The price of a tyrant’s privilege

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The price of a tyrant’s privilege


When the French First Republic was established as a result of the French Revolution, the government replaced the Gregorian calendar with the French Republican calendar. The Republican calendar begins with Vendemiaire, the month of the grape harvest, which corresponds to September. It celebrates the foundation of the republic in September. Moreover, Sept. 22 is the autumn equinox. Charles-Gilbert Romme, who had developed the calendar, claimed that the year should begin from the moment when the day and the night are equal in length.

When Park Ji-won and the Joseon mission to Imperial China arrived in Beijing, they learned that the Qing emperor was at the summer residence of Chengde. Park quickly gathered information about Chengde and some said it was 160 kilometers (100 miles) away from Beijing, while others claimed that it was 280 kilometers away. Park was curious about the discrepancy. When he arrived in Chengde, a friend told him that the distance is actually 280 kilometers. The emperor usually stayed in Chengde, but the ministers were reluctant to travel from Beijing, so by changing the distance, the emperor was able to get the ministers to come to his summer residence more often.

The two incidents took place in the same period, only 12 years apart, and the two have something in common. It may be a coincidence, but it could also mean it is human nature. The person in power is capable of anything.

It is not much different in Korea today. President Lee Myung-bak implemented a price management system and had government officials keep stable the prices of specific agricultural and livestock products. Of course, it may be cruel to compare the president to the Jacobins, who divided a day into 10 hours and each hour into 100 decimal minutes, and the Qing emperor, who ordered his ministers to travel 280 kilometers. He had devised the plan to mitigate the burden on the average citizen struggling with surging prices and to ensure that officials are accountable for price increases. But he is using the wrong method. The cause of price increases is more than production and distribution. Even if a cabbage producer successfully keeps prices low, the effect will result in damage to radish growers.

The Qing Dynasty leaders may have had the right cause but chose the wrong solution. As John Milton wrote in “Paradise Lost,” when the method is not right, the cause may be considered the “privilege of a tyrant.”

*The author is a culture and sports news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Hoon-beom
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