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[Opinion] Rock Writing

Posted March. 08, 2005 22:49,   


After coming back from a trip to Geumgang Mountain a couple of years ago, I felt indebted to the North Korean regime. The world-class mountain had been preserved so well. Analects and propagandas of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il engraved on the rocks everywhere were the only flaw I could find. It is known that in Mt. Geumgang alone, over 4,500 letters are carved in 80 places. On Kim Jong Il’s 60th birthday in February 2002, the phrase “Cheonchulmyungjang General Kim Jong Il” was engraved on Baribong in Geumgang, and some of the largest letters are 25 meters in width, 34 meters in length, and 1.5 meters in depth.

People in ancient days used to carve their names and phrases on rocks in well-known mountains and valleys across the nation. Even those in Seoul have some decent 80 rock writing engraved by people of the old days. That way, they believed they could leave their names behind for tens of thousands of years. In some places like Mt. Geumgang, stonecutters would sit down in the mountain to solicit customers among mountain climbers and receive pay for the service. This may be the reason why the letters are written so consistently.

However, the great Confucian scholar Cho Shik (penname: Nam Myung)once scolded, saying, “The name of a true man must become the talk of the living people, and name-carving on rocks is as good as debasing oneself below the level of birds’ shadow.” Lee Sang-soo, who authored the travelog masterpiece “Donghaengsansugi” at the end of Daehan Empire also said, “Carving one’s name by shaving off others’ names is equal to burying oneself by ruining others’ graves.” Some sayings also tell that people who have engraved their names on rocks or trees won’t be able to pass down their name in the world as a consequence.”

North Korea’s Chosun Central TV recently broadcasted rock writing and a person holding onto a rope carving analects of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. In South Korea, people are making a fuss over a signboard with the handwriting of a former president who served his term for “only” 18 years while people in the North are showing loyalty to a leader who has been in power for nearly 60 years over generations. But then, would the North Korean citizens be carving the letters from the bottom of their hearts? I wonder if the letters on the rocks would still be there intact even after the reunification of two Koreas.

Oh Myung-chul, Editorial writer, oscar@donga.com