[FOUNTAIN]Right and wrong, profit and loss

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[FOUNTAIN]Right and wrong, profit and loss

"There are two big scales in the world. One is the scale that measures what is right and wrong. The other is the scale that measures profits and losses. From these two scales, four different levels are revealed. The best level is to do the right thing and to make a profit. The second best level is to do the right thing but to suffer a loss. The third best is to do a wrong thing but to make a profit. The fourth level, or worst, is to do the wrong thing and to suffer a loss."

The preceding is part of a letter written in Chinese by Jeong Yak-yong, a prominent scholar in the realism school during the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty. He was writing to his eldest son, Hak-yeon, in May 1816, from Gang-jin, South Jeolla province, his place of exile.

According to the recent book "The Beauty of Floating in the World," which has several essays written by Mr. Jeong, the letter is regarded as a father's rebuke. Mr. Jeong reportedly is scolding his son, who had asked him to do an unworthy thing. Mr. Jeong received a pardon in September 1810, but his opponents blocked the issuance of a public letter confirming that the exile was over. So Mr. Jeong had to spend an extra eight years in exile. Deploring the situation, Hak-yeon asked his father to write his opponent a letter appealing for mercy or "amicable management." Mr. Jeong firmly rejected the idea. Such a letter could have lured him into a trap made by his opponent and could have destroyed his own beliefs.

"It is no use for me to appeal for mercy. If they get power and retake major government posts, they will kill me. Why should I break my principles for such a minor thing as writing a petition?"

Mr. Jeong soothed his son, saying, "It is not because I want to keep my principles. It is only because I want to avoid the worst choice, which is to do the wrong thing and to suffer a loss. I know that appealing for mercy is not as honorable as the third level, which is to do a wrong thing and to make a profit."

This nearly 200-year-old letter offers something for contemporary Koreans to chew on. Korean politicians, who seem susceptible to turncoat disease, should not turn a deaf ear to Mr. Jeong's rebuke.

Last April, President Kim Dae-jung presented a copy of this book and a biography of the famous calligrapher Kim Jeong-hi to all his aides to commemorate World Book Day. I wonder at what level President Kim resides?

The writer is the head of the Forbes Korea Team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sohn Byoung-soo

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