Dasan expert bridges 250-year-old philosopher and contemporary societyAuthor Pearl Buck once said:“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” Like this quote, Park Seok-moo, the chairman of the Institute of Dasan Studies, also refers to the Korean classics and looks at today’s society with a different eye. Park has transcribed many of Dasan Jeong Yak-yong’s works from Chinese characters to modern Korean, including the most well-known compilation, “Letters from Exile,” the letters that Dasan sent to his family and students while being exiled.
With more than forty years of research experience on Dasan, Park is said to be the leading expert on Dasan in Korea. Having studied Korean classics extensively and participated in the midst of the democratization movements in the 70s and the 80s, Park offers the insight on contemporary society and students.
Born in 1942, Park’s life is full of overflowing passion and energy. Aside from fighting for the democracy to settle on Korea, Park also taught at a high school, worked as a member of the National Assembly, and served as the first president of the Institute for the Translation of Korean Classics and the chairman of various organizations and schools.
Park first came across Dasan Jeong Yak-yong when he was imprisoned for his participation in the democratization movements. Park delved into countless books during his imprisonments, and he was attracted to Dasan’s in-depth foresight. He decided to translate Dasan’s works to modern Korean so that people who do not know the ancient Chinese characters could meet Dasan’s works as well.
“I felt that the material was too valuable not to share with others,” Park said.
According to Park, many of Dasan’s ideas are extraordinary in that they emphasize on practical actions than on putting theories.
“If Chinese scholars before Dasan preached the importance of fulfilling one’s filial duties, Dasan encouraged putting theories into practice,” Park explained.
Dasan considered loyalty to one’s family, or filial duties, the utmost important concept, and Park agreed in the sense that the boundaries could be expanded to include one’s community and country as well.
“What Dasan emphasized hundreds of years ago still applies to many young people today,” Park said.
Park lamented that too many people today were concerned with just their lives and uninterested in national matters. Though he admitted that situations thirty years ago and today are extremely different, he still considered people today as lacking empathy.
“The burden of college entrance exams and employment are driving all thoughts of others away from people’s minds and turning them egocentric,” Park commented. He added that this trend is also evident in people’s choice of books. “Rather than reading diverse kinds of books, people are now focused on only those that are considered necessary and helpful for their immediate future.”
Park expressed wishes that students today would take time to show interest in other people’s lives, as well as issues around their community and nation as well. He also hoped that they would extend their interest to Korean classics instead of chasing after the latest foreign trends.
As for Ewha, Park said that he could not help but feel a special fondness for the school, since his youngest daughter attended and graduated from Ewha. “Ewha has done well in supporting female leaders so far, and I hope Ewha continues to nurture the qualities young women need to become leaders in society,” Park said. “I also wish for all Ewha students strive to build and achieve a society in which women’s rights will be fully guaranteed.”
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