After Kim, big challenges ahead

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After Kim, big challenges ahead

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During the Eastern Jin Dynasty, which marked the greatest era for portrait painting in China, Go Yeol, the father of painter Go Gae-ji, entered the palace to meet with the emperor. The emperor saw him and asked, “Why did your hair turn white?”

Go Yeol was a quick-witted person and answered, “Cattails and willows shed their leaves in fall, while the pine tree and big cone pine get greener despite a sharp frost.” He compared himself to cattails and willows, and the emperor to the pine tree and big cone pine. It is understandable why a half smile came to the emperor’s lips.

A similar sentiment on aging is contained in “The Analects of Confucius”: “After the weather gets colder, I will realize how an unyielding front the pine and the nut pine will show.”

Former President Kim Dae-jung, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 85, had the nickname “Honeysuckle.” Like the pine and nut pine, the honeysuckle has an iron will and survives the freezing cold of winter. Honeysuckle is also known as the gold-and-silver flower, as golden flowers blossom along with white flowers. Despite its thin appearance, it is strong enough to survive a winter storm.

The nickname was appropriate for President Kim Dae-jung. Under the menacing authoritarian rule of the late President Park Chung Hee, Kim survived numerous difficulties and made a huge contribution to the nation’s democratization. Like the honeysuckle, Kim survived horrifying circumstances to fight tyranny.

The Chinese characters in Kim’s name meaning “big” and “middle” caught my attention during this sad time, and reminded me of the virtue embodied in “The Doctrine of the Mean,” one of the books of Neo-Confucian teachings. The book says, “A man of virtue should do his best to cope with a situation facing him.” If he makes every effort in the right direction without getting lazy at any time, he certainly has the best virtue a human being can have.

Whether or not Kim continuously displayed behaviors true to his name from start to finish falls under the realm of historians. But no matter what they say, former president Kim displayed busier political behavior than any of our other late presidents.

The tasks left behind are enormous. Our political culture falls into utter confusion too often, trapped in long-running troublesome local allegiances. We are still divided from an ideological perspective surrounding the North Korean problems. If such deep-rooted conflicts go deeper, we will be more likely to burden Kim Dae-jung with harsh historic debts.

Kim was the honeysuckle that grew in an open field. It is high time that we pray for reconciliation and forgiveness to ensure that such a flower will be long cherished as the scent of Korean history.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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

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