[OUTLOOK]Evaluate officials fairlyIn Sichuan, China, the Wuhou Temple is quite popular. It is packed with tourists and those who visit to pay tribute at the shrine throughout the year. The temple is a shrine that worships two of the main characters in “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” ― Liu Bei and his faithful military advisor, Zhuge Liang.
Articles praising the two figures are located throughout the shrine’s spacious precincts along with various historical relics. Writers who reflected on the past and wrote the messages to pass on to their descendants prepared the articles. On the entrance to the main temple hangs a large tablet with a message that says, “A bright king and an assistant’s wise advice should act as an example in history.” According to historians, it is meant to praise the accomplishments achieved through the joint efforts of the wise King Liu Bei and his excellent assistant Zhuge Liang, and to remind later rulers of their importance. In fact, the Kingdom of Shu Han was co-founded by Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang. Liu Bei’s three visits to persuade Zhuge Liang to work with him stand out, but his political power in supporting Zhuge Liang and cooperating in advancing their common goals is more impressive. It suddenly reminded me of the situation in Korea, where government officers are appointed according to their political preference and public servants are mostly interested in keeping their jobs.
A wise king is essential but a wise assistant is equally important. Advisers long ago would put their positions on the line and ask the king up to three times to change his policy or all head home together if they thought that his commands were incorrect. They did not bend their will in an effort to maintain their posts. From this example, we can learn that official positions are short-lived, life is long and history is eternal.
Even after Liu Bei passed away, Zhuge Liang devoted his time to realizing the objectives he and the king had shared, until his life came to an end at the age of 54, due to overwork. That is why succeeding generations have applauded his loyalty and accomplishments.
The saying “A bright king and an assistant’s wise advice should act as an example history,” also suggests that an unwise king and a terrible assistant can add up to wrongdoings and mistakes that will be remembered throughout history. There are many things occurring these days that are humiliating to show to our children, let alone our descendants. I wonder if copying the tablet at Wuhou Temple and placing it at various locations will help.
The statue of Liu Bei at the shrine is shaped to show a comfortable and generous image, reflecting his cordial and large-scale politics. To his right is the small face of Liu Zhan, Liu Bei’s grandson, who committed suicide when his father and Liu Bei’s successor Liu Shan decided to surrender to enemy troops.
There used to be a statue of Liu Shan to the left of Liu Bei’s, but apparently it was removed because he surrendered without putting up a fight when he was king. To this day, the space remains vacant. He was the king who seemed to enjoy being a prisoner at Luoyang so much that the emperor who arrested him said even Zhuge Liang would not have been of much use to him.
At Wuhou Temple, there are also shrines of 14 civil and military officials who served Liu Bei. They were selected for their historic evaluation, not for the positions they held while they were alive. By looking at the fact that the persons are removed or added depending on the period, it suggests that a historic evaluation is difficult and rigorous at the same time.
In Korea, the portraits of past chiefs adorn government offices. There are some who truly deserve to be respected, but once in a while there are those that we’d rather not remember. The time has come for Korea to reorganize the portraits. It is wrong to treat former heads with the same level of respect just because they held the same position in the past.
As time passes, evaluations about government officials are most likely to occur. If portraits of unworthy past chiefs continue to be displayed, it will have a negative effect on the workers’ morale and mental health. The offices should have a saparate display of the removed portraits and use them for educational use. That way, people will know the authority that government posts have.
How many portraits of past presidents and current high-ranking officials will survive the test? After touring the Wuhou Temple, it gives me a bewildering feeling, as it feels like I have boarded a time machine and taken a view of the past.
*The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Woo-suk