For Korea, the past few years have been a time of much turbulence. Political scandals burst out almost everyday, conflicts amongst Korean citizens brew everywhere, even in the internet, and life is getting harder for the average Joe. In such turbulent times, the author of The Samurai that coveted Chosun Gwanghoon Lee writes about what Korea might need to take a step forward. This book, published on September 9, 2016, talks about Korea in the 19th century and under Japanese rule; the purpose, however, is not to underscore the failure of Korea, but to highlight the success of Japan. Contrary to the tone of the book’s title, this book reveals the secret behind Japan’s progress and puts its social change in a positive light. Although for some Koreans, this may be a sensitive topic, the author believes that there is a lesson to be learned from how Japan achieved cutting-edge advances in technology and major social reformations such as the Meiji restoration in such a short time.
Similar to how Liu Bei visited Zhuge Liang three times to sought his wisdom, Mr. Lee visited Japan nine times for research purposes. Visiting the Yamaguchi prefecture, Kyushu, and Kyoto in person, Mr. Lee was able to unveil the secrets of the Japanese leadership. Surprisingly, he found that center of Japanese leadership was centered around one man, Yoshida Shōin, a guru and a teacher, who taught them in the Yamaguchi prefecture. The author follows the footsteps of the guru through the modern history of the two countries and paints them in a contrasting light. As the story progresses, it becomes clear to the readers why Chosun, a country that survived numerous wars and invasions, collapsed even with the absence of war.
After a read of this extraordinary book, the state of the Republic of Korea today seems uncannily analogous to that of Chosun and the Korean Empire. The Emergence of social networking has made the sharing of ideas and beliefs ever so easy, maybe too much so. While the positive impact is clear, the negative impact is also clear. The negative impact is actually overwhelming, looming over Korean society as a whole. Discrimination and hatred is revealed at every corner of the country, helping hate unite and take aim at anything it wants to. Koreans have formed an exclusive nature amongst themselves and that has led to the discouragement of progress and reform. As mentioned in chapter 4 of this book, Japan has accepted Netherland’s technology and people, but Korea has not. This lead to significant differences in technological capabilities by the late 19th century.
Today, the parallel counterpart for the Netherlands may be China. China is one of the fastest growing economies of the 21st century. In 2013, 35 percent of the total number of tourists to Korea were Chinese nationals. While China poses many possible benefits as a trading and tourism partner to Korea, there are strong anti-China sentiments amongst Korean citizens that must be overcome. Only once Korea and China communicate and collaborate closely with one another to relieve tensions stemming from current geopolitical issues, will the two countries thrive by bringing out the best in each other.