[FOUNTAIN]Did Kim Jong-il wail?There is an old saying, “If you get a horse to ride, then you want a servant to lead it.” It means that greed has no limit. In the Joseon period, it was customary for a dignitary to sit astride his horse and have a servant lead it.
Late Joseon period scholar Park Ji-won deplored the practice. When he saw a party on horses led by servants on his way to Beijing, he said, “In a few decades, we will use small ashtrays by the bedside as mangers for horses.” When asked what he meant by the strange comment, he explained, “If you breed chicks born in autumn over several generations, you get a tiny chicken, which crows by your pillow. When the horse becomes smaller and smaller, who can say for sure that we won’t end up with a horse that can sit by your pillow?” Mr. Park compared the Qing Dynasty soldiers, who rode stalwart horses with ease, with the Koreans, who were so afraid of falling from a pony that they needed a servant to lead it.
Envoys had to travel five months on their round trip to and from the capital of the Qing Dynasty. They struggled with fog at dawn, dust during the day and wind at night and were stressed from the pressure of completing their missions. However, according to “The Journey to the Chinese Capital” by Kim Tae-jun, Lee Seung-su and Kim Il-hwan, the journey was a cultural silk road that widened experience for scholars glowing with the spirit of intellectual inquiry.
Joseon scholars had to travel a different route in the Qing Dynasty from the Ming Dynasty. When the Qing Dynasty chose Shenyang as its capital in 1625, the court renamed it Shengjing, meaning “the place where the national influence grew prosperous,” and ruled that envoys from Joseon go by way of it. During the Qing Dynasty’s invasion of Korea in 1636, Crown Prince Sohyeon and Prince Bongrim were taken hostage in Shenyang. Half a million Koreans were made prisoners there as well. Late Joseon period realist scholar Sin Gyeong-jun said, “The road does not have an owner. Only the person walking on the road is the owner.”
North Korea’s Chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Jong-il, is on his way to Beijing via Shenyang. It is his fourth trip to China since 2000. Mainly, he hopes to lessen uncertainty over the security of North Korea by boasting of his friendship with China. There is a saying that the land you cannot cultivate is not your territory, and the people you cannot take care of are not your subjects. Park Ji-won called the Manchurian plain “the wailing ground of the world” on his way to Beijing. I wonder if Mr. Kim wailed out loud as he passed by the region.
by You Sang-chul
The writer is the Asia news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.