Book addresses Koreans' underused 'gene' for success

Book addresses Koreans' underused 'gene' for success

Three co-authors of the newly published book “Republic of Korea: From Periphery to the Center of the World” pose in this undated photo. From leaf are Choi Soo, Lee Ki-dong and Lee Young-hwan. Courtesy of Choi Soo

Three co-authors of ‘Republic of Korea: From Periphery to the Center of the World’ call for rediscovering Korea, Koreans’ inner strength to become a power state

By Kang Hyun-kyung

Book addresses Koreans' underused 'gene' for success

“Republic of Korea: From Periphery to the Center of the World” released by Angle Books

In early May, two retired academics and an entrepreneur met in Seoul for a rare debate about where Korea is heading.

Two of them ― Lee Young-hwan and Lee Ki-dong ― are professors emeriti who taught economics at Dongguk University and Confucian Studies at Sung Kyun Kwan University, respectively, before they retired. The last person, Choi Soo, is a business executive-turned-startup founder having extensive experience in the semiconductor sector both at home and in China.

The odd trio consisting of an economist, an expert on Confucianism and a tech startup entrepreneur shared concerns about the country in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: They were in doubt about the future of Korea.

Their concerns are fact-based. The nation is poles apart with few signs of being united on any single issue and the Korean public is no longer resilient with some even losing confidence in their future. Materialism has gained the upper hand, leaving the have-nots in endless frustration.

These ominous signs from Korean society motivated the three gray-haired men to set up a meeting to share their concerns and ideas about the ongoing technological revolution, which has significantly changed the way we live, work and interact with others, and seek out possible solutions to help the country transform itself into a “power state.” After their first meeting, they met twice more.

Their ideas, gathered from three rounds of discussion, were put into a book, titled “Republic of Korea: From Periphery to the Center of the World.”

Published in November by Angle Books, the new book is a collection of the three co-authors’ viewpoints on eight broad topics that are elaborated upon in eight chapters: Who we are and where we are now; The road to integration; What to do in the era of transformation; Artificial intelligence, inequality and shared prosperity; Materialism; material vs spiritual; What to do for the future; and Time for a new narrative.

“Before we met, the three of us had shared concerns about our country. We agreed that Koreans have the potential to succeed but for some reason, we have come to lose confidence in ourselves,” Choi told The Korea Times in a recent phone interview. “There are so many doomsayers and self-deniers and the entire nation is gripped by such negativity. We were concerned because such pessimistic, fragmented points of view don’t help the nation in this critical time. So we agreed to sit down together to gather wisdom and put it forth for the nation. This is how we started the book project.”

According to the co-authors, Koreans have a “gene” for success, which was proven several times in the past, particularly when the nation achieved remarkable economic growth in the 1970s that enabled the country to be associated with the phrase “Miracle on the Han River” a mere two decades after the nation was torn apart following the Korean War. Koreans were united and overcame the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s and their gene for success was also partly evidenced during the COVID-19 pandemic, they went on to say.

Asked how the three people with very different professional and academic backgrounds came to work together for the book project, Choi stated he and his two co-authors have sufficient credentials to speak about such big topics publicly and present their perspectives. He noted they all spent certain periods of time abroad studying or gaining business experience, or both, and had extensive applied experience in their areas of specialization.

In the book, professor emeritus Lee Young-hwan voiced worries about the “way” of the technological revolution, noting “destructive renovation” and “winner-takes-all” are two core characteristics of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “It’s destructive because jobs that were previously held by people are taken over by machines and robots. Only a small number of companies will become the beneficiaries of the technological revolution, which is also regrettable,” he observed.

Confucian Studies professor Lee Ki-dong emphasized that Koreans need to be mentally prepared to better cope with the uncertain future. “We need to train ourselves to be flexible. This is one of the important qualities that can help us survive such a fast-changing era,” he said. “Flexible thinking comes from our heart. People with audacious hearts won’t be swayed even during turbulent days. They are wise enough to stay calm even in troubled times.”

Lee characterized such a mental state free of volatility as the “mentality given by the universe,” of which the meaning is unclear.

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