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[Opinion] King and President

Posted April. 15, 2002 09:14,   


Currently, Korea is sticking to a presidential election. Watching the primaries which have no difference and the unhealthy severe speeches against the opponents, I am skeptical of the democracy itself. The opposition party had a hard time of internal criticism to weaken the imperial president`s power by separating the party and the President`s power. In the ruling party, there is a conspiracy theory in the process of the people`s participating primaries. I am really skeptical of the `presidentship.`

The word, `imperial,` that has been used for describing the problems of the president of the opposition party is not easy for me to understand. It describes the president of the opposition party`s absolute power. But the word describes the western absolute monarchs not the traditional Korean kings who had lesser power than present president. Especially, the kings of the Chosun Dynasty could not appoint their ministers according to their own wills. The candidate lists, which have three candidates for one position, were composed by low-ranking officials of the ministry of national affairs based on the gentry class` public opinion. A king`s work was to appoint one person from the list.

As hereditary monarchs, kings had to go through hard training to become good rulers since their childhood whether they wanted or not. And, when they became kings, they had to attend three times lectures in every day. If one did not attend the lectures and tried to abuse kingship, a ruler became an object of dethronement. King Gwanghae and Yeonsan were the cases.

The `Sunghak` (sagely teaching), an academic curriculum to educate a crown prince, was accomplished by Yulgok Yiyi`s `Sunghak jipyeo` (the essential compilation of the sagely teaching). The Chosun Dynasty`s study of kingship was fully established. Consistently developing the Sunghak, the kings who claimed themselves as king and teacher were appeared in the 18th century. They were King Sukjong, Yeongjo, and Jungjo who were the scholar kings. They have governed the political and academic circles as king and teacher.

Those kings mainly studied classical texts (philosophy) and history. Through the textual study, they pursued humane values by attaining the truth and principle of the world, and through the inquiry into the history, they recognized the rise and fall of a nation, the reality of human life, and the changing phenomena of the world. It was to judge the rights and wrongs and to discern justification and interests, justice and injustice, principle and methods, and idealism and bread-and-butter theory.

The study was a study on human beings. The best ability of a ruler is the personnel management and it has been a truth for all times and places. Therefore, it has been said that the personnel management is everything. People have thought that a good leader is the person who recognized talented people, managed them according to their abilities, and created their working circumstances.

In addition, kings practiced their sense of balance. Not falling into favoritism and keeping a balance are only possible when one does not have any selfishness, and kings` self-cultivation was required to keep such a balance. It is important to remember that the balancing policy of the 18th century was introduced to manage the politics without favoritism by giving equal opportunities to everybody, and it was pursued by the King Yeongjo, and Jungjo who declared themselves as ruler and teacher.

In his later years, King Jungjo sometimes said that he was not happy for his kingship. As the son of the crown prince, he had studied until down without went to bed to become a good king. When he became a king, he has kept his studying to encourage the subjects` studying. King Jungjo always maintained frugal clothing, food, and shelter that were worse than those of his subjects. Harshly pushing himself, he has passed away at the age of 49.

I doubt that any of our presidents has worked with such a faithful and diligent manner. I want to hear that a president complains that his office is too difficult to manage and not happy with it.

Present presidential hopefuls were neither received the study to become a leader nor achieved their character building through sincere self-cultivation. Although one becomes a president through dirty political games, I think that a president can be transformed as a good president if there is a modern lecture system, such as the Chosun Dynasty had. Introducing a lecture system, I really hope to have a president who studies at least half of the Chosun kings` studying, who does not abuse the power, and who has the ability to manage the talented people and the sense of balance.

Jung Ok-Ja (Professor of the Seoul National University, Korean History, The Chairperson of the Kyu Jang Gak)