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[Opinion] Duck Feet

Posted July. 25, 2005 03:04,   


When referring to a person who tries to deceive others by doing something off-the-wall in order to avoid his or her lies being exposed, an old Korean proverb uses the phrase, “Someone who shows a duck’s foot after eating a chicken.” Actually, the proverb was made when duck was cheaper than chicken.

However, now that duck is more valuable than chicken and is even used as medicine, it is possible to say that the proverb has become an anachronistic idea that should be terminated since today there is no reason to show an expensive duck foot in order to prove that one didn’t eat a cheaper chicken. However, the proverb is still frequently used in political circles as slang for “money.” The proverb also can be still found in the Korean dictionary.

The Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) aired a report last Saturday on the “1997 wiretapping document” by the National Security Planning Agency (presently National Intelligence Service). The document contained remarks from Hong Seok-hyun, then-president of JoongAng Daily, that Lee Hoi-chang brought out two duck feet (or 200 million won) right before he attended the meeting of Grand National Party’s district leaders, and the timing was just perfect. In other words, offering duck feet made Lee succeed in taking the party under his control.

There are many opinions regarding the origin of how “duck foot” became a political term. Some say because it can mean an illegal fund, which is exchanged by those feigning innocence. Others say because those who take “duck feet” a lot tend to wag their fingers, pretending they only took a little. It could also be because those who are pressed hard on the question whether they took money or not tend to strongly shake their heads, insisting their innocence. Or, as ducks swim by moving their webbed feet under the surface, money is a sort of grease or power on the flip side of politics, according to others. However, none of these are established theories. Maybe the sum of these assumptions can be the real established theory?

In most cases, the duck foot is usually cash, but checks are used, too. During the Jeon Doo-hwan administration, some policymakers who took checks from the upper ranks of the ruling party were put to shame when caught by an intelligence agency.

There is also an unexpected fortune to be had from duck feet. For ruling party candidates who are certain to be elected, election is an opportunity to amass wealth. Congressman “C,” who served in military during the Jeon Doo-hwan administration, spent money unsparingly in the 13th general election, but still ended up with five billion won in cash. Allegedly, he was so pleased that he even hummed, saying that he wished elections were held more often. It was often the case that candidates who were defeated in an election still took a lot of money after the election. When will the day come that the phrase “duck foot” disappear in the history of economy and politics and remain only as a dead or ancient phrase?

Kim Chung-shik, Editorial writer, skim@donga.com