Reinstating the National Foundation Day

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Reinstating the National Foundation Day

Kim Sung-kon

The author is the president of the Overseas Koreans Foundation.

October 3 is National Foundation Day. Gaecheonjeol, which literally means the day of heaven opening, is the day celebrating the founding of ancient Gojoseon — the first state for Koreans — in 2,333 BC when its first king (dangun) ascended to the throne. After its foundation in 1948, modern South Korea used the Dhangi year-appellation based on the founding year of the first kingdom, but since 1961, the country started using the current year-appellation system. The founding year of modern Korea has been disputed among liberals and conservatives. While many regard 1948 as the founding year, others regard 1919 — the year of the establishment of the provisional government in China — as the founding year. Meanwhile, North Korea celebrates its national founding day on Sept. 9 to mark the establishment of the communist regime.

Nevertheless, the two Koreas accept Oct. 3 as the founding day of the Korean race. In overseas missions, the National Foundation Day is celebrated by inviting foreign VIPs to a ceremony. It is a kind of a birthday celebration for the Korean race and has greater meaning than Liberation Day. Still, the day is being less recognized. The president no longer attends a Gaecheonjeol ceremony event. The founding king dangun’s shrine in a country that now is the No. 10 economic power in the world is a pitiful space of 53 square meters (570 feet). We have been that neglectful of our ethnic identity.

I recently was in Israel to study compatriotism policy. Israel is a miracle country born out of endeavors by the Jews to recover their country after the loss of a nation for 2,000 years. Judaism united Jews across the world to found Israel. Since the union through the Unified Silla, Korea has been a homogenous race for more than 1,300 years. But after Korea became annexed by Japan in 1910, the race has failed to become one for over a century.

Human beings all commonly have a spirit. A race is no different. The world refers to the Korean race as Koreans whether they come from the South or the North. But without an ethnic identity and roots, Koreans are a soulless race. For Koreans to become one after overcoming their land’s division, they must share a common spirit. But do we really have such ethnic spirit?

South and North Koreans live with totally different political ideologies. But political ideology differs from ethnic spirit. Political ideology can change according to the times. But an ethnic race is deeply rooted consciousness of itself. The two Koreas are warring and hurting one another based on the Western ideologies that make up their superficial consciousnesses. We should borrow good Western concepts, but we could be an identity-less race if we become a servant to the ideology and waste our ethnic energy.

The common ethnic spirit for South and North Koreans would be the founding principle of “hong-ik-in-gan,” which refers to “broadly benefiting the human world.” The spirit remains the education principle for South Korea and falls in line with the United Nations concept of global citizenship. The Korean language epitomizes the Korean ethnic spirt. The identity for 7.5 million ethnic Koreans living across the world also is based on the Korean language.

There is another legacy of “won-yoong-hoi-tong,” meaning “harmonizing differing ideas and opinions.” Great thinker and Buddhist scholar Wonhyo (617-686) and philosopher and poet Choi Chi-won in the Unified Shilla Dynasty harmonized the thoughts of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism. In the modern era, So Tae-san and Yu Young-mo blended Korean traditional philosophy with Buddhism and Christianity.

A deeply seated national identity on harmony could unite the minds of South and North Koreans and help harmonize political and religious conflicts around the world. We must brood on our existential cause on the day of Gaecheonjeol.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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