2020 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior first place
first place, junior essay division
Cunning over Courage: How a Rabbit Defined a Nation
Cinderella patiently tolerated the harsh brutality and exclusion of her stepmother and stepsisters and eventually married royalty. Hansel and Gretel kindly bore the abuse of their stepmother, and ultimately became rich and victorious. In most folktales around the world, the moral is to always be noble and self-sacrificing, for such behavior will be rewarded. Is this always true? Is honorability always the right choice? I had never truly pondered this question until I read “The Rabbit’s Liver”.
In this folktale, a Dragon King is in dire need of a rabbit’s liver to cure him of his sickness. A turtle goes out in search of the rabbit and tricks him into coming back to the King. Once the rabbit arrives, he realizes he has been tricked, but instead of accepting the situation and sacrificing his life for the King’s, he seeks out a way to save his own skin. He tells the King that he left his liver at home and asks to go retrieve it. After the turtle escorts him back home, the rabbit hops away, laughing at the stupidity of the King and the turtle. At first glance, this folktale appears to encourage trickery, and portray it essentially as the only way out in a crisis.
Initially, I was surprised and rather upset at why the story appeared to reward the rabbit for tricking the King and the turtle. However, a second reading allowed me to see a clearer picture. When facing a dire situation and outmatched in power, we sometimes must resort to using alternative methods to overcome disadvantages. The rabbit was outmatched in size, strength, and influence, but he had one advantage which he used to gain the upper hand: cunningness. As a society, we often view cunningness as a negative trait. Some folk tales would have us believe that kindness is the only answer for our problems.However, we cannot always sit back and give way for others to cheat or take advantage of us; sometimes, it is best to take a stand, and fight back with cunningness. In the story of Cinderella, her kindness and acceptance of her stepmother’s treatment to her was rewarded by marriage to a prince. In real life, however, allowing people to take advantage of our timidity rarely results in a happy ending. Kindness doesn’t always lead to rewards as the fairy tales preach. This folktale was written to show that is kindness isn’t the only correct answer. Cunningness can be the right path for its own reasons. The rabbit’s action might not have been the kindest, but it was the most necessary.
A long time ago, there was a country that was in a perilous situation. Just as the rabbit outsmarted his more powerful opponent, Korea outsmarted their enemy and conqueror, Japan. Korea was much weaker physically, with less land, fewer resources, and fewer armed forces. Korea had to rely solely on its most brilliant minds in order to win against its far stronger opponent. One of the most famous figures in Korean history, Yi Sun-shin, was a Korean general who was one of the most influential driving forces that would propel Korea’s win. One of the key tactics that won the war involved luring the powerful Japanese naval fleet into a narrow strait, and then closing the mouth of the strait with heavy chains. The Japanese were utterly trapped, and many of their ships hit rocks and sank. Korea, and Yi Sun-shin’s navy were severely outnumbered, yet they managed to win using creative, cunning tactics. Were these acts noble? If Korea had fought without such cunningness, would they have won? When faced with a choice, the lives of millions of innocents were placed above the importance of a “noble” fight.
Other countries often associate rabbits with vulnerability and prey. They would rather represent themselves as creatures of power- dragons, lions, and eagles. However, Korea seems to value the traits of rabbits that go ignored. In Korean folktales like “Moon Rabbit” and “The Tiger and the Rabbit”, rabbits are depicted as unlikely protagonists, who win happy endings not through kindness or bravery but through their clever minds. Many folktales specifically in Korean culture mention trickery and wit to solve problems- tigers and monsters threaten children, mothers, and other weaker protagonists who must think quickly to outsmart their intimidating opponents. Many Koreans proudly believe their country is shaped like a rabbit. They embrace this rabbit wholeheartedly, as a representation of what Korea is.
Folktales tell us about a country’s culture. All of us will have to rely on our quick sense to carry us through situations like the rabbit’s in this folktale. If I’m stuck in a situation where the odds are against me, I’ll still try to find a way to prevail by turning to the solution that might not seem as obvious. We often think that the big, powerful forces are the ones that will always end up with a medal in hand, but that isn’t always true. Underdogs can win with cunningness - and they do many times. Korea has had to win through cleverness, not through power alone. Koreans are bold. Perhaps not in the way that we think on first impression, but through cunningness and skill. We can model the rabbit in our difficult situations - by looking for creative solutions and using wit to escape unharmed from otherwise uncomfortable circumstances.