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The Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival in Korea

Recent Posts, Posted by Matt in ALL DESTINATIONS,Festivals & Holidays,Gyeongsang,Nature, 13 Comments

The Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival in Korea


There’s a small budget film here in Korea that’s made a very big buzz over the past few months. The film, Old Partner, documents an elderly farmer’s special relationship with his ox. Living in very modern Seoul, this may seem like a bygone portrait of South Korea. Yet, it was only a few decades ago that Korea was an agrarian society, and the bull was the farmer’s most prized possession. One reminder of these (mostly) bygone days is the Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival in Korea (청도 소싸움축제).


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Perhaps it’s no surprise that bullfighting was a popular source of entertainment for villagers back in the day. Of course, with modernization has come the decline of village life, and with it, the traditional bullfight. But there are still towns across Korea where you can see regular bullfights, and one of them is the village of Cheongdo, in North Gyeongsang Province. Each March or April, the small town hosts the Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival in Korea. Recently, a couple of friends and I went to check it out… this being the year of the ox, and all!

From Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival in Korea (청도소싸움축제)

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Cheongdo is located about 40 kilometers south of Daegu (대구). Since 1999, they’ve hosted the annual Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival to restore a traditional pastime while creating a tourism draw. A 10,000 person-capacity stadium was erected for this purpose, and hundreds of bulls fight annually for a prize of several million won, or a few thousand U.S. dollars.

From Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival in Korea (청도소싸움축제)

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Unlike in Spain and Latin America, Korean bullfights do not feature matadors, nor is there much blood or gore. Typically, the bulls, whose names are printed prominently on their sides, spend minutes (or hours) butting heads until one yields. To start the bout, the trainers release them from two pens and draw them together with ropes. Typically, the feisty males eagerly engage, but in several of the  tête-à-têtes that we saw, one of the 1,000-kilogram beasts simply refused to fight, apparently intimidated by the other one’s snorting and dirt kicking.

From Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival in Korea (청도소싸움축제)

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What makes a successful bull, you ask? Well, you might imagine that it’s hard to impart “skills” on a bull. But what South Korea’s 500-or-so rancher-trainers do to prepare their battle oxen is to build their strength and stamina. A recent New York Times article profiled a trainer who runs several kilometers daily alongside his bull, and feeds him pricey seafood, in addition to the more typical veggie diet. On game day, it’s not uncommon for trainers to slip their bulls some of the grain or potato-based alcohol called soju. But apart from liquid courage, trainers say that a thick neck, low torso and big horns are what they look for when choosing a bull.

From Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival in Korea (청도소싸움축제)

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Obviously the events inside the stadium are the Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival‘s main draw, but there was also a small museum, a number of booths selling dried persimmon products and persimmon wine, and a very strange mini zoo of sorts. My friends and I watched the hilarious (and disturbing) sight of a pen that contained a chicken, pig, two ducks and a ewe on whose back a black hen rested. There was also a sheepdog whose entire body was shaved, save his shaggy head. Next door was a miniature pony, and cages holding a Turkish Angora cat and two traumatized raccoons.

From Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival in Korea (청도소싸움축제)

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The outdoor animal circus aside, my friends and I enjoyed ourselves. And after the fight we sampled some of the town’s famous… well, you guessed it, beef, for lunch. So next year, if you’re looking for an enjoyable reminder of traditional Korean culture, consider traveling to the Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival for their annual event. The village is conveniently located between Daegu and Busan (부산)..
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For your information…

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The festival typically occurs in late March or AprilTicket prices TBD02-1330
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North Gyeongsang Province Cheongdo-gun Hwayang-eup Samsin-ri 693-2 (Sossaum Stadium)From Cheongdo Station, take a local bus to the festival venue (15-20 mins.)
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13 Comments

15 April 2009 17:15

Korean Rum Diary

Thanks for the report. I also enjoyed the bull fight and the surrounding activities.

http://koreanrumdiary.blogspot.com/2009/04/oxes-of-evil.html

15 April 2009 18:03

Matt Kelley

Hi David,
Imagine that… I would have thought our parties would have spotted each other, being probably the only two foreigner groups in attendance. Anyhow, I’ll check out your post on the topic. I already like the name.

Best, Matt

19 February 2010 09:48

Carol

Great blog & great photos – thank you!

Three of us will be in Seoul during the Bullfighting festival next month, and are thinking about going to Cheongdo – after reading your blog.

Do you have any info on the Lava Spa – or other accomodations, in case we want to spend the night?

Thanks, Carol

18 March 2010 00:45

kristina

thanks for the info! yours was the only site i could find with detailed directions on how to find the venue. i’ve been at this for an hour! thank you, and great article ^^ i’ll be there this weekend for sure.

cheers, kristina

March 24 2010 14:43 pm

Matt

Hi Kristina,
Happy to help... hope the information actually got you there ok. If so, I'm curious to hear what you thought about the bulls! ~Matt

16 July 2010 15:48

Wahyudi

Wwwwoo….^ ^ so surprise that this web is made by KBS World Radio’s Matt Kelley…(i’m the listener of KBS Indonesian) this articles help me so much as the references in my article in Bahasa Indonesia http://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festival_Adu_Sapi_Internasional_Cheongdo

July 18 2010 05:16 am

Matt

Anyoung Wahyudi!
Thanks for your note and for spreading knowledge about Korea on the Bahasa Indonesia Wikipedia site! Also, it's great to hear that you listen to KBS World's Indonesian service. They are great people!

I hope you'll come back soon^^ Best, Matt

12 September 2010 22:04

Discovering Korea – All Destinations

[...] Lotus Lantern Festival 2009 [April 21, 2009] Hampyeong Butterfly Festival [April 20, 2009] Cheongdo’s Bullfighting Festival [April 7, 2009] Seoul’s Yeouido Island [April 1, 2009] Jinhae’s Cherry Blossoms [March [...]

28 February 2011 12:51

val

Are the train prices round trip or one way? I’m thinking about going to the festival this year.

17 January 2013 08:26

Miquiztli_ichsak

just the ppl dont know is, if the bull loose, he is decapited in front of the public of the most agresive way, have some clips in youtuve

January 21 2013 05:33 am

Matt

Hi there. I don't think that's accurate. On our visit, we didn't see any bulls killed, much less decapitated in front of the audience.
Best, Matt

25 May 2013 18:13

Shone

Anyone can tell when this bull festival gonna come again?

July 15 2013 02:54 am

Matt

Hi Shone,
The festival typically occurs in late March or early April. I don't think the 2014 dates have been set yet.
Best, Matt

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