[VIEWPOINT]Bush must look to his virtue

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[VIEWPOINT]Bush must look to his virtue

Typhoon damage has always been tremendous and will continue to be so. The longest-reigning King of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) was King Yeongjo, who stayed on the throne for 52 years. Let’s look at some examples of typhoon damage during his reign from his chronicles.
In the fifteenth year of King Yeongjo’s reign, seven provincial areas, including Haeju in Hwanghae province, were flooded, resulting in 300 deaths and the loss of 600 houses that were washed away. In the seventeenth year, the whole country was affected by floods: in the Honam area, 800 houses were lost in July and 770 more were washed away in September; in the Gwandong area, some 1,000 houses were swept away in September. After the floods, an epidemic broke out, killing around 3,700 people in the Gwanseo area.
In the twenty-eighth year of the king’s rule, 33 people were crushed to death by a landslide caused by flooding in the Gyeonggi area in June, and 219 houses were washed away. In his thirtieth year, 400 houses were washed away in the Gwanseo area in June.
These are the official statistics found in records written at the time. Considering there was probably damage that was not recorded, actual damages from floods must have been even greater. Floods usually occur in our country between June and September of the lunar calendar ― July, August, September and October of the solar calendar. Thus, they occur during the season when hurricanes threaten the Americas.
One day in his fourth year on the throne, King Yeongjo woke up to the sound of early morning rain and said to his courtiers, “Oh dear! We have had flood, drought and famines for the past four years because of my lack of virtue, and this year we even went through an unprecedented revolt by a traitor named Yi In-jwa. How can my poor people manage their livelihood under such hardship? There is an old saying, ‘War is always followed by a lean year.’ Fortunately, however, we haven’t had a big famine for the past two years and we pin our hopes on a good harvest this year. Yet I am still nervous because, while the season for harvesting is around the corner, there is no way of knowing if there will be a flood or drought before then. Nobody knows whether a cold rain will pour suddenly and flood the fields awaiting harvest. My lack of goodness might bring upon us such awful things as I fail to win the sympathy of heaven. How can I earn the sympathy of heavens if I do not self-reflect and make efforts myself? I should start with reflecting on myself.”(“The Chronicles of King Yeongjo,” July 27 of the fourth year of his rule.)
King Yeongjo worried that rain would ruin the harvest and force his unfortunate people to starve. The King ordered his courtiers to reduce taxes on the people and decrease the number of dishes in his meals. Reducing the range of foods he ate was a decision made out of concern for his starving people. When there was typhoon or flood damage, the king performed a religious service for the dead, discharged people from compulsory labor and reduced taxes. These were more or less customary traditions, but sincerity could be detected in King Yeongjo’s gestures.
One early morning twenty-five years later, continuous rain reminded the king of his fourth year on the throne, when he had eaten less food. “Oh! Floods and droughts really happen because I lack virtue. I am older than that year, but how can my compassion for the people and will to work hard for them be less than back then?” (“The Chronicles of King Yeongjo,” July 23 of the 29th year of his rule) The king ordered a reduction in the number of dishes on his dining table again.
Hurricane Katrina walloped the United States. President George W. Bush is being criticized for his insincere counteractions. It reminds me of a chapter on the principles of politics in “The Analects of Confucius.” When Zigong, one of the disciples of Confucius, asked the master how to rule the people, Confucius said, “The people will follow if there is trust, plenty of food and a big army.” When Zigong went on to ask which could be spared first among the three, Confucius replied that the army could be. When asked which could be spared next, the master replied it could be food. “From olden days, people know they are mortal beings. However, if a man does not earn trust, he cannot be a man.”
President Bush is pouring money into the war in Iraq but his people are dying in the flood. The fact that his approval ratings went down is evidence that he has lost the trust of the people. How great was King Yeongjo who awoke in the early morning at the sound of rain and said his lack of virtue was the reason for flood and drought.
Superpower countries are to be feared for their military power, not to be respected for their virtue.

* The writer is a professor of classic Chinese literature at Pusan National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kang Myung-kwan
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