[Viewpoint]Restoring the nationOnly a few decades ago, Korea was among the most destitute countries in the world, with a per capita income of less than $100. Industrialization and democratization were the two major challenges facing society during the process of modernization. Korea has realized its vision of becoming a modern society in a short period, while it took more than 200 years for the Western world to achieve the goal.
However, there are some very basic, black-and-white principles behind the nation’s achievements that also pose an urgent challenge to the Korean people. Korea’s achievement mainly represents time reduction. However inevitably, we’ve suffered greatly as we’ve rushed to save time.
Catching two rabbits ?? industrialization and democratization ?? at the same time is the proper course of action. However, we’ve failed to do so. In the 40 years after the country’s founding, we concentrated all our energies on achieving industrialization and did not focus on facilitating the nation’s democratization. But for the past two decades, Korea has not given utmost effort in developing the nation’s economy, as it has mainly focused on fulfilling the national task of becoming a democratic country. The cart that should roll on its two wheels first leaned on one side, and then the other.
Why did Korea make such a belated effort to become a democratic country? The major culprits were its experience under Japan’s colonial rule and the Cold War, which naturally led to authoritarianism and the division of Korea into the North and South. Overcoming the wounds of the Korean War and national division, the country had no choice but to take an anticommunist ideology. Economic development was a foremost task facing us as we took a vigorous anti-communist stance, and we could not devote ourselves to making Korea a democratic country, as we aimed at attaining national wealth first.
The progress of democratization is mainly due to the nation’s rapid economic growth over the past two decades. As the national economy grew bigger and with the justification for anticommunism and dictatorship gone, Korea succeeded in realizing democratization thanks to successful industrialization; conversely, further industrialization is indebted to democratization.
Now, we have already achieved the two goals, which means that the two goals’ debts to each other have been paid. Let bygones be bygones. It is time to extend our sincere gratitude to each other and join hands for cooperation, marching toward the future.
From a macro perspective, our success is also mainly due to our ancestors. The fervor for education that we have inherited from the Joseon Dynasty, dominated by Confucianism and the state examination, has helped Korea to enjoy excellent human resources, restoring Koreans’ pride and confidence in the nation’s traditional culture. Therefore, the birth of modern Korea is wholly different from that of new countries that suddenly gained independence after the Second World War.
Korea’s democratization and industrialization are deep-rooted. Korea has accumulated a considerable level of experience pursuing the nation’s modernization from realism during the late Joseon Dynasty to the Korean Empire. Why is the name of Korea the same as that of the Korean empire? “Daehan,” meaning “Great Korea,” represents the nation’s grand dream to build a great country. In addition, the Korean empire focused on building a republic as its national goal. The brilliant historic achievements ?? from the Korean empire in 1897, through the provisional government in 1919, through the Republic of Korea in 1948 ?? continue to raise the nation to a higher plane under the grand vision of modernization.
However, there were some interruptions between eras, when we consider the nation’s legal succession. There was a severance between the empire and republic, and from the republic having no governmental entity to the self-governing republic.
In particular, Daehan was founded through a democratic election for the first time in 1948. But as some leaders of the provisional government of Korea did not participate in the election, it was difficult for the provisional government to be the legal successor. Thus, we say that 60 years have passed after the Republic of Korea was established.
The question is not the past but the future. An advanced nation that we are eager to realize is a powerful country. The biggest challenge facing us is to overcome the tragic division of the Korean Peninsula and secure the dignity of the nation.
Above all, it is imperative to draw a blueprint for a national philosophy and restore Koreans’ great power and wisdom once again, regardless of political inclination. I am proud to say that we have a long history of educational fervor and excellent human resources. It is time that the government and other sectors be firmly committed to reinvigorating the nation, drawing on all their latent energy.
*The writer is a professor at Ewha Womans University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Han Young-woo
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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