated -- near Pyongyang -- the remains of Tangun, the legendary founder of the first Korean kingdom in 2333BC.