The rot within

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The rot within

Masters of Chinese martial arts remind us first of jiang-hu, literally meaning rivers and lakes. Where the word jiang-hu originates is debated even in China. In the Buddhist world, it refers to the time when the Reverend Mazu Daoyi (709-788) lived in what is today Jiang-xi and when another respected spiritual leader, Master Shitou Chan, dwelled in Hunan. We believe the word jiang-hu referred to people moving between Jiangxi and Hunan to visit masters of high virtue.
But this is not convincing enough, because long before that, Zhuangzi, an influential Chinese philosopher, used the word. He explained jiang-hu as juxtaposed to the strenuous life on earth. He meant that two fish wriggling in a small pond miss the river and lake. He likened it to the dream of transcending the worldly life, leaving behind the dust-like earthly existence to return to the natural life.
Some relate the word to Fan Li at the end of the Warring States Period, who is the spiritual patron of China’s businessmen. It refers to Fan’s helping King Gou Jian of Yue to defeat the Wu and then expressing clearly the spirit of entrepreneurship by refusing a government post and instead starting a business. According to the Book of Han, Fan boarded a small boat and sailed to jiang-hu.
Some explain that jiang-hu geographically refers to the Yangtze River and Dongting Lake and generally anywhere fish can live such as rivers and water flowing into swamps. However, none can be considered the linguistic origin of the word.
But the word jiang-hu ultimately settled as meaning “where ordinary life goes on.” It is where the chivalrous work very hard to defeat evil people. It is where ordinary people lead difficult lives in the midst of good and evil.
Jiang-hu sometimes leaves a positive impression. Its spirit of transcending life to move toward nature is attractive. On the other hand, it is also a negative place where the weak must bear sorrow according to the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest. It reminds us of Chinese society when despots exploited their subjects.
What would be jiang-hu in South Korea today? Is it a prosperous and calm country whose people earn an average income of over $20,000 per year? It is not so. It is where unstable forces in our society that had led to the burning of our National Treasure No. 1, Namdaemun, are now trampling on and threatening children’s lives.
It is noteworthy that the cruelty of the acts above mimic the past. We should take this occasion to lift water out of our jiang-hu society and sincerely reflect on whether it is not rotting.

*The writer is deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yoo Kwang-jong[kjyoo@joongang.co.kr]
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