[VIEWPOINT]Hero’s life can be seen todayThe KBS series “Haesin Chang Po-go” (The Sea God Chang Po-go) has ended. Many viewers of the hit show were sad to see the tragic death of the historic hero who lived an eventful life.
“I never had a chance to meet you, but my respect for you grows only deeper for I have long heard of your great virtues. In the midst of spring, the weather has gotten warm already. I wish the great teacher health, happiness and fortune in your ventures. Ennin is indebted to your virtues from afar, and my reverence for you is endless.”
So wrote Ennin, one of the most important figures in Japanese Buddhism, to Chang Po-go while he stayed at a Buddhist temple that Chang Po-go built on Chi-Shan, or Red Mountain, in China during the reign of the Tang Dynasty.
Sekisan Myojin, or “Red-Mountain Shining-Deity,” is still worshiped as the protector from Shilla at the Sekisan Zen Temple, which was established according to Ennin’s will.
Chang Po-go is the only Korean who left his name in the histories of Korea, China and Japan at the same time. He was the commander of Muryeonggun, which suppressed a rebel army in China. In Cheonghaejin of Korea, he was the maritime trade king that cracked down on pirates and controlled trade with neighboring countries.
However, the ruling power had him killed for plotting treason and forced the residents of Cheonghaejin to relocate to Byeokgolje, today’s Gimje.
In the 12 centuries since his death, the hero has been buried in history. But today, the great commander and trader has been brought to life.
Surprisingly, it was an American scholar that revived Chang Po-go as an international figure. It all started when Edwin O. Reischauer, Harvard University professor and former U.S. ambassador to Japan, translated “Ennin’s Travels in Tang China” into English. He praised Chang Po-go as the “trade prince of the maritime commerce empire.”
Then, the Japanese claimed that the Chi-san Temple, where Ennin had temporarily stayed, was established by Ennin himself. Korean scholars such as Son Bo-gi, Kim Mun-gyeong and Kim Seong-hun learned of the historical fabrication attempt and started their own in-depth research on Chang Po-go. Their studies restored Chang Po-go’s status from a traitor to a hero, and the Chang Po-go Memorial Foundation was founded to begin earnest studies on the iconic figure.
Since his death, the maritime trade routes that he had opened have long been shut down, but we can still find traces of him here and there. Cheonghaejin Jangdo, the encampment of Chang Po-go, was excavated, and it was learned that the kilns in Gangjin, which had been known as the production center of Koryo celadon, was actually built by Chang Po-go by importing technology from China.
The ironclad Geobukseon warship of General Lee Sun-sin was the fruit of the shipbuilding skills handed down to the southern coastal residents in the Silla Dynasty. Late Hyundai Chairman Chung Ju-yung displayed a Korean currency with a picture of Geobukseon to the British bank Barclays to demonstrate the outstanding shipbuilding skills of Korean ancestors and received loans to establish Hyundai Dockyard.
It is no coincidence that the Korean shipbuilding industry is one of the best in the world today. The technology of our ancestors must have been the root of the maritime power encompassing shipbuilding, marine transport and deep-sea fishery.
The descendants of Chang Po-go, armed with the spirit of challenge and adventure, are managing an economy maintaining trade relations with 231 countries. Before we were even aware of it, the blood of Chang Po-go has been running through the veins of Koreans. From the Koryo celadon to shipbuilding to semiconductors, there are countless descendants of Chang Po-go, the latest being Seoul National University professor Hwang Woo-suk, who has garnered international attention with his groundbreaking stem-cell research.
However, the more important task is to nurture the next-generation heirs of Chang Po-go.
At the request of Kim Woo-jing, who had failed in the political power game, Chang Po-go got involved in politics against his will and met a tragic fate. The death of Chang Po-go blocked the Koreans’ path to the ocean. If we assist the outstanding heirs of Chang Po-go growing around us and help them develop their talents, and if our society does not ruin them, they will surely bring glory to the nation, and their accomplishments will make the country more prosperous.
* The writer is the chairman and CEO of Korea International Trade Association. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Jae-chul