Column: Let Go of the Shadows and Move Forward
Column: Let Go of the Shadows and Move Forward
  • HJ Kim (
  • 승인 2020.05.13 09:51
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Kim Hyoung-joong, Chief Editorial Writer and Head of Korea University's Cryptocurrency Research Center
Kim Hyoung-joong, Chief Editorial Writer and Head of Korea University's Cryptocurrency Research Center


During the COVID19 outbreak, Koreans have come to the realization that their country is not that bad after all and might even be much better than they expected. This shift in mindset came about by witnessing how well their country did at flattening the COVID19 curve and bringing the number of confirmed cases down to a single digit.

Of course, quarantine authorities are still on high alert with the recent spread of confirmed cases among some nightclub patrons, but the public has full confidence in the Korea Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) ability to quickly stabilize the situation.

Not only has Korea’s admirable response to COVID19 gained international attention, other unique aspects of Korean culture have also found new international audiences. KBO and K-League games have been broadcast live abroad. The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) League banner was added to the ESPN homepage. Also, the BBC has begun broadcasting K-League's soccer games. American fans want to add English subtitles to Korean broadcasts so they can follow along. In addition, American commentators have had to study the details of Korean baseball to satisfy their fans.

It used to be that Korean fans enjoyed the games of Tottenham Hotspur or LA Dodgers while staying awake long past midnight. Now, Americans and British fans are sleepless too so that they can watch the games being played on Korean home fields and time zones. 

Heung-Min Son of Tottenham Hotspur and Hyun-jin Ryu of LA Dodgers (currently of Toronto Blue Jays) are from this country. Korean baseball players thrill the crowd with their bat flips. Korean fans are known for never stopping cheering even if their team is losing 15: 0.

Interestingly, Koreans have had a history of believing that they were inferior and hopeless. They thought they had to rely entirely on the US for its military power and that Korea could never surpass Japan. Indeed, the common thought was that the only place where Korea could ever defeat Japan was on the football pitch.

It is like Koreans have lived with the shadows described by Carl Jung haunting their minds. However, it was shadows that they were indoctrinated with. It was an educated shadow. They were told that they could not exceed Japan. These inherited beliefs are relics from the colonial era, and yet they still linger.

However, as Abe’s regime has begun to flutter, the false myth of Japanese superiority has begun to crumble little by little. When the Japanese government banned exports of three critically important chemical products, many intellectuals claimed the Korean semiconductor industry would collapse. But, in fact, it did not, nothing collapsed.

On the other hand, Korea’s economy has gone from strength to strength. IMF reported last year South Korea’s per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) came to US$ 37,542 while Japan’s US$ 39,795. South Korea is predicted to surpass Japan by 2023 in per-capita GDP-PPP. On the other hand, South Korea surpassed Japan last year according to the OECD’s report by US$ 43,426 vs US$ 42,486.

Thirty years ago, Samsung Electronics representatives made presentations to American universities predicting that Samsung would be in the top 10 companies in the world within 10 years. At that time, Japanese home appliance companies dominated the top 10, so Samsung's challenge seemed hopeless. However, now Samsung is running in first place and dominates the field.

I believe that Korean universities, which are among the top 10 in the world, will soon rise to the top of the list. While Korea’s finance industry has some problems, I believe Kakao Bank and Toss will do well too.

A common adage goes that “Someone fails at work when they think they are not able to do it well.” However, Koreans thoroughly learned and practiced their “can-do-it” spirit during their time in the military. The result of this proactive attitude has led to many demonstrated successes with the economy, technology, sports, pop culture and the much-admired COVID19 response which has put Korea on the world stage. Therefore, I beseech you, my fellow Koreans, to leave behind the sad shadows in your mind and go forward firm in the knowledge of your greatness and deserved spot at the top.

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