[FOUNTAIN]What’s behind these bows?In all places and at all times, there have been people who followed those in power. But something odd is happening in Korea these days. Politicians are paying visits to former presidents even though they no longer have power. The presidential hopefuls are lined up to give New Year’s greetings to the old politicians.
There is no blame if they want to visit former leaders of the country at the beginning of the new year. It has long been customary etiquette to visit family members, relatives and even the elderly of the neighborhood for a New Year’s greeting. For the first 15 days of the new year, people would visit others for New Year’s greetings. It was even O.K. to visit families as late as when dropwort flowers bloom, which is July and August. At the beginning of a year, government officials paid a visit to the king. The king made a deep bow, wishing a good harvest and a blessing for the year.
A senior person would say meaningful words to a younger person in return for a bow and greeting. Such words were believed to have magic power, like a spell. A belief that words had special power has been passed down since the anyiquity. It was regarded as good manners not to say outrageous remarks or speak empty words to younger persons. Children may be more interested in the money they get in return for their bows than elderly people’s wishes.
That seems to be the case with the presidential hopefuls. They have never visited former presidents, but now they do so in the hope of earning political gain in return for their visit. If the candidates get a blessing to assume power from old politicians, that is the best they can get. If the former presidents say “Do your best,” the candidates can then be assured that at least former leaders will not disturb them in the campaigns.
The most popular place for these exchanges is former President Kim Dae-jung’s house, because of possible generous rewards for bows and greetings -- the support of people in the Honam area. Former President Chun Doo-hwan is no exception, even though he once claimed that all he had got was 290,000 won, or $300. Won Hee-ryong, a candidate of the Grand National Party who used to be a student democratic movement activist, paid a deep bow to Mr. Chun. Afterward, enraged people crashed Mr. Won’s Web site, and he had to make an apology to the people.
The candidates say their visits to former presidents are a sign of unity. Why did they not do so before, when they were pointing fingers at them? It is humiliatingly obvious why the candidates bow now, with the presidential election drawing near.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin-kook