[OUTLOOK]A dimming ‘light of the East’

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[OUTLOOK]A dimming ‘light of the East’

“The Land of the Morning Calm” was the nickname of the Republic of Korea. The famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore said that the Land of the Morning Calm, Korea, would become “The Light of the East.” He said, “Korea’s lamp is waiting to be lighted once again / to be the illumination in the East. / Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high / Where knowledge is free / into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
The Korean morning was silence itself. The only noise heard in the morning was the sound of a farmer leading his cow and of oxcart bells. It may have seemed like a beautiful pastoral scene, but the people were in rags and starving. They suffered under the burden of heavy taxes and compulsory labor 365 days a year.
Tagore was right. Korea finally awoke from its 5,000-year-long hibernation. It tossed up its head and arose. The heart of the people slowly started to beat. Koreans got out of bed early in the morning and went out to their workplaces. There was nothing to be afraid of and no obstacles were in their way. And in the end Korea finally cast off the yoke of poverty that oppressed it for thousands of years.
The world’s biggest steel man since the birth of the “king of steel,” Andrew Carnegie, is Park Tae-joon. He built a steel mill on a land of endless fields and the moment he fired up the blast furnace, he lifted up Korea’s light of the east. Chairman Chung Chu-young, who founded Hyundai Group with his bare hands, used to complain that the sun rose too late. He was a great man who would have made the sun rise earlier if only he could do so. He is the everlasting CEO of Korea who used to disturb the quiet morning because of his excitement for work.
The liquefied natural gas carrier made by Daewoo stuck it out through the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans. The international electronics maker Sony Corporation reached out to Korea for cooperation, and Korean cars are now competing against Toyota’s vehicles. Such legendary events continued at several corporations, including Sam-sung and LG. Korea is finally looking at becoming one of the top 10 trading countries in the world, and there is talk that it might even become one of the great powers of the world.
More than anyone else, the mothers of Korea who guarded our families had the biggest leading role in Korea’s legend. Although the men indulged in political wrangling during the late Joseon Dynasty, resulting in the loss of sovereignty, Korean women never stopped encouraging the sons of Korea and making their breakfast early in the morning. The great women of Korea didn’t even evade the pains of labor to give birth to many children ― it is the children they brought up that became the precious and plentiful workers that aided economic development.
And so the Republic of Korea became the land of opportunity. Anyone could live a good life if only he worked hard. Not long ago, many people moved to the city with children and few possessions in a bundle and lived in houses made of thin boards.
Now most of these people belong to the middle class. Many people finally own their own houses, and more than a few people became rich. Regardless of educational background and without any other discrimination, anyone could become judges or officials if they passed the government examinations for the civil service. President Roh Moo-hyun himself is a good example of this. The Republic of Korea became a land of opportunity, open to anyone. It became a society with more opportunities than the United States, which is known as the land of opportunity.
However, the morning of Korea has become quiet gradually for some time. Corporations are busy relocating their businesses overseas because they are afraid of the labor unions at home, and unemployment is growing. More and more people are taking a walk or hiking during the day when they should be busy working. They are either people who have very free jobs or people who are unemployed. The land of opportunity is now starting to be a land of division, a country with no hope or vision.
Meanwhile, the Roh administration is leisurely counting the number of media reports criticizing the government at a time when it should try hard to stabilize people’s livelihood and struggle to improve the economic indices. The president has stated publicly that he would be “researching” a coalition government or a new political model. The lives of the ordinary people can only become harder when the president obviously indulges in devising a plan to come up with a final move that can reverse the situation in favor of him dramatically. And all the while taxes are rising so high that people are going to be driven to consider selling their houses to pay them.
How deep and caring is the compassion and support of the president to the North Korean regime, although his own people cry out for help from a hard life. As the president and ministers do not support North Korea with their own funds, it is common sense that they should ask the people, who will be burdened with trillions of won needed to support North Korea, what their opinion is of the aid plans.
Yet they make official promises as easily as making lunch appointments. This is more than being rude to the people. They don’t even follow the basic rules of a parliamentary democracy that respects and represents public opinion.
It is ominous to say, but a symphony of the quiet morning has started to spread in this land. The light of the east is in danger of being put out. Who is going to make Korea a country of a busy and noisy morning again? And who is going to turn it into a rich and prosperous land with overflowing opportunities?

* The writer is a professor of mass communications at Kangwon National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily Staff.


by Lee Kwan-youl
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