[Viewpoint]Hardworking dictator

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[Viewpoint]Hardworking dictator

Yongzheng, the fifth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, is well known as a hardworking ruler. He only slept four hours a day and devoted himself to China’s state affairs. It is well known that he received frequent reports from local administrators. He made them keep and submit detailed reports about rainfall, harvests, rice price fluctuations, which administrators were good at their jobs and who had what ideas.

Yongzheng read the reports thoroughly, added annotations in red and returned them. He read and responded to an average of 20 to 30 reports, sometimes 50 to 60, every day. “Yongzheng Emperor’s Edict in Vermilion Ink” is a 112-volume collection of those major reports.

As I was watching a live broadcast of President Lee Myung-bak’s “Talk with the Citizens,” I learned that North Korean Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il had collapsed due to a cerebral hemorrhage.

It was more than far-fetched imagination that I was reminded of Yongzheng by Kim’s health problems. I don’t need to say that President Lee is a diligent, hardworking man who sleeps very little.

Until Chairman Kim disappeared from the public eye, I could see signs of fatigue and stress in his appearance. This year, he had made 93 tours in the field, 11 times in June and 11 in July. He was increasing the frequency of tours, making 14 in August before he collapsed on the 14th.

A national leader’s field visit to check policy execution is an act of governance that can be seen in other countries as well, but these events are generally ceremonial.

However, it is different in North Korea. Field tours are common and effective political acts and a driving force in North Korean society.

Unless “General Kim” personally visits sites and encourages the people, North Korean society would not run properly. That’s why these visits are more significant and frequent in the North than in other countries.

Kim Jong-il himself complained that he, too, wanted to rest on a holiday with his family.

Yongzheng operated similarly. He micromanaged everything and gave orders personally. He did not trust his ministers. He had officials make reports separately and compared them to see if there were any discrepancies. If he liked a report, he would compliment the official, but if he was not satisfied, he would respond harshly, calling them incompetent and greedy.

The officials must have greatly feared the emperor, and the emperor must have been tremendously stressed out.

Yongzheng, who served after his father Kangxi and before his son Qianlong, two of China’s most prosperous emperors, strengthened the rule over the Han people.

However, Yongzheng died of illness at age 57, staying on the throne for only 13 years, much shorter than his father’s reign of 61 years and his son’s 60 years.

Kim Jong-il must be as stressed out as Yongzheng, if not more so. He walked a tightrope between hawks and doves carrying nuclear programs. He must have seen the limits in a system that does not operate if he does not get involved. His favorite son was severely injured by a mysterious accident, adding to his suffering.

One-man rule is vain. Once Yongzheng passed away, much of his authority was passed to bureaucrats. It is evident that if Kim dies, the system is bound to malfunction for a while. And this possibility has very serious ramifications for us.

President Lee is a micromanager who has to have hands-on involvement in everything. In an era of uncertainty, our leader seems to be devoted to minor details when he should draw a big picture to absorb uncertainly.

He could have given answers at his “Talk with the Citizens,” but he didn’t change the date on which the program aired to avoid having to compete with big news that completely outshined his talk. What would have happened if the news was actually more serious?

Yongzheng put signs on a column in his palace to remind himself: “Governing the world depends solely on me,” but, “I will not make the people endeavor to serve solely for me.” He did everything himself but did not make big mistakes based on his governance style. I hope Kim Jong-il and President Lee learn a lesson from Yongzheng.


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

by Lee Hoon-beom
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