[VIEWPOINT]Learn lessons from ChinaThese days in China you can hear a lot of people saying, “It was Mao Zedong who established our country, but it is thanks to Deng Xiaoping that we were able to live well.” Even when hiking up Mount Huangshang (the Yellow Mountain), our guide explained that Mr. Deng walked the trail when he was 76 years old. The boast was an expression of respect and love toward Mr. Deng.
China is much better off than in the past, and the number of Koreans traveling there has increased drastically. At tourist sites, they accept Korean currency and large stores even accept Korean bank checks.
The Korean-Chinese who can speak Korean are very happy. As many Korean corporations have business in China, Korean-Chinese have many more job opportunities with higher wages now. They are envied by other minorities because they make a lot of money thanks to their rich native country. Our guide explained that China is doing well now thanks to Mr. Deng. He added that Mr. Deng was the Park Chung Hee of China. It seems former President Park is more highly valued overseas than at home. It was quite a contrast to the harsh criticism against him inside Korea.
Recently in Korea, an investigation on the so-called X-file revealed that two former presidents had been involved in illegal wiretapping. That exposure hurt their integrity deeply. The reputations of other former presidents were in tatters a long time ago. Korea has a tendency in which incumbent government officials mistreat former officials, rather than protecting them. Officials attack their predecessors while they were in power and receive the same after retirement, so the destruction of power continues in a vicious cycle. Therefore, former officials are neither loved nor respected by the people, and this leads to confusion in the country.
I am sure Mr. Deng had his weaknesses too. He has a lot of dark moments in history, including the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Nevertheless, he is still loved and respected by the Chinese because they think he had more achievements than mistakes. It was Mr. Deng himself who planted such a culture. He was strongly oppressed by Chairman Mao but did not try to discredit him. When he came back to power, he declared, “I am going to keep Chairman Mao’s portrait hanging on Tianenmen forever, and will commemorate him as our country’s founder forever.”
He even personally participated in evaluating Mao’s rule. He gave directions to the history evaluation team and attended their meetings frequently. He also made the Chinese Communist Party adopt the official position that Chairman Mao’s achievements counted for more than his mistakes. By wisely taking care of the delicate matters of history, he was able to put an end to the root of endless disputes and focused the country’s energy on more vital things. He also divided the responsibility for past wrongdoings. He said, “It is true that former President Mao made many mistakes towards the end of his term in power, but other senior officials who led the country should also share that responsibility. Even I myself was involved in some of the mistakes.” It was because their highest leader volunteered to share responsibility that China could quieten public opinion and take care of things rationally.
Mr. Deng once visited Japan. When asked about the then-hot issue, the Senkaku/Daioyutai island dispute, he answered, “We are having difficulty solving the problem because we are not smart enough, but I am sure the next generation will be brighter than us, so let’s leave it for them to solve.” It was thanks to such a flexible strategy and tradition established by Mr. Deng that China was able to survive, and it is why he got so much respect and love.
This year was an especially eventful and tumultuous year, and a lot of big issues have been continuously raised. There has been a lot of destruction of authority, and stubbornness and irrationality persist in our society. Also, the evaluation of controversial history has really started. How much more national energy will be wasted on it? Yet, there is one consolation. That is that if many wrong matters overlap and reach a critical point, it can provide an occasion to come back to normal. No matter how confusing things may be, it may not be as bad as the situation in China when it suffered from the Cultural Revolution. If China could overcome the after-effects of the Cultural Revolution to do well now, there is no reason for us not to manage ourselves as China did. The problem is a matter of leadership.
Crisis and opportunity are two sides of a coin and everything in this world is worth learning in the long run. Mr. Deng even said of the nightmarish Cultural Revolution, “It may seem like a bad thing, but it was actually a good thing. It made people think deeper and made us aware of our bad points.” This can be applied to us too. If we stop making trials and errors now and end our confusion by reflecting on the precedent of China, we can also have hope and anticipation for a brighter future in the New Year.
* The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ibo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Woo-suk