Last year, South Korea had issues with China. In December the Korean Peninsula was covered with smog coming from China day after day. Due to the thick ultrafine dust contaminated with hazardous toxins, Koreans had to endure extremely harmful air pollution and poor visibility. Many wore masks all day long and the Namsan Tower was so densely shrouded by smog that it was rarely visible last month. Even the friendship between Korea and China became nebulous, as China declared a new air defense zone that partly overlaps with South Korea’s.
In 2013 Korea also had issues with Japan. First of all, Koreans were concerned about the safety of fish and seafood imported from Japan two years after a tsunami damaged the nuclear reactors in Fukushima. Then, Japanese right-wing politicians worried Koreans by unabashedly extolling Japan’s conduct during the imperialist era. The dispute over Dokdo, too, provoked and enraged many patriotic Koreans. In addition, Koreans were worried about Japan’s push for “collective self-defense,” which would eventually allow Japan to expand the role of its Self-Defense Forces beyond its borders. Finally, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appalled the Korean people by making a surprise visit to the Yasukuni Shrine on Dec. 27.
On the Korean Peninsula, South Korea had to endure a plethora of threats from North Korea last year. Meanwhile, South Korea was sharply torn between two political factions: left vs. right, or pro-North Korean progressives vs. anti-North Korean conservatives. Amidst the antagonistic confrontation between the two factions, some people demanded the president’s resignation, refusing to accept the outcome of the presidential election. In 2013, there were also a series of workers’ strikes including the railroad union strike, which seriously disrupted Korean society.
Waking up in Korea on New Year’s Day, 2014, I hope we can put an end to all the conflicts and antagonisms that seriously plagued our society last year. I hope there will be no more factional brawls, no more ideological clashes and no more workers’ strikes this year. And I hope there will be no more territorial disputes with China or Japan. Needless to say, we do not want any more threats and aggravations from North Korea in 2014.
According to the Chinese horoscope, 2014 is the Year of the Horse. Those born in the Year of the Horse are said to be intelligent, energetic and able. The horse people are also known to be cheerful, perceptive and active at work. In addition, the horse is an animal that embodies adventure, speed and power. A racehorse, with flair, jump and style, can be described as “fast and furious.”
The Chinese zodiac tells us that those born in the Year of the Horse have some weaknesses as well. For example, they are likely to be impatient and hot-tempered, and thus prone to failure. Flamboyant in nature, they seriously lack budgetary efficiency and like to pursue glamorous, high-profile careers. Sometimes, they can be stubborn and refuse to listen to advice; thus, they can fail to complete their projects and easily become pessimistic. Undoubtedly, Koreans, too, seem to have some of these weaknesses.
In the past, there was a Korean saying that “Women who are born in the Year of the Horse tend to be aggressive and nagging.” As a result, they were shunned by matchmakers. Of course, this superstitious belief is no longer viable these days. The Korean movie “The Bride Born in the Year of the Horse” reflects the social milieu that shunned active, outgoing women. The horse also symbolizes freedom and sexuality. Perhaps that was another reason why people were reluctant to welcome a bride born in the Year of the Horse.
Historically, the horse has been indispensable to human beings. For example, horses were a good means of transportation in ancient times. Our ancestors treasured a steadfast horse by calling it “Cheolli Ma” ― a horse that runs a thousand “li” (500 kilometers) a day. Aside from its usefulness, the horse is a graceful animal. Think about equestrian shows at the circus or elegant cavalry performances. Moreover, could you ever imagine a knight without a horse or a Roman general without a chariot?
Among the different types of horses, the horoscope says that 2014 is the Year of the Wooden Horse. In the Trojan War, Odysseus’ wooden horse helped the Greek allies destroy the nearly invincible Troy. Likewise, we Koreans, too, should learn to use a symbolic wooden horse in 2014 to outwit our often hostile political foes and neighboring countries.
In the Year of the Horse, I hope we can impress both our domestic and foreign opponents with our elegance and dignity. Instead of blindly abhorring or antagonizing them, I hope we can enchant our adversaries with decorum and nobility, like a gracefully galloping horse.
By Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor of English at Seoul National University and president of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. ― Ed.