Chasing Lady Luck

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Chasing Lady Luck

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Prince Yangneong of the Joseon Dynasty, King Taejong’s firstborn son, was unseated in 1418, but his post-dethronement enterprise was often the talk of the court.

Yangneong was a lively and carefree character. In a memo to the king in 1420, he was reported as “spending time drinking, hunting and enjoying bakhyeok” by a government agency that gathered information about political affairs and human resources. According to the National History Compilation Committee’s slightly mistaken translation of Joseon Dynasty annals, bakhyuk refers to Korean badduk, or go, and Chinese janggi checkers games.

Badduk and janggi were recreational games for scholars. But bakhyuk in reality differed entirely from ordinary checkers or chess. It was more akin to gambling. According to game rules in ancient Chinese records, a throw of six sticks decided each move. Luck played the primary role in the game, whereas brainwork and judgment determine the winner in the games of chess and checkers.

Scheming and plotting to gain the upper hand are accepted in the world of gambling, but cannot be a virtue in an Asian intellectual society. Although dethroned, Yangneong was still a prince, who was obliged to set an example in society. To the government watchdog, his gambling habit must have been considered a serious matter.

Gambling is in fashion these days. It’s in the newspapers and in movies, on the Internet and television. We see news reports of baseball players addicted to Internet gambling and soccer players playing dishonest games with China-based gamblers.

Although they deserve public criticism, at the same time they are not entirely to blame. Every society is fascinated by risky diversions, but Koreans tend to be a little on the excessive side as reflected in their infatuation with lotteries and online gambling games.

Stories that dramatize the lives of felons, racketeers and gamblers have been hits on both the small and silver screen recently. The phenomenon reflects our society’s thirst for luck. In troubled economic times such as these, many will want to make a bet on their lucky cards.

We look to our ancestors for wisdom. In the Joseon annals, there is a saying: “The wise do not look for luck in a time of crisis.”

The writer is a deputy international news editor of JoongAng Ilbo.


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

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