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Posted December. 26, 2009 16:09,   


Ancient China had an eloquent speaker named Zhang Yi. He was a wanderer but later ate a chief minister’s salt. The minister held a feast to show off a valuable marble the king gave to him. The marble vanished without trace, however, and the minister suspected Zhang as the thief. Zhang was beaten to a pulp but remained silent to the very end. As he fell unconscious, the minister released him. Returning home, the half-dead Zhang stuck his tongue out and asked his wife whether his tongue was hurt. When she wife said no, he said, “Then everything is okay.” Thanks to his tongue, which he valued more than anything else, he later became prime minister.

Zhang is a prime example of someone who becomes successful on the back of wisdom to distinguish when to remain silent and when not to. The old saying “Silence is golden and eloquence is silver” is not always true. Silence has a different meaning depending on the person and situation. Sometimes it means agreement, confession and consent. It can also mean objection, disregard and refusal. If silence is used improperly, it can lead to bad consequences. Sometimes reporters create nonsensical stories out of “no comment” by politicians or high-ranking officials. This is because of the unique nature of silence.

Keeping silent is a useful tactic when one has difficulty making him or herself understood and wants to avoid talking about what is in his or her mind or avoid a situation where he or she is seen as telling a lie. Everyone has the right to remain silent in an investigation and in court. Former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook chose to be silent when questioned by prosecutors last week. She might have done so because she thought telling something would do harm more than good. For the same reason, main opposition Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun, who was present at a luncheon where Han allegedly took bribes, kept mum for the time being.

Chung broke his silence Thursday in declaring an anti-government protest. He said he will not tolerate the accusation against of his close confidante Han. Chung is the charge against her of taking a bribe of 50,000 dollars is fabricated and an act of defamation. Chung, however, is refusing to talk about why he was at the meeting and the job-for-cash allegation. Prosecutors have also kept silent after interrogating Han. A court will eventually announce the truth.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)