[Outlook]Spirit of the times

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[Outlook]Spirit of the times

Deng Xiaoping often quoted this saying from his hometown of Sichuan: “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”

But his cat theory didn’t mean that goals should be achieved by any possible means. What he meant was that rules should be loosened so that people could create their own methods, using their imaginations and ideas.

This spirit served to spearhead measures that led to opening and reform of the country, eventually creating the China that we know today. The fact that the Olympic Games are being held in Beijing this year can be attributed to the 30 years of change that came from Deng’s ideas.

The power behind Deng’s politics sprouted from his ability to read the social tendencies of his time. He learned that, as Confucius said, wisdom is not sufficient to become a king. In 1976, Mao Zedong died.

Deng was then able to herald the beginning of his own era because he could get a sense of the way that Chinese society was leaning. Deng chose to embrace these new trends rather than trying to weed them out. He didn’t care about people’s hometown, education or family background, or even whether or not they were members of the Communist Party. He employed smart, talented people across the country and made them warriors of reform and opening.

Deng even believed that 70 percent of what Mao did was right, even though the latter’s Cultural Revolution killed hundreds of thousands and had forced Deng to become a factory worker. Deng said he wanted to receive the same evaluation after he died. He brewed his own booze in Mao’s wine barrel, conducting a politics of addition, not subtraction.

Once Deng won the people’s hearts, he encouraged them to put his thoughts and ideas into practice. He urged them not to walk cautiously, like a woman with bound feet, but to carry out bold experiments. But at the same time, he emphasized caution, such as one would exercise when repairing a vessel while at sea. He opposed hastily trying to achieve goals and exaggerating one’s capacity. He told people not to be proud until they became truly competent.

He also said that the early stage of socialism must be sustained for 100 years. He believed that this was the foundation upon which a new history of China, a country that was once the center of the world, could be built. Probably because of his ideas, media around the world are declaring this the century of China, but China remains alert to the uncertainties of the future.

Deng also had political crises, such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. But he knew when to advance, when to retreat and when to wait. Examples of this canniness are his timing for his 1992 Southern Tour which sparked reforms and opened up doors; his decision to give up his power, saying that an old man has many good qualities, but that he is stubborn; and when he searched for chances to make a political comeback after being politically liquidated three times.

The Lee Myung-bak administration launched proudly thanks to support from a majority of the people. Books about the president’s former successes were published and political candidates in Taiwan made pledges mimicking Lee’s 747 promise. But now, after only a few months, few are talking about the brand name Lee Myung-bak.

The administration has wasted its time finding flaws in the former administration, while failing to display an understanding of the current spirit of the people, which goes beyond pragmatism.

Right-wing populism and amateurism were commonplace and the administration’s policies didn’t earn the people’s support or understanding. Cabinet members and presidential aides were employed despite records of illegal acts or tax evasion. They became yes-men, so opinions inside the cabinet and the Blue House weren’t adjusted with the times. As a result, the Lee administration can’t assert its authority and is becoming an unproductive government.

What should be done? The Blue House should be a starting point for change. The presidential office must present pragmatic measures. It must stop separating good citizens from bad, and innocent protesters from those that are politically motivated. It must plunge into the public and face the reality.

Hu Jintao met with some 200 million Chinese people on the Internet. The Korean president also shouldn’t release typical messages to urge the people to work together to revive economy. Instead, he must listen to others’ opinions and embrace them. Then, the current disaster may be transformed into a success. The president and the administration must open their ears and hearts until they persuade the people, and fight against the temptation to go back to the past when they were drunk on the sweet nectar of victory.


*The writer is a professor of political science at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hee-ok
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