[Viewpoint] Your granddad cries, Rep. LeeRepresentative Lee Jong-kul comes from a great family. His ancestry stands out for political affluence, noble devotion and a progressive soul. Even as many respected family names shook and fell by historical winds, his stood upright across generations, perennial and versatile as bamboo. Many members of his family tree served as prime ministers, ministers or vice ministers during the Joseon Dynasty, including Lee Hang-bok, who was one of the most reputable prime ministers during the mid-Joseon era. In Korean history, there are few that can best him in nobility. His family name is highly esteemed not just because of its social prestige and success, but its contribution to the country.
Lee’s grandfather Lee Hoi-young, known for his nickname Woodang, was second among seven siblings. The country’s first vice president Lee Si-young had been the fifth. When their country fell under Japanese colonial rule in 1910, six of them took their family of around 50 and moved to Manchuria. The brothers put together wealth to educate and train Korean students and finance an independence movement. With other resistance activists, Lee built a military academy in Manchuria. The armed group trained from the school fought a battle in Qingshanli, eastern Manchuria, against the Japanese Imperial Army.
The Lee brothers not only financed freedom campaigns but were actively involved in the battles and attacks. Woodang and two other brothers died after being tortured by the Japanese. When the country was finally liberalized in 1945, just 20 of the 50 family members were left. The family truly has set an example in noblesse oblige.
Woodang led his brothers and followers in patriotic commitment and toward a new society. He believed individual freedom was as important as national freedom. He opposed the feudal legacy of class and gender inequality. He used polite language to his servants and paid special interest to enhancing rights of women. When his younger sister became a widow, he did something unthinkable in the Joseon feudal nobility. He declared his sister dead and secretly married his sister off to a new husband.
The noble blood should flow in Representative Lee. While a lawyer in 1990s, Lee had been an avid advocate for women’s rights. He ran a sex crime counseling office. He was elected as a lawmaker in 2000 largely due to his attention to women’s rights. President Kim Dae-jung had paid particular attention to women’s issues due to “nagging” by the first lady, Lee Hee-ho, who had been a women’s rights activist. Lee was nominated by the ruling party under the Kim administration.
Since then, Lee has been serving in the legislature, now for the fourth term. He boasts of his ancestry of freedom fighters and his own fight for women’s rights. He starts his personal history on his homepage with his great-grandfather Lee Yu-seung, who had been a minister in the late Joseon period, and grandfather Lee Hoi-young. He also says he had been named one of the 10 men who have been the most active in the feminism movement in 1999 by Women News.
But the same man is now scorned for the worst-ever sexist remark made by a politician. Lee referred to Park Geun-hye, presidential front-runner from the ruling Saenuri Party, as “that bitch” on Twitter. He tried to lighten the matter by saying it must have been “a slip of the thumb” for the typo “geunyeon” which he meant to shorten from “she is” but reads like “that bitch” in Korean. We need not refer to Freudian interpretation to decipher what had been behind the “slip of the thumb.”
The underlying message may not simply have contained hostility toward Park’s father Park Chung Hee and the conservative party, but also a macho stance toward the opposite sex. Former President Kim Young-sam once sneered, “A woman, a president?” upon news that Park was running for president in the last election. But his comment comes across as polite compared to Lee’s.
Lee has betrayed his forefathers. While using their names for his political career, he neglected their teaching of respect toward women and the weaker party. He was able to join politics thanks to his feminism activities, but is under fire for the anti-feminism comment. He showed little remorse or sincerity in apology after his tweets raised an uproar. He is jeopardizing his family past as well as his own future.
What would Lee Hoi-young, who fought for national and gender freedom, and Lee Si-young, who bucked authoritarian rule by President Syngman Rhee and resigned from the vice presidency in protest, say to their wayward grandson? Lee once said he sought the rebellious and noble souls of his ancestors while visiting their tombs. It is high time that he makes another visit to them to listen to the reproaches from his ancestors to live up to the noble family name and upbringing.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin
More in Columns
A new epicenter of social conflict
Lessons from a president
Tales of Chairman Lee
Chinese way of tackling challenges
Time to step up climate action