[FOUNTAIN]It’s hard for him to say he’s sorry

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[FOUNTAIN]It’s hard for him to say he’s sorry

In August of 2000, in the Chinese city of Tianjin, near Beijing, a small service company opened that became known as the Sorry Company. This company delivered apologies on other people’s behalf. Its eight employees were all eloquent speakers in their 40s, lawyers or academics in psychology. They were paid a basic fee of 20 yuan ($2.60) per apology. They did not hesitate to give flowers or a small present, if it made the apology more effective. In more difficult cases, of course, the fee was higher. Company representative Liu Qing could not hide his happiness, the business was doing so well.
Three months later, Beijing People’s Broadcasting Radio Station introduced a new program: “Tonight, I Apologize in Public.” A son apologized to his late father for not having fulfilled his filial duties when he was alive. A teacher apologized to students for using harsh words. Various apologies were aired, in different situations, and listeners’ hearts were touched.
The birth of the Sorry Company and the apology program reflect a change in Chinese society. There is a Chinese word for “I’m sorry”; it’s duibuqi. But in everyday life, the word is seldom heard. There are various explanations for this.
A cultural interpretation has it that Chinese rarely apologize because honor is so important to them. Some have an economic explanation ―that in a matter where gain and loss are involved, apologizing means a loss of compensation. But the most persuasive explanation is the historical one: that it is because of lessons learned during the Cultural Revolution. In those times of persecution, apologizing, or acknowledging one’s failure, often resulted in death.
When Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Seoul on Monday, there was little evidence that he felt sorry about Japan’s historical falsifications or his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. “I accept the feelings about the past with a heavy heart” was all that he said. Offering a single, proper apology seems to be a hard thing to do. Perhaps Japan could hire the Sorry Company in China. It is a shame that the idea of bringing harmony to Asia through apologizing and offering forgiveness seems to be only a dream.


by You Sang-cheol

The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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