[FOUNTAIN]Weak convictionsEo Hyo-cheom, a prominent statesman of the early Joseon Dynasty, was devoted to fostering public morals and tightening discipline. He would never compromise his conviction. When he was serving in the Hall of Worthies, or Jiphyeonjeon, the royal court was considering a feng shui-friendly plan to block a road in the north, make a mountain within the city and purify the river.
Mr. Eo, who did not believe in feng shui, wrote a long letter to the king. King Sejong read the letter and thought Mr. Eo’s theory reasonable and convincing. He had called in Jeong In-ji, one of his trusted vessels. “I think Hyo-cheom’s theory sounds very reasonable, but I doubt whether he disregarded feng shui for his parents’ funeral.” Mr. Jeong responded, “He indeed bypassed feng shui. I saw Hyo-cheom have his father buried near his house a long time ago, and the grave does not follow feng shui.” King Sejong was deeply impressed and called Hyo-cheom a truly virtuous man. Mr. Eo’s conviction and respect for principles contributed to strengthening the national structure in the early Joseon period.
Yun Chi-ho, a politician of Korea’s enlightenment period at the turn of the 20th century, was a linguistic genius. When he went to the United States to study, he kept his diary in English because he thought that Korean did not have sufficient vocabulary to describe all his thoughts.
He embraced Christianity and hoped to join mainstream American society, only to be frustrated by its exclusiveness. His conviction to become even more Americanized than Americans was modified into an admiration for Japan. He wrote in his diary, “I do not want to live in the United States, where racism and discrimination are extremely serious, or China, which smells disgusting, or Joseon, whose government is evil. Japan is the paradise of the East and the garden of the world, and I want to live in that blessed country.”
His conviction that Japan’s colonial rule was the only way to civilize Joseon and prevent western aggression drove him to kill himself after the liberation of Korea.
The convictions of an intellectual can benefit or ruin his existence. But conviction that is swayed by the wind is so deadly that it can shake its roots. The deputy prime minister and minister for education, who was in charge of the ministry of economy before, is confusing the nation by enunciating different convictions according to the situation. The Romanian-French writer Emile Cioran said, “Having no convictions means having no depth.” The tree of national policy has shallow roots, and now its roots are rotting away.
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.