[FOUNTAIN]Wang Mang’s vain dream

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[FOUNTAIN]Wang Mang’s vain dream

The relationship between Korea and China goes back several millennia, and their history is filled with both good and bad memories. Among the latter are the numerous wars between kingdoms based in Korea, such as Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla, and the successive Chinese dynasties.
The friction and cooperation between Goguryeo and the Chinese dynasties played decisive roles in each other’s rise and fall. The Sui Dynasty and a few others had ignored Goguryeo’s presence and ended up bringing their own downfall. Some other dynasties that pursued friendly relations with their neighbor had enjoyed a peaceful and prosperous coexistence.
When China is attempting to distort Goguryeo’s history, we need to pay attention to a historical figure named Wang Mang. He was a Chinese Han Dynasty regent who usurped the throne and reigned as emperor of the Hsin court. He carried out social reforms modeled after the ancient Chou Dynasty. The guideline for his reforms was the “Chou-li shu,” commentaries on the rites of the dynasty that were regarded as a utopian political scheme.
Following the teachings of this ancient book, Wang Mang appropriated the aristocrats’ land and banned the slave trade. He also wished to overpower his neighbors by belittling them, rather than pursuing coexistence. Especially, Wang Mang insulted the Hsiung-nu, or Huns, and Goguryeo, the two groups or territories China had not be able to completely control. He began to refer to the two territories as “Lower Hsiung-nu” and “Lower Goguryeo,” and ordered all state documents to use the new names. But calling Hsiung-nu and Goguryeo by faulty names would not change history.
Wang Mang’s dream of returning to the idealized Chou society became an impossible goal not only in foreign relations but also in internal affairs. State-run farming and the ban on the slave trade put tremendous pressure on state finances.
In order to resolve the financial strains, Wang Mang instituted a government monopoly on salt, alcohol and iron. He came up with various strategies to boost alcohol sales. One of the slogans was “wine is the best of a hundred remedies.”
The much-quoted Chinese proverb is a product of Wang Mang’s vain dream to revive the Chou society. China’s delusion to steal the history of Goguryeo might not be very different from Wang Mang’s miscalculation.

by Kim Seok-hwan

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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