[FOUNTAIN]Competing with the past

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[FOUNTAIN]Competing with the past

During China's Tang Dynasty of the seventh to ninth centuries, Changan was the most international capital in the world. The city had a population of 1 million persons and was enormous in size, stretching eight kilometers north to south and 10 kilometers east to west. About one of every 20 residents of the city was a foreigner; they included over 10,000 monks and students from abroad studying in the capital.

According to the Korea National Statistical Office, there are now 150,000 foreigners residing in Korea. That is small for a country whose population is over 45 million and engages in foreign trade of $250 billion a year. Add illegal aliens who are not included in the statistics, and the number is still rather small.

Although the international standards of a country cannot be measured only in terms of how many foreigners it attracts, there is no obvious other reason to claim that our citizens are more globalized than were the citizens of Changan in the eighth century.

They were truly international citizens. They commissioned foreigners to manage what we today would call a special economic district -- a place for foreign residents to live and work -- and offered government positions to many of them. That extended even to the military; some foreigners commanded the dynasty's armies.

Life was not always tranquil for the foreign guests, though; one large group was killed in Gangjou by an angry mob during an uprising called the Yellow Scarves Rebellion.

Yet China's tendency to continue to trade with foreigners and use their talents expanded, even when that was in the form of colonial rule. In the 13th century when the Mongols ruled China, over 1 million foreigners worked for the Yuan Dynasty. For example Marco Polo worked for Kublai Khan for 17 years and Ahmad was employed for 20 years to manage the dynasty's financial affairs.

The Yuan era also revolutionized the concept of trade; way stations were built every 40 kilometers along the Silk Road to protect merchants traveling to the capital, Dadu, which today is Beijing. A saying went that the road was safe enough to travel even when carrying golden plates on one's head.

As Korea is becoming internationalized, the number of foreign visitors is increasing. We are trying to create a regional center for transportation and shipping and attract multinational companies' regional offices. But the concept should not just be limited to economic issues; we need to think through the other things we need to match Changan and Dadu.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Kim Seok-hwan

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