[FOUNTAIN]Faces on currency can tell us a lot

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[FOUNTAIN]Faces on currency can tell us a lot

There is an anecdote about Chung Ju-yung, the late founder of Hyundai Group, and a trip he made to Britain in 1971. Mr. Chung hoped to borrow money from the Bank of England to build Hyundai’s shipbuilding division.
According to the story, a bank official asked Mr. Chung why they should believe that Hyundai would be able to repay the loan. Mr. Chung pulled out one of the 500-won bills that Korea used at the time. “Look at this turtle ship, built by Admiral Yi Sun-sin,” he replied. “Korea built an ironclad warship 300 years before England did.” With this, the story goes, Mr. Chung got the loan.
A country’s face to the world is its currency. The design usually involves a person, an emblem or the country’s scenery. And so a country’s money bears its culture, history and customs along within it. A camel can be found on the Tunisian dinar, becuse camels are used in Tunisian agriculture. But it is people who most commonly appear on currency. This is because an individual’s features are hard to forge.
In the United States of America, every bill except the $10 and $100 notes bears the face of a president. George Washington is on the $1. The idea is that citizens will feel close to the nation’s first president if he is on the most commonly used bill.
Korean currency is dominated by figures from the Joseon Dynasty. Admiral Yi Sun-sin is now on the 100-won coin. Yi Hwang can be seen on the 1,000-won bill, Yi Yi is on the 5,000-won bill and King Sejong is on the 10,000-won bill. This is because the figures were chosen during the rule of President Park Chung Hee, who was a proponent of Confucianism.
China’s currency bears Mao Zedong’s face. When the Chinese yuan was printed in 1987, Mao was pictured on the 100-yuan note with Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi and Zhu De, who formed the backbone of the Chinese Revolution. But in 1999, the year of the People’s Republic’s 50th anniversary, Mao went on all of its currency.
Last week, Mao’s value increased around the world with the Chinese government’s decision to re-evalue the yuan. Because its value is expected to be raised again, Mao will be treated as an important feature for quite a while. Why is Mao, whose failures during the Cultural Revolution were many, being associated with such wealth and honor today? The answer can be found in the saying “seven credits and three faults.” The current generation has concluded its evaluation of Mao’s life and is moving briskly forward, without looking back at his flaws.
What would Mao’s reaction be, below the ground, as he watches nearby Korea, where people are busily digging up each other’s past mistakes? Probably laughter. Ice-cold laughter.


by You Sang-cheol

The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s Asia news editor.
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