[Viewpoint] The demands of the timesOne day, Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty in China got his hands on a good bow. He was proud that he had studied archery from a young age and that he had a good eye for a bow.
Taizong boasted of his find to a master craftsman, but his pride was hurt when the man shook his head and pointed out the bow’s faults.
“The crooked grain shows the wood is from a tree that is not straight. Such trees make strong bows, but the arrows do not fly straight,” the artisan explained.
Taizong understood and replied, “I have pacified the world with countless bows and arrows until now. But I didn’t grasp the fundamental principle of a bow and an arrow until today. As a recently enthroned emperor, how could I have accumulated enough knowledge about the way to rule the country?” he said.
After that, Taizong decided to consult more with government officials in an effort to better understand the policies needed to rule the country.
Taizong did not come to be regarded as the greatest emperor in Chinese history for no reason. Those peaceful, prosperous days in seventh-century China were possible because Taizong understood how to govern. He well understood the saying, “Water keeps boats afloat, but it also overturns them,” and put it into practice.
Since this maxim was true even in times of an absolute monarchy, it is just as true in the democracies of today.
In democracy, there exists a zeitgeist just as profound as the principle of the bow and arrow. The demands of the times state that sovereign power must come from the public.
This is apparent even within the short history of our democracy.
During the administration of former President Syngman Rhee, the times demanded national foundation. For the first time in a history of 5,000 years, a republic was established and democratic systems, which had never been heard of or seen here before, were introduced.
Under former President Park Chung Hee, the times demanded an escape from the state of poverty. Under the slogan, “Let’s make our lives better,” we saw a stretch of double-digit growth.
When former President Chun Doo Hwan was in power, the times demanded democratization, but that demand was only stomped on by military boots. It barely managed to resurface when former President Roh Tae-woo came into office.
Therefore, the demand of former President Kim Young-sam’s era was cleaning up the remnants of military culture. Reforms were carried out in the name of civilianizing our nation. The Hanahoe, a clan of favored military officers led by Chun, was broken up, it was made obligatory to use your real name in financial transactions, and local autonomy was implemented.
The demand during President Kim Dae-jung’s term in office was reconciliation. Reconciliation was sought between both South and North Korea and the eastern and western regions of the South. The extremes of the standoff between the two Koreas were alleviated to a certain degree by the Sunshine Policy, and the rays of sunshine also shone on the previously excluded Jeolla provinces.
The demand of the times under late President Roh Moo-hyun was breaking away from authoritarianism. Authorities with beer bellies and shiny faces from eating too much were discredited, one by one.
The demands of certain time periods do not pop up randomly like a lottery ball. Just like the Latin aphorism, natura non facit saltum, or “nature does not make a sudden leap,” the necessities of an era are the result of the demand of the times that precede it, and it becomes the cause for what must be accomplished in the future.
So, what are the demands of our times, the present day? This question is easily answered. We just have to think about why voters elected the current president.
At present, the revival of the economy is at the forefront of the minds of the people. Our CEO-president also realized this, so he ran around busily, starting work early in the morning. He thought that all he had to do was to make the pie bigger, and he was confident that he could do so.
However, he was mistaken. It appeared as if he was keeping in step only with the rich, and he seemed to get farther and farther away from the poor. In the meantime, the middle class gradually began to lag behind as well.
After being burned by candles of protest and called a murderer, the president seems to be deliberating on the principle of the bow and arrow again. He spoke of a middle road and talked about the working class. It seems that he has realized that unifying divided public opinion is more urgent than connecting rivers that are empty of water but overflowing with controversy. This means he has finally started to think about the right way to rule the country.
If so, his desire to make the pie bigger is no longer a misunderstanding. He must have realized that although reviving the economy and improving national competitiveness is a must, he cannot move a single step forward if people feel that he will be handing out larger slices to the privileged.
Aligning yourself with the demands of the times is a difficult task, but you can do anything if you remember that water keeps your boat afloat, but that it also can capsize it.
President Lee should also keep in mind the words of John F. Kennedy: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.