[FOUNTAIN]A system whose time may be overA country’s administrative system is like the veins in a human body. Through it, sovereignty flows to each region of the nation. As long as it’s not blocked, the body politic is healthy. The system’s design organizes the consciousness and the activity of the public. The idea of moving some of of the capital’s functions away from Seoul, which has been the center of the nation for more than 600 years, is controversial because it essentially means restructuring the public consciousness.
Korea’s eight- province system was established in 1413, the 13th year of King Taejong’s reign during the Joseon Dynasty. The provinces included the familiar names Gyeongsang, Jeolla, Chungcheong, Gangwon and Gyeonggi. The provinces’ function was to expand the rule of the central authorities. The opposite function ―that of communicating regional sentiments to the central government ―was considered a secondary task.
The reforms of 1896 divided the eight provinces into north and south. After the Japanese colonial era, the country went through war, industrialization and democratization, but the basic design has not changed much. A “special city” and a few “regional cities” have been added. Now the country has one special city, six metropolitan cities and nine provinces.
For a long time, the provincial governors played the role of representing the power of the king, or the president. Essentially, the provinces are symbols of the hierarchal class system, of submission to power and of the pre-industrial period.
Those associations seem almost to have become genetic. Koreans have an overdeveloped sense of pride in their own provinces ― an attachment that was once encouraged by the ruling classes, for their own convenience. These days, there is little about provincial pride that is constructive. We are left instead with ugly regional antagonism.
In the post-industrial age, South Korea has been striving for a horizontally structured society and a culture based on open communication. The Uri Party and the Grand National Party have begun discussing reorganization of the governmental hierarchy. Possibilities include eliminating the provinces and creating 60 or 70 regional cities.
If the government is reorganized along these lines, excessive attachment to provinces will die away, and Koreans will develop a stronger civil society. As the capital is reorganized and as the country tries to keep up with globalization, Koreans are placing their hopes in the national redesign.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.