Samaeul gets new life in China

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Samaeul gets new life in China

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Under an extensive rural prosperity plan, Korea’s Saemaeul Movement (saemauel means “new village”), is coming back to life ― in China. Jeong Gyo-gwan, former head of the new village movement’s Central Training Center, has been the key figure in promoting the movement in China’s farming villages since 2001.
“I’m finally reaping the harvest I’ve sown for the past five years,” he said.
His work with Chinese villages began five years ago at the request of the Chinese government. In July 1996, at the China-Korea Science Technology and Economy Exchange Conference in Beijing, China requested Korea’s support in renovating its farming practices. In April 2001, a joint project was started between Korea’s Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture and China’s Association for Science & Technology. The foundation recruited Mr. Jeong to train Chinese officials. Working with one expert in agriculture, he educated 7,700 Chinese farmers and public servants over 31 sessions.
Mr. Jeong has continued to visit rural villages and go ahead with the training programs, even when SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) swept through Guangdong in 2002. He says he was often asked why he is so passionate about something he wasn’t being compensated for. He says he replied, “The key to the Saemaeul Movement’s success in the ’70s was the large number of leaders who devoted themselves to the movement without compensation. As long as you have such people, this movement will never fail.” The Chinese government recognizes his passion and has asked him to extend his contract for five more years.
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“It is wrong to believe that Korea’s farming villages will suffer if China’s farming villages grow stronger,” Mr. Jeong said. “China’s purchasing power will also grow, which will help Korea export more goods. That will be the way toward mutual survival for both countries.”
Mr. Jeong has spent his life reviving farming villages. A native of Jeonju, North Jeolla province, he grew up on a farm and went on to participate in agriculture movements when he studied economics at Seoul National University. Upon graduating, he joined the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, where he worked until 1980, the year the National Council of Saemaeul Movements was established. He wanted to train effective leaders for the movement, and began working for the Central Training Institute of the New Village Movement, affiliated with the council.
Wanting to play an active role in the Saemaeul Movement, he opened “Darimwon,” a large farm in the mountains of Yesan, South Chungcheong province in 1985. He was the head of the Central Training Institute in Seongnam, Gyeonggi province, but every weekend, he would travel to his farm to plant and take care of his fruit trees. In 1994, he and his wife finally listed the farm as their residence. The couple still live on the farm, growing maesil (green plum), walnut, bellflower and deodeok (a root plant that looks like ginseng). They prefer to handle all the farming tasks themselves, except during the harvest season.
“These days, when there’s flood damage, you find farmers who sit back and rely on the government to repair their fields,” Mr. Jeong said. “It’s unfortunate that Saemaeul’s motto of ‘diligence, self-help and cooperation’ seems to be disappearing.”


by Choi Joon-ho

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