[Letters] Valuing respect for equality

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[Letters] Valuing respect for equality


Koreans have emphasized “equality among people” since the foundation of its very first country, Gojoseon, in 2333 B.C. The concept of hongikingan, the national motto of Gojoseon, clearly states that one should respect others without any discrimination. This view about equality strengthened and became widespread in the Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. to 668 A.D.).

However, the gap between the ideology of equality and reality widened, due to government workers’ exploitation of commoners and the strict status system. Neo-Confucianism, which dominated commoners’ lives in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), destroyed the ideology as well. Everyone who lived in Joseon in the 16th and 17th centuries had to respect its strict status system and patriarchy, underscored by Neo-Confucianism, the Dynasty’s ideology then.

From the 18th century, people started to restore equality with Silhak, the Confucian social reform movement, and Cheondoism, a Joseon-originated religion centered on equality among people.

Koreans have, undoubtedly, held antipathy toward Japan, due to Japanese colonization (1910-1945), the exploitation of Joseon people and the planned extermination of Koreans’ identities. Japanese culture was despised by Koreans in 1960s and ’70s. Koreans believed that Japan was their most notorious enemy.

These days, on the contrary, Koreans do not think that Japan is their terminal enemy. Japan has been spotlighted as Korea’s political, economic and cultural partner. In 1965, President Park Chung Hee accepted Japan’s apology about its colonial exploitation and brought back diplomatic relations with Japan. Japanese music, television dramas and comics become popular in Korea and vice versa.

Lee Soo-hyun, a Korean student who was killed trying to save a drunken Japanese man who had fallen onto subway tracks in Shin-Okubo Station, Japan, makes me feel that Koreans’ respect for equality has been revived. He treated the man as a person, not an enemy, despite the hostility against Japan that many Koreans once had. From our education system, Lee must have received a negative view of Japan. As an ordinary Korean, he must have seen our hostility to Japan. Some people may have even opposed his decision to study there. Lee, however, had felt that he had something to learn in Japan. Rather than being a hostile country, it could provide something to learn, as Japanese people are also humans.

Lee’s death occurred eight years ago but still warms our hearts. It proves that Koreans do respect equality as one of the most valuable virtues of human life.

Gwak Hoon-jae, a student at an international academy
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