Lending a shoulder
Hokkaido University, one of Japan’s elite schools, is located in downtown Sapporo and used to be called Sapporo Agricultural College. Since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan has sent bureaucrats and scholars abroad to learn western civilization, products, and ways, and also invited westerners to Japan to educate and train its people at home. It recruited William Smith Clark, a graduate of Amherst College and the president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, to help establish a model agricultural college in Sapporo.
We may not have heard his name before but Clark’s famous quote - “Boys, be ambitious” - is as familiar here as it is in Japan. Those were Clark’s parting words in 1877 for the college’s first students. The rest of the quote goes like this: “Be ambitious not for money, not for selfish aggrandizement, not for the evanescent thing which men call fame. Be ambitious for the attainment of all that a man can be.” Although Clark’s stay in Sapporo was relatively short - eight months - he made a huge impact on the students.
The Hokkaido University museum describes an episode in which Clark and his students took a field trip to a mountain on a wintry day. Upon discovering an unfamiliar type of moss on a tree, Clark told a student to stand on his shoulders to collect a sample. The student hesitated and finally tried to take off his shoes. But Clark urged him to clamber on without taking off his shoes - it was a cold day - to collect the moss. It was touching to imagine an educator in his 50s being so humble and passionate with a student on foreign soil. One of the pupils of the school where Clark taught agricultural technology (and also introduced his students to the Christian faith) was Uchimura Kanzo, a well-known World War II pacifist and Christian evangelist.
How should we approach North Korean people? When North Korea finally opens, on what grounds should we enter North Korea? Some would go for business. They will open businesses, offer jobs, and make profits. Since labor costs in North Korea are just two thirds of what they are in Vietnam and Myanmar, companies doing business in North Korea could profit for some time by exploiting the sharp savings in production costs. Infrastructure demand will be heavy and a multitude of engineers and construction workers will be needed.
Since there’s virtually no finance industry in North Korea, financiers will also flock there. Other industries will follow in their wake. The relative underdevelopment of the North Korean economy means there are opportunities galore. Capital from South Korea will flood into North Korea and jobs will be abundant. Many of them could be reserved for South Koreans.
But before going into North Korea to start the work of reuniting the two states, people must have the humility and modesty of William Clark. We must be humble and willing to share what we have and know to win the hearts of North Koreans. Instead of controlling and running development projects, we must help enhance their capabilities so they can be leading the modernization work. Only then will they feel proud and happy to integrate with the wealthier southern side.
Unification should not be approached solely form an economic perspective. If South Korea wants to unite with the North purely out of calculation of profits, the unification process cannot proceed smoothly. And even if it does, there will be negative ramifications later. Unification must be achieved through unity of the minds of people on both sides. In order for our hearts to be one, we must be more engaging and understanding.
In that respect, our society is far from ready for unification. Few people passionately care about North Korea or are pained by the sufferings of its people - and are willing to share what they have. A poll by the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University in 2014 showed that people who wished for unification for the benefit of North Koreans accounted for only 3.8 percent of the respondents. The more popular reasons for desiring unification was the fact that we are one race (42.4 percent), easing the threat of war (26.9 percent), and economic desires to become an advanced nation (17.6 percent).
Unification can only take place when we are ready to lend our back and shoulders to hoist North Koreans up. We must do what we can to help North Korea rebuild their economy and become part of the civilized world. Only when we share our talents, skills, goods, wealth and time with North Koreans will unification be a true blessing for not only North Koreans but South Koreans as well. Life can gain meaning when we make others happy. Unification is our biggest opportunity to make our lives meaningful and valuable. What can I do for North Koreans? This basic thought can be the true seed for unification.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff. JoongAng Ilbo, April 9, Page 31
*The author is a professor of economics at Seoul National University.
by Kim Byung-yeon