[FOUNTAIN]A young horse can find the way"People say life starts at the age of 40. But in retrospect, life neither begins at the age of 40 nor ends at that age. Life is worth living at any age," wrote the doyen of essayists, Pi Chon-duk, who turned 92 this year. Mr. Pi's philosophic optimism about life, however, is not shared by everyone. People in Korea usually are not only concerned about their own age, but also like to comment on the age of others. If someone is in the position of power, his age is more likely to be the subject of argument.
Those who believe in the merits of aging like to quote an ancient Chinese proverb: Old horses know the roads. They may also give credence to the analogous English saying: Years know more than books.
During the Spring and Autumn Period that lasted from 770 B.C. to 476 B.C. in China, a time marked by disunity and civil strife, Duke Huan of Qi got lost as he returned from an attack on a country in Hebei province. It was spring when the duke left his home for the war; it was winter when he lost his way returning home. But he had a very wise prime minister, Guan Zhong. Mr. Guan released an old horse to find the way, which led Duke Huan and his troops home safely.
Compared to Western countries, a Korean gets more respect and social status as he grows older. But Koreans at the same time love to focus on "the youngest" records. According to records of the Joseon Dynasty, the youngest yeonguijeong, which is equivalent to a prime minister these days, was Yi Jun, who was appointed to the position at the age of 27. But he was a special case: He was the grandson of King Sejong, and had the splendid achievement of quelling the rebellion of Lee Si-ae under his belt.
The youngest scholar to pass gwageo, a civil service examination, was Lee Geon-chang (1852 - 1898). He passed the examination at the age of 14, but was awarded a government post four years later, because he was considered too young to carry out his duty. General Nam I passed the government examination for military officers at the age of 16.
Chang Dae-whan, 50, the prime minister designate, is drawing much public attention for his relatively young age. Mr. Chang, whose National Assembly hearing is scheduled for Monday, is nine years younger, on average, than other ministers.
Fifty might be a relatively young age for a prime minister, but I believe challenging Mr. Chang's appointment based on his age will be difficult, if that is his only "negative." Many other aspects of his nomination, including his administrative capacity, should be scrutinized.
The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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