[NOTEBOOK]The value of patience over fury

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[NOTEBOOK]The value of patience over fury

He was a king of the Joseon Dynasty, yet a tragic one. He had a bad beginning. He was neither the son of a queen nor the eldest son. His father had no legitimate heir and had to name the second son of a concubine as the crown prince. The Ming Dynasty in China opposed the choice.
To add insult to injury, the queen then gave a birth to a son, the legitimate heir to the throne. Officials and members of the royal family thus began talking about changing the heir. Even the king himself agreed to replace the crown prince. But time was on the crown prince’s side. The king passed away right on time, and he succeeded to the throne.
He began implementing reform policies and tried to take the side of the peasants. In the 17th century, corruption and bribery were routine. Officials often embezzled taxpayers’ money. The peasants were resentful of the authorities, so the new king promoted a tax reform, the Daedong Law. Wealthy landowners and merchants rejected the reform, and the king kept his distance from them.
The king promoted a pragmatic diplomacy. The Ming Dynasty had asked for assistance in the war against the Later Jin. At the Joseon Dynasty court, many officials were pro-Ming sycophants, and they represented the mainstream. Since the majority supported sending troops, the king could not refuse the request. The Joseon Dynasty sent 10,000 troops, but the king secretly sent a message to the commander of the dispatched unit ordering the commander not to get involved in the fight. As a result, the Joseon Dynasty satisfied China’s request, yet kept its losses to a minimum.
But the king had weak political support, and he was swayed by those who had made him king. Then a strange rumor spread. People secretly gossiped that the Yi royal family had lost its spirit and a new dynasty headed by the Jeongs would rise. The public was disturbed. As a remedy, the king planned to relocate the capital. Gyoha in Paju, Gyeonggi province was named as the new capital site. But the plan was postponed because of other pending issues and was never realized.
In the end, the king was ousted for two reasons. First, he failed the Ming Dynasty. Second, he failed the Confucian duty of filial piety.
He was Gwanghaegun, the 15th king of the Joseon Dynasty. History books used to categorize him as a tyrant. But that reputation was mostly fabricated by those who pushed him from the throne. Today, historians are making a belated effort to reinvestigate the life and achievements of Gwanghaegun.
The history of Gwanghaegun is similar to that of President Roh Moo-hyun. They share humble beginnings and weak political foundations. The situations and surroundings are not much different either. Gwanghaegun was ousted from the throne, and the National Assembly has voted for the impeachment of Mr. Roh.
But Mr. Roh’s story will have a different ending. Gwanghaegun did not have a second chance to reverse the situation. He had spent 18 years in exile and bided his time. He hoped the Ching Dynasty, which had triumphed over the Ming, would help him. In fact, the Ching Dynasty offered to help, and even sent their army to Korea. But the chance to return to the throne never came, for he had no supporters in the court.
But Mr. Roh has been given a chance to reverse the situation. This was the National Assembly election, in which the ruling party successfully secured a majority in the Assembly. He has prepared the ground on which he can build his power again.
Gwanghaegun’s failure originated from a lack of tolerance. He was a man of fury. It was not easy for him to become king, and the struggle planted rage in him. Those around him exploited his personality and stimulated his fury for their personal interest. Gwanghaegun never overcame his personal baggage and invited disaster.
Let us suppose that Gwanghaegun was given a chance to rebound. His time in exile could provide a clue to solving the puzzle. He had to wait for the right moment, and the wait taught him the value of patience.
The attendants had ridiculed him and called him an “old fellow.” The gateman occupied the master bedroom and put the former king in a small chamber. But he endured the insults and suppressed his anger. He knew his fury had caused his failure as a king. He must have thought that patience was the key to making a comeback. But he was never given a second chance.
Today, Mr. Roh has seized an opportunity. He must have mastered the beauty of patience that prevails over fury.

* The writer is the political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Lee Youn-hong
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