[FOUNTAIN]Will the spirit of Kaesong live on?The Joseon Dynasty maintained the traditional class system of aristocrats, farmers, artisans and merchants. At the time, merchants were regarded as the lowest class.
But in Kaesong, it was the other way around. The Goryeo Dynasty’s high-ranking officials and scholars, who opposed the newly emerging Joseon Dynasty, chose to become merchants. The knowledge and morality of the educated class helped to establish the tradition of Kaesong merchants, who saw rationality and loyalty as important.
On the basis of this tradition, Kaesong became the most developed business center of the Joseon Dynasty, and the merchants were sophisticated businessmen, creating a double-entry bookkeeping system two centuries ahead of Western countries. They controlled the flow of goods all across the nation with their financial power accumulated through ginseng trading, using their sharp business acumen and boldness to invest big money at great risk.
A novel “Mimang” (Illusion), by Park Wan-seo, tells the story of a Kaesong business magnate, Jeon cheo-man, and his granddaughter, Jeon Tae-im, during the last years of the Joseon Dynasty and the early days of Japanese colonial rule. It illustrates the Kaesong merchant’s steadfast attitude of refusing to accept “unrighteous” profit. Mr. Jeon cut off ties to his second son, who cooperated with the Japanese because he believed that loyalty among people should come before profit.
In contrast, “Sangdo” by Choi In-ho claims that the merchants of Euiju considered “business morality” paramount, while the merchants of Kaeseong, who were realists, emphasized “business technique.”
On Thursday, a fashion show sponsored by a South Korean company was held in Kaesong. The show, in which models clad in mini-skirts danced under the spotlights, shocked the North Koreans. Afterward, the North Koreans reportedly complained that it was too noisy and that they were too distracted to pay attention to the fashions.
I think the spirit of the Kaesong merchants can be resurrected some day when the North Koreans are able to enjoy fashion shows and accept mini-skirts. This past show could have been the start of that.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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