[FOUNTAIN]Give proverbs thought

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[FOUNTAIN]Give proverbs thought

In the 1970s and 1980s, college entrance exams included questions about old Chinese proverbs. Students had a hard time understanding and memorizing the sayings and they even had word-games with Chinese proverbs. Serious students could come up with endless proverbs.
When students couldn’t think of a proverb when it was their turn to say one, they squeezed out answers that were totally wrong, but still clever in a way. For instance, they might say proper nouns consisting of Chinese letters, which sound like Chinese proverbs in terms of phonetics. But those nouns mean nothing but a certain bridge or a certain area, far from words of wisdom. Sometimes they even presented their own interpretations of the words, which made no sense at all but still were quite amusing to listen to.
A media outlet specializing in news about professors and universities presented an old Chinese saying that describes this year best ― the saying means that conditions have been prepared, but not much has been produced. It is a good choice because the proverb from I Ching symbolizes the current political situation in Korea.
Last year’s Chinese proverb selected by the newspaper meant a fire rising up and water running downward, literally. The saying pointed out the strife and division in Korean society.
Political circles also presented old Chinese sayings for their New Year’s resolutions. The Uri Party made up an expression that means “Empty your mind then clouds will gather.” The Grand National Party’s selection means to wield a sword to cut tangled threads. A rough English equivalent is to cut the Gordian knot. The opposition party said it would work harder next year to solve problems in the country.
The Uri Party’s choice, however, is new, so it does not sound refined like other old Chinese sayings. The Grand National Party’s choice reveals its ambition for next year’s presidential election too openly.
The head of the Government Information Agency chose a Chinese proverb as well. The proverb of its choice means that a sage feels lonely because he is surrounded by small fries, but the truth is uncovered so the sage regains glory and honor.
Who is the sage, by the way? If the sage represents the president and the ruling party, that goes too far. People should think seriously about themselves and their wrongdoings when citing proverbs.
Otherwise, they become nothing but jokes, like the ones that students squeezed out at the last minute in wordgames.
kjyoo@joongang.co.kr
The writer is the Beijing correspondent
of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Kwang-jong
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