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Book of 50 essays offers a glimpse into the mind of Jungwook Hong

“50 Essays by Jungwook Hong” (Kyobo Book Center)
“50 Essays by Jungwook Hong” (Kyobo Book Center)
Jungwook Hong, a former National Assembly representative and former chairman of Herald Corp., has released a book of 50 essays about his journey to find his life’s purpose.

Hong is a bestselling author whose 1993 autobiography, “Seven Acts, Seven Scenes,” sold over 1 million copies. That first book, which centered on his personal experience of studying in the US at Choate Rosemary Hall and Harvard University, led many wealthy South Korean parents to consider sending their teenage children abroad for their high school years. He acquired Herald Corporation in 2002 and held the post of chairman until he sold the company in 2019. He is the owner of organic food corporation Organica.

His second book, “50 Essays by Jungwook Hong,” grew out of 50 social media posts that he wrote on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

“Last fall, I used telecommuting as an excuse to spend time at home. Then I remembered Benjamin Franklin’s words, ‘Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing,’” said Hong in the preface. “I had the idea of writing an essay about some of the posts on my social media for the last 10 years. As I’d just turned 50, 50 posts were selected.”

As Korean society focuses on Hong’s every move to see if he’ll return to politics, Hong said in an interview with a local newspaper that he had not written the book for that reason.

He even mentions in the book that its release would probably rekindle the rumor that he was planning to go back into politics.

“The media still summons me every time there is an election. I have a feeling the same thing will happen when I publish this book,” said Hong.

The book shows the thinking and motivation behind his past actions, from entering and leaving politics to running the Herald and Organica. If his previous bestseller showed us the student Jungwook Hong, this book shows us the adult Jungwook Hong and his career till now.

Throughout the book, Hong mentions many notable people that he met during his lifetime, including Steve Jobs, Jimmy Carter and the late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee. He also provides recommended lists -- seven memorable documentaries; songs he listens to in his free time or when he is sad; the best books on history, the environment and food. Through many episodes in life, he shows us his constant drive to keep on moving forward and challenging himself.

The book also talks about many events that happened during his time at Herald Corp.

He talks about having to balance the responsibilities of a media company to the reading public and the realistic responsibilities of a corporation that needs to make a profit. As he managed to turn the Herald into a profitable company, he mentions that he is proud to have been able to create profit for 14 consecutive years at the Herald while also maintaining a good reputation for journalism.

“If worry continues, courage diminishes. Just like cutting a knot that cannot be unraveled with a pair of scissors, a resolution can end a worry without an answer,” Hong states in one of the social media posts included in the book.

Hong recalls writing this post as he was thinking of selling Herald Corp. He was having trouble moving forward after establishing The Korea Herald as the No. 1 English newspaper in Korea and making Herald Business profitable.

“Idea and effort were not enough. Solution in the form of vigorous investment was needed,” said Hong. That thought resulted in Hong selling the company to Jungheung Group after deciding the new company had a solid financial foundation and the will to advance the company further.

Hong’s interest in environmental conservation and giving back to society can also be seen in the book. He talks about making classics available to everyone at affordable prices and establishing Young Friends of the Museum to get young wealthy businessmen and women to support the National Museum of Korea. His interest in healthy diet and his desire to protect nature from rapid human consumption are reflected in the way he operates his business, Organica.

Hong also mentions the hard time he went through in 2019, when his eldest daughter was caught at Incheon Airport with cannabis and LSD, and when his parents’ health declined. He took up cycling and meditation to make it through the day.

“I am neither strong nor wise. But I believe growth comes to those who worry more about weakness than strength, who worry more about ignorance than having knowledge. I spent the year struggling forward,” said Hong.

Hong’s quest to find a reason to carry on and reach his goals can be vividly seen in these 50 short essays, each one starting off with a social media post. The thinking behind his actions as an entrepreneur, politician and media company owner can be seen in everyday aspects of Hong’s life.

“My efforts to find life’s purpose are still in progress. My ultimate goal in life is to fulfill my life’s purpose and be able to say, ‘The precious life that I was given, I lived it well,’ when I leave this world,” said Hong in closing.

By Lim Jang-won (ljw@heraldcorp.com)
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