[FOUNTAIN]Listen to the kings' words

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[FOUNTAIN]Listen to the kings' words

"The roots of trouble lie always in alcohol. Alcohol makes us waste our precious grain on something that twists our minds and makes us forget proper manners. Don't we have enough examples that teach us the lessons of its evil nature? My dear beloved flock, do not fall victim to this treacherous substance. Do not drink until it controls your body and mind, driving you to oblivion."

In 1433, King Sejong published his thoughts in a short tract called "Guidelines for Drinking" to express his frustration at watching his subjects fall victims to the popular substance.

According to his pronouncement, "Alcohol is not just a substance to entertain. We use it for holy purposes such as ceremonies for the gods of heaven and earth or to lift up the spirit of the elders. It is a truly precious drink."

Whether it was intellectuals who should have known better or peasants that shouldn't have, too much drinking was going on, often ending in quarrels and saddening the king.

At the time, warning proclamations like this one were often issued in years when the harvest was bad. The stimulus behind them was that priceless rice should not be used for making alcoholic drinks, and drunken people should not wander around in times, creating even worse atmosphere, when society was already facing serious problems.

Despite the king's guidelines, it is safe to assume that people did not seem to worry as much about booze as their ruler. About 300 years later, the aging king Yongjo, who was presiding at age 64 over a renaissance of the Joseon Dynasty, had to issue his own version of Sejong's warning when he should have been enjoying the fruits that his reign had brought to Korea.

"Day and night, I am worried about my people. There has not been a moment in my life when I have not thought about their well being. Our country's fortune depends on whether we can control the uncontrollable beast of alcohol that is unleashed among us. Please listen to the wisdom of an old man and do not take my words lightly."

The two rulers' teachings came to mind when the Ministry of Labor agreed to acknowledge alcohol-related illnesses as job-related diseases, reminding us how much drinking some Korean salarymen have to endure to close deals. After hundreds of years, it has come down to this: The government must pay the descendants of the kings for damage caused by the substance they warned against so long ago. We can imagine what they would think: "Such fools!"

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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