'Gong(公)' and the spirit of making Korea
'Gong(公)' and the spirit of making Korea
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  • 승인 2022.06.15 10:25
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By Lee Jong-hwan
(World Korean newspaper publisher)

Gongseon-sahu(公先私後) is the motto of Kim Seong-su, who founded the Dong-A Ilbo New Company. This means to think about the public interest first, and to think about private interests later. When I was working for this company, I often encountered this phrase in the office. However, I don't remember thinking deeply about what Gong(it means public concern) was at that time.

I remembered the phrase when I went to Tokyo to cover the steering committee of the World Korean President's Congress. As I looked at the statue of Kaishu Katsu (勝海舟, 1823-1899) along the Sumida River, I reflected on the meaning of Gong.

Katsu Kaishu lived a turbulent period when Japan was transformed into a modern country. It was time for the Tokugawa Shogunate to collapse and restore the monarchy (1867). Japan was reborn as a modern nation through the Meiji Restoration.

But the process has never been smooth. Japan was divided into numerous territories, and the shogunate controlled it. It was a great cause for the warriors to be loyal to their lords.

However, Joshu and Satsuma opposed the Tokugawa shogunate. They had a long grudge against the Tokugawa Shogunate. They once owned considerable territories. However, with the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the territories ware reduced by a quarter, and each suffered great damage.

Those who had endured their anger for a long time began to oppose the Tokugawa Shogunate after the advent of U.S. Black Ship. They condemned the Shogunate's signing of an unequal treaty with the United States, and set out to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate in the name of restoring the monarchy.

The war between the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Joshu-Satsuma coalition sent Japan into a civil war. War broke out on one side, followed by assassination on the other. Japan was pushed into an uncontrollable whirlpool. At this time, Kaishu Katsu played a role in opening the door to change. He held an important position in the Tokugawa Shogunate as Minister of the Navy.

He thought civil war should be avoided for the future of Japan as a whole. He thought that civil war would only lead to a Western colony. He began to persuade the Tokugawa Shogunate. He eventually led the shogunate to relinquish power and return to the monarchy. It was a difficult decision for the shogunate to make.

The Joshu-Satsuma coalition led by Saigo Takamori blocked the retreat of the Tokugawa shogunate. They demanded the complete surrender of the shogunate. Saigo demanded that the Shogunate open the gates and return the weapons. He demanded that the shogunate give up his estate and punish the retainer group.

This was too much to demand. The warriors of the Tokugawa shogunate opposed it. They were on the verge of a decisive battle. They also criticized anti-war Kaishu Katsu for being cowardly. Attempts to assassinate him also occurred. As a result, Edo Province, which had a population of 1 million at the time, was in a crisis of war.

But Kaishu Katsu did not budge. He visited Takamori Saigo, who had been pressing Edo Castle, and rebuked him for 'seeking private, not public concern'. He accused Saigo of following the 'private concern' who only seeks to seize power, not thinking of a country called Japan in the future. Katsu repeatedly asked Saigo to return to public concern.

Eventually, just before the battle broke out, Saigo's new government forces accepted Katsu's words. The war ended when the Tokugawa Shogunate opened the gates of Edo Castle and declared itself in line with the monarchy. The reason why the royal palaces and major traditional buildings in Tokyo remain unharmed is because of the decision of Kaishu Katsu.

He opened the gates of Edo Castle to allow Saiko troops to enter the city bloodlessly. If the civil war had intensified at that time, how much resentment and how much damage would there have been? Japan may not have invaded the Korean Peninsula due to its result. Historians say that modern Japan was built on the basis of bloodless Edo opening.

Our Korean society is now in a state of civil war, not just guns. The same goes for the Korean flags and candles. Is there any way to overcome this division? Isn't that the public concern of making Korea right in the future? Isn't it time that we put up with the criticism of cowardice and need a spirit of detachment?

I thought of this idea in front of a statue of Kaishu Katsu on the Sumida River in Tokyo.

**(This translation was sponsored by Oh Won-Seong, former chairman of the Korean Association of Dallas.)

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