[Viewpoint] Records of every sortBoth Kim Yu-na’s jump and North Korea’s rocket launch remind me of the awesome dynamic power of the Korean people.
The Korean Peninsula is a very small piece of land, and the population of both South and North Korea combined is not even 100 million. Furthermore, it has barely been 60 years since a modern state was established here. Yet, our young country produces world records at an amazing rate.
Korean history is also notably filled with tragedy, confrontation and contradiction. One side is exploring the frontier of progress and development with a burst of creativity. In contrast, the other side is making a record of restraining freedom, repressing humanity, stagnating and degenerating.
The Republic of Korea’s PR slogan is “Dynamic Korea.” The PR video features a montage of Kim Yu-na figure skating and Park Tae-hwan swimming, emphasizing that Korea is “a small giant with a big heart.”
But even this expression does not fully capture the stunning accomplishments of Kim Yu-na. She became the first female skater to score more than 200 points, and her record is indeed as great as sprinter Jim Hines’ record which broke the 10-second barrier in the 100-meter dash in 1968. In 2004, Kim Yu-na began with a score of 134. In five years, she improved her score by 50 percent. Such a rapid emergence is unprecedented in history.
And there’s more. Korea’s professional baseball league is less than 30 years old. In contrast, Major League Baseball was established over 130 years ago, and the Japanese league is over 60 years old. Yet Korea won a gold medal in the Olympic Games and came in second in the World Baseball Classic this year.
And a country with few golf courses has dominated women’s golf. Korea’s population is not even in the top 20, and its economy is 13th largest in the world, but we are competing with the likes of the United States, China and Russia in many fields. The country that had spent 36 years as a colony and suffered three years of internecine war hosted the Olympics only 40 years after its founding.
The Republic of Korea is taking on the world in many ways. In the 1940s, Germany, Italy and Japan were the three major Axis powers during World War II. When the Japanese were building aircraft carriers, Koreans were barely managing to stay alive on herb roots and tree bark. Now, the average height of young Koreans is taller than young Japanese, and equal to Italians. Korean youths are just a little shorter than their German counterparts.
According to historians, there were five revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries that ultimately saved their countries. They were the Meiji Restoration in Japan, Turkey’s modernization led by Kemal Pasha, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egyptian revolution, Peru’s revolution led by populist and reformist Juan Velasco and Park Chung Hee’s coup in Korea. But apart from Japan, Korea is the only one to accomplish miraculous economic development. While Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong attained rapid economic growth after World War II, they do not have heavy industries or world-class electronics. Koreans are now building the biggest cargo ships, making the thinnest televisions and constructing the tallest buildings in the world.
And we have accomplished more than just economic growth. Korea came to have a constitution 161 years after the U.S. did; Korea’s awakening came nearly two centuries later. However, Korea is just as democratic as the United States.
Despite all this, the Korean Peninsula has many dark records as well. No country on the face of the Earth is free from corruption completely. But where else in the world can you find a country where the president, the president’s brother, his son-in-law, senior secretaries, his closest aides, lawmakers, prosecutors, judges and police officials are all being investigated for bribery? Is there any other country with such economic prosperity that sends so many orphans for adoption?
And, of course, there’s North Korea’s hereditary dictatorship that has persisted for over 60 years. It might last over 100 years. One of the poorest countries in the world, where most citizens are starving, is making nuclear bombs and launching rockets. North Korea mobilizes huge numbers of citizens to stage the grandest mass rallies. Even Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Idi Amin could not have done it.
Both South Korea and North Korea are breaking world records in their own ways.
The extreme dynamism of the two Koreas is diverging. South Korea’s development gives us hope, but North Korea only makes us anxious.
The extremes are made possible by the same Korean heritage. Maybe the two extremes can fuse together and create an explosive mix for the development of humanity.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin