[VIEWPOINT]Trading roles with China

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[VIEWPOINT]Trading roles with China

In the world, there are occasions when not so significant ideas, things or people happen to become suddenly popular or enormously successful. The role of the so-called “tipping point” also applies in the area of public policy. Saemaeul Undong, or the New Community Movement, that swept through South Korea in the 1970s may be a case in which “Though your beginning was small, yet your latter end would greatly increase (Job 8:7).”
In the 1970s, our country’s cement industry experienced oversupply and a slow export market. The administration urgently purchased the surplus cement with a budget of about 4 billion won ($4.1 million). The government then distributed 335 bags of cement to each of the 33,367 villages across the nation and encouraged them to solve long-desired projects for themselves. Depending on the villages’ social capital, including leadership, their performances varied and the government took follow-up measures to provide more support to regions that made greater efforts.
Then came the process in which the-then President Park Chung Hee made the New Community Movement official and its spirit took root under the slogan, “diligence, self-help and cooperation.” Therefore, it is not proper to view the New Community Movement as an individual achievement of Mr. Park. Still, the essential value of the movement is not undermined just because it was politically abused throughout the Yusin, or revitalizing reform, regime and the Fifth Republic.
Recently, China began to show extraordinary interest in the New Community Movement, but it might not be because of the political dimension of the movement. Instead, it is because South Korea’s New Community Movement appealed to the Chinese government ― which has concentrated its efforts on economic growth for the past nearly 30 years ― as a benchmarking target in the process of seeking balanced development between urban and rural areas. China set forth “the construction of new socialist rural villages” as its overriding policy task for this year, when its 11th five-year economic development plan starts. In mid-February, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao personally participated in a discussion with major high-ranking officials from the party, the government and the military.
The popularity the New Community Movement enjoys abroad is in clear contrast to the oblivion and cold treatment it faces at home. For instance, in the case of North Korea’s Chollima Undong, or Flying Horse Movement, emphasis is given to its economic function for the construction of socialism, while, in the case of South Korea’s New Community Movement, emphasis is given to the justification of dictatorship. This is the spirit of the times that can be found today in historical studies and education. If that is the case, the New Community Movement may be put on the list of past wrongdoings that need settlement someday. Isn’t there a saying that he who hates Peter harms his dog?
Of late, China and South Korea seem to have made a direct exchange between the New Community Movement and the Cultural Revolution. Korean society since 2002 reminds us of China under the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s, if we see it from the aspects of class struggle, mass rallies, priorities on egalitarianism and politics, and the fall of the right and rise of the left. In the sense that China learns the lessons from the New Community Movement that we cast away and South Korea repeats the errors of the Cultural Revolution that China wants to forget, the progressive and retrogressive history of the two countries is in dire contrast.
During his visit to China’s Tsinghua University a few years ago, President Roh Moo-hyun said he respected both Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. He even added a detailed explanation that both leaders created China’s history anew by dividing their times and also dividing their roles because they could not make it alone. This was a plausible evaluation. But this idea that could be called the “historical view of relay” or “historical view of division” seems to be of no use in relating together our former Presidents Syngman Rhee, Park Chung Hee and Kim Dae-jung. This is because a historical view of denial, discontinuation and self-righteousness is dominating our society.
Just as there is no history that a person makes alone, neither is there any history that is made for the first time. Therefore, historical lessons do not depend on history itself but the way descendants interpret and learn from them. Because of these thoughts, I feel both pride and regret to see the New Community Movement exported abroad.

* The writer is a professor of sociology at the Graduate School of Environmental Studies at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Jun Sang-in
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