[FOUNTAIN]Some sage advice for the president

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[FOUNTAIN]Some sage advice for the president

Sambong Jeong Do-jeon (1337-1398) was a revolutionary and politician who assisted Yi Seong-gye’s revolution and founding of a new dynasty.
When Yi Seong-gye seized power and established the Joseon Dynasty, Mr. Jeong developed a capital befitting a new dynasty. When the capital was moved to Hanyang, today’s Seoul, he decided the locations of the palaces and royal shrine, and the names of the palaces and gates. He was the one who named the main palace Gyeongbokgung.
In his poem “Sindoga” he praised the relocation of the capital to Hanyang: “The holy king and the founder of the nation has achieved a peaceful reign/ Hanyang is worthy as a capital. The scenery today is indeed every bit a capital.”
He also advocated the need for able ministers. He argued that a ruler should respect the opinions of his vassals and appoint and promote capable officials. He claimed, “When a king has a great minister, even a mediocre king can manage politics well. If not, politics will become chaotic.”
Having been a revolutionary, Mr. Jeong was naturally interested in reform. He took the lead in reshuffling the classes with vested interests, such as the aristocrats from the Goryeo Dynasty, and of the old system through land reform. He said, “The weak would lease lands from the powerful, cultivate them and pay half of the harvest to the landowners. There is only one farmer working, but the land feeds two. Therefore, the rich get even richer, and the poor become still poorer.”
Professor Choi Sang-yong of Korea University considered Mr. Jeong a greater figure than Dante and Machiavelli for he was a politician with the philosophy of Plato, the virtues of Machiavelli and the ethics of responsibility of Max Weber.
On Thursday, President Roh Moo-hyun appeared on a special program of KBS-TV and said that he would like to model himself after Mr. Jeong.
The reform Mr. Roh dreams of seems to resemble that of Mr. Jeong. His stubborn obsessions with the capital relocation and real estate reform, as well as the antagonism against the class with vested interests represented by the Gangnam residents, remind us of Mr. Jeong.
President Roh’s “grand coalition plan,” in which he expressed the intention to appoint a prime minister from the opposition party, is not unrelated to Mr. Jeong’s emphasis on able ministers.
Mr. Jeong warned, “The status of a king is as high as it gets and as noble as it gets. However, if the king fails to win the hearts of the people even once, a truly worrisome disaster will occur.” President Roh should listen to Mr. Jeong’s advice on public sentiment as well.


by Ko Dae-hoon

The writer is a deputy city news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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