Toward symbiotic relations
The seventh meeting of cultural ministers of Korea, China and Japan will be held in Qingdao, China. From Dec. 19 to 21, the ministers will announce the Qingdao Action Plan, which contains cultural cooperation plans and programs. A meeting is always a dance - not a march - that remains in the same place without moving on. But we have reasons to pay attention to this cultural ministerial meeting of the three countries.
The three East Asian countries share a tragic and dark recent history. But over a longer period of time, the three have seen cultural exchange and cooperation more active than anywhere else in the world.
For example, other regions experience religious discord and confrontations, but East Asia has not seen terrorism or a refugee situation yet. For a long time, the people of the three countries have lived based on the cultural foundation of harmony and integration of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.
The trilateral harmony is not confined to religions. The East Asian civilization has overcome historic crises with the cultural mindset of pursuing mutual prosperity - not destruction - by balancing the different geopolitical characteristics: continental China, marine Japan and the Korean Peninsula. If the three countries can build a foundation for mutual understanding and trust based on that cultural homogeneity , the political and diplomatic tensions of the last few years could be converted to creative energy.
In this meeting, we expect Korea to play a key role. In the times when Western powers advanced to Asia, Korea, China and Japan commonly responded by accepting Western science and technology while preserving their own cultures in order to make their countries stronger. China had the theory of maintaining Chinese morality while making use of Western science and technology. Japan focused on maintaining the Japanese spirit while accepting Western technique. While China and Japan prioritized their own cultures in the transition, Korea pursued “Eastern ways, Western technologies” in broader terms. There are reasons Korea took such a path.
As we all know, the Korean Peninsula is a strategic geopolitical spot where the continent and the oceans meet, and was under constant foreign threat as a result. Through its tragic experiences, Korea built a macroscopic perspective of considering the peace of East Asia and adopting “Eastern ways, Western technologies” as a national strategy to respond to the Western powers’ pillaging of Asia. Going further back into history, the people of the three countries would get trapped in China’s Sinocentrism and Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. When the future is supposed to be the age of Asia, Asians are not so visible in the framework.
Therefore, we need to witness the power of culture emerging after military and economic powers. As the Korean Wave has shown, the people of the three countries have created a new, vast cultural territory that transcends borders and ethnic groups and celebrates together. If the creative imagination of cultures can be brought together, and if Korea recovers the nature of the peninsula and helps the continental and marine powers prosper together instead of clashing, Korea will become the axis of the earth.
It is uncertain what kind of action plan will be produced in Qingdao. But we need to begin from small and feasible things. In the cultural ministerial meeting last year, Cheongju, North Chungcheong, was designated the East Asian Cultural City. Cheongju designated Nov. 11 as Chopsticks Day and hosted a festival. Chopsticks are small. But they may be the oldest and most obvious cultural element shared by nearly two billion people in the three countries. But the children in the three countries are increasingly forgetting how to use chopsticks.
The people of the three countries all play rock-paper-scissors in childhood. It is a game of compatibility. Just like the game of rock-paper-scissors, the cycle can be completed with the Korean Peninsula between the continent and the ocean, and become a circle of mutual prosperity and peace.
Unfortunately, Korea, China and Japan are more confrontational than ever, and we suffer the same illness. But we can become one through the suffering. The pains will be healed by the power of culture, and the ministers will share how to miraculously mend the wounds.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 16, Page 35
*The author is a former minister of culture.
by Lee O-young