[Outlook] Time to cleanse the Joseon blood

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[Outlook] Time to cleanse the Joseon blood

Whether the G-20 meeting in London to overcome the current world economic crisis was a success or not wasn’t important to me.

I felt sentimental watching President Lee Myung-bak and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on TV standing with the other world leaders.

The scene made me realize that our country’s status has changed considerably without us even noticing.

The Group of 7 industrialized countries has led so far, but it was no longer representative of the world.

As an alternative, 20 influential countries among the 185 International Monetary Fund members have been selected.

Korea was one of them. But it had some difficulty meeting the requirements.

Among the 20 countries, Korea has the smallest territory, and its population comes in at 16th.

India, China, Brazil and Indonesia have great potential with a great deal of land, big populations and vast natural resources. How remarkable that a small country stuck between China and Japan has been raised to their level and participates in a new world order.

In 1832, the 31st year of the reign of King Sunjo of the Joseon Dynasty, the first Protestant missionary in Korea arrived, a German, aboard a British merchant vessel, and went ashore briefly in Monggeumpo on the west coast.

He wrote, “The skin of residents was caked with dirt and full of lice. Their household items were shabbier than one could ever imagine.”

The Joseon he saw was a poor, dirty and powerless country.

It is simply miraculous that the Joseon of those days has transformed itself into today’s Republic of Korea.

In 1874, 40 years later, French priest Charles Dallet wrote two books on Joseon, but they were even gloomier.

Joseon was a corruption-ridden country. “High officials and the nobility suck the people’s blood to live,” he wrote.

“Officials, from governors to petty officials, have their ways to get money. Even royal secret commissioners brazenly use their power for their own interests.”

He wrote about what petty officials and officers did in great detail.

“Official posts are being sold and bought, and those who have purchased the posts try to earn more than they have spent on the posts, without feeling ashamed of it.”

His writings appeared in the first issue of Vol. 18 of the Korean academic journal “Study of Korea’s Politics.”

These descriptions reminded me of former President Roh Moo-hyun and another former president about whom even worse rumors had swirled.

There is a saying: “Display the head of a sheep and sell dog meat behind the counter.” Korean politicians must be familiar with it.

It seems that the corrupt blood of the Joseon Dynasty still runs in the veins of Korea’s politicians.

These days, Korea is divided between right-wingers and left-wingers, and they fight fiercely. But they are united in the tradition of abusing power to accumulate wealth, which has continued since the Joseon Dynasty, long before there was a right wing or a left wing.

It is not important for those who commit such corruption whether they pursue right-wing or left-wing ideas.

In Korea, ideology is only a tool to deceive the people. Politicians, whether in the ruling or opposition party, take every chance to accept bribes. The people were foolish to trust their colorful words.

Priest Dallet wrote about a custom of household retainers during the Joseon Dynasty. He said they did not do anything productive, but visited guest rooms in men’s quarters at high officials’ residences, ran errands for them, flattered them and plotted to harm their opponents in order to get government posts.

They resemble today’s politicians and staff members of election campaigns. Dallet called them a gang of greedy bagmen. The culture of household retainers during the Joseon Dynasty has been passed down in the structure of our politics.

We are proud that our country has become one of the G-20 members and that our trade volume is the world’s 12th largest, but we have bumped up against a limitation.

Are we going to prosper for 20 years or so and then perish? Or are we going to go one step further?

All the country’s decisions are supposed to be made in the National Assembly. But when issues are presented there they cause fights.

Policies are turned into tools to accomplish a certain group’s interests. National Assembly politicians sap our energy to move ahead, instead of leading us to a higher place.

Our country is stuck in a political swamp. The key to political reform is to change the meaning of politics.

Politics should not mean a shortcut to occupy higher posts and accumulate wealth.

Politics is not about gathering retainers, taking power and distributing government posts. It is about patriotism, respect for honor and sacrifice, and volunteer work for communities.

We should be able to find the people who can do this.

We need fresh blood and new reforms. Although it will take time, we need to train young, talented public servants.


*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Moon Chang-keuk
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