Laurent Quisefit (EHESS)

Stone Fights in Medieval Korea: Game, Fighting or Ritual?

For perhaps 2000 years, Koreans practiced, mainly during the New Year’s celebrations, a kind of stone fighting.

The male youth of two villages assembled on each side of a stream and began to hurl stones at the opposing ‘team’. In such a competition, many were wounded and sometimes even killed. Usually, this game was limited to the place of the fight, women were excluded, and the fighting in itself, depending on the conditions, lasted all day or only one hour. This kind of mutual lapidation is clearly a ‘dangerous game’, but occurred only once a year. It had cathartic effects. Moreover, it was connected to the prediction of the coming new year’s harvest. At the same time, a torch fight was performed in similar condition, though by night, with the same protagonists hurling ignited torches at one another.

Other games were usually less violent, like the annual Tug-of-war competition, occurring in the 5th day of the 5th month, which offered similar connections between game, violence and harvest divination. The question is therefore to interrogate through comparison with similar games, the very nature of stone fights in Korea, especially in medieval times.

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