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[Opinion] Congratulation Money

Posted December. 26, 2002 22:38,   


When former Seoul City mayor Go Geon was in office, high-ranking officials at the director level or above were not allowed to spend no more than 30,000 won for expression of congratulations or condolences. People acquainted with the former mayor felt strange when they found three 10,000 won bills in the envelope. The high-ranking officials at first felt awkward about spending the modest amount of money for special occasions, but they later found it comfortable since they didn`t have to worry about how much money to spend.

▷For most wage earners, 30,000 won is not a small amount of money especially in spring and fall when many couples get married or in winter times when they often attend funerals. Inflation also applies here, so sometimes 30,000 won is not good enough. When you go to a wedding held in a hotel, you have a meal worth about 70,000 to 80,000 won. Therefore, you sometimes feel guilty about paying only 50,000 for the heavy meal. Under the law, those in public office are not allowed to pay more than 15,000 won worth gifts or cash for expression of congratulations or condolences. Despite the fact, however, it is said that lawmakers spend tens of millions of won for such occasions, which indicates that the custom in fact is fostering political corruption.

▷The custom, however, is not necessarily a bad practice unless it goes too far. Most run-of-the-mill people think they will get paid back what they spend later. Roh Gun-ho, the son of president-elect Roh, got married yesterday. It was reported that he initially thought it would be okay to let people pay as long as the amount was not over 30,000 won. But his father opposed the idea. According to a recent survey among ranks and files at large businesses, most of them think 30,000 won is proper when it comes to expressing congratulations or condolences. That might be why Roh Gun-ho thought that receiving 30,000 won would be okay.

▷Countries under influence of Confucianism such as China and Korea tend to hold wedding or other ceremonies for special occasion in a grand way because they feel it is a matter of pride. In China also, people often feel burdensome about considerable amounts of money spending to congratulate newly wed couples. At the time of late president Park Jung-hee, the government once set a specific amount for expenses for special occasions under the law. It doesn`t seem to be something about the law, however. It might not be a bad idea for people to make it a rule to spend 30,000 won among themselves. We just saw one of the leaders in our society drew so much praise by deciding not to get paid for what he paid.

Hwang Ho-taek, Editorial Writer, hthwang@donga.com